If you wish to see new products for the coming year's market before anyone else in the United States, then you had best head out to OutDoor. As it was last year, the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, became THE international preview of 2006 outdoor product, for both European and North American companies, the latter attending OutDoor in greater numbers than ever before.
U.S. and Canadian brands such as Black Diamond, Trango, Superfeet, Arc'Teryx, Gregory, Osprey, Keen, Chaco, Montrail, Eagle Creek, Smartwool, Western Mountaineering, Timbuk2, Highgear (TechTrail), Sugoi, Primaloft, Vasque, Timberland, Camelbak, Thorlo, Teva, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Jetboil, Outdoor Research, and more, laid out their product, noting to the SNEWSÂ® team on hand that in most cases, what we were being shown was what the company would also debut at WSA or Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in August.
And if you want an inside track on some hot new items either not (yet) available in North America or coming soon, this is also the place to be.
Packs finally have some buzz going on
Mountain Hardwear and Arc'Teryx, companies that have been working on very different and very innovative pack technologies for nearly four years now, unveiled new pack designs at OutDoor that readers will absolutely want to make a point of seeing for themselves at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
For Arc'Teryx, the pack line is called AC2 for advanced composite technology. Essentially, the packs are a streamlined and very aesthetically pleasing creation that feature waterproof, bondable fabric with watertight zippers, plastic hardware bonded to the fabric instead of sewn and roll top closures. It also has a very unique back panel that fuses the shoulder straps and waist belt attachment point to the panel, and the panel to the pack. Our team hasn't seen anything quite like these packs â€¦ ever.
Mountain Hardwear offers up an equally innovative pack line -- also the debut of packs for the company -- with the Exodus line. The concept is to provide a pack frame that moves with the wearer and offers complete unrestricted mobility. In essence, with a combination of waist belt materials that conform to the user and a unique shoulder harness combined with a pulley system for on-the-fly torso adjustment, the pack -- when sized well and properly worn -- fits like it was made for the person wearing it and allows full freedom for scrambling or skiing, for example.
Gregory has a suspension story of its own, though it is more an evolution than the revolutionary innovations shown by Arc'Teryx and Mountain Hardwear. Still, the Response Suspension System does appear to take Gregory's legendary good fit and comfort and up that ante a bit by providing a suspension that will pivot and move with the body rather than restrict it.
Osprey, well regarded as a leading pack brand that once claimed it would never enter the world of wheels in the luggage line has bowed to pressure, and at the same time, created a wheeled luggage line that is very far from being a me-to. What really impressed our team was the quality of suspension system that made it clear this was wheeled luggage made by a pack company, not wheeled luggage with some straps tossed on just in case a carry is required. We're already eyeing the Sojourn as a key addition to our travel luggage quiver.
With one eye on the U.S.
Quite a number of European companies noted to SNEWSÂ® that each would be undertaking a U.S. debut at this year's Summer Market.
>> Storm Waterproofing -- This might very well be one new company that gives the likes of Grangers and, perhaps, Nikwax a bit of competition. Tim Wilson, the managing director, formed the company after leaving Grangers, so he does know a thing or two about fabric care products. What struck us as most unique is that Wilson has chosen to create one or two products that do many things, rather than a bottle of stuff for this, another bottle for that, and a completely different bottle when this and that aren't what needs washing. Everything is geared around ease of use, simplicity and fabric performance. www.stormwaterproofing.com
>> White Rock -- Who would think a company with a name like White Rock would make hats that keep you cool? Coming to the United States for the first time at 2005 Summer Market, the United Kingdom-based company that began in 1986 will show its mix of products, with an emphasis on the "HydroCool" hats and neck bands. The nifty feature here is that the brow and sweat bands of various styles of hats are filled with those crystals that turn cool when wet. The company's promise is that they stay wet and therefore cool for hours. You can even freeze them for super long-term cooling. Most also have a sun protection factor of 30 and are bug-resistant. Look for them in a British block of booths in the pavilion under the name Go Outdoors (the name of the U.K's outdoor trade group). www.specialistsport.co.uk
