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Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016: A Year of Innovation in Gear

Allgood and I test out the new Vibram Arctic Grip shoes on a block of ice.
Allgood and I test out the new Vibram Arctic Grip shoes on a block of ice.

It’s the time of year when the outdoor industry showcases their newest innovations in gear and give retailers a chance to see (and buy) what is getting rolled out in 2017. In 2015, I wrote about gear I saw at Winter Outdoor Retailer that is just hitting the markets now. The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City is attracts between 20,000 and 40,000 people involved in the outdoor industry. But it’s a closed show–so you can’t get in unless you’re buying or selling gear, are assigned a story from a major news outlet, or come in with a 501c3 non-profit.

Winter 2016 saw big innovations with gear that allows you to walk On Ice, Flameless stoves, Oatless Oatmeal, New Altra Lone Peaks, and Yak Wool Baselayers. I’ll be writing more about trends in the show (including fashion trends, booth babes, the happy hour scene, and attendance) in my next write-up. For now–this is for you, gearheads!

Best of Show: Vibram Arctic Grip

No joke. You can walk on ice with the new Vibram Arctic grip rubber. In the photos and video above, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and I are wearing one shoe with a normal Vibram sole, and one with an Arctic Grip sole.

The normal sole slips and slides on ice. The Arctic grip actually allows you to walk. It’s a Winter OR Miracle and among the most innovative technologies I’ve seen at OR in years. This could have a HUGE impact on the backpacking industry…if only we are willing to wait.

Timberland won the bid for exclusive use of the Vibram Arctic Grip until 2017. Here’s to patiently waiting for when Altra, Brooks, or other companies that thru-hikers typically wear can start sole-ing up their shoes with it.

Upgraded models of Altras
Upgraded models of Altras

Sneak Peak at the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 and Altra Lone Peak Mid

This is a great year for Altra to be rolling out a mid-ankle height shoe. With the snow levels in the Cascades, Sierras, and Rockies slowly approaching 2011 levels, hikers are going to want their same beloved thru-hiking shoe, just more of it. Soon, many hikers’ favorite shoe model, the Lone Peak, will be available in mid height. It should be available in Neoshell (“Better Than Waterproof”—check out my review here), but may also be available in normal breathable mesh for the hikers out there who prefer a mid even when not hiking in snow.

The Neoshell Lone Peak is getting a make over. I got a sneak peak at the new women’s shoe, looking a lot more stylish than the old model and available in new colors.

The Lone Peak 3.0 and Olympus 3.0 are coming out in new colors and have a sleeker look that (sacrilegiously) reminds me of the old Brooks Cascadia design. I’m excited to be styling in these new sportier looks on the trail this summer.

GU has a Honey Stinger-like Waffle

GU, the original energy gel company, is coming out with solid food. Tried it on a hike up Mt. Diablo last week. Side by side with a Honey Stinger waffle, my GU waffle (Mocha flavored) looks and seems the exactly the same as a Honey Stinger waffle. The only difference as far as I can tell it is slightly sweeter (the ingredients weren’t on the top secret packaging they gave me), a little goo-eyer (no pun intended), and less cardboardy. But the differences are so minor (perhaps having to do more with flavor differences) that I would be surprised if they make them out of the same factory. The big difference for consumers will be the price point. It releases this Spring.

One Giant GU to Rule Them All

GU finally got the idea to make a Thru-Hiker Size packet of energy gel! Each packet holds the equivalent of 15 gels and is resealable and doesn’t require refrigeration (in fact, I was told it would last opened and resealed for 6 months). This makes it the perfect way for a thru-hiker to consume GU’s—not those silly little packets that don’t deliver nearly enough calories and create a lot of sticky trash you have to pack out. Now, insert spout into mouth and get your 1,500 calories in one squirt.

They’re also rolling out these smaller refillable tubes. Normal people will be able to squirt a GU or two’s worth of gel from their big reservoir into the tube. I’m planning on filling mine with cream cheese.

Oatless Oatmeal

Wildway Grain Free Hot Cereal and Granola debuted at Winter OR offering an oatless oatmeal. We’re talking a paleo-friendly oatmeal alternative that is grain free. I tried some and it was coconut, nutty, and seemed like it would be really filling and stick to your bones while backpacking. I loved the flavor. As companies are increasingly rolling out heartier breakfast porridges for backpacking and gluten free backpackers are more common that ever, it’s great timing to be releasing this kind of product.

Unfortunately, their website doesn’t appear to have cooking instructions (Can I just add hot water? How about cold water and soak?) or ingredient lists. I have an email into them to find out more about this cool new product.

Honey Stinger has GLUTEN free waffles

I tried this side by side with the Honey Stinger waffle on a hike, and actually prefer the gluten free! (?!???) The gluten free comes in this delicious Organic Maple flavor that may have had something do to with it (I’m a maple fanatic), but the Gluten Free option was AWESOME. Best yet, it was less crumbly, easier to break off, and easier to chew than the usual glutinous waffle. Although a traditional Wheat Honey Stinger waffle and the Gluten free both weigh 1 oz according to the package, the Gluten free one feels lighter—in fact, it is 140 calories vs. the traditional waffle’s 160 calories. It also has 6g of fat vs. the 7g in a traditional waffle and 10g of sugar vs. the traditional waffle’s 14 g. Either way, at the end of my hike, one of the waffles was downed a lot quicker than the other. And it wasn’t the one I expected.

I was seriously left wishing I had taken more samples from the Honey Stinger booth.

Sprouted *Watermelon* Seeds????

When I first saw GoRaw’s sprouted watermelon seeds, I was skeptical. I thought this was a new craze that’s actually a way to take a non-edible food and turn it into a fad. But I tried de-shelled, sprouted, and salted watermelon seeds, and they’re actually really good—like better than sunflower seed or pumpkin seed good. They’re nutty, and moist, and fresh tasting. GoRaw debuted at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016, and came armedwith new packaging for a more outdoorsy market (it wasn’t until I looked on Amazon and saw their old packaging that I realized I’ve seen this company before in hippie natural food stores).

The cooking pot on the bottom, with the two parts of the tumbler up top (not showing the lid of the tumbler)
The cooking pot on the bottom, with the two parts of the tumbler up top (not showing the lid of the tumbler)

Flameless stove????

With fire restrictions in effect throughout California and the rest of the west up in flames each summer, there is a real market for flameless stove units. The Hydroheat Flameless Cooking System has you put a little bit of water and a heat pouch (essentially, your fuel) into an insulated tumbler. Then you put the water you want to eat in another cup, submerge it into the tumbler, and 10 minutes later, you have boiling water.

The “cooking” tumbler
The “cooking” tumbler

What intrigued me about this system for ultralight hikers is that the heat pouch weighs 0.5 oz—pretty comparable to other ultralight fuel systems like Esbit. Each heat pouch lasts 20 minutes on the smaller models, and up to an hour on the larger models—meaning that you get a lot more hot water (it seems like multi-person ability) than you would out of comparable fuels of the same weight. On top of that (I’d need to check with the folks at Leave No Trace first) but the company claims that the fuel byproduct is calcium carbonate, so can be buried and left behind without packing out (they also said the pouch’s paper could be left in nature, which I highly disagree with.)

So, essentially, if this flameless system were modified to not require the heavy stock tumbler or pot, you’d be operating a flameless system with little weight penalty. Now, I’m not sure if you could get the system to work without their stock equipment (which is better suited for campers and hunters than backpackers), but if you could, this could be a pretty revolutionary new cooking system for backpackers. I’m keeping my eyes peeled to see how this product will evolve over time.

More flameless cooking?

Also offering an innovative method of flameless cooking, OMeals (who I reported about in the Summer 2015 Outdoor Retailer review) has stepped up its game and gone through rebranding for a strong showing at Winter OR.

Their flameless cooking system, which debuted at Summer 2015, has you put a heating pouch (essentially, your fuel) inside of a mylar bag along with a small amount of liquid. Then you put a pouch of their meals (Fully cooked, MRE or Tasty Bite style) into the mylar bag, close the mylar bag, and let the meal cook itself.

It’s a similar system to the Hydroheat set up, except that it doesn’t require the heavy cookware. Everything is self-contained in your backpacking food pouch. You just choose whatever flavor you want and it includes the heating system inside. No stove or cookware necessary. The downside is that it is designed to work with their food, which comes in packets fully hydrated.

The sales lady told me point-blank that it isn’t designed for thru-hikers and is too heavy. But I beg to disagree.

Why? Because she also told me that instead of using water to activate the heat pouch, you can use PEE! This could be a desert alternative set up. If you think you’re going to run out of water but still want hot food and want to have a flameless stove, this could be what you take. I can see some PCT hikers opting for this system.

