Did you see anything amazing? That’s the question I’m always asked when I tell people I’ve been at the Outdoor Retailer show. And the truth is, generally speaking, no, I didn’t see anything amazing. Not because people aren’t trying to innovate, but because you simply can’t be putting out amazing stuff all the time. Most of the time, the industry moves forward with the usual small innovations and upgrades to existing products, making them better and better until they are ready for the next big leap forward.
As noted at the last Outdoor Retailer, the major trend in the industry right now is that companies continue to expand horizontally, which gives consumers more options, but also means more products that are similar and have fewer points of differentiation. This is OUR breathable insulation, this is OUR downturned slipper, OUR 9.2 rope. At some point this should, in theory, start a new race for innovation, as brand loyalty will only get you so far (maybe that’s far enough?). Time will tell.
As usual, I’ve tried to show off the most interesting products first, and work down from there. The winter show is always a little bit on the slow side as far as climbing is concerned, but there’s still some cool new stuff out there. I didn’t go everywhere or see everything, but here’s what did come across the radar:
Over at Black Diamond, the big news was their new Jet Force avalanche air bag system. That’s beyond the scope of this climbing report, but you should check it out, it was definitely one of the more innovative products at the show, using a jet-fan instead of compressed air to deploy the bag. On the climbing front, they have a new ice tool, the Fuel, which uses a single piece of hydroformed aluminum, to reduce weight and create optimum pick angle for this do-it-all tool. The grip is adjustable to allow for different sized gloves.
On the apparel side, Fall 14 is the launch of their down and hardshell lines, both in men’s and women’s styles. The Cold Forge Parka is their signature down jacket, using Primaloft Gold Insulation Down Blend, a mix of weather treated down and synthetic fibers, and a Pertex outer shell. The Front Point Shell is their most bomber hard shell, utilizing Gore Pro three layer fabric. With a host of well thought out features, this is a great looking jacket.
The Mammut Alyeska Realization pant takes the “harness in your pants” concept and makes it more practical. These are a three layer Gore-Tex shell pant for skiing and climbing, with the harness already built in. And the Neon crag lifestyle packs use a natural DWR treatment on the outer fabric, a sign of Mammut’s continued push to create more environmentally friendly products.
Petzl has a new crashpad, the Alto. In typical Petzl fashion, it’s tricked out to the nines. First up, the pad is zipped up on three sides, which means any gear you put in it cannot fall out. Then, when you unzip it, the cover then flips over to the side with straps, and seals them inside so they don’t get dirty. You then throw the pad down, straps up, which allows it to lie flatter. Also, several velcro straps make it easy to covert to a chair, which everyone does with crash pads anyway. There are two sizes, retail currently stands at $280 and $399, though they are working on bringing those down by the time the pads launch in the fall.
Patagonia is getting in on the breathable insulation game, with the NANO-Air. They are claiming it’s warmer than Polartec Alpha, the other breathable insulation on the market. Available with and without a hood, the four way stretch offers incredible mobility, and according to their nifty chart thingy, a whole lot of breathability. Excited to test this out, as I’ve tried some other breathable insulation and have been less than wowed.
With the horizontal expansion happening in many brands, it seems differentiation may take the form of how the products are produced. Patagonia already stands at the top in this regard, but they are making another big step in that by fall of 2014, all the down in their jackets will be 100% traceable to the point of origin. This will guarantee that all of their down is being ethically sourced. Lastly, the Fitz Roy parka is a more affordable version of their Encapsil down jacket, with 800 fill down and a retail of $449, versus $700 for the Encapsil, and is the warmest down jacket they make.
Scarpa is introducing the Booster S, a double strap slipper they are calling the most sensitive shoe in their collection. This is achieved through a Vibram sole that is 1/3 the length, giving you a very flexible mid sole. Synthetic uppers, 3.5 mm of XS Grip2 rubber and a new randing system rounds out the package for their most high end slipper yet for steep and technical terrain. Retail is $175. Also new here was the Mont Blanc GTX Pro, their latest do-it-all mountain boot, featuring the new Sock-Fit technology which is supposed to give a more glove like fit.
