The SNEWSÂ® team of editors powered by imported dark chocolate and numerous espresso shots (not necessarily in that order), zigged and zagged around the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market floor 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 when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, our brains were either too frozen from our early morning runs to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking espresso shots too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for travel luggage, bags, apparel, footwear and accessories:
No matter where you look, traveling touches all aspects of the outdoor industry, whether it's a climbing trip across the country or a tour of 10 countries in 10 days in Europe. As with other outdoor gear, one of the most noticeable continuing trends is the focus on manufacturing lighter travel luggage, backpacks and totes.
The Travel Industry Association (TIA) reports that travel and tourism is a $1.3 trillion industry in the United States. TIA's 2005 edition of the "Economic Review of Travel in America" study reveals that domestic and international travelers spent an estimated $646 billion in the United States in 2005, nearly 8 percent more than in 2004. This year, total traveler spending is expected to reach nearly $675 billion, an increase of 4.5 percent compared to last year.
Following a very soft fall travel season, according to TIA, signs of an economic recovery are surfacing, translating into higher consumer confidence and spending. As a result, winter travel is on the upswing this year and expected to grow 2 percent over last year. Americans were on their way to taking a record-setting 251 million trips during the winter months (December, January and February), the association said. And it doesn't stop there, TIA is also projecting that Americans plan to take 328 million leisure trips during June, July and August.
So it would seem Eagle Creek's words that travel is back would be on target. As the travel company celebrated its 30th anniversary, it said that retailers are reinvesting in the category (one retailer even reported 28 percent growth for 2005), and last year Eagle Creek posted its strongest double-digit growth since 9/11.
No matter where your customers are off to, they gotta have the goods to get them there. And it's your job to make sure your shelves are stocked with what they need. Here's a quick rundown of what's new in travel gear and accessories to help get the job done.
Acorn -- With an eye to the future, Acorn's new 20/20 sport fusion footwear collection could make travelers' tootsies a whole lot more comfortable by blending its slipper know-how with performance materials. Designed for men and women, the line features a bootie and a slip-on moc in various styles that have no laces, straps or buckles. The uppers are made of Polartec Windbloc soft shell fabric in ripstop to make them windproof, water repellent, lightweight and breathable. Each style is lined with Acorn's own comfort fleece and has a molded, low-profile EVA outsole and polyether-based PU insole. There are no metal components, so the 20/20 shoes are airport friendly.
Adventure Medical Kits -- Sometimes a proper bathing experience to tidy oneself up doesn't present itself when traveling. Adventure Medical Kits has a couple of simple solutions that don't take up much space. The Fresh Bath Outdoor Bathing Wipes are 8-inch by 10-inch, rinse-free wipes that neutralize odor and eliminate bacteria. The wipes have a formula of vitamin A and E with aloe vera to clean and moisturize, and are alcohol free so they won't dry out skin. Also handy is the Adventure Instant Hands Sanitizer, a new alcohol-free formula that reportedly eliminates 99.9 percent of germs on contact via a foam application. The 1.7-ounce bottle contains 75 applications and provides up to two hours of antiseptic after each use.
Cocoon -- Last year was a banner one with sales up 25 percent for Cocoon. Continuing to provide all those niceties that make travel more pleasant, it showed the 11-ounce CoolMax Travel Blanket that's light, soft and wicks -- not only good for plane travel, but a favorite for adventure racers at pit stops. On the fun side, it's offering a football shell/travel pillow combo for $30. Just stuff the pillow into the shell and game on!
Eagle Creek -- Although its Mobile Storage System reminds us of a couple of products already on the market, we like the design improvements Eagle Creek has made on its version. Using its Pack-It System for inspiration, the new system has two components -- the Toy Chest duffels and the Gear Box bags that fit directly into the duffels. Made of proprietary 1,000-denier Tri-Tech (a non-PVC thermo plastic urethane) laminated to a heavy-duty nylon (whew-- say that three times fast!), the Toy Chests come in a horizontal and vertical 90-liter size, and a 60-liter horizontal. They're designed to fit between the wheel wells of an SUV, and we liked the removable dividers that keep things organized and prevent the bag from collapsing on itself when empty. The Gear Boxes go in the duffels like an integrated gear packing system and have over-sized openings, quick grab handles and "what's inside" ID labeling. An available POP can be positioned just about anywhere -- an end cap, against a wall or back to back -- and hold $3,000 worth of merchandise. Additionally, Eagle Creek has revised its entire fixturing program, devoting money to a head-to-toe overhaul that's designed to make selling travel even easier for retailers.
