Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '07 Trends: Backpacks

This year at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, we could hardly count the number of times we heard manufacturers' PR folk or representatives say that their company's new packs were designed to match "natural body movement." And indeed, from what we saw, it appeared you weren't "in" as a pack maker if you did not introduce some new suspensions and back panels with all manner of components to make products more flexible.
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The SNEWS® team of editors armed with maps and GPS (was this show big or what?) ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned -- we do know you love your company's product, really. However, we're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we either didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, we already covered you in our OutDoor stories (go to OutDoor reports in our Trade Show section), or we started drinking alcoholic beverages too early in the afternoon to see straight and missed you as a result -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for backpacks:

This year, we could hardly count the number of times we heard manufacturers' PR folk or representatives say that their company's new packs were designed to match "natural body movement." And indeed, from what we saw, it appeared you weren't "in" as a pack maker if you did not introduce some new suspensions and back panels with all manner of components to make products more flexible.

While companies continue to put most of their energy into medium-sized and smaller packs, we were happy to see that some spent time and effort improving the offerings of larger backpacks with new suspension systems and fresh aesthetics.

Plus, we saw a few clever components added to packs, as well as the use of unconventional materials and, no surprise given all the green banner waving going on, there were even obvious efforts to make packs more eco-friendly.

Made to move

Camelbak is one of the latest companies to offer a pack that's billed as being more "dynamic" in the ways it moves. The new Vantage 30 pack (MSRP $125) is made with a new D.V.I.S. (Dynamic, Ventilated, Integrated System) back panel. First of all, outdoor companies surely rival defense contractors for amazingly complex acronyms -- but we digress. Basically, the back panel is not one surface, but a series of mesh-covered pods that are springy and move independently. This is supposed to provide structure, while allowing natural movement, but we're going to have to test the thing to really understand how it works.

Mountain Hardwear has two new packs that feature a simplified version of its hyper-engineered FitLock pack harness. The SuperNatural 40L (MSRP $190) and SuperNatural 55L (MSRP $230) have the back panel portion of the FitLock system, and this is rounded to hug the body for greater stability and mobility. Because SuperNatural packs are made to haul light loads, they simply don't need to be outfitted with the more advanced FitLock components used on larger packs.

Big ideas

Gregory
turned its attention this year to its larger backpacks, such as the Whitney 95 (MSRP $349). Available in three sizes (with volumes from 5,309-6,285 cubic inches) it's built with the new Response CFS Suspension. It has a series of stays designed to carry heavy loads very well and allow a person to easily adjust the hip belt to five different angles for a more precise fit. (The ratchet system on the waist belt was inspired by the blade adjustment mechanism on a lawnmower. Who knew?) You'll also notice that the padding on the waist belt and harness is very soft and is intended to eliminate hot spots at the hips and shoulders.

Macpac improved the colors of its larger trekking packs significantly, adding models with dual colorations like deep marine and moody blue. It also outfitted larger packs, such as the Cascade series (MSRP $345-$425), with a new Liberator load-carrying system that includes a waist belt that is angled upward toward the lumbar area to create a pivot point closer to the spine. This should align the movement of the pack with natural body movements (hey, there's that term again!) and avoid pressure points.

Macpac's daypacks also got a facelift with much more attractive styling and colorations. Styled with curved lines and colored in shades of sage, blue, green and red, the Rapaki daypacks (MSRP $80-$110) should look great on your wall.

Kelty is making a big push in the pack market with a wide collection of new backpacking and hiking packs that hit the mid-level price point. Models range from the 1,650-cubic-inch Radii 27 (MSRP $120) to the 5,000-cubic-inch Beam 82 (MSRP $250). The packs don't have an inordinate amount of features, but do sport helpful basics, like hydration sleeves and nicely formed suspension systems. Plus, there are women's models like the Arch 65 (MSRP $230), and everything in the line appears clean and appealing.

Lighten up

Granite Gear's
Nimbus Meridian pack has been very popular, so the company wisely rolled out a women's version this year that retails for $250. It has 3,800 cubic inches of volume and weighs 3 pounds, 8 ounces. Recognizing that the Vapor Trail has been the company's best-selling pack, Granite Gear introduced a smaller version, the Vapor Day (MSRP $129), that's 2,000 cubic inches and weighs 2 pounds, 2 ounces. And a really cool travel item is the new Adventure Travel Pack (MSRP $89). Weighing a feathery 1 pound 3 ounces, it can hold about 20 pounds of gear and stuffs into its own hydration reservoir to become a pillow. Pretty sweet.

When Osprey went to work designing the Argon and Xenon (new versions of its Recurve packs), the company used a 330-denier fabric and the AirScape back panel to knock a pound of weight off each bag. The smallest version of the Argon (4,300 cubic inches; MSRP $339) weighs 5 pounds, 9 ounces, and the big daddy version (6,700 cubic inches; MSRP $399) weighs 6 pounds, 10 ounces. The Xenon is built in two sizes (4,300 and 5,100 cubic inches), which retail for $339 and $369.

Clever ideas

Arc'Teryx
showed us one of the more versatile crag packs we've seen in a while. The new Miura has a roll-top closure, but there are also zippers on each side that allow you to peel down the front panel of the pack and access things quickly and easily. You could also use the folded down panel to hold a rope and keep it off the ground. On the back of the pack, there is an external Kangaroo Pocket that can be accessed from the outside of the pack, or the inside so you can reach things whether the pack is open or closed. Inside the pack, there are gear loops to keep things organized, and compression straps on the outside can be moved around to secure gear in a variety of ways, or they can be removed to streamline the pack. (20 liter MSRP $150; 30 liter MSRP $199; 50 liter MSRP $225.)

Marmot is abandoning its largest packs and, like much of the industry, focusing on medium and smaller sized packs. But the other interesting news is that it has incorporated tent technology into the AirFlow series. Including four models ranging in volume from 3,050 cubic inches to 4,200 cubic inches, AirFlow packs have a flexible suspension system that incorporates aluminum poles used in tents as well as has a pole hub system, similar to the hubs so popular in tents these days.

Osprey's Kestrel series of packs (1,700-2,900 cubic inches) have one of the coolest pack features we saw at the show. The sides of the packs are outfitted with elastic cords that allow you to quickly stow trekking poles while you're on the move. It's OK, go ahead and slap your forehead and say, "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

The North Face took inspiration from shoe construction and used injection-molded EVA foam for the back panels on new Primero packs. According to the company, the EVA is resistant to tearing and denting, plus it can be cleaned easily and won't retain odors. EVA is not widely used in back panels, but it's worth has been proven in shoe midsoles, and we're curious to see how it will perform and hold up over time. Oh, we should also mention that Primero packs have an X Radial suspension (two crossed, flexible rods) that, you guessed it, allow the pack to match the body's natural movements. But look and feel is very cool we have to say, and heck, any designer that remembers X frames of today are modeled after the original X frame design by Synergy Works in the '70s wins high praise from us indeed.

About 85 percent of Mountainsmith's new Phoenix Alpine pack (MSRP $289) is made of recycled materials, including recycled body fabric, eco-friendly hardware and recyclable aluminum stays. While eco-friendly materials are more expensive, Mountainsmith is absorbing the cost, and you gotta give 'em props for that. The pack's volume is 4,211cubic inches and it weighs 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

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