Trade shows can be overwhelming beasts. With so many products to see, people to meet, beers to drink and whiz-bang features to process, there’s a lot to take in. This year’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market was no different. Fortunately, neither is my approach to doling out Best in Show awards. Following my decade-old tradition, I’ve waited to give out awards until several weeks after the show. In my experience, waiting to hand out awards gives my brain a chance to truly absorb the clothes and gear I saw. It lets me overcome the human tendency to be impressed by a good-looking booth. And it provides clarity about the products that still resonate with me weeks after seeing them for the first time. Field-testing may prove otherwise, but for one week in January, these products were true hot shots. So without further ado, I present the OR Winter Market 2017 Hot Shot Awards.
Best Top: ExOfficio Harwood Quarter-Zip
There’s a tendency to think ExOfficio is just an underwear company. One look at the Harwood 1/4-zip top, and that stereotype will be blasted from your mind like a winter gale. ExOfficio had an exhaustive clothing lineup focused on insulation and warmth, which was music to my ears. Of all the cold-busting clothes they showed, the Harwood is the one that really stuck with me. The hexagonal-quilted body not only looks unique but serves an insulating purpose as well. The quarter-zip also uses “SoWarm” technology with IR-reflective ceramic particles in the fibers that reflect body heat back to the skin. You won’t feel like the Michelin Man, though, as jersey arms and side panels let you stay mobile. At $120 it’s not inexpensive, but the masterful mix of function and fashion make the Harwood Quarter-Zip a must-watch item for Fall/Winter.
Runners-Up: Cotopaxi Kusa hybrid, Craghoppers Henrik fleece
Best Jacket: Outdoor Research Ascendant Jacket
I’ve been a fan of Outdoor Research for some time. The Seattle-based company just “gets it” when it comes to clothes that help you stay warm and dry. Their upcoming Ascendant line includes a hoody (shown above) and a jacket, and there’s no question it’s upping OR’s game yet again. The Ascendant jacket is the evolution of their Uberlayer, with improved breathability and reduced weight. Its Polartec Alpha Direct insulation promises to keep you warm, while the Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop stretch shell lets you move confidently and with ease. Though it’s not waterproof, the Ascendant jacket could be a useful outer layer for Fall days and a breathable midlayer for colder Winter outings. Gotta love that diversity.
Runners-up: Big Agnes Firetower, adidas Outdoor Terrex Climaheat Agravic microdown, Kuhl Kollusion
Best Bottom: American Outdoorsman Black Hills Field Pant
If you’re a fan of the TV network of the same name, then the upcoming American Outdoorsman apparel brand already has you excited. If you’re not a fan, just know this: the team behind this new collection has been making private-label clothes for other companies for years. Translation: they know what they’re doing. I was bowled over by American Outdoorsman’s diversity of pullovers, hoodies and pants. They had at least half a dozen items I wanted to take into the field immediately to test. One that got me particularly excited was the Black Hills Field Pant. Fleece lined, waterproof zippers and burr-resistant? Really?! Sign me up. I can’t wait to slip into these for some outdoor adventures.
Runners-up: Kuhl Rebel pants, Saxx ThermoFlyte baselayer
Best Boots: Wolverine Vortex Boots
Every time I think about this boot I smile. Then I frown, because I have to wait until next year to check it out. I knew almost immediately that the Wolverine Vortex boots would win one of the OR Winter Market 2017 Hot Shot Awards. The Vortex include basically everything you’ve ever wanted in a cold-weather boot. A waterproof premium leather upper, molded TPU shell for durability and easy clean-up, a Boa lacing system that helps you tighten/loosen with gloved hands, a Vibram Arctic Grip outsole for unparalleled traction on ice, and 600 grams (600?!) of Thinsulate Ultra insulation to keep your feet toasty. Those specifications border on the ridiculous — and I couldn’t be happier. The only potential hiccups are their styling, which I happen to like, and whether the tapered super-high shaft feels OK. If they’re as comfortable as they are feature-rich, you may never need another cold-weather boot.
Runners-up: Oboz 400g Bridger 9, adidas Outdoor Terrex Conrax Boa, Muck Boots Arctic Ice
Best Snowshoes: Atlas Spindrift
Atlas has redesigned its Spindrift snowshoes for the 2017/18 season, taking a model that already worked well and making it work even better. Portability and performance are the two big themes for the new-look Spindrift. A new “Packflat” binding lets you literally flatten the straps all the way to the deck, makes it easy to get your foot in and out, and allows you to bundle the snowshoes to fit in a backpack. The Spindrifts have full-length side traction without much extra weight, and the new aggressive taper at the back should minimize clanging while you cruise the backcountry. And keep in mind, all of this is in addition to Atlas staples such as Spring-Loaded Suspension (SLS), Infinity decking and a heel-lift bar. Crescent Moon’s foam snowshoes were interesting, but I need more time with them to see whether I actually like their somewhat-radical performance. The Spindrifts are more of a known commodity, albeit an incredibly well-upgraded one.
Runners-up: Crescent Moon EVA Foam Snowshoes, Tubbs Flex ESC
Best Accessory: Buff ThermoNet
Buff is about to change the way you think of their winter offerings. Often associated with lightweight material, buffs are gaining weight for the 2017/18 season courtesy of the company’s new ThermoNet line. Based on PrimaLoft technology, the new Buff ThermoNet fabric offers four times more insulation than the buffs we’ve all come to know and love. What cold folks like me won’t appreciate that? The fabric is still highly wicking for moisture management, and it’s diverse enough that Buff’s offering a tube, hat and balaclava option. Insulation aside, I also love that the ThermoNet includes 70 percent recycled content. Buffs are historically simple, and the ThermoNet collection seems like a “simple” upgrade. But peanut butter and chocolate are simple too, and millions of people still love them. I have a feeling the Buff ThermoNet will be a daily go-to accessory for a lot of people, whether they’re sensitive to the cold or not.
Runners-up: Klymit Insulated Hammock V, Seirus Hellfire heated gloves
Congratulations to all of the OR Winter Market 2017 Hot Shot Awards recipients and runners up. Many companies showed a lot of innovation, and it was hard to resist giving out a dozen awards. Suffice it to say there’s a lot to be excited about when looking toward the Fall/Winter ’17/’18 horizon.