SALT LAKE CITY — It's a showcase of technology for everything from socks that can take a beating to water bottles equipped with battery-powered ultraviolet purifiers.
At the world's largest trade show for outdoor gear, one trend this year is lighter or more powerful equipment. The makers of a pint-sized hydrogen battery say it can give a cellphone five complete charges before it needs a recharge itself.
Others are showcasing solar cells that roll up for easy packing. Also on display are featherweight canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards.
The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market opens for a four-day run Wednesday. More than 1,300 manufacturers and suppliers are packing the floor of a Salt Lake City convention hall, plus three outdoor canopy tents. The summer and winter trade shows have been a mainstay in Utah since 1996, drawing consistently larger crowds, although attendance leveled off this year.
More than 25,000 people are expected at the trade show this week, many of them retailers, who are placing bulk orders for specialty outdoor shops around the world. Exhibitors were unpacking crates Tuesday, displaying a merchandise bazaar that would make a consumer drool — except the public isn't allowed inside.
"This show has morphed into a mecca for the outdoor action-sports world," says Peter Kray, publisher of the Gear Institute of Santa Fe, N.M., a network of outdoor gear testers and experts who try out and promote the best gear.
A number of magazines and websites, including gearjunkie.com, also rate the gear and fashions to come out of the Salt Lake show before the new products hit the mainstream. Kray's picks include Smith Chroma Pop lenses — "awesome color" — and an improvement on Easton tent poles that nearly doubles their strength and flexibility in heavy winds.
Kray also is celebrating a hydration bladder not for water, but whisky or tequila — "perfect," he says.
Even socks have come a long way, with more than 100 companies in a foot race to stich the finest wool blends. A pair can cost $25, but makers say they last practically a lifetime. Cabot Hosiery Mills Inc. says its Darn Tough Vermont socks can withstand 30,000 machine rubs before wearing thin.
The jam-packed expo underscores a thriving corner of the economy. Outdoor-gear sales have grown at 5 percent or more annually through recent years of recession, analysts said.
"The industry is doing well. Patagonia has weathered the storm," said Tania Bjornlie, a trade-show manager for the Ventura, Calif.-based industry giant long known for its sleek outdoor clothing.
Patagonia is showing off a new line of day packs. "Everything at the show is getting more technical, lighter, faster," Bjornlie said.
Utah has become a cottage industry for innovators and established brands including Petzl, best known for its headlamps and climbing gear. Petzl says business is growing steadily: It's opening a new factory in a Salt Lake City suburb.
Outdoor sports "is a passion for a lot of people," said John Evans, a Petzl marketing director. "Even if the economy is not running at full steam, people still pursue their passions."
A hydrogen battery pack the size of a deck of cards can be found at an exhibit for Brunton, a subsidiary of Stockholm-based Fenix Outdoor AB., which specializes in navigation, optics and now, "portable power."
At $150, Brunton's hydrogen battery pack can be recharged at retail shops for $8 a pop. Brunton says the battery takes hydrogen out of water and mixes ambient oxygen when it's time to charge a cellphone or other electronic device.
"It's the lightest, toughest, most portable hydrogen reactor," said Walter Kaihatu, vice president for sales and marketing at Boulder, Colo.-based Brunton. "It has really high capacity. It can charge a cellphone five times from dead, and works in a range of temperatures."