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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 Report (1 of 2)

by , August 9, 2013

Gear overload.

That’s what Outdoor Retailer Summer market trade show is. Full on, gear overload.
But we went, just for you (and we’ll admit, to feed our gear/carry addictions).

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This year was pretty exciting, mainly because we had brands reaching out to us before the show had started. Prior to even landing in Salt Lake City, we locked in at least 10 meetings with serious heavy-hitters in the carry world. We’ll take you through some of these sit downs, several impromptu booth visits, innovative discoveries we uncovered, a look into the culture and parties of Outdoor Retailer, product fondling, and even a private tour of a legendary pack brand’s HQ located in SLC. We had fun. Here it is.

Day 1 (Wednesday):


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Courtney at REI reached out to us via email and was our first meeting of the show. And though we were both (John and Taylor) a bit jet-lagged, the cobwebs from our foggy brains were quickly shaken out by the new carry gear dropping from this mammoth retailer/maker.  We started out with the Novara side of things, which is REI’s cycle-centric brand, with a launch of a few new commuter bikes with custom-spec load hauling capabilities.  The new front racks were designed and built extremely well, with the help of Mr. Haulin’ Colin from Seattle (a bit of a legend). Their new panniers and cycling packs were also a treat, we’ll very likely have a Road Test on some of these.

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REI has taken a very hard look at their technical carry lines. By the looks of it, they’ve come out on top.  The packs looked attractive up on the wall, but were *shockingly* lightweight when we pulled them down. Almost humorous. Truly lightweight stuff, while still built from mix of durable synthetic fabrics. The thinking that went into the suspension systems was top-notch. We never thought poorly of REI’s stuff, but they just were never the first brand we looked to to find innovation in carry.

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Whoever the design team behind REI’s new collection is, did some really impressive work.  Some really great things are happening over there in Seattle.  Don’t worry, we’ve got Road Tests lined up with a few of these packs as well.

STM Bags

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We needed coffee. Fortunately, STM Bags had probably the best (free) espresso at the show. There is no better inspiration to get Carryology into your booth (unless you’re giving away free packs… with coffee).

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Based out of Australia, Melbourne specifically, the friendly folks from this brand focus heavily on affordable priced packs that pack a lot of features and bag for your buck. Primarily focused on carry for the everyday tech urbanite (no rock climbing or mountaineering here), they’re doing things nicely. And they put a huge smile on our dials by addressing one of our biggest pet peeves, “if backs bend, then why are packs flat?“.

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So many brands put laptops straight up against our curved spines, which doesn’t make much sense. STM places laptops away from your bendy back, in a protected sleeve toward the center. The integrated trolley system for the backpack was an elegantly executed solution, great for travelers. For a brand focused on price points, we had quality feature after feature presented to us, great work from these guys.

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And at the end, we were asked to guess the prices of each product.  We were above each time.  $160?  $150?  Nope, a clean $100.  Attractive, well made bags with lots of tech features for those who want to save some coin.

KEE Zippers

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This is one we had to cover. A Hong Kong manufacturer doing some really wild stuff in the zipper world. And anyone who has ever used a bag knows – zippers are critical. KEE Zippers goes to extremes. So much so that they have an application pending with the Guinness World Records for the world’s lightest zipper (a #1 size, used for high-end fashion hidden zippers or “intimates”). They balance this out with the star of their product collection – the whopping #30 zipper, the largest in the world.  To put both of these sizes into perspective; most zippers you’ll commonly interact with on a daily basis are #5 or #6.

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The #1 was tiny, yet completely functional. The #30 was a blast to interact with, the monster teeth audibly growling as the remote-control-car-sized slider passed through them. They did have an actual list of applications for the beast, all which made sense.  Though not 100% applicable for bags, we’d still love to see one used somehow, even just for a laugh. Please, someone use these, just for us.

Mystery Ranch / Kletterwerks

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The Mystery Ranch booth, tucked away off of the main floor, was our little oasis to retreat to when the pressures of OR became too much for our eyes and minds to handle. Fortunately, they genuinely didn’t seem to mind having us there, hanging out and generally taking up space. Everyone at the booth was super friendly, casual, fun and funny.

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Interesting fact about the employees at Mystery Ranch – they all sit behind a sewing machine for 6 long months, undergoing MR’s rigorous hands-on pack construction training. So every single one of the employees, whether they’re in Marketing or Sales, knows the packs inside and out, stitch by stitch, literally. Very cool.

