The SNEWSÂ® team of eight editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2005 scouting out the trade show scene. Each week, since the show ended, we've been publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for winter packs, tents and sleeping bags:
If you were to take the pulse of the technical pack market, you'd feel that it's quickened. That is, pack makers stitched up a huge pile of new product this year, perhaps noticing, or hoping, that there's a healthy market for specialty winter packs -- especially for the ski, snowboard and tele crowd. Ahh, hope does spring eternal. Though we saw very few whizbang ideas that would shake up the category, there have been some notable tweaks -- a neat idea here, a nifty detail there. Rather than feed you a mouthful of product specs, we've boiled our report down to a few key observations.
Black Diamond -- Black Diamond's Slide 20 pack for skiing and boarding has become a best seller for the brand. So, this year it introduced a larger version, the Slide 30 ($84.50). The 30 has similar features to its little brother, such as a hydration pocket, easy-access pocket for skins and a vertical snowboard strap. Though the 30 has a higher-density fabric and weighs just a few more ounces.
Camelbak -- Camelbak has introduced a clever way to prevent bite valves from freezing up in cold conditions. The new Therminator Harness has a sleeve that encloses the tube, and the bottom of the sleeve has a small pocket that holds a hand warmer. The company says that it tested the system at 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and the hand warmer kept the tube warm for more than seven hours. You'll find the Therminator on three new packs: the Menace (70 ounces, $80); Hellion (100 ounces, $100); and Honcho (100 ounces, $125).
Deuter -- As we said, companies cranked out a lot of product this year, and Deuter stands as a good example. The company introduced six new snowsport packs to suit everything from yo-yo skiing to touring to alpine climbing. There are some nice details, such as the Shield Back system in the Razor 18. This plastic sheet with closed-cell foam not only protects a person's back, but it gives the pack nice structural stability. Weighing 3 pounds, with 1,080 cubic inches of volume, the Razor retails for $129.
GoLite -- The new Rodeo Pack designed for snowboarders features an air-channel mesh back for ventilation, a detachable neoprene MP3 holder, and a snowboard sleeve with a stretch panel to accommodate a variety of snowboard sizes easily. Suggested retail is $110.
Granite Gear -- Granite Gear's new Quick Quiver (Q2) pack is cool in that it allows a person to strap on skis without removing the pack. It takes a few minutes to get the process down smoothly, but some folks will appreciate the convenience. With1,000 cubic inches of volume, the Q2 retails for $115.
Gregory -- Noting the resurgence of sport-specific packs, Gregory has re-introduced the Alpinisto alpine climbing pack. While the pack's name may be familiar, the design is all new, incorporating the Wraptor Stabilizer system, which transfers the load over a wide area and maintains stability during aggressive movement. The pack holds newer leashless tools, and the padded waist belt can be removed easily, so you can use 2-inch webbing as a waist belt when wearing a harness. Also, the depression in the lid (which allows you to wear a helmet) maintains its shape even when the lid is stuffed full.
Indigo -- Indigo continues to build a solid foundation as a pack brand, and its five new packs include smart improvements. Check out the Lariat ski attachment system on the Reve 30 (1,800 cubic inches). A cable ski loop lets you attach skis more quickly, and it holds skis more securely. The Reve and other Indigo ski/snowboard packs include Indigo's CafÃ© Pocket, which allows you to easily reach water bottles stowed in the pack.
Marmot -- Marmot figured that if anyone had the chops to help design and test a multipurpose winter pack it would be Doug Coombs. A top-notch alpine, rock and ski guide, Coombs applied his fast and light philosophy to the new La Meije pack, named for a massif in the French Alps with a single ski run that drops 6,900 feet from top to bottom. The 2,200-cubic-inch pack has all the necessary elements, plus a cool "trap door" that allows access through the back panel. For days when you want to go really light, the La Meije squeezes down to 1,600 cubic inches. Weighing 3 pounds, 6 ounces, it retails for $129.
Mountainsmith -- It's been several seasons since Mountainsmith has launched ski and snowboard packs. But this year the company is back in the market with three models, the Vert 12 ($69.95), Off-piste 20 ($94.95) and Off-piste 25 ($99.95). All three have ports that allow you to tuck away straps to prevent them from flapping in the breeze. And the Off-piste packs have clever design features such as fold-down seat pads.
Osprey -- Osprey has merged its Ceres and Vertigo lines into the new Exposure series of packs. It includes four models for alpine climbing and mountaineering, ranging from 2,200 cubic inches to 4,000 cubic inches ($129 to $199). The Exposure packs are a pound lighter than previous Cirrus models due to the frame construction. Plus, Exposure packs carry Osprey's custom, heat-molded hip belts, which have proven so popular that they will be incorporated into many of the company's other pack models.
