Twice a year, the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City turns into a winter (or summer) wonderland of rugged shoes, packs, outerwear, and other outdoor gear. This is the Outdoor Retailer trade show, the world’s biggest outdoor retail show, where all the major American gear brands (and hundreds of newcomers and up-and-comers) gather to show off their wares for the near future. We sent the Wirecutter outdoors team to cover the 2017 Winter Market. We’ll be reviewing tons of the new items over the coming months, but to start, here are a few that we’re lusting after for real-world, personal use.
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The OR show is the CES of the outdoors. Companies debut groundbreaking technologies, explain their take on solutions to gear problems everyone has, and demonstrate the lighter/faster/comfier/cheaper/eco-friendlier upgrades to their old models. Startups launch their really great ideas. Industry leaders reflect on trends—such as Made in the USA products—and on the future of outdoor sports and recreation. It’s what counts for long-term market growth planning in an industry built on having fun. In the past, companies tackled themes like how to get more kids outside and how to increase diversity outdoors. This year’s show turned political when two influential industry executives called for the show, which generates an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending, to move to a state where the local politicians’ views on public lands and recreational access align better with those of many companies in the industry. The executives’ argument is that public lands are essential to providing their customers a place to use their products.
The items we feature here are as diverse as what was at the show (and as diverse as our interests), including backyard fun and games, lifestyle apparel and activewear, techy toys you can take outdoors, performance and camp food and beverage, and the technical sports gear you might expect. A lot of the stuff at the OR show could be passed over for being gimmicky, impractical, or barely changed from year to year. The following are the items we’d actually make a place for on our next trip, in a crowded gear closet, or at camp or in a cabin.
A new take on snowshoes that could really work
Crescent Moon Eva All-Foam Snowshoes, $160, expected release in fall 2017
Photo: Crescent Moon
It’s not often that a major piece of gear undergoes such an extreme makeover that it could change the industry and the sport. The Crescent Moon Eva All-Foam Snowshoes could do just that. Unlike traditional designs, which consist of myriad straps, buckles, and hinges, this model features a much more user-friendly unibody design that looks and feels more like a shoe than an intimidating piece of technical snow equipment. Putting on the snowshoe is simple: A Velcro hook-and-loop adjustable binding system makes it more like getting into a pair of kids’ sneakers. This approachable design should make people who have never been snowshoeing want to try it out.
The Eva All-Foam Snowshoes are made of two layers of dual-density EVA foam—the same type that you’ll find on most lightweight running shoes. Since foam is lighter than most metals, and the design uses it for everything but the binding, the Eva pair is designed for better front-to-back weight distribution than competing models. Foam also has two unexpected advantages over metal in snowshoes: It insulates your feet from the cold and spares your ears the ubiquitous snowshoe squeak. A third component, a traction plate made of a nylon-like material, bites into icy slopes with lugs reminiscent of snow tires. Furthermore, the Eva’s lack of moving parts should also make it more durable in the long run, since most snowshoes fail when their hinges, straps, or joints snap (hopefully not bringing your ankle along with them).
What struck me the most about the Eva All-Foam Snowshoes were the emotions that winter enthusiasts expressed about them—namely, rabid obsession. Just in the three days of the OR show, the Eva pair won multiple awards, including Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Show, Digital Trends’s Best of Show, Backpack Gear Test’s Creative Award, Gear Junkie’s Gear of the Show, and The Manual’s Gear of the Show. We have to test the snowshoes when they are released in fall 2017 to make sure the foam doesn’t sacrifice durability for lightness, but if the Eva All-Foams offer any improvement over what is currently out there, bring on the industry revolution.
For passing the time at the campsite or your living room
Outside Inside games for camp and cabin, available now, $10 and up
Outside Inside game designer Dave Smrtka is not demonstrating an exercise machine. This is a go-anywhere ping pong setup. Photo: Dan Koeppel
In an industry where nearly everyone has a great job—or at least one that allows you to get out and play, a lot—Dave Smrtka’s gig is as good as we’ve seen: He designs all of the items for GSI’s Outside Inside games line. (GSI is one of the biggest outdoor companies you’ve never heard of; it makes tons of basecamp essentials, like tableware and cooking gear.) Smrtka, who began his career making eclectic cribbage sets, including one shaped like a rainbow trout, describes what he does simply: “I design outdoor versions of indoor games, and indoor versions of outdoor games.” So if you’ve ever dreamed of playing horseshoes in your living room, Smrtka’s got a won’t-shatter-your-flatscreen foam version. Ping pong under the trees? Outside Inside’s set includes paddles and an expandable net that clamps to a picnic table. There’s some very cool innovation behind all these games, too: The company’s new-for-2017 Backpacker Bocce set, for example, uses balls made of a decelerating rubber, so they won’t roll too far away when you’re in the heat of competition. And if those games don’t appeal, Smrtka’s line includes more than 30 additional choices.
