Like all national trade shows, Outdoor Retailer attracts tens of thousands of attendees and more than 1,000 exhibitors showcasing their wares, from powder skis to waterproof fabrics to novelty koozies. The main activities on the floor involve relationships between the supplier-buyer and the marketing-media — that’s where we fit in — with lots of other informal business happening: athletes meeting with sponsors; entrepreneurs trading ideas for future projects; people sneaking in to pinpoint free swag; dogs mingling with other dogs; and just generally industry folks who attend twice a year getting together to trade ideas and talk about the state of all things outdoor, before putting in some time on the snow at the local resorts around Salt Lake City, which hosts OR.
Rather than just bring you the usual “best products of OR” story that we’ve done in the past, this year we decided to focus instead on the general trends in the industry and point to some important examples from our favorite brands. If you want the five-word overview of Winter Market 2016, it’s “ski touring and fabric innovation.” If you’re in the market for something deeper, read on — and if you were at the show and think we missed something mission-critical, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional reporting by AJ Powell and Zach Mader.
Learning About the Great Outdoors, Indoors
And Shaking More Hands Than Trump, Clinton and Sanders, Combined
An Abbreviated List of Brands We Were Excited to See: Adidas Outdoor, Allied Feather and Down, Arc’teryx, Atomic, Avalanche, Avex, Berghaus, Big Agnes, Biolite, Black Diamond, Blizzard, Blundstone, Brooks Range, Buff, Canada Goose, Carhartt, Cascade Designs, Columbia, Cotopaxi, Dakine, Danner, Darn Tough VT, Deuter, Dynafit, Eagle Creek, Evolv, Filson, Fjällräven, Goal Zero, Gore-Tex, Granite Gear, Helly Hansen, Hydroflask, Ibex, Icebreaker, Industrial Revolution, Iron & Resin, Julbo, Keen, La Sportiva, Lifestraw, Mammut, Marmot, Merrell, Miir, Montane, Montbell, Mountain Hardwear, Mountainsmith, MSR, Mystery Ranch, Nau, New Balance, Nudown, Ortovox, Osprey, Outdoor Research, Patagonia, Pendleton, Petzl, Primaloft, Royal Robbins, Rumpl, Salewa, Salomon, Saucony, Scarpa, Scott, Sea to Summit, Sierra Designs, Smartwool, Smith, Snake River Farms, Snow Peak, Sperry, Stanley, Steripen, Sunski, Superfeet, Suunto, Tecnica, The North Face, Toad & Co., Topo Designs, Traeger Grills, Under Armour, United by Blue, Vasque, Volkl, Wild Country, Wolfgang Man & Beast, Wolverine, Woolrich, Yeti, Zamst.
Snacks Consumed: If you try to see that many individual brands over the course of three days it leaves very little time for a civilized lunch, and since the food vendors at the Salt Palace Convention Center serve a menu of hot food roughly on par with 7-Eleven, you’ve got to pack in whatever you want to eat. Between the three of us we ate six bags of The New Primal grass-fed jerky (paying $42 for dried beef stings, incidentally) and nine of their spicy beef sticks, which we lifted from their booth (thank you!), a bag of apples, nine energy bars of assorted provenance, one pound of mixed nuts and, okay, a fairly decadent sushi lunch at The Naked Fish.
An Editor’s Game Plan: The convention center has 515,000 square feet of exhibit space and 164,000 square feet of meeting space — more in the summer, when the convention opens up to include three outdoor pavilions — which amounts to a place that you can walk across in about five minutes if you hustle and know your route, which is a lot more manageable now that OR has an app that maps your way from booth to booth. Some editors and writers will try to schedule their meetings in just one section of the convention center at a time, but walking the floor a lot allows you to bump into old friends and colleagues, which is what OR is about, at the end of the day.
When Can I Get This Stuff? Although there’s plenty of gear on display at OR that is currently available, most of what we’re looking at is for the Fall 2016 season, which means you can start looking out for the gear at the end of summer.
One Last Thing Before We Get Started on the Gear: Like all trade shows, OR is as much about the ancillary recreation as it is what happens inside the Salt Palace. For media, this all falls into roughly three buckets: 1) events and dinners; 2) skiing and snowboarding at Brighton, Solitude, Deer Valley, Snowbird, Alta, Park City, etc.; and 3) cruising Tinder, where most of the profiles during the show either say LDS or OR, two very different prospects indeed. We checked the first and second boxes, with the undisputed highlight being a party bus of a journalists in which one person, who will remain unnamed, danced on the stripper pole with his shirt open wearing a motorcycle helmet.
Main Trends of the Show You Should Care About
Want to Know Everything Ever about this Big Gear Convention?
Most of the innovation at OR is incremental. While the big sexy product launches get the most attention in the media, much of the conversation at the show is actually about fabrics. Gore-Tex’s New C-Knit — a softer, more breathable membrane — was everywhere. Gore was also working with The North Face and Arc’teryx on jackets with a membrane on the outside of the garment, creating a hardshell that is more breathable and extremely lightweight. Columbia has its own version of a membrane-on-the-outside shell called Outdry Extreme, which actually debuted at the previous OR.
Ortovox also has a pretty neat innovation in the skiwear line. The company was able to bond a lightweight merino wool to a waterproof breathable membrane, resulting in a three-layer ski jacket, lined with comfortable, lightweight and moisture-wicking merino wool. They also kill it with some bright neons and color blocking, which we’re on board with.
