Hydration continues to be a buzzword. Kelty introduced its own line of hydration packs using Source bladders that were extremely well received. Deuter also announced the company would be using Source bladders in the company's cycling pack line. Nalgene, realizing bottles aren't everything, also jumped into the hydration fray by acquiring TFO, an OEM provider of such things hydration reservoirs, tubes, and bite valves. While the packs were, well, nothing to write home about, the bladders were worth more than just a second look, including a hose that can be disconnected from the reservoir to allow a user to remove the reservoir from the pack more easily. We expect Nalgene to become a serious player in this market very quickly, and we suspect some consumers may buy these reservoirs and swap them into their other packs. Backcountry Access introduced a nifty idea as well, the Flash Pack, designed with climbers in mind. We dare say it's a pack at least some part of the SNEWS® force would carry a majority of the time simply because the hydration hose is tucked away nicely into a zippered pocked in the shoulder strap. AT SNEWS® headquarters, we can discuss for hours the pros and cons of tubes, with some who truly loathe the floppy, face-slapping hose and find clips a nuisance, while others seem perfectly content to clip it down and have it accessible.
In the larger pack category, JanSport's Jerry Parker became obsessed with women during the last year, not that we blame him. The result is not a lawsuit or a marriage proposal, but rather a pack that really screams "Designed for Women." Our SNEWS® co-publisher -- the female one -- fell in love at first site, and she'll be testing the pack along with a group of several other women editors later in September. We'll report the test scoop to you then. Parker by the way also came up with a women's design in a smaller daypack that also screams the same message. Go Jerry! (That was the female half of SNEWS® leading a cheer.)
Light and fast is also the mantra for everyone, with most companies now seeking to achieve the ideal balance between stripped-down productions for weight-saving and leaner suspensions while adding some padding and features for improved comfort. Gregory, Lowe Alpine, Dana Design, Osprey, GoLite, Jack Wolfskin, Granite Gear, and MountainSmith were just a few of the more than 20 brands we saw offering pack redesigns and new introductions targeting a consumer who still wanted comfort and a bit of convenience, but also less pack weight.
Lot's of tweaking but nothing really earth shattering other than lower prices. Consider that we heard repeatedly during the show -- from nearly every tent manufacturer but REI, and quite a few concerned retailers -- that REI expects to move well over 25,000 units of its $149 Half Dome Plus 2 and you get a sense about the potential for tent sales in the rest of the outdoor world -- challenged unless the market dramatically expands. (REI did not confirm those numbers with us).
That said, there were a few companies making a bit of noise. After a season of quiet, Sierra Designs came into the show with a line of tents that were quite impressive, including its new Hyperlite, an extremely light and sturdy two-person tent. The company's convertible Super Nova tent (a tent that actually goes from a three-person down to a two-person with zip-out panels) was at least a conversation piece and an idea that is moving in the right direction. The North Face targeted the SUV-driving, family-pampering, err, camping elite with a very cool, tent, the Airfloor 33. The tent floor is an integrated, self-inflating one eliminating the need for individual sleeping pads. Sounds like bouncy house danger to us. Sleeping bag company Big Agnes diverted from its heritage and came out with its first tents -- two models with one being an ultralight two-person, the other a roomier two-person convertible.
Backpacking / Camping Sleeping Bags
Again, in a category that has been slightly less than stagnant, price and weight became the stories -- mostly price. First, price. Kelty really raised eyebrows by offering a generic fill 20-degree mummy bag at $50 -- retail. In the weight category, Marmot unveiled the Hydrogen, a 30-degree bag filled with high-powerfill down inside Pertex Quantum fabric. Weight is only 1lb 5oz. Heck, it almost blew off the table when we sneezed.
More folks were giving fit more than simple lip service (with an increasing number of companies now resorting to adding widths, even in a limited fashion) and showing off new and very visually appealing designs. Bright colors, and intriguing shapes and patterns are becoming the norm rather than the exception. What we found most humorous, is the comittment by most companies at the show to call their footwear mountain casual, outdoor casual, after-sport, mountain wear or any name at all to avoid the dreaded, dare we mention it, lifestyle tag. Get over yourselves! Please! It's lifestyle people, pure and simple. And almost no matter what the company, lifestyle designs were trickling in called everything from straight-up lifestyle to casual to mountain wear to after-sport to you-name-it-but-don't-call-it-lifestyle.
To that end, one piece of footwear was a real showstopper, and that was the new Borneo sport sandal from Asolo. The toe-piece-cum-airfoil design was innovative and, they say, quite functional (we'll be testing it in the months to come) as well as extremely eye-catching.
Scary though it may sound, everyone at SNEWS® central has owned a pair of original Waffle Stomper boots (we were only 2 years old and really mature, you see…), so we were pleased to see the redesigned DunhamWaffle -- albeit with an unavoidable red fabric upper. Like the redesigned VW Beetle, we suspect the new Waffle will experience very strong sales, although an informal poll found men torn over the red color (there is a brown leather available). We also think the women's versions, especially in that baby blue, will become an urban chic accessory on city streets.
