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Gear implosion

It's showtime, not showdown, at outdoor expo where smaller and lighter rule.

August 17, 2004|Scott Doggett | Times Staff Writer

Salt Lake City — Gear designed for women and more nods to the gods Smaller and Lighter dominated the sprawling Outdoor Retailer trade show last weekend in Salt Lake City, as an anticipated showdown over Utah's environmental policies evaporated into the desert air. A decision on whether to keep the summer show and a slightly smaller winter show in Salt Lake became a bargaining chip last summer when the Outdoor Industry Assn., a group that represents outdoor gear and apparel companies, asked the firm that puts on the cacophonous event, Outdoor Retailer Trade Shows, to take the show elsewhere unless Utah protected more public lands. The threat won environmentalists inclusion on a state environmental task force.

Utah Gov. Olene S. Walker created the group to help oversee protection of recreational areas, but the show's decision to stay through 2009 was reportedly based more on square footage than environmental issues.

During the debate, the trade show group had begun studying other convention sites, but primarily because the summer show, with 960 exhibitors, had outgrown the Salt Palace. Organizers say they turned away about 100 companies this year.

The space crunch, they say, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in lost revenue.

In exchange for a five-year commitment to keep its conventions in Salt Lake City, organizers received a promise from the city to expand the Salt Palace, home of the shows since 1996.

Inside the Salt Palace, flocks of retail buyers and exhibitor employees, about 18,000 attendees in all, talked less about politics than the outdoor products that will go to market in the coming months.

The loudest approval may have come for the replacement of many shrink-it-and-pink-it gestures paid to women's items, as new creations designed for women took the spotlight.

Among those products: the Lowe Alpine Vega backpack, which differs from men's packs in load concentration, back length and overall fit (due out in spring; $149 to $249); Pacific Outdoor Equipment's Hyper-lite W sleeping pad, which is wider at the hips (due next month; $59 to $74); and Asolo's Enduro Channel lightweight trekking shoe, sized and featuring shock-absorbing elements designed for women (due in the spring; $109 to $135).

Operating on the premise that lighter is better, Dana Design is tweaking a waterproof Hydrocity pack that it hopes to bring to market at less than 2 pounds (due next summer; $180); Garmin has produced a 5.5-ounce color GPS unit with 24 megabytes of internal memory and 20 hours' battery life on just two double-A's that will give turn-by-turn directions (due next month; $399); and MSR has a yet-unnamed liquid-fuel stove that's lightweight, quick to boil and requires minimal maintenance (due next summer; $170).

Worshiping at the altar of small (yet powerful) are: the MYO XP headlamp by Petzl, equipped with a single 3-watt LED diode that offers a blinding 20-second boost mode (due in February; $80); the SolarSpot rechargeable light, with 10-million candlepower output and a five-mile beam that can easily be held in one hand (due in spring); and, Suunto, with its wrist-top t6, which measures heart rate and oxygen consumption and a whole bunch more ("coming soon"; $500).

Other equipment on the way:

* the Freedom tent by Eureka!, offering a gaping mouth and other features for wheelchair campers;

* Oakley Thump sunglasses, which sport a tiny built-in computer that can store six hours' worth of music and play them on earphones mounted to the arms;

* the digital Outdoors Camera from Bushnell, extra-heavy-duty, yet compact enough to put in a vest pocket;

* Wegner's Baden Illuminated Hydration Packs, with electro-luminescent wiring for high visibility after dark;

* Kelty sleeping bags constructed to meet the needs of outdoorswomen;

* the SOG Trident TigerStripe folding knife that permits rope cutting without the blade opening;

* and Slumberjack sleeping bags, some lined with a new, proprietary wicking material.

As these products roll out into stores over the coming year, hikers, campers, climbers and bikers will get lighter.

As will their wallets.

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