The backyard and forest double-decker instant treehouse
Tentsile T-Mini Double Hammock and Flite+ Tree Tent, available now, $150 to $350
outdoor retailer tradeshow three-point treehouses
outdoor retailer tradeshow
outdoor retailer tradeshow t-mini double hammock
Basically, this design offers a hybrid of a tent and a hammock in a triangle shape, securing at three points (yeah, you pretty much need a trio of trees—a possible drawback) so that it doesn’t swing back and forth the way a traditional hammock might. Though Tentsile has been around for about five years, its products have been fairly pricey, some over $1,000. In 2017, you can get in on the fun for a lot less money: The T-Mini Double Hammock is $150, and the covered Flite+ Tree Tent is $350. That gives you the sweet setup—a double-decker arrangement—for under $500.
The thinking person’s coffee creamer?
Know Brainer Thinker’s Instant coffee and creamer, available April 2017, $2 for 1 ounce
Coffee that helps you think? How did they think of this product before it existed? Photo: Know Brainer
Endurance athletes have been some of the loudest lovers of instant coffee—and of ketogenic diets. Available in 2017, Know Brainer Thinker’s Instant marries those two trends in one product. Thinker’s Instant is the premeasured and preblended single-serving sibling of the much-written-about Bulletproof Coffee. Each 1-ounce packet contains concentrated coffee, shelf-stable medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil from coconuts, and grass-fed ghee (clarified butter). Drinkers simply massage the packet, dump it into 8 ounces of hot water, and stir. On-the-go outdoor adventurers, travelers, and commuters will have the benefit of super morning joe without extra tools or a messy cleanup.
Launched in 2016, Know Brainer claims its ketogenic-friendly creamer alternative fuels brain and body without leaving cravings. So far, no hard data backs up the benefits of adding Know Brainer creamer to java. The company’s new product, Thinker’s Instant, won’t require mixing, though, as it blends the Know Brainer “creamer” and the coffee in the same packet. Thinker’s Instant will be available in original and French vanilla flavors, both with MCT and organic grass-fed butter. For those allergic to casein or lactose, a mocha flavor will be available in a casein- and lactose-free version.
How excited you might be about Know Brainer or its upcoming Thinker’s Instant depends on your enthusiasm for the ketogenic diet and Bulletproof Coffee in general—and there’s plenty of reason to doubt its proponents’ lofty claims. But regardless of the validity of the science behind the ketogenic diet—or whether this is just a fad—what’s important is that Know Brainer is delicious. It won the Anaheim Coffee Festival’s 2016 People’s Choice Award. And at $2 per packet, you can afford to try it for yourself.
A fashionable, warm, technically sound women’s coat
Cotopaxi Women’s Kusa Parka, available now, $200 (past season colors on sale for $100)
Insulation is a big deal in the outdoor world right now. As brands aim for sustainability and transparency in their supply chains, they’re throwing everything at the wall to see what will stick: At the OR show, we saw bison fill, llama fill, alpaca fill, traditional down, DWR-treated down, and duck feathers—and that list doesn’t even include the synthetic fibers that are also gaining traction. Basically, however, it all keeps you warm, and it all has varying degrees of sustainability.
But among the sea of similar-performing options, the Cotopaxi Women’s Kusa Parka stood out to us not only for its llama-fur-blend insulation but also for being one of the few insulation pieces that look like they’re styled for the real world. Big, puffy coats are an outerwear staple these days, but you can’t layer them under anything. This piece is thin, tailored, and without a hood, so I can use it to turn my existing coats into a layering system, exactly the way I would if I were going hiking. That means any spring coat I have can now be a winter coat, and any rain jacket I own can now have a liner. While my 850-fill down technical jacket has performance-oriented features that make it indispensable on a snowy mountain—such as a big hood and articulated arms—those same features make it much too bulky to fit under street wear.
The color palette is also worth mentioning. When it comes to color, little-known boutique brand Cotopaxi is currently the best player in the game, and that’s a huge deal. Year after year, major brands attempt to “figure out” what color to make clothing for people who find that the traditional male aesthetic doesn’t work. Usually they come up with purple. Although purple is good, that’s still a tiny box. For anyone who struggles with projecting their identity in a way that isn’t so narrowly stereotyped, this is a company to check out.