Tecnica caught our eye, and as a result found its way onto our feet with the nifty, functional, albeit slightly odd-looking Pacmoc, a lightweight, mesh, slip-on camp shoe with a sole sturdy enough to provide traction and underfoot protection from bumps and bruises, yet light enough to fold and pack.
Chaco unveiled its much-anticipated line of leather footwear made in Italy after two years in the making. Designed to be simple, breathable, waterproof and breathable, the line utilizes the same footbed design as the company's popular Z-series sandal, has a lower volume, and a sturdy removeable footbed (and comes with an extra one too. We think that's setting the stage for separate sales). The styling is indeed quite sleek and simple -- too conservative some may say -- and won't appeal to everyone, but that's not news to Chaco. The company knows its market and wants to simply fill their closets with Chaco footwear. We'll also be testing these in the near future.
The amphibious Flux and supremely fast-looking XA Series garnered lots of attention at the Salomon booth. The Flux is a slip-on aftersport shoe with a collapsible heel, an adjustable heel strap and mesh upper for quick drying comfort. The XA Series is a lighter, faster version of the popular XZ Pro with a mesh upper for maximum breathability. One is on order for our testing feet.
Merrell took a very different tack, having enlisted a university researcher to do more than make shoes comfy -- but to infuse them with hardcore science. That research resulted in a line of shoes for women called "Q-form" that are said to be more comfortable for women who typically because of pelvic structure have more of an inward angle of the thigh bone and more resulting discomfort or strains. SNEWS® -- well, the female part -- will test some of these soon too. Also from that research stemmed running shoes for road or trail with so-called "M-Chips" that allow a user to customize a shoe with midsole inserts (two front and one rear inside) that change a shoe's stability and support as needed by an individual Interesting idea, but we worry about these chips slipping and sliding and about individuals not knowing which is right for them.
La Sportiva's Dragonfly offers a sticky rubber solution to the approach shoe dilemma for the light and fast user who really only wants to bring one shoe but needs two. We liked it because it looked like a belay slide and because it is so light, once you get to your designated playground, it can be collapsed into a hydration pack or clipped to a biner.
Wyoming Wear is getting into footwear, which makes good sense since the company knows fleece slippers and socks so well. The line of slides and mocs looked very promising with fun colors and prints for the uppers.
Hi-Tec continues to rip and tear at the kid's market with new models for spring and summer play, including a few with waterproof appeal and some leather hikers. The adult line also shows more waterproofing -- of course all at the lower ($40-$90) prices Hi-Tec does so well at. Well enough to warrant double-digit growth.
Montrail, an adventure race-supportive company, finally comes out with a shoe that is truly geared for adventure racers (or, as the literature calls it, "multipurpose outdoor category"). The touch of a new designer is showing too with nice screen-printing and a more flowing look that will catch more eyes that Montrail's functional-love-me-or-leave-me styling.
Life is Good (no, the company, but we agree) is cashing in on the casual lifestyle apparel trend (who doesn't have an offering in this category?) but they are doing it with a twist, by appealing to a relaxed, somewhat retro, almost '60s state of mind.
TNF with their new A5 line, along with Horny Toad, also were turning retailer heads and giving buyers a reason to drop paper with lines that rocked. We're lobbying for TNF President Mike Egeck to wear the Kailas shirt to the next VF corporate executive gathering. Remember when we mentioned that Marmot PreCip was becoming a category unto itself a while back? The company is building on the strength of the PreCip line by introducing children's sizing and adding the PreCip Plus -- reportedly offering just as much protection while increasing breathability significantly.
Ex-O scored (timing is everything) with its BugAway anti-mosquito clothing right when mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry were a daily event on the evening news and morning headlines.
Hind continues with its Pavement Optional line that has been even more successful at retail than the company expected. Items have been updated, and long pants and a lighter-weight short added, still with the PO styling and color.
Another take on fitness wear -- oops, cross-training -- is Mountain Hardwear's so-called Mountain Performance line. The Dipsea short has a great waistband and diverts from the current trend of loooooong hemlines with a 4-inch inseam.
Showing staying power and maturity, women-specific brand Isis, with bookings up 65 percent winter 2002 over 2001 and doubled its spring line. The real eye-catcher was the CloudDuster -- yes, WPB, technical, hooded jacket that is duster length with duster styling. Why? Because the founders wanted such a thing themselves and so they brought it to the show, not sure if they'd be laughed off the floor. Nope, it sold.
Known as a fall/winter company with prices that can catch your breath, Arc'teryx has come out with its first spring/summer line that includes four categories (Rock, Trail, Wind and Soft Shell -- ooo, there's that term again). Blessed be, if there weren't a couple of items with suggested retails at $99-115! New fabrics, new stylings, women's-specific items, and casual looks for trail and climbing wear, but it seems still no loss for high performance. We'll watch this closely.
