Trade shows bring lots of things. New-product announcements, product demos, crazy parties, and Best in Show awards. As I implied in my Winter Market 2016 awards, giving something a “Best in Show” indicates you’ve seen everything on the show floor. That’s impossible. So, I attended Outdoor Retailer Summer Market with the goal of recognizing products and companies that were the best in “my” show. Two weeks later, there are several products I’m still thinking about. In my book, that classifies as award worthy. So, I hereby present Cold Outdoorsman’s OR Summer Market 2016 Hot Shot Awards.
Apparel companies use OR Summer Market to show off their best and brightest for the year ahead. It’s therefore easy (and justified) to be impressed by items from large and small brands alike. Yet three companies totally surprised me, and for different reasons.
LL Bean opened its display with the PrimaLoft Mountain Pro Hoodie, and with good reason. Purveyors of hundreds of products, the company at times carries a stigma of being functional over fashionable, and maybe even a bit tired. The PrimaLoft Mountain Pro Hoodie (shown above left) shatters that in one fell swoop. Its appearance competes with any of the other runway-worthy hoodies out there, and its higher price ($129) shows it’s not just a cheap wannabe. Most important, beneath its chic exterior lies 60g of Primaloft Gold Active, promising a toasty mid-layer when temperatures dip. I left surprised, impressed, and wanting to test one in the wild. Fortunately, LL Bean’s booth included items available this Fall, and the PrimaLoft Mountain Pro Hoodie was one. Let the testing commence!
Kuhl has also been on my radar for some time, as the brand’s a great showcase for “mountain to metro” style. But what I saw from Kuhl at OR Summer Market 2016 blew me out of the water. I took plenty of notes and photos of what Kuhl’s cooking up, but I’m afraid I can’t share. What I can say is this: parts of Kuhl’s Spring 2017 lineup got me downright giddy. What Kuhl has in store will change how you think about rain gear. I can totally envision their 2017 line becoming the de facto uniform for outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve written a lot about socks and footwear because feet, along with hands, tend to get really cold for people with Raynaud’s syndrome. As expected, there are some great socks and boots on the way, including a nice update to Vasque’s Breeze hiking shoe (the Breeze 3). But a company called Aku really surprised me. Like Hood Rubber Co., Aku is laser-focused on form, as the Italian company believes proper form breeds proper function. Aku’s Alterra boot (shown above right) looks great, has good ankle support and a custom Vibram sole. But that’s not where the magic is. Instead, it’s the company’s “Elica” system. This approach takes the anatomical shape of your foot’s sole and adapts it to the insole’s heel and forefoot inclination. Translation: you know how when you’re walking you tend to land with the outside of your heel and then roll a bit to “take off” with inside front of your foot? The Elica system accounts for that, evenly distributing pressure and improving control. Relieved pressure and more control in a hiking boot? Sign me up!
If clothes appear at OR-Summer but are a bigger focus at OR-Winter, then gear is the name of the game at the summer trade show. Four pieces of kit really grabbed my attention at ORSM 16, and for different reasons.
The Fjallraven Abisko Friluft 45L backpack (shown above left) will hit stores in March 2017, but I wish it were available now. The pack ventilates using a wire frame, mesh trampoline back panel and air columns. Fjallraven says this combination makes it ideal for warm-weather hikes. In my book, support and ventilation are good at any temperature. That the backpack’s also part of the sustainably built Abisko line is icing on the krumkake. OK, so that’s a Norwegian treat, not Swedish … I tried.
Gregory is lighting up the backpack space as well. Or should I say “lightening”? The Gregory Paragon men’s backpack (shown above right) uses a new Aerolon suspension that Gregory claims is the lightest, most supportive suspension in its weight class. How light? It comes in four sizes, but even the 68-liter pack weighs just 3lb 10oz without being stripped. The quick-adjust hip belts are a nice addition too, as is the specific compartment for a sleeping bag.
There are times when your backpacking trip may involve hammock camping. In that case, take note of the Klymit Hammock V. Folks who get cold at night may find a hammock quilt necessary for heat but cumbersome to carry. With the Hammock V, you may be able to stow that clunky quilt for good. Inflatable like Klymit’s Static V Lite insulated sleeping pad, the Hammock V (shown above left) packs down tight but puffs up into a hammock-filling mattress. This provides a barrier between you and the breeze below, while the sides have insulation as well. Capping it off are sticky surfaces on the base to keep the pad in place.
If that insulation’s not enough, then consider unrolling the REI Magma 850 sleeping bag (shown above right and center). Although it can also be used with REI’s forthcoming Insulated Flash Pad, the Magma 850 should provide plenty of warmth regardless of its overnight pairing. The spring 2017 sleeping bag features a Pertex Quantum Shell, 850 down fill, an EN rating of 15 and a snowplow zipper to avoid catching the material. Oh, and it’s less than two pounds. A lot of warmth with not a lot of weight is a great combination.
Rounding out the OR Summer Market 2016 Hot Shot Awards is what I’m calling a luxury item. Anyone remember when they used to let Survivor contestants bring one luxury item to the island? Well I saw lots of accessories at ORSM, some of which were so useful they’re better classified as essential. But one item stood out as a true “luxury.” It certainly has great applications, but not every-single-camping-trip ones. Doesn’t matter. I’m still thinking about it. And I really want to take it out into the woods. What is it? The FLIR Scout TK.
FLIR has spent years producing high-end thermal imaging products for news media, law enforcement and I’m sure other entities they can’t divulge for fear of spilling classified data. The Scout TK is a decidedly consumer tool, one that hunters and trackers may find incredibly useful. Able to detect heat at 100 yards, the pocket-sized monocular looks simple but has all sorts of thermal magic going on inside. The 6oz device even supports still-image and video recording within its ruggedized shell. At $600 it isn’t cheap, but if I had one luxury item to take outdoors, this would be it. Heck, I’d even choose it over a beer-filled growler. And me living in Portland, that’s saying something.
So there you have it. I saw hundreds of awesome items at OR-Summer Market 2016, far more than I could list here and still keep your attention. But the eight items above really stood out, even two weeks past the glitz of a trade show. Suffice it to say, Spring 2017 will bring some awesome, sustainable products from large and small companies alike. These Hot Shot Award winners are just a fraction, albeit a sexy one, of the good things in store. And we don’t even have to wait for a couple of them.