The outdoor industry certainly knows how to throw a party. There were movie screenings, bands playing, beer flowing, celebrities signing, orgs fundraising, runners racing, paddlers demoing and even a full-size Ferris wheel spinning, courtesy of Keen and its outdoor party-grounds. Oh yeah, there also was some pretty cool product too.
Yes, despite all the fun and festivities, Outdoor Retailer’s annual summer event still at its core is about the new product, and vendors once again didn’t disappoint. The outdoor vendor community remains on the near-cutting edge in terms of designs, materials, technology, eco-consciousness and cultural movements. On the other hand, the expo has become a lot more than a “retail” show. One demo day and four long days of exhibit hours are not even enough to see all the people, presentations, sessions, booths and happy hours one might hope to see heading into the Summer Market.
Nearly 2,400 OR attendees came by the Inside Outdoor booth to spin on the prize wheel
As for the most prevalent buzzes at the show, we mostly saw a continuation of existing trends and issues. (Surprisingly little noise about Patagonia’s work in micro-pollution research, however.) But if we had to describe ORSM16 in one word, it’d probably be: dichotomy, in that we repeatedly saw instances where two seemingly opposite sides of a spectrum were brought together. We saw heritage meet high-tech and durability combined with soft elegance, textiles that both warmed and cooled, and the combination of prints and patterns that once “clashed” becoming commonplace. We saw hiking boots combine light-and-fast elements with work boot influences, color palettes combining jungles greens with desert nudes, and hipsters practicing “paleo-primal” fitness exercises measured by modern smart wearables. A Promostyl analyst summed up the duality during a sports fashion presentation when she spoke of a “future-archaeological vibe.” Heck, nowadays we even “rough it” in total comfort. Indeed, “hybrid” applies just about everywhere, and boundaries are coming down right and left.
As for product trends, the story should start with Day 0, at the on-water demo, where stand-up paddleboards continue to capture attention. SUP has evolved into a full-blown category as it moves to the next stage of market maturity: specialization, or niching out. There are now more options for racing-specific SUPs, yoga SUPs, fishing SUPs, inflatable SUPs, beginner SUPs, rougher-water SUPs, hybrid SUPs and even multi-person SUPs. Stand-up paddlers are taking boards into all types of waters and crossing over into all sorts of other activities.
Even so, the large number of SUP vendors and new boards suggest the market is oversaturated when considering the relatively smallish participation numbers. But as a veteran product designer once told me about the oversaturation of kayaks several years ago, many of the factories building SUPs can easily be converted back to making plastic trash cans, or ballpoint pens.
Hobie, in particular, made a big splash by adding its MirageDrive pedal system to stand-up paddling. With its removable handlebars and spring-loaded foot pedals, Hobie’s Eclipse with MirageDrive is essentially an on-water elliptical machine but seems way more fun than pumping away while staring at a gym TV.
Pedal-drives are becoming more prevalent in kayaks, as well. As kayak fishing continues to drive dollars in the kayak market, pedals systems free up hands for anglers to actually do the activity they originally bought the boat to do in the first place. Consider the new Wilderness System Radar kayaks which can be interchangeably upgraded with the company’s new Helix PD pedal system or the new Helix MD motor drive or paddled traditionally (it also can accommodate a mounted depth finder in place of the drives). Now kayak fishers can effectively pedal out to their fishing spot, paddle around to dial in the pattern and motor back to shore when done.
Wilderness Systems’ Helix peddle drive drops into the hull of Radar kayaks
From creek to crag, climbing and “climbing-influenced” brands are working hard to capitalize on the growth in climbing gyms. That includes gear designed to help folks make the transition from the relative safety of indoor walls to the reality of outdoor rocks.
Indeed, indoor climbers represents a very different beginning climber demographic than that which existed two or three decades ago, explain Petzl executives. These climbers are learning often on their own before venturing outside, and while they may bring a higher skillset from years of training in a managed environment, they also often have bypassed the technical knowledge that 5.10 climbers learned as they developed their strength and technique. With that in mind, products such as Petzl’s new GRIGRI+ appeal to this demographic, in particular its ability to be set in either top-rope or lead mode and a its new assisted-braking device that’s suitable to novice climbers thanks to its anti-panic function. This function engages automatically if the user’s adrenaline spikes and they yank too hard on the handle. The descent will stop automatically for a moment before the handle is re-engaged and the descent can continue in a controlled manner.
