The North Face–one of the key brands at Outdoor Retailer that had an enormous booth. The North Face won a Best-of-Booth Award.

Story and Photos by Kathleen Gasperini and Tom Wallace.

The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show (OR), hosted in Salt Lake City from January 19-22, 2011, proved to be an inspirational hotspot when it comes to the evolution of sports, technical fashion, heritage trends, footwear, and accessories. It also broke records for the largest participation and footprint yet for the show at 349,950 square feet.

One thing about OR is that when you walk into the Salt Lake Palace, there’s an overwhelming feeling based on the breadth of brands exhibiting, and the actual behemoth size of some booths. Columbia won big-booth size, hands down, while The North Face (which won a best-of-Booths award), Patagonia, and Merrell practically out-did themselves with incredibly large booths complete with the latest in displays, lighting, and colorful product. Columbia, which announced at press conference last November, that it wanted to be the most innovative company in outdoors, is indicative of how many traditionally rich, heritage brands are trying to break the mold and become more relevant to today’s new consumer, especially youth culture.

Moon Boots are back.

While the show is considered the premiere location for all things related to “outdoors,” it’s also become the gathering place for seeing the latest in outdoor movies and documentaries, design competitions like the Project OR event, actionable gear testing such as climbing walls and on-snow demo day, industry parties and end-of-day booth cocktails for networking, and a Winter Exposure Fashion Runway show.

One reason it’s drawn so much attention from a youth culture perspective this year is because another Nielsen-owned trade show, Action Sports Retailer (ASR), shuttered this year, prompting much discussion of where some of the winter action sports and lifestyle brands would be showing up. There weren’t too many yet at OR’s Winter show, but there is potential crossover. While right now, the only snowboard brands on site included those such as K2, Voile, Jones Hoevercraft Split, and Venture snowboarding (most split boards meant for backcountry riding), there are many brands that show at OR and formerly ASR such as Rusty, DaKine, Smith, and SkullCandy, that crossover easily to SIA and Agenda.

Prana booth continued to attract retailers, attendees, and media. Excellent crossover brand from action sports to outdoors.

There’s also crossover potential from a plethora of sandal brands, gloves, boots, new hydration systems, technical outerwear such as The North Face, cool lifestyle brands like Gramicci, Prana, Isis, Mountain Hardware’s lifestyle collection, and footwear/apparel brands such as outdoor Adidas. Here, you can see the more technical side of some brands that showcase elsewhere as more lifestyle, such as K-Swiss’ Blade Max Trail, New Balance’s 1521, Brooks, Teva, Ecco, and a slew of durable sandal brands including eco-friendly Sanuk Footwear, as well as fashionable but outdoorsy collections such as Birkenstock, Simple, Sperry Top-sider, and Dr. Scholl’s new Jamie, which looks like a low-cut Converse.

Project OR brought out young designers who created in a Project Runway type style, fashionable outdoor apparel. Here%uFFFDs an example of some of the top pieces.

One of the major strengths of OR is actually its technical fashion and sportstyles. Bringing this to light was the Project OR design competition, featuring design students who had 48 hours to source and create a technical, but fashionable piece. The winner was Melaney Stevens, a bridal-design student from Oklahoma State University, who won for creating flattering, and functional women’s insulated climbing pants.

This the work of Project OR runner-up, Silvia Guttman, illustrating the crossover of outdoor function and style for women.

Timberland also had crossover lifestyle boots for those interested in function and style, such as the Crystal Mountain boot and Mount Holly, along with Kodiak Boots and their tall, slouchy suede with a bit of a heel, and Merrell’s Winterbell knee-high lace-up with trimmed fur.

While many may think technical outerwear can be as boring and dry as it sounds, the fashion runway show illustrated that many brands are leading with neon, pop colors, circa ’80’s that look very similar to what’s going on with snowboarding styles in general, including graphic topsheets of snowboards. From Patagonia to The North Face, such bright colors illustrate what we see in youth culture among young emo-music lovers and the influences of graphics and retro ’80’s era vibes. Other key trends include tailored and slimmed-down puffy sweaters and jackets, often with additional horizontal ribs.

Thinner, tighter ribbed puffy downs from Patagonia with some pieces in brighter colors were popular.