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Yes, Dana Gleason and his son Dana were there (both shown above, with a Carryology infographic desktop background on D3’s personal laptop). Yes, they were awesome to spend time with, talking shop and cracking jokes. We even got a secret, no cameras allowed, off-the-record view of several of their new products coming up soon. This took place in their 7th floor hotel room across the street from the convention center (it all felt a bit Mafia-esque).

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Though we promised not to share any details with you just yet, we’re told we can reveal the awesomeness at a somewhat near-future date. The wait will be worth it.

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We’re also lucky enough to have worked out an arrangement to Road Test a few classic MR products, which we’re really stoked on as we’ve been eyeballing these for a while now.


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These guys really impressed us with their new carry products. Some of the best we saw at Outdoor Retailer over all three days. Big words. Why do we feel this way? Well, it seems they’ve found a perfect balance between function, aesthetics and design restraint.

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Not too long ago, the more straps and webbing, the better the technical outdoor pack – or so the belief was.  Now, the trend is quite the opposite; streamlined and light. Add only what is necessary and strip away the rest. Gregory Packs has done just that, but added plenty of exciting features at the same time.

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The suspensions have been revamped, adding airflow and comfort for users who will be carrying heavy loads over long distances over rough terrain.

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In fact, my (Taylor) favorite pack, the star of the show, was the new for Fall 2013, Sketch 25 (corrected!). We came back to their booth several times, just to look at and interact with this orange/red beauty. The little details were smartly done, like the gear lashes peaking out behind the nylon fabric folds. Unlike most roll-tops, there were still zippers to easily access goods inside. Thumbs up guys. One of these may be added to the personal collection.

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Original founder Wayne Gregory was there, in great spirits with lots of smiles and jokes as always. We had a good laugh with him and his Costanza wallet, comparing it to our slim front pocket wallets. Our cheeks hurt from smiling afterward.  More on Gregory (a private tour of their HQ) coming up in Part 2.

Day 2 (Thursday):


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A classic American brand putting out some interesting new carry products. The brand’s design team clearly identified their target customer before they dove into this venture, which is critically important. They described specific use-case scenarios for each product and how they would seamlessly fit into the lives of individuals. Not just traditional work bags like before (but they did have these… and improved versions of them).

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These new backpacks, messengers and totes are all designed for folks who want to transition from the cabin, to work, the barn, the gym and more. Work first, trend second. Stylistically, they’re undeniably Carthatt, sharing much of the design language from their bulletproof workwear. Constructed from 1200D poly and available in a few tasteful natural muted colors. Available at attractive price points, their entrance to this market is exciting and one that we bet their devoted fans are going to jump at.


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Inspiring work coming from these big guys in the hydration carry niche, the new NV suspension system in particular was a show stopper. Besides the technical and attractive appearance, it is designed to flex with your body allowing for loads of comfort and maximum ventilation while cycling on hot trails.

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These soft ergonomic padded pods are attached to the load-bearing frame-sheet at a pivot point, so they individually wrap around your back in all different positions. When you get a chance, have a play with one of these in a local retailer of CamelBak, it’ll be sure to provide some enjoyment. To get the true experience, we’ve got plans to Road Test one of these while ripping down some single track.

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Another tricky product they revealed was the Arete, a 2-in-1 convertible pack. This could be great for cycling, hiking, running, and especially travel, as it transforms into a fully functioning pack into a minimal stow-able pack you can toss into your larger travel pack.

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The CamelBak military collection is always a treat to inspect, as we love carry that is overbuilt. One system that caught our attention was the portable hydration system, which is fillable with your average garden hose.

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Once topped off, you can fill up to two personal hydration packs at once, via their innovative quick disconnect system.  The idea we have for this Road Test of the system will surely raise an eyebrow.


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Oh, Filson.  You played our heartstrings with your new carry products.

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Filson has been doing carry for a while now, successfully too, earning themselves a serious cult following.

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These new bags are completely reworked and designed with an obviously large serving of passion, while taking inspiration from their past and looking forward at the same time.

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The designs take direct style cues from their classic outdoor apparel, using the same Filson tin cloth, Horween leather, and antique metal hardware.

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In some cases, they’re even using the beloved quality Italian-made Riri zippers, a tangible treat. While they look great, they all have touches of innovation through patterning commonly seen in technical outdoor packs.

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Overall, looking back on Outdoor Retailer, Filson is one of our favourite booth visits. On a personal level, we definitely want to own one or two (all) of these products.

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Stay tuned for the next instalment in our coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 Report.


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