Our Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '03 coverage comes to a close with a look at products and cool stuff that turned our editors' heads more than once. No, it's not all-inclusive and yes, someone probably didn't get mentioned here that feels they deserved to, and you probably did. This is subjective after all. To make it into this article, the product or company had to be nifty enough to our eyes that more than one editor mentioned it, others in the industry pulled us aside and said "say, did you see," and then, once seen, it had to be cool enough we just wanted to keep going back for another look. So, here it is, a completely biased look (so forgive us) at products and other story lines we thought were the toast of the show:
Osprey Switch Series backcountry snowplay packs -- The Osprey system is way cool and supremely well thought out. What makes the design so cool is the foundation of the system -- the AquaSource. The AquaSource is a hydration pocket built into the torso-adjustable, yoke-style harness system. That harness system easily removes from both the Switch 25+5 and the Switch 40+5 packs and becomes an ultralight hydration pack with straps for quick jaunts and well-hydrated turns.
Montrail Ice 9 -- New concepts are oh-so-rare in the outdoor industry, so it's refreshing to see a company thinking outside of the box. It's even more exciting when the concept actually delivers on its promises. The Montrail Ice 9 boot/crampon system isn't going to take over the world but it does offer features that should appeal to a broad spectrum of alpine and ice climbers. The Ice 9's walk as comfortably as a pair of broken-in hiking boots due to a flexible midsole. Yet, with the crampon attached, the system is as rigid as they come. One of our SNEWS crew only climbed a couple of ice pitches in prototypes so far but it was a sufficient taste that a more extensive review is planned once production arrives.
Petzl Myo 3 headlamp -- This nifty headlamp combines a 6V Xenon halogen light and three LEDs. The real story here is that you operate both with one simple twist of the light housing. No small buttons to push. No trying to figure out which button does what. Sounds like a winner to us.
Black Diamond's Bbee -- An excellent, simple, minimalist design. With contoured shoulder straps, the pack hugs and performs like a close friend and looks to be a great summit pack or small hauler for day climbs. Made with flyweight ripstop nylon, it has 735 cubic inches of volume and barely tips the scale at 13.1 ounces. At $35, it is a steal.
The Sierra Designs FastBag -- This sleeping system should be a great option for camping in warmer weather. You construct the FastBag by attaching the "lid" of any SD Custom Convertible bag to a 4-ounce nylon ground sheet. The nylon sheet can then be secured to a sleeping pad.
EK Ekcessories -- Inexpensive snazzy watches have been having great sell-through for retailers but delivery has been the pits. Enter EK Ekcessories' Time Keeper series, created based on retailer request and feedback. Simple in design, the accessories fit well for casual wear and outdoor use. The digital wristwatch has a nylon braided band that's available in 45 different color patterns and four sizes. Also, in the line are the keybiner with a biner on one end, watch in the middle and key ring on the other end. The Clip cat is the same idea sans biner. A handy gadget and inexpensive gift for just $11.99.
Marmot Youth -- OK, now kids truly do have everything that the grownups do! Marmot started with a Precip jacket for kids last season that proved so successful that it expanded the kids' line significantly to include a complete layering system. From base layer to windshirt to a shell and down jacket, Marmot has done it all. Same Marmot quality and features from the adult line designed for kids ages 4 to 14. Prices range from $20 for base layer tops and bottoms, to $70 for a DriClime Windshirt, to $120 for a Gravity jacket. For good measure, the company also threw in a Borealis glove and mitt to keep hands dry and warm on the slopes or walking to school on a cold day. Damn, where was this stuff when we were growing up?!
Arc'Teryx -- While hard shells in general have become a relatively stagnant category, Arc'Teryx is taking an idea from Marmot -- fully waterproof insulated parka -- and giving it new life, or at least materials. The Fission SV Jacket and Fission Belay Parka both feature Gore XCR shells with Primaloft insulation, as well as hefty price tags ($500 and $450, respectively). They look great, but will probably end up mostly going to people in the industry.
Cloudveil Ice Floe Bibs -- Safe to say that many serious climbers and skiers will be lusting after the new Ice Floe Bibs next season. While soft shell jackets and pants are dime-a-dozen these days, quality bibs are still rare. Price may be a deterrent but the performance for winter sports far exceeds most of the standard options.
Patagonia Mixedmaster Jacket -- The vast majority of soft shells are lightweight jackets with only moderate warmth so they still need to be layered in the winter months. The Mixedmaster Jacket, an update of the Speed Ascent, is one of the few that combines stretch, breathability and insulation. Using various weights of fleece bonded to the outer fabric, this is closer to the one-jacket-for-everything ideal of backcountry skiers and ice climbers.
The North Face MET5 -- Naysayers may scoff, but the heated panels of the MET5 jacket do indeed work well. For next season, the control buttons are built into the front of the jacket, much nicer than the original system, and it loses the hood that mostly got in the way; a vest will also be available, at last. Now they just need to improve the battery technology.
Nike Air Zoom Tallac -- The new Air Zoom Tallac pares down a hiking boot to its core essence. With Gore XCR lining and support technology borrowed from the basketball court, this appears to offer the most performance for the least weight of anything to date.
Most climbing approach shoes are better suited to posing at trade shows than actually dragging up a route for the walk-off. The Switchblade is one of the few that can fold flat for easier carrying (like their old Pocketknife) and had a good design for climbing performance.
La Sportiva Mega Ice -- Sometimes not being first is a strategic advantage, since it allows the opportunity to correct the mistakes of others. The Mega Ice represents the second generation of competition mixed climbing boots (crampons bolt directly to the sole) and appears to be the nicest so far for a tiny niche.
They're back and they're serving notice! Several companies that disappeared from the U.S. market or struggled in recent years for a variety of reasons showed at OR with energy and quality worth noting.
Jagged Edge -- Back after a brief hiatus and a lot of reorganizing, the new line appeared lean, mean and true to its roots; functional and affordable gear for real users. The Fusion Jacket, which combines eVENT fabric and Schoeller Dryskin, stands out for its clean lines and reasonable price. It won't be an easy journey to recapture market share but, with the business acumen of Russel Corp. and the soul of the sisters, Jagged Edge may well pull off a successful comeback.
MontBell -- Another brand fighting its way back into the U.S. market with quality gear. Given MontBell's history as one of the earliest developers of ultralight mountaineering equipment and its proximity to leading suppliers in Japan, the brand is often at the forefront of technology. Its Roche Jacket is a soft shell with proprietary fabric and new concealed zippers that are very slick.
Best Schwag -- There has long been a subtle competition over which companies will have the best premiums to hand out to key retailers and media people. Certainly, Gramicci has led the charge for several years now with the great insulated coffee mugs distributed each morning to bleary-eyed show-goers willing to wait in long lines. Cool T-shirt designs remain popular and do get worn; Five-Ten has this category all but locked up. Lame handouts, such as lighters that don't work or ugly T-shirts that go straight to the oil rag pile, can do more harm than good by leaving an unfavorable impression. While some view handouts as a frivolous expense, the stuff that is liked keeps a brand's name in front of key people for years to come and is cheaper than full-page ads in national consumer magazines. This year's hot new schwag was found at the Arborwear booth, which had a sturdy lighter dressed up as a chainsaw. The Petzl belay knives, with a large carabiner hole, were also popular. But the standout winner was the mirrored pocket flask, containing fine medicinal beverage, from Mammut.