At CAMP, there was a new big wall harness designed with free climbing in mind, the Warden. A key feature of this is the two independent spots for attaching daisy chains, which should free up some of the clutter that typically happens around the belay loop on most big wall rigs. And speaking of daisy chains, they’ve designed one that eliminates any problems with cross clipping loops, a solution so simple and elegant it’s hard to imagine it’s just now coming to fruition. Also new here was the X-Light ice axe, a customizable and super light tool for mountaineering oriented pursuits.
Outdoor Research is also getting in the breathable insulation game with their new Superlayer Jacket, which utilizes Primaloft Silver Insulation Hi-Loft. Also, the new ALTIHeat Gloves yield 61 percent more power output than the competitors heated gloves, and offer twice as much heated surface area, meaning your hands get warm quicker, and stay that way longer. I’ve never owned heated gloves before, but after trying these out, I’m curious.
The Five Ten Hi Angle is the first affordable downturn shoe offering, built on the same last as the Team VXi, and retailing for only $120. With leather uppers and stiff support, it’s the perfect shoe for those who want something more aggressive but aren’t quite ready to step up to the Blackwings or Dragons. Also there’s a women’s lace up Rogue, $90. And the redesigned Camp 4, which looks incredibly burly and was designed to be a wall shoe that lasts.
Over at Rab, the changes were less noticeable and more functional, which is what we’d expect from the company who has always favored function over flash. First up, they’ve revamped the down they are using, it’s now got an exclusive Nikwax treatment that is flurocarbon free, with better retained wash value and dries faster. It’ll be the standard across the whole down line come fall. New to that line will be the Continuum Jacket, which looks like the Infinity that went on a weight (and bulk) loss diet. With 850 fill down and the Pertext Quantum GL fabric, it’s still plenty warm, with out all the extra mass. Retail will be $350.
Trango had some fun new stuff, including the React series, an upgrade from their popular Smooth carabiners and draws. With a lighter weight and lower price point, these are sure to please. One of the more exciting things I saw was the Rock Climber’s Training Manual book from Mike and Mark Anderson that is hopefully coming out at the beginning of March. They had a copy, and it’s unreal how much information is in this book. For those who aren’t familiar, these guys are at the forefront of climbing training, and this book promises to be a game changer.
Big Agnes had some new apparel offerings, including the 850 fill Meaden Jacket and the Dunkley Belay, a synthetic parka with their signature vertical baffles for better warmth transmission throughout the garment. The Shield 2 is a 4 season single wall mountaineering tent that uses Cocona fabric for better moisture transport that in theory will help with the dreaded condensation problems you get with single wall tents.
The Osprey Variant (37 or 52L) is one of the most popular climbing packs of all time, and this longtime favorite gets some upgrades for the fall. With new tool attachments and a removable lid, hipbelt and frame sheet, it’s a more customizable version of its former self, with all the same great features you know and love. Same goes for the Mutant (38/28L), with a new helmet carry system, removable lid and more breathable back panel.
The Sportiva Ice Fighter jacket and pants are 3 layer Gore-Tex pieces for winter climbing and skiing, and the new Trango jacket and pants use a
The Arc’teryx Cerium SL is a 7oz down jacket, the Alpha Comp Hoody is a hardshell/softshell hybrid that looks like the ultimate ice climbing rig for cold and dry conditions.proprietary soft shell material.
Gregory has two new summit packs, the Verte 15 and Verte 25. The feature a very slim profile, with a removable foam pad which gives it the ability to pack into its own lid, making it easier to take on adventures where you’ll need a smaller pack once you get to base camp.
Metolius has a ¾ crag glove and Crimp oil, designed to ease your aching tendons. They say it’s done well in Europe, should be interesting to hear what kind of feedback it gets here. Rub it in 3 times per day and you too will soon be ready for the small holds on To Bolt or Not to Be (or so they say.)
At Salewa, there’s an insulated version of the Capisco sandal that’s also waterproof. This looks perfect for winter cragging, stoked to check them out. And the popular Firetail gets a mid-top version.
More product image below.
As usual, a big thanks to all the folks who took the time to meet with us, and to Josh, Evan and Austin for letting me crash at their house, you guys rock!