What is it like to attend an Outdoor Retailer show? A couple of weeks ago I saw someone on Twitter describe it as the SXSW for outdoorsy types. I’ve never been to SXSW, but several people told me that’s an apt description. After business is done on the show floor the parties ramp up, and there is never a lack of something to do if you want to have fun!
The gear just seems to be an excuse to get a bunch of awesome people together twice a year. While the new gear is exciting and interesting, it seems that the real pulse of the show is around the human relationships. It’s great to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. This industry is just filled with great people.
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.
At this point you may think what my husband told me: ”That looks like something out of a meth lab”. Okay, I don’t disagree. Not that I’m familiar with meth labs. Other than what Breaking Bad has taught me, that is.
Turn the sucker upside down, stuff it in a pack, and drink through the hose and bite valve like any water bladder. Here is the thing about water bladders: they collapse. As you drink the liquid from them there is nothing to replace. However, since bottles don’t collapse, they need something to replace the liquid that is being displaced as you drink. This is the job that second hose and jet valve are there to perform – they replace the liquid with air, otherwise the system wouldn’t work.
I’ve taken it out on the trail a few times now and sure enough, it works exactly as it should.
What I liked:
I always drink more water when I’m using a hose/valve system, so that’s an automatic plus.
Despite all the seemingly random pieces it was intuitive and easy to put together.
There are many attachment points (adapter, manifold, hoses, valves) but not a single one of them leaks. The system is very tight and snug, and the gaskets seem to work well.
I’m not locked in to one particular bottle style. I use different kinds of bottles on the trail and I can use this system with all of them.
It looks like a backcountry still, and that is kind of awesome.
What needs improvement:
It’s hard to call out any problems with this system since it is helping me combine all the things I like about a bladder system with the convenience of a bottle system. There are only two things that I don’t like about the system:
The manifold is big enough that I couldn’t stuff my Nalgene bottle in the side pockets of the packs I typically carry. Remember, the bottle has to be stored upside down in order for the system to work, so the manifold will be in the bottom of the pocket. It was just a tight/impossible fit with the packs I’ve tried. That said, I can still stash them on the inside and retrieve them more easily than I can a bladder. Also, it may be easier with a narrower mouthed bottle.
The one meter hose length is not long enough to create both a Jet Valve hose and a drinking hose. I wasn’t sure how long to make the jet valve hose – I wanted it to have access to air so I cut it long enough to poke out of my pack, or at least lay on the top. That left me with a hose that is too short for the bite valve. I have it stretched to the maximum length in the photo below and I could just pull it over my shoulder and tuck it in the strap on my pack. I had to tug and twist my head every time I wanted a drink. This is in my daypack with the bottle at the top, too – in a bigger pack this system is unworkable. Maybe I set up the system wrong, but right now I’m considering buying another longer length of hose.
This isn’t the first water bladder replacement system I’ve tried, but it’s definitely the most well thought out and designed. It is a pretty new product and there isn’t any info on the website yet about where you can get it. But if you, like me, are water bladder averse, this is definitely worth checking out.
I was introduced to Darn Tough Vermont socks many years ago at the Outdoor Retailer Show. They are without doubt the most durable pair of socks I’ve owned. Over the past few years I’ve hiked hundreds, probably close to a thousand miles in the pair pictured to the right and they still spring back to life after each wash.
They look like they’ve been worn once or twice. I’ve never had a pair of socks last this long, let alone look this good. The knit is still tight, there is no wear on pressure points, and the mid-foot support is still tight and stretchy.
Hiking and backpacking socks are really expensive, and this is no bargain sock. But do yourself a favor and buy them. You may never have to replace them.
Once again, I’ll be attending the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this January in Salt Lake City on behalf of BackpackGearTest.org. I can’t remember how many times I’ve attended; I think this will be my seventh visit, give or take a year. Recently someone asked me for some tips for making the most of the Show and I thought I’d publish them here for others who are looking for similar advice.
I’m always registered as media so this is definitely biased towards the people who wander the show floor – mainly other media and retailer reps. As for the booth-dwellers – I’m sure you have your own set of best practices (feel free to add your tips in the comments)! This is also based only on my experiences at the Outdoor Retailer Winter show. I’ve never attended the summer show since it is right in the middle of my Sierra backpacking season and the High country ALWAYS has priority at that time of year!
