This year’s annual Outdoor Retailer Winter trade show lived up to its namesake with attendees forced to brave heavy snowstorms to get to the venue in Salt Lake City. It made for an appropriate backdrop to an event aimed at next year’s fall and winter offerings within the ever growing outdoor market. As we have observed in the last few years, overlanding continues to be a growing theme, albeit without being specifically called out as such.
Spend anytime talking to outdoor industry professionals and you quickly glean that built Tacomas, Sportsmobiles, Wranglers, and even adventure motorcycles are a valued addition to the backcountry traveler’s arsenal. The line that once partitioned the traditional overlander from the backpacker, skier, climber, and mountain biker has all but dissolved. We are now––of the same tribe.
The Winter show is considerably different from the larger and more widely attended Summer event. Whereas the latter is the show where many new gear products are announced, the Winter market is targeted mostly at apparel items and snow sport toys. It didn’t take us long, however, to find a clutch of shiny new objects to capture our interest.
Helle is a premium knife maker we have favored for the last several years. They’ve been making their unique stainless and hardened steel tools primarily in fixed blade formats, but they have recently redesigned their one folding knife to be more solid, easier to use, and dependable. Without deviating from their Norwegian heritage, their new Bleja folder is bound to be a big hit with new and existing Helle fans.
At the Summer show in August, MSR released a new line of winter tents aimed at backcountry skiers and other cold weather enthusiasts. Those shelters were once again on display and I must admit, made me want to add one to my gear closet. Not exclusive to winter pursuits, they could be good alternatives for some users currently living in traditional 3-season tents.
Apparel is the most prominent product category at the Winter show and few brands have been at it longer than Pendleton. It’s easy to dismiss their products as exclusively lifestyle oriented, which is a strong focus for them, but they’re now offering highly technical jackets and layers for the outdoor enthusiast. Their seam taped wool jackets are particularly interesting and come in a variety of styles perfectly suited for the overland traveler.
You know you’re a commercial success when you accrue a horde of imitators and blatant copy cats. No brand is more shamelessly ripped off than Yeti of Austin, Texas. To keep ahead of the me-too brands, Yeti has become aggressive with their product development and at this show released a new addition to their Rambler series. Gallon and half-gallon containers, they are designed as a large drink or food vessels with a large handle, drink-through port, and a cleaver magnetic cap-keeper so you don’t misplace the cap.
Over the last few years we have noticed a growing number of companies springing up with philanthropic directives. Cotopaxi is one such brand. Unlike others who just allocate a portion of their proceeds to noble causes, Cotopaxi was formed with those ambitions as a cornerstone of their business model. If the feel-good story behind the label doesn’t move you, their high-quality products will. Their travel luggage is perfectly suited for the traditional overlander while their more technical products appeal to the backcountry athlete.
We all know the name and have most likely owned something from their catalog in years past. With Stanley’s rapidly expanding offering of products for coffee, beer, spirits, and food, chances are they have a dozen new items which fit into your travels or daily life. We’re continually impressed with their clever designs. I use one of their French presses on a daily basis.
Freeze dried meals have never been very enjoyable––until now. Acclaimed chef and backpacking enthusiast, Jen Scism, is the mastermind behind Good To-Go meals. With her husband, David, they have created a company with a simple mission, to produce flavorful backcountry meals with premium ingredients, balanced nutritional values, made in small batches to maintain the highest quality standards. Every year their menu expands and each new addition is absolutely delicious.
On the heels of our Overland Journal headlamp test, I would say we have become lighting experts. LED Lenser has proven itself time and again as one of the best performers on the market and the value is equally impressive. For the last year I have used one of their lamps on every outing and could not be happier.
If you’ve been by the Overland Journal / Expedition Portal booth at Overland Expo West you have probably seen few of our toys from Barebones Living. Their latest offerings include a new polaski constructed with a very unique handle design. To augment the strength of the tool, the shaft has been cored and filled with a large steel rod. The cutaway below demonstrates their innovative approach to an age old camp tool.
Another expansion to the Barebones line is a new selection of cast iron cookware. As a relatively new player in the space, and one doing quite well, we expect to see more innovative and useful products added to their catalog.
Overlanders and backcountry travelers love footwear. Han Wag has become a new favorite of ours at Expedition Portal, their line of premium boots continually evolving to fit the needs of an ever widening audience. Their line of boots going into next fall and winter promised to add more options including lightweight but durable boots which can be easily resoled providing years of service life.
Portable fire pits and pans have been a popular camp item for decades, but there seems to be renewed interest in these products. Primus just announced their own system which folds flat for easy transport, can be paired to a variety of cooking surfaces, and is slated to clock in at a price barely over $100 for the smaller of two sizes. Look for a review in the coming months.
