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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06: The cool, the unusual, the truly wacky….

Now that we've covered all the main show product categories, from tents and trail shoes to paddle and climbing gear, it's time to break out the after-dinner drinks, lean back in our chairs, and take a look at all those other odds n' ends in every corner of the show.

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Now that we’ve covered all the main show product categories, from tents and trail shoes to paddle and climbing gear, it’s time to break out the after-dinner drinks, lean back in our chairs, and take a look at all those other odds n’ ends in every corner of the show.

SNEWS® took some time this year to belly up to the little booths and find out what they were about. These are the new guys, the eager beavers there for the first time perhaps, or maybe small companies with another tweaky gadget that could be a barn-burner. Of course, it could also be another rendition of, as we sometimes say, an answer without a question, or something so far out there, we scratch our heads and say, “Huh?” Like pens shaped like rockets, aromatherapy pens and baseball caps with a bottle opener attached to a tail off the back (for those desperation moments we guess). Go Bubba.

What follows, then, is a select summary of product that caught our wandering editors’ eyes and it is by no means complete! So if you’re not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on Kinetic Koffee shots to see you, too tired to care from wandering for miles up and down aisles, didn’t think your product was odd or unusual enough, or we were just plain clueless — you pick one.

With that in mind, here’s our take on those things that made us stop in our tracks and say either “wow!” or “huh?” Honestly, there were a lot of little wow’s.

Cobb grill and cooking system – It was merely a gleaming stainless steel pot that was the size of a large rice cooker. But the meat samples stopped us at the Demo on the beach. The BBQ system is a self-contained grill that can cook for three hours on about eight briquettes. Although it’s the company’s first time here, it was one of Time magazine’s Inventions of the Year way back in 2001 and stems from South Africa. It’s super transportable with its own tote bag, weighs only 8.5 pounds and has a MSRP of $140. Not only that, the exterior mesh-like base stays cool to the touch.

Truck-Bedz – These aren’t truck liners but BEDS, i.e. inflatable things designed to fit in a truck bed around the wheel wells and give a comfy place to snooze. It comes in 12 sizes and although there is a cheaper vinyl version (think thick air mattress) that sporting goods folks fought for, it’s the sturdy “expedition cloth” version (420 grade nylon over impregnated urethane) that caught our eye. So you spend a bit more, but it’s abrasion- and puncture-resistant. It also has two-stage boat valves for easy inflation. The high-end ones have an MSRP of $150 to $170. Turns the back of a truck into a perm bed without fitting issues.

Tarma Designs – Who’d have ever thunk that jewelry would be this hot of a commodity at the outdoor show? Well, we were in the Tarma Designs booth on the last day and it was like a fire sale, with attendees scrambling to grab what they wanted before somebody else did. One man we witnessed simply shoved some bills in owner Sky George’s hand and said, “Gotta go catch a plane!” before he turned and bolted. George, if you don’t remember, was an executive at CamelBak but other callings got him. The website states the jewelry “celebrates the spirit of adventure and a love of the outdoors.” It uses recycled materials and follows sustainable practices. But it also has fun with designs on necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other accessories with emblems representing things like trail running, mountain biking or paddling in a way that outdoorsy types would adore. They are no-brainer gifts and, we expect, will be big sellers this holiday season.

Big Foot Bag – Billing itself as “the only bag that works when it’s empty,” the company has something here. It FULLY unzips. All the way. So it’s a ground cloth, tarp and – hmm, why not? – perhaps an emergency shelter if you have trekking poles. Although the zippers are not waterproof, the way the company designed the closure is, and the material is waterproof, so you can load one on the top of your car and drive through a storm. You can load one flat in the back of a truck, fill it, then zip it up. You can use it as a yard bag. One of the owners says his wife uses one for toting clean laundry. We want a smaller one to put in the back of a truck or SUV so we can zip all our dirty gear in it after a run or bike, then schlep it in one heap into the house. This thing is cool. Four models, each in three sizes, with MSRPs ranging from $45 to $132.

Sportline HydraCoach – The company execs are adamant: This is not a BOTTLE but a hydration COACH. Which gives you an idea of where they may go with this. Basically the system – now shown on a Lexan bottle – has a built-in system that tells you how much water you’ve drunk. Once you program it, it can also estimate how much water you SHOULD drink in a day, using age, gender, weight, etc. So if the system is on a bottle, you can fill and refill the bottle multiple times and it just keeps tracking for the day, automatically resetting at midnight to zero. It is being touted as a lifestyle or fitness tool and it does make great sense when pitched that way to us.

