Yes, Outdoor Retailer is packed with 515,000 square feet of cool stuff to covet, but what’s even better about OR is that you meet the Stanford PhDs, MIT scientists, corporate execs turned entrepreneurs, and world-class athletes behind all the new innovations that make you go higher, faster, stronger, and longer in the outdoors. If one could harness the brainpower, athleticism, and predilection toward fun that passes through OR, there would be world peace and no more global warming. Until then, here’s a preview of some of the most inspiring fall-winter 2011 innovations at the show, many of which I tested in the Wasatch mountains.
11. Bomber Hats: Perhaps a delayed tribute to Marge from Fargo, the bomber hat is back in a big way. From Woolrich’s famous Buffalo Check Wool Blend Trapper ($45; woolrich.com) to Tilly Endurable’s Aviator (tilley.com) to Chaos’ glitzy Wow ($27; chaoshats.com), you could chop wood or sip an après martini in Gstaad while wearing one of these. The beauty of the bomber is that it’s also blessedly warm.
10. Patagonia: In addition to re-engineering 60 percent of their technical line for fall-winter 2011-12, Patagonia’s “Common Threads” program will make it easy to return 100 percent of their products to either repair, recycle, or resell. The bottom-line message behind the program is to buy what you need and no more. But if you happen to need a new ski or snowboard performance shell, Patagonia’s Primo Down Jacket ($599; Patagonia.com) is made from 100 percent recycled Gore-Tex nylon. It’s the only company on the market using this highly coveted recycled fabric in a high-performance shell.
9. Light & Motion: Cross-country skiers and commuters—especially in dark places like Alaska—will rejoice with Light & Motion’s new multi-purpose Solite ($180; lightandmotion.com), a 150 lumen headlamp, flashlight, and bicycle helmet light in one that will run for three hours on high or 40 hours on low. The micro USB charge allows you to juice it up with your cell phone, which means it’s not the best bet for three weeks in the backcountry.
8. Thule: Leave it to Sweden to innovate a snow chain that you can put on your vehicle in seconds. The 13 different chain sizes in the K-Summit series ($450-$600; thule.com) are made out of alloyed steel with injection-molded plastic plates that work with a ratchet system in an easy three-step process. It’s so easy to secure the chain to your tires that you can do it with one hand. Even if you’re mechanically challenged like me, the color-coding system will help spell out the procedure.
7. Salomon: The few and proud Fell Cross racers will be stoked: Salomon has a brand-new shoe specifically deisgned for your mud-bog racing. The 263-gram Fell Cross S Lab ($160; salomon.com) is an ultralight, low-profile, hard-gripping shoe with a hydrophobic upper that can handle the worst off-road conditions. It must work—three of the top Fell Cross racers in the world are Salomon athletes. But if running through the bogs of Wales isn’t your thing, Salomon also has a shoe for almost any running niche you’re into, thanks to its team of world-class athletes who have helped design a shoe for just about any running condition, most of which will be available to consumers this fall.
6. Stanley: Keep the romance (or bromance) alive with Stanley’s Nineteen13 Two Cup Vacuum Bottle ($25; Stanley-pmi.com). The double-wall, stainless-steel insulated bottle will keep your Peet’s Ethiopian Super Natural coffee hot for six hours and has a dual cup lid that separates in two so you can share the liquid love, but not the germs.
5. Garmin: Big Brother has arrived in the form of Garmin’s new GTU 10 tracking system ($200, which includes one year of Standard Tracking via AT&T’s wireless network; garmin.com). If you want to keep closer tabs on your kids, your dog, your husband, your wife, or your bike, Garmin’s new lighter-sized 1.7-ounce device (which has a built-in lithium-ion battery), allows owners to create up to ten “geofences” or virtual boundaries. When the GTU 10—clipped to the person or thing you want to protect—enters or exits the fenced in-area, Garmin will send you an email or text notification. Track it from either Garmin’s website or download the app to your mobile device. Important legal note: The trackee has to be a willing party.
4. Arc’Teryx: Just when you thought a shell couldn’t get any lighter, Gore-Tex and Arc’Teryx step it up with the Beta FL Active Shell jacket (arcteryx.com) with a helmet-compatible hood. This ultralightweight minimalist shell is made from a thinner Gore-Tex membrane that’s not only 100 percent waterproof, but also has extreme breathability, and feels almost soft next to your skin. My favorite aspect: Instead of having to take the jacket off at the top to layer a puffy underneath, the jacket dissipated my perspiration so well that I didn’t have to strip down. Instead, I put the puffy on top.
3. Klymit: You’ll be pumped up—literally—wearing the women’s Kinetic Caldera vest ($225; klymit.com). Using flexible, airtight, breathable chambers filled with argon gas (which insulates three times better than dead air) the vest maintains thermal properties when wet, unlike down or other insulation. Plus, the amount of argon can be easily adjusted on the fly with a compact, portable “Kwik Shot” cannisters to regulate just how hot you want to be.
2. Dynafit: Reinhold Messner, Greg Hill, Andrew McLean, Glen Plake, Hillary O'Neill, and Kasha Rigby were all serendipitously milling about the Dynafit booth at the same time, checking out the lighter, faster, stronger boots, skis, and bindings that are redefining alpine touring. I spent two days testing the women’s Manaslu ($700; dynafit.com), a mid-fat (95 mm underfoot) advanced to intermediate freeride wood-core touring ski paired with the ultralight, 2.5 pound TLT5 ($750) speed-touring boot designed for “fitness skinning.” Of course skinning up was a dream with this lightweight combo, but I also skied inbounds all day on a vertical skating rink at Snowbird and actually had a blast cutting through the icy chatter because the two-buckle boot was shockingly stiff enough to drive the ski, which was nimble in the concrete bumps and edged as well as a much stiffer ski on the slick, hard snow.
1. Mountain Boy Sledworks: This Silverton, Colorado-based company’s Slalom Sled ($119; mountainboysleds.com) is such a masterpiece that you could hang it on the wall and call it art. But you’re going to have a lot more fun if you rip down the hill with this precision-steering molded plywood sled that sits on top of formed plastic runners. Take it to your next winter party and I guarantee you’re going to be giggling like a six-year-old even before the wine starts to flow.