Outside Business Journal

OR Has Wrapped. Here’s What Happened on the Last Day.

That's all, folks. Outdoor Retailer has packed it in. Here's what went down on day three.

Julie Dugdale

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As the clock ticks down to Outdoor Retailer’s 40th anniversary show, it’s tough to zero in on a single emotion. OR has been doing its thing in Denver for five years—COVID gaps notwithstanding—and for many, there was a sense of rightness about it that’s difficult to articulate. Yes, there’s the economic boon. Yes, there’s the central location. But at the heart of it all, OR’s Colorado residency fit the people here. The show, some would argue, was a reflection of the values and passions that make Colorado such a renowned ambassador for outdoor recreation and stewardship.

The next time this crowd gathers in early 2023, it will be back on the show’s old Utah stomping grounds. As attendees strolled the floor one last time or zipped by trying to hit that one booth they’d missed, it all seemed more final than usual. Colorado played host to a mere sliver of Outdoor Retailer’s 74 shows over the years, but it’s been a meaningful, if transitional, run. Some would say the “retailer” part has lost a bit of luster over time as the show has slowly shifted its focus to other areas—advocacy and consumer-focused elements chief among them. Will the Salt Lake City redux restore the OR of a bygone era, when big brands were king and deals were inked on the spot? Unlikely. Still, the specific nature of OR’s next chapter remains to be seen.

In the meantime, here’s our final roundup of new brands, neat gear, and deep thoughts from Outdoor Retailer Summer 2022.

Notable New Exhibitors

Performance wear with fishing roots: It might be its first time at OR, but the family-owned, Florida-based Reel Legends has been in the biz of outdoor wear for more than 25 years, expanding from early graphic tees to its current sporty and colorful lines of high-tech cooling and sun-protective apparel. In fact, most of Reel Legends’ fabrics have earned the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation for sun protection. Moisture wicking, quick-drying, and heat-activated cooling features make these garments suitable for just about anything you’re doing outside. “Fishing is our DNA,” said Roselle Thomas, Reel Legends deputy vice president of wholesale and ESG. “That’s how we started. But we see people wearing this brand everywhere: on the boat, in water, and all over the golf course.” 

Reel Legends offers all kinds of apparel for the sun. (Photo: Courtesy)

For keeping your (other) cheeks toasty: File this one under “things we never knew we always wanted.” Developed in Maine in 2021 as a direct response to restaurants that were forced to launch all-season outdoor dining during COVID, hüga heated seat cushions are battery-operated for up to ten hours of coziness, and portable—straps let you toss it one over your shoulder like a backpack. Water-resistant, easy to wipe down, and boasting three temperature settings, these cushions have grown beyond their restaurant beginnings to become an outdoor luxury for anything from camping to catching an outdoor show at an amphitheater. Imagine the seat warmers in your car—but better—packaged in a backpack you can take anywhere. “It allows you to enjoy the outdoors for a longer period of time,” said CEO Jocelyn Olsen.

You didn’t know you needed huga’s heated seat pads—but you do. (Photo: Courtesy)

The wagon that does it all:  Another Florida brand, Kahuna Wagons, is hoping to expand its reach from beachgoers to a more camping-oriented clientele with a go at Outdoor Retailer. These hefty, no-nonsense wagons are your answer to getting from A to B when you’ve got a lot of stuff to schlep—and they’re surprisingly maneuverable. Manufactured entirely in the United States from commercial-grade, rust-proof aluminum, the wagons come in various sizes with a plethora of accessory options—bike attachment, trailer hitch, kayak holder, table top, cutting board—that attach via two fishing rod holders on the end of the wagon. And if you want to bring your beach hauler to the woods? No problem. Just change out the wheels—they sell a conversion kit. “It’s super heavy-duty but also lightweight,” said Kahuna Wagons president Jennifer Knoebel. “It’s meant to be the last wagon you ever have to buy.”

Kahuna’s wagons ain’t for kids. (Photo: Courtesy)

Cool New Products

Shoes that support the fight against breast cancer: Adidas Terrex and Adidas Five Ten have teamed up to launch a collaboration that not only looks sharp, but also sends proceeds to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Choose from the trail running, biking, or hiking versions, all of which boast a gorgeous pink color scheme in support of breast cancer awareness, with accompanying custom artwork. “This is the first time Five Ten and Terrex have come together,” said Whitney DeBree, senior manager of communications, who points out that Five Ten’s Luke Hontz was inspired to give back by his mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. He tapped bike athlete Vero Sandler to help design. “We were really excited about this because it’s proof of how Adidas is tapping into an amazing network of athletes and using some of their incredible [leverage] to give back.” The shoes will go live at the end of September, just in time for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

New Adidas sneakers that help fight breast cancer. (Photo: Courtesy)

The easiest clean water in the world: There’s lots of love in the Sawyer corner at this show (the water filtration company was a finalist in this year’s Inspiration Awards) but we’ve gotta hand out one more plug for the newest addition to the lineup: the one-and-done 24-ounce Bottle Water Filtration System. Going on a day hike? Traveling to a place with questionable water? Bring this bottle. Fill it with water. Drink. Repeat. No extra containers or mechanisms required. “This is the highest level of filtration in the industry and it’s highly portable,” said Sawyer communications director Andrew Glen. “Whereas before you would need a reservoir pack and a bottle, this one is all in one.” It’s good for 100,000 gallons versus 1,000 liters in other products. Plus: Sawyer’s proceeds help millions of people across the world gain access to clean water.

Sawyer’s all-in-one water filter and bottle is one of the simplest systems we’ve seen. (Photo: Courtesy)

Training wheels for skateboards: It’s almost too simple. How do young kids learn to ride bikes? Training wheels that come off when they have the skills and confidence to make it in the two-wheeled world. And so it is with Kubaco, whose first-of-its-kind Wheele Pro skateboard training wheel lets little skaters rock on their boards with the added support of an extra wheel. Once they’ve mastered it, just rip off the sticky pad, and voila: ready to hit the park. “Skate smart—that’s my mantra,” said founder Kuba Sitak. If you teach kids [that], then they can become who they want and build their character through skateboarding.”

Kubaco’s ingenious offerings help kids learn to skate. (Photo: Courtesy)

Hot Takes from the Show Floor

Reunited and it feels so good: “For the last two-and-a-half years, we had to do everything by Zoom calls. It’s hard to do a proper technical briefing on a Zoom call. Quite frankly, I think people are all Zoomed out. Being back in Denver is amazing just because we are able to be face to face with our clients and reestablish relationships that had sort of been put on hold for the last two-plus years. It’s nice to see people’s smiling faces, hear what they’ve been up to, hear how they’ve coped with COVID, and get back into innovating products for our brand partners. Because that’s what we do. We create innovation.” —Timothy Skedzuhn, HeiQ / Global Brandforce

Timothy Skedzuhn. (Photo: Courtesy)

Next time, can we save some trees? “I’ve made a lot of connections. A lot of the events on Wednesday night really helped get my feet wet. A lot of the seminars have been super helpful. ‘Diversifying the Outdoors’ was probably my favorite. A couple of things that could be changed: I saw a lot of paper. Like printed paper. What the heck? That was our team’s major [qualm]—people outside kept giving us paper.” —Gracie Villanueva, Gossamer Gear

Gracie Villanueva. (Photo: Courtesy)