What follows is our scattergun, though by no means complete, look at some of the key trends and product highlights that caught our attention in fabrics, gadgets, tents, packs, sleeping bags, and ultralight gear:
It has been a tough year for the U.S. textile market with everyone feeling the pinch, from Malden to DuPont. Still, the booths of the fabric folks exuded optimism, and business growth seemed to be the topic of the day with most.
Nextec appears to be garnering the most press with its encapsulation technology, signing up key partners such as L.L. Bean, GoLite, Patagonia, Jack Wolfskin, Timberland, Mammut, Feathered Friends, Helly Hansen, and others.
Malden is working on obtaining UPF certification for some of its product line so that it can offer sun protective fabrics to customers, and Colville too is offering fabrics with UV protection. (see related story on SPF below).
Friction Free is moving away from Teflon and opting for its own fiber, FreeLon, which Friction Free president Mary-Ellen Smith tells SNEWS® is more durable and offers better friction-free performance in clothing than Teflon. Socks, sport bras, shorts -- anywhere friction is a problem for skin -- is where you will begin to see Friction Free marketing itself.
KoSa was touting its new anti-microbial polyester product that fights odor for the life of the garment.
If it was an LED light or a multi-tool wannabe -- with too features to list crammed into a space too small to imagine -- it was at OR.
We'll start with LED lights and the one that caught our eye above the kajillion booths hawking new LEDs was the LazerBrite. The light weighs only 3 ounces, floats, and comes with two reversible, colored (your choice of red, white, green or blue) micro-lantern heads and a translucent tube. Use it as an LED candle, a light stick, a flashlight, a running light on a boat, etc.
Also interesting was the line called Versalite, a new company by fitness giant Icon Health & Fitness. At the show, the company showed off three products -- a basic flashlight (ho-hum, except the nifty one finger switch instead of the two-handed twist concept), one with regular bulb at one end and a halogen at the other, and a "lantern" that was flashlight at one end with the other end having the halogen bulb but in a clear casing so you could either stand it on its end or hang it as a small go-anywhere lantern (think inside tent).
Winning the award for "how much crap do you really need in one tiny package" Schrade, best known for its knives, introduced the I-Quip. The Quip takes the concept of multi-tool to an entirely new level and boasts (are you ready?) an altimeter, barometer, digital compass, clock, Phillips screwdriver, flathead screwdriver, knife blade, scissors, saw, bottle opener, can opener, cork screw, LED light, signal mirror, survival whistle, lighter compartment and belt clip.
And, of course, the Kestrel 4000 Pocket Weather Tracker was unveiled -- we're taking one with us into the Colorado backcountry to test this week. The hand-held unit offers push-of-the-button readings of altitude, barometric pressure, humidity, temperature, wind speed, wind-chill, heat stress, dew point, density altitude and of course, the time. Too bad it won't tell me what my tent mate is thinking too.
Of course, all of this gadgetry leaves us pondering the following: Doesn't anyone just own a watch anymore? You know, those quaint things that tell the time, just the time, and nothing but the time?
High-tech look and function is finding its way more and more down to the family camping group. To figure that out, all you had to do was spend a few minutes in Tent City across the street from the Salt Palace at OR.
Across the board, designers are toying with all kinds of new geometric pole configurations to save weight while increasing overall tent strength -- Sierra Designs' Jakes Corner draws praise here.
And lighter designs -- whether or not you choose to call them ultralight-inspired is up for debate -- are creating tarp-cum-tent designs that are either modular in nature (leave the tent body behind and simply take the fly) or themselves use other items you are packing with, such as trekking poles, to provide the frame structure, thereby eliminating the added weight of separate poles. Black Diamond, Mountain Hardwear, and GoLite all caught our eye.
Mountain Hardwear went one step further by reclassifying all of its tents, and it does make sense. Instead of classifying a tent simply by season, which has its pitfalls as we all know, MH now classifies its tents in the following manner based on end-user needs: Expedition Tents (all environments, severe weather, hardcore user), Backcountry tents (serious enthusiast, serious weather), Mountain Tents (all-around user, seeking economy and performance), and Tensile Tarps (for folks who err, want, tarps or single-wall shelters).