On the flip side of this, are the heritage brands, which are in full force at OR such as Outback Trading Company and Carhartt. Our favorite was Woolrich Woolen Mills, established in 1830, who not only had a booth that upper urbanwear and streetwear brands at MAGIC and S.L.A.T.E. would die for (stay tuned for our upcoming coverage from the show), it featured their latest black and red checkered slim-fitting and tailored vests (for guys and girls), button-downs, jackets, and accessories. And a real favorite, the Odella Parka with a faux-fur hood for a hunting chic look.

We loved the Woolrich booth. It spread-out on two sides of the hall and featured it%uFFFDs heritage strengths of red and black checks, with a display that also featured some of its more contemporary upper urbanwear styles.

Woolrich pieces reflecting a sophisticated upper streetwear aesthetic.

Technical fabric brands such as Polartec, Primaloft, 3M, were of course on hand, and this is also where you’ll see many introductions of new materials such as climbing footwear brand Five Ten and their introduction of a new rubber.

Crossover areas of interest between action sports, youth culture, and the outdoors tend to be in lifestyle areas such as urban and indoor climbing, yoga, snowboarding, street-inspired outdoor apparel, and backpacks (DaKine, The North Face, High Peak, Eagle Creek). For example, Prana and Ryka bring with them unique patterns and designs, meant to perform either for yoga or as first layer pieces, with a fashion aesthetic.

Other important movements at OR include the eco vibe and growing urban outdoor vibe such as Arc’teryx’s Veilance, Puma, which is doing some interesting things in this space. We do think one area of potential growth for OR and brands include the urban outdoorsperson, such as fixed gear cyclists and brands like Outlier, which was not at the show, but one we consistently refer to for creating technical and stylish fixed gear and cycling riding apparel. Other areas that cross more into action sports include the potential of hydration brands and accessories, such as CamelBak, and water filtration systems, plus energy brands ranging from a variety of coconut water brands and health bars that have made headway in outdoors, but could just as easily move into other territories.

Camelbak and hydration systems and backpacks crossover into all sporting industries.

The backbone of OR, especially Winter OR is backcountry and climbing hardgoods such as leaders in this category including Scarpa, Arc’Teryx, Black Diamond, Marmot, Lowa, Garmont, Outdoor Research, and the growing number of navigational devices such as Magellan.

Winter OR and Summer OR both have proved to be a gathering place for a number of outdoor groups working to increase participation in the industry through focusing on getting more young people active in the outdoors. For example, the Active Youth Alliance and the Boy Scouts of America, all initiating and meeting about plans to get more young people engaged. Outdoor Nation also reported at this show, the organization of 5 regional youth summits at various universities.

K2%uFFFDs Backcountry display, including several new avie devices and gear.

Renowned outdoorsmen and mountaineers such as Reinhold Messner, with support of adidas Outdoor, and Conrad Anker with support of The North Face, both presented at OR, adding to the tradition and inspiration from seeing industry icons who take ideas to the next level.

Overall, OR appears as healthy and big as one could imagine, but there is still room for innovation and crossover appeal to a younger and more urban demographic. Many brands are working on this, which we’re starting to see, along with crossover into more fashionable outdoor sport styles. New life is always what’s needed to keep a show of this size going. We’ll see how the future holds.

Summer OR in Salt Lake City, runs from August 4-7, and the Outdoor Industry Association Rendezvous takes place in Portland, OR October 4-6, 2011.

More images from Outdoor Retailer Winter Show:

Clif Bar products and energy bars, coconut water brands, are all on display at the Outdoor Retailer show.

Carhartt, another enormous booth, indicates the strong collection of brands steeped in heritage that represent at Outdoor Retailer.

Adidas Outdoors was featured predominately. Their outdoor collection shows their strengths in other categories such as mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and climbing.

More from Patagonia, featuring their backcountry collection.

This was one of our favorite outerwear jackets from the Project OR winners. Notice the ruffled collar.

Smith booth is always packed. Whether they were at ASR, SIA, or any other show. Their location became sort of a meeting place for media and networking buyers.

Rollic is a new youth culture based brand with trendy outdoorsy themed graphics on T-shirts, hoodies, knitted caps, and wool caps.