A panel of industry judges, including product designers and journalists, evaluated the 32 finalists in the first Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards competition. The goal was to honor the products released in the past few years that best represent advances in gear development. Each was judged on its originality, sustainability, functionality, concept, and design. The winners, announced last week at Winter OR, range from an electric dirt bike to a new rival to duct tape. Read on for the full list.
Taking home the top spot at the awards ceremony was the first ever biodegradable insulation, made by PrimaLoft. Basically, the company infused Bio, a synthetic-polyester insulation, with a food source for microbes. As the microbes eat, the insulation breaks down into natural matter. In accelerated lab tests, PrimaLoft found that Bio fill broke down 80 percent in a little more than a year, whereas traditional polyester insulation only degraded by 2 percent.
What's more, the brand announced earlier this week that it’s also debuting a biodegradable fabric.
We’re fans of Allbirds wool sneakers for their comfort. But we dig the company’s new SweetFoam soles for a different reason: they’re made from a sugarcane byproduct and are carbon negative, since they’re processed in factories running on renewable power. The sugarcane plant itself pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, as vice president Jad Finck told Fast Company. That feel-good story comes in a package that, well, feels good on your feet, debuting in the Zeffer flip-flop.
A first in ski-waxing tech, DPS’s Phantom ($100) only needs to be applied once when it permanently bonds to the ski’s base. And, according to the company, it offers excellent glide on a wide range of snow conditions. Gear Guy Joe Jackson is currently putting Phantom through a long-term test, but its potential got us excited enough to earn a Gear of the Show award earlier this year.
LynQ ($129) is like a sleek modern-day walkie-talkie. Except it allows the user to see where others in their network are located at any time. Up to 12 units can be synced and—using low-power radio waves that don’t rely on Bluetooth or a cell signal—will show the directions and distances to your friends, so long as they’re within the device’s three-mile range.
Known more for its high-end ski boots than its hiking footwear, Tecnica shook things up when it introduced the first fully moldable hiking boot, the Forge. This past summer, the brand announced that it was making a low-cut shoe, called the Plasma ($150), with the same technology. In 20 minutes, you have a pair of hikers customized specifically for your feet that fit better than any other trailwear your own. (I can personally attest to this.)
Possibly the coolest product at OR this week was a roll of tape. The Forj from Yale Cordage is infused with atype of resin that lends it strength without adding grams. Heat the tape, shape it to whatever you’re looking to repair, and let it cool. It’ll harden and take on a rigid plastic form that’s good for patching up trekking poles and even jury-rigging a splint in the backcountry.
Lighter is often better when it comes to safety gear, especially if the weight savings are the deciding factor in bringing the product with you far into the backcountry. Black Diamond streamlined its JetForce avalanche airbags so they’re smaller and lighter. Plus, the new packs have removable front panels, so you can swap versions to increase or decrease the volume as you please.
All of the fun of dirt-biking with none of the gas-guzzling. Designed by the founder of POC, the Cake Kalk ($13,000) is powered by a 15-kilowatt electric motor. As Indefinitely Wild columnist Wes Siler published in June: “Predictable, intuitive, and enjoyable, this bike is unintimidating and loads of fun.”
The revitalized GoLite, which started as an ultralight backpacking company and now makes fitness apparel and gear, builds the ReGreen Windshell ($100) out of recycled green plastic bottles. Each jacket is comprised of 20 such bottles and is made for high-intensity workouts.
Another product in the sustainability movement that took center stage at OR: Costa’s Untangled Collection of sunglasses, made from recycled fishing nets. Costa sourced those materials through a collaboration with Bureo, famous for its fishnet skateboard, and Costa built them into the frames of models like the Baffin ($219), which also features quality polarized mineral-glass lenses.
Another past Gear of the Show winner, Crescent Moon’s Eva ($149) is made of the same foam used in running-shoe midsoles, granting it an exceptionally light weight. Also like running shoes, the Eva is rockered at the toe and heel for an easy stride that doesn’t feel like the plodding gait many snowshoes force on the user. As we wrote back then, we forgot we were wearing them after a while.
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Philly-based United By Blue first started working with bison wool a few years ago, packing it into its utilitarian All American Jacket (which we awarded Gear of the Show in 2016). While that coat was thicker and meant for brutally cold weather, the new Bison Puffer ($228) is more streamlined, with a silhouette better suited for around town and lighter, more breathable insulation.