Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09: Travel companies present savvy products to fit the ever-changing needs of explorers

What's happening in today's travel market? SNEWS® queried exhibiting travel companies at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09 for answers and came away with a host of answers and new product developments.
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What's happening in today's travel market? SNEWS® queried exhibiting travel companies at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09 for answers and learned:

  • "Big" long vacations are being replaced by weekend and three-day trips that are more casual.
  • Travelers want to avoid or minimize airline bag fees. Carry-on bags are hot and users want them to offer more solutions. When they need to check luggage, they're looking for a single large capacity, lightweight bag to avoid fees and also not exceed the airline's weight limit.
  • Luxury brands presently have a stigma surrounding them. Being frugal is hip and turning out to be a boon to outdoor-travel companies like Eagle Creek.
  • With the economy in the tank, travel is on sale. Who's taking advantage of it -- besides the most intrepid adventure travelers -- is another matter.

Checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

In a post-9/11 world, airline travelers have become used to shedding shoes and jackets and removing laptops from bags to be scanned by X-ray machines. Sometimes you feel like a multi-tasking acrobat, trying to move quickly to get everything on the conveyor and then scrambling to retrieve it, redress and repack all once through.

Polling more than 100 U.S. airports, a study published by the Ponemon Institute and Dell Computer found that about 12,000 laptops a week are lost in airports -- that's more than 600,000 computers being separated from their owners per year. And, only 30 percent of travelers recover their lost laptops.

The study indicated that most airport laptop losses occur at the security checkpoints or at the departure gates, where it's easy to leave things behind. It also queried nearly 1,000 business travelers and found more than 70 percent said they felt rushed when trying to get on their flights, and 69 percent said they're usually carrying too many items while trying to catch their flights.

After years of requiring travelers to pull laptops out of bags to run separately through the airport X-ray machines, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is allowing people to keep computers in butterfly or trifold style bags or sleeves as long as they offer a clear and unobstructed image of the laptop when undergoing X-ray screening.

To meet the demand, several companies exhibiting at Winter Market have been tinkering with bag designs to meet the latest TSA security requirements:

Available in its Day Travelers series, Eagle Creek debuted the Global Commuter and Universal Traveler, which can each hold up to a 17-inch laptop. The Global Commuter (MSRP $135) has two carry options: a padded shoulder strap and concealable contoured backpack straps. The laptop compartment has a butterfly-style opening with two-way lockable zippers and a D-ring. The Universal Traveler (MSRP $120) travel daypack has contoured backpack straps, a sternum strap and hideaway hip belt. Both bags come with organization pockets, zip-toggle closures and a back slip panel for stacking on wheeled luggage. It also offers Protect-It laptop sleeves in 13-, 15.4- and 17-inch sizes (MSRP $25, $28, $30) that are fully padded, have an ID window, concealable handles and D-rings for attaching a shoulder strap. www.eaglecreek.com

Pacsafe offers two ScanSafe laptop bags to accommodate a 13- or 15.4-inch computer. Unzipping from one side around the top to the other side, the bags lay flat with the computer on one side and files, etc., on the other. They also have the company's other anti-theft features: snatchproof three-dial combination lock on the strap allows the bag to be locked to a secure fixture, tamperproof lockable zippers, slashproof shoulder strap and eXomesh Slashguard metal framework in the lower front and bottom panels. (MSRP $100-$110, www.pacsafe.com)

Made of lightweight ballistic Cordura, Kiva's version of a laptop-friendly bag has two separate sections connected at the top and held together on the sides by buckles. Unclipping the side buckles allows travelers to lay the bag flat. Once through the X-ray machine, grab the top handle and gravity pulls the two sections together to avoid fumbling at the end of the conveyor belt. (MSRP $69, www.kivadesigns.com)

Timbuk 2 launched a travel line in summer '08 and also came to Winter Market with a TSA-compliant bag. The Commute 2.0 unzips so the bag lays flat with the computer in its own X-ray friendly section. It comes in three sizes: small for 13-inch laptops (MSRP $90), medium for 15-inch laptops ($100) and large for 17-inch laptops (MSRP $120). www.timbuk2.com

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Ski/snowboard haulers

Ski and snowboard lovers rejoice. Both Eagle Creek and The North Face showed off new ski/snowboard travel luggage for the first time.

