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Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 Takeaways

I spent three days in Salt Lake City on the floor of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market last week, to check out what’s on the way in travel and outdoor gear. While in past OR shows I’ve been accompanied by Tim Leffel or Amy Whitley, this time I hit it solo.

Osprey Kode ABS 42If there’s one thing harder than three days of sprinting through a packed convention center for back-to-back meetings, it’s doing all of it with a knee brace. But I powered through to get you a look into the outdoor gear future—Fall 2014, to be exact. Here are a few trends I noticed at the show:

Backcountry packs with ABS. If you’re not a skier, boarder, or otherwise snow freak, this won’t mean much to you. But for the rest, there are a bunch of packs being introduced that use avalanche airbag systems. Some bags come complete with ABS and others, like the new Osprey Kode, come as regular packs with an ability to zip off one portion of the pack, zip on the ABS base unit, and use it when you want. Most of these packs use cartridges or canisters of gas or air. Black Diamond’s new Jetforce Avalanche Airbag pack uses a battery-powered fan.

Eagle Creek Load HaulerTransformer luggage. We’re previously discussed Eagle Creek’s Morphus bag—a suitcase that transforms into a rolling bag and backpack (or duffel). Enter the Load Hauler, by the same brand, which also turns into two bags and is far less expensive than the Morphus.

Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 70Easy-entry backpacks. I’ve already tried out Gregory’s Compass pack (review coming soon!), which allows you to zip it open on the edges, like a suitcase—rather than having a top-only entry like many packs. I also spied the Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 70 pack, with a zippered front access compartment. Both are great options to digging through your pack, only to find the thing you want is all the way at the bottom.

Columbia TurboDownDown, down, down. From sleeping bags to jackets to vests, it seemed like everyone had a down solution—either traditional or synthetic. That’s not new, and neither is the “lighter down” trend. But I saw plenty of brands with “performance enhanced down” solutions, whether there’s more down in the core and less in extremities, the jacket is a mixed version of down and stretch fabric where no warming is needed for adventurous folks, or, in Columbia’s case—using the company’s Omni-Heat technology for the lining.

Balancing the Skittle colors. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of colorful gear offerings out there. I was encouraged by a choice of bright color and more muted tones for women this time. I may beat my color-choice drum a bit loudly from time to time, but as a traveler, I always want an option between blending in and standing out.

BioLite Packable GeneratorPowering up. Tim mentioned in last year’s Winter OR post about the new options with solar-powered chargers, and those are still out there. But new charging solutions include the stove. With PowerPot, you can produce electricity to charge your phone or light while you cook. With BioLite’s Packable Generator that can be used with any stove, you can produce 10W of on-demand power. Time for some coffee?

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Columbia Millennium Flash Shell Jacket

Columbia Millennium Flash Shell JacketSometimes, despite getting out in the winter cold, you need something that allows you to move more easily than a big bulky jacket will. But sacrificing bulk shouldn’t mean giving up protection from the elements.

The women’s Millennium Flash Shell jacket packs some of Columbia’s best technologies together to allow you to be comfortable in the winter’s wildest weather. First, there’s the company’s premium stretch material with Omni-Heat thermal reflective lining, which retains warmth while getting rid of moisture. Next, the Omni-Tech fabric provides waterproof, yet breathable, protection—just the kind of jacket you want to have on your side in the rain or snow.

Use it to ski, like I do, and you’ll appreciate the removable, snap back powder skirt. I’m also a big fan of the zippable sleeve pocket—a handy place to stash my lip balm when I’m skiing.

Columbia Millennium Flash Shell JacketThere are two more waterproof exterior pockets to keep your gear safe. Two interior pockets are good spots to tuck away your phone and sunglasses. The helmet compatible storm hood and the hem both have drawcords, to tighten up when the wind blows.

The Columbia women’s Millennium flash Shell Jacket comes in purple and red and lists for $280 on the Columbia website. There’s also a men’s version that’s on their site but also more widely available at online retailers like Backcountry and Zappos.

See more Practical Travel Gear reviews of Columbia Sportswear items.

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Packable Trail Drier Windbreaker From Columbia

Trail Drier windbreakerHere at Practical Travel Gear we’re big fans of jackets that pack down to nothing in transit. This Columbia Trail Drier Windbreaker is a great one to fit into a carry-on bag when traveling somewhere that is windy and cool, but not freezing cold.

For most trips this year, I’ve been traveling to places where the weather is a little iffy, with a good chance of wind and rain, but not cold enough to justify a real coat. So I’ve often been packing this Trail Drier jacket from Columbia. It served me well for the morning chill on a biking trip in Portugal and I just wore it to start my day while in Quito and the Cuenca region in Ecuador. In between, several other trips to cool places.

