I’m sure some very specific ideas come to mind at the mention of Outdoor Retailer, America’s largest outdoor recreation expo and conference.
If you’re thinking of a trade show full of Patagonia-loving, REI-shopping, tree-hugging, mountain town-dwellers who design the bikes and skis you ride, your beer cooler, and every pack in your closet, then you’re exactly right.
Outdoor Retailer is a biannual gathering, where all of America’s top outdoor brands, retail buyers, athletes, designers and journalists descend on Denver to spend three days launching products, networking and, most importantly, partying. Brands showcase new innovations (and plenty of gear for Instagram glamour shots) while athletes display the shiniest of new wares.
This January’s show focused on all the new and upcoming gear for next winter, meaning we got a sneak peek of the latest cold weather, backcountry skiing and winter camping gear. Without further ado, here’s a shortlist of the gear that has some of us already feverishly planning next year’s SOFLETE winter meet up.
Ski Boots: K2 Mindbender
Typical ski boots fall into two categories: alpine, which are oriented for downhill bombing, and touring, which are for backcountry skiing. Over the years, there have been a few attempts hybrid boots, but they often to fall to compromises. Most hybrid boots are too heavy to tour or too soft to drive bigger skis.
K2’s new Mindbenders are built like a standard alpine boot and feature both anti-friction plates for alpine bindings and fittings for tech bindings (more on that in another article soon), evolutions that are a first of their kind. The Mindbender is the everyman answer to the specialized lightweight gear of the backcountry crowd. Crush it at your home resort all season and when you make that annual pilgrimage to Colorado or Utah (no I’m not showing my secret stashes around the resorts in Salt Lake), you’ve got the foundation of a good sidecountry touring set up so you can venture out of bounds for that sweet, sweet fresh snow. Look for these to hit online and at retailers later summer.
Insulation: Strafe Aero Insulator
Aspen-based Strafe Outerwear just introduced what could be the first goose down killer with their new Aero Insulator jacket. Combining synthetic Primaloft fibers with Aerogel – the insulating material used in astronauts’ EVA suits – they’ve created a jacket that is gram-for-gram the warmest insulator on the market. For stop-and-go activities like winter hiking and skiing, that means less bulk and weight and more warmth and breathability. What’s more, Cross Core actually packs like down (the Aero packs into its own left pocket), making it easy to bring as a spare layer everywhere. It will hit the market in August. We can’t wait to test on in the Tetons later this summer.
Base layer: Airblaster Ninja Suit Pro
Long live the onesie. Combining all the comfort of the footy pajamas you wore as a toddler with the best design and performance of technical fabrics, the onesie is officially the ultimate base layer.
Airblaster’s all-new Ninja Suit Pro is no exception. The body is merino wool, which is soft to the touch, naturally anti-stink and excellent at wicking sweat. The hood, shoulders and arms are a four-way stretch, Schoeller Nanosphere-treated softshell. If you run hot as I do on the uphill, this is the base layer for you. Even better, the suit has a 350-degree waist zipper so whether you’re in a warm ski lodge bathroom or freezing winter camp latrine, you don’t have to strip down to pop a squat.
Technology: Roam Robotics Elevate XO
Robotic ski legs. I was a skeptic until I got suited up for a day at Eldora Ski Resort outside of Boulder. Using a lightweight composite frame, air chambers at your knees and a backpack battery pack/compressor combo, the Elevate XO exoskeleton takes almost half of the stress off your knees and quads. So effective in the Elevate XO, that I felt like I was floating on the snow every time I leaned into a turn on my ski edges. Coming in around sixteen pounds, the entire system represents a huge leap forward in both technology and safety. Roam also has a military line and if you follow some of the DARPA exoskeleton programs, you’ve likely seen their products in action in more familiar environments.
You can rent Roam prototypes in Lake Tahoe and Park City right now. We’ll be following them closely as they refine thing further. Who knows? You might be seeing powered hiking legs on the trail sooner than any of us guessed.
BEYOND: Kyros Collection
BEYOND will always have a special place in our little niche tactical-outdoor-survival-adventure market (I pity the marketing department trying to balance not pissing us all off constantly). Their Made in America Axios line manages to feel almost bespoke while performing as well as any top-shelf Arc’teryx or Patagonia piece. The Kyros line comes in at a lower price point and has a good deal of crossover and urban appeal. We’re especially excited about the Cappa jacket. A homage to old school photojournalist jackets and vests, the Cappa can stash a full frame DSLR with zoom lens, and spare cards and batteries (or a pistol mag or three). I expect the K5 pant to be a similar favorite among the hiking and travel crowds – it’s got the same abrasion resistance as the classic A5 Rigs, but feels much softer against your skin.