In the world of outdoor backpacks, sales trends are as varied as the terrain consumers carry them in.
“Consumers are looking for lightweight packs that are durable and functional,” said Nancy Bouchard, backpack category manager for Backpacker magazine. “Clean lines are in, fussy straps are out.”
She adds that designs going beyond a simple cargo bag with straps are also becoming increasingly popular, as are packs sized between simple day and multi-day use. “My testers love fleecy goggle and sunglass pockets, front U-shaped opening panels for heavy-load haulers, and good organization,” she said. “And while day packs are more popular than big-load haulers, we’re seeing growth in interest in slightly bigger packs. I think 20-30 liters is still the sweet spot.”
Retailers around the country echo those trends as consumers start to flock in for what’s new to them in spring and summer 2014. (Check our 2014 daypack and overnight pack previews from last year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market).
“We’re seeing a lot of movement in lightweight and ultra-lightweight packs,” said Mike Ruschman, hardgoods buyer for Midwest Mountaineering. He pointed to such brands as ULA Equipment, which they brought in four years ago, and lightweight offerings from Granite Gear as moving especially well. It seems like weight is more of a concern for consumers these days,” he said. “We’ve experienced our greatest growth in the lightweight category.”
Lightweight pack makers are addressing some top concerns of consumers from a few years ago, retailers said, particularly in comfort and durability. Neptune Mountaineering General Manager Eric Schmidt, in Boulder, Colo., credits brands like Hyperlite Mountain Gear for employing durable and ultralight cuben fiber in its packs that can take a beating outdoors. The only drawback to today’s surge in lightweight offerings, he said, is that they come at the cost of adjustability and other sacrifices. “That’s the only knock. There’s not a lot of adjustability on some of the superlight models.”
Indeed, more fully-featured packs with midpoint of weight savings from the likes of Osprey, Gregory and Dueter with “dialed-in fits” are keeping pace.
“Being able to fine-tune a pack’s fit and change out its components is important,” Ruschman said. “If someone comes in with a broken collarbone, or has a short torso and narrow shoulders, they want to get a pack that fits them.” To accommodate this, Midwest carries a variety of packs with interchangeable hip belts and shoulder harnesses, as well as those fitting an array of torso sizes. He points to Gregroy’s veteran Baltoro and women’s Deva as fitting this bill, as well as the Osprey Aether and women’s Ariel.
As gear gets smaller and lighter, it's no secret that many consumers are slimming down their pack sizes. But entry-level overnighters might not have all the latest and greatest gear to reduce capacities, hence price point offerings (about MSRP $200) in the 50-liter and above category are doing well. Packs like the Osprey Volt and Viva, as well as the Deuter Act Lite are popular at Midwest Mountaineering, Ruschman said. “A lot of them have hip belts and shoulder straps with a sliding Velcro system and are priced about $100 lower than more technical offerings,” he said. “They don’t have as many bells and whistles, but a lot of customers are looking for that.”
At Tahoe Mountain Sports, it’s the travel category that’s taking off. “It’s the backpacks with the detachable day packs that are moving well this year,” said store owner David Polivy, adding that backpack sales, one of the store’s biggest categories, are up 20 percent so far in 2014. He pointed to the Deuter Transit line and Osprey FarPoint collection as doing exceptionally well.
Polivy added that consumers want more for less. “They want as much value as they can get.” This manifests itself, he said, in backpacks with good adjustability that can fit a variety of sizes. “They want backpacks that mom can use, but that will also fit their 13-year-old daughter.”
Along those same lines, retailers are applauding some merged uses for summer and winter packs. Manufacturers like Osprey and Deuter are adding the ability to carry skis and snowboards on some of their conventional pack offerings.