By Martin Vilaboy
It was the first Outdoor Retailer show since the acquisition of Nielsen Exhibition by Canadian private equity firm Onex Corp., and for the most part Outdoor Retailer’s Summer 2013 edition went off without any major drama or hiccups due to the transfer of ownership. Indeed, the overall feel of the show was “business as usual,” with the expected amount of new products, networking opportunities, educational opportunities and industry advocacy. Void of any industry-shattering announcements, events or innovation, the show was more about the continuation of existing and ongoing trends.
Stand-up paddling, for example, continues to register biggest on the summer buzz meter, influencing apparel, pack and accessories designs both inside and outside of the paddlesports segment. We were shown hydration packs for stand up paddlers, water shoes designed specifically for SUP, coolers to rig to boards, lights that illuminate the water under a board and even apparel pitched for practicing yoga on top of a board. We have to believe, however, that SUP is approaching its peak on the hype cycle, if it hasn’t already. Here’s hoping the trough of disillusionment isn’t too brutal.
Due in part to SUP’s rise – along with kayak and fly varieties – fishing-related product and imagery continue to creep onto the OR show floor. In addition to a smattering of angler brands scattered around the show, OR hosted a “Fly Fishing Lounge,” which clustered relevant brands in the Pavilions, and a casting pond where folks could try out different rod/reel/line combos and techniques. The veteran brands we spoke to admit that they are not necessarily seeing more fishing shops coming to the show, but they are seeing more traditional outdoor stores move into the category, which was their goal of exhibiting in the first place. Even so, if you would’ve asked us four or five years ago, we would have thought fishing, particularly fly-fishing, would have had a much larger presence at Summer OR by now. (But five years ago, we partly expected RVs to be on display parked outside the Salt Palace Convention Center.)
Much the same can be said about the “Made in North America” trend. While we certainly see more and more brands proudly touting their domestic production, as well as their moving some or all of manufacturing back to North America, the movement has been slower-going than we expected when Made in the USA was our cover story back in Summer 2010. Still, we are glad to see the trend moving in the right direction.
Also increasingly present and pervasive, video and electronics continue to permeate the OR experience. Likewise, the use of wool, specifically merino, has not slowed by any stretch. In fact, wool increasingly is blended with stretch properties, as well as many other fibers and treatments (including CORDURA nylon). Lightweight is still the big word, though it’s no longer the end-all-be-all it has been in the recent past. (Could there be a lightweight backlash?). Footwear uppers also are increasingly bright and bold, as prints continue to grow in importance, and not just in apparel but also prints on packs and footwear.
And of course, minimalist running continues to speed along, as shoe designers continue to look for ways to streamline constructions and remove unnecessary weight. You just can’t use the word “minimalist” anymore. Apparently minimalism suggests a lack of cushioning and support, which folks appear to want. So as designs move from minimal toward the middle, the choices are now “natural motion” or “natural movement” or “zero-drop” or “low-profile” or hopefully somebody comes up with something altogether better.
Attendees also once again could hear and feel the recurrent concerns over the ability to attract younger demographics to outdoor activities and lifestyles. Industry leaders and advisors appear convinced that the best strategy for getting kids involved is through other kids, mainly by leveraging the “social” element, so to speak, of youth lifestyles. They’d call it “peer-to-peer engagement,” and organizations are laying down $Millions on the grants, studies, programs, consultants and non-profits to build the communities and networks to get kids connected together and excited about venturing into the outdoors.
Interestingly enough, the best marketing advice on the matter may have come directly from the mouth of babes. Champion 12-year-old kayaker Henry Hyde, who was pictured on the cover of the show daily as an example of the “future customer” and a model candidate to serve as an outdoor youth P2P ambassador, also was asked his opinion on how the industry can get more kids involved in kayaking and other outdoor sports. “It is the parents,” Hyde told the show daily.
Apparently, Hyde comprehends that ensuring future youth participation means getting kids involved at a very young age, largely before children are highly involved with friends, Likes and “selfies” – during those early years when parents and family are still the primary influences.
Industry veteran Darren Bush, co-owner of Rutabaga, also offered some sound advice on the topic. “Get the political system and school system involved, so that a P.E. program isn’t just basketball,” he told the show daily.
Elsewhere, the “industry” contingent at OR also shared some “new” research suggesting an “absolute shift” and a “changing definition” of how outdoor is seen in the eyes of consumers. But ultimately, very little new and original insight was provided. Rather, it seems the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) hired and paid a Palo Alto, Calif.-based “design and innovation firm” to basically tell us the very same things that outdoor community members on the show floor (and in the pages of our magazine), along with the U.S. Census, have been saying for many years.
