Sasha photobombs Luke’s beer.
When I first attended OR last year I expected to hate it, as consumerism and massive groups of strangers are two thing with which I have little patience. I didn’t, in fact I enjoyed it, and while the first day of the winter show today was less novel and captivating due to repetition and being a bit smaller, I still had a good time. Part of this, both times, has been in my work companion Luke, whose knowledge and interest is as comprehensive as my own. Which is a rare thing, in 4 out of 5 booths today we could have told the reps about their own products. The other part is that outdoor gear and the outdoor industry is, warts included, something in which I believe quite a lot.
Most of my coverage is on the Seek Outside blog, with a few oddments below.
Trend 0.0: Broism/Lifestyle
OR is above all else about selling stuff to other people within the outdoor industry, which is a big tent. Yeti continues to show the industry how to market. They had Hopper soft coolers on sale for $150 mid-afternoon on the first day, and had a very long line of takers. We saw them all that afternoon and evening.
That said, the retailer part of OR will plainly need to change in the next decade or so as internet sales and the extra cost associated with a retail middle person continue to drive more companies to do more and more of their business online. The general public is not allowed in OR, and some of the big guys keep most of their stuff behind closed doors, up on the second floor (literally), or on the other side of bouncers (literally). Crowd control is one thing, but fighting against publicity seems in the end to be besides the point. It’s still a rad experience for the true gear geek, and could easily continue to grow with minor alterations.
Trend 1: Skimo
Skimo and “fitness” skiing remains a big area of growth, with lots of interesting stuff. I forgot to take photos of the Voile Objective BC, but it feels every bit as light, stiff, and high quality as initial hopes made it out to be. Top pick for distance-oriented alpine backcountry.
Dynafit’s best backcountry ski binding now comes in two different release ranges, a good step towards having light, practical bindings with dependable (for your weight) release.
Scarpa’s Alien continues to have the free-est walk mode of any boot, including Dynafit and Sportiva, but that comes at the expense of openings in the shell. The Alien RS solves these issues, and looks good doing it, but seems a bit less flexible. Still a very solid option.
A/the big issue with the first generation of LaSportiva skimo boots was a lower buckle that flipped open while booting. The new buckle looks to fix that nicely, and is user removeable! Sportiva sells these separately, and I’m sorely tempted to retrofit my old Siderals.
Dynafit ski wall showing the rocker and sidecut profile which has become common amongst backcountry skis, and the color palate of the hour.
Trend 2: Active Insulation
Polartec Alpha (and the like) has been around for a while now. It’s fashionable and almost everyone is building with it. Most of those efforts look like one of the two pieces which defined the category, either the Patagonia Nanoair (stretch face, more breathable) or the Rab Strata (tougher, more windproof face).
Rab seems to be leading the way in new directions, using Alpha Direct (no lining at all) in a number of jackets, including a sweater which is just plain Alpha Direct (below). It looks and feels like an even looser, fluffier version of Polartec Hi Loft fleece, and should I assume perform similarly. That is to say, warmer and more breathable for the weight than traditional fleece, and less durable. Lifespan will be an interesting question, especially when frequently worn without a shell. The new Vapour Rise Guide has zoned Alpha Direct (with the traditional tricot in other areas) under the trademark Pertex Equilibrium shell.
Overall folks seem to be admitting, though not out loud, that the traditional puffy jackets with very impermeable face fabrics and liners leave quite a bit to be desired. The lack of breathability makes them much less comfortable in many cases, and often functionally colder due to poor moisture management. Hence the rise of active insulation and the return (quietly) of fleece, like the his and hers 200ish (left) and 300ish weight jackets from Brooks Range shown above. Down still holds all the cards when it comes to pure warm/weight, but skiers, people who get out in cold weather, and especially people who run cold should check out the various permutations of active insulation and improved fleece.
Trend 3: Old stuff is back
Back in the day I used a six liter Dromedary bag for everything. Partly because I lived in the desert and needed to carry lots of water, and partly because I was paranoid and liked too much water and overly bomber gear. Around 8 years ago the Dromedary material became a little less burly, and I was sad. While my two Droms stayed mostly dormant while we lived in Montana, they’re still ready to go now that they’re back in the desert.
The new Dromedary bags are every bit as heavy and beefy as the OG version. There are many lighter options, but when I’m a full days hike from the nearest water source, this is what I want to trust.
While the fashion side of the retro impulse has always been present in the outdoor industry, these visuals and an attempt at the substance behind them seems very strong in 2017. Companies like Topo Designs aren’t just using a throwback aesthetic to sell shit, though they are doing that, they’re trying to recapture a time when going outside didn’t require so much expensive gear, planning, and forethought. It doesn’t today, and probably wasn’t nearly as simple (or comfy) 40 years ago, but I can’t fault companies like that for trying to move however ungracefully towards emphasizing the experience of doing stuff over the fatness of ones closet.