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OR Summer

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '07 Trends: The cool, the unusual, the nifty new and truly wacky

when we run across something really different, some novel geegaw that causes a traffic jam around a booth, something we just haven't seen before, or something that is done in a way that makes you stop in your tracks and put the ol' bod in reverse for a better look, we can really get excited. We babble about it for days to all we see. With that in mind, here's our take on the cool, the unusual, the nifty new and truly wacky.

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Cruising the show aisles, even the most excitable members of our veteran SNEWS® team can find the show a tad wearisome after a few days of being expected to “ooooo” and “ahhhhh” over yet another pair of boots (yeah, great, new color), sleeping bag (wow, a miracle insulation you say?) or another ante-upping in the “mine-is-lighter-than-yours” jacket wars (oh, yippee, 0.10 ounces lighter).

Honestly, folks, there really is so much truly GOOD gear out there these days. And we never ever want to insult any of you by stifling a yawn after looking at all those new boots, warmer bags or lighter jackets year after year. Gosh, really, how many brands of trail running shoes do we need out there anyway? Wait. Don’t answer that.

But, ah, when we run across something really different, be it the lace on a shoe, the shape of a bottle, a different take on a brand’s standard product, some novel geegaw that causes a traffic jam around a booth, something we just haven’t seen before, or something that is done in a way that makes you stop in your tracks and put the ol’ bod in reverse for a better look, we can really get excited. We babble about it for days to all we see. We pull it out of our pocket or pack and flash it to anyone who cares (or doesn’t) raving about how cool it is. We WANT one and we tell everybody we know, in the industry or not, that they must get one too.

Now that we’ve gotten through many of the meat-and-potatoes reports from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market (though, there are still a few more coming), all the stuff that keeps the industry and your stores afloat, we get to have a little fun, telling you about the nifty, cool, unusual, new or just sometimes really wacky stuff we stumbled across on the floor. Like with all our reports, no, we aren’t superhuman and we couldn’t see everything. In fact, there was probably some gizmo on the back wall of some booth somewhere that none of us saw. C’est la vie, as they say, we can’t be everywhere, although we truly do our best. Was this show big … or WHAT?

Nevertheless, we ducked and weaved around the floor to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. Or maybe you do. We apologize in advance if a company feels its product should have but was not mentioned. If you’re not included, we either didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently or we started drinking alcoholic beverages too early in the afternoon to see straight and missed you as a result — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on the cool, the unusual, the nifty new and truly wacky:

The Java Jive-iest

Funny how what had one of the biggest buzzes at the show (pun intended!) was a coffee maker. And one that was so low-key in its booth and presentation you could walk past it and not know it was there. We would tell people, just look for the Aerobies on the wall, then look down at a small table in a corner and you’ll see the AeroPress Coffeemaker. Long story short, the Stanford University engineer who invented the Aerobie flying ring a couple of dozen years ago also has a fetish for really good coffee and just was never satisfied. So, like any good engineer, he researched the details of the coffee-making process, from temperature of water, to type of grind, to length of immersion time, to … well, you get the engineering brain here. He came up with what we will politely call a rather mundane if not geeky-looking plastic tube structure that reminds you of chemistry class that makes — assuming you follow the rather exacting directions — THE best coffee in the whole wide world. Now that’s a superlative, but one that is well-deserved. If you follow the simple directions, you’ll have one awesome, smooth cup o’ java that will make you jump and jive. The “outdoor” version has a carrying bag for 2 bucks more (MSRP $32) than the regular one. Now, if only he’d hire a cool designer to give its looks some zippity-do-da, he’d have a run-away best-seller on his company’s hands.

Going and keeping it

This little widget could be the stocking stuffer of the coming season on the cash-wrap counter. Basically, the Keep2Go by Blue Desert looks like a colored Lexan bottle that didn’t get blown up all the way — like a small test tube with a screw-on top. But it can attach to packs and boats, stuffed in jacket pockets, thrown in cars or tents, or hung around your neck on a cord and the solid top will keep the contents (money, ID, first-aid, cooking spices, etc.) dry and secure. If only lightly loaded, it will float too. Two sizes — 1 ounce and 2.5 ounces — both retail for $5. We’ll take 10. Extra benefit: The cap fits most regular store-bought water bottles so you can use it to carry those too.