In fact, I kind of wish I had a system like this for my last month southbounding the CDT in New Mexico in November. It was so cold at night, I definitely wanted hot food, but water was scarce as the springs had dried up. The heavier food would’ve been a disadvantage, but knowing that regardless of whether I found that spring, I could still have a hot meal, might have been a real comfort.

I never got a chance to ask their competitor across the row if pee can activate their heating system (which boils water for your own dehydrated food instead of requiring their dehydrated food). But if you could add pee, that also adds some potentially real game changing options to the desert hiking set up.

NUUN Energy and a Sad Update From NUUN

Nuun Energy is the same electrolyte fizzy tabs that we love…but with more caffeine. Winter OR saw the debut of a new mango flavor.

Also—some sad news for NUUN lovers: I learned at Winter OR that my favorite NUUN flavor, Kona Cola (you know, the Alka Seltzer tabs that make your backcountry water taste like a Coke) are GETTING DISCONTINUED! Stock up now, and be sure to write NUUN and tell them not to discontinue their best flavor!

Never Tie Your Shoes Again

Hate tying your shoes? Do your shoes always seem to become untied? Zubuts offers a magnetic shoe closure system that is attachable and reusable with any shoe. I tried them out and they don’t fall apart when walking or pretty much anytime except when you want them to. Because they’re metal magnets and lace into your shoes, you won’t lose them and they won’t break (unlike other non-lacing closure systems like BOAs) That being said, they weigh in at 1 oz at the pair, so for those of us trying to keep extra weight off our feet, Zubits may still be too heavy.

New European Down-Like Synthetic Fill

European company Save the Duck premiered at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016 with a new kind of proprietary synthetic lofting system. The material seems very soft and puffy, unlike the usual plasticky feel of synthetic-fills. It’s won all sorts of awards in Europe (including from PETA), but is just rolling out its line of mostly fashion-oriented clothing in the US. While the stuff looks heavy to wear backpacking, there’s a huge potential for a softer, puffy synthetic to do cool things for the outdoor industry. I’m staying tuned to see if Save the Duck won’t lease out its technology to other companies who can apply it in lighter weight gear scenarios.

Yakwool Baselayers

Yaks live at lower elevations than merino sheep, which could provide the market in a lighter wool that breathes better. Kora, a Yakwool baselayer company, premiered at Outdoor Retailer 2016, with a series of designs. I can’t tell if it’s a gimmick or not, and couldn’t get much more info out of the sales lady, who was a booth babe, instead of a designer or person knowledgeable about the product.

A little research shows that this first-ever baselayer made of Yakwool appears to at least be as good as merino wool. TGO does a nice review of it here.

Wheat, Dairy, and Egg Free Energy Cookies

Those looking for a wheat free, dairy free, egg free cookie need look no further. These cookies taste similar to bars, but there is something very comforting about the circular shape. Designed for long distance cyclists, the Kakookies are about 230 calories and have a 6 month shelf life. As someone always on the look out for a new backpacking food, this was a fun find.

 

 

 

 

 

Better Hiking Underwear

Ex-Officio, long time maker of the

especially their smell and lack of style, but I never seem to replace them because there isn’t much better out there. Now, Ex-Officio has upgraded their design  and switched to a softer fabric, the Sport Mesh. I haven’t tested them yet, so can’t testify to the smell or performing properties, but they sure look a lot nicer and feel a lot nicer than the old model. Available in men’s and women’s models.

 

Resizing Compete Energy Bites

Those who attended the ALDHA-W Gathering 2015 may remember a certain chocolate flavored Energy Chew that delivers a big caffeinated punch (Compete Energy Bites was a big sponsor of the event…leading to high energy event). Realizing that a 6 pack of Energy Bites is a lot to chew (lol), they’ve resized their bites into manageable two packs, making it way easier for people to grab and go with. The flavor profile has been changed with a chocolate-y flavor. And of course, the packaging has been updated from the 1980s.

Ultra Runner U-Go Bars

Although they didn’t have a booth, I stumbled across the owner of UGo Bars, a new hand-crafted, vegan, non-GMO, gluten free bar. On the outside, they look a lot like Lara Bars, but actually have a much better flavor and feel…fresher and nuttier.

Although Outdoor Retailer 2016 seemed to drag on forever and have a low attendance, after doing this write-up, I realize I’ve seen a lot of innovative things that could potentially change the market for good.

New Flavors of Good to Go

The new kid on the dehydrated backpacking food block, Good to Go offers 4 star chef quality meals in the backcountry. I wrote a review of their meals here over a backpacking trip to the Sand Dunes, and am stoked about the new flavors. (Good to Go’s booth was conveniently located across the aisle from a CDTC happy hour, and I must have eaten at least 10 of their samples—Chef Jennifer even remembered my face and told me to stay way from the peanut-y ones!).

The new flavors are an Indian Vegetable Korma and a Pad Thai. The Pad Thai, unfortunately, has peanuts, but maybe they’ll decide to keep the peanut packet separate and then I will chow down. Good to Go partners with Jetboil and because of their dehydration process, it takes a little bit longer to rehydrate their foods using the soak method, especially at altitude.

 

Stay tuned for an OR follow-up piece!

It was a great OR full of lots of non-gear events, including huge donations to trail organizations, multiple happy hours celebrating the new accomplishments of hikers, and big trend changes in the industry. Thanks for reading and please leave any thoughts in the comments section.

 

A Thru-Hiker’s Review of the Walk in the Woods Movie

A Walk in the Woods poster from the first public screening of the movie at <a href="http://www.eathomas.com/2015/08/11/orsummer2015gear/">Outdoor Retailer 2015</a>
A Walk in the Woods poster from the first public screening of the movie at Outdoor Retailer 2015

15 years ago, Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods became the biggest story about (ish) long distance hiking the publishing world has seen.

10 years ago, Robert Redford dreamed of turning the book into a movie.

Now, A Walk in the Woods will come out in movie theaters on September 2nd and hiking enthusiasts everywhere are wondering “Should I go see this?” As one of the lucky few who got to see the first public screening of AWITW at Outdoor Retailer, here are a few thoughts on the movie (minimal spoilers ahead):

AWITW as a movie is something like the masculine antithesis to Wild. The movie is definitely a comedy—in some cases coming across as slapstick as a Laurel and Hardy skit. It’s not often we get humor like that in movies these days and it speaks well to the sheer joy and silliness of hiking. Sure, AWITW covers some heavy topics: getting older, death, alcoholism, loneliness, place, belonging, the very meaning of life—but in a very masculine way, it never comes across as heavy handed and remains lighthearted throughout the film.

The movie doesn’t stick closely to the book, but in some cases, that’s a good thing. Before anything was even projected on the screen, hecklers (some sitting very close to me…) starting yelling “I stopped reading when Bryson stopped hiking!” The movie only shows Bryson hiking (in addition to the bit of prep work he did beforehand).

The Appalachian Trail’s Conservancy influence on the directors and the way hikers are portrayed is strongly evident throughout the film. The ATC is fully aware how the film may impact use numbers on trail—in fact ATC Executive Director and CEO Ron Tipton gave a speech beforehand imploring outdoor gear companies (representatives of which made up the audience) to donate money with largesse to combat post AWITW trail damage.

Some of the ways the ATC’s hand showed through the film included the constant and frequent sight of a potty trowel on the screen. I think it’s wonderful that the idea of responsibly taking care of solid waste can be normalized on the big screen. However, the much more impact-creating and highly illegal driving of an ATV cruising right on the AT was also in the movie. Hopefully, that won’t be normalized, too.

Certainly some events in the AWITW never occurred in the book—and one long scene in particular occurs in a place that I don’t even believe is anywhere on the AT (but what do I know? I’ve only hiked it twice). Purists who are going to be bothered this and by the fact that he doesn’t finish the trail are better spending their time elsewhere. Nonetheless, I especially enjoyed how some of Bryson’s commentary of ecology, conservation, and natural history was preserved in the movie—a difficult feat for any director.

The highlight of the movie was really the quality of the acting (the cast includes four Academy Award winner/nominees). Nick Nolte was a wonderful Katz, admittedly different than I imagined him, and yet in some ways, a stronger and more complex character because of it. I was stoked that one of my favorite actors, Emma Thompson, plays Bryson’s wife. The rest of the actors have small roles, many incredibly memorable. Nick Offerman’s short role as an REI employee (I believe the character is named “Dave” in the book) left the audience wanting more. Kristin Schaal plays an annoying thru-hiker with the convincing-ness of nails on chalkboard. I wanted to start hiking faster away from her. And Mary Steenburgen as a hotel owner was a welcome familiar face.

