Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09: Gloves and hats hold their own in a down economy

Retro seemed to be the theme of the show when it came to hats, caps and face protection. We saw more knitted caps that reminded us of what we wore as kids than Salt Lake City had micro particles of ozone in the air during the show. To further cement the throw-back theme, those chunky 1970-style knits combined with classic bandana patterns on face and neck protectors too.
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Retro seemed to be the theme of the show when it came to hats, caps and face protection. We saw more knitted caps that reminded us of what we wore as kids than Salt Lake City had micro particles of ozone in the air during the show. To further cement the throw-back theme, those chunky 1970-style knits combined with classic bandana patterns on face and neck protectors too.

We saw knit caps with and without "ear dangles" a.k.a ear flaps (we have yet to determine if these floppy, usually braided things have names), made of yarn or fibers with a green theme, in various patterns indicative of a tribal or ethnic heritage, with fleece linings or not, fluffy, furry, fuzzy or just fantastic colors.

Aside from the wash of colors and bulky knits, there wasn't a lot that screamed "buy me, I'm new." But, then again, people always have to keep their heads and ears warm and, by all accounts, the accessory categories in winterwear were flouting the economic downturn.

And if people have to keep their noggins warm, then they also have to keep their digits warm too.

"Even in a down economy, people are buying gloves," said Jeff Lee, vice president of Grandoe. "Our business is fine."

So aside from thousands upon thousands of products to keep your head and fingers warm and protected, we'll take a quick look at what was new or just floated our boats:

Hats

Bula – Certainly not new to the hat segment is Bula, which took one big step into the organic area this year, showing a Bio-Merino line that is certified organic, from its source to dying to everything in between. They're even lined with a recycled Polarfleece (MSRPs about $25). The company also showed some "super chunky" crocheted hats -- big, beefy, retro-looking caps with tassels and pompoms (MSRPs $20-35). In addition, Bula is expanding its "Weather Station" collection of face masks, balaclavas, beanies and bandanas with sublimation prints that looked like the bandanas of yore. www.bulabula.com

Marmot – A crocheted line was newly introduced to the company's offerings this year and at the 2009 show Marmot expanded it by adding more women's styles and adding more of a street and lifestyle feel to others. New is an insulated Precip baseball-style cap with a lofted polyester liner and drop-down ear warmers (MSRP $38) www.marmot.com

Northern Cap and Glove – Some of the hats that seemed to best combine fashion and function we saw at NCG, which supplies manufacturers. After 60 years in business, the Minnesota company was reviving its old styles and adding a current twist. Plaid and knit combos looked cozy yet practical -- reminiscent of the ice fisherman from its part of the country. A trooper-style hat with Sherpa ear flaps also harked back, as did the narrow brimmed Scotch cap with a square shape and drop-down ears.

Outdoor Research – The Hat 4 All Seasons (MSRP $35) is a return -- see? retro again -- to a classic, but updated with a Gore-Tex PacLite shell. The earflaps fold down for those times when those ears need a little more protection but can be held up with a magnetic system. The brim is designed to fold down in the middle for easier storage. And a soft pile liner secures to the inside with hook-and-loop. For those who want a bit more style, try the natty British-looking Pub Cap (MSRP $35) made of a wool/nylon blend fabric but still equipped with fold-down earflaps. www.outdoorresearch.com

Seirus – The SoftShell Bandana looks like a classic bandana of yore, but it's not. It's made of a proprietary soft shell windproof fabric with a fleece lining (MSRP $20). If you want to step up from that in protection, try the ComboDana, which adds Seirus' patented face mask with breathing holes (MSRP $25). www.seirus.com

Tilley – Adding to its relatively new winter line is the SoftShell hat (MSRP $85 -- photo to right) of Schoeller material with tuckaway ear warmers and the same Tilley trademark inside pocket and guarantee. As always, crushable and package. www.tilley.com

Turtle Fur / F.U.R headwear – Be very clear that F.U.R is Turtle Fur's lifestyle line. Not to say they won't keep your head warm too. Every year 70 percent of the line is new and this year was no exception with a Nepalese-inspired hand-knit line with hats that are all a little different since they are hand knit. All are lined. The Maya Boudha had earflaps and braids, while the Mayadev had so much color they made you smile. MSRPs $30-$35. Already introduced by Turtle Fur, which emphasizes technical accessories, was the motto that technical can also be pretty. That accompanied the introduction of a line from a cooperative program called "Hand in Hand," produced in partnerships with various South American countries. There, Turtle Fur works directly with farmers, knitters and others to produce knit caps that are still technical but with flair. New was a line from Uruguay of merino wool that had the South American look. (MSRPs $60-$80). www.turtlefur.com

