When you’re out on the rivers, trails and mountains testing new product almost every day, sometimes it can be a challenge to see the forest for the trees, as it were. Such is the case with outdoor trends. While there are many micro trends that continue to drive innovation in outdoor (think: the cooler wars, bikepacking, work wear, the changing face of retail), there a handful of macro trends that continue to affect change and drive sales. And in many cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Much of the innovation you will see on the trade show floor this summer may not surprise you, but it’s innovation with staying power, nonetheless. Here are five key trends to keep an eye on while traversing the Outdoor Retailer show floor.
Being eco-conscious is back, and it looks like it’s here to stay. Along with a renewed proliferation of sustainably minded products and natural fibers, brands are continuing to seek out materials and sourcing that have less impact on the environment. And they are willing to promote it and talk about it, while in the previous few years sustainability had often been seen by some as a given that was left “unpromoted.”
“The future of performance apparel is focused on sustainability, adding recycled performance materials in conjunction with classic performance requirements such as stretch fabrics, waterproof/breathable treatments, and body mapping construction,” says Greg Thomsen, managing director U.S. for Adidas Outdoor. “True performance products, and those individuals that need those products for their activities, are best made from materials that help sustain the environments where they are used.”
Polartec has upgraded its Polartec Power Fill insulation to be made from 100 percent post-consumer-recycled materials. Polartec has upcycled more than one billion post-consumer plastic bottles into hundreds of fabric styles and category-creating platforms. Polartec Power Fill is warmer for its weight, reduces cold spots and migrating fibers, and opens up design possibilities.
Just a few more of many examples:
PrimaLoft is introducing its first high-performing insulations made entirely from recycled water bottles. PrimaLoft Silver Insulation 100-percent PCR and PrimaLoft Black 100-percent PCR will offer the same performance characteristics that have made PrimaLoft a benchmark in comfort insulations. “We are striking an ideal balance between performance and sustainability, advancing our products without sacrificing either characteristic,” says president and CEO Mike Joyce. “This is only a start. We will continue to be Relentlessly Responsible in our pursuit of reducing our environmental footprint.”
Icebreaker is launching Cool-Lite apparel in its Sphere Series, a combination of Merino and Tencel, which naturally derived from the wood pulp of sustainably sourced eucalyptus trees, has a low water use. “We have always believed that nature provides the solutions and that there are more natural alternatives available to choosing synthetic-based products,” says Icebreaker chief brand and product officer Carla Murphy. “Our awareness of sustainability in the supply chain is amplified even more with the recent release of our Transparency Report. Tencel, like Merino, is biodegradable so it will not clutter up oceans or landfills like microplastics can.”
Mountain Hardwear is launching a platform of waterproof/breathable technologies focusing on new sustainable materials pioneered by Gore. “To us, sustainability is an opportunity, not an obligation,” says Steve Adams, senior product line manager, outerwear. “We’re choosing to lead by environmental optimism through this program that incorporates Solution Dye, Recycled Nylon, C0 DWR and bluesign approved fabrics.”
“You’ll begin seeing a trend back to natural fabrications,” adds Jennifer Zollards, Mountain Hardwear senior product line manager, sportswear. “With the idea of younger climbers living in their clothing, rather than switching in and out of active and lifestyle wear, it needs to be comfortable, stylish and it really needs to be able to move with them, literally. When talking to climbers, comfort and durability seem to go hand in hand. Add multiple day scenarios, and cotton, hemp or linen fabrics start to make even more sense.”
Reducing packaging waste and encouragig recycling and repairing apparel is also key. Apparel brand Mountain Khakis’ CSR initiative includes a focus on packaging. One in five Mountain Khakis units shipped is either organic or recycled. Over half of the units are shipped in biodegradable polybags, with strides made each season to reduce waste altogether. On the “repair” side, The Renewal Workshop revives well-loved Mountain Khakis apparel by repairing flaws or repurposing them into a new life form (say, a chalk bag), or recycling items that are beyond repair back to the fibrous state.
The influence of lifestyle and urban styling on outdoor apparel will continue to dominate heading to Spring 2019. Look closely and you’ll see interesting partnerships, such as brands like REI partnering with Lyft, further validating the “urban outdoors multi-sport lifestyle enthusiast” trend every marketer can’t say enough good things about.
“The lines between athletic and outdoor will continue to blur,” says Matt Powell, NPD senior industry advisor, sports. “For example, trail running, while still tiny, is a good convergence of athletic and outdoor. And Retro is still a very important trend in fashion. The outdoor industry has not fully leveraged this opportunity.”
Adds Adidas Outdoor’s Greg Thomsen, “Urban dwellers are being drawn to sports once relegated to relatively remote, natural environments, as seen with [the growth of] indoor climbing gyms, bringing outdoor style with it. The lines between fashion and function continue to blur. We’ve seen city dwellers seek out technology from the outdoor sports market to protect against the elements, just as we’ve seen the outdoor sports market turn to urban fashion for design inspiration.”
In the urban style sphere, Ecco has introduced a unique transparent leather, combined with a neoprene upper, in a modern sneaker, the Ecco Biom C Apparition. This material, three years in the making, was the global industry’s first transparent leather, with a subtle “ghostlike” appearance.
Urban outdoor collections have also been standouts over the past seasons from The North Face. “The modern explorer seeks products that deliver an underfoot experience and material story that align to their aesthetic demands that suits their active lifestyle,” notes Shane Downey, senior product director, footwear, at The North Face.
Among the highlight products coming in Spring 2019 from fellow urban outdoor pioneer Timberland are Urban hiking styles that feature premium leathers coupled with Aerocore energy system for cushion. These styles, led by the Brooklyn, have a “sneaker boot” vibe and will be available in oxford and boot silhouettes, including waterproof versions.