AWITW is a feel good movie. It’s not a movie that may attract many people outside of outdoor enthusiasts, Bryson fans, and Redford swooners, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Even my hiking friends who aren’t shy to say the AWITW book makes them angry were pleasantly surprised. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable watching Wild with my family, but very much look forward to taking my folks to see A Walk in the Woods. So if you’re not hiking this weekend, now you’ve got something to do.

Check out more at http://www.walkinthewoodsmovie.com/

New Energy Bars, bites, and chews from Outdoor Retailer

The South African racebar debuted in the US at Outdoor Retailer 2015
The South African racebar debuted in the US at Outdoor Retailer 2015

The Outdoor Retailer trade show is the place to go when a new food items wants to show itself off to the outdoor market. Foods at OR recently trended towards all natural, low sugar, and low grain/gluten free. While in the past, bars may have focused more on flavor, many bars at OR this season centered on balancing fats-carbs-proteins for optimal performance. Here are a few of the bars that stuck out:

Energy Bars Made with Crickets

Chapul bars come in fun flavors and are made of cricket protein
Chapul bars come in fun flavors and are made of cricket protein

Chapul energy bars feature a special ingredient that has 2x as much protein than beef, 15% more iron than spinach, and as much Vitamin B12 as salmon. The secret ingredient? Crickets. Chapul bars (as seen on the entrepreneurial reality TV Show Shark Tank) say that cricket protein is good for the environment and good for humans. 10 pounds of feed can yield 1 lb of beef (40% of which is edible) or 8 pounds of crickets (80% of which is edible). Crickets require less water to raise and emit fewer greenhouse gases than other livestock or even soy, corn, or rice.

An employee for Chapul holds up a container of cricket flour
An employee for Chapul holds up a container of cricket flour

Chapul’s crickets are ground into powdered protein that looks the same as whey or soy protein (both of which are common ingredients in bars). As a result, the bar looks and tastes the same as normal bars—you won’t find any legs or antennas in these bars. Chapul comes in four flavors: Aztec Bar (dark chocolate, coffee, and cayenne), Chaco Bar (Peanut Butter & Chocolate), the Thai Bar (Coconut, Ginger, and Lime), or my favorite and the newest bar, the Matcha bar (green tea, goji, and nori).

Four points bars are designed to maximize macronutrient balance
Four points bars are designed to maximize macronutrient balance

Four Points energy bars aims to create a balanced nutrition ratio with optimized glycemic load made of entirely raw ingredients. These fig and plum based bars are made in Colorado by outdoor athletes for outdoor athletes. The bar also have other superfoods like hemp seeds, flax seeds, and coconut, as well as most of the bars have whey protein isolate. Among the better tasting bars we tried, Four Points bar has a shelf life of 4 months and come in around 250 calories per 2.5 oz. Fourpoints bars come in Apple Cinnamon, Banana Bread, Mountain Mocha, Dark Chocolate Coconut, and PB&J.

racefood energy bars were a new energy bar from South Africa that debuted at this Summer OR. South Africa is well known for being home to a high number of endurance athletes and adventurers—and this bar was created with the feedback of South African athletes from a variety of outdoor activities and sports. The bar has a nougat base and uses simple and complex carbs to release energy without a spike. There are two varieties: Farbar (for endurance) and Fastbar (for instant energy). Racefood bars come in Cranberry & Almond and Cacao, Cashew, & Coconut.

Picky Bars are based in Bend, OR and pride themselves on being a balance between performance bars and real food bars. They have a 60% carb : 20% fat : 15% protein ratio and 200 calories per 45 g bar (note that some nutritionists believe that thru-hikers should have a ratio higher in fat than normal athletes). Featuring hip art, fun-product names (like Cookie Doughpness, Smooth Caffeinator, and Blueberry Boomdizzle), and sponsoring big name athletes, these trendy looking bars are available in run/bike stores and REIs and are going to blow up on the market soon. They feature a variety of flavors, my favorite being the All-In Almond.

Simple Squares: Sharing a booth with super supporter of the long trails, Salazon Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, Simple Squares showed its new line of 8 ingredient energy bars. Labeled USDA organic and gluten free, these bars are compact and pack in 230 calories in 1.6 oz. These squares had a great flavor and because they were free of the fruit base of many bars, seemed like they would be easy to digest on trail. What I liked the most about these squares were the funky flavors—including some sweet-and-savory bars: Chili pep, Honey Nut Sage, Rosemary, and Cinna-Clove.

Go Chia superfood bites: Totally different than anything else on the market, Go Chia created crispy bite-sized almost cracker-like snacks. The bites have a satisfying crunch that is quinoa and chia seed based and aren’t sweet, but mostly just feel very light and clean (despite having a very respectable 120 calories per oz). Of all the food from OR, they are the ones I wanted to eat the most while writing this article in the media room. GoChia bites are available in Chocolate Chunk or Cherry Chunk.

18 Rabbits: It seemed almost rare to have a traditional grain-based granola bar at the Outdoor Retailer show what with all the Paleo foods popping up everywhere. Nonetheless, 18 Rabbits had a small booth out in the Pavilions and honestly, had probably the tastiest bar I tried at the whole show, which was a granola bar Cherry Dark Chocolate and Almond bar. It was super coconutty and soft and sweet, although it has no wheat or refined sugars.

Skratch Although energy chew (aka gummies) aren’t quite energy bars, they can often operate a bit like one, and are usually great ways to deliver sugar to your system quickly before you bonk. Skratch made a name for themselves in the drink mix sector helping people prevent bonking by hydrating, and they are upping their game with Skratch Fruit Drops, vegan based jellies with real fruit powder. Unlike other similar items on the market, these drops do not have wax and are lightly coated in sugar. The flavor is certainly more subtle, which probably means easier to digest while exerting yourself. Considering how many gummies I tend to eat on trail, it’s surprising my stomach doesn’t have a big ball of wax inside. Available in raspberry and orange.

 

Setton Farms Pistachio bites: The pistachio is a totally under utilized nut in the energy bar industry. As a result, I found the flavor and texture on this bar to be different and refreshing. Setton farms Pistachio bites use all US grown nuts. The mini bite is 20g and has 110 calories, making it a quick pick me up. The best part is the cartoon pistachio bar on the packaging.

New Flavors of Old Favorites

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar: The super company is rolling out their take on the Kind Bar—a gluten free whole nut bar, minus the weird chicory crisps. Unlike competitors, all the ingredients are organic and there are big fatty chunks of chocolate. Clif attempted a bar similar to this and has renamed it to the Organic Trail Mix Bar line. Their new flavor at OR 2015 was Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond.

Health Warrior Chia Protein bar: the company known for slow release energy bars is rolling out a new Protein line. It has 10 g of vegan protein (quinoa, pea protein, and almonds) per 1.76 oz bar. Flavors are Dark Chocolate Coconut Sea Salt, Peanut Butter Cacao, Honey almond, and Lemon Goldenberry

 

Watch out for the last food write-up from Outdoor Retailer 2015!

Bacon, Jerky, and Meat: Big Food Trends at Outdoor Retailer 2015

This is Part 1 of the Food and Nutrition trend articles from Outdoor Retailer 2015. It is Part 2 in the Outdoor Retailer 2015 Summer series.

Paleo Bars and Jerky

It seemed like there was a new meat product around every corner of the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 trade show. With what seems like half the young population in Colorado going Paleo (the other half is the increasingly less trendy but much better for the environment vegan), the market–as exemplified by the health and energy foods that show up at OR– has stepped up to offer fresh, fun flavors.

What this means for hikers is that we don’t have to be stuck with Slim Jims and Walmart Jerky for our backpacking trips anymore and that the market is expanding far away from the fruit-and-nut bar we’ve all eaten a million times. It also means there are more savory bars on the market (check out my series on savory bars). A bunch of these meat bars can also be used as dinner alternatives for the stoveless or dinner supplements for the stoved.

Wild Zora bars combine organic veggies and natural meats to create a paleo bar. Each package is 1 oz, 120 calories.
Wild Zora bars combine organic veggies and natural meats to create a paleo bar. Each package is 1 oz, 120 calories.

Wild Zora:

The first meat and veggie bar on the market, Wild Zora uses grass-fed beef, local lamb, and free-range turkey to create moist creatively flavored bars. The bars have no nuts, gluten, soy, grains, MSG, chemical additives, or sugar or sweetners and run under the motto that “fruits and nuts do not make a complete meal” (those two ingredients, of course, being the contents of most of the bars at the Show). Wild Zora bars are 1/3 organic veggies, making one bar a full serving of veggies. This can be useful to hikers to help up our veggie intake. Zora Bars come in Chili Cayenne Apricot Beef, Parmesan Tomato Basil, BBQ Hickory Tomato, Turkey Masala Spinach, and Lamb Rosemary Spinach. My favorites were the lamb (which was among the moistest bars on the market) and the Parmesan Tomato (a really unique flavor for a meat bar.

