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The Next Big Thing: Highlights from the 2017 Outdoor Retailer Show

Late last month the outdoor recreation industry gathered in Utah for its annual Outdoor Retailer summer trade show, known by most as OR.  Most everyone connected with outdoor recreation exhibits or attends the event to see the latest in products and services and to plan for the next outdoor season. Check out some of the newest gear, coolest technology,  and latest trends observed at this year’s Outdoor Retailer.

Aussie Invasion – With stealth almost like Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, the largest outdoor sports manufacturer in Australia quietly tested the U.S. market at the Outdoor Retailer show in July. Mountain Designs manufacturers a broad range of outdoor clothing and gear.  For the show, it demonstrated its commitment to conservation and sustainability by introducing a shirt manufactured from “Seawool” – a fabric made from discarded Australian oyster shells and recycled plastic bottles.  

Clever new compact, wood-burning stove  a Baltimore company – nCamp – introduced a light, collapsible, highly-portable, wood-burning camp stove.  It may not be for thru-hikers, but at less than 1 and ½ pounds and remarkably (and cleverly) compact, many outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy using renewable fuels as part of the cooking experience.

Not your grandmother’s socks – Competition among hiking sock makers has been darn tough.  The summer Outdoor Retailer show saw that field get even more crowded as DryMax, Stance, and ScentLok all pressed into the hiking sector. At times it appeared that more technology was infused in the latest hiking socks than needed for the next generation of cell phones.  Today, few socks resemble in look or design that heavy ragg sock that your grandmother might have darned for you in the 1970s when nylon was added to the wool for strength.  The modern version is “New Merino 150.”  Also, there is “dynema thread.”

More interesting than simple durability, manufacturers also boast of “Silver Alloy” technology and that acts as a “anti-microbial” (limits smell when worn without washing) as well as a “thermo-regulator.”  Then there’s “super hydrophobic fiber technology” that uses separate inner and outer layers to keep feet dry and thereby help prevent blisters. 

And, there are ultra-modern, high-tech sewing machines that can now not only sew a mountain scene across your ankle, but these machines permit a “True Seamless” sock as well as facilitating multiple fiber blends and sewing techniques in a single sock permitting “vented panels,” “nylon arch supports,” strategically placed “air channels,” “360-degree compression,” “seamless toes,” and even a poly/cotton blend in the foot bed to “expedite wicking” while “adding cushion.” And its not all high-tech, My Comfy simply adds alpaca wool to its merino hiking socks – alpaca wool is stronger, more durable and, ounce for ounce, warmer than sheep’s wool.  In addition to the small, family owned My Comfy, others introducing hiking socks to challenge Farm-to Feet, SmartWool and Darn Tough were Stance, the official sock of the NBA and MLB, running sock manufacturers, DryMax Technologies and odor-focused ScentLok socks.

Is that Katahdin?  new to the show was ViewRanger, which offers GPS-enabled downloadable trail maps for hikers using an app on smartphones or tablets.  The hiker receives “on-screen directions as you travel, plus alerts if you wander too far off track.”  The technology includes “Skyline” a special feature ViewRanger calls “augmented reality,” which helps hikers identify mountain peaks and other key landmarks by simply holding their smartphone screen up to the scene and the place names appear on the screen – is that Katahdin? Now you can tell.  This just might be a new app that can help get you from Georgia to Maine (and it has another 150,000 route guides also available).

Big Agnes Adds Lightweight, Closed Foam sleeping pad.  In the face of new entrants into the inflatable pad market, Big Agnes will introduce a new, closed cell foam sleeping pad in early 2018 – a little bulky but remarkably light.  To be offered in three different lengths, the 48-inch pad weighs in at only 8 ounces!  (Its 72-inch pad is still a couple of ounces lighter than the ubiquitous Thermarest Z-Lite.)  The “Third Degree Foam Pad” was “engineered for extreme alpine conditions,” so it should have a good “R”- rating for cold weather backpacking, but its comfort, lightness and simple convenience also makes this new pad a year-round choice.

Food, glorious food! – A new player offering freeze-dried meals to the outdoor adventurer entered the market at the July trade show.  Campfire Meals was present exhibiting a broad array of easy to prepare meals in waterproof, resealable pouches very familiar to backpackers and other campers.  Campfire Meals is actually a new division of Freeze-Dry Foods, Inc. – “the North American leader in freeze-dry food since 1962“ and they emphasize taste and nutritional benefits provided by freeze-drying over competitors offering dehydrated meals.   

Also exhibiting were Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry and Good-to-Go – look for the latter company to begin introducing more meal options with protein added (the Thai Curry was exceptional).  A growing but less known player at the Salt Lake City event was Trailtopia, a Rochester, Minnesota family business since 2014.  Again, a product very useful and recognizable by outdoor enthusiasts, Trailtopia has a considerable menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner and desert options, which are delivered in familiar resealable, eat-out-of-the-bag packages (with meal sizes and packaging essentially identical to major competitors) but with a couple of simple, ingenious modifications.  By turning the bag from “portrait” to “landscape” and including a wide, tapered bottom, the meal combines better and is easier to eat – no extra long spoon required!  For this backpacker, the variety and taste makes Trailtopia a great option I never knew existed.

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