>> Trekking Umbrellas/Euroschirm -- We've heard about this German company before but never really thought it was selling product meant for outdoor use as much as it was for travel or adventure travel use. Suuur-prise, suuur-prise, as Gomer Pyle used to say. The founder, Eberhard Goebel, who will be walking Summer Market in August, proudly explained the details of what perhaps is the lightest umbrella on the market. We were utterly stunned when he handed us one. Weighing in at about 205 grams -- or just a hair over 7 ounces -- this new "Swing Liteflex" has ribs made of a high-density fiberglass, an EVA foam handle and Goebel told us can withstand strong winds -- if it flips up, you can just flip it back. Currently, GoLite carries another umbrella from Goebel, but he tells us he is now establishing his own office in Atlanta and wants to expand into the outdoor arena. Now, he's doing relatively brisk business in golf. www.birdiepal.com or www.euroschirm.com
>> Optimus stoves -- Already known in the United States for quality stoves (distributed by Brunton), Optimus of Sweden showed a new lightweight stove introduced at the OutDoor show that may or may not make it to the United States soon -- The Stella has a 3000-watt rating and folds up into itself, totally flat. Amazing! It weighs about 8 ounces, folds down to less than 1.5 inches, but still holds up to a 4-kilogram pot and takes three minutes to boil a liter of water, using butane. www.optimus.se or www.brunton.com
Look out because you might see them over here before long
But what can be a true treat is taking a look at non-North American product that is NOT yet in the United States -- but might well be before too long. In this category, SNEWSÂ® saw a few companies that will be ones to watch:
>> Light My Fire -- Like the Orikaso folding plates and bowls we called out last year, Light My Fire's Outdoor Meal Kit (now sells in Canada for CDN $29 -- USD $24) made us stop and say, "Ooooo, cool," just as others did when they walked past. Simply put, it is a polypropylene plastic reinterpretation of the mess-kit, with much more style, usefulness, versatility and function. There is a spill-free cup with lid, a small sealable bowl, a larger triangular-shaped bowl with lid that serves as the container for everything, a combination cutting board and strainer, and a "spork" -- a plastic fork-knife-spoon combination. Sporks sell separately for Euro 2.00 (USD $2.40) and have just become the go-to utensil in the official SNEWSÂ® adventuring pack. This is a product worthy of design awards. www.light-my-fire.com
>> Salt + Pepper -- Again, garnering another "oooooo" from our team and others we showed this little beauty to, the product is simple, and extremely functional -- if a tad expensive for a salt and pepper shaker (more than USD $20). Made of polycarbonate, it is a waterproof container for salt and pepper, or any other combination of two spices you might like to travel with. The lids are easy open and easy snap close and scream Swiss engineering. www.swiss-spice.com
>> Lifemarque -- Quite possibly the best new find of the show, hands down. For Lifemarque, this was the first time the company exhibited its line outside of the United Kingdom. Most impressive was the LittleLife brand of child carriers (as beautifully designed as anything we have seen currently sold here in the United States), portable children's travel cots, beds and backpacks for toddlers. The company also produces health and first-aid gear under the LifeSystems brand and travel gear and accessories under the LifeVenture brand. No question in our mind that this company will do very well in the United States should it choose to look in this direction. www.lifemarque.co.uk
>> Real Expedition Meal -- Never had we really put a lot of thought to the healthfulness of a dehydrated meal until a week before the OutDoor show when we were on a backpack trip and we picked up a bag to read the ingredients. (Hope that's not a comment about the company!) We were stunned when we saw trans fat and the quantity of saturated fat. So chance would have it that on the bus to the German show hall the first day, we were introduced to a couple of folks from Real Meal, a 15-year-old Norwegian company that is just now breaking out of Norway, with this show being its introduction outside of Scandinavia. Real Meal is the real deal. All natural ingredients, no hydrogenated fats, and just plain real food, all vacuum-packed in a zippered, three-layer cooking pouch with a middle layer of aluminum to keep it warm. No wonder the Norwegian army buys the company's food exclusively. www.realexpeditionmeal.com
>> Kwark -- We've talked of Kwark before, a small company out of Poland that makes incredibly fashionable but incredibly technical apparel (mostly of Polartec fabrics). Now, the company has expanded its summer line to include signature shirts and light jackets of Power Dry and, for the first time, men's shirts in earthy tones but still with the Kwark touch. If you haven't seen them, do yourself a favor and go look at www.kwark.pl. They aren't in the United States. Yet. Although founder and designer Katarzyna Nizinkiewicz (by the way, a physicist by education, thus the company name, Kwark) tells us she thinks she's about ready.