Vaude -- The Germany-based Vaude brand (though the company was at the show, product is still not available in the United States -- but soon we're told) puts considerable effort into its pack engineering, and we're pretty impressed with the Tergolight and Aeroflex systems in its new packs. The Tergolight hip belt is not only shaped exceptionally well, but it allows you to adjust the shoulder straps at the hips. Cool idea. The Areoflex system includes a mesh back panel for generous air circulation and shoulder straps that are very easy to adjust. Adjustment points are marked from XS to XL to help you quickly find the right fit. Nice touch.
Wild Things -- And it was nice to see the core climbing brand Wild Things back at the show after a couple years away. The Andinista pack enjoys a consistent reputation of quality and performance among the climbing elite -- perhaps more so than any other pack in the Salt Palace because a) it works and b) Wild Things don't mess with it. This year, the company tweaked it a bit by making the pack available in a Spectra version, though at a considerable price ($650 versus $350 for nylon).
The offering of four-season tents at this year's Outdoor Retailer Winter Market was fairly sparse. With most companies, big and small, devoting the bulk of their efforts to the presentation of their apparel lines, who can blame them for failing to sacrifice valuable booth space to arguably the least bought category? That doesn't mean, though, that there weren't a few cool product stories to tell.
Outdoor Research -- With Exped Expedition Equipment now under North American distribution by Outdoor Research, the company has a much stronger position in the tent game. The flagship tent for winter, the Polaris, features an amazingly lightweight, single-wall construction with a waterproof/breathable three-layer PTFE-laminated fabric. It weighs in at 5 pounds, 4 ounces and comfortably sleeps two plus gear in a roomy vestibule. With DAC 9 mm aluminum poles, the Polaris is sturdy and freestanding offering plenty of guy-outs to resist the pounding wind.
Sierra Designs -- Named for the Greek god of strength, the Hercules Assault AST (Arch Support Technology) offers DAC featherlight poles and the exclusive, structure-enhancing Jake's Corner, which SD says increases the tent's strength by 66 percent as well as provides shock absorption in high winds. The single-wall design is made waterproof and breathable using DriZone laminated fabric. The price for added strength though comes at a weight-price, with the Hercules Assault weighing in at a hefty 7 pounds, 2 ounces. But for peace of mind in a dome that will hold its own, SD believes consumers will think the extra ounces are worth it.
Mountain Hardwear -- Mountain Hardwear showed off the single-walled EV2. Small and light, the EV2 features a combination canopy/fly of Conduit FR, a tough polyester with a waterproof/breathable coating. The pole attachment points are reinforced with VX-02, a non-stretching laminate that adds strength to high-stress areas. Three poles constructed of 8.88 mm Atlas Scandium SL aluminum create a rugged structure that can withstand a heavy snow load. No vestibule to speak of -- so you and your pack will be sharing sack space. But with almost 9 feet in length, back-to-front, and a ceiling height of 41 inches, it shouldn't be a problem.
Black Diamond -- BD'S Bibler line of four-season tents remain absolutely classic in design, form and function. The Bibler I-Tent and the Bibler Eldorado share in common the structural feature of a pair of intersecting Easton 7075 aluminum poles within a single-wall canopy made of proprietary Todd-Tex waterproof/breathable fabric. The vestibule on both the I-Tent and the Eldorado are sold separately as accessories. The Eldorado is the better of the two for users over 5 feet, 10 inches in height.
Big Agnes -- Even though it is not a four-season expedition tent, the single-wall Sarvis Superlight Series features a hybrid construction that's worthy of honorable mention. Bringing together the weight-savings of a single-wall tent and the ventilation of a double wall, the Sarvis SL features eVent fabric at the back end for breathable water resistance. In front, a fly constructed of 30-denier ripstop nylon with polyurethane and silicon coating covers a mesh canopy. DAC Featherlite poles fashioned into a central hub system over a large door create a solid structure. Combining the weight-savings advantages of a single-wall tent with the ventilation and weather-proof advantages of a standard fly-over-body three-season construction is not only innovative -- it's pretty darn cool.
Not much to report here as most of the design and development action in the sleeping bag category appears at Summer Market. One bag did turn our editorial heads though -- the APA 1.0 from Sherpa Adventure Gear (www.sherpaadventuregear.com). The shell is featherweight and uses Pertex Quantum fabric. The company reports that the baffles are overstuffed with 750 fill goose down and that as a result, the bag is rated minus 40F -- we'll take their word for it. Upon closer inspection though, it was the construction of the bag that makes this beauty unique and worthy of space on a specialty retailer's sleeping bag rack. The three-dimensional construction allows the bag to really move with the person inside, and fits well even if a climber/mountaineer is sitting on a ledge, curled up in a snow cave, or clinging tenuously to a big wall bivouac. A central zipper allows the climber to conduct basic tasks (cooking, fumbling around in a pack, smacking his slumbering partner) while still inside the bag, and an internal draft collar around the waist (very smart) prevents cold air from seeping in when the zipper is open. A watch pocket inside the bag located by the head means you won't miss that all-too-early summit-bid alarm.