Stepping out

And you think you knew DeFeet? Well, now you don’t. The sock company that made its name on thin, CoolMax running socks with cool designs has decided to expand its horizons. We were stopped in our tracks and had to look at the company name twice to make sure we weren’t seeing things. OK, one can argue that we don’t need more socks. Maybe true, but these are an interesting collection of trail and off-road socks, some with a CoolMax Cordura blend that feels soft and silky but is still tres durable. Some are seamless, some have pads in the right ankle-protection spots. The Shambala series (MSRP $10) is a new idea though: Called “women’s strength and wellness,” these are socks made from a SeaCell technology and wool, they are more meant for before and after exercise or doing activities that perhaps only require socks. We have worn a pair on cool mornings around the house or during Shivasana at the end of a yoga class. They are cozy without being bulky. The three colors (muted green, pink and blue) have corresponding Chinese symbols and, inside, the English word for what it means (alive, peace or tranquility). That’s a nice differentiating touch.

On Cloud 9

Phil Carey is back in the industry with Carey & Co, carrying an assortment of first aid, health, safety and hygiene products. One intriguing thing it had were the Cloud Cards — just one of those little accessories that’s fun, informational and just plain handy for outdoor enthusiasts of all types. Or there kids. The Cloud Cards (MSRP $5) are a set of 11 laminated, credit-card-sized cards with photos and facts about different cloud types, including characteristics and how they affect the weather. A clever resource for predicting imminent weather, as well as entertaining and educating kids of what’s brewing overhead. The company also offers another set of infographic cards for learning how to tie the most common knots used in the outdoors. On a different note, Carey & Co. was pushing chewable electrolyte tabs called Lyte N Go that are said to replace electrolytes. They are a mix of vitamins and minerals. 30 tabs, MSRP $30.

You’re on candid camera

We’re not sure about the need for the GoPro Camera; there’s something kind of voyeuristic about having to watch your friends and you all the time. Still, we recognize that it falls right into place with the MySpace and YouTube generation, and it could be kinda fun to have video or photos of yourself at times you don’t normally get them. We saw the first version at the show last summer, now GoPro has a mini digital version with tons of memory and can mount (hardware included) to helmets, wrists, motorsports vehicles, bikes and boat paddles (MSRP $140). Yes, it’s fully waterproof. One version has video capabilities also (MSRP $170). We bet this could make some Gen X and Yers quite happy at the holidays.

Do we need more socks?

Yes and no. Socks are like sports food bars and drinks; everybody has a different taste and preference. So now Keen has introduced a line of off-road socks. Ergonomic, body-mapped and seamless, they look nice enough, but what we really like is the tagline on the package: “Socks that fit you right (and left).” Basics: Four “off-road” and five “urbaneering” models for both men and women, MSRPs 16-$18.

Life is Crap

Featuring a logo that looks frighteningly like the Life is Good logo, we stopped to ask the Life is Crap company representatives if there were any kind of problems with infringement. OK, the stuff on the T-shirts was kinda funny and covered oopsies many of us could identify with but that logo…. All we got in response were short comments about it being a “parody” and a “spoof” and that “everybody laughs.” Granted, we laughed, but is Life is Good?

Got energy?

Luna and Clif Bar teased us into their booth by saying their new stuff this year wasn’t just a new flavor. Now how did they know we were thinking that? Clif had a great idea, one that made you want to whack your forward and say, DUH, why didn’t I think of that? HOT drinks for winter athletes formulated with performance needs. Hot Chocolate recovery drink powder with the right mix of carbs, protein and amino acids, and Hot Apple Cider powder with electrolytes. No longer do you have to drink COLD electrolyte mixes or (not saying we did this, of course) heat up your Gatorade yellow (why does everybody call them by COLOR not flavor?).

In addition, the women’s bar called Luna launched a women’s line of sports nutrition, including what it called women’s takes on Clif and sports standards: Luna Sport Moons are a sized-down and crescent-shaped version of Shot Bloks. One packet is about half the “energy” (calories) as Bloks in twice as many moons. MSRP $1.30 (Bloks in twice the quantity are $2. Hmm, why not just eat fewer or cut them in half? That’s the glass half-empty viewpoint. Glass half-full viewpoint says these fit in your hand nicely, slip down well, and come in fruity flavors that women may like more. Then there are the recovery smoothies with whey protein, and the electrolyte splash mixes with all that stuff, but lighter-tasting and lower in calories.

