Leading up to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014, SNEWS is previewing some of the top trends and new products you’ll see at the trade show and Open Air Demo in Salt Lake City, Aug. 5-9. You can access all these articles and more in our O.R. Daily Day 0 edition.
There are hundreds of outdoor product categories at Summer Market — too many to preview here. But we’ve picked some trending areas where you can expect to find innovation, changes or significant growth.
Tracking the outdoors
How fast did we do that last mile?
To the chagrin of us type B folks — can’t we just enjoy the outdoors in peace? — an increasing number of consumers are feeling the need to track their outdoor pursuits in miles and minutes.
Fitness trackers — everything from FitBit (tracking steps) to GPS watches (capturing more precise speed, direction and altitude) — are all the rage with the likes of Google, Apple and Samsung entering the fray. Outdoor athletes are looking to clock their latest trail runs or summits for analysis and improvement. Or, to others, the caloric burn data might be useful to see if there’s room for that extra s’more.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the trackers’ popularity boost is comfort, said Mio Global founder and CEO Liz Dickinson. No longer are the devices clunky, cumbersome and awkward-looking. They are sleek and hardly noticeable, plus some come in fun colors.
“In two to three years, I believe that there will be multiple ways to track activity and movement, Dickinson said. “Google Glass can easily insert sensors to track activity. Rings and other jewelry will do double duty as activity trackers and notification devices. It will become standard for everyone to have some sort of device capturing some form of information relevant to their lifestyle.”
But the hardgoods are just half the story, she and others in the fitness world have stressed. What users ultimately need are better ways of analyzing the data that can actually impact their lives and behavior.
The future: “Systems using artificial intelligence and learning engines will be able to sort through masses of data to pinpoint trends and correlations from, for example, video of a person’s day correlated with their heart rate to predict exactly what situations caused the greatest stress and impact on health,” Dickinson said. “For athletes, systems will automatically notify them what type of and how much training to do, or if they should even train at all on a particular day.”
A walk in the park will never be the same.
Outdoor Launching Point
Base camp has evolved.
No longer is the spot around the fire ring just a launching point for backpackers, but rather it’s a central gathering station for a diverse range of outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking, fishing, hunting and even tailgating.
The point is to enjoy the outdoors as a social experience, no matter the place or the individual’s ability or skill. Part of the group might summit a peak, others might go for a ride, and still others might catch some fish to cook later on the grill. At the end of the day, everyone regroups at base camp for some drinks, food and conversation around the fire.
The new base camp is mostly car-camping fare — and that means bringing everything including portable furniture, grills, cooking stations and coolers — but we’ve also seen the trend spread to the backcountry with groups splitting the weight of a four-, even six-person tent along with beer, card games and other luxuries for more of a communal camping experience.
Cheers to that!
The urban woodsman
No doubt you’ve seen him lumbering throughout his metropolitan habitat.
His brand name plaid flannel worn with beat-to-hell slim-fitting jeans fresh from the designer rack; a pair of heavy leather boots grace his feet while a faux fur trapper or maybe a wool beanie perches just right on his head. A hatchet rests gently against a wall in his apartment for the rare (very rare) occasion he cuts some wood. And then there’s the beard, a full, whiskery bush, perfectly manicured to appear imperfect.
Known as an “urban woodsman,” this man about town has an alter ego as a man of the mountains. His fashion prowess was first brought to light by New York Magazine in 2010, but since then the trend has continued to grow, most notably in metropolitan hubs like New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle.
Scott Jaeger, account manager in client development with Leisure Trends, an NBD Group Company, calls the style a “response and counter-reaction” to the overly put-together metrosexual.
Though the manly movement draws inspiration from the outdoor world, for the most part, adopters stick to the fashion brands (think J. Crew) with which they’re familiar. “They’re following the look, but they might not necessarily be buying the traditional products,” Jaeger said.
Among the traditional outdoor products that they are buying: hatchets and axes, which unsurprisingly, Urban Outfitters hasn’t taken to carrying. Leisure Trends reports that sales of these chopping tools rose mightily in 2012, skyrocketing by 71 percent, then continued to grow another 14 percent in 2013. Knife-making brand Spyderco plans to launch into the axe and hatchet side of things because of this jump in the category.