Gloves

The push among "glovers," as we heard the companies called this year, is a continued attempt to help retailers better organize their glove wall in a way that can help consumers sort through the racks and stacks of mostly black gloves, then figure out what is right for them. Manzella launched its clear "warm-warmer-warmest" system a few years ago and now Swix launched a color-coded system for its gloves with four levels labeled by weight and temperatures.

Nevertheless, what is "right" has many variations. Just as there are a million different ways to pad, protect and insulate the hand, fingers and wrist, there are a million preferences of degree of warmth, let alone the variability in that range depending on the activity undertaken.

180s_Quantum-Vent_gloves.jpg

180s – A new patented dual-zipper venting system is part of the new Quantum Vent glove (MSRP $60 -- photo to right). Think parallel zippers along the back that look a little like the dual zippers on the top of gym and tote bags that users pull open or closed, one or both, for desired venting. The Quantum is a water-resistant snowsports glove with Primaloft insulation. It is one in a new line with a patented "Tec Touch" system of conductive fabrics and embossed digital zones so a wearer can function with electronics. www.180s.com

Komperdell – The company that launched the first seamless glove has advanced its seamless bonded 100-percent waterproof system with additional models and a more refined welding system that isn't quite as stiff as the first models. The XA line of three gloves with bamboo fleece linings now has a higher looped loft for a plushier feel and more absorbent function. It includes the XA-12 Tour, the XA-12 Thermo and the XA-10 Thermo with a smaller loop on the lining (MSRP $80-$100). www.komperdell.com

Manzella – The company is expanding its use of Gore-Tex and positioning its gloves as more multi-purpose, while maintaining sleek function. It is also expanding its running line, all of which have reflectivity, wind protection, a heat-pack pocket and a hidden key pocket. The new Real Intense gloves with Gore-Tex and high abrasion-resistant palm and fingertips are $50, a step up in protection from the previous soft shell Get Intense gloves, both of which are a close fit designed for full dexterity. So far the Real Intense gloves are only in men's sizing. (All gloves with the name "Serious" are now called "Intense," a decision finalized after the winter show.) Also new in Gore-Tex is the Ten Below Mitten and Glove made of water-resistant tanned goatskin with a removable fleece liner. (the glove is also in women's sizing.) www.manzella.com

Mountain Hardwear – Addressed in the SNEWS Winter Outdoor magazine (distributed in January 2009 and live on the SNEWS website soon), Mountain Hardwear debuted Nextec's OutDry laminating process in the U.S. market in 13 styles, six of which are Alpine models -- see photo to right. The process, in other suppliers' gloves in other countries, creates a waterproof/breathable system in which the membrane is bonded directly to the shell, said to allow ultimate waterproofness with added dexterity and durability. For example, the men's Medusa glove has a removable WindStopper fleece liner so the shell or liner can be worn separately. The palm is a flexible, water-resistant goatskin and the gauntlet is extra long for added wrist protection over sleeves. MSRP $140 (mitt version also available). www.mountainhardwear.com

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Outdoor Research – The new Alpine Alibi Glove of Gore-Tex (MSRP $149) has a sticky palm for great grip in alpine ice situations and lofted insulation for warmth. A pocket for handwarmers is on the gauntlet, which secures with a wrist cinch. OK, so it looks a bit like something Darth Vader would wear with its shiny black finish, but if it keeps you warm and allows you to move, so be it. www.outdoorresearch.com

Seirus – Waterproof gloves are taking another step forward with the company's expanding its year-old Xtreme All-Weather line from the Original glove to a three-glove line that now includes the Edge, with a leather palm (MSRP $60), and the Hex, which is all-fabric (MSRP $50). The two newer models have a slightly roomier hand fit compared to the Original, which has a very close fit. All use the company's patent-pending Pro-Fit system -- basically, a three-layer system that includes a waterproof/breathable layer all of which is bonded together to eliminate the slippery movement inside some lined gloves. www.seirus.com

--Therese Iknoian

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