By day, by nite…

There was so much cool new little stuff that will make for great impulse, stocking-stuffer buys at NiteIze we don’t know where to start. First, the Figure9 Carabiner: this was one step beyond its Figure9 Rope Tightener it introduced in the winter. The Carabiner version has a biner-like clip across the open end so it will stay put on a fixed location as you tighten down a rope or tie. (MSRP $4-$7, at retail in October; the Figure9 Tightener is just at retail now, MSRP $2-$4). Both versions will have a million uses — and help those of us who may be knot-challenged. Also new was the SpotLit (MSRP $7), a small (about quarter-size in diameter) slightly bulbous, LED that glows or flashes in red or white. Replaceable batteries and a teeny biner clip-like top allow you to use it over and over and clip it to jackets, key chains or dog collars. This is a step away from the DropLit (also $7) that is just arriving at retail that is a nearly identical tiny bulbous LED but with loop attachment at top that allows it to turn sideways, which can be good or bad. Don’t forget the S-Biners in three sizes ($2-$3, sizes 2 inches to 3 ½ inches long) that are go-anywhere, million-uses-possible clips that are like a biner but with a clip on both ends so connect or hang items easily.

Go ahead sit on your sunglasses

Tough for the toughest uses, or so says Numa Tactical eyewear. Its frames are a bendable and crushable material that springs back to its original shape. In fact, the guy in the booth crushed them up in his hands then let them spring out again to prove his point. Of course, that’s without the lenses in them. Still, a frame that won’t crack if sat on, stepped on or tucked into the wrong pocket could save some bucks in the long run. MSRPs $100-$130. Get extra lenses for $30 on a couple of models.

Being seen is a good thing

Lights by companies like Petzl have always been based on the need to see. The company’s new Signal Light, however, is based on the need to BE seen, which is a vital point if you are out in the dark on a road or other area of traffic, dontcha think? The itty-bitty light has 180-degree visibility and two modes — steady or flashing — and can be seen a kilometer away. At only 0.60 ounces with its batteries, there’s no reason not to be safe. With an MSRP of $15 (also with a strap for head, pack or waist wear), they should be in ever pack, pocket or glove compartment.

Gorgeous wrappers

OK, maybe we were just hungry wandering the floor, but we have to point out ProBars new-ish packaging: All are now original oil paintings done for the company showing the full-color ingredients heaped together. The pictures themselves look good enough to eat in realistic renderings of fruits and nuts, and we’re told the packaging change has doubled the sales.

An X marks the spot

Sea to Summit’s new X Bowl and X Plate are smashing new designs. Literally. OK, the description should be collapsible but smash ’em down and they’ll be flat bowls or plates to carry more easily. Remember those old vitamin pill collapsible cups with concentric rings that got smaller and smaller so, when open and stacked, they were a real cup? That’s the patent-pending idea but better since this is a food-grade durable silicon nylon (in bright colors too). The base is more rigid (who wants his chili to be sagging down in the bowl, right?). When they are flat, you can use them for chopping too. And if you get bored, it’s a Frisbee. Coming is a collapsible cup. Well, that’s a no-brainer. MSRPs $15-$17.

Singing in the rain

Admittedly, we must be blind. We struck out to find the Shed Rain umbrella folks since we’d never seen them at the show before. Then we were told it was the company’s sixth year there. Go figure. In fact, it’s a third-generation-operated family business that’s been around for 60 years! We never thought much about taking umbrellas on pack trips but they do get outdoors. The lighter and sturdier the better, that’s for sure. Its flyweight entry in the WeatherTrek outdoor line has a fiberglass frame and siliconized ripstop nylon, in manual, weighs less than a half-pound (MSRP $30). The auto open-close is closer to 0.75 pound and has wind vents to keep it from the oh-no flip inside-out ($35).

Go tell it on the mountain

Inspired by a pack trip to Mount Whitney with Big City Mountaineers, Sky George, founder of outdoor jewelry maker Tarma Designs, has created the Mountain Series necklaces. Now in four styles, each one is a powerful die-cut silhouette of a well-known peak — Mount Rainier, Half Dome, Mount Whitney and Grand Teton. The peak’s name is also etched on one side of the lightweight rectangular-shaped pendant. The necklaces have a sandblasted finish on recycled stainless steel and hang on a 20-inch slate cord with adjustable button toggle. They will be available at retail Oct. 1. MSRP $25.

