Earlier this week, Shawnté gave her initial impressions from Modern Hiker’s very first trip to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. Here are some of my favorite picks from the Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016.
Best Way to Stay Dry During El Niño: Columbia Sportswear OutDry Extreme
Hiking in the rain can be fun, but let’s face it – nobody likes hiking in the rain while getting soaked. Waterproof layers are abound, but they can be wrought with problems. A waterproof coating can scratch off (surprisingly easily), sometimes they’re not as breathable as you’d like, or maybe you’re just not a fan of that woosh-woosh-woosh sound when you walk around.
Enter Columbia’s OutDry Extreme, a surprisingly retro-looking rubber material that’s actually feather-light, extremely flexible, and comfortable. These might just be the rain coats of the future right here. Even better, the company is using the technology on its down jackets. In combination with a stitch-less construction, this means you can finally enjoy a down jacket in the rain or snow without having to worry about packing an extra waterproof layer to drape on top of yourself.
Best Hiking Boot for the Winter: Merrell Glacial Ice+
Merrell’s Capra line is already known for its sticky soles and solid construction – now the new Glacial Ice+ has Vibram’s new Arctic Grip outsole, which provides an absolutely stunning amount of friction on wet ice. Shawnté already sung the praises of the Arctic Grip in our first roundup and I can absolutely attest to their effectiveness. We were both able to walk up a sloped block of melting ice in those things without ANY trouble and they were a huge hit at the convention.
Only a few shoe manufacturers are getting these things at first, and Merrell is where you’ll go if you want to get some extra winter grip on your hiking boots.
Best Use of Leftovers: Cotopaxi
Relatively new to the scene, the team at Cotopaxi is built on doing things differently. Both their technical and lifestyle gear has a distinctive handmade quality while still being incredibly functional – and one of the reasons for that is that they give their factory workers an impressive degree of design autonomy. Their 18L Luzon daypacks, for instance, are not just tough and light, but they’re also all unique.
Each piece is assembled from repurposed and remnant materials from other outdoor manufacturers, and each sewer is given complete creative control over the piece they’re working on. The result is a totally unique piece that is only made once – hence the fun “limited edition 1 of 1” emblems inside each pack. Cotopaxi uses this on a variety of their pieces, meaning you can rest assured no one else on the trail is going to have a pack like yours.
Company Most Likely To Get Me To Enjoy Low Tops: ECCO
As some of you may know, I’m a little partial to old-school mid-height boots. Call me old-fashioned or call me ankle-roll paranoid, I guess. However, I was really digging the featherweight construction on some of the new ECCO trail runners and I’m actually, legitimately looking forward to getting some pairs dirty on early morning runs in Griffith Park soon. Keith already got a pair muddy up in Washington late last year and now they’re improving their fit and responsiveness even more for the new season.
Boot I’m Most Excited About Putting On My Feet: Vasque Inhaler II
So here’s the deal – I have a lot of hiking boots. Probably too many. OK, definitely too many. But the ones I always find my feet gravitating back toward is a beat-up, frayed pair of Vasque Breezes that I’ve been stomping trails with since 2007. Although they’re a bit on the heavier side (an update to the design did cut some bulk though), I just have yet to find a boot so perfectly suited to 95% of Southern California hiking conditions. The Inhaler II might just give them a run for their money, though – it’s got the same lightweight mesh that keeps my feet cool and dry, but it also has additional ventilation ports in the toe and heel to ensure some refreshing airflow with every step forward. I’m really, really looking forward to trying these ones out.
Best “Sometimes It’s the Little Things that Make a Big Difference” Company: UCO
Not everything at Outdoor Retailer needs to be a Space Race-level leap forward in science and technology – in fact, sometimes it’s those little differences and changes that can make a bigger impression. UCO‘s booth was jam packed with gear and equipment that made you go “why didn’t I think of that?!” and solved problems we all probably just assumed were an inescapable part of the outdoor experience. Camp lanterns too bulky and too low to the ground to provide ample light at the campsite? How about built-in loops to hang the lamps from inside tents and a bottom that fits snugly atop both beer cans and wine bottles? On a dispersed campsite and need to use a metal fire pit? How about a lightweight metal pit that folds up to the size of an iPad? Headlamps with analog-style switchers and leather straps that not only look sharp but feel – gasp – comfortable when you wear them? Sold, sold, and sold.
Biggest Surprise: Kora
Years ago, I remember the first time I felt a soft merino wool garment and my mind was kind of blown. Wool was supposed to be itchy and heavy, yet here were lightweight, silky-smooth shirts that not only looked great, but also performed well. Now, everyone’s got merino wool stuff and it’s all still pretty good – but it’s kind of lost that ‘wow’ factor, hasn’t it? Enter the fine folks at Kora, who ethically source their wool not from merino sheep, but from Himalayan yaks. The yaks live several thousand meters higher than the sheep, and their wool has all of the same properties as merino – but it’s lighter, warmer, and tougher. Weight-for-weight, Kora’s yak wool blend is 40% warmer, 66% more breathable, and 17% better at wicking and evaporating water than merino wool. Not only that, but the garments they’re producing are stylish and packed full of features that make them functional on the trail and fashion-forward enough for your post-trail brewpub trip, too. Definitely one to watch.
Best Way to Wake Up on the Way to the Trailhead: Espro Press
Look, you and I both know that no matter how psyched we are for our early morning trailhead time, if we’re not properly caffeinated, things can get dicey. Espro is well-known in the food industry but they’re just making their entry into the outdoor market with a snazzy travel press – which is basically an insulated travel mug and french press two-in-one that will brew up a solid cup of strong joe (or tea) and keep it nice and toasty for hours. The built-in press uses an ultra-fine double filter system to keep the grounds separated from the drink, meaning you don’t have to worry about extra bitterness or a crunchy cup of coffee.
Best Snack: Epic
There was no shortage of snack foods at Outdoor Retailer, but I was really impressed with Epic. Based out of Austin, Texas, Epic highlights grass-fed jerkies in a variety of forms, including the traditional pouches as well as backpack-friendly bars (also great for roasting on a campfire!). In addition, they also have jerky and trail mix pairings that’ll make your mouth water – like the “Uncured Bacon Lust” – a mix of hickory-smoked bacon bites with cashews, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and jalapeños. Everything is free of added sugar and just about everything is gluten-free, too.
I really hope they didn’t notice me coming back to their booth for samples so often.
Booth I Wanted to Live Inside: Pendleton
Apparently Shawnté and I both love us some well-crafted woolen products. She fell in love with the Woolrich PCT blanket while my eyes went wide at the Pendleton display. The company has a long history with the National Parks, and has designed iconic blankets for several park units – some designs going back a hundred years. With the Park Service’s Centennial this year, Pendleton is going full-bore with parks gear, placing each park’s pattern and color scheme on a variety of products – from wool blankets to apparel to mugs and beach towels and everything in between. They all look amazing and I kind of want them all.