Only days before Outdoor Retailer Summer Market swung open its doors, the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, debuted products -- some by companies which also sell in the United States and some not.
As usual, SNEWS took a look at what was of interest there -- with an emphasis on European-based companies so we would not be redundant with our product trends reports out of OR’s showing in Salt Lake City.
Many U.S. companies actually found the OutDoor show, from July 16-19, to be their actual product debut since it opened a week before OR, which ran July 21-24. That included Patagonia, Osprey, Vasque, Highgear, Cascade Designs, Mountain Hardwear, CamelBak, Marmot, and many many others.
One company it did not include for the first time was The North Face, which had elected last year to not exhibit at the OutDoor show since, we were told, it had a strategic goal of talking more directly to the consumer. When a TNF tent city was erected in a meadow out the back entrance about a half-mile or so away behind a grove of trees, SNEWS queried the company’s president of the outdoor and action sports coalition, Patrik Frisk. Frisk said that at this point the company only has one European booth -- a gargantuan format for all of its products and, therefore, very expensive, especially for a show like OutDoor, which they consider more of a regional show for the German-speaking countries.
However, he said that one key German retailer had told the company that the OutDoor show was the only show where it would have all its managers and they had to see the gear. The company’s German agent said he had no choice and drove down with 15 tents and other gear, set up the tents on the first day of the show (in a mostly torrential rain), then showed the tents to the retailer, Globetrotter, on Friday before dismantling them that evening. Then they did an additional showing of packs and bags in a nearby hotel.
“It’s not something we’d prefer to do,” Frisk said, “but the company said if we can’t see it, we’re not going to buy it…. There was no other way to do business.”
Frisk also noted that they are looking at the 2010 OutDoor show as a category show with a smaller booth space.
“Of course, we should be at OutDoor,” he said. “What we did this year was specific to the economic situation.”
So, as The North Face showed tents in pouring rain that caused floods in many countries, others were dry inside the halls.
From inside the halls, here are highlights and news from only a select number of companies, some of which you may not even see at U.S. shows or in U.S. stores:
Bergmoench by Koga – We have seen student projects morph into products at trade shows, and the two students at Bergmoench are two more. For non-German-speakers, “Berg Moench” means, literally, “mountain friar.” And to prove that point, the group had a team member walking around in brown friar robes. We don’t get the connection really to the product. Basically, it is a bike that you fold up into a backpack, slap on your back while you hike up a mountain, then you slip it off, fold it back out and zoom down the mountain. You don’t pedal, since there aren’t pedals. This is not a wimpy fold-up bike, but a fully featured mountain bike with heavy-duty suspension, Shimano gears, and a Vaude backpack incorporated into it as the pack. For EUR 1,499, it’s not cheap either. www.bergmoench.com
Curly & Smooth – We went looking for this company because of a pocket ashtray we saw promoted -- not your typical outdoor show item from a company without your typical outdoor name! Juergen Bleich, managing director of the German company, immediately directed us to look at the really new item -- the Solarex, which the company has dubbed the first solar ashtray in the world. Stay with me here…. The 3 ¾-inch round concave base is lined with a mirror and, once you snap it open from its clam-shell storage position, has a small metal prong that sticks up in the middle. Stick a cigarette on it and, in mere seconds, it lights. Then you can use the base for your ashtray. OK, so we don’t support smoking, but Bleich said the company had hoped to have ready by the show a version that has small cubes so you can light those, which you can then use to light your campfire. A fun gimmick, for sure. Now about that pocket ashtray: It’s a tiny item so if you DO succumb to smoking, you can actually put your ashes and your butt in a compartment that snaps tightly shut so, said Bleich (who doesn’t smoke), the goal is anti-littering and second-hand-smoke-containing. www.curly-smooth.de
Inov-8 – The U.K.-based company launched its newest products at the OutDoor show, slowly expanding from its roots of purely fast-and-light trail running shoes to now include what every runner also craves -- recovery shoes. They were also shown at OR. This model, the Recolite, seems to have it all, including breathable microfiber uppers, cushy gel footbeds, lightweight construction, and a pull cord to adjust the fit. Available in January 2010 at retail, the full sandal version will have an MSRP of $85 and the slide, $80. www.inov-8.com
Light My Fire – Also quite popular in the United States through its distribution with Industrial Revolution, Swedish company Light My Fire brightened the halls at OutDoor with a couple of debuts that made you whack yourself aside the head and say, well, duh, of course. One was a left-handed Spork. To most right-handers it may not make a lot of sense but the curve is different, so when you cut with the serrated part down, it actually curves the correct way during cutting and use. Sold in a two-pack (we’re told when lefties find something for them they want more than one), it will retail for $4.99. Then we have the “Spork Little.” Basically, it’s a mini-Spork without the serrated edge to endanger small hands and mouths. They’re so cute we want a three-pack (MSRP $6.99) to take in our lunches or to stash in our glove compartments. These are made of Tritan, which is a BPA-free material. www.lightmyfire.com
Klaettermusen – As each year, the Swedish company -- so far without distribution in the United States -- stresses the importance of protecting the environment and then walks the talk by introducing more gear or services that do just that. This year was no different, although the introductions were huge. Count ‘em: 17 new items with the company branching out from its core outdoor focus into capris, pants, sweaters and base layers that could be used for either backpacking or also just around town. Since its goods aren’t inexpensive, it also added new touches, like an itty-bitty Swedish flag seam tag to make all users aware of the brand’s origin. For example, the Mist capri (MSRP EUR 155) looked tough as nails but still didn’t lose the cute factor; the Frej Tee (MSRP EUR 151) is more of a short-sleeve soft shell with an angled zipper and pocket; and the Frode jacket (EUR 211), which also was a finalist for the OutDoor award. We particularly liked the lower front pockets on the Frode women’s style so they weren’t smack on the bustline. To add a little humor to its 25th anniversary celebration, an invite said, “Don’t buy a jacket unless you really need one and don’t buy a beer when you can get one for free.”
