SALT LAKE CITY -- The staycation comes to the great outdoors.
The Woodstock for all things climbing, kayaking and camping -- The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market -- wound up here this past week. I made the pilgrimage.
The and current economic turmoil is having an interesting, two-sided effect on outdoor-goods retail sales. On one hand, this retail subset is showing it can stand up to a soft economy: While the rest of the apparel business, like
The Warneco Group
, is having a bumpy time in this downturn, dollar sales for outdoor goods were up 9% year-to-date through June, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
That's due in part to sales of recession-friendly stuff like camping gear, charcoal (a nice, long cookout makes a great pseudo vacation) and the like.
On the other hand, industry vendors, retailers and travel suppliers are fretting over a serious new long-term threat: Kids are losing their taste for going outside. Everything from National Park use to participation days in outdoor activities like kayaking and the like to the ultimate outdoor rite of passage -- broken bones -- is down among kids.
To fight back, the outdoor industry is looking to get players like REI,
The North Face
( TBL) and others to back a roughly $20 million marketing campaign dubbed, "I Will," to help kids see that their real lives are as interesting as their Second Lives.
"We are going to have to work harder as an industry to get the next generation to be passionate about what we are passionate about," says Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association. "We can do it. But it is going to take effort."
Regardless of the good and bad news, innovation has not slowed. The outdoor business continues to develop terrific new products. Here is what jumped out at me at the show as worthy of taking along on stylish urban or outback adventures:
If there is one end of the technosphere screaming for a makeover, it is the high-tech baby stroller. For my money, never has so much been spent making so many look so foolish. "Excuse me madam, is that a lunar lander you are carrying your child in?"
But Delaware-based SOMA Cycle is seeking to change that. The company has created what it claims is the first bicycle-mounted kids carrier.
Obviously, you do not want to do the Tour de France with this thing -- a high-speed collision is not how you want to expose your children to cycling. But for getting around while on vacation, the Zigo offers some tantalizing upside: The unit goes from two-wheel bike mode to three-wheel "child pusher" mode in about a minute. (I tried it and it works.) Child mode is essentially a rideable tricycle carriage where kids can sit up front in a rolling, protected enclosure. You bike. They sit. You travel around town. Not bad.
, starting at $15
If the events of 9/11 had a sleeper casualty, it is the travel pot and pan. Once easy to stuff in your bag, metallic cooking items -- while not expressly illegal -- almost ensure you a trip to the extended search line at your airport's security screen. So, dragging the things you need to eat in some semblance of decency while camping has become one of travel's big issues.
Fozzils has come up with a neat answer: flat, folding plastic containers that are not awful to use or look at. You don't cook with the dishes; you simply pull 'em out, snap 'em together and you are having a stylish meal in the bush without thinking like you are refugee eating out of a can. Love that.
Epic Kayaks, V10 Sports Elite Surf Ski Kayak
Know all those dopey, neo-Nanook-of-the-North sea kayaks you see people paddling around in? Take those, maximize them for length, internal volume and through-the-water speed. Then head out into the world's largest deep-sea mid-ocean swells.
Voila, you are now ocean surfskiing.
This latest riff of kayaking
lets paddlers use these optimized craft to catch the front of fast-moving ocean waves. Good surfskiiers can travel down the face of a swell and up onto the back of the next wave, essentially connecting long wave train trips that can last for hours.
Epic makes some of the world's best surfskis for my money. They have excellent construction and a no-holds-barred approach to design. No wonder -- the company was started by Greg Barton and Oscar Chalupsky, who have 13 Olympic and world kayaking championships between them.
Bring one of these on your next trip to the beach and you will have a serious day to remember.
Finally a luggage maker who understands.
No civilized person heads into the outdoors scrimping grams to extend one's effective hiking range by 0.72 miles. Civilized people travel with tons of junk, which they usually move all of 20 feet from the back of the car to a camp site or a remote cabin. From there, we then lighten up, do our outdoor thing and have all the stuff we need at hand for some real fun.
So, what's required is a big 'ole sack we can throw all our stuff into, zip it up and lug it in one piece to the truck, car or whatever.
Enter the BigFoot Cargo Bag.
This rubberized tarp can wrangle about 9 feet by 8 feet of camping stuff into one luggable rubberized enclosure: Makes a neat ground cloth or tarp, too. What a tremendous innovation.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.