OR, the Rorshach test

The Outdoor Retailer tradeshow is happening, right now, and I am not there. The show is early this year, making conflict with the birthdays inevitable.


A frequent comment about OR is “I’d rather be out hiking/climbing/etc” which I find both understandable and peculiar.  Obviously we made such a choice this year, but as yesterday wore on and I got a few texts from folks at the show a small sense of regret crept in.  And this is because for all the strangness of 30,000 people in a large, but still far too small, room; all the horridity of Utah politics and the heat of SLC in the summer; OR is still a bunch of fun.  There are some wide interpretations of what the outdoor industry is, and plenty of people there whose interest in the same seems purely financial, but it is still cool to see so many people with your same interest in the same place.  On this my opinion has not changed.  It is easy to go and see so much that isn’t of much interest, along with the dirty practicality of trends emerging with 8 companies innovating with the same product, and answer the inevitable question of seen anything intere?ting with an emphatic and tired no.  But with so much on offer that just means that you weren’t of a mood to pay attention.  Re-reading my post from last summer, I’m surprised at how many of the things that caught my eye ended up in our closet.

Next year OR heads to Denver, in a move welcomed by most and surprising to I think no one at all.  I view it as a triumph for Patagonia, and as the industry hopefully developing a soul and a purpose.  Maybe the overdue hikers version of Pittman-Robertson is next, along with changes that might make the show accessible to the general public, serving to broaden the appeal and spread the love.  While plenty of people will lament the place in which Denver happens to be, I don’t think anyone will mind the weather, and the extensive Boulder crew will be able to sleep in their own beds.

See you in 2018.

4 responses to “OR, the Rorshach test”

  1. I applauded their move out of Utah; don’t know if it will do any good to stem the assault on public lands, but certainly can’t hurt.

    We are long overdue for something along the lines of PR/DJ on outdoor gear; everyone needs to pitch in.

    1. Big protest at the Utah state house today in conjunction with/because of OR. Good to see, even if there is little immediate change.

  2. I’d like to read more of your thoughts on an “overdue hikers version of Pittman-Robertson… .” This is an intriguing and timely idea as the funding and capabilities of federal land management agencies decline precipitously. To what extent does/would the OR industry (whose products would be taxed) support that idea?

    1. The idea of some sort of outdoor gear excise tax has been discussed, though as far as I know no concrete proposal was ever put forth. The problems are several fold;

      -The stakeholders are exponentially greater and more diverse than the hook and bullet crowd was in the 30s.
      -There isn’t the acute threat to the very viability of the genre as there was with wildlife populations in the early 20th century, though the current public lands privatization debate and Trump presidency comes closest.
      -There isn’t an obvious single item or group of items (like ammo) whose taxation would correlate with how often a person does the pursuit in question.

      I’ve batted around a bunch of ideas to solve the last question, without much success. Do you tax hardgoods (skis, tents, boats, packs, climbing gear)? Shoes? Almost everything? The “growth” reported by the outdoor industry in the past decade is mostly due to expanding the definition (e.g. including lifestyle sports like running and SUP). On the one hand it’d be great to catch up all that potential revenue and maybe educate folks along the way. On the other it’d be tough to for instance determine which shoes in Adidas’ line get taxed and which don’t.

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