Ex Officio -- New for fall 2006, Ex Officio is offering a pant in the Destination collection made with Nano-Tex fabric protection, a chemical enhancement that transforms a fabric's fibers at the molecular level (weird science, indeed). Named one of Time magazine's "coolest inventions," Nanotechnology transforms natural fabrics like cotton and linen, making them wrinkle resistant, water - and stain-repellent, durable and shrink proof. They still look and feel like everyday cotton but they're more durable because the chemical is applied on the nano-level, maintaining the soft hand and breathability. Available in a men's and a women's version, the Nanotwill Pant is a 9-ounce brushed twill cotton with Nano-Tex and security pockets. The women's version has a lower rise waist and straight leg. Both will retail for $69.
Gregory -- Wandering the show floor, we couldn't but help notice Gregory's new Traction line -- a modern, mainly shoulder bag collection for the urban highway. Many of the five pieces are designed with electronics in mind, like the Chevelle, a small shoulder bag with a cord portal for MP3 players, and the Gran Torino, a messenger bag/computer bag hybrid. Also new for travel is the Alpaca duffel that can be carried conventional duffel style or as a backpack using integrated padding on the main carrying handles.
Ground -- The mother of all backpacks has landed at Ground -- the Chauris Expedition Duffel, designed in collaboration with a Sherpa who is an Everest veteran. Created with the porter in mind, the extra large duffel (9,000 cubic inches) has long handles to go around a yak or a porter's head for carrying, and removable portage backpack straps. The main compartment is made of 1680 ballistic nylon with Hypalon wrapped around the main zippered panel to prevent puncturing. Ground also has been granted the license for a Teva backpack line starting in 2007.
JanSport -- JanSport's ultra-modern Modus collection, a more mature travel line designed to keep college grads interested in JanSport products, is being phased out. We were told that the pricier collection was a hard sell, wasn't branded well and left customers wondering why the company was producing computer briefcases when it's known for its backpacks. More in line with JanSport's spirit is the SuperBreak Travel Collection that has teenybopper and college student written all over it. Bright colors and prints dominate the line of wheeled duffels and upright luggage, duffels, computer backpacks and totes. The wheeled offerings come in a variety of sizes and feature JanSport's 600-denier poly fabric.
Kelty -- After its Summer Market debut, Kelty expanded on its travel Commute collection this winter, saying that it is mirroring trends from its traditional outdoor segment. "Small pack and carry-on travel is a critical component in the national marketplace, in much the same way that done-in-a-day backpacking has become a dominant force in the outdoor world," said Kenny Ballard, president of Kelty. New additions to the Commute collection reflecting that sensibility are the Jetway, a convertible computer backpack with wheels; the Athens, a vertical computer satchel; the Tote, a go-anywhere bag made of the cool-looking nylon "velocity" fabric; and the Cruz, a simple personal tote for holding just the essentials.
Kiva -- Kiva reports that it is focusing on investing money into collateral materials and advertising for 2006 to support its dealers. Its Rick Steves collection is more than 40 percent over projections, and its Total Travel System (TTS) collection -- wheeled bags with a three-compartment design -- continues to take off.
Merrell -- Merrell said it's taking a fresh approach to its Transit line with Escape, a collection of travel footwear that moves from the office to the airplane to the trailhead with the greatest of ease. The collection for men and women has ultra-light adaptable casual shoes that feature Pittards soft European leather, Vibram rubber soles and Merrell's shock-absorbing Air-Cushion midsole. On the travel bag front, Merrell had three new backpacks -- designed to be simple and easy with the goal not to over "technologize." The Conduit is the papa of the bunch; the Passage, the momma; and the Download, the baby. We also liked the Latitude and Longitude, slim horizontal and vertical messenger-style bags.
