Each January I travel to the mecca of outdoors gear, the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City. Several days are spent meeting with companies and touring the products that will be hitting the shelves next fall. I’m still recovering from this year’s whirlwind, and you’ll hear all about the peripheral events in my Trip Report. Over the four days I was solidly busy, and I wanted to share the items that stood out to me for some reason or another. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t other awesome things, it just means that this is the cool stuff that I got to see.
You’ve probably seen a lot of “Best Of” lists and “Editor’s Choice” awards on various publications during and after the show, but I often find these lists disappointing or incomplete. The problem is that the show is simply too big to see in the allotted time, so each list you see will be biased by who the writer was able to meet with during the show and what their particular publication’s interest is. I didn’t meet with any ski companies, so therefore my highlights don’t include any ski gear. But no worries – look around and you’ll probably find one that is almost exclusively ski gear.
My overall impression is that this seems to be the year of updates, with several companies returning to popular product lines and refining designs. I think this is a good thing – too often it’s all about the next innovation, without taking time to reflect on what worked and didn’t work in past product lines. It’s amazing how fast the industry moves with new products. In fact, the ~6 year old Osprey pack I was carrying was called an ‘antique’ by one of their reps, and my 3-year-old ‘ancient’ Columbia OmniHeat hat was a relic worthy of photos.
Enough rambling. Without further ado, here is Calipidder.com’s Highlights from Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013.
Outrageous Gear That I Will Never Own Award: The Nemo -40 degree Canon Sleeping Bag
I kept hearing about the ‘over-engineered’ sleeping bag from Nemo so I had to stop by and check it out. Intended for seriously cold conditions, it has features such as a PrimaLoft ‘Stove Pipe’ to aid in breathing while wrapped up in this giant down cocoon, venting ‘gills’ along the body, and arm holes so that you can do camp activities while still cozy warm (although leaning over a stove flame in this bag might not be the safest thing…). Weighing a little under 4.5 lbs, this -40 degree bag is something I won’t ever likely need but it was fun to check out.
Appeals To My Techy Side Award: The Rand McNally Foris 850 GPS
Rand McNally is not a name I traditionally associate with handheld GPS units, but I learned that they have dominated the truck and RV style navigation GPS market. This is their foray into the handheld market. I visited the booth on the final day and got a quick tour of the product, and what I saw was impressive. I hope that its rather large form factor translates to rugged durability, but other than that I was impressed with the thought put into the functionality, and the touch screen is years beyond the Garmin Oregon that I currently carry. I’m eager to get my hands on one to see how it performs in the field. Its $399 retail price is competitive with the high end handheld devices on the market today, but the Foris also includes a lot of the base map information that you have to pay extra for with other devices, making it a potentially more economical option in the long run.
This Didn’t Already Exist? Award: Cascade Designs gravity filter attachment conversion system
This seems like one of those items that should already exist, but apparently it didn’t. Cascade Designs has taken their GravityWorks filtration system and added a conversion system accessory so that you can feed straight into a bottle or hydration bladder. This will allow people to filter directly into a Platy in the back of a pack, so that it doesn’t have to be removed. One of the reasons I don’t carry a hydration bladder backpacking is because of the difficulty of removing it when it needs to be filled. The conversion kits address this rather major pain point. There is also a converter for bottles.
It Works Too Well Award: Columbia OmniHeat
OmniHeat is Columbia’s reflective dots that are used on the inside of garments to keep the wearer warmer than the garment would alone. This works by reflecting body heat back on the wearer. I’ve owned a lot of OmniHeat items, and I can say with 100% certainty that it is not a gimmick, the stuff works. In fact, sometimes it works too well. I’ve found that it is easy to go straight past ‘cozy’ to ‘too darn hot’ when I am active in my OmniHeat. Columbia has listened to their users and are being a bit more thoughtful about the placement of the OmniHeat reflective dots. Instead of coating the inside of a garment, they have placed the OmniHeat in the places that need it the most. In the base layer above, you can see that it’s not on the underside of the arm, a heat-generating hot spot that doesn’t need any extra help.
Brilliant Take on an Old Gimmick Award: Switch Interchangeable Lens Sunglasses
Interchangeable lens sunglasses are not new news. They’ve been on the market for years, but lets face it – how often do you switch out your lenses on the ones you already have? I am personally nervous about breaking lenses and smearing them up, so I very rarely change them. Last year I ran across the first pair of sunglasses I might actually change, but forgot all about them until I saw them again in the final few minutes of the show this year. The brand is Switch, and they have a unique and innovative way of magnetically securing lenses in a frame. They are sturdy but easy to pop out without having to torque the lens or get your fingers all over it. It’s a lot easier to show than to describe, so I’ve made a video of me demoing the Switch Interchangeable Lenses.
Ugly but Practical Shoe Award: Oofos
The term ‘recovery footwear’ is definitely a buzz word in the industry right now. This is generally the term applied to footwear intended to be worn after a strenuous activity like hiking, running, skiing, etc. I was standing by DarnTough eating my maple and bacon ice cream cone (oh yes) when a rep from the booth next door pulled us over. They were selling Oofos, which to me just looked like another ugly Croc knockoff. Well, their sales pitch kind of acknowledges that they aren’t there for looks, they are trying to get the recovery part right before they start worrying about looks. It’s a closed cell foam shoe or sandal that is softer than the other injection molded Croc-like shoes, and they’ve done something interesting with the arch to create a massaging kind of feel when you walk. Maybe it was my weary feet, but they felt amazing and I could see really enjoying walking around in these after a long hike. Just not in public.
Not Much Room To Get Lighter Award: MontBell Plasma Jacket
Admittedly, the display of a balloon suspending this 5.2 oz, 1000-fill down jacket in front of the MontBell booth was eye catching, but I’ve always admired MontBell for making practical, well-made, high quality lightweight down equipment. They resist the desire to add more features, leading to this simple, stripped down puffy. I am a very happy owner of the current Ex Light Down Jacket which isn’t much heavier than this is, but I’m glad that they are still innovating in the small wiggle room they have left.
Klutz Award: LifeProof iPhone Cases
I drop my iPhone a lot. I’ve cracked a few cases (luckily never the phone), including an Otterbox. One thing that I’ve always disliked about the super-durable cases is their ugly clunkiness. The LifeProof cases have the durability I need without sacrificing looks. The slim profile isn’t much different than my current basic bumper case. I just found out I won one through a contest (after I had written out this draft!), so I’m looking forward to finding out how this performs and looks.
New Exhibitor Award: Ethnotek Bags
I discovered this company via their friendly and active Twitter account so I made sure to swing by their booth when I had some free time on the last day. Ethnotek builds beautiful, functional backpacks, totes, and messenger bags using indigenous fabrics sourced directly from villages around the world. They were really beautiful and have a compelling story behind each piece.
Something You Might Walk By But Shouldn’t Award: Easton Mountain Products
If you’re like me, the Easton name conjures up images of tent poles. While they supply several tent manufacturers with poles, they also manufacture a lot of gear themselves. I stopped by for an appointment and was particularly impressed with the thought put into their several tent lines and their trekking poles. By being a leader in innovating around components like tent poles, they are in a position to take early advantage of these technologies. They even had an early demo display of a Cuben tent (under 2 lbs for a 2 person expedition tent) that will come to the market later this year – for $2000!
Stay tuned for the next edition of my OR show report, in which I make everyone jealous about all the fun.