In the unusual category, we did get a charge out of Dana Design's 7-foot-tall, 3.5-foot-square nylon "outhouse" tent complete with Velcro door closures, "occupied" sign, and vents. Of course, when we'd actually use the thing is another issue entirely -- OK, so they didn't think about market demand, so what?
Consider that at last count, nearly 57 companies are selling packs into this market, give or take a few. Whatever the pack, hydration continues to be the story with the need for a hydration pocket that will accommodate a Platy or CamelBak bladder standard-fare. With few exceptions, companies continue streamlining the SKU count focusing in on what sells easily and, as a consequence, sells well. Dana Gleason noted to SNEWS® that while his Mystery Ranch line of modular frames sell adequately, retail staff typically doesn't want to spend the time fitting a customer (a sad statement on specialty business if there ever was one). As a result, he's opted for a fully adjustable pack frame system that comes with a tool for adjustment as well as instructions. That way, a customer can fit a pack if the retail staff either didn't or won't.
We also note with interest that the trend to ever-smaller packs appears to have bottomed out while the trend to continue streamlining shape and design of packs roars ahead. Lastly, everyone keeps wishing the women's market will take off --maybe it will, maybe it won't.
Our picks for companies where a product line caught our eye with features and nifty design benefits -- Osprey continues to impress. Ortovox offers a line of packs with unique shelf-appeal as well as technical benefits. JanSport's Jerry Parker continues to wow us with both his energy and vision. Gregory remains true to form by doing things his way -- and that means introducing the complete hydration systems that he designed from pack to bladder.
Interest in sleeping bags was very flat still at the show, reflecting the overall sleeping bag market. High-end bag sales are, well, not exactly high-end. That leaves retailers and manufacturers scratching their heads trying to come up with a solution.
The only place we noted mild enthusiasm was with bags being offered that were tantalizingly near the magical $100 price-point. Seems that no consumer wants to spend more than $100 these days on any single item -- sleeping bags, packs, jackets, you name it.
We have to tip our hat to Marmot for designing outside the box in this category. Think surf boards and surf board colors and you have in mind what a young Marmot designer imagined when designing the new look for the company's sleeping bag line -- eye-catching color and out of the ordinary looks. SNEWS® was impressed with the idea and told John Cooley that we wanted one -- dude. Actually, the bags are very cool and might be just the thing to spark some pizzazz into a product category whose recent sales picture has all the makings of a large toilet.
Sierra Designs too has made the merchandising of bags presented in their large storage sacks more eye-catching and, as a result, easier to display.
There is a no doubt that there is a keen interest in going lighter from a particular demographic of passionate outdoor folk who, for the most part, already have the full quiver of gear and are now seeking to lighten up. But is it enough to drive an entire market category and give retailers a reason to buy into the concept in more than just a niche way? GoLite appears to think so with nearly 40 new SKUs added to their line and a booth that appeared to be quadruple in size from the season before. Several retailers who sell GoLite noted the following thought about ultralight appeal: Gear for the ultralight user is very targeted in end-use, unlike any other gear they sell. You will not use a GoLite pack to carry your books for example, though you would think nothing of tossing a textbook into a Deuter, Osprey, or Eureka daypack. That, if anything, is what will limit the sales potential of the category -- at least on the hard goods side.
As for soft goods, we have tested silicone-impregnated fabrics in both stuff sacks and jackets and are very impressed with the overall performance. Is the average consumer, however, willing to ante up for the high-end price tag that comes with every purchase? Given the trend toward $100 waterproof/breathable garments, we wonder.
Titanium, clothing, helmets, and headlamps are the story in the climbing arena. Titanium as much because it is a buzz-word as it is a very strong, very light metal. Black Diamond's axe of titanium was making the fondling rounds every time one of the SNEWS team wandered by the booth.
As for clothing, helmets and headlamps, the increase appeal and resulting increase in design and new product attention appears to be rooted in the fact that climbing has been discovered by the mainstream and that the niche appeal of the product in this sport is moving into a broader market.
Every show has at least one item that just doesn't fit elsewhere.This time, we got a kick out of the "Buff" scarf-headband-gator thingamajig that was attracting a lot of attention in the Pavilion. The presentation was sort of like chop-it-dice-it-shred-it-grate-it, as they twisted, turned, pulled, and stretched it to become all kinds of cool neck and headwear. A really simple item that truly can fit everyone's needs.