Mountainsmith -- Lighter than its Travel Trunks, Mountainsmith's new Travel Duffels offer the same carrying capacities at a lower price point -- $40-$60. Available in black and bright colors -- lotus blue, lime and red -- the Travel Duffels have attachable shoulder straps, wrapped haul handles, two end haul handles and a mesh bag for storage. And, if the Discovery still isn't big enough for you, check out the new Buttress wheeled duffel in high-density ripstop nylon body fabric with ballistic nylon reinforcements. Originally made for the FBI but now available for the rest of us, this burly travel bag measures 38 by 16 by 13 inches (makes you wonder: what did the FBI haul in this thing!?). Lastly, Mountainsmith updated the ergonomic telescoping handle on the Boarding Pass wheeled bag. The company said it didn't have much new for fall, but we've been promised that there will be lots of new stuff in the spring.
Overland -- When you walk by Overland's offerings, you can't help but stop and take a look thanks to all the bright colors and popping prints. A 24-year-old family business, Overland offers a great mix of shoulder bags, totes and computer bags of all sizes for men and women. Lifestyle bags like the new Loie come equipped with numerous pockets that can hold travel essentials like a passport, maps, iPod, camera and travel guide with room to spare. Also, the Taxi toiletry bag may look like your run-of-the-mill kit, but pumps up the sass factor once unzipped to reveal a snazzy geometric or floating bubbles print and two zippered compartments that will hold a ton of stuff. Your toothbrush never had it so good.
Patagonia -- After a huge rollout at Summer Market, Patagonia's travel collection was a bit quieter with the line remaining virtually intact with a color update here and there. Patagonia did add two backcountry-specific daypacks -- the larger Outer Limits and the smaller Inner Limits -- to the line for winter travels. Both are made with the company's snow-shedding ShiftLayer nylon to withstand abrasion from metal edges, and can carry skis in an A-frame or cross-carry configuration, or a vertical snowboard. The Outer Limits comes in 1,500- and 1,800-cubic-inch sizes allowing more space for an overnight hut-to-hut trip.
Sea to Summit -- On the accessory side, Sea to Summit is always thinking of ways to make travelers a bit more comfortable. First up is its CoolMax Adaptor travel liner, ideal for warm or humid conditions, adapting to varied temperatures and managing moisture for a comfortable night's sleep. Also, when space is at a premium and keeping gear dry is the key to a happier adventure, check out the Event Compression Dry Sack. Sea to Summit replaces the traditional valve approach with air-permeable, waterproof Event fabric on the base, which allows air to be compressed out of the sack but keeps water from coming in. Once the dry sack's Hypalon roll-top closure is sealed, a lid and four compression straps evenly compresses the sack as small as it'll go.
Swiss Army -- Travel accessories seemed to be top of mind for Swiss Army as it sought out its best sellers and upgraded them. It's re-launching the Trek Pack series and adding a women's version. Lastly, it's changed the top of its wheeled bags handles to cork, which reportedly absorbs heat and cold well.
Timbuk2 -- Unlike it's normally bright colored offerings, Timbuk2's new Single Speed collection is a heavy-duty, cotton-canvas bag collection in distressed-looking brown or black with leather detailing and a buckle that looks like a sprocket. Although the company thought it was more male-driven, the ladies have taken a shine to the six-piece bag line. The fun Fling is a simple backpack that cinches closed, has organizer pockets and adjustable straps -- good for holding a few essentials when out sightseeing. We also liked the new graphics of floating sprockets making their way onto the inner liners of most of Timbuk2's bags.
Woolrich -- Woolrich is now in the travel bag business after being approached by Cartesian Studio a year and a half ago about a licensing deal. The company said it wanted to develop a line that represents the values and qualities of the Woolrich brand and would fit with the rest of the brand. Working with the idea that the travel collection's colors and materials had to merchandise well with the company's apparel and accessories, 11 pieces were produced in two colors -- black and moss green. Made of 1,200-denier polyester with DWR treatment, the line includes wheeled luggage and duffels, totes and briefcases that offer a 55-percent to 60-percent margin for retailers.