921 forum posts
Outdoor Retailer show
921 forum posts
I was there. Will make some comments when I get some time, but the Winter and Snow Camping course I direct starts Sat, with the staff meeting tonight.
According to the folks displaying at the booths, everything they were showing is latest, greatest, years ahead of everyone else (especially the guy in the next booth).
A couple of comments on new stuff -
With all the controversy about aging of avalanche beacons making the transmit frequency drift out of band, there are some new things in the digital beacon category. Ortovox had a prototype I would call a "mapping" beacon. It has a display that shows the location of multiple buried beacons relative to the one in hand with distance and direction. Looks like it will help a lot in sorting out multiple burials. Of course, the main thing is, don't get caught in a slide (like the snowboarder near the Canyons resort a couple weeks ago - whose entire party did not have any beacons).
A number of new skis (of course), most of which had new graphics and colors. But I tried a couple of BD skis I liked, as well as a G3. Also, I tried out several skate skis (never had done skating before on skate skis on a prepared track - lots of fun plus really FAST!!!). The ones I like most (from Madshus and Atomic) were of the "javelin" configuration.
The number of sleeping bag and tent manufacturers doing all their work in the US or Canada continues to diminish (most US and Canadian names are having their sewing done in SE Asia). Western in the US (my back yard in San Jose) and Integral Designs in Canada seem to be the only ones left - and as I have said many times before, these are at the top of my recommended list for quality (as is Feathered Friends, who weren't at the show, but is also completely manufactured in the US - Seattle). Since this was the Winter show, nothing really new in either line.
Packs - GoLite has several interesting new packs that are very light, but with improved suspension and "frame". Something that showed up in several of the internal frame pack manufacturers (including GoLite) is arranging the pad/frame to promote ventilation on the back (my biggest complaint for years with internal frame packs - hot, sweaty back from the lack of ventilation, unlike external frame packs).
Boots - same old same old (though the reps were very enthused about their newest, latest, greatest). Superfeet has a new insole that provides insulation as well as support, intended for winter (like, in your ski boots or winter hiking boots). Ran into Phil Oren (of foot fitting method fame). He is retiring (called this ORShow his "swan song"). I think his biggest contribution will continue to be that the most important thing you can do for your outdoor activities is get your boots (and other footwear) fit properly, something that the vast majority of stores do not do. There is a lot more to it than checking where your big toe is in the boot. One thing that amused me was the boot booths where the reps would say something like "this is our long-term best seller, but now in several more designer colors". Give me a break! How does color of the boot affect how your feet feel on the 10th day out on the AT or PCT? Some of the pack and tent folks were pushing the same kind of thing, as were (of course) the clothing people.
One of the most interesting new things was the new MSR snowshoe line (next winter). It has a toothed metal frame with a hypalon platform. Yup, you read right - MSR, known for its rigid plastic platform (ok, carbon reinforced composite), is bringing out a line of springy hypalon snowshoes. The frame gives a full crampon effect (also has the toe and heel spikes), plus there is a heel lift for steep slopes (Atlas is adding the heel lifts as well). They also have a "women's" version with a slight rocker to the frame and slightly different shape to more closely match the female stride. The hypalon is supposed to be much quieter than the composite version (a complaint by many people), but it doesn't take the extensions.
Nothing really new in stoves or climbing gear - except that Omega Pacific is getting closer to releasing their link cam and Metolius has a different version of the prototype extended range cam (looks a lot more workable than the one shown at the Summer show).
Alpinaire is distributing their "Inferno" meals - self-heating, and actually quite tasty. Most of the food folks continue to add to their variety of meals, and the quality does seem to be improving. One new company has come out with a variety of cheese snacks that look to have potential as trail lunch items (I will probably stick to string cheese, though).
One continuing trend that bugs me as an old-time dirtbag climber - more and more, the "outdoor" industry is emphasizing "fashion". They added a small fashion show for the Summer show, which was well-received, so they expanded it to 2 shows a day for the Winter show. Lots of models strutting up and down a runway with lots of different colors, lots of posing, lots of loud music, all the stereotype fashion show stuff. My question is, so what does it do for me in the backcountry? Does it keep me warm and dry? What happens on a 10-day trip in terms of durability? (oh, yeah, several of the sock manufacturers were emphasizing their great new colors - so how does the color of the sock, hidden inside the boot, help keep my feet more comfortable after 15 miles of hiking on a rocky trail?)