“Active insulation” continues to be important — Primaloft Gold Active and Polartec Alpha were both popular — continuing the trend of outerwear that remains breathable while engaging in aerobic activities. Primaloft also announced a new insulation called Gold Eco that will be exclusive to Patagonia, and will be comprised of 55 percent post-consumer recycled content.
And then there are all kinds of pieces that don’t fall into the trends category but are nevertheless cool and exciting, like Fjällräven’s Cap Wool collection, which uses their traceable wool in concert with a proprietary fabric called Microloft in a lightweight, breathable garment that works well as a mid-layer or on its own for everyday wear.
I know we just said that most of the products at OR were characterized by incremental innovation, but one area where that’s not really true is alpine ski touring and its various disciplines (ski mountaineering) or aliases (Arc’teryx uses the phrase “ski alpinism”). Though ski touring makes up only a fraction of the $4.5 billion snow sports industry, touring sales are up and it’s arguably the biggest story at OR for two years running, with new walkable ski boots offering increased range of motion from Dynafit, Scarpa, Dalbello, Salomon and Tecnica. La Sportiva, as usual, also has a new skimo boot that’s preposterously lightweight.
If you’re writing home to your mother, though, the story is the Arc’teryx Procline Carbon Boot, which is the brand’s first touring boot and includes technology for increased lateral motion while in “walk” mode and is intended for hardcore backcountry pursuits. The Canadian brand also released its first avalanche pack.
Elsewhere in packs, Osprey renamed and revamped its Kode line of bags (now called the Kamber) with touches including airbag compatibility and red zipper pulls to help you find the necessary equipment in case of emergency, while Mammut — traditionally a climbing- and alpine-oriented brand — came to the touring table with a super-lightweight shovel that’s also very durable and a skimo-influenced pack with a stash pocket for skins and a system for attaching your skis without taking the bag off your back.
New growlers outnumbered attractive dogs at OR this year, though there were also notable dogs, including a massive St. Bernard named Daisy, and a Newfoundland that always seemed to be hustling from one meeting to the next and rarely stopped to receive affection. Yeti, Avex, Hydroflask and Miir all catered to craft beer nerds, with double-walled insulation designed to keep your beer cold far longer than glass. Stanley, meanwhile, released a mug that looks like a beer stein. But beer wasn’t the only thing getting housed in fancy and functional packaging: food and drink vessels in general continued to be important products at OR. One of our favorites is Miir’s food canister, which comes in a great-looking powder-coat white finish.
Almost every brand at OR this year had something to say about environmentally friendly fabrics or practices: less water used in dye, more recyclable materials, down alternatives. Especially down, which makes sense because between French cuisine and outdoor apparel, geese have drawn an unfortunate lot indeed. Allied Feather & Down is one of the leaders in the industry for tracking the entire life cycle of down insulation used in products by brands like The North Face, Helly Hansen, Eddie Bauer, Feathered Friends and Outdoor Research, among others. Patagonia and Fjällräven have their own programs for tracking the provenance of the down they use. And of course lots of companies are using the “green” conversation to their advantage in marketing campaigns, and it can sometimes be hard to tell what’s for real and what’s just fluff.
It goes without saying that more sophisticated (and sometimes unnecessary) technology is making its way into a greater variety of outdoor gear. In the “cool and useful” category, gloves with built-in heaters continue to grow with new designs from Black Diamond and Outdoor Research, among others, while Petzl has released the Nao+ headlamp, which can be controlled from your smartphone to, for example, ensure the amount and longevity of illumination before taking off four an evening trail run.
Last but not least in the trends-you-should-know-about department, almost every brand is targeting the urban customer with a penchant for the outdoors. There’s actually a whole section of the show called “Venture Out” that’s filled with brands like Snow Peak, Topo Designs and United by Blue, which are sort of the indie darlings of this set and of the show, generally, with beautifully designed apparel and accessories that appeal to design-conscious people. But also, while the sexiest stories tend to be about the most hardcore subjects and products (ski mountaineering, for example), these customers make up a teensy fraction of the population consuming outdoor products. Brands speaking to the urban adventurer include The North Face (with a collection that takes on Aether, squarely), Keen (with some great-looking, moto-inspired boots) and Mountain Hardwear (with an RFID-blocker-equipped commuter bag), among many others.
Other Notable Stuff
Not Everything That’s “Bomber” Qualifies as a Trend
Shackets are everywhere, with the best from Smartwool, Woolrich, Cotopaxi, Icebreaker, Toad & Co., The North Face and Sierra Designs — at least from what we saw. Urban styling, technical features, awesome.
Conrad Anker’s mountaineering socks for Smartwool are out, and as you know we follow closely what Conrad is doing.
Salomon’s new S-Lab XA Alpine trail runner features a built-in gaiter to keep out water, dirt and grime. It also features a premium WET Traction Contagrip outsole that is sticky, even on wet ice.
Black Diamond released a featherweight completely carbon ski pole, which doesn’t even have a grip. In testing, they found that while using a glove, grip differences were minimal while using only carbon vs. a rubber grip.
Building on the success of the Nano Air, Patagonia designed the new Stretch Nano Storm — which features their Full Range Insulation along with a stretch version of their H2No waterproof shell.
Filson elevated things with the style of their bags — also fitting into the trend of catering to urban consumers — by releasing an all-leather line of bags that included a standout backpack and weekender.
And in case you haven’t heard, this year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and brands are getting in on the centennial bash with products, including a standout collection from Pendleton.