Gear trends: 2015/16 Adventure travel gear

Travel market searches for wider customer base while staying loyal to adventure spirit. Read up on the new gear slated for retail in 2015-16.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

The differences between an adventure and luxury traveler are decreasing, thanks to efforts by apparel and gear companies to bridge the gap between the two groups.

It makes business sense, according to the numbers compiled by the World Tourism Organization. In its 2014 annual report on adventure travel, the World Tourism Organization cited a number of similarities between adventure and luxury travelers, including above-average incomes, an affinity for quality equipment and clothing, and travel habits that are unique and expensive. One difference, the study noted, is that adventure travelers tend to repair gear before they replace it, while luxury travelers go straight for the latest and greatest once their equipment wears out.

“Other than that, I’m not sure there is a lot of difference between them,” said Jon Neff, co-founder of Grand Trunk, a luggage and travel gear company based out of Chicago, Ill. “My wife loves spending time in hotels with spas and I like nice gear to get me there.”

During a trip to Mexico with his wife a few years ago, Neff had an epiphany. They were standing in the lobby of a high-end, luxury hotel, when he saw something that inspired his entire brand.

“A couple came with big Osprey rolling duffels,” Neff said. “They weren’t short on money and it was interesting to see them roll in with that instead of the traditional suitcase.” So Neff returned to Chicago and asked himself, what other needs do luxury travelers have that an adventure travel brand can fill?

He wasn’t the only one asking those questions. For 2015, outdoor brands Toad & Co., Osprey, Gregory and Granite Gear, to name a few, are carving more room in their businesses for adventure travelers. It’s the crossover effect, and it’s lucrative enough to get most companies to at least experiment with stepping over the line.

“Part of what motivates us into this space is our customers are using our traditional packs for all of these reasons,” said Erik Hamerschlag, a product line manager for Osprey. “We try to build our gear to hold up to all sorts of levels of challenge.

Hamerschlag and a number of product line managers in the industry agreed on several important and required points that products must have to appeal to adventure and luxury travelers.

For starters, travel gear has to be versatile, like Osprey’s Ozone Convertible and Shuttle series. The Ozone Convertible acts as a large backpack that can carry a load for multiple days, or it can break down into two smaller backpacks that work for day hikes and shorter missions. The Shuttle line, meanwhile, adds all-terrain wheels to a backpack for easy maneuvering in airports and gravel roads.

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Find more versatility at Eagle Creek with its EC Lync system (MSRPs $255-$280), a collapsible luggage line, which the company calls a bag, backpack, duffel and stuff sack all at the same time. A three-step process quickly transforms it from airplane bag to trail-worthy backpack. For lighter luggage, check out Gregory’s Stash Duffel (MSRPs $69-$99), which comes with backpack straps, external pockets and an internal stuff sack. Even the 115-liter capacity beast weighs in at less than 2 pounds.

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Versatility applies to clothing, too. “We want to be able to create a few pieces out of the line that can pack well, have easy care, and have a super quick dry time,” said Chad Alasantro, senior men’s designer for Toad & Co., formerly Horny Toad. “If you hike in them in the afternoon and go back to the hotel and wash it in the sink, you can have it dry for dinner.”

Similar flexibility can be found in the ExOfficio Ometto Blazer (MSRP $175), a stylish blazer with softshell properties, such as water repellency and breathability.

Secondly, travel gear has to be durable. Many travelers would rather spend their money on lavish experiences in far-off lands than having to buy new gear every year, according to the World Tourism Organization. Most high-end gear companies (including Grand Trunk and Osprey) offer lifetime warranties.

Grand Trunk’s Neff had this fact in mind when he built travel bags you can spill on, drop in the mud and easily clean. The Adventure Travel Organizer Modules (ATOM) (MSRPs $16-$100) sound fancy, but in reality, it’s simple functionality at its best. Compression cubes, toiletry bags and travel document organizers are scalable, collapsible and waterproof, three features needed by true adventurers and luxury loafers. The Explorer, a large toiletry bag, comes with an LED lighting system, so traverlers can pretty much freshen up whenever, wherever.

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“The initial thought behind the design was how do we create a versatile piece that you can use before the trip, during the trip and after the trip,” Neff said. “I went to Peru and still needed deodorant.”

Thirdly, travel gear must look good. That was a key point in Toad & Co.’s push into adventure travel.

“Instead of wearing the traditional safari costume with a bunch of pocketing and a bunch of loops, we strip those details down and look at a more fashionable look for our clothing,” Alasantro explained. See that style in the Cartographer SS Shirt (MSRP $74), a quick-dry woven made with a synthetic, water-resistant chest pocket that blends right in with a hidden zipper.

Finally, travel gear should be environmentally friendly. Almost every product in the adventure gear market on display at Outdoor Retailer will highlight their product’s environmental impact, from where fabric materials were harvested to the types of plastics used.

For Toad & Co., it’s something the brand has always been conscious about, but not marketed until consumers started demanding to know — a fairly recent phenomenon that started with the ecotourism boom, Alasantro said.

“We haven’t done a great job of voicing our sustainability,” he said. “We have massive bullet points to hit for fall 2015, when at least 75 percent of the line is 100-percent organic cotton.”

-- Ryan Slabaugh 

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