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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06: Travel luggage and accessories

Travelers are changing the way they pack due to airline restrictions for carry-on liquids. Plus we look at how summer gas prices affected travel and highlight new travel products from Summmer Market.

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If you flew into Salt Lake City, Utah, for Outdoor Retailer Summer Market prior to Aug. 10, you had a decidedly different traveling experience when you departed. According to the U.S. Homeland Security, terrorists were in the “final stages” of a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 jets leaving Britain for the United States, with the intention of sending the planes and thousands of passengers into the Atlantic Ocean.

U.S. authorities raised the threat level to “red” for flights from Britain, the first time the highest threat of terrorist attack had been invoked since the system was created. All other flights were under an “orange” alert — one step below red.

As a result, U.S. authorities banned the carrying of liquids onto flights after it was found that the 24 people arrested allegedly planned to blow up the U.S.-bound planes by creating explosives using ingredients carried on board disguised as drinks and other common personal care products. For a short time, British authorities were not allowing travelers flying out of England-based airports to carry computers, mobile phones or other type of electronics in their carry-on baggage.

Travelers changing the way they pack
The ramifications of the spoiled plot rippled through the Salt Palace Convention Center in various ways. One Summer Market attendee told SNEWS® he checked his bag for the first time in 20 years, now that common toiletries, such as toothpaste and shampoo, and bottled water were banned from the main cabin of planes. Others lamented long waits in airports and missed flights as airlines like Continental, Delta, Northwest and United advised passengers to arrive three hours early for flights.

Chay Woerz, director of sales for Kiva Designs, predicted that consumers are going to buy larger pieces of luggage because of the liquid ban that could be active indefinitely. He said that one retailer returned to his booth after placing an order and switched it from carry-on sized luggage only to a blend of larger and smaller pieces to address the expected demand from customers.

Eagle Creek’s Adam Ziegelman said the company’s phone was ringing off the hook as consumer newspapers called for advice on how travelers should address our new world order. He emphasized the need for organization inside luggage — a theme the company has been focused on for years via its Pack-It System, made up of folders, cubes, sacks and toiletry bags to organize clothes, shoes, toiletries and other travel essentials. “We’re positioned right where we want to be,” he told SNEWS®.

This latest change in the travel landscape could foreshadow a boon for other manufacturers that were exhibiting at the show. Watchful Eye Designs’ Aloksak and O.P. Sak storage bags may look like Zip-loc bags, but that’s where the similarity ends. Available in various sizes, the liquid and airtight bags are made of the same material used in biohazard bags and could easily hold toiletries to ensure contents don’t leak on clothes. If, down the line, electronics like phones, digital cameras and MP3 players get regulated to checked bags, companies like Witz Sport Cases and Pelican offer heavy-duty plastic cases that can hold electronics and be slipped into soft-sided luggage without fear of contents being damaged. Pelican also has hardback cases that hold 13-inch to 17-inch computers — one of which can fit in a suitcase — while the new Pelican Case has a combination lock and could be checked on its own. Granite Gear also released square-shaped Air Cell Blocks and round-shaped Air Coolers that are padded and insulated. Made of open-cell Temptrol foam, the material reflects 95 percent of radiant heat and offers protection from electromagnetic fields for sensitive electronics.

Summer gas prices affected travel

Before this new twist in flight travel, the travel industry had already been battered by high gasoline prices this summer. The Travel Industry Association (TIA) reported that high fuel prices had a negative impact on summer travel among Americans, projecting travel volume growth of less than one percent during June, July and August.

Additionally, although TIA’s updated 2006 forecast predicted another record year for consumer spending on travel, the rate of revenue growth for the industry is slowing. Revenues are expected to grow at 4.5 percent this year, according to the updated forecast, versus 7.8 percent and 7.9 percent in 2004 and 2005.

TIA reported a few encouraging statistics for the outdoor industry: Among the top planned summer travel activities, 16 percent of Americans camped, hiked and climbed, while 20 percent visited a national or state park.

