New, cool, different products catch the eye at Germany's ispo show

Four days and an uncountable number of espressos later, our team of editors finished winter ispo 2005 with notebooks full of coffee stains, pastry crumbs, and mounds of notes taken during our meanderings through the seemingly endless aisles of exhibitors, new and old. In the article, we highlight a number of products we deemed as cool, new, different, innovative, and inspiring -- in other words, they were products that captured our attention and imagination amid a sea of marketing glitz and line presentations.

Four days and an uncountable number of espressos later, our team of editors finished winter ispo 2005 with notebooks full of coffee stains, pastry crumbs, and mounds of notes taken during our meanderings through the seemingly endless aisles of exhibitors, new and old.  

No chance we could even begin to try to tell you all about every product in every category waved in our faces by the thousands of manufacturers in attendance. However, in the paragraphs to follow, we'll highlight a number of products we deemed as cool, new, different, innovative, and inspiring -- in other words, they were products that captured our attention and imagination amid a sea of marketing glitz and line presentations. Yes, we're certain we missed a number of deserving items. No, we aren't mentioning everyone. And yes, someone will likely feel left out. So if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, on with the show:

In the BrandNew (new products area) alone, visitors tripped over themselves and each other as they gawked at some really different product – some good, some just different for different's sake, but all with a twist or tweak that left you thinking. We have left out winner Nemo (inflatable tents) and finalist Jetboil, since we've written about them and you all know them already.  

Flink backpack -- OK, the waist harness isn't what we would term, advanced or completely thought out, but the concept of linking a rigid plastic backpack with a ball hinge attached to the shoulder straps is positively brilliant. Tired of having his snowboard flop around on a half-filled traditional backpack, Swiss designer Remo Frei decided that a plastic frame as the outer shell would be the ideal solution -- something that a snowboard or skis would attach firmly to, no matter how full. The addition of a ball hinge to attach the shoulder straps to the pack offers unparalleled flexibility and mobility. We understand several pack companies have already initiated conversations with Frei -- companies that know a thing or two about making high-end backpacks for technical use.

360 messenger bags -- While the introduction of a new messenger bag or satchel design is nothing that will get a rise out of most show-goers as an innovation, the 360 company is worth more than a casual glance. Each colorful bag is manufactured using heavy-duty sail cloth -- recycled from retired sails. What makes the bags cool is each comes with a sewn-in label that states which boat the sail came from and which oceans the sail had carried the boat through. Now if sails could only talk, that would be really something.

SnoSlyder – Only at retail since Fall 2004 in Germany, the SnoSlyder is an amazing no-brainer of a kid's snow sled developed by a German man and, as a promotional postcard says, his little daughter Anna-Katharina. Enter cuu-uute factor. They weigh just under 2 pounds each – so they're easily schlepped by many kids -- and are shaped like two concave discs, side by side, with one round part (for the butt of the rider) linked with a short, flexible piece of plastic to another round part. The concave, round pieces stack on top of each other to allow riders to link the sleds without endangering feet and ankles or demanding a lot of strength. They also cost only Euro 17 (approximately USD $22). According to the developer, he's already sold 40,000 since October and had buyers from big sporting goods companies coming by at the show and saying, "Why didn't my high-paid designers think of that?"

Sunblade -- We were skeptical. What do they mean "sunglasses without glasses?" Well, what a fascinating idea out of the Netherlands that is a solution to those times a bit of glare snags you in the eyes and you try to shield your eyes with your hand. This is what a Sunblade looks like: Imagine the sunglass frame without the two lenses or shades. Instead, you have just a long piece that runs across the brow part that can pivot up or down to catch that glare and keep it out of your eyes. The company has a regular sunglass (so with two lenses) that adds the "blade" part so you can have the best of both worlds. Fashion version out now, sports version coming.   

Z Back hydration bra -- No, we're not convinced on this one, but it's an intriguing concept. A sport bra that incorporates a water reservoir (1 liter) in a pocket in the back so the user doesn't have to fiddle with carrying or wearing additional backpacks, bottles or water belts. In the works for four years by a French company that has done women's sports bras (Zbra) for a few years, the hydration bra uses a Source bladder tucked into a pocket between the shoulder blades. Questions: What if you have to refill? And how do you wear it under a shirt and still access the tube, which is anchored to the bra with Velcro straps at the clavicle and sternum? And, oh, what if you don't want to look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Nevertheless, it's a fascinating idea for the woman on a short workout who doesn't mind just wearing the bra sans shirt.

