Outdoor Retailer: It's All About the People
I spent the first week of August at Outdoor Retailer (OR) in Salt Lake City; a huge gathering of outdoor brands showing off their latest and greatest product innovations. It was, as Brian Green accurately described, an explosion of color.
My reasons for attending this year were twofold: to seek out interesting developments in minimalist footwear for Toe Salad, and to provide clothing/gear dispatches for Backpacking Light. For those who are interested, my BPL coverage can be found in the forums here. My coverage for Toe Salad has started and will continue to be released over the next couple of weeks.
While OR may seem like a big commercial gathering focused on stuff (which it is, and boy there is a lot of it!), the one thing that really makes it an amazing experience is the people. By this time next year I will probably have forgotten about all of the cool gear that I saw at the show; there will always be new stuff to drool over. What is going to stick around in my head and heart for years to come (potentially the rest of my life) is the people. I love the outdoors community and the people I have met in this space. This is one of the big reasons I enjoy going so much, to be able to meet new people and connect with friends whom I normally only get to interact with online.
Generous people are what made this trip to OR possible for me. I didn't have much of a budget. Actually, I had no budget. Earlier this summer I didn't think I was going to be able to go. With all of the expenses we had this year due to moving four times, our coffres were exhausted.
Disappointed with the prospects of having to stay home, I decided to try an experiment in crowd funding and see if my coverage of OR had any value to my Toe Salad community. I put out a message to my readers asking if they would be willing to donate money for me to purchase my plane ticket. In a little over a week I had more than enough money to cover my ticket, and by the time I left for my trip I had a little extra to help cover expenses. This was a big confirmation in my mind that my readers (and the companies that I provide media coverage for) value what I do there.
The next hurdle was to figure out where to stay. My initial plan was to couch surf. We know a couple people in the area so I figured between their couches and finding new ones on couchsurfing.com I would be able to make it work. Somehow (through a circuitous series of events I don't even remember any more) I happened to be talking on the phone with Grant Sible from Gossamer Gear who - when he learned I was going to be at OR - promptly invited me to stay with them in a house they were renting for the show. I got off the phone and was in a state of shock. Here again wonderful people were showing-up at just the right time in my life to bring all the pieces together.
For those of you who do not know them, Gossamer Gear is a small ultralight backpacking gear manufacturer based out of Texas. Over the past year or so I have gotten to know the guys a bit through Toe Salad and email. Glen Van Peski (founder and chairman), a recent convert to minimalist footwear wrote a guest article on Toe Salad. Grant Sible (president) recently created a treadmill desk after reading my article on the topic. Combine those interests along with a love for ultralight backpacking, and you can see we have quite a bit in common.
Through the course of the weekend, I had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of cool and interesting people. In addition to Grant and Glen from Gossamer Gear, Dave Cutherell was there as well. Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl were there (Gossamer Gear trail ambassadors, and BPL contributing editors) - thanks for the car rides! I finally got to meet my friend Brian Green (Brian's backpacking blog), the guy who commissioned my son Laurent to do a header for his blog. Other people who I met were Henry Shires (Tarp Tent), Russ Zandbergen (Trail Designs), and Ron and Brandon Moak (Six Moon Designs) - love the van!
Those were just the people staying at the house.
Then there was the minimalist party put on by Evernew. A large gathering of people from various ultralight/minimalist companies including, Ron Bell (Mountain Laurel Designs), Tom Hennesey and Zeuss Cochrane (Hennesey Hammock), Takashi Fukuchi (Evernew), Tomo Tsuchiya (Hiker Depot), Takuya Kitano (Sky High Mountain Works), and Justin (Trauma) Lichter - check-out his new book here. There were many others as well, of whom I have forgotten names (please forgive me!).
One night I joined a group for dinner and met even more people. I sat next to Gabe Rhodes and Matt Maxfield from Klymit where we discussed everything inflatable (ok, maybe not everything ;-). They are fun guys with some cool ideas (check out my video of their latest packraft innovation here). I hope to be able to take Gabe up on his offer to spend some time in the mountains of Utah one day.
I really enjoyed connecting with the Japanese folks. There is something about Japanese culture that really resonates with our family. Tomo (not pictured here) and I found we had a lot in common, our love for minimalist/ultralight backpacking, our love for minimalist footwear, and even the minimalist hair cut that we shared. Tomo said it best when he said that Japanese culture is minimalist - perhaps that is why we like it so much (that and the food!). Renee and I have already talked about converting our bed to a tatami mat and futon that we can fold-up and put away every morning. I think we can learn a lot on living light from our friends in Japan. I can't wait to hang out with them more in the future!
I find Outdoor Retailer energizing. It brings together thousands of people from all over the world who are following their passions. People who love the outdoors and are living creatively trying to figure out how to turn their ideas into a business or livelihood. Kind of like us :-) As I stated in a recent Gossamer Gear blog post, I definitely feel changed. That change comes from the people. When you see a bunch of people get together who are living their dreams or nurturing their ideas into cool businesses, it is inspirational.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this trip a reality, and hope we can get together again next year!