Fusion jerky mixes tender Asian-style jerky with funky Western flavors.
Fusion jerky mixes tender Asian-style jerky with funky Western flavors.

Fusion Jerky:

A mix between Asian-style jerky tenderness and America-style jerky flavors, Fusion Jerky offers meat-eaters funky flavors and new animals to jerky. Fusion Jerky is the first jerky line to offer chicken jerky. They also offer some intriguing flavors including Garlic Jalapeno Pork Jerky, Rosemary Citrus Turkey Jerky, and Basil Citrus Beef Jerky. The only jerky company to be owned by a woman of color (she’s Asian and came up with the idea while hiking Kilimanjaro, so of course I have a soft spot for her), the company uses only US animals and is MSG and nitrate free. Her family has been in the jerky business for 50 years and makes their jerky in Nebraska.

Brick bars mix grass fed meat and nuts to make a milk/gluten/soy/grain free bar. 130 calories and 11 g of protein in 1.5 oz.
Brick bars mix grass fed meat and nuts to make a milk/gluten/soy/grain free bar. 130 calories and 11 g of protein in 1.5 oz.

Bricks Bars:

A new Paleo bar out of Brooklyn, Bricks Bars combines grassfed, antibiotic-free meats, veggies, fruits, and seeds to create a moist and richly flavored bar. Flavors come in Grassfed beef/uncured bacon/cranberry/sunflower seed AND Turkey/sweet potato/cranberry/pumpkin seed. These brand new bars blew my mind in the taste test and I look forward to seeing the company progress as they develop new flavors and grow.


Duke’s Small Batch Smoked Meats:

This Boulder Colorado-based jerky company has their own smoke house and crafts everything in batches of 500 pounds or less. Duke’s prides itself on less sugar, only hardwood smoked (not liquid smoked), and only US raised meat. There are three varieties 1) slow smoked thin cut jerky 2) extra thick and tender strips 3) and slow dried old world style sausages (kind of like a high class version of the Slim Jim). They features fun flavors like Bourbon Beef Steak Strips (made with actual Jim Beam), Chile N Lime Beef Strips, and Stubb’s BBQ braised pork strips

Epic bars are coming out with new flavors and new meat products
Epic bars are coming out with new flavors and new meat products

Epic Bars:

I’ve written about the Epic meat bars before on this blog, so was excited to see that they are rolling our 3 new flavors: the uncured bacon bar, the Chicken sesame BBQ bar, the Pulled Pork Pineapple Bar, the Beef Apple Uncured Bacon Bar, the Chicken Sriracha bar and (get ready for it) the Liver beef and sea salt bar. The company is also rolling out a new line called Hunt and Harvest Mix which includes jerky, berries, fruits, nuts, cacao nibs, and coconut chips to create a sweet and savory trail mix. This is the trail mix meant to appeal to the Hunter and Gatherer Paleo types. Epic also has come out with Bites—mini bars essentially—that are a portion-control re-sealable snack (whatever that means). These come in new flavors: bison/bacon/raisin/chia, beef/cranberry/sriracha, bacon, and chicken/currant/sesame.

The next section of the Outdoor Retailer Food and Nutrition Write-up will focus on intriguing options for the stoveless, new caffeine delivery systems, how to eat crickets on the trail, and how to drink less water. That and more…next time!

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015: Gear Best of Show

Nothing says new outdoor gear like neck pillows with hoods. By the way, NOT ultralight.
Nothing says new outdoor gear like neck pillows with hoods. By the way, NOT ultralight.

 

It seems like the past two months have been nothing but travel, hike, and travel, but this past week, I made another pilgrimage to the biggest outdoor gear trade show in the U.S.

My purpose was to scout out some of the newest, most innovative gear for the ultralight backpacking community. I was looking for big trends, game changing inventions, and incremental improvements on gear that is already out there. Here’s a recap of some of the coolest items spotted on the show floor:

Headlamps for your Shoes:

FresheTech developed these headlamps for shoes as a Kickstarter campaign.
FresheTech developed these headlamps for shoes as a Kickstarter campaign.

Winter OR brought us GoMotion lights—“headlamps” that don’t go on your head at all but are worn as sternum straps. This OR brings us “headlamps” that you attach to your shoes to immediately light up the trail right in front of you. Night Runner developed by FresheTech provides 30+ feet in beam distance at 270 degrees of visibility. The water resistant system clips right to your shoelaces like gaiters. Although right now the technology only allows for 4-8 hours of battery life (to keep the weight down, it is charged via micro USB instead of AAA batteries), my mind is blown at the endless possibilities this could have for changing the game of night hiking. A few years ago, the game changing gear trend for backpackers was in sleeping pads. These days, I’m increasingly impressed by what is coming out of the head (and other body part) lamp manufactures.

Removable Backpack Air Core Frame:

Inventor Mike shows off the Ventra removable backpack frame
Inventor Mike shows off the Ventra removable backpack frame

For those of you out there who love Osprey’s Air Core frame (a pack frame that allows air to vent between your back and the pack, minimizing back sweat), the Ventra is a BRAND NEW invention that can turn any pack into an Air Core Pack. Debuting at their first Show, you can attach any frameless pack to your Ventra and increase its carry load or just get it off your pack.

My Gossamer Gear Type 2 frameless daypack attached to a Ventra frame
My Gossamer Gear Type 2 frameless daypack attached to a Ventra frame

Right now, the Medium Ventra frame is weighing in at 11 oz. Considering that a normal frameless ultralight pack comes in at about a pound, by placing your frameless pack on a Ventra, you essentially get a framed Air Core pack for less than 2 pounds. The best part is one Ventra can be used on multiple packs (your pack attaches and unattaches very easily). So, if you have several frameless packs, you can use all of them with one Ventra. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this young company evolves and what great things it will develop (I also really hope that some bigger company doesn’t poach their idea).

Three Breath Inflatable Sleeping Pad:

Windcatcher valves on a sleeping pad
Windcatcher valves on a sleeping pad

You heard that right. Where a full length sleeping pad usually takes me 40 breaths to inflate, a brand new valve invention is blowing (excuse the pun) the competition out of the air. Windcatcher valves was developed by what I can only assume is some physics grad student who took aerodynamic application to a backpacking level. Using entrainment, a physics principle I had to look up on Wikipedia, I watched a full length pad inflate after 3 breaths. If you don’t believe me, check out this video:

Unfortunately, Windcatcher claims that a major gear manufacturer (a walk around the Show makes it obvious that company is MSR) stole their design and there is currently a legal battle going on. Windcatcher asks that you support the original inventor.

Put on a Windshirt without Removing your Pack:

The windshirt starts on your waist, unfolds from its pouch, has a hood, and is backless…all for 3.3 oz!
The windshirt starts on your waist, unfolds from its pouch, has a hood, and is backless…all for 3.3 oz!

For those of you who dreamt of the day when someone would invent a layer that you could put on without requiring you to take off your pack—that day is here! Thru-hiker shoe favorite Altra just announced a new clothing line with its most exciting item being a windshirt that you wear in a pouch around your waist and then can pull onto yourself without having to stop or remove your pack. It is backless—so it won’t get caught on your pack and (extra bonus) means it has less fabric than a normal windshirt (meaning that it is ultralight). In fact, the whole system–which includes a hood, a pouch, and a waistband–is 3.3 oz (the tank top in the photo, by the way, weighs 1.95 oz). Although the Altra windshirt was invented for ultramarathoners whose every minute can count in a race, speed hikers, hikers who get cold and hot easily, or hikers who just enjoy being in their hiking groove and don’t want to stop will all go as gaga over this new item as I did.

Mini Wood Stove:

TOAKS Titanium Wood Burning Stove
TOAKS Titanium Wood Burning Stove

 

For the past 20 years, TOAKS has been manufacturing titanium stoves and cookware for the big players like Sea to Summit. In the past year, they’ve decided that they want to start selling their own designs, and their inventor has developed a wood stove that just won Best in Show at the European equivalent of Outdoor Retailer. After hearing from several thru-hikers that the wood burning backpacking stoves on the market were too big, TOAKS developed this stackable woodstove aimed for the solo hiker. It can take a 750 mL cup, but can also be used for larger pots.

The whole stove system folds down to smaller than a Probar.
The whole stove system folds down to smaller than a Probar.

Most notably—this wood stove packs down to a really small size, especially compared to some of the uber bulky wood stoves out there that just refuse to fit anywhere in an ultralight pack (too big for the water bottle pockets, bulky in the mesh, annoying to put in the body of the pack). This stove DEFINITELY fits in my Gosssamer Gear Kumo water bottle pocket—a first for a wood burner as far as I know!

Purify Your Water from Pesticides and Chemicals:

Solarbug uses a filter, chemical, and sun activation process to remove contaminants from water.
Solarbug uses a filter, chemical, and sun activation process to remove contaminants from water.

 

In the light of the Animas River spill, hikers are starting to think a little bit more about what may be in their “natural” seeming water sources. That mountain spring that may be free of Crypto and Giardia can still have plenty of Arsenic. I for one have downed more than my fair share of pesticides in my thru-hiking career. A new invention debuted at Summer OR that is a water filtration system that claims to address the usual water hazards while also removing petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, arsenic, lead, and mercury. Solarbug Water Purifier claims to be the first water purifier on the market that changes colors to let you know when your water is “done” (purified). You simply add a drop of chemical to the system and when it stops being blue, your water is ready to drink. The Solarbug system lasts for 500 gallons (when the water stops changing colors, you know you need a new system) and retails at $100. The company also donates a significant portion of its profits to clean water projects in developing countries. Right now, the gallon-to-dollar ratio isn’t quite within thru-hiker realm (and I’m very curious to see how long it takes to treat the water), but I am really looking forward to watching this technology improve in the future.

 National Geographic Appalachian Trail Map Book:

The AT Nat Geo maps come in the familiar and super-clear to read Trails Illustrated format and size.
The AT Nat Geo maps come in the familiar and super-clear to read Trails Illustrated format and size.

In the same spirit of the highly popular John Muir Trail Map book rolled out at Winter Outdoor Retailer, Nat Geo is developing a mapbook set for the entire AT. Right now, the maps for Maine down to Pennsylvania are complete, in perfect timing for the typical southbounders. The thin book’s dimensions are longer than the maps you would print at home, making it well suited for a long skinny trail like the AT. Everything is put together in order including some town data, almost making it suited to be the only info source an AT thru-hiker would need. One downside, as with any long skinny map set, is that not all bail out options and not all resupply options are included. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see a major map company like Nat Geo take on thru-hiking in full like this!

Water Resistant Altra Lone Peaks

These Altra Neoshell Lone Peaks were submerged in water for 8 hours each day during the Show
These Altra Neoshell Lone Peaks were submerged in water for 8 hours each day during the Show

The Altra Lone Peak, often called the “thru-hiker’s favorite shoe,” is coming out in a new fabric, a waterproof Polartec Neoshell. This breathable membrane has had huge success in outerwear but has never been used in shoes before. I have a feeling that the NeoShell Lone Peaks are going to open a lot of doors for three and four season hiking in trail runners. Furthermore, I run into a lot of people just getting into hiking and backpacking who demand a waterproof shoe, and now I’ll know what to tell them to get. Although I’m going to stick with my Lone Peaks for the summer (the new Lone Peak 2.5s were announced at Summer OR and offer a redesigned upper, improved lacing system, improved upper durability, and slightly firmer midsole over the Lone Peak 2.0s), I’m really looking forward to testing the Neoshell Lone Peaks in some snow later this year.

Hammock that Keeps out Amazonian Mosquitoes

Explorer, Adventurer, and former British Army Officer Ed Stafford set out to walk from the Andes to the ocean, following the Amazon River from its source to its end over 860 days. To undertake such an endeavor, he asked long time thru-hiker favorite Hennessy Hammock to design a special expedition grade double-walled hammock that would prevent mosquitoes from biting him as he slept. After the modern day Dr. Livingstone completed his journey, he cited his double-walled Hennessy as his favorite piece of gear. Hennessy decided to market the special design for others who hate mosquitoes or are traveling in super buggy territory.

The new Jungle Series model marks the first new models of HH’s in a couple years and are a huge addition to the Hennessy line. The Expedition Jungle Zip and Jungle Explorer Zip and Jungle Safari Zip offer different features depending on your height and weight requirements (the Jungle can take enough weight for a couple). While heavy for a typical thru-hiker (the Hyperlite or Ultralite Backpacker models are the most popular among that crowd), I imagine the requirements for jungle thru-hiking are entirely different than back here in the states. If you’re designing a route across Borneo, it sounds like HH’s new Jungle Series hammocks are a piece of gear you may not want to be without.

Bigger “Bear Proof” Bag for Hungrier Hikers:

Bigger Loksak foodbag
Bigger Loksak foodbag

LokSak, maker of the OP (Odor Proof) bags that so many thru-hikers these days are carrying instead of bear canisters, just came out with a larger size bag. I’ve often carried two LokSaks myself for times when it is 6+ days between food resupplies. This larger bag has twice the capacity of a normal Loksak bag. I’m not sure how it will fit in my pack, but look forward to finding out.

14 g Socks that will Last a Lifetime:

The Vertex socks are as light as 14 g
The Vertex socks are as light as 14 g

Darn Tough just rolled out a new line of super ultralight socks, the Vertex Series Running Sock, that weigh in at 14 g a piece and still come with the Darn Tough Life Time Guarantee! (I can’t think of anything as ultralight that comes with a Life Time Guarantee). The Vertex Series socks were designed for runners who want the most minimal sock they can wear that will prevent chaffing and provide support just where it is needed, and nowhere else. This could be a great sock for those thru-hikers who enjoy hiking in liner socks or for thru-hikers who like to carry extra pairs of socks but don’t want the weight penalty.

Frog Togg/Driducks Waterproof Fleece Shell

Frog Toggs raingear is so affordable, I didn’t think they’d be able to afford a booth at OR. Nonetheless, they had a booth at the Show and were showing off their newest invention, a supposedly waterproof breathable fleece shell. Although heavy for the typical thru-hiker, like all Frog Toggs items, the sticker price seemed surprisingly affordable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this item become a new favorite among budget hikers.

Running Coach in a Box

Zero Drop thru-hiker standard Altra has just developed a “smart shoe” that integrates with your phone or Smartwatch when you are running. As you run, it informs you of your cadence (180 strikes per minute being the ideal) and also lets you know where on your foot you are striking. It’s like having your running coach always watching you, except it costs a fraction of an instructor’s time (the IQ shoe retails at less than $100 more than a normal running shoe). It can also be used as a great instructional tool for running coaches to use to have data to show clients about how they run. While only the most data-obsessed thru-hiker would wear an Altra IQ on the trail, you’d be hard pressed to find a thru-hiker who isn’t curious how to make his/her stride more efficient during the off season. Boys and girls, now you know what to ask Santa for Christmas.

Well, this wraps up the GEAR portion of the Outdoor Summer Retailer 2015 write-ups.

 

Stay tuned for the FOOD section where I describe all the innovative, potentially revolutionary foods debuting at the show including flavored caffeine pills, caffeinated chocolate chews, cricket energy bars, good tasting MREs, and dehydrated cheese!

 

 

 

Trends in the Outdoor Industry 2015

The last in the four part series on Outdoor Retailer Winter 2015!

1)      Made in the USA

Gear made in the US is a big 2015 theme and the Outdoor Industry wants you to know it. It’s on the cover of the March 2015 issue of Backpacker. At OR, you could pick up a  Made in the USA Roadmap (a passport you could get stamped by various companies that make stuff in the US). And everyday, there were panels and presentations on the topic.

While consumer demand is strong, the Made in the US brand isn’t strong enough to justify the business decision alone. CEOs said it’s not just a marketing gimmick—but also just plain good practice. Companies claimed that they could control inventory, customize products, and engage in less business risk, while reducing transportation costs if they moved production back to the US.

Papers please! My Made in the USA Passport

The Made in the US Working Group of the Outdoor Industry has 175 members! That’s way more than I expected. US Made goods tended to be in the food and sock sectors (including my favorite, Darn Tough), but there were a few surprises. For example, of mainstream gear hikers use, Keen, Platypus/MSR/Thermarest, Vapur and Superfeet are all assembled here.  Of course, ultralight backpackers tend to have an easier time finding a gear kit made completely in the US—but at OR, being full of big name, big game companies—US-manufacturing companies is still fairly rare.

It’s complicated with down.
It’s complicated with down.

  2) It’s complicated with down.

Last year, we reported the industry had experienced a significant increase in down pricing. Companies warred over the best way to address this issue—from creating down-synthetic blends, to using materials like wool as insulation, to compressed air as insulation, to live-plucking of geese, to just plain increasing the price of down gear. The animal activist group, Four Paws, says that despite the formation of the Responsible Down Standard in 2014, some big companies like North Face are still using cruel down (live-plucked or force-fed geese). Patagonia uses 100% traceable down, but many companies blend their certified and not certified down. This year, the war continues with new forms of insulation, as well as in-your-face debates about the ethics of using down in the first place.

