Gear trends: Adventure travel for 2014/15

That’s the ticket: Opportunity for growth lies in adventure travel, urban outdoor categories.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. 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.

“Adventure Travel is a $263 billion market that’s grown 65 percent since 2009,” said Shannon Stowell, president of Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). “And it’s a market that’s largely untapped by outdoor brands.”

Stowell’s numbers are from ATTA’s Adventure Tourism Marketing study released last August in conjunction with the George Washington University, which also indicates adventure travelers are educated, affluent and spending $82 billion annually on gear and apparel.

Luis Vargas, head of the Clymb’s Adventure Travel division, said more outdoor brands should be paying attention to the category. “Millenials coming into their earning potential will be bigger than the boomers,” said Vargas. “For them more than any other group, it’s not about stuff but what you do with it.”

Outdoor brands like ExOfficio are tapping the trend to better engage with consumers on their level, Vargas said. “Showcasing elite athletes doing what only elite athletes can do isn’t cutting it anymore. Your brand should be asking how to enable everyone to do great things.”

For companies that are actively engaged in producing and marketing to adventure travelers, the trends are clear.

“In years past, consumers’ outdoor adventures started when they drove to a remote location to hike, boat, ski or climb,” noted Jeff Ladra, JanSport’s outdoor product manager. “Now, adventure can begin at the front door. The sweet spot is versatile equipment that can cross over from a city day to a mountain day.”

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“Younger people are traveling more, discovering the joys of doing a local distillery tour rather than flying to Scotland to taste whiskeys,” said Robyn Gibson, vice president of sales at Innate. “In line with the local food and craft beer trend, it’s an opportunity for the user to establish the value connection of gear suited to local adventure to a demographic without the budget to go overseas.”

ExOfficio’s feminine Marled Funnel Neck (MSRP $90) knits together recycled coffee grounds for odor control, wool fibers for warmth and tech fibers for moisture control.

“Our customers are headed to places they need gear for hiking, paddling, camping, surfing and biking all in one week,” Big Agnes owner Len Zanni said. “We’re tailoring gear to be lightweight, packable and functional for many activities in a mix of weather.” The company built its mid-weight, 700-fill, packable DownTek Women's Late Lunch vest to be cozy with a drop tail for weather protection (MSRP $180).

“Customers are willing to spend more on product that’s technical and creative enough to satisfy a wide spectrum of needs,” said Bill Inman, ExOfficio design and development director. And our retailers with a dedicated adventure travel section, “are seeing a nice uptick in sales.”

“Our customers want to jump off the plane and head straight to dinner without changing or worrying about wrinkles,” said Columbia’s Brett Reynolds, product line manager of women’s outdoor lifestyle sportswear. “We’re selling sharp silhouettes in vibrant colors.”

“Adventure travel is sort of like beauty — it’s in the eye of the beholder,” said Peter Sachs, Lowa’s general manager. “I think the opportunity for our industry is to listen to the customer and meet their needs, and to get people into the right product for their travels.”

Light with low suffer factor is the new mantra for core and soft adventures.

Erik Hamerschlag, product manager at Osprey said the convertible travel pack segment continues to grow the company’s bottom line. “Outfitters are getting creative designing adventures, so we built a travel line that gets your gear there no matter what, with volume, carry method and organization choices.” A detachable daypack on Osprey’s updated Wayfarer/Waypoint packs (MSRPs $280) gives travelers on-the-go access their tablets without removing them from the bag. Eagle Creek’s Tandem Warrior (MSRP $299) and Docking Duffel (MSRP $155) convert from one bag to two.

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“Technology has pushed gear to be lighter, stronger and more user-friendly,” agrees Karl Wiedemann of Thule. “Companies can increase sales by showing older gear isn’t up for the challenge.”

“Connectivity is re-shaping how people plan and experience their travels,” said Elinor Fish, senior account manager at Backbone Media. Airbnb.com, TheClymb.com, TourRadar and others let adventurers research and book a holiday with just a few clicks. Travelers depend on technology to keep them connected to friends and family back home.

“The type of tech that people are carrying is changing rapidly — we need to respond, said Mike Wallenfels of Timbuk2. The brand’s Dashboard Messenger (MSRP $79) has a removable laptop sleeve that integrates into the bag when you need it, and when you don’t, it can be removed to increase bag capacity.

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“Travelers today seek a more immersive, meaningful experience, a level of agility and mobility, so they need gear that supports this with exceptional function, streamlined design and the ability to transcend activities and environments.

“Thoughtful, essential gear helps free the traveler to the experience,” said Innate’s managing director, Greg Foweraker. “Adventurers want gear that works on holiday, but also at home, in their local mountains or on a business trip.”

--Berne Broudy

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