Many outdoor users might consider "outdoors" and "technology" words that should never be used in the same sentence. But regardless of what traditionalists think, technology is infiltrating outdoor recreation and sports in a big way. We've been covering the biannual Outdoor Retailer show since 2012, and during that time we've seen the amount of innovative technology and gadgetry grow. This year seemed to be a veritable explosion of technology, innovative engineering and cutting edge design. It's the perfect time to present our very first Outdoor Retailer gadget and gear round-up.
We always find a number of innovative products and new gadgets at Outdoor Retailer, and in past years we've noticed budding trends like solar gear and techy tents, but this year's show felt different. We noticed a whole lot of innovative gadgetry coming out in the lead-up to the show, and the actual show picked up that theme and ran with it. It seemed we could hardly walk two booths without running into something we had to stop and check out.
A few standouts:
Kovea Portable Induction Stove
Induction cooking isn't new to the outdoors, it's just limited to motorhomes and caravans with electrical systems. But Korean company Kovea is hoping to untether it from the vehicle and take it deeper into the wilderness by experimenting with an induction stove small enough to slide into a backpack. The battery-powered backpacking stove is still a prototype, and the company says it's still trying to figure out an appropriate battery pack to provide about 30 to 60 minutes of cook time, recharging via external solar panel. It even spoke off the cuff about seeking help from Tesla. Finding an appropriately compact, light and powerful battery is kind of a huge piece of the battery-powered backpacking stove puzzle, and because of that and the lack of available specs, we didn't do a full article on it. But we still thought it was a pretty cool concept.
Kovea hopes to have the stove ready for market by Fall 2017 (Northern Hemisphere), so hopefully we'll get a chance to cover it further in the future. Based on the limited cooking time, need for solar panels and fairly bulky design, we don't think the battery-powered induction stove will be replacing the simple canister backpacking stove anytime soon, but we appreciate that Kovea pulled this prototype out and let folks have a look.
Not all Kovea's cool products are prototypes, though, and its booth was stocked with other slick designs, including the Slim Twin Stove. The 11-lb (5-kg) stove has a super-slim chassis and looks almost like a laptop when you first see it. It can also run on either propane or butane. Retail price is US$169.95.
Goal Zero Nomad Folio modular smartphone charger
Designed to work seamlessly with the modular Otterbox Universe case and the previously released Goal Zero Slide Battery that plugs and plays with that case, the Nomad Folio Solar Panel brings solar power into the modular mix. The dual-panel folder slides right onto the battery pack, offering on-the-move charging. The plug-and-play design means that you can easily leave it at home, with or without the Slide battery, on days you want a lighter, sleeker phone and bring it when you need the juice.
The Nomad Folio will launch in Q4 for the iPhone 6/6s ($40) and for the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus ($50). The Slide Battery is available for those phones now for $55 and $60, respectively. The Universe case, which works with a variety of modules, including a speaker, stash wallet and Square chip reader, retails for $50/$60.
Goal Zero is also going lithium with its well-known Yeti portable power block series, making the new models lighter than the lead-acid Yetis. Available Q1 2017, Yeti 400: $700 and Yeti 1400: $2,000.
Surefire R31B Flashlight
A new, slim flashlight from SureFire, the yet-to-launch, rechargeable R31B features two separate LED light assemblies. The three-setting wide beam serves you well when you need to spread light over a large area, but when you need to cast a more focused beam over a distance, the dual-setting spotlight does the work. The spotlight's auto-adjusting InteliBeam tech uses a sensor to adjust output based upon your surroundings. It's a pretty slick torch in a compact package.
Also an eye-catcher at SureFire's booth, the 2211 Luminox is both a 300-lumen flashlight and an authoritative analog watch, offering wearable hands-free lighting right next to your dial. MSRP: $649
EnerPlex Kickr FL Solar Panels
EnerPlex's parent company, Ascent Solar, designed the lightweight solar panel technology in the new Kickr FL panels for aerospace applications where every gram counts (FL = "Featherlight"). The good news is, you don't have to be a space pioneer to own it. A proprietary flexible plastic backing helps make the new panels 50 percent lighter than EnerPlex's standard Kickr panels, bringing power to your adventures without weighing down your pack. The $130, 9-watt Kickr 10 FL weighs less than half a pound (6.4 oz/189 g) and is designed to charge a phone in as little as two hours. EnerPlex also has the $100, 6.25-watt, 4.8-oz (145g) Kickr 7 FL.
Motorola Lumo Lantern
We did a double-take when we saw a Motorola booth, and for a moment we even forgot where we were. But as the company explained, Motorola has actually been in the outdoor space for a long time, most notably with its two-way radios, used by the likes of hunters and skiers. It's expanding that presence with a lineup of smart electronics for outdoorsmen and women. The Lumo Smart Lantern is a good-looking camping lantern that gets even better looking at the swipe of your iOS or Android device touchscreen, allowing you to wirelessly adjust brightness and color. The Bluetooth-connected lantern also measures temperature and sends the information to your phone so you know just how chilly it is outside that mesh tent door.
The Lumo will launch in the fall in 400-lumen ($100) and 200-lumen ($80) models. In (Northern) Spring 2017, Motorola will add rechargeable versions with the same outputs for $120 and $100, respectively.
Check out our Outdoor Retailer 2016 photo gallery for all the other high-tech gadgets, innovative pieces of outdoor kit and random sights from around the show.View gallery - 73 images