 

All about the lifestyle with these outdoor warriors.
All about the lifestyle with these outdoor warriors.

3)      It’s all about the lifestyle.

Unsurprisingly, technical gear this year (as for the last few years, who are we kidding?) took a backburner to outdoor lifestyle apparel. Jackson Hole-based Mountain Khakis headlined the Wednesday Industry party, boasting line-up that is completely lifestyle based. Luckily, many of these designs are focusing on ethical manufacturing and long-lasting all natural ingredients. The Outdoor Industry is changing with many retailers coming in as young hip mom-and-pop shops started by outdoor enthusiasts who always dreamed of owning their own gear store. These people are about more than selling product, and big brand companies are picking up on that, too.

I don’t actually have any photos of baselayers, but isn’t this an awesome photo of <a href="www.thetrailshow.com">POD from the Trail Show slacklining</a>? (Yoinked from the Trail Show)
I don’t actually have any photos of baselayers, but isn’t this an awesome photo of POD from the Trail Show slacklining? (Yoinked from the Trail Show)

4)      More options in baselayers

Even baselayers—traditionally thought of as “long underwear”—were featured as fashion accessories in the Outdoor Retailer Daily (the news for the show). This means this season, you should expect a lot of merino+lycra or merino+nylon or merino+polyester blends. 140 different brands are using merino, including a few who are using Montana sheep. Expect price wars on baselayers. Also sheep poop to add to cow poop on the CDT.

The only food-like substance at OR were these rubber pucks.
The only food-like substance at OR were these rubber pucks.

5) It doesn’t pay to be edible

Without getting into the pricing politics of having a booth at Outdoor Retailer, it was pretty surprising that Winter 2015 is the first year where big time food companies Oregon Freeze Dried (Mountain House) and Backpacker’s Pantry did not make an appearance at the Winter Show. Old timers who have been to the show dozen of times claim it’s happened before—but as a hiker, I always keep tabs on where the food is (the backpacking food companies have samples all-day long)—and this is an anomaly. Non-competition from the heavy hitters did seem to add to the traffic of oldie-but-goodie Alpine Aire (with it’s amazing new invention: freeze-dried guacamole), with its usual conveniently located booth right by the main entrance, and newbie Good-to-Go.

Luckily, the beer was still all you can drink
Luckily, the beer was still all you can drink

 6)      OIA is Scaling Back

It’s unsurprising that Show scaled back given that Show has been getting HUGE. Under the guidance of a new director, Marisa Nicholson, this year showed some reduction in the free food and giveaways–the largesse– of the event. Before the show even started, for example, there were stricter requirements for entry into the show that extended to media, retail buyers, and even exhibitors with booths. And my big question: Why did OIA decide to scale back on the Go Go dancers at the Industry party? I was hoping to snag a photo for my write-up on…

Disco is not amused by the booth babes. PC: the Trail Show
Disco is not amused by the booth babes. PC: the Trail Show

 7)      Booth babes

While not as boobs-in-your-face as previous shows, the Outdoor Industry never seems to fail to use women’s sexuality to sell goods. One Trail Show host might have referred to OR as “like a car show.” While 2015’s show lacked the girls in bikinis in a hot tub, who clearly did a good job of selling shoes in 2014, there were still plenty of girls in spandex and yoga pants, not to mention the fair share of local salesgirls, whose knowledge of the product is zilch, but sure look pretty. But it seems unlikely to stop until there’s a paradigm shift and we see more.

Women’s representation at OR
Women’s representation at OR

8)      I have a dream…

Women still make up less than half of the attendees—and that’s counting all the booth babes. I dream that one day, OR will be filled with women-owned and operated companies that extol female athletes and sell goods to women-buyers for women-owned retailers. And hey, it would be pretty cool to see some people of color, too.

That’s it for the Outdoor Retailer update! Phew! Now time to get back on the trail…

New Trends in Backpacking Food: Outdoor Retailer Sneak Peeks at What To Eat

 

Part 4 in the series on Outdoor Rertailer 2015. 

Being more of a foodie than a gearhead, I was especially stoked to sample, nibble, and gorge on all of the new foods announced at the Outdoor Retailer Show this year. Here’s a sneak peak at what to eat, from the intriguing, scrumptious, to just plain disgusting.

Most Innovative: Clif Energy Food

Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer
Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer

Part real food gel, part adult baby food, these pouches taste way more “real” than the competitors’ energy goop. These totally organic, gluten-free packets come in re-sealable pouches and have a shelf life of 12 months.

One major selling point on these bad boys is that they’re easier to digest than real food, but tastier and mor

e wholesome than gels. Props to Clifbar for the innovative idea. Because of the limited calorie density, I can’t see this taking off in the long distance hiking community as more than an occasional treatbar. As much as I love the Clif Energy Foods, I worry it won’t stick around for long, so start hording these before they end up on the cutting block!

The sweet flavors (90g): Banana Mango Coconut (100 calories) and Banana Beet Ginger (110 calories).

The savory flavors (120g): Sweet Potato and Sea Salt (200 calories) and the Pizza Margherita flavor (120 g—my favorite).

New Dehydrated Food: Good to Go

 

Founded by Iron Chef winner Jennifer Scism (and long time owner NY Times 4 star rated restaurant Annissa in NYC), Good to Go is a new pre-packaged backpacking dinner that first appeared at Summer OR. The flavor is pretty much advertised—restaurant quality.

The only downside is that Good to Go is dehydrated instead of freeze-dried, so Soakers like my friend Bobcat aren’t going to be able to use this food to its full potential. It appears to have as many calories as the competition, but a single serving Good to Go retails for the price of a double serving of the competition. I guess it’s still cheaper than dinner at a 4 star hotel.

Flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz) , Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

Sweet and Savory: Navitas

 

Health food store standard, Navitas organic superfood company made an appearance at Outdoor Retailer and rocked the potential for flavor and variety of all natural backpacking snacks. I was already a big fan of backpacking with the Cacao Nibs and Chia seeds, but was stoked for their new line up set to roll out this spring.

Coconut chips (three flavors): cacao, caramel, and chili lime (I tried this was and it was AWESOME). These have the potential to be a low glycemic alternative to potato chips. Of course, coconut chips are never inexpensive, but at least these come in creative flavors.

Superfood+ Line: Cacao Hemp Almonds, Chia Rosemary Pepitas, Coconut Hemp Pepitas, Goji Basil Cashews, Goldenberry Ginger Almonds, Maca Maple Cashews (incredible), Tumeric Tamari Almonds (turmeric is an all-natural ibuprofen alternative).

Although they aren’t new, I was pretty intrigued by the Power Snack cubes (Flavors include: Cacao Goji, Citrus Chia, Coffee Cacao, and Lemon Goldenberry). At $10 for 8 oz, these raw organic cubes are less expensive per oz than many other raw organic bars out there and have no added sugar.

New Twist on a Trusted Bar: Probar

Although they didn’t have a booth at Winter OR this year, during the show, several of my friends swung by ProBar headquarters and met with Jules, the CEO, who had kindly supplied the Gossamer Gear Jamboree in Moab with snacks. I’ve been excited for their two newest flavors, which rolled out a few months ago:

Almond Crunch: Let’s just say that the hikers who tried this bar loved it so much, that what they want to do to this bar is inappropriate to write in the blog. This flavor is phenomenal. (And thank you, Probar, for making a peanut-free bar!)

Strawberry Bliss: It’s like they took my favorite ingredient from the Wholeberry Blast and just dedicated a whole bar to it.

Probar also rolled out their new line, Bites, which offers the same great flavors as their Meal Replacement Bars, except in smaller-portioned (and thus lower calorie) bars. (Hikers, of course, are best sticking to the Meal Replacement Bar).

Best Idea Ever: Alpine Aire Guacamole

How many times have I been sitting on a mountain and wished that I had some guacamole for my chips? Up until now, I didn’t think it was possible to dehydrate an avocado. I thought it was physically not possible. But Alpine Aire has done it–and it’s incredible. Keep your eyes and tongue peeled for this amazing, incredible, much-dreamed about new food idea. Hikers: I introduce you to freeze dried guacamole!

Reading Material: The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook

Stackpole Books presented their newest backpacking food recipe book, the Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, which includes 398 recipes. Suitable for preppers and hikers alike, if you’re looking for an off-season hobby to get you prepared for backpacking, this book has enough projects in it to keep you busy until next off-season. It includes full color photos of what can be done with a dehydrator—although, admittedly, many of these are way too fancy for a lot of hikers.

