The annual summer Outdoor Retailer show filled the Salt Palace and the Energy Solutions Arena (formerly known as the Delta Center until Delta failed to pony up enough dough to keep the name) with representatives from outdoor-oriented companies from around the world.
There were the big-name behemoths of the world—hereto referred to as Outdoorland—like North Face, Mountain Hardware, High Sierra and Coleman, as well as the "lifestyle" companies like Horny Toad, Royal Robbins, Body Glove and Teva.
Then there were the small guys, trying to make it big with niche products like personal, pre-dampened terry cloth towels and enough varieties of lip balm and sunscreen to keep the world well-moisturized and UVA/UVB-free for all eternity.
The natives of Outdoorland donned their traditional costumes—slightly baggy shorts, sport sandals and short-sleeved button-downs that don't look like they're trying too hard. The women wore similar gear, but in brighter colors and v-necks. Both sexes wore the required sunglasses on top of their heads.
The big guns of Outdoorland paraded their new spring lines in custom-built, two-story "booths" complete with full stainless steel wet bars, barista machines and gatekeepers to keep the riff raff out (they have an image to maintain, after all). Ever wonder why a brand-name windbreaker costs $300? Just check out the booths as you sip a skirtini mixed near where the fall line is on display.
One thing nearly every manufacturer had in common, down to the guy stationed in a folding chair next to his folding table, was a green theme. Apparently, the inhabitants of Outdoorland have gotten word that the recreating public is into saving the planet and is willing to pay for products that have the word "eco" on them in some fashion.
From companies like Fox River, which now has a complete line of socks featuring corn as a main ingredient, to the petroleum-free lip balm hawked by another company, they're going green to see green.
"BPA Free" stickers were adhered to everything, a direct response to the recent controversy regarding the use of bisphenol A in some of the most common plastic products on the market. BPA has been used for years in the hard plastic used to make water bottles, plates, utensils and a wide range of lightweight, durable products.
But when research showed a connection between the chemical and some changes in the brain, everyone panicked, despite the fact that a person would have to drink an impossible amount of water boiled in the bottles for years on end to see the negative effects.
Every company that used BPA was on the receiving end of a sudden blow, as consumers stopped buying anything that was questionable. GSI, an outdoors accessories company, used BPA-based plastics for everything from cutlery to martini glasses and was among the companies that felt the sting. GSI, along with others, quickly found new materials even though no ban has been placed on BPA.
Water bottle giant Nalgene changed its formula and created a new material called Everyday, which looks and feels exactly like its earlier products. It has even added stainless steel to its line to address concerns. Representatives for the company said it wasn't worth fighting the science. Instead, they've made it easier for consumers to navigate the maze of information and find a product that works for them through a new Web site, nalgenechoice.com.
Touring the massive expanses of Outdoorland, it was hard not to get hounded by the eco-friendly battalion. From shoes using recycled tire treads as soles, to inflatable boats that have had the most harmful chemicals removed, it was everywhere—hemp this, organic cotton that, petroleum-free whatever.
Even Coleman propane containers will soon come with a small nozzle attachment, which depressurizes the can so it can be recycled.
Retailers are looking to prove they, too, have a social conscience.
It was something for everyone to contemplate as they toured Outdoorland, where the natives are always finding new ways to reinvent old products while they hand out beer to tourists.