Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08: Searching the aisles for the cool, new, nifty and a tad offbeat

At every show our team spreads out across the floor in search of all that really nifty gear, footwear and apparel you want to know about. And what we really pride ourselves on finding are the really cool, new and unusual stuff -- although sometimes along with "cool" and "new" comes a raised eyebrow too.
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At every show our team spreads out across the floor in search of all that really nifty gear, footwear and apparel you want to know about. And what we really pride ourselves on finding are the really cool, new and unusual stuff -- although sometimes along with "cool" and "new" comes a raised eyebrow too.

This year is no exception. In fact, the exhibits on the floor of the Energy Solutions Arena (ESA) were a veritable goldmine of new exhibitors with new gadgets and products that may just jump off your counters and shelves.

What follows is a few of the new and pretty cool products that caught our eye. Of course, this isn't everything that we'd define as new and cool. Shoot, most of our bazillion pages of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show reports in the last few weeks are chock full of information about veritable new and cool stuff. We'll admit, it's a judgment call about what goes into what report. To get into this one, products need to be utterly nifty for some reason -- sometimes one that can't be truly defined and sometimes one that someone else may not agree with -- or they may also simply be what we call a "tchotchke," which is a gee-gaw of some sort that really doesn't fit anywhere else. You know, that stuff that sits on your cash-wrap counter that customers pick up and exclaim, "Oh! Cool!" and plunk it down with the rest of their purchases as well as other items that will be sprinkled around the store and cause customers to stop in their tracks and gawk.

Aurum Organic Tees -- It wasn't the showiest of booths, but the tees were a beautiful soft cotton in basic styles, just waiting for your own brand or message. The owner called them the "most organic" tee since they aren't only using organic cotton but are producing them in India in their own certified organic G.O.T.S. facility (a European standard), meaning there are no pesticides used or any chemicals whatsoever at any point, including in the ink and dye. If you want your company on these "carbon-neutral" tees, go to www.aurumorganic.com.

ChicoBag -- Sold in other markets for nearly three years, the owner and inventor (from Chico, Calif., of course) thought the Outdoor Retailer trade show would be a good idea. We're not sure anybody has done carry-along shopping and tote bags better. They are truly tiny and fold down into their own pocket to about a 3-inch-by-3-inch nylon ball that drawstrings tightly shut. Best, it has a teeny little carabineer so you can attach it to a purse or keychain. How many times have you gone into a store but forgot the bag in the car? Ingenious is that the straps are built more like those on plastic grocery bags so baggers can put them on those racks and fill the ChicoBag better. Only $5 and they carry 25 pounds, and you can custom-brand them too. They had a sales associate dressed in plastic shopping bags to show you what a year's worth of plastic bags looks like -- it wasn't pretty. www.chicobag.com

Cord Lock Light -- One of the true finds of this show and one of the tiniest pieces of gear there (aside from maybe one Loud Truck gummy), the Cord Lock Light by Black Crate is just what it says -- a cord lock you can use on a jacket, backpack, tent or sweatshirt cord with an LED light. It's bright enough to help you see a map or softly illuminate your way to a bathroom or down a hall in a hostel. It only weighs 8 grams and has an MSRP of $10. It even has a replaceable battery and a flasher function. The new company (one of a number of cool finds tucked out into the ESA) is one we expect will do very well indeed. www.blackcratergear.com

CuffSox -- The launch of this company at Summer Market (and again, if you didn't make your way out to the ESA you missed it) left the owners beside themselves with joy. Inventor and company owner Jules Sghiatti worked in the construction trades and said the design of a gaiter-like cuff knit into the sock to fold over the top of boots was birthed out of safety: Welders don't want sparks in their boots and he said roofers actually use duct tape around the top of their boots to make sure hot stuff doesn't sneak in. He patented the idea in 2003. MSRP $12. Styles and colors are still limited and the design may at this point only function with boots, not low-top trail shoes. www.cuffsox.com

Cy-Fi Wireless Sport Speakers -- Blaring music into the vacuous ESA were these tiny wireless sport speakers. Less than 5 inches high and 4 inches wide, two versions (one for Bluetooth and one for iPod) weighed less than four ounces. Sleek, black, water-resistant, super-lightweight, they would be a MUST in a camper's or paddler's bag, or perhaps even in an adventure traveler's pack. Prototypes were shown at Interbike last year, but this was the true unveiling and they were to be available in September (MSRP $179-$199) www.mycyfi.com

Ex Officio footwear -- ExOfficio entered the footwear market with what appears to be a solid lineup of travel shoes, some of which have eco-friendly components. The women's Savvy (MSRP $110) is a Mary Jane style with a nubuck upper, bamboo lining, removable Ortholite footbed and outsole of recyled rubber. The women's Traveler (MSRP $110) is a lightweight slip-on that does not have the Savvy's ankle strap, but otherwise has similar construction in the upper, midsole and outsole. The Caravan (MSRP $150) is a classic brown travel shoe for men made with an upper of waterproof leather and an EVA midsole that includes a TPU heel stabilizer and shank. The Cruz'r for men (MSRP $135) is a more stylish shoe for men that is available with an upper of waterproof leather or hemp. The men's Reef Runner (MSRP $110) is a water shoe for men that had a waterproof leather upper, a supportive, removable footbed and siped rubber outsole. www.exofficio.com