Excellent trend in the book publishers - more complete, well-written guides to more very interesting places. Wait, no, that's a bad trend - it lets people know about my secret wilderness places. Nah, it's ok. The competition in guides to great backcountry places is good, since the multiple guides to the same place help correct each other.
1,071 forum posts
My guess is that "fashion" is where all the profits are in the outdoor industry. Packs, tents, bags, etc... are where companies get their reputations (how many times have you seen photos of North Face and Moutain Hardware tents on a mountain), but clothing has got to be where the money is. The reputations then attract the average consumer. In part the market is so much larger as you attract many people who never set foot in the wilderness. These types also tend to pay retail. I think the manufacturers are just following the money trail. This is one big reason most of the very best gear is made by the really small companies, e.g. feathered friends, versus the really large ones, the North Face.
I'm sure you are right, Alan. After all, people will buy a cheap Chevrolet when Chevy is winning all the NASCAR races, or a Honda Civic when Honda is dominating Formula 1, or the cheapest Trek bike when Lance and US Postal (now Discovery) are dominating the Tour de France. And a lot of tourist bike riders wear a yellow US Postal team jersey ('cuz Lance got the maillot jaune, so it must make me ride faster, eh?). And even beginner skiers want to buy Bode Miller's skis, even though they never get off the Green runs.
I joined the Co-op back when it sold mostly imported European climbing gear (very little US-manufactured climbing gear at the time) and army surplus tents (late 50s) out of the single store on Pike. But the current version of REI sells mostly clothing (the climbing section of most REI stores is getting pushed into a smaller and smaller part of the store).
I can't really complain too much. After all, Goretex would not be affordable for an old pensioner if it weren't for the poseur market and the wannalooklike market. Still, I'm not sure I want to wear taupe jackets and pants up there on the rock. At least the fashion of having a giant logo on the jacket, readable from 2 miles with the unaided eye, has diminished.
Here in Italy many alpinists state that companies as Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot etc. are too big and must tend too much to the only profit diversifying its products lines,and because of that they stop to research the very best technical and durable solutions,and are not at the same level of European gears. So they snub them.
More..........I was told that all the big american outwear companies has simply copied the european companies, in particular the Italian ones, following a world-wide sport-fashion, by the time that american people didn't use to practice alpinism before.So, when I talk with expert european mountaneers in search of advertisements, I hear always the same names: Millet (Fra), Montura (Ita), Mammut (Swi), Mello's (Ita), Berghaus (Eng), Karrimor(Eng), and few others.
It's very difficoult to understand what's worth to be bought. Mountain outwear and gears are not cheap.
What do you think?
(I'm reporting what I've been told)
Bill, did you see the booth that was introducing the Aquastar and, if yes, what was your take on the thing?
Their website says: "The AquaStar
People being what they are, this mirrors a lot of American attitude. In other words, there is a lot of (1) chauvinism and (2) "help the small shop against the Big Faceless Corporation" in both Europe (much very nationalistic) and US. Several of the Euro companies you name are as big as the US companies (Marmot, which is part of K2, isn't really all that big, for that matter), or like TNF and Marmot, are subsidiaries of much larger companies. Mammut, for example, is huge, as is Millet. Also, a lot of what is sold under US names is actually manufactured by European companies that sell under their own or other Euro names in Europe (example, Black Diamond has never manufactured skis, but had Tua of Italy make them for a number of years, and currently Atomic). You really have to dig to find out a lot of the interconnections. It is certainly not correct that "all the big american outerwear companies ... simply copied the european ..." The lead in waterproof/breathable fabrics is held by Gore, eVent, and Epic, which are US, while Polar still leads in fleece. All these have European and Japanese facilities, while headquartered in the US. While Schoeller (Swiss, I think, but with US facilities) is the best of the softshell fabrics (in my not-so-humble opinion), and widely used by US manufacturers, there are similar fabrics that are US manufacture (takes close examination to see the difference in the fabric). Thing is, all these companies are international. The apparel manufacturers are also international, but use local names for what they sell in many cases. A lot of the "diversification" is just re-labelling for a different market. And, as has been true in "fashion" for decades, maybe centuries, a lot of the "new" stuff is just the old stuff with a "new" color, or the seam set at a different angle.
