Want a look into what kind of travel gear innovations and trends you’ll be seeing in spring and summer of next year? We’ve got your crystal ball right here.
Jill, Amy, and I spent a few days bouncing around booths at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market a couple weeks ago and are just now catching our breaths. Some 1,400 exhibitors were showing off what they’ve got coming out next year and even with three of us splitting off to check out different sections, it was impossible to see everything. From a demo day on a lake, days of meetings, and random encounters, here’s what’s notable for what you’ll be seeing in travel gear in 2014.
Lighter, Easier-to-pack Shoes – But with Comfort
I’ve seen the rise and fall of many trends over the years since I started Practical Travel Gear and many I was very happy to see flame-out in a hurry (like retro backpacks). The latest “stick a fork in it” trend is barefoot running shoes, which have been a podiatrist’s dream but have not been very practical for most buyers. Thankfully cushioning is back, but often using lighter materials and still keeping the design minimalist enough that shoes made for walking won’t take up a lot of room.
Hiking boots have gotten much lighter too as most casual hikers have made it known that they’re buying something to wear next week, not something that will take a year to break in. These will still take up room, but they won’t add much to your packing weight. I saw enough styles of versatile light hiking shoes on display that I could probably do a review a week on them if it were physically possible. Ones I liked best were from Oboz, Scarpa, Ahnu, and Lowa.
A trend that really caught my eye though was packable rain boots. This is a cool idea since taking rain boots on a trip has typically been a clunky affair most travelers would avoid unless they were headed to Seattle. With the ones I checked out from Pakems, Ranger Boots, and Baffin, however, you can get full boots that come up past your calves, but pack down to the size of regular shoes in transit. The Baffins Packables come in four colors and stuff into their own carrying pouch. They’ll sell for $70. Pakems are produced by an independent company and are already in the market. They sell for $60 and come with their own pouch.
More Solar, Rechargeable, and new Hydrogen Power
Nothing I saw at the show made me as happy as the decline of the traditional throw-away battery. Sure, there are still plenty of flashlights and headlamps that use them (but usually with efficent LED lights now), but it’s getting cheaper and easier to go with rechargeables. Or solar: the Rukus XL solar boombox I reviewed recently is just the start. All kinds of solar lanterns are hitting now and I really liked the portability of this Bushnell Solar Wrap with a retractable panel pictured at the top.
I also liked a new solar backpack I saw from a new company called BirkSun. These packs look better and are more efficient than their predecessors and the best part is the price: $150 and $160 for packs that can charge your devices while you’re on the move.
The big development coming next year though is hydrogen fuel cells. These are aimed more at expeditioners and people who may be in non-sunny places without power for a while, but they’re also going to be a big hit with preppers readying for the apocolypse too I’m sure. One from myFC uses a cell where you pour in water and that starts the reaction. I liked this one from Brunton better though as it’s a plug and play system. When the cartridge is spent (after 5-6 phone charges) you pull it out and put in another. Users can purchase a recharger unit that puts hydrogen back in the cartridge or they can bring them to a participating retailer for a recharge.
Portable Watersports Gear
I did a whole post on another blog about portable kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. I took a few spins out on the water with inflatable versions of both and I have an inflatable kayak from Advanced Elements that I like a lot. More styles are on the way next year and I saw some interesting non-inflatable options, like a kayak that you put together like Legos and one that folds up into a case you sling over your shoulder: the Origami kayak.
More Packable Tents and Sleeping Pads
We only spent a bit of time checking out camping gear, but the trends were clear: new tent designs that pack up lighter and innovations that make the whole process more enjoyable. In the former category, six pounds is now the high end for weight, with many coming in under four. New designs allow more viewing area of the outdoors, ways to get in and out without stepping over your stuff, and easier set-up. The most interesting innovations are coming from Kelty, Brooks-Range, Mountain Hardwear, and a Sierra Designs model that comes in just shy of three pounds. (At $360 though, that’s $120 per pound…)
Also, in the fall Amy will be reviewing a new sleeping bag from Sea to Summit that packs into a pouch the size of a grapefruit. Lots of sleeping pad designs are packing easier too.
One good/bad trend depending on your point of view is tents being outfitted with hanging or mounted pouches that’ll enable you to watch movies on an iPad. We’ll go with the excuse that you need that when it rains.
More Variety in Women’s Travel Clothing
Jill was thrilled to see women’s outdoor and travel clothing in non-girly colors and in general, more clothing that has outdoor wear features but meant for an urban setting. After all, much travel does involve travel to cities. We’ve long seen this from Nau and Horny Toad, but the aesthetic is becoming more prominent too with the big brands like Patagonia, North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and Columbia.
More Attention to Packing Ease
Besides the easier-to-pack camping gear (something we’ve always loved about GSI Outdoors), I saw lots of new gadgets and trinkets on the way that combine two or three functions into one item and the airline baggage fees nuisance has spurred many companies to make their products easier to pack. “This stuffs down into its own pouch” is a common phrase now, whether we’re talking daypacks, jackets, or even duffle bags. It’s getting easier and easier to stuff a lot of belonging into a rollaboard carry-on suitcase or small backpack.
I also looked at a lot of new water filters that will hit the market next year, but I’m not sure how many of them will survive. I liked this Oko Odyssey one pictured here that doubles as a lantern. I also got a demo of a new camp stove from Primus that easier to pack and is a lot more efficient than other models out there.
I also got a sample of a new compression packing cube from Eagle Creek where you stuff all your things into it and then by the way the zipper is configured, as you zip it closed it compresses what’s inside. Simple but effective.