The Outdoor Retailer trade show, held twice a year in Salt Lake City, is the world's leading trade show for the outdoor industry. Insightful, real-time reporting of the product releases and happenings at each OR show has been a hallmark of Backpacking Light coverage. At each show, BPL editors from across the country converge in Salt Lake and execute a 3 or 4 day all out assault to bring you the latest information on new products, trends and events. Outdoor Retailer is truly a huge event; over 14000 total attendees, more than half of them representing exhibitors.
A small portion of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market floor. The show spills over into several other huge rooms.
For Backpacking Light staff, it all starts about 6 weeks ahead of the show. We look at our schedules and determine who can make it for some or all of the weekend. Typically, we'll have 6 to 10 BPL staff members on hand. In order to meet with all the manufacturers that are important to BPL, we need to schedule appointments during the show. About a month ahead of time we'll begin that process, doing our best to coordinate which editors want to talk to which manufacturers. We post an online schedule, and set up individual or group appointments, depending on the diversity of the lineup from the manufacturer. And we each try to leave some time aside so we can troll the showroom floor looking for hidden surprises.
Backpacking Light's objectives at Outdoor Retailer are multi-faceted. Our primary mission is to provide complete and comprehensive coverage of new products and trends of interest to the lightweight backpacking community. Outdoor Retailer is also an excellent opportunity for the BPL staff to meet with product designers, public relations staff and leaders from all across the outdoor industry. We get a chance to learn about product directions directly from the source, and we can provide feedback to manufacturers on current and new products. Most of the major component producers attend OR as well. BPL staff will meet with fabric suppliers, insulation designers and other product component manufacturers to keep abreast of new technology and develop working relationships. Lastly, OR can be great fun and is an opportunity for the widespread BPL staff to rendezvous, share our passion for the outdoors, and get to know each other a little better. I've attended two OR shows in my three years with BPL and both have been fun, exhausting and eye-opening.
11:30 pm Friday Night
After nearly 5 hours of delays at the airport, I arrive at BPL Command Central, our hotel near the Salt Lake City Convention Center. Ryan Jordan and Mike Martin are working away on their laptops, finishing write-ups from their day in the snow at Backcountry Base Camp. I haven't met Mike before, so it's nice to meet another BPL staffer. Will, Janet, Carol are asleep. Vic and Joel are on the phone. I hit the sack.
8:00 am Saturday Morning
Five of us cram into Will and Janet's car and head over to the convention center. I have appointments set up every hour. Today I'll meet with Arc'Teryx, Outdoor Research, MontBell, The North Face, GoLite, Sierra Designs and Ibex. The first few appointments go well - some nice new products are using the new Gore Proshell technology. Between appointments I'm cruising for the new and different, and also for coffee.
11:00 am Saturday Morning
Several of us rendezvous at MontBell. They have some very nice new products. My favorite is the new kilt. It's not a new product quite yet; but it's different and creative, and might have some unexpected uses. We have a lot of fun taking photos with the kilt. I have lunch with Carol, Ryan and Ken. We compare notes and then split up before our next appointments. Walking the floor, I note a couple of trends. There are loads of exhibitors showing off products for dogs - food, chew toys, you name it. Lots of dogs walking around too. Second, there are many products and manufacturers with "green" and earth friendly products or manufacturing processes. Let's hope that trend is not just a fad and continues to gain momentum.
2:00 pm Saturday Afternoon
Another group appointment, this time with GoLite. Lots of changes in their lineup.
A group meeting at GoLite. From left: Andrew Skurka, Demetri Coupounas (GoLite co-founder), Jess Jaret (GoLite PR), Mike Martin, Ken Knight, and the back of my head.
4:00 pm Saturday Afternoon
I'm getting tired. I'm overloaded with information. But I meet Ken Knight and we talk for 45 minutes with Andrew Caughey at Ibex. We see the new items and talk for a long time about wool manufacturing processes. We agree that a detailed article on this process might be fun to do and interesting. I file that thought away for later consideration.
6:00 pm Saturday. Back at BPL Command Central
We meet back at the hotel. We all flop into one room and compare notes. What did we see? Any breakthrough products? Ryan sets the bar pretty high, so we only write about products that are noteworthy. If it is just a very good new product, but not really breaking any new ground, we won't write it up. There is lots of good discussion about what is worthwhile. I whip out the inflatable vest I found at AeroVest. We have a good time tossing around ideas about how we could use the vest. Ryan doles out the assignments and we all know what we've got to do. This is the best part of the day - listening to my comrades discuss what is notable - and having a good time to boot.
Reviewing the day and handing out the writing assignments at BPL Command Central. Clockwise from lower left: Ryan, Carol, Mike, Janet, Will, Ken, Joel, Don.
7:30 pm Saturday. Work Begins at BPL Command Central
Almost 12 hours after we started the day, and we are just getting started. I'm starving. Ken and I order some pizzas. Vic shows me some great photos he took on the show floor. I haven't met Vic before this trip, but I instantly like him. He's fun. He brought a bunch of huge buttery cookies too. I realize I forgot to snap some pictures at the MontBell booth. Darn. We will have to wait another day to finish that writeup. We all split up and are madly hunched over our laptops. Ken is working on a podcast, and Ryan notes that he mispronounced someone's name. Darn again. But after a good laugh, Ken fixes it with a little digital magic. We check our notes, thumb through new product catalogs and do our best to get the facts right. We have a new system for posting our articles to the web. It goes smoothly for the most part, only the creation of new forum threads gives some of us trouble. By midnight I am done with my jobs for the evening. By 1 am the lights are out. Another day at OR is done. Only two more to go.
7:30 am Sunday
I listen to Carol's podcast interview with Wayne Edy of Inov8. She's just great at podcast interviewing. I check the forum threads and note that some readers have asked about new GoLite products that I just wrote up the night before. I make a note to swing by GoLite and get those questions answered. Where else can a reader get support like that? We're off again for another day.
Janet, Will and Mike are ready for another day.