Outdoor Retailer Show moving in new direction

The Outdoor Retailer’s Show comes to Salt Lake City twice a year, in summer and winter. But this year’s August show amazed everyone: vendors, spectators, and retailers as well. The featured products weren’t the tried and true outdoor products like rugged boots or tents and sleeping bags. The show was suddenly all high tech, with hundreds of startups. The outdoors will never be used in the same way.

It’s no longer enough to put more filling in a sleeping bag or make a knife with a dozen other tools attached. Of the hundreds of new vendors offering merchandise that will be available on shelves next summer, nearly all were new startups. For most of those new products, you have to download an app, or charge up a battery at home.

For example, Dreamwave is a startup that features outdoor portable Bluetooth speakers. Nat Rubalcava, one of the developers, says, “Its primary function is as a speaker, but it’s also a flashlight that can be used if you need a rescue. The third thing it does is jump start the battery on your vehicle if it happens to die. It will jump your car.”

Dreamwave was in one of the three huge pavilions that have tripled the size of the show. So was ‘Popticals,’ whose folding sunglasses are only the size of an egg when stored in their case. The nylon lenses are by Carl Zeiss Vision. The company’s motto is, ‘Pack Small. Live big.’

One of the most exciting products offered was the ‘Solowheel,’ a new mode of urban and city transportation. Charge it at home, park your vehicle and take out the ‘wheel.’ That’s all it is: a wheel with a foot rest on each side. The rider leans in the desired direction to guide the wheel, or leans back to brake and stop. It reaches speeds up to about 10 miles an hour. It’s easy to learn to ride, according to inventor Shane Chen.

He says, “It’s automatic balancing. It’s easier to learn than riding a bicycle. You can learn to ride a Solowheel in less than an hour. It actually came out five years ago. We use a battery with much higher power than the less expensive knockoffs. That’s also safer for the rider, because the extra power helps support the rider in an upright position. Solowheel is gaining in popularity.”

The lowest priced model is $1,500, the top model is $2,300. Chen warns not to buy one of the cheaper versions, often made in China. Because they have less powerful batteries, a fall or loss of control happens more easily.

Some of the startups add something new and desirable to an old product, such as D-Curve, maker of goggles and helmets for every sport. Developer Andrew Strauss explains that the goggles are curved so you have more peripheral vision, and hug the face so no air comes in at the sides to make your eyes tear.

But the highlight is that the goggle foam is in an attached removable frame, so it can be removed and hand or machine washed. Strauss says, “There’s nothing else you use that you work out in, sweat on, and you use over and over again, but you don’t wash. If it wears out, you can replace the foam so you don’t have to buy a whole new goggle.”

The company also offers replaceable straps for color changes or loss of elasticity, and replaceable lenses, so owners don’t ever have to purchase a whole new goggle. It’s a startup that launched in January.

Fox River Mills has been a maker of socks for decades and has been at the OR show every year since it first began in the 1990’s, but even something as simple as socks are getting more technical. The company’s Mike Tyer says, “We’re now using PTFE nylon to reinforce our socks. It makes them last longer. We now also put Primaloft in our socks, so the same thing you’re used to from sleeping bags and jackets now helps insulate your feet.

Forget the popular computer trade shows. If you want to see the latest technology, go to an outdoors shop instead.


Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly