Tents and boats
Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to Tim at Aquapac for his hospitality. Renewing our friendship made the show worthwhile. My overwhelming impression is the Outdoors Show is a bit of an after thought besides the Boat Show and the Cycle Show.
Clearly there is significantly more money in boats than walking. However, Tim was saying that the attendance at the Boat Show had been steadily declining over recent years. It certainly wasn’t very busy on Friday. The stands seemed to be populated with rather seedy gents in blue jackets and some attractive but bored girls. The thing that surprised most me was the size of some of the boats.
The cycling section appeared to be doing brisk business and I should have spent a bit more time having a gander. Not that I want to get more into mountain biking as its an expensive hobby. Carbon fibre frames make cuben look cheap.
The Outdoors Show itself is a bit disappointing. I was prepared for that as I had seen the exhibitor list. If you were interested in finding out about travel, there were a reasonable number of stands to look at. There was very little in the way of gear to look at.
The retail offering was dominated by Field & Trek (Sport Direct). While prices were good, it was all fairly standard stuff and I wasn’t tempted. It was interesting talking to Tim about Sports Direct’s aggressive business model, which makes me rather less inclined to buy from them.
The next biggest retail stand was Paramo, which seemed to be doing good trade. I had a look at the Quito jacket but kept my wallet in my pocket. There was also a special edition of the Quito which didn’t interest me. The Velez Adventure Light trouser had a slightly odd styling which made them look like track suit bottoms. The Aspira colours were “interesting”. I bought some Nikwax wool wash from the separate Nikwax stand.
The Hilleberg stand was a big disappointment, with just a Nallo and the new Rogen on display. I guess tents take up too much room. The Rogen looked nice, but it doesn’t offer much for me. The Scarp is a much better tent for my purposes. The Nordic Outdoors stand had some very expensive Klattermusen outer wear and some attractive Aclima base layers.
EDZ seemed to have attracted a reasonable number of people with their good value base layers. Trekmates were showing their flameless cooking system, but it’s too heavy for me . The TGO stand was a bit on the periphery. I did spot Cameron briefly, but by the time I had a wander round he was gone. Outdoors Enthusiast magazine was also there.
The Cicerone stall was quite large but I avoided it as I didn’t want to buy any more guide books! If Paddy had been there I might have tried to collar him. The only other stand of interest was Buff, where I bought a Buff visor, something I had wanted for a while.
I wandered around for the best part of an hour and a half, but, truthfully, it was quite uninspiring. If you were only here for The Outdoors Show, twenty quid is a lot to pay for what was on offer. I hope they can attract a better selection for next year. I thought Excel was a very good place to hold it, though. It didn’t feel like an aircraft hangar. The catering was also good.
Let’s talk a bit about my hosts, Aquapac. It was really interesting talking to Tim about the challenges of being a small manufacturer in the UK. Aquapac still manufacture most of their range in the UK, which was pleasing to hear. However, like a lot of other small businesses, the burden of red tape from government, especially the EU is a significant problem.
Aquapac sells around most of the world. The biggest challenges are finding the right partners and distributors and defending themselves against other companies ripping off their designs. Surprisingly, the Americans are the worst culprits for ripoffs.
I must confess I haven’t seen much Aquapac product before. I was very impressed by the feel and the quality of the product on display, which felt almost German. Their market is much broader than lightweight backpacking, so some of it is not really for me. However, I bought a small roll top bag for my iPhone and a map case. I’ll report on those at a later date, but they are both nicely made.
One thing that caught my eye, but I didn’t buy was their dry bag day sack. It’s similar to the Exped Cloudburst bag I already have but a bit larger (25l). However, it has tall mesh side pockets and a brilliant wet and dry bag system inside the pack. There are two separate watertight compartments inside the sack so you can keep the wet and dry gear separate. There’s also a decent sized clear valuables pocket. I like it a lot, although it would need a couple of tweaks for me. I reckon a larger 40–45l version would be extremely interesting for backpacking. Perhaps I’ll persuade Tim to develop one.
The camera bags were also interesting although more geared to the pro-market than me as they are more bulky than I’d like. The totally waterproof range is also a bit beyond what I need. If you are interested in Aquapac products, they have a good website and you can buy direct if you can’t find what you want in the shops. I’ve asked Tim to put weights on the descriptions as I know us backpackers are obsessive about it.
So, there we are. Its a shame that there weren’t more gear manufacturers at the show. It’s certainly nothing like the really big shows in Friedrichshafen or the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market in the US. To be fair, TOS is not aiming for that, but I think to justify the entry fee for people like me, it needs to get a few more big hitters to exhibit.