Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '05 Trends: Travel gear and accessories

With each passing year putting more time between the events of 9/11, the travel industry seems to grow stronger and stronger. The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) is forecasting that in 2005 $11.2 billion will be spent on travel in the United States, up 3.7 percent over the year before. While some companies hold off new product introductions until fall -- JanSport, for one -- to coincide with the Travel Goods Show every March in Las Vegas, there was still plenty to see at Summer Market as our SNEWS® report will show.

The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer, ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for travel gear and accessories:

With each passing year putting more time between the events of 9/11, the travel industry seems to grow stronger and stronger. The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) is forecasting that in 2005 $11.2 billion will be spent on travel in the United States, up 3.7 percent over the year before. While some companies hold off new product introductions until fall -- JanSport, for one -- to coincide with the Travel Goods Show every March in Las Vegas, there was still plenty to see at Summer Market as our SNEWS® report will show. Lightening the luggage load is a popular theme as manufacturers like Eagle Creek and Osprey try to shave off ounces from product offerings. And, with airlines cutting back on snuggly amenities and a resurgence of hitchhiking bedbugs, companies are reporting a brisk business in pillow and blanket production -- Cocoon by Design Salt said sales in its pillow business is up 1,000 percent.

Aquis - The microfiber towel-maker has changed its towel packaging to a flat mesh bag with a zipper closure. The bags are easier to stack and display for retailers, and consumers can re-use them on their trips. Aquis is discontinuing plum-colored towels, sticking to blueberry, graphite and seafoam.

Camp Inn - Camp Inn has come up with the ingenious Exo Duffle. What makes it different? Each end of the duffle has a compression-molded pocket that not only offers abrasion resistance, but also allows the duffle to be folded down and stored in it. In essence, it becomes a hard shell case for easy storage just about anywhere -- garage, under the bed, car trunk, etc. In addition to all the normal carrying handles and grab handles on each end, the duffle also includes a harness system to carry on the back or shoulder. Three sizes are available -- 5,400, 8,670 and 13,000 cubic inches.

Cocoon by Design Salt - Giving travelers a good night's sleep is Cocoon's business, and it must be doing something right. Cocoon told SNEWS® its pillow business has increased 1,000 percent, prompting it to add more models like larger down and synthetic sizes. Plus, it now offers Memory Foam pillows that pack down easily for jet travel or camping, and don't get brittle in cold temperatures. Retailing for $50, they'll be available in stores in November. Cocoon also updated its packaging, cutting back on hangtags and offering reusable bags that have silk-screened on the outside what contents are inside.

Contourwear - Ladies, Contourwear is continuing to meet your fashion and travel needs with the new Adventure Travel Pack, made up of seven separate pieces that can be combined into 35 outfits. They're all bundled together in an accompanying SmartTravel Pouch, a water-resistant nylon bag, that can be slipped into a backpack or messenger bag. Contourwear said the price per outfit is less than $20. Of course, the full pack runs up to $700, so this certainly won't be an impulse buy.

Eagle Creek - While we wait for technology to advance sufficiently that our luggage and travel packs float conveniently along so we don't have to carry them, Eagle Creek has been working to lighten our load as its new Centerline Series can attest. The overall theme of the line is light, light, light, with one-third of the weight removed from most pieces. The collection is chockfull of products from the Cross Roads and Load Warrior wheeled luggage, to four travel packs featuring the Multi-Adjust Suspension backpack system, to daypacks and messenger bags. The Centerline bags are packed with features, including Eagle Creek's signature organizer pockets, reflective center strip for low-light visibility and lifetime warranty. The lightweight credo continues in the Exploration Systems collection with the Explorer LT, Explorer Trek LT and Ultimate Explorer LT redesigned to be lighter by 21 percent to 28 percent.

High Sierra - One bag does it all and High Sierra has the travel packs to prove it. Introducing four new styles, they feature adjustable Ergo-Fit shoulder harnesses, back panel and shoulder straps with mesh airflow and every type of gadget pocket imaginable for a CD player, cell phone, water bottle, sunglasses, etc. We liked that the removable daypack on the Transport, Railpass and Compass attaches to the main bag's backpack straps in the front using snap hooks. The AT3 Sierra-Lite collection is the newest iteration of the AT luggage collection and features a carry-on computer tote and wheeled upright, backpack and duffel.

Kiva -- Expanding on its Convertibles concept, Kiva now has the one-strap Convertible Sling that rests close to the body, with styles that transform into a larger tote, pack or duffel. Made of water-resistant ripstop fabric, the packed-down Sling measures 10 by 7 inches. Teaming up with travel guru Rick Steves, Kiva is offering a full travel gear line ranging in price from $10-$129 with everything from wheeled luggage, to backpack and shoulder bags, to assorted accessories. It also has introduced the Signature Collection designed specifically for women.