And now: How to Survive the Outdoor Retailer Show
15. Book Early
I know it’s too late for this year, but take heed: if you know you will be attending a show make sure to book your hotel as early as possible. Downtown hotel room rates soar to exorbitant levels during the show and everything fills up. If you wait too long you’ll be paying out the nose to share a corner of someone’s Motel 6 room floor. In fact, last year I got back and immediately booked my room for this year. I’ve got a room reserved for under $50 a night in a hotel a mere few blocks from the Salt Palace that is now charging $309 a night for the few rooms it still has available.
Of course, there is always the option of staying some distance from downtown but that just introduces more complexity and expense – car rental, parking, coordinating after-hours events, etc. I like to be able to get from my room to the Salt Palace and back quickly and easily, especially if I need to drop things off or change before evening events.
14. Attend the Demo Day
The day before the big show floor opens, Solitude Mountain Resort hosts a demo day for show attendees. The idea is that you can try out gear – skis, boots, snowboards, snowshoes, packs, etc – and get in some outdoor time before being cooped up in the Salt Palace for the next several days. It’s a lot of fun disguised as “work”. I’ve skied, done a snowshoe 5k, tried some awesome demo gear and gotten some incredible freebees and samples. It’s just a lot of fun. Don’t miss it. After all, while the gear is nice to look at on the show floor it’s a lot more fun to take it out in the snow to see what it can DO!
13. Bring a Backpack
As you wander the floor and go to meetings you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with samples, media kits, magazines, swag, etc. As a media attendee I don’t have a “home base” where I can stash stuff, so I bring a backpack. And not just any backpack. I bring my biggest daypack – an old Osprey Aura 35L (discontinued)- that has a frame and can carry some weight comfortably. I know you have something- we’re all outdoors folks here. Pick your favorite comfy pack and bring it along. You’ll want a place to stuff away your jacket and water bottle anyways – it’s cold outside and hot inside. I show up with an empty pack every day and return to the hotel with it full.
12. Schedule appointments using the floor plan
The Outdoor Retailer website publishes a floor plan well in advance of the show. Use it to schedule your appointments. If you’re taking them close together make sure they aren’t on opposite ends of the floor. One year I wore a pedometer and found that I walked almost nine miles a day running back and forth to appointments. That, plus the concrete floor of the Salt Palace, leads to some sore feet. Make sure you include the booth number in your appointment schedule so that you can find them without having to find a floor map kiosk.
11. Don’t book 100% of your time
There will be so many companies you’ve never heard of and you’ll stumble across gear and people with whom you will want to spend some time. Set aside plenty of time to wander the floor, browse, and strike up these conversations. I find that it helps to first approach the show floor systematically to make sure I don’t miss anything. For the first two days I’ll spend my free time weaving through the aisles, noting down booths to come back to if they are busy or I need to get to another appointment. I spend the second half revisiting booths that caught my eye.
10. Wear comfy shoes
That concrete floor I mentioned earlier – it makes your feet HURT by the end of the day. Most people in the Salt Palace, including me, are used to hiking/running/skiing/etc many more miles than that in a day but somehow I hurt worse after a day on the show floor. Complaints of sore feet are common. One of the sock manufacturers sometimes has free foot massages in their booth and there is always a line. Comfy padded shoes are a must. I’m convinced that the reason Crocs originally caught on their first year was because they handed them out to weary OR Show floor wanderers.
9. Water – bring a bottle fill it up
You’ll walk a lot. It’s hot and dry in the Salt Palace. There are water stations so bring a bottle to keep full. Stay hydrated. While you’re at it, swing by a bunch of the electrolyte additive booths (Nuun, Camelbak Elixir, etc) for a sample to add some flavor and boost.
8. Media Room
If you have registered as media and have the magical media credentials badge you have access to the secret media room. They have water and coffee and power outlets and tables and chairs and media kits. It’s a great place to duck away from the crazy going on on the show floor for a few minutes and regroup. There is a good wifi signal if you need to throw up a quick blog post or send an email and you can have quick meetings with your colleagues in peace (if they are also media credentialed).
7. Leave No Trace Drawing
Around noon every day the Leave No Trace crew does a drawing for a boatload of gear. Stop by the booth, fill out the card and answer a few questions for your chance. Must be present to win!
Don’t miss the smaller side ballroom where many of the newcomers are assigned booth space. It’s great fun to see some of the ideas and talk to the creators directly. Every year I see some of these small guys “graduate” to the main show floor (and many more fade away, never to be seen again). I remember when Keen was a tiny booth in that small room. Now they have one of the biggest displays at the show. Last year there was an alpaca farm booth with REAL ALPACAS! Possibly the cutest thing at the show. I made sure to regularly walk by and pet the fuzzy critters.