Nuun (pronounced “noon”) – Think electrolytes delivered into water via a fizzy Alka Seltzer-like tab. Forget over-sweet, over-sugared, or delivery in flavors you don’t like. Nuun tabs are only lightly flavored and provide nothing except the electrolytes. Drink it plain, add it to your own beverage. Without sugars, it also won’t gum up bottles and muck up reservoirs. No caffeine or pseudo science. We like this idea. They also have enough sodium to make them worthwhile at 360 mg in one tablet dissolved in 16 ounces of water. Only one caveat: Make sure to leave the bottle or reservoir slightly loose until the fizzing has stopped. $6.50 for a tube of 12 tabs.

CamelBak Elixir – Not on the shelves but another fizzy electrolyte delivery is coming from CamelBak. Also, like Nuun, no sugars or other additives so you can use as you choose. And a solid dose of sodium, just like Nuun. CamelBak will sell its tube of 12 for $9 and each tab is designed for 24 ounces, since it is designing them for reservoirs. They will launch officially in January and CamelBak plans to package two-tab samples for $2 and pre-pack a couple with its hydrations systems next year to get people addicted to them. Same warning as with nuun — vent til the fizzing is fizzed.

Go Towels – We have looked at the disposable, pre-moistened towelettes from other companies, but have an issue with the use and throw concept. These are a step in the right direction, although we still wonder why you really need to bother when water and a washable towel are handy. Still, there could be emergencies we suppose. The Go Towels are a package of four moist thin cotton washcloths you can use to cleanup then reuse as needed or throw in your rag pile for other uses. MSPR $3 per package.

Backpackers Gourmet Chocolate – We pick this as one of THE highlights of the show. Naturally, it has to do with food! It is a block of pretty gourmet dark chocolate coated in wax like a fancy cheese. Guess what? It won’t melt. It’s weatherproof. Take it for a day hike, in a hot car, or on a backpack trip – and make a lot of friends. OK, it may get a bit soft, but it won’t turn into that YUCK pool of brown goo in a side pocket. Four ounce blocks in flavors such as raspberry, orange-chili or peanut butter, sell at retail for $8.50 to $10, and what a stocking stuffer ahead for this company. 505-660-7387

Pak-Lite – We’re on a roll now. Here was another huge hit even though it may have been the tiniest thing there. And we really liked the low-tech press kits of printed pages that were obviously home-made. That’s OK. Who needs fancy? These are emergency flashlights that are nothing but a 9-volt battery with a teeny cap you pop on. Really. They’ve been around for about five years or so after the teen-age son came up with the product. But who’s to turn down a huge Air Force contract. Yup. Not them. There are three models: The “Basic” one with two white LEDs for 20+ hours on a standard 9 volt (MSRP $13), the “Original” with 2 super high-intensity white LEDs and a 9-volt alkaline battery for 75+ hours ($25), and the Super Glow with red emergency LEDs on the alkaline 9 volt ($27).

Blizzard’s Bones – After six years in business, Blizzard’s Bones mints (“the dog’s preferred mint for humans”) finally made it to Outdoor Retailer. And we’re glad. The mints come in bone-shaped collector tins, each version with a different drawing of some really outrageously cute dog portrait (can we say “aaaaaaahhh?”). MSRP $5 to $6. But you wanna bet they are the perfect cash-wrap counter goodie.

Inka pens – Cool. A pen that writes when it’s freezing, on wet paper, at the highest of altitudes, or upside-down. Even under water we were told. The regular version is $25, while a titanium version (for the enthusiast who has everything) is $90.

SunUV station and personal monitors – The station looks like a large wall clock and is plastic and cheap-looking, yet retails for $40. It is said to tell you the current UV rating so you know to get out of the sun when you’ve been exposed to too much UV. Of course, that leaves us wondering what if you can’t? The personal UV monitors have been around awhile and do the same, but also allow you to input your skin type, sunscreen potency, etc., for a more exact timing they say on how long is safe. But again, we wonder, what if you are turned away from the sun and as a result, the sun’s rays can’t hit the reading eye? Obviously, we’re not sold on this one. But, trying to keep an open mind, we are testing them now.

Snot Spot – If nothing else we love the name. The small company now has slimmer cut version to wear over light gloves or on your hands rather than a big one for winter wear over ski and snow gloves. You gotta love the name.

H20 Audio – A waterproof iPod box that has a wheel control that will actually work in the water. And a plug to waterproof your headset. Oh, and a waterproof headset. Cool.

Sol Light – A number of solar-polared innovations that are too much to get into here. The Lightship looks like a small moon explorer that you can put just about anywhere you want for light ($15). We really liked the LidLight, a package ($40) that you can build into the lid of your car-top box (yes, it’s still waterproof with seals that are included) so you can actually see inside once you get to your campsite. Quite probably the best car-top box light we’ve seen – period!