By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl
Technologies and Trends (this article)
We have been covering the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show for 10 years now, and frankly nothing surprises us anymore. New technologies are announced, product designers meet with materials suppliers, gear manufacturers announce new products to hit shelves in 6 months, new vendors exhibit their creations, retailers test out new equipment, everyone is looking for that new breakthrough product, friends gather and party, and retailers decide what to bring into their stores. And we media attendees search the Show for items that will interest their readers. It’s a treasure hunt, and fun if you enjoy keeping up on the latest gear and trends.
Watercraft and Outdoor Leisure
Watercraft is big and SUPs are everywhere! Demo Day, held at a nearby reservoir, was dominated by SUPs – Stand Up Paddleboards – in every shape and size imaginable. When they first came out a couple of years ago, who would have thought they would become so popular! Now, like kayaks, there are many models aimed at specific applications. Speedy ones, stable ones, big ones (we saw one big enough to hold 10 people), electric powered ones, and pedal powered ones (with handle bars and steering). It seems that everyone wants in on the game.
|SUPs now dominate demo day at Outdoor Retailer. Besides SUPs, there are also lots of new sit-on injection-molded boats for many different purposes.|
To summarize, people love water activities to beat the summer heat, and manufacturers are providing lots of ways to do it.
OR is loaded with new accessories and gadgets offered by new startups hoping to get a foothold in the industry. Most of it is concentrated in the Pavillions, which are huge temporary buildings that serve as an overflow area for OR. While many of these gadgets are not remarkable, or are not relevant to our audience, the Pavilions are a good place to look for innovation.
|Here’s another sort of watercraft, the Pickup Pool. Yep, it’s a liner to create a dipping pool in the bed of your pickup truck. Cost is $225 to $300. Cheaper than a swimming pool.|
Food and Nutrition
As the OR umbrella expands ever more to include additional activities like yoga, fly fishing, and family camping, all categories have one thing in common: we all need food to maintain our energy and endurance. In response, the number of energy bar manufacturers is growing exponentially. And, in tune with the “green” focus of the industry, most of the new introductions emphasize organic components and metabolic efficiency to provide sustained energy. Proper foods go hand in hand with physical health and fitness.
Synthetic Down and Down Blends
The recent spike in down prices provided manufacturers like Primaloft to introduce down blends (down blended with synthetic fibers) to provide garment insulation at a lower cost. And both Polartec and Primaloft introduced breathable insulations to lessen overheating during cool weather activities. Now, as the cost of down has receded about 50%, there is still a lot of interest in these specialized synthetic insulations, and a new category is opening up.
Membrane on the Outside
Air-permeable waterproof-breathable membranes for shell jackets and footwear have continuously improved over the years, but they have one inconvenient truth – they require maintenance to function properly, which many consumers don’t do, which causes a loss of performance. These three-layer constructions have a face fabric over the membrane with a good DWR to repel water, and a liner fabric on the inside for softness and to protect the membrane. It’s critical to keep the garment clean (so the membrane doesn’t get clogged) and maintain its DWR treatment (so water rolls off). If the DWR washes or wears off, the surface fabric wets out and blocks breathability.
Manufacturers are now working on constructions that put the membrane on the outside of the garment, with a wicking lining on the inside. This eliminates the face fabric and the need for a DWR treatment, as well as adhesives that block air passage. The result is the membrane is freer to breathe. While Gore’s version has limited durability, Columbia’s OutDry Extreme membrane is more durable so Columbia has progressed further with new garments featuring this new construction. It’s definitely different; the jackets look and feel rubbery, and they are not lightweight, but they are claimed to be very breathable. For lightweight enthusiasts, these are not backpackable garments, but for day tripping, which we also do a lot of, the extra breathability (if the claim is true) may be worth the weight.
|The new for spring 2017 Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco Jacket is made of 100% recycled materials, does not use any PFCs in the membrane, and is not dyed to reduce water consumption (12 oz and $199).|
For several years now, the outdoor industry has put a strong emphasis on “going green” in the manufacture of outdoor gear, respecting the environment, and preserving our public lands. This is absolutely an appropriate emphasis for the outdoor industry. Thank you for all your efforts, it’s good for business and for the environment.
However, at the Outdoor Retailer trade show there appears to be a disconnect to the sustainability theme that is apparent everywhere: a very poor implementation of recycling and lack of response by attendees. However, the word “appears” is operative here; as we investigated this further, we found on the Outdoor Retailer website, under Sustainability, that “All trash collected under the roof of the Salt Palace is taken to a transfer station and sorted. Every bag of trash is sorted for recyclables and only solid waste is sent to the dump”.
Clif Bar is the official recycling sponsor of Outdoor Retailer; they deserve our thanks, and better recognition for their support. Outdoor Retailer has instituted quite a few other green practices, as outlined on their website under “Sustainability”, so overall they really are doing their part to minimize their ecological footprint.
But the downsides of their “sort later” recycling approach are: 1) appearances count, and it does not appear that OR cares about recycling, and 2) this approach enables attendees to not care. Perhaps it would be better to make the recycling effort more visible by putting out more signed containers, especially at booth parties and special events, and requesting attendees to pitch their refuse in the proper container. We know it’s hard to get compliance, but a simple approach would be to set up one recycling container for cans and bottles, and another for everything else. That would reduce the sorting process.
|On the show floor there are some good examples of how recycling should be properly done – a clearly labeled recycling container next to a clearly labeled trash container. This helps a lot to get people to put their refuse in the right place.|
Technologies and Trends (this article)