I’ve been very happy I brought this jacket along in each case, especially since it took up almost no room in my bag. I could stuff it, roll it, or cram it into my daypack and it still looked fine on the other end.

This is no slouch windbreaker though. It’s got Columbia’s Omni-Shield to keep water out and their Omni-Wick properties to wick the sweat off if you’re doing something strenuous. In my travels both technologies have worked quite well, keeping me dry in a drizzle and not getting clammy when I was climbing steep hills on a bicycle.

Trail Drier reviewAnd since this is billed as a windbreaker, happily it does well in that regard also, keeping the body warm when big cold gusts come along, as I felt at 12,000 feet in a national park in Ecuador.

Otherwise, you get a chest pocket with a seam sealed zipper, two side pockets, and a hood. Not a lot of frills, but that’s not the point: this is a great jacket that covers the basics without adding hardly any weight or bulk to your packing list.

Since it came out in the spring, it’s already on sale too. You can get it in four colors at the Columbia Sportswear website for around $45, or check prices at Backcountry. Yes, there’s also a women’s version, which has all the same properties but is more shapely.

See reviews of other Columbia Sportswear travel gear.

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Columbia Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top

Columbia Coolest Cool Short Sleeve TopOn trips that are full of outdoor adventure, it’s not always easy to find the right clothing that hits all the highlights well. On my recent trip to Namibia, my favorite Columbia item was the Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top.

When I hiked in the Fish River Canyon, I wore the Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top, and while a colleague complained about the heat, I didn’t have a problem. Using Omni-Freeze Zero sweat-activated cooling technology, the shirt reacts with your sweat to lower the temperature of the fabric. It’s also incredibly light, antimicrobial and wicks moisture away, so you’re not sheathed in your own perspiration all day. After a nine-hour hiking adventure that had me scrambling over rocks and hoofing it through vast open plateaus, I may have been a little dirty, but I wasn’t dripping in sweat.

The top also incorporates UPF 50 sun protection, so even if you’re not hiking in the second-largest canyon in the world on a sunny day, you can still stay protected from the sun. Don’t let that keep you from adding sunscreen on your exposed flesh, though.

The shirt, made of 91 percent polyester and 9 percent elastane pinhole mesh, fits fairly snugly. If you like a roomy fit, consider getting a size up. I wore mine over a support cami during my hike, and never thought twice about whether I made the right choice.

The Columbia Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top is available in zing (orange), white, mirage (gray) and black. It lists for $45 on the Columbia website. At Amazon, it lists from $53.80 to $55. It’s also available in a long-sleeve version and a men’s version.

See other Columbia Sportswear clothing reviews.


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Freeze Degree Clothing From Columbia Keeps You Cool

Have you noticed how much the technical gear you buy is about temperature regulation? The Freeze Degree items from Columbia Sportswear I’ve been checking out go further than most: they actually lower your temperature when they get wet.

The Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero technology is part of a wave of new items introduced lately that go beyond just wicking and evaporation. They’re meant to react to your sweat (a sign you’re overheated) and cool you off. Here’s the rundown on three items I’ve been checking out in my travels.

Freeze Degree Zip Polo Shirt

men's omni freeze zip shirtI’ve worn this 1/2 zip short-sleeve shirt with Omni Freeze quite a bit since I got it, but really gave it a workout while biking through Portugal, where this photo was taken. It’s an ideal shirt for hot weather as it really did make me noticeably cooler when I’d barrel downhill after a steep climb that worked up a sweat.

It’s extremely comfortable and fits well. Naturally it gives you sun protection and will dry quickly when you sink wash it after a sweaty day. It lists for $65.

Get the Freeze Degree 1/2-zip polo from Zappos or direct from Colombia.

Cooling Neck Gaiter

This thin and lightweight neck gaiter with Colombia’s Omni Freeze Zero technology showed off the properties better than the shirt because I got it wet and wore it on my head when I was kayaking. I instantly went from overheated to cool and comfy. So I give this item the prize for value: you can use it as a bandanna, a headband, a head covering, or a neck covering, cooling you off and keeping you protected from the sun.

omni freeze zero gaiterThe $30 list price is a bit daunting for what feels like a stretchy piece of polyester, but it has a UPF 50 rating and keeps your sensitive parts from the neck up nice and cool. You can sink wash it or toss it in the washer & dryer, but as with the other Omni Freeze items, no stain remover or fabric softener in the mix.

Get yours direct from Colombia or follow this direct link to Backcountry.

This technology is also baked into various t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, hats, and other items for men and women. Go to the Colombia site and look for “Omni Freeze.”

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