OR Lowdown: Backpacker Goes Inside Outdoor Retailer

BACKPACKER's convention warriors weigh in on the coolest, craziest, and (believe it or not) skimpiest new gear from this year's show

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This past weekend, manufacturers, reporters, and outdoor junkies flocked to the greatest gear show on earth: the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. BACKPACKER’s resident experts traversed both mountains and endless showroom booths in Salt Lake City to give you a snapshot of the latest and greatest in outdoor gear you’ll be drooling over later this year. Check it:

BACKPACKER.com: Considering the economy, what was the overall mood at the Outdoor Retailer show?

Jonathan Dorn (BACKPACKER Editor-in-Chief): A full range from scared to excited to confident, but I’d say the prevailing mood was cautious and concerned. One bright light is that a lot of the country is having a good snow/ski year, which is historically an early indicator (and necessary jumpstart) to a good year for the outdoors. Another bright light that’s giving people some confidence is Obama–and the expectation that he’s going to work on behalf of conservation.

Kristin Hostetter (BACKPACKER Gear Editor): A number of manufacturers told me that although they had fewer appointments with buyers, the appointments they did have were very productive. In other words, there were far fewer tire-kickers and far more serious buyers. So that’s good news.

Kelly Bastone (BACKPACKER contributor): It was surprisingly upbeat. Most folks are just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got to work with.

BP: Did you notice any differences in products or marketing from previous years?

Kristin: The trends that seem to be healthier than ever are 1) sustainable products and 2) ultralight products. Everyone–from the stove companies to the boot companies to the pack companies–is addressing these two categories in some way.

Kelly: I noticed that several brands are offering cheaper versions where they didn’t before–even brands that aren’t typically shy about the prices they charge. No one wants totally stagnant sales, and if the spendy stuff isn’t flying off the shelves, companies want to be moving something, at least.

BP: Of all the new gear you saw, what was one of your favorites?

Jon: There were a couple things such as the high quality down at lower prices, like Marmot’s 800-fill Ama Dablam parka at $180, and GU’s new energy bites called Chomps which kept me going throughout the exhausting, no-lunch days of the show.

Kristin: GoLite had a couple of cool things that I’m anxious to try: a new waterproof/breathable fabric called Reflexion. It’s made by Sympatex and the cool thing is that there’s an ultra-thin aluminum coating bonded to the waterproof/breathable membrane. The idea was pilfered from the space program and the benefit is that the fabric supposedly bounces 75% of your body’s heat back at you, eliminating the need for bulky insulation layers. If it works, it’ll be very cool (I mean warm).

Jetboil has developed a heat indicator system for the outside of the pot, which changes color as the water get warmer. When one stripe changes, it’s perfect for hot cocoa. When two change, the water is hot enough to rehydrate Ramen, and when all three change, the water is boiling away (and purified). For gear wonks (like us), who calculate boil times with a stopwatch, this means that you no longer have to lift the pot lid (which slows down the boil time) to check for bubbles…the magic colors will let you know when to kill the flame.

Kelly: Honestly, the thing I’m digging right now is a pair of Ecco slippers made from yak wool and fur. They’re not the prettiest things I’ve ever put on my feet, but they’re unbelievably warm and cozy–they’ll make a great hut shoe.

BP: What was the weirdest thing you saw or did at the OR show?

Kristin: Two models–and I do mean professional models–walking the show floor wearing only underwear. They were marketing ExOfficio’s new underwear line. Crazy thing is, I don’t recall the message, only the, um, messenger.

Kelly:BCA’s airbag-equipped backpack is just wild: it uses airbags as an avalanche safety device, and fully deployed, it surrounds the wearer with a huge, horseshoe-shaped pillow that looks ridiculous. But if it saves people, I won’t snicker at it.

BP: What was your favorite outdoor activity you got to do while you were there?

Jon: Hah! It was all work, all indoors from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.!

Kelly: Ah, the Utah Interconnect: I skied from Deer Valley to Park City to Solitude to Alta to Snowbird–5 resorts, using chair lifts, traverses, and a bit of bootpacking. It was gorgeous!

For more from OR, plus BACKPACKER’s Editor’s Choice Awards, look out for our annual Gear Issue in April. And if anyone’s got an extra pair of yak-wool slippers, feel free to send them my way.

–Morgan Keys