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Gear Junkie: Standouts at Utah Outdoor Retailer Show

More than 1,000 brands and tens of thousands of attendees gathered last week for the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. I was on site for four days to soak in the action and snoop out new gear coming to market in 2013.

Here are a few top items, my proclaimed “Best in Show” picks, that caught my eye.

Air tent: Kelty infused some new innovation into the tent category with its pump-up tent. Inflatable air columns, not rigid tent poles, give structure to the family-style Mach series tents. On the trade show floor I watched as people worked a small foot pump connected to the Kelty tent and inflated the structure in less than 30 seconds. The family camping tent, which comes in four- and six-person builds, is not light or compact. But with its integrated inflatable shafts it might be the quickest setup I’ve ever seen.

Feather shell: Weighing almost nothing – a whole 1.6 ounces, according to maker MontBell – the Tachyon Jacket gets a “world’s lightest shell” tag with its thin face fabric. Though it packs up tiny enough to fit in your front pants pocket (and weighs less than an energy bar) the Tachyon will offer noticeable protection from wind.

Rack art: Whispbar, a new line from Yakima, offers high-end aerodynamic rack bars and mounts that seem to scream the words “premium” and “sleek.”

From the Whispbar line, which includes products ranging from crossbars to ski racks, a bike mount, the WB200, stood out. The fork mount connects to a Whispbar rack bar in seconds via adapters that cam into a T-slot on the bar. Its tray is a solid swoop of aluminum, and the front adapter is so refined it looks like sculpture art.

Zipperless tent: No more snagging! Magnets stitched in around the door (not a zipper) seal the Fishhook SL 2 tent from Big Agnes closed. I tried the unique design on the show floor – the tiny magnets snapped into place with little effort. Big Agnes states the Fishhook SL 2 tent “eliminates the frustration and noise of zippers while maintaining full protection from the elements.”

Backpack air frame: Klymit is a company known for its inflatable sleeping pads and jackets that use argon gas as insulation. This summer, the company unveiled a backpack product, the Klymit Air Beam, which adds rigidity to a frameless pack via a small hand pump. Companies including Granite Gear have partnered with Klymit on the launch. You put the Klymit air frame inside a pack.

An included hand pump is used to customize air pressure in the frame sheet. As a bonus, after a hike the frame sheet can double as an insulating seat or even a minimalist sleeping pad.

Foam hard hat: Petzl’s SIROCCO climbing helmet is a pliable foam dome protector that is a weird mix of strong and spongy. The polypropylene foam absorbs shock but is remarkably light. The helmet weighs in at just 165 grams and feels like not much more than a baseball cap but still provides legitimate protection in case of falling rocks or ice from above.