Every adventurer needs good luggage solutions. Osprey is the pinnacle brand in the world of backpacks and their new duffels look to be standard-setters as well. Made of highly durable materials and packed with features, they will be a big hit with the travel set. Their catalog of accessories are also innovative and well designed.
Not every cool product discovery has to cost big bucks. I’m a freak about keeping my glasses, sunglasses, goggles, and motorcycle visors clean and free from fog. Last winter I tried a free sample of Sven Can See, a unique and revolutionary fluid designed to cut fog. It works. It’s also now better than ever with a brand new formula. Hate fog? You’ll love Sven Can See.
Everyone loves a spork and newcomer Ace Camp has put yet one more riff on this stalwart camp tool. The small high-carbon steel blade slips into the handle and is always at the ready. If you’re not familiar with Ace Camp it’s worth checking them out. Their product catalog is extensive, includes something for every type of backcountry traveler, and their prices are quite reasonable. Better yet, the quality seems excellent.
Chippewa has been making boots for over 115 years. Made well and made to last, their boots prove that Outdoor Retailer is more than a showcase for the latest and greatest. Sometimes greatest is more than sufficient to earn a spot on display.
The Wild Card is just one of many new products on display that have yet to go into production. Some startups attend the show to get their projects off the ground. If we see them again at the Summer show, we’ll know if it was a success or not.
Sometimes we attend the show not just to discover new products, but to learn more about the companies behind the products. Sherpa Adventure Gear has been around for some time, but always a bit on the fringe of the industry. Originally started owned and managed by Nepalese Sherpas, the company never found its feet. That may change soon. New ownership will bring more resources for success. I’m an ardent supporter of the Sherpa business mission which includes a strong philanthropic initiative to help the people of Nepal with education and employment opportunities. You will see us give this brand more attention in the coming months.
Winter sport toys are a big part of the OR winter market. They also play heavily into the new evolution of the overlanding audience. Many backcountry enthusiasts are turning to overland vehicles to help them access skiing, climbing, and other outdoor playgrounds. I know at any given time during the winter, my overland rig is filled with ice tools, skis, snowshoes, and other diversions. It’s not always about the driving and camping.
No visit to OR is complete without a visit to Snow Peak’s elegantly appointed booth. Some people find their products over priced, even out of reach. One thing you can’t deny is the fact their stuff is beautiful and functional. Premium goods fetch premium prices and that holds true for Japan’s most celebrated gear purveyor.
In an effort to outfit their loyalists head to toe, literally, Woolrich offers a line of boots that are genuinely beautiful. The perfect pairing to the Woolrich wardrobe, these boots will last the ages.
Continuing to perpetuate the theme that everything old is new again, Julbo of France is reintroducing one of their most successful sunglasses in their long and storied history. The oldest sunglass manufacturer in the world, their classic glacier glasses have always been popular and are once again available. Pick your summit and go knowing you at least have the right shades for the job.
On the newer end of the product spectrum is the Nordic Pocket Saw distributed by the Scandinavian merchants at Sport Hansa. The bi-directional teeth of the chain permit fluid and smooth cutting action to chew cleanly through an arm-sized limb with minimal effort. Look forward for a full review in the coming weeks.
One of the horrifying stories I’ve heard as of late is that of an overlander working on his truck only to have his wedding ring contact a battery terminal instantly melting the metal to his finger. Eesh. No thanks. For a few years I have worn a rubber replacement wedding ring to save my favorite finger from damage in the event I crash a mountain bike or endure some other mishap. Groove is a new company with an innovative design that allows the rubber ring to breath, reducing the clammy moisture that builds up under other rubber rings. It’s a product that seems unnecessary and easily dismissed until––you weld a wrench to your wedding band.
The leader in multi-tool products, particularly those fitted with a pliers, is without a doubt––Leatherman. For the coming year they have added several new tools in new materials with fresh designs. Their selection of pocket knives expands with lighter and smaller solutions. We’ve been big fans of their new Signal emergency tool and look forward to testing new models as the year rolls on.
After 18 months testing over 36 sleeping pads, the last thing I wanted to do was see another option enter the market, but I’m a pro, it’s what I do. Thermarest is a legendary brand and their new line of pads is extensive and includes more pads fitted with their new high-volume Speed Valve inflation system. Look for a review of their latest pads later in the year.
If you didn’t know it already, all of us at Overland International love dogs…all dogs. That makes us instant fans of Ruffwear. Their massive catalog of products is field-engineered for the most adventurous pooches. From dog bowls and leashes to harnesses and floatation vests, they have something for every pup.
This year’s show may have started off a little bumpy with the crowds thinned due to bad weather, but it proved once again, the Winter Outdoor Retailer show is the place to be every January if you’re a gear hound. We walked away with a bunch of items you’ll see in upcoming product reviews throughout the spring. One thing is for sure, overlanding is becoming a popular talking point in the outdoor industry.