4 Outdoor Gear Trends You Should Watch for in 2017

Observations from the floor of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2017.

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Outdoor Retailer is simply the trade show in the US to see new gear and products for the year ahead. But beyond that, it’s also a weather vane for the outdoor industry and a place to observe the overarching trends driving product development. Below are our observations of trends from the 2017 Winter Market show and factors influencing the future of outdoor gear for 2017 and beyond.

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Outdoor brands are getting out of the middle: For 2017, outdoor brands are either doubling down on their hardcore, outdoor consumer, or taking a more educated stab at the urbanite. The times when brands tried half-heartedly to court both consumers are over. Take, for instance, Mountain Hardwear. While they still make tough gear for the heaviest conditions, they’re now making stuff that’s better suited for the office commute. But don’t scoff yet — many of these new lifestyle experiments are still laden with the trickle down technical innovations born from their hardcore offerings. So they look great, and perform well, which is good news for everyone. On the other end of the spectrum, brands like Outdoor Research will focus primarily on backcountry skiing and rock climbing — the audience that helped to build the brand.
Pros: Brands will focus on making the best product they can in a singular space and overall quality will go up.
Cons: Smelling a giant, sad sell-out, brand loyalists may abandon ship. Broader innovation will take a backseat for the time being.
AJ Powell, Associate Staff Writer

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Lifestyle brands are courting the outdoor consumer:
Names like Birkenstock or Topo Designs aren’t exactly traditional outdoor brands, but they’re still thrilled to tag along. Why? Because the outdoors industry is one of the fastest growing industries in U.S., and its patrons have a shitload of disposable income. Most recently, in 2012, the U.S. outdoors industry was valued at $646 billion — bigger than pharmaceuticals and cars, combined. Non-outdoor brands are dying for a piece of that pie.

Pros: Better lifestyle offerings for the majority of time you aren’t in the woods.
Cons: Larger industry giants may be forced to tone down their ‘outdoor voice’ in favor of a more lifestyle-centric image.
Michael Finn, Editorial Apprentice

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Materials companies are an innovation bottleneck:
Unless you’re a massive company the size of Patagonia, or The North Face, it’s next to impossible to find the R&D budget to develop your own material — whether that’s a shell or insulation. Because of that, many of the brands in the outdoor space are bound to the innovation cycles of materials companies like Polartec, Primaloft, Gore-Tex and Cordura. If Polartec only releases a new insulation once every three years, you’re forced to work within that — regardless if the bigger brands are innovating quicker.
Pros: It puts all of the smaller companies on a level playing field and encourages innovation around how advanced materials are applied to products.
Cons: Fewer brands are focused on material innovations of their own, meaning the performance gap between the Goliaths and Davids of the outdoor world may widen.
AJ Powell, Associate Staff Writer

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Breathable insulation rules the jacket marketing space: In 2017, unless the midlayer you’re making has some level of breathable insulation, you’re behind the 8 ball. Virtually everyone at OR was pushing breathable insulation — whether it was proprietary or a material developed by one of the larger materials brands.
Pros: Insulation is finally getting an upgrade. The functionality of breathable insulated midlayers will revolutionize comfort in the backcountry.
Cons: It will take a lot to weed out the marketing jargon from actual benefits. At the moment, everyone is using virtually the same material.
AJ Powell, Associate Staff Writer

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