Petzl’s new GIGRI+ for those new to the GIGRI climbing
Moving now from crag to camp, tents are undergoing a bit of transformation of their own. Apparently, a good segment of campers, or at least outdoor marketers, want their tents off the ground. Several vendors are now offering roof-top tents, hammock tents even tree-house tents. Beyond the places where ticks and jiggers infest the ground, these tents come in handy when flat or non-rocky ground is hard to come by or when a festival parking lot needs to be converted into overnight accommodations.
James Baroud (top left), TepuiTents and Yakima (bottom) and are three early entrants in the rooftop tent race
Elsewhere, temperature regulation and ventilation are both far from novel ideas, but there has certainly been increased marketing emphasis on “keeping users cool,” either by adding more “cool” mesh panels or dye cuts to fabrics, wicking and fiber blends such as the “metabolic cooling” provided by Polartec Delta fabrics, proprietary “cooling agents” and even “Swamp cooling” technology, as seen in a new Ruffwear’s Core Cooler (pictured).
And speaking of “cooling,” both hard- and soft-sided coolers were among the hottest categories at the show, no doubt invigorating by Yeti, which a few years ago rethought a commodity product to much success. About the only camping accessory more visible than coolers were outdoor audio systems. You could even find plenty options of outdoor audio systems integrated into hard-sided coolers. Party on Wayne.
How much cooler can coolers get? Ask AO Coolers
Some pretty cool developments within textiles and components, the heart & soul of innovation at the show, also were on display. After several years of development, Allied Feather & Down introduced a synthetic insulation that comes about as close as it you could get to the look, feel and properties of true down. Loftech insulations feature a unique synthetic cluster built around fibers of varying deniers and fiber construction to mimic the natural down cluster. With this variation of size, type and shape, says Allied, the clusters are able to bind to each other better than other three-dimensional synthetics, trapping more air and ultimately creating more warmth. Similar insulations on the market currently use a single-denier manufactured in a uniform way, which reduces warmth and increases cold spots caused by normal washing, says Allied. Ultimately to come in three variations (recycled and organic options are coming), these new “blowable synthetic” insulations expand the range of uses and warmth ratings of synthetic down. Until now, most similar synthetic insulations have required very small baffles, limiting their use to lighter weight outerwear. Products that require larger baffles, such as warmer parkas and sleeping bags, are now possible with Loftech.
Pertex, meanwhile, continues on the cutting-edge of super lightweight, abrasion-resistant fabrics. Its new CS10 technology uses yarns with a unique diamond-shaped filament – opposed to the traditional circular knit – which the company says locks together to provide a very stable construction. Along with superior abrasion resistance, the tightly interlocking filaments also improve water-bead properties. Fabrics with CS10 are also downproof, soft to the touch and offer an aesthetic sheen. Early adopters include Montane, Berghaus and Peak Performance.
And keep an eye on CORDURA. Cindy McNaull and company at the INVISTA brand have been partnering with a cross-section of fashion-design leaders (and students) and trendsetting brands both large and small to illustrate the “softer side” of durable CORDURA fibers. CORDURA’s nylon 6,6 is being smartly and elegantly incorporated into just about every form of sports and leisure wear, as well as top-shelf business suits, adding durability and lasting power to even the most stylish of garments, as well as bags. Look for more interesting things to come from separate partnerships between CORDURA and Lenzig (Tencel) and Levi Strauss.
CORDURA collaborations are happening everywhere across the fashion and apparel industry
In footwear, there were a few “firsts” to be found. Forsake launched its first spring women’s line, and the collection contains the same cool, eclectic designs and performance elements that propelled the brand’s men’s shoes to relatively quick success within specialty channels. The Duck, pictured here, is part duck shoe, part light hiker and part athletic shoe, providing another example of merging influences and barriers falling.
ForSake continues to think outside the toebox with its new women’s line
Another relatively young brand making mature noise, Astral unveiled its first trail series. “Building upon our fundamentals of lightness, superlative grip, balance and water-readiness, we have developed some of the most unique and versatile trail shoes on the market,” said CEO and product director, Philip Curry. Still water-friendly and in line with Astral’s roots, the TR1 series incorporates Astral’s G rubber outsoles, Balanced Geometry midsoles, Top Shank and the cool Curry tends to bring to designs.