GoLite is expanding its wispy light and soft C-Thru Base Layer with more long and short sleeves, including some color blocking, as well as two sleeveless models for women.
Long known as The Sock People, SmartWool is using that great generic name to its advantage. It showed more socks at summer market, but warned to watch for a lot more clothing at the January show with the intent to be "a major sweater company."
Swiss Army introduced a lightweight travel jacket called the Torre that was wonderfully thought out with the perfect pockets for travel docs and lots of other stash places and even a small first-aid kit in its own pocket -- except it also has a small pocket sewn into the inside for a pocket knife. Oops, you won't be filling that pocket for many travels, at least those by air.
Manzella caught our eye with a base-layer glove using silk-weight Windstopper which should prove ideal for running, biking, or as a winter base-layer.
SmartWool took the cross-training trend down to your toes with an expansion of its so-called RBX line (run, bike, cross-train) adding a micro-mini and an ultra cushion.
Stoves & Kitchen
Everything is getting smaller! Coleman and Brunton are duking it out for the lightest butane stove on the market, each at around 3 ounces. Coleman's is lighter by a hair, but Brunton gains points by the mere fact its stove collapses to fit within the concave depression under a standard butane cartridge for supreme compactness. MSR stayed true to its white gas roots by unveiling the SimmerLite, which the company claims is the lightest liquid fuel stove on the market at 8.5 ounces. When folded, the stove fits within a 1-liter pot.
Two new beef jerky products were spotted and tasted: One called Proteam PowerSport Bites took the concept of jerky but softened it up into more chewable nuggets for better munching and less, well, jerking. The other -- Wild Ride Beef Jerkey -- kept the stringier concept but took out preservatives, nitrates, and MSG, and sized down and tenderized squares to bite-sized pieces. In the Pavillion, staff at both were grinning ear-to-ear with the response … and the orders.
Clif Bar introduced its Mojo sweet-salty snack bar with nuts, pretzels, puffed rice encased in various flavors with gusto, handing out thousands at every opportunity and encouraging people to take a pocketful even.
Buck teamed up with Peter Whittaker and delivered a fixed blade knife unlike any we've ever seen. The Revolution features an aircraft aluminum handle that swings 180 degrees to serve as both the handle and the sheath.
Bunnies aside, the Suunto X6 watch is superb and offers a vastly improved and intuitive user navigation between screens in addition to a nifty PC interface program. Brunton scores attention again with its expanded solar offering, including the 10lb Solo, a portable power unit capable of powering laptops, mobile phones and perhaps a blender or two (you have to pack your own ice.)
Petzl moves about as fast as a glacier when it comes to introducing new technology, which has its upside and its downside. The downside in this case is everyone has been introducing LED technology in headlamps for eons already…making new introductions seem, well, yawn. The upside is that when the company does introduce something new, it is typically dialed in times ten. Such is the case with their new line of headlamps available only for looking at behind glass at the show. Improved reflectors, electronics to sense battery drain, and more look to place Petzl firmly back as a headlamp favorite.
Thule generated the most buzz here with two items. One, the Clamp Lamp clamps onto a rack or other vehicle structure for nocturnal loading and unloading -- particularly useful when peering inside rooftop storage boxes. The other was a pickup rack intended merely as a concept with no release date on it. However, feedback was sooo overwhelmingly positive that the company tells us it has bumped-up production dates and are looking at a mid-2003 release. We can tell you that once our SNEWS® Ford Ranger got wind of the idea, it practically blew an oil gasket with excitement.
Hm, for the most part, we didn't hear companies screaming about how they had women's-specific stuff since, well, it's become nearly a given. The only exceptions remain in mountaineering, climbing, other select hardgoods and hardcore categories where it seems touting the word "women's" is as much about marketing as function. In categories mentioned in this report, such as footwear and apparel, the items mentioned come in designs and styles made distinctly for men and for women. This is good news that women's-specific isn't really news.
Two stood out to us, in addition to the ones we've already mentioned in prior reports in the past couple of weeks: In the Outlast booth was a bed dressed up in Outlast sheets with an open invitation to snuggle down for a few winks. No word on how much the chaperone was getting paid or if demerits were given for snoring. Lastly, hands down, the most popular promotion in the morning hours was Dunham's waffle central where Long Island-born chef Jeff Slezak tossed out Belgian waffles each day complete with all the fixin's, including fresh fruit and berries, syrup, and whipped crème. Friday, the company dished out 173 waffles (no word on how many were seconds), and on Saturday, it turned out more than 200. So popular were the creations, that Dunham brought the waffle king back in on Sunday morning too, although unscheduled originally. At most times, the line snaked around other booths and caused a beehive of activity -- and slurping and smacking.