That summarizes the key trends influencing the travel market. What follows is a very 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 worried about packing our own bags to see you, too tired from wandering for miles up and down aisles, or we didn’t think your product was trend-setting. With that in mind, here are our quick takes on new products that stood out in travel luggage and accessories:

On the road again:Mountainsmith led the revolution in modular systems for storing, organizing and transporting outdoor and everyday gear from the garage to the trailhead or anywhere in between. It’s changed the name from Road Trippin’ to Travel Storage Collection, and new systems like the Modular Hauler 3 System Deluxe and Modular Hauler 3 System now have Storage Cubes with collapsible side reinforcements that allow them to stay open when loading. Designed with women in mind, the Modular Hauler 3 System Deluxe (retail $149) features quilted foam panels in its hauler bag and three cubes in lime, yellow and cinnamon. Eagle Creek followed up this past Winter Market with its own version, the Mobile Storage System, which just started to hit retail. Now Kelty is putting its own spin on the concept with the Binto collection, part of its Basecamp storage system using interchangeable bins and totes. Conceptually similar to other storage systems, Kelty differs from the pack by using Delrin rods to make bags stand upright rather than collapse when empty, and also offers foldout platforms for food prep or to rest a drink. Among the offerings is the freestanding Binto Bar (retail $120) with its three stackable Binto cubes, six internal zippered pockets for essentials and U-shaped zipper for easy access. Kelty told SNEWS® its Basecamp concept is about creating a comfortable home base for a wide range of activities — whether it’s camping, tailgating or picnicking — one that feels a little like home and that users want to come back to.

Doing wheelies: It’s hard to believe, but Osprey relinquished the backpack component (gasp!) in its new Vector 22 (retail $169) and Vector 28 (retail $189) wheeled luggage. The back panel area that would normally hold the backpack straps and harness has been regulated to a dirty clothes compartment. Other than that, the Vectors compare to the Meridian wheelies and have the High Road Chassis high-clearance base and three-position handle.

Going green: In a continuing effort to become a more sustainable company, Timbuk2 told SNEWS® it’s going completely PVC-free with its entire 2007 spring/summer product line. It’s removed the PVC vinyl liner from all products, including the Classic Messenger Bag, Laptop Messenger, Artist Canvas Bag, Cargo Tote, Commute, Blogger and Metro. Timbuk2’s product development team said they found new materials to replace the vinyl, like TPU and 420-denier nylon, without compromising on quality, durability and performance. The company also removed other PVC components of its bags, such as the buckles and even the reflector tabs and tails, to go completely PVC-free. Timbuk2 added that it will continue to study its product line and explore new initiatives designed to have less impact on the environment, while also improving its products.

Take 2: Try, try, try again should be the motto at JanSport and Mountainsmith. After trying to appeal to college grads entering the business realm with the Modus collection in summer 2004, which it subsequently phased out earlier this year, JanSport is returning to its outdoor adventure roots with the All Terra collection. JanSport’s Todd Yates told SNEWS®, “We’re an outdoor company and launched travel lines not on brand, not right for our market. All Terra is synonymous with our heritage.” All Terra pieces incorporate design innovation from outdoor sports, like tough materials, protective shells, rugged style and packing functionality. The Cargo Hold wheeled duffel — available in 22, 30 and 36 inches — has oversized 5-inch wheels for stability over uneven terrain. Contemplating the fate of its luggage component, and even considering killing the line, Mountainsmith President Geoff O’Keeffe told SNEWS® that both its sales crew and dealers said the company had a place in travel, so it recommitted to the category by revamping its entire Travel Series line. It includes the new extra large Buttress, large capacity Discovery and mid-size Checker wheel bags, Boarding Pass carry-on wheel bag, Associate briefcase and Euro LX luggage/backpack combo. Returning favorites include four versatile and lightweight Travel Duffels, four sizes of Travel Trunks and Network commuter bag.