Oldie But Goodie: New Clif Bar Flavors

At the Conservation Alliance Breakfast, Clifbar rolled out two new flavors for attendees to try:

Berry Pomegrante Chia

Nuts and Seeds

Macrodelicious: GoMacro Bar

I was pleased to see health food staple Go Macro bar at Outdoor Retailer, showing off some of their cool new packaging designs–which recently won an award for awesome art. Outdoor Retailer was a great place for them to showcase some of their new flavors that I haven’t seen in stores yet: banana + almond butter, sunflower + butter chocolate,  sesame + butter dates, and cashew caramel.

Trail Magic Award: PowerPop

The ultimate in trailside magic showed it’s face at OR this winter: an Otterpop like ice popsicle with electrolytes. I’m just saying if someone showed up at Scissor’s Crossing handing out a few of those, they’d instantly get the status of “angel” from some near-dead hikers.

For a Good Cause: Salazon Chocolate

At Outdoor Retailer, Salazon rolled out their Continental Divide Trail specific salted chocolate bar: 72% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. All Salazon bars are Oragnic, Fair Trade, and Rain Forest Alliance certified. Packed with plenty of energy, uppers from the chocolate, and salt to keep your electrolytes in balance, proceeds from this bar go to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. Now that’s some good chocolate!

Are there any food trends or flavors you’re excited to try in your backpacking food?

Stay tuned for the final segment on Outdoor Retailer: gear and marketing trends in the Outdoor Industry!

 

Outdoor Retailer Soon-to-Be-Released Gear Report

Sea to Summit’s new air mat is able to hold up 200 pounds of Allgood, wins best in show
Sea to Summit’s new air mat is able to hold up 200 pounds of Allgood, wins best in show

All right, gear junkies: eat your heart out. Here’s a sneak preview of the gear we will see on the shelves in the next few months–well, at least the stuff that ultralight hikers may be interested in.

Best of Show

Another key design advantage is the 10 second blow up/10 second blow down of the air mat.
Another key design advantage is the 10 second blow up/10 second blow down of the air mat.

Sea to Summit sleeping mat. The thru-hiker industry standard for sleeping pads, the Cascade Designs Neoair, has finally met its match. The ultralight version of this sleeping mat (the sales guy corrected me strongly when I called it a “sleeping pad,” ensuring me that it’s more like a MATtress than a pad) weighs in at 12 oz. Using “mattress technology,” the mat does not use baffles, but instead pockets that warm under you as you sleep. These pockets also prevent “bottoming out” even for bigger side sleepers. Supposedly, the pocket system are puncture resistant and all around stronger than baffles (yet to be seen). Another key advantage is their stuff-sack blow up system takes 10 seconds, and 10 seconds to deflate (this is going to be HUGE when hikers are trying to motivate themselves to get up on a cold AM, and to get moving quickly). The part that blows me out of the water, though, is the price point:  $99—significantly less expensive than its competition.

Runner Up

The new NWAlpine Eyebright!
The new NWAlpine Eyebright!

NW Alpine breathable cuben fiber rain jacket: Improving on the already awesome design of the NW Alpine Eyebright jacket, this new model uses a fabric that is stronger and easier to seam seal (not that I ever had any problem with longevity even when bushwhacking). The best part is that it’s $150 less than the previous version, putting it in the same price range as other high-end breathable cuben fiber shirts, like Z-packs, but with a more form fitting and tailored design than its competitors.

Other Cool Stuff:

Sierra Designs double sleeping bag: I’m not sure what the weight was on this design (or whether they’re even making it or it was just a marketing gimmick), but this double-bag sure was good for a laugh at the show.

Name those famous hikers!
Name those famous hikers!

Petzl’s New Ice Axe: Although not the lightest UIAA approved ice axe on the market (the 8 oz CAMP Corsa is the thru-hiker standard), this ice axe is damn near close in weight, and has a significantly more aggressive looking axe. I’m not sure on the weight, but let’s put it this way—Tomo from Hiker’s Depot—the world’s only brick and mortar ultralight store—was interested.

Go Motion Sternum strap trail running light: Designed to reduce shadow blockage and keep night hiking light sources centered on you walk, this “headlamp” that actually goes on your sternum strap, could be a revolutionary design. As an avid night hiker, I’m hoping to try one out and see how it works.

Altra Lone Peak 2.5: The go-to shoe for the long distance hiking community is coming soon in a  waterproof water-resistant material. Altra is well-aware that waterproof gear has a bad name—and with good reason—because no one wants to be walking around in Vapor Barrier stuff unless being sweaty and clammy is better than losing a toe to the cold. To address this issue, Altra teamed with a proprietary fabricmaker to create the first shoe with this particular water-resistant breathable material. It works so well that I watched Golden, one of the founders of Altra, pour a glass of water on the shoe and the contents completely rolled off. I can’t wait to take the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 on the trail and see how it breathes and holds up to snow, rain, and water.

Montrail: Bad news for lovers of the hiker standby from the early 2000s: Montrail has nothing but running slippers in their line up for the next year. No trail running shoes. No hiking shoes. Zip. I know there are a few hikers out there who still love their Montrails. Call me biased, but maybe this is just a sign you should check out the Altras.

Kelly, from Nat Geo, modeling the new maps
Kelly, from Nat Geo, modeling the new maps

National Geographic: This February is rolling out maps of two new areas: Paria Canyon and Grand Staircase/Escalante—two awesome places to visit in Utah on your next traverse of the Vagabond Loop.

Most exciting discovery this year is Nat Geo’s strong interest and dedication in making maps for long distance hikers. OR 2015 rolled out the John Muir Trail mapset. This is the first full and complete Nat Geo map set that is put together like a book. It’s a pretty brilliant idea considering I’ve bought the JMT map set at least three times because I always end up losing a page :(.

The new JMT mapset includes all the maps, elevation profiles, databook, and resupply for the trail, all for 3.3 oz and $14.95
The new JMT mapset includes all the maps, elevation profiles, databook, and resupply for the trail, all for 3.3 oz and $14.95

The whole booklet weighs 3.3 oz and has 48 pages of maps on Nat Geo’s waterproof, resistant paper. It also includes elevation profiles and a databook (!) and resupply locations. In essence, this $14.95 map set not only is less expensive than its competitors, won’t have you lose pages, but also will be the only resource you need. Oh yeah, and just to make sure you know that it’s made for thru-hikers, it was made by one of us: our own Sierra expert Justin Lichter.

Best yet—this summer, Nat Geo is rolling out a similar style map set for the Appalachian Trail! It’s going to come out in sections by state just in time for southbounders to use ‘em. If the AT maps look anything like the JMT maps, let’s just say they’re so cool, you may want maps for the AT.

Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas
Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas

New Katoohlas Microspikes: To be released this hiking season, this thru-hiker must-have just got lighter and better designed. The full microspike is down to 12 oz for a medium pair and the nanospike (which is advertised as a runner, but I was still shocked at how well it worked on an ice block) comes in at 8 oz for the pair. The spike itself has been redesigned with the toe bar positioned to reduce slippage (which had been a problem in the previous model, especially, I noticed, when covering terrain with ice and post holing). I’m very optimistic about the new microspike and can’t wait to try it out!!

Allgood loves the ultralight pillow
Allgood loves the ultralight pillow

Sea to Summit pillow: A new ultralight inflatable pillow that is so light, that an ultralight hiker said “Wow, I might even start carrying a pillow now!) This uses a soft material on the outer and looks more durable than other ultralight pillows, which are pretty infamous for popping after a few weeks. Depending on the model, weights range between 1.8 and 3.0 oz.

Tenacious tape in Sasquatch shapes!
Tenacious tape in Sasquatch shapes!

Tenacious tape: Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more innovations in gear repair, Tenacious tape developed several cool new products slated to roll out this spring. First, and most exciting for thru-hikers, are stretch patches, which allow gear repair for fabrics that require a little elasticity, such as silnylon tents or stretchy pants. Tenacious tape is also coming out with a mini-repair carrying container for easy on-trail transport.

Tenacious tape tattoos
Tenacious tape tattoos

Super exciting for trail runners, night hikers, and anyone who carries a bear can is the new reflective tape. Now, when the bear comes and rolls around my bear can for a while, I’ll be able to shine my headlamp around and find its reflection. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun of the new products, are tattoo gear repear in fun shapes like Sasquatch.

Swiftwater by Crocs: Realizing that most thru-hikers switch over to their Crocs for creek crossings, this summer, the lightweight campshoe company is rolling out a new hybrid campshoe/water crossing shoe. These shoes keep most of the lightweight nature of the Croc for camp shoe, while adding on a more secure attachment over-foot system and a more aggressive sole for dealing with slippery rocks. These should be rolled out this summer, but unfortunately, won’t come in the awesome colors shown here.