Hans im Glueck beach towel/tote -- The really German name aside, this is a rather funky beach towel with holes in all four corners, through which you pull corners in a set pattern to turn the towel into a tote. Voila! Kinda nifty. And another BrandNew finalist.

We of course took a look at products that weren't in the BrandNew competition, but doesn't mean they aren't every bit as cool:

Tatonka Whistler/Vidora Jackets -- A soft shell is just a soft shell? Nope. At Germany's Tatonka, which had its first soft shell offering last year and has seen its apparel line growing strongly recently, a soft shell jacket of Schoeller fabric has taken on a new life … with fleece lining. The Men's Whistler version with a hood is Euro 290 (USD $384), while a women's version without a hood (Vidora) is Euro 200 (USD $265).

Norrona -- Perhaps a new brand name for you? Out of Norway, the brand has been around since 1929 but was only sold in Norway for the first 40 years, then in broader Scandinavia and only recently a little to Europe and Japan. Although known for its super traditional fishing and hunting garb, it has gone the way of fashion and higher technical fabrics, adding Gore-Tex to its line in 1979 and only adding ski apparel in the last four years. Think Arc'teryx in the types of prices and high fashion flair. The Roldal fleece sweater offer a clean look that still has a touch of retro with a tube type collar that sits loosely. If the company can handle more growth, you betcha it'll be expanding.

Klattermusen – The Scandinavians strike again. This time out of Sweden. We've written about Klattermusen before, and we won't likely stop soon. Also not exactly inexpensive, the line nevertheless just jumps into the aisles at you. New this year is the "Open Up and Stay Dry" jackets for men and women that have backs that totally flap open for the highest degree of ventilation. The Froste (Euro 596 or approximately USD $789, and yes the founders do those odd numbers on purpose) is a short version. Then we have the Pertra skirt, called bulletproof in the catalog, made of 11 percent Kevlar with four-way stretch. We guess it's for those times you might slide down a granite boulder in a skirt? Well, guess not. The catalog states, "This product doesn't satisfy any special outdoor needs. But on the other hand it is not healthy to take life too seriously." Still, at Euro 240 (USD $317) you better not be too serious. Full, two-way zips up both sides make for easy in and out. We also couldn't help gawking and drooling at the soft sleek 100-percent cotton jackets and pants new to the line and called "Nature's Own Shell." The company says with the Fluorocarbon impregnation the garments will keep you dry for about three or four hours in rain, but they breathe at rates that laminates can only dream of. The look is stunning, the hand incredible, and we want one of each. The Njal Anorak (Euro 295 or about USD $390) has a pocket that transforms into a fanny pack.

Staying warm: Exo and Therm-ic --
Two companies addressed warmth in different ways. Out of Great Britain, Exo had "thermomesh heated clothing technology" that uses a soft, non-wire-based heating system that is, so they say, virtually indestructible. It is not stiff, is a bit rubbery for flexibility, and adds no real bulk to garments (except for a small battery pack wired to it). Last year, Berghaus introduced a vest with the heat cell in the low back. Soon you will see the technology appearing in different industries under trademarked names such as Fabroc, Heatweave and Thermomesh. Then there's Thermi-ic, which introduced a sleek wireless system to control the heat you want in your boots via insoles. The control can hang around your neck or sit in a pocket with a finger touch to make your tootsies warmer or cooler.

FRWD Technologies -- Invented by a world-class athlete as a means to be able to compare and analyze training and race performance, the FRWD Sport Performance Recorder uses GPS and heart rate technology to record data every 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 seconds (now that's anal). The recorder tracks altitude, heart rate, distance, speed and. in tandem with computer software, allows the user to download each training event and compare it with past performances to determine ways to improve performance. It is also being used to allow up to five individuals to compete over a set course at different times and compare results to determine who is the fastest. For serious adventure racers or simply techno geek adventure lovers, this will be a must-have gadget.

Valandre -- We know, sleeping bags aren't at the top of many retailer lists for new products to stock the shelves with, but the Valandre Mirage 350 is worthy of note for three reasons -- it is featherweight (624 grams or 1.37 pounds), thanks to Pertex Quantum fabric; it is rated to -5 degrees C or 25 degrees F; and it combines differentially cut, anatomically formed baffles to eliminate cold spots from pressure and enhance sleeping comfort.



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