Every Outdoor Retailer show points out what trends and new developments are coming to change the industry. In this year’s Summer Market, standout themes were that ever-lighter gear continues to be a trend, and that the makers of the stuff we use outside are re-thinking everything.
There were four big hits that grabbed retailers at the summer show. One was a new cooling technology incorporated into next-to-the-skin outerwear, debuted by Columbia Sportswear and Mountain Hardwear. Called Omni-Freeze Zero, it works with the assistance of sweat. Small blue rings—with a cooling polymer—are embedded in the fabric and swell up to absorb heat and moisture when they get wet from sweat or other moisture, keeping the wearer dry and cool.
“We’ve been working on this for four years. It keeps you cooler than not wearing anything at all,” says Columbia PR manager Scott Trepanier. “ If it’s 80 degrees outside, you may wear a short-sleeve Omni-Freeze shirt. If it’s 90 degrees, you might switch to a long-sleeve shirt.” The fabric will debut next spring in more than 40 styles, from briefs to footwear.
This show was also probably the first time that a tent exhibit drew continuous crowds of people who stared with open mouths. The attention-getting draw was Sierra Designs’ fully erected tent, held high in the air by a few helium balloons. It drifted lazily back and forth, tethered to the display only by lightweight fishing line. Called the Mojo UFO, the tent weighs only 1 pound, 11 ounces—including rain fly and poles—and is 50 inches high, 80 inches long and 38 inches across, big enough for two people in sleeping bags. That sounds incredible, but so is the price: $1,800. However, if you don’t mind carrying a tent weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces, there’s a similar model for $400.
The new Kokatat life vest demonstrated one of the underlying themes of this year’s show, according to Kokatat marketing director Jeff Turner. “There’s been a rethinking of basic items to make them more functional. We’ve been making PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) for many years. We have to make those vests to a specific standard, because there are official guidelines to have them approved. Then we think, ‘What can we add to it that will make it better and different from any other competitor in the business?’ The whole outdoor industry is thinking that way,” he says.
The vest isn’t the ordinary slip-on-and-buckle variety. It has zippered pockets that allow the carrying of keys, munchies or other items. Turner adds, “That vest was designed for women, so it ... accommodates a woman’s bust area so they don’t feel squished in. That’s another thing that’s happening throughout the industry.” The vest models will cost about $145 when they hit stores next spring.
Another continuing trend in the “re-thinking” category is the return of inflatable furniture. But these models, made by Intex Recreation, don’t look like inflatables. Made of white vinyl, they’re unusually firm; the seats and backs are covered with velvety flocking that looks like velour.
Intex Recreation’s Bob Gerbracht says, “The people who primarily use it are teenagers and college students. It’s both indoor and outdoor. It weighs between 2 and 4 pounds, depending on the style. There’s one that looks like a beanbag, another that’s like an easy chair with an ottoman. Styles range from $25 to $35.”
He adds, “In apartments, you can have pieces of furniture that are solid enough to sit on at a desk or table, but then deflate them and have room for a party. With the electric pump or battery pump, it takes three or four minutes to inflate a chair.” The chairs will be hitting big-box chains by late fall, and most models come in three colors.
Outdoor Retailer—Salt Lake City’s biggest convention—is looking at other locations outside of Utah. Of the retailers I talked to at the Summer Market, few want that to happen, since no other state has such a variety of outdoor recreation so close to the metropolitan area. But the reason I want the show to stay in town is that watching how the industry products change and get better every year is a trend-spotter’s delight.