Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 Preview: Accessories

Crash sensors, winter running wear, outdoor beer vessels and more.
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Leading up to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014, SNEWS is previewing some of the top trends and new products you’ll see at the trade show and All Mountain Demo in Salt Lake City, Jan. 21-25. You can access all these articles and more in our digital edition of the O.R. Daily Day 0.

Winter Market includes hundreds of outdoor product categories — too many to preview here. But we’ve picked out some trending sectors where you can expect to find innovation, change and growth.

Catching up to runners
As outdoor enthusiasts diversify their winter activities beyond the slopes, one strong category of late has been winter running.

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Runners are boosting sales of headlamps, traction, hats and gloves at outdoor retail, and brands see further opportunities with winter-specific running apparel and footwear with both technical and stylish flare.

“Consumers were way ahead of the manufacturers on this,” said Steve Metcalf, global director of strategic communications at SmartWool, adding that customers have been adapting their gear for years to run in cold weather.

The latest offerings to check out at Outdoor Retailer focus on layering and outerwear that not only insulates and protects, but also breathes when runners kick it into high gear.

The North Face’s Illuminated reversible jacket (MSRP $200) provides runners with a reflective, bright technical soft shell on one side that reverses to a subtle gray outer for everyday use. The ventilation panel on the back maintains breathability, even if users wear a hydration pack. The women’s version has a drop tail to keep the booty warm and covered.

Winter running wear can’t simply be beefed-up versions of their summer brethren. They must adapt to constantly changing conditions, both in weather and body temperature. Case in point: The new Brooks Adapt Jacket (MSRP $180) aims to live up to its name with a built-in balaclava, zoned synthetic insulation and the company’s Utopia Thermal fabric, which is 85 percent polyester/15 percent Spandex.

Merino wool continues to be a go-to for thermal regulation in the face of wild winter weather and body temperature swings. Its ability to insulate even when wet is key and a little more protection doesn’t hurt, such as in the SmartWool PhD Run Divide Vest (MSRP $160) with next-to-skin merino, a windproof polyester on the front face and a morebreathable nylon/merino mix in the back with some elastane for stretch.

Proper layering remains the way many runners acclimatize to cooler conditions. Many brands are touting that they’ve perfected their layers to work best together, like the Saucony Altitude Baselayer (MSRP $80), Ridge Runner Midlayer (MSRP $125) and Razor Jacket (MSRP $175). The question remains, however, if the customer is ready to buy all three together.

Gaining traction 
Outdoor consumers are big on finding products that will tackle every environment. So when their favorite kicks shine three out of the four seasons, but lack sufficient traction for icy conditions, an add-on sale of traction gear at retail does the trick.

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“The category is maturing,” said Steve Couder, vice president at Yaktrax. “People know what the products are and understand the benefits of using certain types of traction devices.”

The next generation of traction is expanding to offer more activity-specific options, he said. And this winter, there’s a noticeable focus on runners.

Yaktrax updates the Yaktrax Run to include a secure toe mold and an additional strap up top to secure the product over a runner’s forefoot. The previous model sometimes slipped off at the forefoot when in use. The product still combines coils in the back and carbide spikes in the forefoot.

Kahtoola, known for its aggressive crampons and microspikes, enters the run category with its ultralight Nanospikes (MSRP N/A). The product comes in at 7.6 ounces per pair and has carbide spikes and rubber grips to bite into both ice and terrain to keep runners upright.

It takes runners years to find the perfect shoe, said Kahtoola’s president, Danny Giovale. The Nanospikes allow runners “to take that shoe into icy winter conditions and not have to buy a whole new shoe.”

32North brings the Stabilicer Sport Runner (MSRP N/A) with the same heat-tempered steel cleats as its Stabilicer Lite Hiker and Lite Walker products. But now they’re replaceable, which extends the life of the product through multiple seasons. The SportRunner also features a dual-density construction intended for more rugged terrain. It includes a hook-and-loop strap for more secure fit.

