“Fancy freak. The Wonk can’t wait to test this cutting-edge winter gear,” [@outsidemagazine]. So went a typical Twitter post from the floor of last week’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, the largest annual spectacle in Salt Lake City other than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert. Every January, almost 16,000 devoted gearheads, from retailers to buyers to manufacturers to media, converge at the downtown Salt Palace convention center to spread the gospel of the outdoor lifestyle.
Owned by Nielsen Business Media, this 28-year-old show brings together more than 1,000 of the biggest names in the outdoor industry, including The North Face, Patagonia, Black Diamond, and Duofold, to organizations like the Conservation Alliance (conservationalliance.com), a consortium of outdoor businesses that have come together to protect wild places.
On display at OR Winter Market are the most innovative and exciting winter products for 2010. If you’re a skier, mountaineer, ice climber, snowshoer, runner, hiker, or winter outdoor enthusiast, the Salt Palace in downtown SLC at the end of January is where you come to drool.
The best aspect of OR (other than the convergence of amazing people) is that you can see the technology first-hand. Take the Champion Supersuit, for example. At first glance, this bright red garment that Canadian mountaineer Jamie Clarke is going to use to summit Everest (climbwithus.com) looks like your average high-tech soft shell. But talk to Mike Abbott, the head of R&D for Hanesbrands, and you come to find that when isolated in a beaker, the Aspen Aerogel insulation is 98 percent air and looks like smoke.
How does it work? The magic nano-gel — official name: Zero-Loft Aerogel — is made of a silicate material that works as a highly-effective insulator by trapping air in a matrix of microscopic chambers. Champion touts it as four times as warm as goose down — but much thinner.
Beyond the gel, the Champion jacket has a waterproof/breathable polyester face fabric, a radiant layer to reflect back body heat, and an inner wicking layer. The insulation in the four-layer jacket will be only about three millimeters thick.
We tested the Zero-Loft Aerogel in the Duofold booth at OR with large cubes of dry ice in a sealed container. By putting one hand in a polyester microfiber mitt, and the other hand in an Aerogel mitt, the difference was immediately noticeable. Cold seeped through the polyester mitt within a few seconds. The Aerogel mitt buffered the cold.
In addition to the Champion Supersuit, here are a few other easy-to-love items we found at OR Winter Market:
The Gear Junkie (Stephen Regenold):
1. Cricket Trailer: Like an Airstream Trailer for the adventure set, the Cricket Trailer is a lightweight camper tow-able by almost any automobile. Station wagons, minivans, and even some four-cylinder cars can hook up and haul the 15-foot-long pod. Inside, a 6-foot-2-inch-high ceiling, a bed, table, fridge, sink, and optional toilet provide a cozy living space for a small family on the road.
2. Elephant Foot Sleeping Bag: An odd half-piece from Brooks Range, the Elephant Foot Sleeping Bag is stuffed with goose down and comes equipped with suspenders built in. It pulls up only waist-high when in use, necessitating a warm down jacket on top for a bearable night’s bivy. But the result of the pared-down design is a bag that packs tiny and weighs just 1 pound.
3. National Geographic World Atlas: This iPhone application costs just $1.99 on iTunes. But for that price you get the ability to virtually explore the globe on a small screen. There are satellite photos, ocean maps, and GPS-based tools. A unique option, the “antique” view, offers old-world-style maps viewable on a 21rst century device.
4. Ironman Watch: The name may be a mouthful. But the Ironman Global Trainer Bodylink System from Timex provides a GPS-enabled training experience heretofore unavailable on such a small face. The watch has a four-part screen to display all the metrics a fitness freak may need.
5. Headlamp Battery Charge: Bringing computer control to the category of the headlamp, Petzl’s CORE System is a rechargeable battery compatible with many of the company’s popular TIKKA and ZIPKA lights. Plug it into a USB computer port to charge. The ion-polymer battery can store enough power for 120 hours of operation.
Outside’s Gear Girl (Stephanie Pearson):
1. Victorinox Presentation Master: It looks like a Swiss Army Knife, but hidden in that array of sharp tools is a high-performance portable USB Flashdrive data storage device that stores up to 32GB of your most important documents. With secure data encryption technology that allows you to protect files accessed only by a biometric fingerprint sensor, the State Department would be happy storing top-secret data here. (Check website for pricing; Swissarmy.com)
2. Brunton Flip N’ Drip Coffee Maker: Fire up your camp stove, heat the water in the stainless-steel carafe, twist on the reusable mesh coffee-filter and drinking mug, flip the carafe upside down, wait a few minutes, twist off the insulated mug and, ahhhhhhh….enjoy. ($45; Brunton.com)
3. Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated bottle: Want to keep the buzz alive into the afternoon? Klean Kanteen’s latest hand-made, food-grade stainless steel bottle will keep your beverage hot for up to six hours and cold for 24 hours. Margarita anyone? Comes in 12-, 16-, and 20-ounce sizes. ($23 to $28) Kleankanteen.com
4. Mountain Hardwear Pasilla glove: With an outer laminate called OutDry, thought up by those innovative Italians, this glove’s outer skin was created by a lamination process that bonds a waterproof/breathable membrane directly to the glove’s shell. The end result: moisture and wind are blocked, providing 100 percent waterproof protection. Warm hands make me a happy skier. ($80; Mountainhardwear.com)
5. Teva Illum: You’ll never trip again. This sandal is equipped with a detachable, LED “Pedlamp” that illuminates your path and is waterproof up to three feet for 30 minutes. Ideal for dawn patrol. ($30 to $60; teva.com)