>> Sports Street -- We noticed Sports Street pants in the romping, rowdy, athletic fashion show at the OutDoor show and had to go take a look. Out of Pakistan and sold in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, Sports Street is a bit what its name says -- sports wear that is street wear. A whole range of pants styles are very urban with zip-offs, cargo pockets and a real streetwear look, but one that is durable for trekking, skating or whatever. The newest addition that caught our eyes: a built in pocket for cell phones. You know those little coin pockets built into the upper part of a pocket on jeans? Well, imagine that but, of course, deeper and wider for small cell phones. A nice simple concept really since you don't always want a lump hanging low in your pocket (we won't make the joke, 'kay?) or a lump on the side of your thigh in a pocket. www.sports-street.com
No, really, they were trying to sell this
OK, then we get into the category of perhaps slightly absurd. Every country has these and they are always entertaining:
Powdered red wine? -- Always ready for the unusual, we made a beeline to the "Trekking Mahlzeiten" booth when we heard about the powdered red wine the company had. Sigh. We were told there were no tastings to be had. Why? Because it's "summit wine," we were told in German. Oh, does that mean it doesn't taste good if you aren't at the summit? The sales rep shuffled his feet and looked a bit sheepish: It's not really red wine, he said; rather it's "red-wine flavored drink" (mind you, we are translating from the German here). He said it was really juice "in the direction of red wine." They didn't want to do tastings for fear attendees would compare it to the real deal. Rather disappointed (must have been we were desperate, bored or both), we still were given a sample pouch. We promise to let you know how it tastes next time we summit something -- maybe just the rock behind the office. P.S. They still aren't kidding on the alcohol though with this red-wine-flavored drink listing a 9.27 percent alcohol content. Yowza!
Quick-release undies -- OK, get your minds out of the gutter. This dude was serious with his quick-release, side-release undies. Although he was having a hard time doing a sell on some German women who found the whole scenario a bit embarrassing we think. You shoulda seen the press release: The poor model had to stand in a snow field with his pants around his ankle in his nifty-difty quick release undies as if he were getting ready to, well, release them to do his businessâ€¦. We'll stop now. If you want to take a look, go to www.quick-slip.de, although it's all in German.
Sometimes, travel to foreign countries requires a combination of bold and resourceful thinking in combination with adaptable and flexible attitudes to survive what life tosses at you. During our visit to OutDoor, we stayed at a wonderfully classic, four-star hotel in central Friedrichshafen where high-speed wireless access was available -- if you managed to discover it for yourself because the hotel didn't tell you about it. For the SNEWSÂ® team, having high-speed wireless connections, or at the very least a high-speed and reliable Internet connection while on the road, is essential so we can bring you your SNEWSÂ®, even while traveling.
What we discovered, however, is that this particular high-speed wireless connection had a little twist to it. For one thing, the hotel had decided to place the wireless boxes directly on top of the hallway light, meaning close proximity to the electrical system and interference. Even by the room door we got weak to intermittent signals. We managed to work around this by boldly taking it upon ourselves to move the wireless box away from the wall and into the center of the hallway light support. We managed to do this without getting arrested or tossed out of the hotel, thankfully, since we are sure it was truly "verboten," as certainly was moving a chair into the hall and standing on it. Unfortunately, all that this move accomplished was strengthening the signal so that it was "excellent" right up to our room door. Once inside the room, fugettaboutit.
So, being resourceful, and ever embracing our sense of humor, we decided to call our door threshold the official business lounge of the hotel where, for the four days of OutDoor, during the early mornings and late evenings, we set up shop to answer emails, write and file stories and yes, send out your SNEWSÂ®. More than one guest raised an eyebrow as they wandered by (fortunately, we remembered to put on pants most of the time), and several told us they'd be joining us in the "lounge" later in the evening. Even a rather staid German couple smirked and said, in German to us, "Well, who would know," when we told them about the issue and the reason for hall-squatting. Perhaps this is why the hotel wasn't publicizing high-speed yet?