The city of Denver just hosted its first Outdoor Retailer after the bi-annual conference had been held in Salt Lake City for 20 years. I just returned from a visit to Denver where I attended the Outdoor Retailer Winter market and wanted to share a few highlights. For those that aren’t familiar, this conference is for brands and companies looking to showcase their 2018 Fall/Winter gear lineups to buyers, retailers, reps, and working media. I will be doing a more focused footwear preview in the days ahead, so keep an eye out for that. Until then, enjoy these highlights that are focused on this blog’s core categories of hiking, backpacking, and travel.
Outdoor Retailer took over the entirety of the Denver convention center, meaning there were exhibitors on all three levels. The vast majority of the exhibitors that I was interested in were on the upper level. In total, there were over 1100 exhibitors! I did my best to visit a few hundred, but needless to say, I wasn’t able to get to all of them. Here are 11 highlights that seemed to stick with me after the show.
1.) Everyone Is Utilizing Knit Uppers In Footwear
Nike started popularizing knit uppers on footwear a few years ago. The only problem for outdoor enthusiasts is that they were paired with running and lifestyle midsoles and outsoles. The outdoor industry has caught on to the sock-like comfort of the knit upper, and has paired them with more traditional hiking and trail running midsoles/outsoles. Companies like Adidas Terrex (+Five Ten), Sketchers, and Merrell, will have trail ready shoes with knit uppers available in 2018.
2.) Big Agnes Improves The Fly Creek Tent
The Big Agnes Fly Creek series of tents have been stalwarts on thru-hiking trails around the world. Users did have a few complains though, namely the single front door entry, single vestibule, and the way the tent collapsed on your feet without staking out the side walls. Big Agnes seems to have answered all of those complaints with the new Tiger Wall UL tent series. This tent will come in a 2P model at 35oz (992g) for $399.95, and a 3P model at 43oz (1.19kg) for $449.95. At this weight, the Tiger Wall UL will include two doors, two vestibules, and quite a few internal pockets for storage.
Big Agnes also has some really nice new sleeping pads that will be released in 2018. My favorites are the light weight AXL Air and the slightly heavier insulated AXL air with Primaloft. Big Agnes is also moving away from R ratings for the warmth measurement of their pads, as it has proven to be an unreliable and inconsistent measure across the industry. They are currently in the process of helping to develop a more consistent measurement that can be used industry wide.
3.) Under Armour Continues To Expand In The Outdoor Industry
Last year I reviewed Under Armour’s Horizon RTT trail shoe and really enjoyed it. Under Armour will be releasing a few new shoe models this year and will also be expanding their apparel line. The shoe I’m most excited about is the BPF1, which is similar to the Horizon RTT, but with a retooled upper and a Continental rubber outsole.
Under Armour will also be hosting and sponsoring a mountain running race series this year. This is the kind of stuff I love to see. What makes the outdoor industry special is the sense of community. The newer companies that tend to do well find a way to become a part of the community and foster the creation of groups and activities within the outdoor space. When most people think of Under Armour at the moment, they probably don’t associate the company with the outdoors. I think events like this will help spread much needed awareness.
4.) Ruffwear Continues To Provide Great Gear For Dog Lovers
My dogs, Isla and Lilly, are huge fans of Ruffwear. We’ve reviewed the Ruffwear Approach Pack and Webmaster Harness in years past, and are always looking forward to new developments at the company. The most exciting things I saw at their booth this weekend was a new running belt/leash and a new camp leash setup that allows dogs a little more freedom to move.
5.) The Osprey Levity Is Almost Ready For Market
I’ve been looking at the Osprey Levity pack since it first debuted at Outdoor Retailer last year. It’s almost ready to hit the market this spring, and I can’t wait to get it in my hands. I’ve seen a few reviews pop up already (ie. Hiking in Finland), and the initial impressions seem positive. I’ve been using my beloved Osprey Exos 48/58 for a few years now, and can’t wait to see the evolutions of Osprey’s lightweight packs in the Levity.
6.) Salomon Has A New Hiker Called The Outline
The outdoor industry has finally realized that the waterproof hiking boot is dead to many. Trail running shoes and light hikers have been gaining market share (and trail share) year over year. It’s nice to see Salomon and other footwear designers releasing shoes with hiking pedigree and trail running comfort. New for 2018, Salomon will be debuting the Outline.
7.) Black Diamond Has Improved The Z-Pole
Black Diamond has a new series of their world famous Z-pole. My favorite is the new Distance Carbon FLZ. The previous model required buyers to purchase a fixed length pole (ie. 125cm). This new model has an adjuster to change the pole length on the fly. Black Diamond also keeps an updated Carbon Z in the lineup. Both poles are also available in a slightly heavier non-carbon option.
8.) Altra Has Made Some Great Improvements To The Lone Peak
The Altra Lone Peak has become the go to shoe for many long distance thru-hikers and short distance day hikers in the United States. The reasons are simple, the Lone Peak has a nice and wide toebox that keeps many from ever getting hot spots or blisters. For version 4.0, Altra keeps the look of the Lone Peak mostly unchanged, but have added a lot of nice refinements. Starting with the rockplate, Altra has added a flexible five toed plate to the midsole. The outsole has a new durometer that makes it a little closer to the Vibram Megagrip used on the Olympus line. The upper has a new ripstop nylon, and the laces use a new pull loop to keep things secure. I’m really looking forward to seeing this new model come to market in July.
9.) Merrell Developed A Light Weight Boot For A Greenland Expedition
Merrell has a few of their sponsored athletes hiking Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail in the winter this year. To help them prepare for the journey, Merrell designed a super light hightop hiking boot with insulation. I was amazed how light this boot was when I picked it up in hand. It also comes with a Vibram Artic grip outsole, which can provide traction on slick ice. Merrell will be making this boot available to the public for Fall/Winter 2018.
10.) SOLE Has An Insole For Shoes With Wide Toeboxes
SOLE is making a supportive insole for shoes with wide toeboxes like Altra and TOPO. This is important for those that need added arch support in their footwear. Before this, people would have to deal with space around the insert, or buy a size up, trim it, and deal with an arch support that felt too far forward. I have a feeling these are going to be very popular with JMT, PCT, AT, and CDT hikers that have relied on Superfeet in years past.
11.) La Sportiva Is Pushing The Design Envelope With New Footwear
Back around 2010 everyone jumped on the minimalist bandwagon. In the past few years, Hoka has pushed everyone into creating max cushion shoes. As I mentioned above, knit uppers seem to be all the rage this year. Having said all of that, I want to give La Sportiva a lot of credit for designing and releasing a shoe that stands out all by itself. It is aptly named the Unika. This is a true mountain running shoe that will be manufactured in Europe, with a look and design I haven’t seen on any other trail shoe. The Unika will be released next month, and I’ll be testing and doing a review this Spring.
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