Merrell -- The most notable aspect of the Merrell Packs and Bags line was the considerable downsizing of the number of products being offered. The Transit collection is down to one style and the purses are gone. Merrell said it decided to tighten the SKU count because too much was going on, adding that some pieces weren't getting placed well and weren't what buyers wanted. The Outventure collection features the still-successful Chameleon II Wheelie bags in three sizes, the Torque II messenger briefcase and two hydration packs, while the Transit collection has the new Blow Out messenger bag. Overall, the company said it scaled down to a few really good bags rather than a bunch of OK bags.

Mountainsmith - New to the Road Trippin' line is the Cargo Carrier system that allows users to organize gear in cubes that are angled to fit in roof-top car boxes. Also, the company continues to expand its Road Trippin' cube family with a new double-sized cube, a bike-specific cube with pockets especially for tools, tubes and gadgets, and a smaller cooler cube perfect for a six-pack of soda or beer.

Osprey - Maybe Osprey should take a lesson from The Eagles rock band when they said they'd never tour together again -- never say never. Committed to wheel-less travel packs, the company gave in this season offering two wheeled convertible packs: the Meridian and the Sojourn. Each features the company's High Road Chassis system that has a high-clearance base for easy maneuverability over varying terrain, extra large polyurethane wheels with sealed bearings and ergonomic curved handle. The Meridian and Sojourn are still steeped in Osprey's heritage and feature a zip-away suspension backpack system, and are available in 22-inch and 28-inch sizes. The Meridian comes with a zip-off 1,200-cubic-inch daypack, while the Sojourn features the StraightJacket compression system. Maybe hell really has frozen over.

Pacsafe - With 11 new products for spring '06, Pacsafe said this was its biggest intro to date. Its original stainless-steel Exomesh is making the rounds throughout the line being incorporated into a duffle, shoulder bag, tote and two purses. It's also added more products with slash-proof straps, such as a luggage strap, camera strap and travel document holder.

Patagonia - The excitement was palpable at Patagonia as it introduced its revamped and expanded packs and travel gear line – a project that was two-and-a-half years in the making. Designer Geoff Rittmeyer was brought on board to lead the travel development, utilizing his strong industrial design background. No stone was left unturned on this line as it sourced or designed every fabric, component and clip, a company representative told SNEWS®. The WeatherShed wheeled duffle, available in two sizes, has a doctor's bag-style opening, separate padded bottom compartment for shoes or wet clothes, a two position T-style handle, and polyurethane wheels that offer plenty of clearance. The rubberized TPU outer on top and bottom with RF welded seams does appear to be tough enough to endure any baggage handler. We liked the Lightweight Travel pack, tote and travel courier made of 30-denier triple-ripstop nylon that is tougher than it looks (so we're told), highly compressible and stuffs into its own accessory pocket. The line also features urban travel packs and totes -- Lightwire and Pocketwire -- that act as mobile offices.  

Tecnica - We were a bit skeptical when we heard Tecnica was offering "travel footwear." Isn't all footwear travelable in some way? Well, once we saw what it had up its sleeve, we're believers now. Expanding on its Pacmoc base camp footwear concept, the new GMT adventure travel footwear features slip-ons and clogs named after retired jet planes -- Stratoliner and CV-880. The shoes have techy sensibilities -- TravelFlex to enable travelers to expand the volumes of their shoes after long flights, metal-free to breeze through security, and a latch system to hold them together and compress down -- and a dash of fun -- each outsole features a world clock by GMT time. The best part? They're subtly stylish so you'll actually want to wear them. And no pair would be complete without a storage bag thrown in.

Timbuk2 - Traipsing by Timbuk2, its wares looked fresher and more eye-catching than past shows. After checking in, we discovered the company had hired an outside consultant for a color palette revamp. With 12 new and updated colors, Timbuk2 said they're breathing new life into the products and it's clearly evident. Another notable segue way for the company is the introduction of daypacks -- five unisex and one female-specific styles. Evoking the same three panel colorways as its messenger bags, the Outtawhack, Track, Ace and Hayes have internal laptop compartments and countless organizational pockets for traveling in the urban jungle and abroad. Timbuk2 also introduced six new wallets also utilizing the company's three-panel design and rugged construction. Especially for travelers is the aptly named Travel Wallet, a 9.25-inch by 5-inch wallet with enough slots and pockets to centralize a traveler's important papers.