I haven’t bought a meal at the Salt Palace since my first year of attending the OR Show. There are so many opportunities for delicious (and free!) noms on the show floor that there is no need for that overpriced pizza or smoothie. There are too many appointments, too many things to see – don’t waste your time standing in line! While there is no guarantee that this year will be the same, here’s something to get you started.
In the morning, Royal Robbins is the place to be with their free espresso drinks and friendly baristas (leave ‘em a tip). Swing by the New Balance booth next for some fresh waffles with a generous selection of toppings. Lunch? Try the Vibram booth with their Italian country lunch of bread, parmesan, prosciutto and sparkling water. Starting around 4 pm the parties bust out and you can find snacks everywhere (check out the fondue at Jetboil’s booth!) Worst case, scout out the booth of your favorite trail munchie brand (and explore new ones), and make sure to cruise by whenever you need a pick-me-up. I usually scout out the Honey Stinger and Lara Bar booth right away!
4. Be Social!
The show is packed with all kinds of events. I try to never take an appointment after 4pm. That’s the magical party hour when the kegs come out and people stop concentrating and start networking. At the end of each day there are parties, drawings, special appearances, giveaways, etc happening at any number of booths. The show guide lists many of the ‘official’ parties but there are many more that just seem to pop up without warning. My suggestion: pay attention to the OR Show tag on twitter (#ORWM12 or #orshow) to keep up with what is going on. It also helps to have a plan – take a look at all the show publications ahead of time to know who is speaking where, what giveaways are happening, and who has the good beer and snacks!
Since it is all happening around the same time and the show floor is so huge it’s good to have priorities. It’s also a good way to sync up with others at the end of the day – for example, “let’s all meet at the 6:30 drawing at the Osprey booth!”
It’s not just on the show floor either – there are lots of after hour parties, movies, talks, tweetups, and more. Track the peripheral events going on around the show and attend what you can! But, jumping ahead to number 2 a bit, don’t forget you’ll be back on that show floor the next morning. I’ve found myself sacrificing some of these late night events in favor of down time and rest. I’m not 21 anymore.
3. Pay attention to the OR Show tag feeds on Twitter
There’s a lot of fun spontaneous stuff that happens throughout the show. Appearances, classes, giveaways, etc. Much of it is announced via twitter. Follow the show’s hash tag (#orshow or #orwm12) and check it frequently. I won a kickass Timbuk2 bag from Cordura last year (that I now use every day) simply because I happened to catch a giveaway tweet at the right time.
2. Scheduled down time
The show is exhausting. It’s four days (five if you go to the demo day) of GO GO GO. I treasure the downtime I get at the end of the day when I am back in my hotel room. It’s the time that I can catch up on my blogging, call friends and family, and get away from the massive crowds for a few moments. Recovery is really, really important for me. It often cuts into #4 but I try to maintain a healthy balance. I usually cruise the booth parties on the show floor and skip the late night events.
1. Network – the people are the best part!
Related to #4, but important enough to stand on its own, is networking. It happens outside of parties, too!
Whenever I walk onto the floor for the first time a feeling of comforting happiness comes over me. And it doesn’t come from the bright shiny gear and banners – it comes from the people. I always think, these are MY PEOPLE. They get me. They understand me. They don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I start to talk about the peaks I want to climb next summer. They disguise Patagonia dresses and Prana shirts and Chaco sandals purchased at REI as work clothes, too.
Take time to meet people, have conversations that go beyond the gear. You’ll find a shared camaraderie that I’ve never seen with any other industry show or conference. There is nothing like geeking out with a bunch of other people you’ve never met before about their favorite campsite on the John Muir Trail or their tricks to healing climbing callouses. In my opinion this is the best part of attending Outdoor Retailer. Don’t be shy!
I could go on and on about the Outdoor Retailer Show, but at this point I’ll open it up to comments. What is your advice for attending this event? What role do you attend under? What have I missed? I want to learn, too!
I’ve always been interested in Brooks-Range Mountaineering gear and I finally was able to meet with the company and see their stuff up close at January’s Winter Outdoor Retailer Show. Their selection is small but high-quality. There is no “Fall 2011 line” of fashionable new colors or fad-of-the-year bandwagoning. It’s all professional gear for the backcountry adventurer and their portfolio ranges from adventure racing map tools to sleeping bags and rescue sleds. I was familiar with them from an intangible catalog perspective before Outdoor Retailer so it was great to finally feel the gear between my fingers – this is some nice stuff.