Apparel companies as well are responding to the urban woodsman trend. Seattle-based Outdoor Research notes that it’s seen a jump in sales of woodsman-esque items like the buffalo-check Yukon cap. Kavu has seen an uptick in the popularity of plaid, especially its Big Joe shirt. And Outdoor Retailer new exhibitor Howler Brothers caters to the trend with its burly Workman’s long-sleeved top.
Those of us in the outdoor industry may not be surprised that metropolitan hubs are going from Gucci to grunge. After all, it’s “comfort food for style,” said Jordan Wand, vice president of product and marketing for Outdoor Research. “It feels comfortable [and] familiar.”
And even city folk dig that.
Many of us have moved beyond trail mix and PB&J’s to fuel our outdoor adventures, opting instead for nutrition-packed meals, bars and gels.
But what exactly are inside those treats?
Consumers increasingly are examining labels to find out, favoring items with more natural ingredients, brands and retailers tell us.
“We all perform and feel better when we eat foods with ingredients we understand and can pronounce,” Probar co-founder and CEO Jeff Coleman said. And if there is the occasional unfamiliar nutrient, parenthesis with a layman’s explanation of the unpronounceable ingredient are proving popular.
Rule of thumb: Keep it simple and tasty.
First it was minimalism. Now it is maximalism. Where will footwear land next? Most say somewhere right in the middle.
The top lesson learned by outdoor brands during the footwear-fad whiplash is to make shoes that last. Lightweight is great — no one wants to be lifting a brick on the trail — but don’t sacrifice the outdoor commandments of durability and protection.
Shoes that fell apart in months and/or contributed to injuries dealt the deathblow to many minimalist models.
Expect to hear brands at Summer talking about how to hit the sweet spot. Case in point, Arc’teryx’s entry into footwear with a different take on relatively lightweight construction. A single-piece TPU upper protects and minimizes failure points, while a separate, stretchy inner booty conforms to the foot for fit and comfort.
Gore-Tex, in the meantime, debuts its 360 Surround technology — a full booty of waterproof-breathable protection to allow for additional respiration underneath the foot.
Increased durability might mean fewer turnover sales, but happier customers with longer-lasting footwear are probably more valuable.
Freshening up for Facebook
We’ve talked a lot about the rise of the urban-outdoor fashion trend — it’s now trendy to walk down Fifth Avenue in your Patagucci, err, Patgonia wear.
But even deep in the real backcountry, core outdoor enthusiasts are becoming increasingly conscious of how they look.
While it used to be only you and your closest friends on that week-long, 45-mile backpacking loop in the wilderness — I know these baggy pants and gaiters make me look like a dork, but who’s going to see — now the whole world is watching … via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Smartphones and video action cameras are now out like the paparazzi on every hike, turning the trail into an outdoor catwalk.
Outdoor brands, even the core technical ones, are having to re-adjust.
Whether it’s a shoe, a jacket or heck, even a backpack, “things have to look good on people,” said Robert Fry, global director of product merchandising and design at Mountain Hardwear. “We’re all on social media and we all want to look good when we’re doing our activities.”
It’s quite the 180 from an age of people like the late Outdoor Research founder Ron Gregg, who was known for swearing off fashion in the name of function. His theory: the more unattractive a piece of gear was to the opposite sex, the more he’d accomplished his functionality goals.
Times certainly have changed, and fashion counts big time in the 21st century. Still, don’t throw function out the window. The challenge today is “to make function look flattering,” Fry said.
Take women’s hiking pants, which like some other outdoor follies on the feminine side, were dismissed on the sales rack as baggy, over-pocketed man pants. So women went elsewhere … outside the industry, to Lululemon and Athleta for tight, black yoga pants — many without a single pocket.
So it should be no surprise to see more brands taking the hint at Summer Market.
Mountain Hardwear’s Dynama women’s hiking pant, for example, is a technical wicking piece incorporating the soft and stretchy waistband of yoga pants with pockets that don’t bulge and a hidden ankle cord to hitch them up as capris, revealing a fashionable ruffle.
“She’ll be comfortable wearing these outdoors,” Fry said.
These are just a few of the new products to debut at the show. Be sure to check out much more new and trends in the O.R. Daily, Days 1-4, published live at the show, and available digital format each following day of print on SNEWS.