What’s Trending in Outdoor, Camping & Hiking Gear: Behind the Scenes at the Outdoor Retailer Show

Outdoor gear has definitely transformed from the days of itchy wool and bulky pole-frame backpacks to a hip, high-fashion, multi-billion dollar industry.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of outdoor outfitters packed 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 kiosks filled with fresh gear and passionate people.

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 make their products out of something sustainable. In some cases, they create shirts, backpacks and more from scraps (Adidas is launching a line called Parley which uses plastic waste from our oceans to turn it into textiles and hardware).

Backpack and gear maker Cotopaxi not only designates a percentage of its sales to fight poverty, but has launched a line made of all their parts and unused parts as well as. These brands are far from the only ones to choose to defend and sell.

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

Those companies like PrAna, which claim to have done sustainability before being fashionable, also express this message clearly.

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

This minimalist approach is great when seen at a trade show that literally showcases more products than you could shake a stick at.

Trend #2: The comfort of home

Backpacking, camping, kayaking, catching your kid’s soccer game: the outdoors isn’t just for diehard mountaineers anymore.

Almost all major brands are taking advantage of the booming lifestyle side of the outdoor business. Tents, sleeping bags, clothing and other essential gear now bring the comforts of home to casual and hardcore outdoor users.

Some of this is possible simply because the gear weighs a lot less than before, so backpackers can take more with them, and RV families can pack more into the van than ever before.

Step into tents with six-foot headroom, sleeping bags for two and camping mats, gadgets that boil water in an instant and you have a traveling kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom – all the comforts of home are making their way into the outdoor lifestyle.

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

And that 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 designs 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 millennials who love outdoor festivals and 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 rainwear and boot maker Joules is causing a stir with colorful patterned rain boots, raincoats, children’s shoes and more. It’s all waterproof and fully functional, yet cute enough to want to show off any day of the week on the high street.

Now with a flagship store in Larimer Square, Mountain Khakis calls itself a “whisky-soaked” brand that you’d expect to find everyone carrying to the base of a mountain while drinking malt or microbrewed beer.

What started with three pairs of pants in 2003 has grown into clothing for women, children and more than 160 styles of 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: specific equipment for women (finally!)

At the show this year, the chicks are kings. Not only is this message an important part of show marketing, but you can see it reflected in many of the big brands on the show floor. Photos of women climbing mountains and tackling obstacles are part of the marketing of nearly every retailer, including the Cortez, Colo.-based backpack maker Osprey.

Yes, it’s a way to tap into an eager buyer’s market, but it’s long overdue. Gear designed not just for women, but by women, is hitting store shelves, making it easier than ever for girls to get into activities like rock climbing, hiking and kayaking.

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

Women’s gear is more fashionable than ever – but more than just fashionable. It is functionally specific to the female body and transitions easily from adventure to afternoon, while finally acknowledging the female adventurer.

Trend #5: Color and pattern

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

Retailers that were once just technical 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 draw more customers to stores, too.

Trend #6: Multifunction and Technology

With so many brands and products on the market, functionality still rules (although it seems fashion is right behind). At OR this year, it’s all about multitasking (but doing it well).

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

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

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

There are battery boilers, water lightssubmersible duffel bags, watches that double as multitools, coffee pipes and more you didn’t even know you needed.

Many even started as crowd-funded projects!

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

Sally J. Minick