Give me structure: Both High Sierra and Eagle Creek offered soft-sided luggage with shell structure and built-in packing compartments for business travelers. High Sierra combines a special built-in, lightweight structure and 1,680-denier ballistic nylon coated with DuPont Teflon to maintain the bag’s form and shape. Its line is made up of a carry-on bag, uprights, drop-bottom duffel and a business tote — all of which have wheels and a nifty zippered, tuck-away water bottle pocket on the side. Moving into professional luggage for the business traveler, Eagle Creek‘s new Velocity collection has been designed from the outside in. The 10-piece collection has sleek lines and features heavier weight fabric in front via the compression-molded and laminated ExoForm technology. Plus, the 20-, 22- and 25-inch Uprights have trimmed-down wheel housings and integrated packing systems. We’ll see if they have better luck than JanSport had with its now-defunct Modus business collection.

This one’s for the ladies: Looking to expand beyond adventure travel, Pacsafe debuted the three-piece SlingSafe series for women, which combines lightweight and sleek designs with a sporty twist and the company’s signature anti-theft features, like slash-proof shoulder straps and front panels. Ranging in price from $24.95 to $29.95, the SlingSafe 50 phone purse has a slash-proof shoulder strap and discrete front securing flap for credit cards and a phone; the SlingSafe 100 clips around a chair, has an anti-slash strap and front panel, and tamper-proof zippers; and the SlingSafe 200 has the security features of the 100 in a larger size with more organizational pockets. Timbuk2 said women have been asking for more bags and accessories designed specifically for them, and the company has been listening. As we browsed Timbuk 2’s new ladies’ lifestyle bags, computer bags and accessories, we especially liked the Macy (retail $55), an extra small version of its popular Cargo Tote, with long strap handles and a boxy shape to fit snugly under the arm. Ideal for holding smaller personal items, the Kubuki (retail $16-$20) half dome, clear zip pouches feature three compact sizes, plush interior lining and clear see-thru windows. Love the rich color palette: plum, chartreuse and rose.

Swiss Army‘s E-motion 360º travel gear collection includes the Trek Pack Plus series with gender-specific models. Basically, the hip and shoulder straps on this bag are designed and engineered to deliver better load-bearing balance and weight distribution to suit either the male or female frame. Measuring 16 by 24 by 11.5 inches, the women’s Trek Pack Plus model (retail $300) is constructed using less material on the shoulder straps around the breastplate to enable mobility.

Eagle Creek shared with us that women make up 70 percent of its customer base, and the company is serving them more with products such as the new Explorer Women’s Fit LT travel pack. Constructed with the women’s Fit Independent Suspension, the pack is made for torso lengths of 15 to 19 inches. And Cocoon is now offering silk and Egyptian cotton MummyLiners sized for women’s sleeping bags — less weight and no more bunched up fabric at the bottom of their bags.

New wonders: You can’t go to the summer trade show and not expect somebody to pull a new rabbit out of the hat. Among those hawking new collections were The North Face and National Geographic. The most notable aspect to The North Face’s new Adventure Travel collection is the addition of wheeled luggage — a first for the company. Among the mix is the DoubleTrack 21 rolling travel bag, featuring a detachable daypack, compartmentalized internal organization, rugged wheels and rubber bike-grip handle. National Geographic licensed with Cerf Brothers a year ago to create a travel collection, and the fruits of their labors were showcased at Summer Market. No surprises, really. Comprised of everything you would expect in a travel line — luggage, camera bags, toiletry kits and various accessories — the collection is designed to appeal to readers of the various National Geographic magazines.

Pass it on: And, we couldn’t forget to mention these little ditties. Zip It Gear specializes in socks, wrist/arm bands and hats that feature zippered pockets to hold a few bucks, a key or ID. Among the mix is the Travel Sock, which has a zippered compartment large enough to hold a passport. And in our “you be the judge” category, Swiss Army offered the Air Purifier Vest with a battery-powered filter that reportedly purifies the air right by the wearer’s face for a mere $495 retail.