Astral’s TRI trail shoes (TRI Mesh above) are still water friendly, keeping with company roots
And Vasque, for its part, unveiled its first kid’s line, citing a dearth in the market of high-quality kids trails shoes from prominent brands. The line starts off with two high-top boots and one low-top light hiker at parent-friendly price points. As for footwear, in general, cushioned outsoles are once-again dominant and we are seeing less contrasting colors and more tone-on-tone in uppers.
Elsewhere around the show floor … There certainly was a fair share of drones on display, which very well could represent a short-term opportunity for outdoor specialty dealers since the expected massive sales will fill several channels of distribution. Don’t get married to drones, however, as you will eventually be racing big box dealers to zero.
Kovea came to market with a stove that burns, get this, without fuel. A revolutionary idea that could forever change outdoor cooking, and the eco-impact, heats through induction, similar to home cookers. The goal is for the battery to run the stove for 30 minutes, limited it somewhat to a night or two in the backcountry, and Kovea plans to add a fail-safe switch that shuts the stove off when nothing is resting on the burner. In addition to environmental benefit, the induction camp stove also allows for cooking inside of tents.
Some quick buzzworthy trends and notables: Body-mapping prints and graphics that accentuate the human form; hang tags that also function, such as a sundial or mini-multi-tool; product built to last/repair services; layering of different types of prints and graphics in one item; true black, not four color black; sacha inci superfood; Fanny packs are back. Yes, I hear the collective groan, but younger kids don’t care how dorky the trend became in the 1990s, and that dorkiness just adds to the satiric chic, anyway.
How fast can a product category emerge? There were at least three exhibitors hawking a new breed of inflatable camp loungers/ground hammocks (Eno, TravelChair and upstart Wind Pouch). These human-sized hot dog buns are quickly inflated by taking a few brisk steps to create and capture wind, are portable, and can pull double-duty as floaties on water. No doubt encouraged by the hammocking trend, one could certainly kick back into smartphone-nap position. The first time you see one of these inflatable couches, they seem a bit absurd. The next time you walk by, it gets intriguing. The third time, you want to buy one. Certainly a holiday gift candidate.
Eno’s inflatable lounger (left) uses Repreve recycled plastic; take a lounger at the TravelChair booth
Hats have become as deceivingly technical as socks. Similar to the way a seemingly straightforward performance sock can have several different fibers, construction zones, compression and IR technology, brands such as Headsweats and Chaos’ CTR collection have hidden lots of performance into what many might think is just a way to keep sun off their face or cover bed head. CTR, for instance, incorporates “deconstructed bills” (EVA perforated to reduce weight and warmth), moisture wicking fabrics, reflective trimming, anti-glare under-brims, UPF protection, insect repellent treatments, ripstop fabrics, etc. all in very stylish pieces.
It’s hard to get more techie than the Choas CTR chase and not be a helmet
Action cam meets the live streaming craze at Sioeye. The software company’s Iris45 Blink action cam is built with a smartphone-type operating systems, is 4G LTE and Wi-Fi enabled and comes with its own SIM card (cheap data plans are available through T-Mobile). Users can one-touch livestream through the action-cam to sites such as Periscope or Facebook Live. What’s more, Sioeye has its own backend network and video compression software, so your video is left up to best-effort public Internet transport.
Sioeye Iris45 action cam was built specifically for live streaming
Backcountry solar chargers are still widely prevalent at the show, but there are not nearly as efficient as hydropower, and BlueFreedom came to Summer Market with the world’s smallest portable hydropower plant. Benefitting from sleek German engineering (20 centimeters, 600 grams) and reasonable prices points (wholesale under $200), the device converts flowing water to energy to charge all those smart devices.
Sticking with high-tech, check out the Coros LINX smart cycling helmet. It connects to smartphones for hands-free access to music, communications and navigation, while the integrated open-ear, bone -onduction audio adds safety by keeping ears open to the surroundings. The connected helmet will even alert a contact if the rider takes a fall.
And finally, for an industry that speaks a lot about “attracting youth” to the outdoors, and the importance of the next-generation of outdoor enthusiasts, there really isn’t a lot of product, marketing, visuals, promotions, etc., angled toward young kids and, more importantly, young families. We seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time chasing Millennials, when it’s unlikely that someone who hasn’t participated in an outdoor activity by the time they are 25 or 30 years old will suddently pick them up now. Remember, most outdoor participants are introduced to the outdoors at very young ages, typically by a parent.
RELATED: Product Market Showcase Spring/Summer 2017