For starters, consultants from IDEO and the leaders of OIA warn that the future outdoor customer is more likely to live in an urban area because 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a suburban or urban environment. That’s certainly true, as the latest U.S. Census figures show that 80 percent of the American population lives in urban areas. But urbanization is a decades-old trend, with more than seven of 10 U.S. residents living in urban areas as far back as 1970, and more than 79 percent living in urban areas in 2010.
Attendees also were told that they need to market the “softer side” of outdoor, avoiding the extreme images that excite core enthusiasts but do little to welcome less-involved or newer participants who might be intimidated by steep ascents, rapid waters, through-hikes and the like. Retailers, meanwhile, were advised to make their stores more inviting to fringe customers by opening “skills spaces” that host demos or classes.
IDEO’s and OIA’s conclusion – that the industry has to stop marketing to itself – is well taken. Ultimately, the “outdoor experience” is defined by consumers and what they are doing outside rather than by industry insiders. We’d argue, however, that many savvy outdoor marketers and retailers already have made this realization and have done a notable job of toning down marketing and imagery, as well as opening store spaces for clinics, classes and other community-building events. After all, the damage a “cooler-than-though” sales associate can have on new customer acquisition has become a cliché. Apparently, OIA finally has realized that it needs to stop looking in the mirror, and it assumes everyone else just made that realization, too.
Nonetheless, sans any revolutionary new products or show-floor-rattling revelations, this summer’s event offered the usual array of interesting products introductions, line extensions, announcements and market insights.
NEMO Equipment, for instance, continues to expand from its roots in backpacking tents to become an innovative leader among U.S. backpacking, mountaineering and camping gear brands. As part of a mission to offer the comforts of home but at light weights, NEMO’s new Cosmo Lite Series of sleeping pads trims 6 ounces off the first generation of Cosmo and Astro pads but keeps the comfort by marrying ultralight Airlock Elite 20D polyester fabric with horizontal baffles for a stable, smooth sleeping surface and 3” of plush loft. Cosmo Lite pads feature NEMO’s new streamlined foot pump (down to one valve from two) and a smaller surface area to save weight and space while still offering fast and easy inflation. Insulated versions feature PrimaLoft for protection from cold or hot ground. Meanwhile, a new series of Veda tents (1P and 2P) incorporate two trekking poles from each person, instead of one, since most pole users carry two poles anyway. The goal here is to provide more interior room and livability. Another nifty innovation is tricot wicking fabric located above the head to manage condensation. No more drips on the forehead in the middle of the night.
NEMO’s new Veda 2P
Sticking around the campsite, Eureka! expands upon last year’s backpacking tent introductions to venture into the adventure basecamp market with the three-season, four- to six-person Taron Basecamp, which sports its own list of innovations. This freestanding two-pole aluminum dome tent with side brim poles provides spacious interior and wall-to-wall headroom and incorporates Eureka!’s new E!luminate System of removable reflective ceiling fabric panels which, when installed, reflect the light from a hanging LED lantern to increase floor-level lighting brightness by up to three times. To keep rain out of the tent, Eureka! added a reflective dry entry marker to alert campers where to stop unzipping the fly. Openings also feature Snivel Locks that lock the fly panels with side-release buckles to eliminate wind-driven opening when away from the tent.
Serving the family camping consumer, the new Sunrise tent series, meanwhile, is equipped with the E!luminate System as well as the new Eureka! Media Center, a three-pocket gear hammock with a touch-screen friendly clear center sleeve that is suspended off the floor for watching video on tablets and other small electronic devices from the comfort of a sleeping bag.
Eureka! Sunrise 6P
From camp to trail, GoMotion has been wildly popular with after-dusk hikers and runners who want to get the heavy lamps off of their heads. A missing element in the company’s line of wearable lighting, however, was hydration. So in steps the Synergy Hydration Lightvest for S/S14. This 420 gram mesh running vest sports an adjustable CREE LED mounted on the sternum, as expected from GoMotion, and also integrates a 1.0 liter Hydrapak bladder. It comes complete with bladder or is available as a vest only.
GoMotion Synergy, just add water
Among the many component brand stories being told at OR (see next month’s coverage in Inside Outdoor magazine), the team at INVISTA’s CORDURA brand, for those who haven’t been paying attention lately, has been pushing its fiber technology into a widening array of fabrications and end uses – way beyond the bomber backpacks and travel pieces the brand was once known for. Introduced at the show this year is CORDURA Air Flow Technology Fabric, offered in knit constructions featuring enhanced abrasion and snagging resistance combined with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Targeted primarily for outdoor, athletic and safety footwear, these highly breathable fabrics are also used in durable mesh applications.
“We know that end-users in the outdoor, travel and apparel industries continue to seek out products that are designed to last,” said Cindy McNaull, global CORDURA brand and marketing director. “Product designers are responding to those needs by asking us to develop new durable fabric technologies, and we’ve delivered on those requests with a larger variety of weaves and deniers targeted for applications from performance apparel to ultra-light packs — and even footwear.”