Allgood with a Hydrapak hydration system.
Allgood with a Hydrapak hydration system.

Hydrapak: These hydration bladder system seems to have some clear advantages over what hikers have been using for years. This hydration bag has a baffled water system, so when it rides against your back, it won’t slouch or bunch as you drink water. Best yet, you refill the bag by taking off a lock meaning that it has the world’s WIDEST refill opening ever. For those who use a hydration tube, it comes with a quick lock which means it’s easy to take off the tube at night if you need to remove it to prevent freezing at night. Although the sales person ensured me this design has been around for 12 years (apparently, it’s popular with cyclists), this is the first I’ve seen of this potential competition to my beloved Cascade Designs Platypus.

POD models the new ultralight frisbee
POD models the new ultralight frisbee

Ultralight Frisbee: For those who get into camp and just want to play a little ultimate, the 0.8 oz Frisbee folds up nicely and comes with a weight penalty that even Glen van Peski wouldn’t object to (well, maybe). Ok, so this isn’t a standard competition weight Frisbee, but good for a few trail laughs at the end of the day. Watch this video of POD and Disco playing with it in their house after OR:

Trail Logoed stuff:

CDT Point 6 socks
CDT Point 6 socks

Hey, guess what? Gear companies are starting to love on the long trails. Here’s a few new items that are going to be logoed with our favorite confidence markers.

Point 6 socks CDT, AT, PCT socks: Point 6 socks is based in Steamboat Springs and was created by the founders of Smartwool after they decided they wanted to create a more mission-oriented sock company. These awesome made-in-the-USA trail-logoed socks look really cool and benefit the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association. They’re designed to hold up to a thru-hike, but I’m going to save mine from the sand and mud and keep it for stylin’ in town.

Vapur bottles: These lightweight water or (who are we kidding) wine carriers are logoed with the CDT logo. Because nothing says 100 mile resupply through the desert like packing out some Chardonnay.

Woolrich CDT, AT, and PCT blankets: These beautiful loomed in America wool blankets are works of art. These blankets are slated to come out to the consumer in October, but Woolrich was pre-selling the first run of these hand-signed, hand-numbered blankets. A certain founder of an ultralight gear company may have purchased one for each trail. The perfect gift for any trail lover or to get someone who loves the trail. Proceeds go to the trail organizations.

Woolrich dedicated a whole booth to long distance trails. She-ra, Swami, Czech, Jabba, and I are peddling CDT wares for a good cause.
Woolrich dedicated a whole booth to long distance trails. She-ra, Swami, Czech, Jabba, and I are peddling CDT wares for a good cause.

 

Beer tubes: Mountainsmith is creating a canned beer caddy that is good for infinite jokes. Watch out in June when you can purchase a CDT logoed beer tube!

POD and the beer tube. PC the Trail Show
POD and the beer tube. PC the Trail Show

 

Stay tuned for updates of new FOOD announced at Winter Outdoor Retailer in the next blogpost!

Former Secretary of the Interior and Conservation Hero Bruce Babbitt at Outdoor Retailer

Former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, is a conservation hero. An Arizona native and former governor of that state, the 800-mile long Arizona Trail travels across part of his ranch.
Former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, is a conservation hero. An Arizona native and former governor of that state, the 800-mile long Arizona Trail travels across part of his ranch.

For conservation policy geeks like me, a true highlight of the Outdoor Retailer show was the chance to see former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, speak at the Conservation Alliance breakfast. The Conservation Alliance is an organization funded by outdoor companies to protect the places where we recreate. For many years, CA had difficulty recruiting Babbitt, who served under the Clinton administration and is responsible for protecting areas such as Grand Staircase National Monument, creating the National Landscape Conservation System, and reintroducing the wolf into Yellowstone. Finally, today he spoke in front of 300 industry people to call for radical change from both the Obama administration and the Outdoor Industry.

Although not the most charismatic speaker, Babbitt’s speech gave the audience an insight into his sharp mind. Throughout his speech, he analyzed strategies the Outdoor Industry can take to make an otherwise ineffective Congress care about wild areas.

Babbitt called out Utah Governor Herbert and strongly criticized the Transfer of Public Lands Act, a bill that will “dismantle the BLM, scale back the Park Service, and remove 9 of every 10 acres from the Forest Service.” The bill, if passed, will move public lands from federal management to Utah state level management, including Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Grand Staircase.

The former Secretary also criticized academics who support the Transfer of Public Lands Act. Several researchers have used economic evidence to argue that there are benefits of moving land from federal control to private oil and gas companies.

Specifically, Babbitt condemned these studies for leaving out evidence that outdoor recreation provides an economic benefit. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation is a $646 billion industry. Yet Babbitt lamented that the Commerce Department, politicians, and the academics who wrote pro-Transfer Act reports, do not realize the size and power of the industry, and thus, have not been pushing to conserve land.

The speech ended with a call for the Outdoor Industry to have their voice be heard, and also for President Obama to take advantage of his lame duck period to conserve more land. In response to Obama’s most recent conservation moves—including the protection of the Montana Front Range (which benefits the CDT viewshed) and the San Gabriels and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (which benefits the PCT viewshed)—Babbitt replied, “We haven’t got that far. It’s not really that impressive.”

Of course, this is easy for the man behind the most expansive land protection record of any presidency to say. Yet, Babbitt believes that places that we recreate can and should be protected: “Public lands aren’t just the West. They’re national lands owned by all of us as Americans.”

Babbitt’s talk started and ended with a standing ovation. As hikers, we often don’t busy ourselves with the politics behind our trails and treasured landscapes. Yet, as an outdoors person, I was exceptionally honored to sit ten feet away from one of the powerhouses of conservation who makes my adventures possible.

First Timer’s Guide to Outdoor Retailer

 

Continental Divide Trail Coalition volunteers running a booth at Outdoor Retailer. (The CDT Woolrich blanket is visible in the background)
Continental Divide Trail Coalition volunteers running a booth at Outdoor Retailer. (The CDT Woolrich blanket is visible in the background)

As we speak, the long distance hiking community is taking over the Outdoor Winter Retailer Show. Many of us are working with trail non-profits and companies like Woolrich, Point6, and Mountainsmith that are sponsoring long National Scenic Trail-centric gear. Others are representatives of outdoor stores and are busy buying gear as part of their job.

I’ve been going to OR back in the days when Trauma was the only other long distance hiker coming. Although I’m far from a veteran at this event, here are a few tips I wish I had known the first time I’d walked in here:

1)      The show is huge! There are 21,000 people coming to Winter OR, and Summer OR can get to be as 40,000.

The crowds flock to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City to see the newest gear
The crowds flock to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City to see the newest gear

2)      But everyone here is here for a purpose greater than just getting free schwag. You have to apply months in advance, and they review to make sure the only attendees are here for business.

3)      So if you’re looking to create a sponsorship or help a non-profit, unless you’ve set up a meeting, to expect to stay out of the way until the end of the show when exhibitors have already made their sales.

4)      Since business comes first, there’s a hierarchy of badges here. Exhibitors (gear companies) are here to make money, so retailers (gear stores) are getting first dibs for their attention. Media is the next desirable badge, and non-profits are towards the bottom.

Outside OR
Outside OR

5)      But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun early in the show. Be sure to use Wednesday to get the lay of the land.

6)      It’s a maze in here, so be sure to get your hiking map or to download the app.

7)      But all that hiking around the show floor will get up your hunger and thirst. So be sure to stay hydrated.

Maple Bacon soft serve from Vermont Darn Tough’s booth. Photos thanks to Renee Patrick.
Maple Bacon soft serve from Vermont Darn Tough’s booth. Photos thanks to Renee Patrick.

8)      Luckily, there’s lots of food and drink around. Just check the back of the OR Daily magazine for locations. You can usually get a meal for the cost of a donation to a good outdoor cause.

9)      Or, if you’re here as media, a sales rep, or a retailer, food and drink can be found in the Press Room, Rep room, or Boy Scout Room.

10)   But if you can wait until 4 pm, there’s plenty of drinks to be had a dozens of Happy Hours. We hikers usually like to visit Happy Hours that support the trails.

11)   If you’re trying to find your friends at the end of the day, know that running the OR app and just being in the conference center can really drain your phone battery. Bring your charger!

12)   And then head out to the infamous Outdoor Retailer parties.

 

Congratulations! You’ve survived Day One of the four day event. It’s going to be a wild ride!

 

Do you have any tips for going to big conferences?