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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 pair of underwear meant to be your only pair of underwear, has been a staple of mine. I always complain about them and 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.
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.