For those not up to speed, CORDURA also is now available in CORDURA Ultralite fabric for tents and lightweight apparel; CORDURA Naturalle fabrics, offering a soft cotton-like feel and including waterproof, breathable laminates and stretch offerings; CORDURA Canvas (75/25 cotton/INVISTA T420 nylon 6,6 fiber); CORDURA Denim fabrics (88/12 cotton/INVISTA T420 nylon 6,6); and CORDURA Lite and Lite Plus fabrics, among others. Most recently, Levi’s announced a line of skateboarding jeans with CORDURA, and word is this fall CORDURA will be blended with wool to make more durable socks. Stay tuned.
DuPont Teflon, meanwhile, announced a technological advancements in fabric protection with the introduction of enhanced, high performance, short-chain products that offer documented environmental benefits. While allowing partner brands to comply with coming EPA regulations calling for the elimination of long carbon chain DWRs, Teflon’s updated chemistry will continue to provide superior fabric protection performance, says the company. Consumers also can feel good knowing that fabrics treated with Teflon fabric protector require less washing to remove stains, can be washed in 50% lower wash temperatures and dry up to 40% faster in the dryer.
From branded component to brands using components, the use of Insect Shield continues to spread from adventure travel wear into all sorts of softgoods, as pest-borne illness remain in the news. Cocoon, for instance, has added Insect Shield to its line of luxurious sleeping pad covers for worry free summer evenings camping by water. Also worth checking out are new merino wool Travel Sheets and MummyLiners, along with a line of microfiber robes for men and women. Everyday can be a spa day, right?
Cocoon Merino Wool MummyLiner
Fox River, meanwhile, has employed its first use of TENCEL, incorporating the 100% biodegradable and organic fiber to its PEAK Series Sport Collection of socks. Soft TENCEL yarn, made of eucalyptus cellulose fiber, disperses water vapor and inhibits bacteria growth for a dry, comfortable performance, says the company. The softness of TENCEL combines with targeted cushion zones to provide a light landing. NanoGlide nylon reinforces and is designed to nearly eliminate friction and heat build-up that leads to blisters.
Fox River Peak Series sock with TENCEL
Sticking with socks, Point 6 illustrates several trends taking place in the under-the-shoe apparel category. The company is utilizing U.S.-made 100-percent compact spun merino yarns combined with Celliant recovery technology, graduated compression and fun, bold colors. It all comes together in the new Point6 Celliant Compression Wave.
Point 6 Celliant Compression Wave
Bright colors also continue to increasingly find their way into outdoor footwear, with yellows and reds being mixed with purples and sky blues and even pink, and not just in trail running shoes but even mountaineering boots, such as La Sportiva’s new Trango Club for men. The days of basic brown and green outdoor shoes are dead at last in the U.S. Thank goodness.
A small sample of the upper rainbow: La Sportiva Trango Club; Vasque ShapeShifter; Skora Fit
And the upper trend doesn’t stop with colors. Most designers are aware of the importance of prints in current fashion circles, with prints showing up on all sorts of apparel pieces and packs. Casual shoe company Cushe, for its part, introduced various collections of surf-inspired footwear featuring prints from legendary surf brand Hoffman California Fabrics. Part of a mission to “make comfort cool,” the prints came be found across the company’s shoes for women and men, as well as in a new collection of adorable little kids shoes.
Cushe casuals sport legendary Hoffman surf prints
Continuing its push into the U.S. market, Bergans of Norway displayed an impressive selection of performance outdoor outerwear and apparel, from the Super-lightweight, windproof and breathable Air Jacket, made of Pertex Quantum GL, to the Storebjørn Salopette technical pant made of three-layer New Generation Dermizax NX to the Osen Down/Wool Jacket also made with Pertex Quantum fabric. Jumping off the wall, however, was a new line of Rondane 12L and 6L training and competition pack for running, cross-country skiing and mountain biking. The Rondane features the Bergans’ patent-pending RS3 Stability System, which reportedly prevents the pack from “jumping” on the shoulders during use. In addition to the regular sternum strap and a torso strap that allows users to position the shoulder straps, RS3 (not to be confused with Washington’s RG3) allows the user to snap on straps running from the side of the pack to the ends of the torso strap, resulting in a pack that sits quiet and stable on the back as it hugs the body.
Bergan Rondane and the testing to prove it
Also relatively new to the U.S. outdoor market, Ecōths is a new brand of men’s apparel from the folks at women’s brand Aventura Clothing. Ecōths shows the same commitment to using organic cottons and natural fibers as its sibling brand but also will be donating three meals to local food banks throughout the U.S. for each garment sold. Sales reps for Ecōths have been asked to pick one local food bank in their region per selling season to receive the meals.