The brand also debuts its heel-only Stabilheel (MSRP $30), which targets workers in the safety industry. It’s a one-piece product with a strap that provides extra grip, but doesn’t interfere with driving or using a ladder.

Crash sensors
Helmets have come a long way in shielding skiers and snowboarders from blows to the head, but even a protected knock to the noggin can cause damage.

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As the long-term effects of concussions come to the forefront in the National Football League and beyond, participants in high-impact sports are seeking increased protection — and more information after a crash.

Enter new technology such as ICEdot and Reebok’s Checklight, sensors affixed to headwear that can measure and alert users to the severity of a hit to the head, whether from a ski crash, boxing glove or defensive lineman.

ICEdot, in particular, is targeting the ski and cycling worlds at specialty retail, and has the added benefit of communicating through a smartphone. In a crash that the sensor detects as severe enough to cause a concussion or brain injury, the device will text predetermined emergency contacts with a message and the injured’s GPS coordinates.

Helmet makers such as PocSports are teaming up with ICEdot to include the sensors on some of their helmets, predicting it’s another data point many users will want along for emergencies.

For non-emergencies, the same technology is being developed by companies such as MC10 Inc. to fit on flexible materials like clothing and stickers that will soon provide athletes real-time bio feedback — from heart rates to hydration levels

Happy hour
Beer and the outdoors go together like … well … beer and the outdoors.

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It’s probably no coincidence that a bulk of today’s booming microbrew and craft brewing companies are headquartered in outdoor meccas — think Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; San Francisco and Seattle. Even Salt Lake City, despite the laws, has a thriving brewery scene (psst: it’s not just 3.2 beer here anymore).

So naturally, entrepreneurs and customers from both worlds are bonding over happy hour and swapping ideas — and in some cases product. You’ll spot a growing number of growler-sized bottles on the show floor, including the 64-ounce stainless steel and insulated versions from Hydro Flask and Miir. The latter is even working on a possible Co2-cartridged lid to maintain freshness of the suds.

Stanley will debut its insulated Classic Vacuum Pint Glass to help keep poured beverages cool at camp up to 4.5 hours, because “for the outdoor consumer, beer is meant to be enjoyed not shot-gunned,” Stanley Global Senior Marketing Manager JoAnne Anderson said. The venerable brand also plans to showcase new shot glasses and additional flasks at Winter Market, as Stanley’s “sprit-related sales have grown exponentially,” she added.

Consumers aren’t the only ones buying, so are breweries, getting the pints and bottles emblazed with their logo to sell at the taproom.

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Proprietary jumble
Will your Salomon Advanced Skin Active Dry work with your Columbia OmniHeat and Sierra Designs DriDown? Does your Mountain Hardwear Dry Q.Elite perform best with The North Face Flash Dry or Helly Hansen HH Dry? Is Marmot’s DownDefender any different than Sea To Summit’s Ultra-Dry Down?

Outdoor brands have been on quite the proprietary kick lately, flooding sales floors with a jumble of technology names to try and convince consumers their stuff has a performance edge over the other guys. Gone are the days when ingredient brands like Gore-Tex and PrimLoft held all the cards.

“We’re striving to come up with more of our own technologies, because we can go to the same mills and get the same materials that the large ingredient brands do (sometimes discovering better ones) and tailor them to best fit our users instead of following the pack,” Mountain Hardwear President Topher Gaylord said at a recent media event.

Indeed, proprietary advancements help spur innovation, but the dirty secret is many ingredient brands play a heavy role in so-called independent technologies. And at retail, some question whether the alphabet soup of names risks information overload for the customer — especially when each technology is further diluted into the popular “good, better, best” strategy.

Industry insiders: Raise your hand if even you are lost.

“I think its up to the brand to effectively communicate the message,” said Patrick Crotty, apparel product merchandising manager at Salomon. “For the consumer, the technology needs to be visible beyond just the name and has to be proven successful. Beyond that, there is a danger of confusing them with more words.”

Not unlike an over-engineered piece of gear, the nomenclature in the outdoor industry could stand some cleaning up and slimming down.

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