Looking to attract a younger consumer, Eagle Creek launched the Deviate collection (photo to right) last year for those "unscripted" travelers who have no reservations about going without reservations. This year, the company took Deviate to the next level with an all-season bag for travelers who change plans and chase weather patterns. At the top of the hill is the Abominable Snow Bag (MSRP $270), which Eagle Creek is anointing the "one bag for 365 days a year." It's a standard rolling bag with a twist: an attached sleeve called the Lift, which expands to hold two sets of skis and poles or two snowboards. When not in use, it tucks away, making the bag a regular large capacity split bag. Also new to the line is the Snow Drifter (MSRP $200) for transporting skis or boards and XL Shuffle duffel (MSRP $115).

The North Face offered up two pieces: the Base Camp Ski Roller, which holds skis/snowboards, poles and clothes, and the Gear Locker, which holds ski/board boots and whatever else life throws at you. The Gear Locker (photo to right) attaches to the roller for easier haul capabilities and has a compartment on the bottom for "wet" garments and the like. To mix it up, the company is offering the bags in two different materials: its heavy-weight Base Camp material in topo map graphics (MSRP $299/roller, $169/locker) and a heavy canvas in bright colors and techno graphics to attract a younger demographic (MSRP $249/roller, $99/locker, www.thenorthface.com).

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Notable new products

Cocoon
-- Aromatherapy isn't just for spa treatments anymore. Cocoon has developed a travel pillow that's infused with microcapsules of fragrance. By squeezing the pillow, travelers can control the amount of fragrance as the microcapsules break and release a small amount of scent. One side of the pillow has a soft microfiber fabric that releases the maximum amount of fragrance, while the cooling nylon fabric on the other side releases just a hint. Scents include lavender, lavender/chamomile, vanilla, and apple blossom. Available in two sizes, the AromaTherapy Travel Pillow (MSRP $30) comes with a carry bag that allows it to double as a lumbar roll. www.designsalt.com

Overland -- After another shift of management this fall, Overland bags have gone through another major facelift trying to recapture the magic that once made Overland a favorite among women. It might have a chance with women at the helm of the company and in the design department. Made of ballistic nylon with leather accents, they took the line and brushed it up for more durability and functionality with graceful lines. The line has been simplified to nine styles, which includes the Calistoga grocery-bag-esque canvas tote. The classic Donner shoulder bag (MSRP $58, photo to right) has been updated with organization pockets that are sized to fit real electronics, offer integrated side pockets for water bottles and comes in a neutral color palette. "We're trying to make sure each piece has a reason," Suzi Pritchett, Overland's product designer, told SNEWS®. www.overlandequipment.com

Overland_Donner.jpg

Patagonia -- The majority of Patagonia's travel pieces have been revised with design tweaks and more recycled content. Both the MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-on) suitcase/backpack (MSRP $160) and MLC Wheelie (MSRP $220) have been updated. The MLC now has a separate padded pocket to store a laptop or use as a clothes organizer, while the Wheelie gets an improved pull handle for better steering and control, ergonomics and durability. The Freightliner has been renamed the Freewheeler. New to the line is the gear-hauling Stormfront Duffel 100 (MSRP $400 -- photo to right) built made of a highly abrasion-resistant, 100-percent recycled polyester with both haul and shoulder straps. It has welded seams and waterproof zippers that help keep it waterproof to 6 feet. www.patagonia.com

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Timbuk2 -- Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Timbuk2 introduced a complete line of nine packs with "swing around access" to allow urbanites to leave the packs on while accessing their contents. "Now more than ever, people need immediate access to their cell phone, BlackBerry, iPod, even computer without missing a beat," said Tae Kim, design director of Timbuk2. Ergonomic shoulder straps have less foam for a more secure and lightweight fit. And, many of the packs have a D-ring built right into the strap that can also double as a bottle opener. Part of the line, the Hemlock has a rolled, expandable top to haul varying amounts of gear, as well as a side-access compartment designed to fit a 15-inch laptop. It's available in two sizes (MSRP $90-$100), and a variety of colors, including the official camo of the Navy Special Ops.

--Wendy Geister

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