Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2018: The Best Gear of the Year

The Manual got a peek at the outdoor apparel, footwear, and gear that will be in stores next fall and winter — and they’re going to be badass (and super sustainable).

outdoor retailer winter market sign
Outdoor Retailer/Facebook

The biggest brands in outdoor goods convened in Denver from November 8-11, 2018, at the industry-only Outdoor Retailer Winter Market for a convention that allowed product designers, CEOs, and media to chat gear specs and honest capabilities. While Outdoor Retailer shows are traditionally punctuated by frantic aisle-dodging and wham-bam meetings, Winter Market was surprisingly chill. In the light of this laid-back vibe, the new gear was exciting and profound, from a heritage utility knife to footwear with ingredients that read like your mac and cheese box.

Of the thousands of products teased at the show, we picked the five “Best in Show” pieces that stood out and started buzz.

Best Apparel Technology

SmartWool IntraKnit

Smartwool Intra Knit Crew Sweater

SmartWool never stops impressing, but it was a shock to everyone when the brand announced it had literally built its own manufacturing knitting machine (most companies outsource). Normally, a base layer (and most apparel) is made by cutting and sewing. SmartWool’s new IntraKnit technology uses a single piece of fabric, thereby eliminating any and all wasteful fabric scraps and the annoyance of seams. Better yet, with the press of a button, SmartWool can make an IntraKnit baselayer with strategic body-mapped ventilation zones or thicken the fabric over common wear zones, once again, without cutting and sewing extra pieces onto or over the initial base layer. SmartWool is the only company in the industry to do this. However, SmartWool won’t do away with their traditional baselayers since IntraKnit tends to be skin-tight (its shape retention is out of this world and eliminates sagging in, say, the knees for instance).

Best Outdoor Tool

iKamper Eatout

iKamper Eatout table

Simultaneously taking the award for worst product name ever along with Best Outdoor Tool, iKamper gets props for its first piece of gear that branches out from its namesake car-camper tents. The Eatout is an all-in-one outdoor kitchen system that expands from a minimalist trolley cart into a four-block, camp dining table with built-in gas stoves, utensil rack, and storage. Plus, it’s only about 15 pounds. iKamper pulled from its expertise in easy-set-up rooftop tents, the same products that earned fame and glory on Kickstarter in February 2017 (iKamper raised $2.37 million over 45 days so, yeah, these roof tents are seriously cool.) The intuitive Eatout caught our attention at Winter Market for its blending of furniture-grade waterproof birch plywood with two high-quality gas stoves for outdoor cooking and modern South Korean design similar to the Japanese gear by Snow Peak. You’ll want to tell your friends about the Eatout, just don’t look them in the eyes while saying its name. Trust us.

Best Material Innovation

PrimaLoft Bio

The first product on the show floor to really make jaws drop was PrimaLoft Bio, a new biodegradable down that could significantly cut down the pollution footprint of the apparel industry (the second biggest pollutant behind oil, according to PrimaLoft). PrimaLoft is notorious for its high-caliber synthetic microfiber thermal insulation used in puffers, sleeping bags, and accessories by Patagonia, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer (who was a real person and absolute badass outdoorsman), Woolrich, and more. However, the new PrimaLoft Bio down will only be released with a few, hand-selected brands come 2020-ish (we bet you anything Patagonia is on that list). The new down tech will have an added food source at the material level. Translation: The tons of microfibers released into the ocean from textile washing will now be biodegradable, leaving behind water, methane, CO2, and biomass rather than synthetic pollutants.

Best Heritage Product

Helle Viking Knife

helle viking knife

Sometimes, the best gear isn’t new, it’s really, really old. Like, Viking old. Helle is possibly the most rugged brand in all of the outdoor industry. Hailing from Norway, the knife factory is built on a Viking burial site and the nearby seaside rocks have markings from when legit Vikings sharpened their swords against the bedrock. Today, Helle provides a dozen knives for a dozen purposes, but the star is the Viking Knife, a replica of a real 1,000-year-old Viking knife. Sure, we dig its historical lineage, but it really is the perfect utility knife. The Viking Knife comes in a genuine leather sheath and boasts a thicker-than-usual laminated carbon steel blade. Its rustic look comes from the black finish created by the heat treatment.

Best Footwear

Vivobarefoot Magna Trail Bio

vivobarefoot manga trail shoe
Jalah Seppanen/The Manual

While many brands line the walls of their booths with product, Vivobarefoot took the opposite approach and premiered only one line of four shoe styles from a new Bio range made of plant-based materials. The lineup included the ultralight hiker, Magna Trail Bio, which has the aesthetic of an Air Jordan, but is made primarily of repurposed algae and corn (hence the minty color). Vivibarefoot added an ingredients list on the shoe that is reminiscent of a food label — a brilliant idea that consumers will love because we’re rightfully obsessed with that we’re putting in and on our bodies. The Magna Trail Bio represents what the future of active lifestyle footwear will look like and be built from (i.e. street style meets outdoor grit with hella sustainable materials).  Like Vivobarefoot’s current range of trail and street shoes, the Magna Trail Bio has a thin liner and a “barefoot” feel that should prompt your legs and feet to rely on their own intuition and natural motion.

The Manual will be back at Outdoor Retailer in January for its the Winter Market and Snow Show, so get ready for the scoop on wicked skis, boards, and other innovations before they hit the shelves. Here’s a list of the best gear from the previous Snow Show and Summer Market.

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