After five days in Utah at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in search of the best new products from 800 brands and 18,000 attendees, I returned home with a swag count of two pairs of men’s boxer-briefs (unused, clean) and a shot glass with an unprintable word on it (used, dirty). Parsing the tea leaves of free stuff like the best tasseographer, I can only come to the conclusion that wool continues to remain supreme and a salty sense of humor is filtering into this occasionally parched culture.
These trends, however, might or might not be making their way to your nearest outdoor retailer. More significant ones, I should note, are. And while it’s impossible for even the most intrepid reporter to suss out every pulse worth mentioning, here are some of the more intriguing developments:
1. After years of mostly tiptoeing around the 800-pound gorilla of technical fabrics, i.e. Gore-Tex, a slew of companies are lining up to steal Gore’s bananas, including Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, and Polartec, the 800-pound gorilla of fleece. Most of their new fabrics are centered around air permeability, i.e., the movement of air to assist evaporation. Gore-Tex, which is not air permeable, relies on body heat to convert sweat to vapor and push it through the waterproof-breathable membrane. Gore’s new Active Shell is laminated directly to the outer fabric of your jacket or pants, which reduces adhesives and thus increases breathability, it says.
2. Pop goes the weasel to stay on top of the snow: Backpacks that contain inflatable airbags to keep you afloar in event of an avalanche will be much more readily available and in more offerings this fall. The bags, which have been used to great success (and much higher survival rates than victims without equipped packs) in Europe, are going to be offered in the U.S. by Backcountry Access, Snowpulse, ABS, and Mammut. Rumor has it North Face is working on its version, to be launched in 2012.
3. Shoes be getting lighter. Yes, the barefoot trend is continuing, with New Balance, Merrell, and instigator Vibram Five Fingers showing up in force. But every regular ol’ dogs are on a diet. Teva has a line of travel shoes, the heaviest of which weighs 5.4 ounces. And Timberland’s renewed focus on technical footwear has spawned a waterproof-breathable hiking boot that weighs less than many trail runners, 12 ounces.
There was more, of course. Alpine touring gear is sizzling hot, Americana and heritage are big, and, though can only pray these will be a short blip on the radar, Easter egg colors and contrasting zippers are huge. Even the undies are bright. Those boxer-briefs? One’s purple, one’s chartreuse.