Hallalujah to the running gods

There’s little worse in the running audiophile’s world than having to fumble with an iPod with slippery, sweaty hands and fingers. Sure, there are all kinds of protective cases, but anytime you have to squint down at a belt or reach around to an armband, you’re fumbling. No more. When Timex’s Margaret Gregory gave us a run through of the new Timex i-Control watch, we were ready to shout, hallelujah to the running gods. Available in six colors, the i-Control watch is a version of the venerable Ironman line with most of the bells and whistles you’d expect — timers, alarms, countdown, Indiglo, water resistance, etc. The system relies on a wireless receiver you connect to your iPod’s dock connector and, with that, you can use the buttons on your watch to control the iPod’s volume, as well as skip tracks, and play and pause music wirelessly. That means you can keep your iPod out of sight and out of mind, but oh please don’t share places you store yours with us while running, OK? With an MSRP of $129, we expect these to become a hot item … even if they are sans heart rate monitor capability for now.

Get your kilts on

It was hard to miss the men in kilts as they walked the show in what they say is the latest in work and dress-wear for men. Seven-year-old Utilikilts sells four models of kilts — casual, survival, dressy and work-wear versions — and is only this year venturing into shows outside the renaissance sorta world. The most popular style is the Original at $131 retail. It comes in cotton/polyester and denim and sports two large cargo pockets, a single back pocket and topstitched pleats. Other models come in cotton twill, and heavy-duty 12-ounce cotton duck cloth at retail price points — some with even more pockets — that range from $164 to $256. They are all made in the Seattle area. They ain’t cheap but they do look cool.

Hand san for everybody

When we first say the pen-like spray container for the new hand-sanitizing spray by Atwater Carey in a great take-along size with a clip for securing to bags and pockets, we showed it to everybody. Then we passed it around the dinner table one evening (only six of us) and realized how quickly the liquid would disappear, rendering the pen useless. So we wandered back to the Wisconsin Pharmacal booth the next day to ask if there was a refill container to go with it. Nope, we were told, they are meant to be disposable. Disposable??!?! We said, aghast? This won’t last long at all and then we’re supposed to throw all this plastic away? It’s a great idea, a great container and with an MSRP of $2 they’d fly out the door, but we can’t begin to recommend them if they are supposed to be tossed when empty. Too bad.

Cookin’ it up

We have called out a European company Light My Fire in the past for outstanding design and functional products. In that vein, GSI Outdoor is one of the first U.S. companies that has introduced cookware that literally stopped our team in its tracks for, yes, design. Imagine that. The company’s new nFORM gourmet collection of nesting cook and tableware systems is truly innovative and visually impressive. Every time we happened past the booth, there was a flock of attendees inspecting it. Think colorful, recyclable, insulate polypropylene cups/bowls in slice-o’-pie shapes that nest inside non-stick aluminum pots and pans. Below the cups, stack in nesting plates, sip-it tops to the cups, and room for a stove and fuel canister to nest. With all that, you are now nearly in packing nirvana. Each bowl and plate is a different color, and a folding pot gripper handle is both secure and easy to remove – a rare combination indeed. Adding a heavy-duty welded-seam coated nylon stuff sack that can double as a wash basin or mini sink is, well, just too smart. MSRP $60 for the Backpacker and $100 for the Camper (a larger set intended for car camping).

Slip ’em on, say “ahhhhh”

We didn’t save one of the best little new things at the show for last on purpose, but its company name starts with Z so that’s just where it goes! We didn’t go looking for Zinetic Pocket Slippers because we didn’t figure we needed slippers, imagining beddie-bye fuzzy things. We stumbled across the booth by accident in THE very far back corner of the new part of the hall (the president said they were nearly falling out of the building they were so far back). We came to a dead stop, looked up at the company name, saw “slippers” and said, simply, “Wow.” The show was his product launch after working on the concept for nearly seven years. But really they aren’t slippers. They are an all-purpose, lightweight piece of footwear with a thin, non-slip outsole that you can roll up and pop in your pocket. Pocket shoes, if you will. Our minds raced: think yoga, travel, post-workout free-your-toes, driving, at the gym, around the pool, on boat decks, après climbing or snowsports, casual paddling, you name it. They have six sizes now from XS to XXL, but with the reception it got (MSRP $25), we suspect more will come.