And Mammut is unveiling its new Delta X collection for 2019 that combines functional performance and urban design. “For Mammut, the urban environment is far more than simply a new playground,” says Adrian Margelist, chief creative officer of the Mammut Sports Group. “Delta X marks an evolution of our brand DNA and design language from the mountains to the city – from mountaineering to urbaneering."
For several years the main aisles of Outdoor Retailer have embraced a growing group of outdoorists that use vehicles not only to get to the trailhead, but to travel, camp and stay out on public lands as long as possible. Not to be confused with off-roading, today’s overlanding has its roots in overland safari-style travel from Australia and Africa and is influenced by the motor campers of the 1950’s, the VWs of the 1960s and 70s and the car campers of the 1980s here in the U.S. Overlanders travel in everything from Sprinter vans to Unimogs to Jeeps and Subarus and make up a group of affluent semi-nomads, who seem to work remotely in some form of digital technology.
What does the popularity of overlanding mean for outdoor retailers? In addition to racks and rooftop tents, people recreating from vehicles are snatching up solar lights and self-sustaining systems such as BioLite stoves; car camping gear and double-wide sleeping bags; and two-wheeled overlanders are some of the biggest consumers of ultralight gear.
The industry witnessed the hammock craze of 2014 through 2017 and that trend coincided with the resurgence in roof top tent camping, led by Tepui, and other off-the-ground camping options from brands such as Tentree and Hang Pod. Now hammock brands are diversifying into accessories, bags and tents, and there’s a half-dozen more rooftop tents on the market as well.
“People are just flooding into the rooftop camping market,” says Tim Nickles, owner of Boulde, CO-based brand Roofnest. “We see so many lightbulbs go off on people’s heads when they see a Roofnest for the first time at events — not just the hardcore overlanders, we’re talking regular weekenders with a Subaru here.”
“One of the biggest trends that we’ve been seeing is the hunger for overland and automotive brands to get into the outdoor/active lifestyle spaces and for the outdoor/active lifestyle brands to start targeting to the overland consumer,” says Martin Maisonpierre, brand director for Seattle’s HayterComm, which displayed a multi-brand overland trailer rig at Winter OR in January, right next to Sprinter builder, custom van specialist Tourig in the main lobby. “The response was crazy from brands and consumers alike. ”
Nobody is just a “hiker” any more. Or a “climber” or a “paddler.” Well, maybe there are still a few holdouts, but for the most part, the “er” is going away. Consumers are all about multi-sport now. And gear is following suit: versatility rules and hybrid products are increasingly designed with multi-purpose functionality.
“The market has finally responded to the ‘good enough,’ versatile and affordable movement — away from pinnacle, single-use product,” says NPD’s Matt Powell. However, he adds, “brands that make women’s-specific products and focus on women in their marketing, will win.”
“The never-ending pursuit of lighter weight products and the idea of doing more with less, is an ongoing trend,” says Mark Mathews, VP-sales at Scarpa North America. “Consumers continually find themselves with less time and competing activities, so products that are designed with multi-purpose functionality are increasingly popular. Versatility is key.”
And versatility is tossed between activity, apparel and footwear with ease. It’s no longer about what you did, but how you did it — scramble to the summit ridge and then fly off; hike in with a packraft and float out, bike to a mountain lake to fly fish. Brands are breaking tradition and offering unlikely textiles and stylings for hybrid looks in a new level of creativity, and consumers are benefiting from high-tech and incredibly comfortable advancements.
In just one example, Salewa is answering the call with a multi-sport insulation piece that works just as well for alpine climbing and cold summer nights camping to chilly mornings at home walking the dog or working in the garden. In its Agner Hybrid Down Jacket, with down chambers that are not stitched but bonded, laser cut perforations between baffles allow excess body heat to escape. Outdoorists of all types benefit from the resulting high warmth-to-weight ratio, small packability and body-mapped down insulation (316 grams). The lower arms, side panels, hem and hood are all made from Salewa’s rock-resistant, four-way stretch Durastretch softshell to provide the breathability and freedom of movement you need for all activities.
Colored chalk billows out of a stuffed frog Beanie Baby while the sounds of weights clink in one room and Millennial moms file in for a yoga class. You’re in a modern climbing gym, the concept of which turned a mere 30 years old this past spring.
“In climbing, the expansion continues of the climbing gym as the modern fitness and lifestyle hub for active consumers,” says Scarpa’s Mark Mathews. “More and more people, especially urban dwellers, are getting their first taste of climbing through the new, modern gym that has opened close to where they live. This has become a huge gateway to outdoor climbing for many people.” The brand’s Arpia climbing shoe is on-trend here, designed with the contemporary gym climber in mind, but also in its element at the crag.
“While indoor gyms have been a trend for a while, the development of gyms as a rival for things like CrossFit, weight training, and team sports, and the cross section of people in the climbing gym, has rapidly expanded in the past year,” says Nancy Pritchard Bouchard, Ph.D., Five Ten communications specialist. “The reach down to grade school, junior high and high school has exploded. Being on a gym climbing team as a high school student is more sexy now than being the captain of the football team.
“But what blows me away is the number of multi-generational climbing partners at the gym — moms and sons, granddads and grandkids, aunts and nephews. Climbing has evolved from being a sport of rugged individualists to family-friendly,” continues Bouchard.
Further evidence of the trend — in 2017 Earth Treks Climbing & Fitness merged with Planet Granite Climbing, Yoga & Fitness, forming the largest network of climbing gyms in the nation. They just opened facilities in Hampden, MD, and Englewood, CO — now the largest gym in the nation — and are beginning construction on two new facilities in the Chicago area. Earth Treks and Planet Granite’s experiential retail stresses community and encourages and enables customers to try out products and test them on the climbing walls in an authentic experience.