So it was with extreme excitement I accepted the opportunity to review the Cirro Hoody Jacket (also available without a hood and as a pullover). The Cirro line are synthetically insulated with Primaloft One® insulation. I won’t go into the details of the differences between down and synthetic insulation here save two points: synthetic insulation insulates better when wet, but generally weighs more than high-quality down. It’s a tradeoff that is largely made based on climate and expected conditions and what works in one place might not be the best option in another place.
As a resident of San Jose, California, with our over 300 sunny days per year, I am usually more attracted to down-filled gear over synthetic insulation. I rarely encounter continuous moisture and when my gear does get wet I can usually dry it out once the storm breaks. That said, there are times when I wish for the security of the synthetic insulation – like when I’m hiking through a downpour and wonder how long that ultralight down jacket will keep me warm once I get it on – and how will I get it on without getting it wet.
At a list price of $189.00 and a weight of 12.4 oz for the small size with a hood (as measured on my own scale) this is competitive with other ultralight synthetic jackets on the market. As my first synthetic jacket I expected it to feel bulkier and heavier, but in fact it is quite compact and light. It isn’t as tissue-like as the ultralight 900-fill down layers I own, but the Cirro feels like a jacket that is all about business – it’s going to get the job done and I don’t feel like I’ll need to baby it. The Pertex Quantum shell certainly feels delicate but I’ve experienced enough of this material on other items to know that looks can be deceiving. I’m not worried about durability.
The only complaint I have thus far is that it is a unisex jacket. Word is that a women’s cut will be available next year, but in the meantime I’m making due with a unisex size small. It actually fits quite well, but it is not exactly a flattering fit. I do have lots of room for layers underneath (which the form-fitting women’s jackets sometimes forget about…) and I’ve thrown it over my shoulders quilt-style while taking a break in the climbing gym (it’s really cold in there in the mornings). I’ve even climbed in it, though the longer arms got annoying and I ended up removing it whenever I was on the wall.
So, how does it perform in the field? That’s to be determined – I just received the jacket and due to some insane weather here in California I regrettably wasn’t able to get it out in extreme conditions last weekend (it sounded like a good idea until I saw the lightning in the forecast). I have been wearing it everywhere, and while dashing between my car and my office/house/store/post office/etc in the pouring rain I’ve been really pleased with the Pertex’s water resistance. It’s been in the climbing gym several times and the chalk dust thankfully doesn’t cling to the Pertex like it seems to with everything else.
I’m carrying it along with me to Germany this week on a business trip, and while I won’t have time to get out much, it is spring here and I wanted a nice compact insulative jacket that I can put on in the mornings and evenings while wandering our company campus and stash in my laptop bag while I’m inside. Following this trip I look forward to bringing it along on all my remaining spring adventures: long hikes, some backpacking (probably in the rain), some peak bagging, and some wine tasting and beach camping in Santa Barbara (that’s an adventure too, right?)
Once I’ve had a chance to put it through some rough stuff I’ll do a follow up post. But in the meantime I want to recommend checking out Brooks-Range gear. It really is some nice stuff, well made with a clear attention to detail. And I’m not just saying that – one of the best things about the Outdoor Retailer show is getting my hands on gear from companies that aren’t necessarily mainstream and sharing that information with other people. In my opinion, most of the best gear is made by the ‘fringe’ companies that focus on the basics. You can find their stuff at the gear shops listed here.
The Outdoor Retailer Demo Day is all about flashy new gear demos and loud fun. But tucked in between the DJ booth and beer taps was a modest booth belonging to a company called Yurbuds. I probably walked by it ten times before stopping to take a look. Yurbuds are earbuds that are designed for the athlete, taking into consideration the needs of someone always on the move. After a brief demo I was sold. I’ve seen ‘performance earbuds’ before but nothing that thinks the way these guys do.
The key selling point for Yurbuds is their custom fit and Ear-Lock technology – the earbuds simply ‘lock’ into your ear and don’t move. I was fitted with a pair at the booth and once they were locked into place I could tug and tug on the cord and they wouldn’t come out. As a runner and hiker this is a really important thing – I can’t count the number of times I have to put my earbuds back in during a run as they dislodge due to the motion and sweat.
I was really eager to try them out in real conditions so they provided me with a pair of the Ironman Performance Raising Earphones (retails at $49.99 – they have a more economical option available at $29.99). I’ve been using them on a nearly daily basis since receiving them and have been very pleased. They are without a doubt the most comfortable earphones I’ve used while on the move, with only a few minor drawbacks.