The twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show, held in Salt Lake City, is an exhibition of to-be-released outdoors apparel and gear from manufacturers around the world. After six days in Utah last week -- demoing new gear, skiing powder, walking the trade show floor -- a few items began to surface as the best new products from the show. Here are my top picks, 20 innovative products I cite as "Best in Show" from the big exhibition in Salt Lake. --Stephen Regenold
1. Kid Helmet/Goggle Package -- Smith's Cosmos/Galaxy helmet and goggle package costs just $80. What you get for that is a youth ski helmet and goggles made to work together. Instead of an elastic strap on the back of the helmet, the system uses a magnet-and-buckle design to let the goggles snap into place. The Smith promise: "Even the youngest of rippers can now put on and adjust goggles by themselves."
2. Flat Tool -- Forged out of titanium and weighing an unnoticeable 19 grams, the MAKO Bike Tool is a simple and ultra-light solution for ad hoc bike repair on the road or singletrack trail. It has neoprene inserts that hold four driver bits. On the tool's body, there are slots and cut-outs to create metric box wrench sizes, spoke wrenches and other crucial tools to fix your bike.
3. Speed Climber Knife -- Take one of the top alpinists on the planet and give him free reign to design an ultimate knife for his job. That's the liberty Wenger gave to climber Ueli Steck, whose signature knife -- the Ueli Steck Special Edition Swiss Army Knife -- offers a large blade with bolt-head wrenches, titanium handles, and a file to hone an ice pick in the field.
4. Tarahumara Sandal Shoe -- GoLite Footwear's Tara Lite running shoe is said to have been inspired by the Tarahumara tribes of Mexico, a native group known for their distance running skills who wear minimal thong-style sandals. What makes the GoLite shoe unique is its flexible sole and a soft upper. The kicker: Inside the shoe, separating your big toe from the rest, there's an internal sandal post that keeps your foot from moving too much and helps the flexible shoe fit snug.
5. Backcountry Vest -- Made to replace a backpack, the Powder Guide Vest from The North Face has pockets, zippers, straps, and holsters to hold a litany of gear. It was built specifically for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. The vest includes a shovel slot, avalanche probe pockets, a media pocket, and straps for carrying skis or a snowboard on back.
6. Smock Jacket -- For its pure audacity of design, the Spektr Smock jacket from U.K.-based Montane gets a nod. Touted as the market's first zipper-free eVent garment, the Spektr Smock is made for ultra-light freaks in the sports of alpine climbing, cycling, and wilderness running. It weighs a scant 7.4 ounces and uses tiny elastic loops and closure hooks on front in lieu of a zipper.
7. KOR Camp Pad -- Tentmaker NEMO Equipment Inc. jumps into the ultra-light camp pad game with an innovative foam-filled inflatable. The Zor pad packs up super small because of its unique configuration of cored holes inside -- the foam is cut with horizontal and vertical channels to ditch weight and add insulating value. In size small, it weighs 10 ounces and is 48 inches long.
8. Uber Flashlight -- Touted to throw an 800+ lumen beam more than 1,000 feet into the night, the TK35 from Fenix offers huge illumination in a small package. It is made of metal and, at about 6 inches long, fits easily in the hand.
9. Back Armor -- A sandwiched foam and composite board back panel on Deuter's Descentor 22 pack can protect from blunt forces encountered in an avalanche or a mistimed huck. The stealthy ski pack also includes ski-attachment straps and pockets for avalanche probes and a shovel.
10. Lite Boot -- The LiteTrace boot from Timberland weighs just 12 ounces in a men's size nine. The secret to saving weight? The company made this boot with a "no-sew construction" upper that includes a tough, single-layer waterproof fabric that acts and feels like a beefed up GORE-TEX shell.
11. Head Light -- You can recharge the Light & Motion Solite 150's integrated li-ion battery via a USB port on a laptop computer. In use, it pumps out a 150-lumen beam to ignite a trail in virtual daylight more than 100 feet ahead.
12. iPhone in the Alpine -- This waterproof winter gloves from Outdoor Research, called the Ambit, features "TouchTec" leather made by Broleco Inc. that conducts body heat enough to enable the use of a touchscreen.
13. NeoShell -- Polartec used the OR show to unveil NeoShell, a waterproof-breathable hardshell fabric that competes head-to-head with GORE-TEX. It is touted as the “most breathable waterproof fabric on the market” because of its microscopically-porous membrane's "air permeable" nature.
14. Active Shell -- A new and lighter version of GORE-TEX, Active Shell is touted as a waterproof/windproof/breathable membrane that is half the weight of previous GORE-TEX fabrics. The secret? The company removed an adhesive layer to increase water vapor (sweat) transfer rates and up breathability.
15. Dry.Q -- Yes, another waterproof-breathable hardshell technology! Mountain Hardwear unveiled its proprietary Dry.Q hardshell technology at OR, and the resulting line of outerwear promises to be a force in 2011. To create the Dry.Q line, Mountain Hardwear partnered with the General Electric Company subsidiary that makes eVent, which is a highly-breathable hardshell fabric that's been on the market for years. But Dry.Q is different from the original eVent, and MH promises unique upgrades throughout the line.
16. Electric Jackets -- Columbia has ventured onto an interesting limb with its new line of electric jackets. The proposition: Electrically-heated jackets that cost a premium -- up to $1,200! -- and offer carbon-fiber strands for in-jacket heating elements instead of metal wire.
17. Arctic Activity -- Cold weather athletes take note: This jacket, the HyBridge Lite from Canada Goose, is a down puffy made for aerobic activities. It is warm all around but has movement-friendly Polartec Power Stretch fabric panels down the sides of the jacket and under the arms where you need to vent.
18. Dry Coco Water -- Big Tree Farms of Ashland, Ore., has found a way to crystallize coconut palm nectar. The result is a powdery drink mix that, when added to water, creates CocoHydro, a coconut water beverage with the taste and health advantages of regular coconut water, though with the added benefits of a smaller environmental footprint. (No more shipping heavy liquid and individually-packaged coconut water products around the globe.)
19. Short-Sleeve Jacket -- Athletics giant Adidas made its U.S. debut at the OR show this winter. One product that caught my eye, the women's Terrex Active Shell is a sporty outerwear piece with. . . short sleeves! Snap-on stretchy sleeves for warmth are included. But the waterproof hardshell fabric extends only just past the elbows.
20. Smartphone Connection -- Marketed to “turn smartphones into personal one-way satellite communicators," the SPOT Connect package includes a free downloadable app and a device that wirelessly connects with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Presto! You can now text, Facebook, or Twitter on your smartphone in deep wilderness and other areas where cell networks go dead.