Trends in outdoor gear, camping and hiking: behind the scenes at Outdoor Retailer


Outdoor gear has gone from the days of itchy wool and bulky frame backpacks to a hip, multi-billion dollar haute couture industry.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the large number of outdoor outfitters crammed into the Salt Lake City Convention Center for the Outdoor Retailer Show.

There are all the brands you would expect: Marmot, Osprey, Columbia, The North Face, Keen etc.

Then there are the thousands of little booths filled with fresh material and enthusiasts.

Among the hottest trends of the 2017 show, several themes range from the large stand to the small side table. The most widespread ? Durability and home comfort.

Trend # 1: Sustainability

Every company seems to be making their products out of something that is sustainable. In some cases, they create shirts, backpacks and more from waste (Adidas is launching a line called Parley that uses plastic waste from our oceans to turn it into textiles and gear).

Backpack and gear maker Cotopaxi not only designates a percentage of sales to fight poverty, but has also launched a line made up of all of their spare and unused parts. These brands are far from the only ones choosing to both promote and sell.

The brands here must all have done the same market research and found that their consumers like to feel good about what they are buying. Almost everything has a sustainable, recyclable or “green” anchor.

These companies like PrAna, which claim to have done sustainability before they became fashionable, are also making this message clear.

And for the price of most outdoor gear, the product should last a very, very long time. Big companies back their backpacks (and pretty much everything else) with lifetime warranties and the promise to make sustainable choices in the future so consumers can waste less too.

This minimalist approach is interesting when seen at a trade show that literally displays more products than you could possibly offer.

Trend # 2: Home comforts

Hiking, camping, kayaking, sitting at your child’s football game: the outdoors is no longer just for die-hard climbers.

Almost all of the big brands are profiting from the booming lifestyle side of the outdoor business. Tents, sleeping bags, clothing and other essentials now bring the comforts of home to casual and hardcore outdoor users.

Part of this is possible simply because the equipment weighs a lot less than before, so backpackers can take more with them, and RV families can take more in the van than ever before.

Step into tents with six foot high clearance, two person sleeping bags and camping mats, gadgets that boil water in an instant and you have a kitchen, a dining area, a living room, one bedroom – all the comforts of home make their way into the outdoor lifestyle.

Forget about hot beer, cold meals, uncomfortable nights spent lying awake feeling the only rock on your back and dreading everything being drenched in the morning dew. Now there are materials to make the outdoors as comfortable as your living room.

And it goes without saying in all of this: it must also be beautiful.

Trend # 3: After Adventure and Hipster Functionality

Much of the outdoor retail industry now recognizes the before and after of adventure instead of the adventure itself.

That’s why Boulder-based Kelty is designing much of its new product with the technology and features of high-end hiking and camping gear, but with the look and feel of something you would use in. everyday life. They call it “built to roam”.

Kelty has focused much of its new gear on the Millennial who loves festivals and outdoor concerts, creating a hybrid of lifestyle and urban camping gear. They are far from the only major brand to do so at the OR show.

British clothing and rain boots manufacturer Joules is causing a stir with its rain boots, raincoats, children’s shoes and more. Everything is waterproof and perfectly functional, but cute enough to want to show off any day of the week on the main street.

Now with a flagship store in Larimer Square, Mountain Khakis calls itself a ‘whiskey-steeped’ brand that you’d expect to find everyone wearing at the foot of a mountain while drinking malt or microbrew beer.

What started with three pairs of pants in 2003 has spread to women, children and over 160 styles of rugged and fashionable lifestyle clothing. It’s about designing for what comes after the bike ride or the mountain climb, a huge new market for so many retailers.

Trend n ° 4: equipment specific to women (finally!)

At the show this year, the chicks reign supreme. Not only is this message an integral part of the show’s marketing, but you can see it reflected in many top brands in the showroom. Photos of women climbing mountains and tackling obstacles are part of the marketing of almost every retailer, including backpacks maker Osprey, based in Cortez, Colo.

Yes, this is a way to tap into a hungry buyer’s market, but it’s long overdue. Equipment designed not only for women, but by women, is swarming store shelves and making it easier for chicks to get started in activities like rock climbing, hiking and kayaking than ever before.

Most of the booths here are designed exclusively for women, looking more like a 16th Street mall storefront than a booth at a trade show.

Women’s clothing is more fashionable than ever, but more than fashionable. It is functionally specific to the female body and easily passes from adventure to after, while finally recognizing the adventurer.

Trend # 5: Color and Pattern

Especially if you live in Colorado, you know that outdoor gear doubles as “outing” gear. Perhaps this is why many retailers of clothing, backpacks, shoes, even tents and other equipment, are increasing the colors and patterns of their designs.

Retailers that were previously just tech gear are now experimenting with more women’s and lifestyle gear, and making these items available in colors and patterns that make buying gear more fun than ever – and a shopping experience that retailers hope will attract more customers to the stores, too.

Trend # 6: Multifunction and technology

With so many brands and products on the market, functionality still reigns supreme (although it seems like fashion is close at hand). At OR this year it’s all about multitasking (but doing it well).

Backpacks can also be used as a tote, and any tool that performs less than seven tasks is essentially useless.

The race is on to incorporate the best technology into gear – and not just electronic gadgets – but also fabric, zippers and design.

There are a lot of new gadgets at the show that you will soon see making a splash.

There are battery-powered boilers, water lamps, submersible sports bags, watches that are also multi-tools, coffee pipes and much more that you never thought you needed.

Many have even started as crowdfunded projects!

So many of these trends already seem to have made their way to Colorado, but we can only expect more as the Outdoor Retailer show heads to Mile High for 2018.


Sally J. Minick

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