Fozzils pack-flat Discovery Pack -- Fozzils' bowls, dishes and cups that pack flat and snap together were introduced by JetBoil earlier this year as a new and easier system for cooking, eating and serving food in the backcountry. New at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was the kids' Discovery Pack that folds flat into its own case but unfolds into six pieces including small bucket, shovel, sandcastle-building forms and other beach and sandbox toys. Included is even a "Creature Tank" of clear plastic, so kids can scoop up the water and take a look or use as an underwater viewer. MSRP $20. www.fozzils.com

Go-Gaga nylon totes -- Go-Gaga had a very clever shoulder strap - the Urban Sherpa Strap. The strap is actually a pleated piece of nylon that fits over the shoulder (or rests on it when not fanned out to cup over it). It makes carrying a heavy bag more comfortable. The Slide bag is perfect for toting laptops, diapers or yoga gear. They make one with two bottle holders, one without and a messenger bag design but it's the strap (sold separately, MSRP $30) that intrigued us, especially for those of us who carry heavy computer bags on travel. www.gogagalife.com

GoMotion body-mounted lighting -- Also a new company that intended to have product months ago, GoMotion is just now lighting up the streets -- literally. The systems are called "a new way to see in the dark." They are body-mounted lights for trail and street runners, hikers or walkers. There is a Sternum Light Kit (MSRP $90) to fit between the straps of your pack, vest-packs with lights built in and a Sport Runner LiteBelt (MSRP $79) with a light built into the waist strap in the front on a small waist pack with storage pockets. www.gomotiongear.com

Grand Trunk hammock/shelters -- You may remember Grand Trunk under its former name, Travel Hammock, a company that has been around since 2002. It's grown considerably since that first hammock and realized a name change was in order to better reflect its expanded product line, like the new Cielo Shelter (MSRP $80). Part of its new Quick Set tents line, the Cielo pops up quickly and on its own via a central hub design. www.grandtrunkgoods.com

Guyot Designs Dog Bowl, Tapguard -- If you want to get your creative yowie going, hit up the Guyot booth. Every show there seems to be some "tchotchke" that makes you say, "I want that." This time there was the Mighty Bowl, a dog bowl made of the same squishy silicone as its Squishy Bowls but shaped to not tip over and coming in three sizes (MSRP $14, $15 and $20). The Guyot mascot, Ella Jane Fitzgerald, approves. We think squishing a bowl into a pack or pocket is screaming. The TapGuard is a small carbon insert that fits into a mouthpiece that is much like the SplashGuard. The insert just tucks into the top of wide-mouth bottles. Make your water taste better by removing chlorine or other chemicals without going through plastic bottles endlessly. MSRP $15, with three carbon inserts, each good for about 100 liters. On another note, we think the new Guyot catalog is amazing: The 7-inch-square card pages have a hole in the top left to allow them to be simply tied together, which then allows you to take them apart, reorder them, file one in one place and another page in another or, for the company, re-do the catalog without reprinting the entire thing. www.guyotdesigns.com

Hydroid digital water gauge -- We saw this several years ago, and then again last winter but it was barely a prototype and, as with most new companies, changes happened as did delays. The guys behind the company warn on their website, "Don't run out of water again," which is what happened to them while they were training for a Mt. Whitney hike. They joke that perhaps the lack of air at 12,000 feet prompted them to actually start this project. The Hydroid, which weighs 1.1 ounces, is a water gauge about an inch in diameter that you install in the tube of your hydration pack's reservoir to give you all kinds of information designed to keep you hydrated, healthy and safe. You can look at your water level, be warned if you are drinking too fast and may run out early and watch the time and temperature too. It's designed to fit most brands' hoses. MSRP $60. www.n2kh2o.com

Industrial Revolution camera protectors -- Raise your hand if you have one of those high-tech digital cameras with an over-sized screen! Ever wonder how you're gonna protect that baby from the scratches and bumps of life on the go? Industrial Revolution offers the Wrap-up Camera Case, a stretchy neoprene that wraps around the camera and has a Velcro closure. A thin metal baseplate mounts to the camera via the tripod socket, so the wrap is always attached to the camera. Available in original (MSRP $15) and jumbo (MSRP $20) sizes. www.industrialrev.com

