The 2006 edition of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market may have closed its doors for the night (their is still one day to go), but we thought you might be interested in knowing something about the chaos that we have been in the midst of for the past few days and will be for just a little bit longer. When the Salt Palace closes for the night some go to their hotels to sleep, some go to party, some to play, and some - like us - to write. The chaos of the show certainly envelops us 24 / 7 and I imagine it manages to do pretty much the same in one way or another for all the other attendees too.
Al Alison and Alan Dixon among the throngs by the non-stop action in the paddle tank. Here people played in the water; elsewhere they climbed rock walls or raced on treadmill or even did trick biking. Throughout it all the pace of things never slackened as people went about their business of selling, buying, making contacts, and of course reporting on the show.
The show is composed of over 950 exhibitors showing off their wares ranging from the cottage-industry size companies hoping to grow to the longtime bigwigs who have been around for decades. They spread themselves out across over 400,000 square feet of floor space and for 4 days countless thousands of people try to absorb it all. Does it sound daunting yet? If not remember that most companies have many things they eagerly want to tell you about and what they think is truly great may well be different from what you think is great. Add to this the fact that the booths though laid out in seemingly neat rows can still lead even the most careful navigator astray as he or she is bombarded from all directions by sights, sounds, and smells. And last, but hardly least, keep in mind that a lot of what you need to do is scheduled in advance and that means you had best keep to your schedule as best as you can even though sometimes that may mean hustling from a booth at one end of the show all the way to a booth in a far pavilion in a distant corner nestled amongst dozens of other booths with just minutes for time to get a bite to eat, or go to the bathroom, let alone take a break in the rejuvenation room.
Now someone is no doubt saying that some of this could surely be combatted with good scheduling care. That's true to a degree, but even the best schedules break down through no fault of anyone. And what happens when you come across what looks like a gem of a product that you had not expected? You stop for it, of course. Not everything is done by schedule and that is part and parcel of the madness that is OR.
The show is exhilarating and overwhelming. You are in a prime position to see what is developing in the latest gear and what companies think people want. You learn about new technologies being employed and can see how an idea spreads like a virus through the industry. But you also see huge amounts of chaff. Then their is the personal interplay between everyone at the show. It is especially fun to watch first-time attendees come to the show and then just dive in with great gusto. They, and I am including BackpackingLight staff editors , remind us just how much fun the show can be even when at times your primary feeling is one of extreme exhaustion.
The Outdoor Retailer shows are grand, frenetic, full of pomp and circumstance sometimes signifying nothing, full of new things to see that could well change our experience of the outdoors for the better, and an experience for all it's trials that is not to be missed. I keep coming back and who knows if I come back enough perhaps I'll even learn where the food court is one day. But until then I, along with all the other staffers who come, will continue to seek out what is the best and most interesting at future Outdoor Retailer shows.