It took me three days and 46,896 steps to cover this year’s Outdoor Retailer summer show—a heady conflagration of all things gear-related in the colliding worlds of travel, outdoor adventure, and the active lifestyle. And I only hit a handful of the 1,626 exhibitors, not counting all the pre- and post-OR events, discussion panels, round-tables, demos, and…god knows what else. But I survived, and found a few truly cool, innovative, and noteworthy products that should be on your radar come spring 2016, which I’ll profile next week. But first, a few big-picture take-away trends that should help map out where the industry at large is heading.
1. Gregory; 2. Mystery Ranch; 3. Osprey; 4. Outdoor Research; 5. Headsweats; 6. Stormy Kromer; 7. Nau; 8. Topo Designs; 9. Herschel Supply Co.; 10. Helly Hansen; 11. The North Face; 12. Columbia; 13. Therm-a-Rest; 14. Eurika! ; 15. Nemo; 16. Snow Peak; 17. Sea to Summit; 18. Kammok; 19. BioLite; 20. Primus; 21. Stanley; 22. Patagonia; 23. Allied Feather & Down; 24. The Renewal Workshop; 25. MSR; 26. Primus; 27. Omeals.
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Transform and Customize
Backpacks have come in different sizes for a long time—both divided by storage volume and pack fit. And most expensive packs also typically have adjustable harnesses, which helps dial in the perfect fit, but becomes less important once you've perfected that fit (unless, say, you loan your pack to a friend). Gregory's new Drift and Amasa mountain bike day packs (pictured) take adjustments to the next level of legit utility. The waist strap moves vertically, meaning you can adjust it to sit a bit higher when you're cycling, since your hips don't carry the burden of the pack weight when you're in the saddle. And then you can lower it to touch at the hip bones when using it as a daypack, when you want to more evenly distribute the pack weight. Mystery Ranch's new Cairn expedition-sized backpacks also leverage harness adjustability into a new feature, letting you remove the entire harness from the main pack, and then use the two-pocked upper section as a burly summit/day pack. Osprey's new Ariel larger-format backpacks follow the same idea; as with some previous Osprey packs, the top lid can be removed and used as a day pack, but now it boasts all the standard backpack features, rather than some awkward take on a fanny pack. Of the two, travelers will likely gravitate to the Ariel since the burly harness from Mystery Ranch may be overkill for city exploration, while dedicated backcountry fans will love the Cairn's versatility—and its carbon fiber stays. All out Spring 2017.
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Trucker Hats on Steroids
The dominate swag of OR this season was undeniably the veritable flat-brimmed trucker hat. I returned from SLC with seven. So much for the branded pen, t-shirt, or bottle opener. And naturally the industry has upped their game by creating performance-oriented trucker hats. Outdoor Research will introduce three in spring 2017, with models geared toward the runner, the paddler, and the ultra-whatever racer. But Headsweats (pictured above) has already beat them to market with their huge line of graphics at prices that start at $25, aptly described as post-activity headwear. Stormy Kromer will also introduce a six-panel tucker this springwith a durable, waxed cotton curved brim to help combat the elements for a pricey $45.
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Urban, Alpine and Mountain Life
The trend has been percolating for years, but loads of brands are finally banking on the intersection of the urban explorer and the adventure traveler, promising products that meld high-tech fabrics with a much more fashion-forward aesthetic. Companies like Gear Geek favorite Nau have been leading this charge, and other brands have been successfully leveraging heritage/retro-styles to great success (looking at you, Topo Designs and Herschel Supply Co.. Some call it mountain life, other dub it alpine or mountain life. Whatever. It's a good thing. Expect more, like Helly Hansen's Highlands Jacket (pictured)—part of an ongoing live of urban-centric tech apparel, along with a new Urban Exploration/Homestead line from The North Face, heritage pieces from Columbia and more.
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Don't call it glamping—that phrase evokes images of faux bear rugs and hand-cranked record players. But loads of brands are banking on the Millennial trend of loving the outdoors without heading in the backcountry. Think car camping, or even pitching a tent on the roof. Therm-a-Rest will unleash three new shelters this spring (a six-person—pictured, along with a four-person tent and a stand-alone shelter that can pair with the larger tent), and Eurika!, a long-standing fixture for family camping, will revisit their entire line to make it easier than ever to take advantage of an open piece of earth. Nemo will unveil the Doublewide, a $180 two-person sleeping bag with built-in blankets and zip-off layer, and Snow Peak will introduce the Camp Couch ($780), which can be converted into a futon or a stacking shelf system. And the hammock craze is growing—second only to water bottles in the outdoor space, with new products hitting from Therm-a-Rest, Nemo, Sea to Summit, and Kammok's new Wallaby ($65), which weighs only 10 ounces and packs down to the size of a softball.
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In consort with the mad rush of car-camping enthusiasts, outdoor chefs will be able to up their game soon. BioLite already introduced their stellar PizzaDome (pictured, $70), which cooks up pizzas and flatbreads via a three-piece system with a ceramic stone and an integrated thermometer. Bonus—it works with real fire, and uses the heat to charge your electronics! And this fall Snow Peak will introduce a new field oven accessory—a glazed ceramic pizza cooker. Eurika!, meanwhile, leverages a cast iron griddle/grill pan to their Gonzo Grill, offering three ways to cook. And as for the cooking tools themselves, Primus will have a cache of new cooking kits, including one with three wooden utensils, a micro plane-like grater, and knife. And Stanley's new 19-piece Adventure Base Camp will offer a one-stop solution to all outdoor kitchen sets, including a legit fry pan, other stainless steel cooking vessels, and plates—along with an ingenious drying rack for them when you're done eating.
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Columbia was the latest brand to remove PFCs from their waterproof/breathable jackets And this fall NAU will follow suit with an entirely new line of fashion-forward rain jackets made of recycled fabrics and absent of any PFCs. "Egg-to-jacket" responsible down is also very much part of the conversation, led in large part by Patagonia and Allied Feather & Down (suppliers to most in the industry). But this fall another player enters the fray, one targeting an untapped opportunity—utilizing products deemed "unusable" by retail that would otherwise end up in landfills. The Renewal Shop with brands and retailers to take products that are returned for minor defects, do a detailed cleaning process, fix any issues, and then offer the products for resale to brand partners like Ibex and Prana, ship wholesale to retailers, or sell them on an online marketplace. Think of it as a refurbished iPhone—only in outdoor apparel. More soon as they approach launch in mid-October.
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The Long Spoon
This solves a problem you might've encountered while the backcountry. All those freeze-dried food packets? They deeper than your standard spoon (or your titanium spork, if you're so inclined). But now you can get to every nook and cranny without pulling some sort of origami, provided you have one of the new long spoons from MSR and Primus (pictured). Oh, and if you're sick of boiling hot water to add to the freeze-dried packets, check out the new line of backpack-ready grub from Omeals, which uses a technology similar to chemical hand warmers to cook the food in its packet. Oh, and for the record, the best trucker hat on the floor? MSR's "Wanna Spoon" design.