Celebrating groundbreaking achievements in outdoor gear, the inaugural Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards honored new products that change the way we adventure outdoors. From sustainable solutions to revolutionary creations, 20 distinguished judges with backgrounds in retail, journalism, entrepreneurship, and design evaluated 32 finalists to choose 12 winners.
Beer and wine flowed at the live awards ceremony on Winter Market Night 1, with a standing-room crowd gathered in the Colorado Convention Center’s Mile High Ballroom.
Christian Murphy, A+E Networks’ senior vice president, enthusiast brands & programming partnerships, played host to the Capital One Spark Business-sponsored event, sharing the selection criteria based on four guiding tenets: spark, desire, function, and impact.
With these principles in mind, Murphy announced the winners, and each took the stage to receive hand-forged, mantle-worthy metal trophies built by Colorado metal artist Lisa Issenberg.
Following the final announcement, Murphy closed out the night with a round of thanks. “The people of innovation nation, congratulations, and to all of you gathered here, we thank you for your support,” he said. “Thank you to our innovation elders—your time, effort, and expertise were invaluable. “
The enthusiastic crowd lingered to sip beers, hoist trophies, and celebrate their winning innovations. And after an exciting inaugural year, Outdoor Retailer attendees can expect the annual Innovation Awards to push the industry to revolutionize gear in all-new ways.
Read on for the 12 winning products shaping the future of outdoor gear—and stop by the show floor’s Innovation Gallery to see all 32 finalists’ groundbreaking creations.
Overall Winner: PrimaLoft for PrimaLoft Bio
The unanimous winner, PrimaLoft Bio, is the world’s first 100-percent recycled, biodegradable synthetic insulation. While PrimaLoft has always valued recycling, they never believed it was the final answer. “We wanted to solve the end of life for our garments,” said PrimaLoft President and CEO Mike Joyce, “And we wanted to do so in a compelling, true, distinct way.”
In accelerated landfill test conditions, Bio reached near-complete biodegradation in just over a year—while traditional polyester remained completely intact. Once broken down, PrimaLoft Bio fibers leave behind only organic components: water, methane, carbon dioxide, and biomass.
Pioneering sneaker brand Allbirds is at it again, shaking up the sole industry with a sweet swap for petroleum-based EVA: sugarcane. Sustainably sourced from Brazil, the sugarcane’s biomass is extracted to power the mill for a fully sustainable, carbon-negative solution.
And they’re not keeping the formula secret, offering the recipe to any brand that wants it. “We hoped to catalyze change in this industry, which doesn’t work if we’re the only ones doing it,” said Jad Finck in his acceptance speech.
Black Diamond Equipment: JetForce Pro
It’s the best new product you hope to never use: This inventive avalanche airbag could save your life in the backcountry. But it came from humble beginnings: Black Diamond employees, a powerful fan, and a spinning office chair. The resulting product is a smaller, lighter airbag system with Bluetooth capabilities, avy tool pockets, and a new modular system for extra backcountry versatility.
Cake: Kalk Electric Motorbike
Hailing from Sweden, Cake’s off-road electric motorbike took four years to develop, and may seem like an out-of-the-box winner at an outdoor innovation award show. But its quiet, all-electric design makes it an excellent off-road solution for users seeking backroad speed—without the engine roar.
Costa Sunglassses: The Untangled Collection Baffin Sunglasses
Discarded fishing nets take on a new life in this collection of recycled shades. Nets are harvested, recycled into pellets, and turned into sunglasses fitted with polarized, mineral glass lenses. At the end of their life, the Baffin’s frames are recyclable too. For Costa, the product is a full brand alignment: “Protecting our oceans and waterways is a core mission of Costa, and this collection has allowed us to align our mission with our products.”
Crescent Moon Snowshoes: EVA Foam Snowshoes
Arguably the biggest snowshoe innovation since the steel frame, these all-EVA foam snowshoes work like athletic shoes, bending and rolling naturally—with no pivoting hinge to stand in your way. Two layers of dual-density foam offer floaty support, and the lack of metal makes them blissfully silent on snowy trails. Comfortable for walking or running on relatively flat terrain, this entry-level pair is also fully recyclable when you’re done wearing them.
DPS Phantom: Permanent Waxless Glide
Imagine never needing to wax your skis or snowboard again—seriously. That’s the promise of DPS' Phantom, a one-time, waxless base glide solution that’s applied as a liquid and absorbs into the ski. Cured onto your skis with UV light, Phantom permanently alters the base material to improve resilience to impacts. Plus, Phantom never slides off into the snowpack, meaning this forever glide protects the slopes and your skis.
GoLite: GoLite ReGreen Windshell
Beloved ultralight brand GoLite is back, creating activewear products with a new focus on sustainability. The standout offering is a lightweight shell made from 100 percent recycled bottles. And while recycled bottle jackets are nothing new, the ReGreen uniquely contains only green bottles—a less desirable color that’s typically discarded instead of recycled. The naturally green hue lets GoLite skip the damaging dyeing process to reduce water consumption by nearly 80 percent.
Locate your friends, kids, or pets—even when you’re out of cellphone range—with the world’s first smart compass tracker. Requiring no monthly fees, service, or network access, the technology keeps people connected using real-time distance and direction. Link up to 12 trackers together using the powers of longrange, low-power radio frequencies blended with GPS to find your friends whenever the iPhone isn’t up to the task.
Tecnica: Plasma S
Say goodbye to blisters and trail discomfort with the world’s first customizable-fit outdoor shoe. It’s a new market for ski boot maker Tecnica, said Sam Cook, who runs the company in the U.S.: “It’s been fun to translate this experience of heat-moldable footwear to the outdoor hiking experience.” And the new boot gives shoppers a reason to buy at retail. Guests visit a Tecnica dealer to have the boots custom-molded to their feet, leaving with a perfectly fit boot in just 20 minutes. Take that, Amazon.
United By Blue: Bison Puffer Jacket
Look beyond down with this new puffer insulated from an unlikely source: American bison. An unused byproduct from the ranching industry, bison fiber is typically destined for the landfill, but United By Blue is instead harnessing it as an all-new eco-friendly fill. Founder Brian Linton believes the new jacket embodies everything sustainability should be, and said bison is a logical insulation choice: “Bison don’t migrate south for winter.” Their tough coats can insulate humans too—keeping you warm all the way down to 0°F.
Yale Cordage: Forj Thermoplastic Tape
Strong as steel but with a fraction of the weight, this incredibly light, incredibly strong thermoplastic tape can be used for thousands of things—so many that company founders discover new uses every day. Yale Cordage leaders said the tape isn’t biodegradable, but it can reduce your planetary impact, because “It allows you to repair, fix, and shape things so they don’t end up in a landfill, or as a useless piece of junk.”
This article originally appeared in Day 3 of The Daily (Winter Market 2018).