Intova waterproof MP3 -- We were tripped in the aisle by the exuberant staff at Intova that knew it had to work the ESA aisles to make hay. The H2O Man waterproof MP3 player, they claimed, was the first totally waterproof system and was still actually in prototype, joining the company's family of other waterproof cases and boxes. You can transfer music files to and from your computer -- up to 8 GB -- and rock out without fear of ruining your player. It was to be at retail (MSRP $90) in September. www.intova.net

iStick iPod carrying system -- Sometimes you just don't know where to put the iPod Nano. This little system is a carrying case with eight very strong magnets that attach to a magnetic backing so it can be fastened to a shirt, jacket or other material -- sort of like those nametags that have magnetic backs -- one for inside the shirt with the other going outside. Looked as if it would be great for running or other activities, indoor and out. Or maybe just while sitting on a plane. The iStik 2nd generation iPod case is $25 and the 3rd generation iPod case is $27.www.goistik.com

Loud Truck energy gummies -- With a name like that, who wouldn't stop for a look-see? The name obviously comes from the fact that these little gummy trucks are infused with guarana and vitamins to keep the user pumping. On the market for about four months, this was its unveiling to outdoor but along the upper walkway at the ESA, owner Ron Hansen said traffic wasn't so good -- this industry has gotta learn to step into the outer limits to find the new stuff like we did. We could have stayed to eat more of these loud gummies, which were delightful in their lack of uber-sweetness. He said they were awarded a prize for "best energy candy name" at a recent food show. They retail for $1.79-$1.99. www.loudtruckgummi.com

Platypus Wine Preservation system -- We all may "whine" now and then but sometimes all we need is "wine." And Cascade Designs rides to the rescue. The wine preservation bottle is a Platypus bottle that has been shaped to pour better, colored a darker color to keep light off the wine and sized at 800 ml or just big enough to hold one bottle. And when you screw the bottle shut you can easily use your fingers to push out the air. Simple ingenuity. Thank you, John Burroughs! MSRP $13 or four for $45. Why stop with just one? www.platypreserve.com

Raw Revolution -- This new-to-outdoor snack bar was positioned right at the base of the long, steep stairs to the ESA so its friendly staffers would stop you in your tracks to taste their bars. OH YUM! Then you'd stay and keep tasting. Cashew and agave, raspberry and chocolate, chocolate and coconut…. The flavors just kept on coming. They are vegan, gluten-free, kosher, peanut-free and (mostly) soy-free. The company has been around for three years, with this being its launch into the outdoor industry. The snack bars go for $1.99 retail and a new "live food bar" (tropical mango or chocolate chip cookie dough) had an MSRP of $1.69. You can actually understand the ingredient list too. OH YUM! (Did we say that already?) www.rawindulgence.com

Rite in the Rain notebooks -- This company has been around a long time but every time we see it, it has something new. The outdoor writing products -- notebooks, memo books, journals -- are all made of paper that can be written on when wet with either a pencil or all-weather pen. From backpacking to hiking to simply touring a farmers' market on a humid day, who doesn't need paper that will keep on going. A new birders sketch book is $6.95. www.riteintherain.com

Super Light Chair -- Sequestered in the Guyot Designs booth, the one-product new company with former The North Face designer Tae Kim is launching the chair in spring 2009, but used the show to get some feedback. We've all heard claims of super light but this chair really is at 1 pound of pure comfort that even keeps you off the ground. The nylon and stakes fold and compact down to a small package for carrying anywhere. The MSRP is tentatively $60. www.superlightchair.com

SPIbelt -- Introduced last year (click here to see a SNEWS review), we had to mention that the new company's cool little stretchy waist packs are now one-size instead of two -- easier to sell and easier on inventory. They fit 20-inch to 40-inch waists, plus the company launched a reflective version. www.spibelt.com

Therm-A-Rest sleep system -- Sleeping in the great outdoors can sometimes be a pain in the behind, especially when you can't move, twist or turn like you normally may like to or you're separated by sleeping bags and a great divide between mats from your Main Squeeze. The Therm-A-Rest system began at the winter show with a fitted sheet for your Therm-A-Rest and a Tech Blanket to toss over it for summer camping. All of which can snap together into double bedding with the Mattress Snap Kit (MSRP $10, which was new at the summer show). At the summer show, the company also introduced the Ventra Down Comforter, to be out in January, to expand the system so you can sleep outdoors as you might at home. The 650-fill European Down Comforter is a truly serious sleeping bag alternative but functions like a comforter on your bed at home. It secures to the mattress with straps and has a foot box to keep it tucked at the bottom. Vent when and how you want and roll around as you please! www.thermarest.com

Zing Toys -- Heck, the boys at Zing aren't new to Outdoor Retailer but who doesn't need a little play break now and then? We stopped to punch a little button that tossed a magnet onto a board and were immediately addicted. Then there are the things, new, that looked like half of a rubber ball. Turn them inside out and drop them and they leap back into the air, turning themselves right side out. From $4-$7, depending on whether they glow in the dark or have little faces with an afro do ("Fro Bro"). www.zingtoys.com

The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

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