Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '09: A peek at backpack trends in the outdoor market

The buzz word in backpacks at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market seemed to be “articulation” -- as in articulated suspensions. Numerous companies were showing new lines with hip belts, shoulder straps and even entire ventilation systems that move with the user’s hips and shoulders, providing a more comfortable and centered load...
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The buzz word in backpacks at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market seemed to be “articulation” -- as in articulated suspensions. Numerous companies were showing new lines with hip belts, shoulder straps and even entire ventilation systems that move with the user’s hips and shoulders, providing a more comfortable and centered load. Makes sense really -- when we hike, especially over rugged terrain, our hips and shoulders rise and drop obviously, and if the pack doesn’t follow suit, it’s far less comfortable. Nathan Kuder, softgoods category manager at Black Diamond, puts it this way: “The surfaces contacting your body no longer rub against you, (minimizing) friction and, therefore, hot spots. Also by moving with you, the weight transfer is kept much more even (side to side), thereby, reducing the peak load experienced at any one point during a stride.”

Women’s-specific packs also continue to grow and improve -- with almost all new lines including women’s designs -- and they continue the trend of offering real innovations in fit and function. All-purpose packs are also making a statement. And innovations in weatherproofing and dry bags keep your gear safe and dry. And, of course, every manufacturer is shaving weight wherever possible. Manufacturers are doing all they can to make it very difficult to find any excuse not to go backpacking!

Backpacks

The most innovative suspension system we saw came on the new Enduro line from Black Diamond Equipment,and the Innova 50 women’s-specific pack (pictured right -- along with the men’s equivalent Infinity 60) is a standout. The Enduro line uses BD’s “ergoACTIV” rotating hip belts and “SwingArm” floating shoulder straps. The belt connects to the frame with a 3-D ball joint allowing it to move freely in reaction to the user’s hips, and is even interchangeable for best fit. And the two shoulder straps are connected by a cable and housing, at the bottom of the pack, allowing them to give and take the load as needed. So when scrambling up a large boulder, for instance, and reaching above for a handhold, the pack stays squarely centered on the back while the arms and legs rotate up and down -- at least that is what the good folks at BD tell us…we look forward to testing the concept soon. The $200, 3.5 pound pack, designed for multi-day treks, also features airflow back panels, and mesh under the arm and hip straps for breathability, and zippered hip pockets for convenience. www.blackdiamondequipment.com

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Another impressive new design came from Arc’Teryx with its Altra packs. Available in 75, 65 and women’s-specific 62-liter models, these ultralight (weighing 81, 78 and 76 ounces, respectively), multi-day trekking packs combine creative access and suspension systems making them versatile and comfy. The articulated rotating disk on the hip belt attachment keeps the pack centered, and air-permeable foam and mesh on the hip and shoulder straps, help keep users cool in the contact areas, and help shave weight. But what we loved best about the Altra was the diagonal “U-zip” that ran from the top back, down to the bottom front and back up again on the other side, allowing wide-open access to the gear in this otherwise-traditional top-loader. www.arcteryx.com

Hybrid camping products are in vogue in all camping categories, and Gregory didn’t miss the trend. The company’s new Fusion line of packs is billed as an all-purpose line, designed in the tradition of the classic rucksacks of yore, built to handle any sport -- albeit a whole lot more technical! Seven new packs, from 30 to 45 liters, (including three pairs with men’s- and women’s-specific designs) make up the line, with varying tops and access options. We especially like the Tarne 36 (pictured right) and the Cirque 30, the women’s-specific version (weighing 49 and 46 ounces, respectively) -- with a combination of top-loading and panel access designs, they will suit most users. The $140 packs are hydration compatible, with easy-access side mesh and zippered hip pockets, and secured loops for poles/ice axe. And all the Fusions feature removable framesheets which easily converts the packs to ultralight status for a quick assault on a summit, for instance. And the company’s “Wraptor” stabilizer attaches the harness to the hip belts at two points, increasing lumbar support, the company claims -- especially important when the framesheet is removed. www.gregorypacks.com

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Another creative innovation that caught our roving editorial eyes comes on the Creon Pro 38 from Mammut. The shoulder straps of the Creon have a “Direct Load Transfer” system that allows the user to quickly pull the weight toward the back or away (more onto the hips), with one tug on the ergonomically designed straps. So when the terrain gets more technical or vertical, the load can quickly be pulled against the back, making it more snug, centered and stable, and released again when the trail flattens out. This $145 mid-size trekker -- with aluminum frame and mesh trampoline for stability and increased airflow -- also features a removable bottom compartment, height-adjustable lid, side-panel zipper and integrated, removable rain cover. The whole package weighs in at 3.4 pounds. www.mammut.ch

Of course, plain old light and fast packs are always desirable, and Lowe Alpine hits the mark with its Hyperlight line. The Zepton packs -- the men’s 50 and 50XL (2 inches longer), and the women’s 50ND -- all of which hover just over the 1 kg benchmark (1.16 kg, 1.2 kg and 1.1 kg, respectively). Made from super light but durable Dyneema fabric (which the company calls the lightest and strongest fiber anywhere), these packs may be pared down, but the suspension still includes Lowe's “AdaptiveFit” hip belt from beefier models, with narrower straps and lots of mesh. And they maintain features like lash points, trekking pole/ice axe storage, hydration pocket and ventilated harness. (MSRP $180) www.lowealpine.com

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And while hydration is nothing new, Osprey Packs teamed up with Nalgene and marked its 35th anniversary with what it told us was its biggest global launch to date in Osprey Hydraulics. The new collection of hydration packs comprises the Manta Series, a group of three packs for day hikes and multi-use activities, and the Raptor Series (the Raptor 10, shown to the right, is $99), with four packs made for trail running and mountain biking. What makes the system unique is the HydraForm Reservoir which sandwiches an anatomically shaped molded plastic sheet between a layer of nylon fabric and the reservoir back. This forces the reservoir to conform to the back even when it’s full. The result, Osprey told us, is a more precise, stable and comfortable fit. It also makes it a LOT easier to slide a loaded reservoir into and out of a fully loaded pack. www.ospreypacks.com

Dry Bags

Tapping into two trends -- greener products that are also multi-functional -- Pacific Outdoors offers its new Pnuemo zip-lock dry bags. These replace the disposable plastic freezer baggies that so many of us depend on for keeping our food, clothes, books, electronics, etc., dry and easily located. Made from 33-denier nylon, with welded zip locks, the bags are tough and totally air- and waterproof, and a bit easier to use than roll-tops, while the welded windows are convenient for seeing what’s what. The four sizes -- pint, quart gallon and jumbo (priced from $8 and $20) -- allow for a more customized fit. www.pacoutdoor.com

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Granite Gear’s new Uberlight CTF3 rolltop dry bags (pictured right) are less than half the weight (at least that is what the company claimed) of traditional nylon bags, and they’re transparent, making them much easier to use. The “Cuben Tech” material -- using Dyneema yarns bonded to a Mylar film -- is a non-woven, flexible ripstop, and the seams are welded, for added strength and waterproofing. Plus, the oval design fits nicely into corners of a pack. Available in four sizes (7-18 liters) from $39 to $49. www.granitegear.com

--Scott Boulbol

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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