My bud and fellow reviewer Jill Robinson and I spent three days on the floor of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market last week, doing a bit of tag team and a bit of divide and conquer to see what’s on the way in travel gear. There were more than 1,000 companies exhibiting, so despite the hectic appointment schedule, we still only saw a fraction of what was out there in detail.
You’ll read about the gear we liked enough to check out personally later in the year, but much of what’s on display now is what’s going to be on shelves 6 months or more from now. So think of this as a sneak peek into the future, though assume some of these non-winter items will be out by June. Like any hack journalists, we’re looking for trends we can boil down into easy digestible blurbs, so here’s what stood out.
We liked the Kelty external frame luggage system that goes from rolling suitcase to backpack to rolling huge suitcase to duffel bag. Long story short, the expanding frame with wheels fits your carry-on, then you can leave the frame in your room and just carry a backpack. Then if you buy lots of stuff you need to take home, the frame expands up and the bag goes up and out. Buy a larger duffel from them and it’ll fit in the same frame.
Everyone was drooling over Eagle Creek’s new Morphus luggage system coming July 1, which is equally adept at transforming itself from suitcase to backpack to more, but it’s also really two bags in one. Half of it zips off and is a full-fledged backpack that can be worn several ways. You can also carry the whole thing backpack style with straps on the front (no wheels in your back). It’s going to be pricey, but it’s the best “one bag” solution for people with limited storage space that I’ve ever seen.
Less Weight, More Warmth
As I mentioned in the Columbia Powerfly jacket review yesterday, a few companies have gotten very good at creating warmth without a lot of bulk. Their Omni-heat system has been rolled out to almost all Columbia Sportswear winter products for the coming year, even shoes. At the same time, there’s usually a venting layer under the arms and when the product is waterproof, a wicking membrane.
Many other companies are combining a waterproof technical shell with some kind of down or Polartec liner to create form-fitting jackets that can still take you down past zero degrees comfortably. With so much heavy competition in the jacket world, features that used to be high-end are now standard.
Shoes Now Refuse to Be Heavy
I picked up and held at least 50 pairs of shoes last week (I’ve really got to learn to book fewer footwear appointments) and the only ones that really felt heavy were damn serious work boots from Baffin meant for the kind of people who work in Antarctica for six months. Thanks to the wonders of chemistry and materials design, all footwear is getting lighter, even rain boots. That’s a good thing for travelers watching the luggage weight limit.
Made in the USA! (Or Canada)
There has been a trickle of companies moving some manufacturing back to North America and some stayed here all along (Darn Tough Vermont, Liberty Bottleworks, Tom Bihn). But now some companies that had been tiptoeing are increasing production here: Woolrich, Keen, and Ibex for starters. Watch for more companies to create jobs in North America, either completely, on one product line, or through some hybrid approach like Coldpruf base layers does: mill the fabric in North Carolina, cut and sew in Mexico, warehouse and ship from North Carolina. (Hey, it’s hard to do it all here for an item that retails for $30.)
Goodbye Throwaway Batteries
There are still plenty of companies making things that require throw-away batteries, but this year seemed to mark the tipping point where rechargeable was taking the lead. Besides the long-time leaders like Eton, Solio, and Goal Zero, there were new products from Brunton, Uco, Princeton Tec, SteriPen, and many others that recharge by USB, sometimes in conjunction with solar chargers.
I also found two cool solar-powered inflatable lanterns from the companies LuminAid and Luci that I hope to review when they’re widely available. They pack down to nothing when not in use, then you charge, inflate, and voila: 6 to 9 hours of light. Naturally, these have huge implications for the developing world and in areas too remote for wired electricity.
Tim Leffel is founder of the Practical Travel Gear blog, as well as the Cheapest Destinations blog and the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. He is the author of The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, and A Better Life for Half the Price.
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