In another feel-good story, or at least an attempt to make good from a terrible situation, fishpond is now using a nylon fiber made from recycled commercial fishing nets. Apparently, when fishing nets come to their end of life, many times commercial fishers will simply cut the net loose, letting it clog and pollute the planets oceans and beaches to entangle wildlife and other aquatic species. A first for the industry, says company designer John Le Coq, the recycled nylon can be found in 14 bag models for 2014, including the Black Canyon pictured here.
The Black Canyon is one of several fishpond packs helping to clean our oceans
And while on the topic of water … considering that swimming in natural waters, according to USFS figures, is one of the most popular activities among people visiting public lands, we’ve often wondered why more core outdoor apparel brands have not offered swimming suits. So we weren’t totally surprised to see PrAna pushing a new line of traditional swimwear. A natural extension for PrAna from garments made for “yoga on the beach” or “yoga on a SUP board,” we still expect to see more swimwear coming from established outdoor apparel brands.
The recreating-near-water theme also comes to play with in the abundance of water shoes spread out around the convention center. Some have postured that the popularity of water-friendly footwear is a byproduct of the emerging popularity of stand-up paddling. We’re guessing, however, that the major international shoe brands are more concerned with the more than 100 million people who swim in and hike near rivers and streams than the 1.5 million who paddleboard. A few examples of new water-friendly shoes on booth display include Astral’s Portal, a technical shoe equipped with a quick drying and durable CORDURA uppers, drainage ports located at the front sidewall and a silt dump on the heel; ECCO’s new Lagoon, made with an all-open mesh upper, integrated drainage system and speed lacing; and the Trail to Rapids (T2R) line from Baffin, which features an internal channeling system that keeps debris out and allows water and air to flow through the shoe.
Wet or dry from top left: Astral Porter, ECCO Lagoon; Baffin Trail to Rapids
Touching both Made in USA and the trend toward customization, Liberty Bottleworks is breaking ground with a proprietary in-house process that prints personalized artwork and graphics on the company’s selection of “gradually tapered liquid carrying vessels.” That’s patent-lawyer-speak for a water bottle that doesn’t splash the chest when chugging. The company can turn around quality, personalized artwork on eco-cool bottles in two weeks from concept to delivery, sometimes quicker, says the company. Minimums are super low, but volume advantages kick in at around 72 units.
Customization doesn’t only come in small packages and soft goods. Old Town, for instance, unveiled a new fishing kayak that features six removable mounting plates that allow anglers to customize their rides. Apparently, users told Old Town they prefer the flexibility of not having the gear mounts permanently drilled to the boat. Meanwhile, the Predator’s three-stage Element seating system that can be lowered for paddling, raised for fishing or even flipped out of the way in stand-up mode for poling, sighting and casting.
Our “new to the show” note this year goes to Nanuk, a provider of Made in Canada waterproof protective cases. Offering cases for everything from professional photography equipment to consumer smartphones (as well as customized interiors), Nanuk, which is an Inuit word for polar bear, offers a lifetime guarantee on its promise to keep gear dry, and unlike some much-larger competitors, the cases are easy to open.
And finally, we leave you with some Tweet-style observations from the show floor that never got Twittered. Feel free to re-twit:
There are now almost as many ways to purify water as there are to carry water. Check out Steripen if you haven’t already. Easy and taste-free.
Paddling apparel is taking a next step, getting much hipper, comfortable, nice work.
Overland Equipment has re-entered the men’s market with a line bags and pouches. It’s been six years since men’s product has been in the line. Reception was strong at the show, say booth staffers.
If there is one word that can describe camping and backpack company Snow Peak, it’s “beautiful.” Highly functional, quality-made and well-thought-out Japanese gear and gadgets for camping and life filled the booth.
Osprey continues to rock and impress. Check out the Rev series of speed packs.
How about that adult-sized version of the old kids big wheel in the pavilion? I bet the nostalgia meter was off the charts around that booth.
And while were in the pavilions, did OR really believe putting an @ in front the word Pavillion would increase the number of attendees that made the short walk to the tents?
As far traffic in the pavilions, reactions we heard were mixed. Much seemed to depend upon folks expectations coming in and their location in the tents.
Didn’t get a chance to look closely at new brand TICLA’s offering, but love the concept of high-end, high-quality car camping tents. Paha Que has been doing it for years.
The standard zipper was declared dead by the show daily, but so was brick-n-mortar retail back in 1996.
Is the soft-colored, short-sleeve plaid shirt the official uniform of those who want to be sure to look outdoorsy, genuine or otherwise?
Boy, the standards for what it takes to be a “hero” sure have lowered. No need to save a life or conquer some huge sacrifice, trump adversity. Just having a camera on hand and pushing record apparently can make you a “hero” nowadays.