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Gear Guy

What will be on the catwalk at this year's Outdoor Retailer show?

Any idea what will be on the catwalk at Outdoor Retailer this year? As a diagnosed gear junkie, I need to know where my money's going next. Really, I'm getting a little tired of just plain ol' lightweight swag and breathable layers. Go on, give me a sneak preview of the future. Val Seattle, Washington

A: I have looked into the future and been blinded by the light of, well, at the risk of sounding bold, yet more lightweight gear. I hate to disappoint you. (What, you want heavier gear?) Things will become clearer once I take a whirlwind spin through the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City this week, where the stuff you'll be lusting after next spring will be introduced.

Alpine 60

But clearly, the big trend has been and will continue to be advances in materials. New fabrics, plastics, and metals are what have been driving the lightweight gear revolution by enabling designers to come up with gear that weighs maybe half what its predecessor weighed, yet still offering good durability. That, and re-thinking what a particular item should be. Case in point: The new generation of lightweight tents that use single-wall construction but dispense with the high cost of using waterproof-breathable fabrics, such as Mountain Hardwear's Waypoint 2 ($250; And, super-light packs that still have enough heft to support a load, such as MontBell's Alpine 60 ($179, and just three pounds 11 ounces for a pack that can carry enough for a long weekend;

At Outdoor Retailer, for instance, Sierra Designs is introducing tents that employ poles with variable diameters and pre-bent construction, allowing shelters that have big interior volumes without extra weight. And Osprey is introducing packs with heat-formed waist belts, allowing a buyer to custom fit a pack right in the store, before taking it home.

Of course, the challenge for any outdoor gear maker is coming up with something that offers a genuine improvement over what came before. Because, let's face it, you or I could walk through a time warp and into an REI store circa 1994 and leave with gear that really is pretty good. But that's the beauty of a competitive market—everyone in the outdoor industry needs an edge, and they're working hard to come up with one. And we consumers are the ones who benefit. Gear today is lighter, tougher—and cheaper—than it ever has been.

Check out Outside's Gear of the Year from the 2004 Buyer's Guide.

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Lead Photo: courtesy, MontBell