Outwell/Oase Outdoors – At the booth of a Danish company that does not sell into North America but does sell in 30 countries, representatives were quite taken aback that a U.S. journalist would be interested in one of the products. “Why?” they asked when we asked for more information. All that oddness aside, the company -- which has three brands that range from casual picnicking to family camping to car camping -- introduced a pop-up tent it called the Smart Tunnel concept. Packed away, it’s a large circle about 3 feet across with the tent supports folded down on each other in a twisted fashion much like the sun screens for car windows. Take it out of the bag and flip it into the air and, poof, it unfolds and becomes a 2-person tent with a small vestibule (Vision 2000) or a 3-person tent (Fusion 300). A product manager told SNEWS it is the company’s own patent and is pending. It should be available in February 2010. www.outwell.de or www.oase-outdoors.dk
Ruckjack – You had to look around to find this newbie company in a barren 10-by-10 booth. The founders of the company that makes what could be called “Transformer Jackets” are kite-surfers who thought that schlepping a jacket and a small backpack was one item too many. Patent pending internationally, we were told, this is a jacket that becomes a lightweight backpack or, perhaps better put, a bag you can carry on your back. No you won’t hike long distances in it, but you can carry stuff in or out from wherever you are headed in it, then unhook the sleeves to make it a jacket. All it takes to transform it is “one zip and two clips,” as the founders like to say. They are basically looking for distributors or to license the concept since they smartly believe that trying to tackle all the various markets and categories with the concept isn’t the best for them. “We don’t want to replace a backpack,” said Sven Kelling. “It’s a fun product.” MSRP in GBP is now 46 to 56 (USD $76-$93). www.ruckjack.com
Silva – Not the same Silva as in the United States, this Silva (from Sweden) had some innovative new headlamps that got a lot of attention: Trail Runner and Trail Runner Plus, and the X-Trail and X-Trail Plus. An extra-wide head band slips through a more rectangular light base that is soft on the backside. The vision is for a light that is wider and not round with its rectangular, lightweight lamp system. The two AA battery pack on the Trail Runner is small and nestles into the back of the head -- total weight with battery pack is 135 grams (4 ¾ ounces). The Trail Runner Plus has an external battery pack for four AA batteries which you can carry on your waist or in a pocket. The on-off switch is what the company calls glove-compatible with a rubberized button for easier control. The X-Trail has the same design concept but is a slightly beefier version with the X-Trail Plus having a Lithium Ion battery pack for longer and rechargeable power. Prices range from EUR 60 to 200. www.silva.se
Vaude – A continuing huge supporter (and one of the founders) of the OutDoor show, Vaude always launches so many products and wins so many awards, it’s hard to keep track. One of its two gold medals in the OutDoor Award competition was for the Scutum Ultralight tent, which weighs in at a mere 1,000 grams (2.2 pounds), pretty tiny for a true two-person tent with double-wall construction (MSRP EUR 380). Part of the weight savings comes from a single pole construction and the roominess is partly due to an asymmetrical design. www.vaude.com
X-Bionic – The company behind X-Socks created quite a stir with its ad campaign that initially read, “Wool is not smart.” It was modified slightly to read “Wool alone is not smart,” since really the company was not putting down wool as a fiber – since it was introducing a line called Apani at the show -- but was putting down not only the use of pure wool but also wool garments that lacked the waffle-like 3D knitting system it uses. A brochure in bright canary yellow read “WOOL IS DEAD!” and, inside it’s tri-fold welcomed you to the “funeral” at OutDoor. Inside, a photo of a sheep upside down frozen inside a block of ice with the caption, “sheep sweats – sheep dead.” The pitch was that humans need more than just a layer of wool since we sweat and we need to evaporate the sweat. “…Sheep don’t sweat. If they did, sheep would simply freeze to death in winter after running from a wolf.” All that was entertaining, attention-getting and got people talking… which is what a good ad campaign does. All that aside, the Apani line is 99 percent wool but uses the 3D knit structure of other X-Bionic garments. Inexpensive? Of course not. We’re talking EUR 100-150 for most shirts and tights. The garments are expected to be at retail for holiday 2009. In other news, the company also delivered jackets, headbands, pants and hats, expanding slowly and now nearly completely into a full line of “X” clothing. www.x-bionic.com or www.apani-life.com (where you can see some of the campaign)
On the heels of both red wine powder (click here to read that SNEWS mention in a 2005 story) and a cheeseburger in a can (click here to see a 2007 SNEWS story), Trek ‘n Eat (formerly Trekking Mahlzeiten out of Switzerland and a Katadyn-owned brand there), has come out with …. drum roll please… powdered beer. Well, OK, because of purity laws in Germany, they can’t really call it beer, so the label really reads “drink power with beer flavor,” which raises the interest to an entirely new level. We had Toni Brandi, head of sales, serve us up a foamy glass. Looks good, great color, nice head of foam… then we sipped it…. OK, so maybe we weren’t desperately-seeking-beer in the backwoods but ohmigoodness bleeech! At 5 percent alcohol, though, you can get drunk on it, Brandi promised, downing his glass. MSRP EUR 5 for one pouch of power and it will be available in European markets in January. The red wine powder? No more. Sigh. The cheeseburger? “It sells!” Brandi said. He promised more interesting items at future shows. www.trekneat.com