But the big problem is that most of the apparel manufacturers - US, European, Japanese - get their gear sewn together in places like China, Thailand, Bengladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia (yup, countries hit by the tsunami, although the affected areas were pretty much unaffected). Look very closely at the labels to see how few companies actually sew their own garments, tents, and sleeping bags in the supposed country of origin. US, European, and Japanese labor is pretty high cost, often 10-100 times as much as the SE Asian labor costs. But we in the US and you in Europe still get charged large amounts of dollars and euros, because (1) climbing is a niche market and (2) you can charge a lot for "fashion" (why does a tiny piece of women's lingerie cost more for 40-50 grams of fabric than a Schoeller jacket that has a kilo of fabric, plus zippers, snaps, and velcro? In a word, "fashion").
At the Outdoor Retailer Show, when I went into the clothing booths, I was generally steered to the US lines, with the occasional "that is our European (or even French, Italian, German) line, not available in the US". Some of the booths had signs above the various racks designating the target region.
What it comes down to is - forget about the name. Look closely at the labels and talk to people who are using the gear in the field who are not being paid to endorse the gear or are not sponsored by the company. If you want to really use it for climbing/skiing/other outdoor, consider the utility and forget the fashion. Patagonia makes great gear, albeit a bit pricey. I have a Pata fleece jacket that I have used for close to 30 years that still works great, as well as a 2 year old one, which is also great. I have Pata long johns that were perfect on Denali, although I also used a set of Campmor store-label poly long johns on Denali (had to have some change of clothing during a month on the hill, ya know) that kept me warm in their temperature range as well, at a much cheaper price. I have TNF and Marmot gear that has worked extremely well, and my 40-year old Moncler down parka (endorsed by Lionel Terray, French made) does well in its range of conditions. At the same time, I had a Mammut jacket that was, frankly, junk, but have a pair of Mammut pants that are excellent (sewn in Bengladesh, according to the label). But after a week on the mountain, with 2 or 3 weeks to go, with no one to see you (or smell you) except your fellow climbers, who cares what the "style" of the clothing is?
On the other hand, if you are just going to wear the clothes as fashion, then the label is the important thing, along with fit and color. Who cares, in that case, whether it is durable, or whether you can make a critical move during a blizzard. Just make sure the label is prominent and local to the country you are in at the moment (very few people are going to ask to see the inside label that says it was sewn in Indonesia).
As far as expert mountaineers (European, American, or wherever), keep in mind that they are paid to endorse the products, and they have paid sponsorships. You want their real opinions? Go on the mountain with them when there are no photographers around and see what they really use. I have observed on places like Orizaba, Denali, the Bugaboos, the Alps, that a lot of these experts are actually using gear other than what they endorse in advertising. Back when I used to race bicycles, I discovered the same thing - something like 80 percent of the bikes used in the Tour de France, for example, during the 1960s and 1970s were actually built by one of two small, custom shops, with labels of the team's sponsoring bike manufacturer put on them (you'll be glad to know, Carlo, that both were Italian).
Anyway, don't just go by the label. All manufacturers have their bad moments, and the big names got there because they have more good gear that meets the utility requirements than bad gear - simple rule of economics: if you make what sells, you will grow bigger; if you make junk, you will go broke.
Go by what really meets your utility needs (nothing against fashion, though, if the gear works). That's the great thing about websites like Trailspace and MtnCommunity - you get opinions from the real users.
Very interesting and useful your answer. My post was the "report" of what I've heard in many short dialogues with Italian alpinists, mountaneers and Mountain-shops' customers, trying to "pick-up" clues about what's worth buying. But because I'm not a Nationalist/self-governing/Mussolinian Italian citizen, as someone compatriots are, I'm really glad to know all the different opinions, of different countries' citizens, and that's why this website is one of the sites I check daily.
And that's why I really thank you, for your "knowing" and your considerations about this topic.
Thanks a lot.