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Can New & Shiny Be Sustainable? ATTA Searches for the Best Outdoor Brand Partners

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The ATTA meets with potential outdoor brand partners during the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City each year.

The ATTA meets with potential outdoor brand partners during the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City each year.

Outdoorsy people are crazy about their stuff. If they don’t have a pet name for their backpack, they at least know the brand and model and can tell you where they bought it and everywhere it’s been with them. The Outdoor Retailer Market (commonly called the “OR Show”) in Salt Lake City, Utah, every summer (and winter) is a testament to how much value there is in tents, water bottles and stand-up paddle boards. It’s a valuable industry for sure, but a lot of the items at the show have as much emotional value as they do retail value….and sometimes a whole lot more.

At the Conservation Alliance-sponsored breakfast on August 6, polar explorer Eric Larsen reminded OR Show attendees in his keynote address that an infatuation with outdoor gear can be more about survival than materialism. When he travels for months at a time with everything he needs either strapped to his back or a sled he pulls across the frozen Arctic, his “stuff” becomes his home, he said. When Eric Larsen thanks his gear sponsors after coming back from a trip, it’s not just because it’s in his contract. It’s because that gear saves his life on a daily basis.

The Conservation Alliance protects vast tracts of land that have value as habitat and as recreation. And they do that with money made from companies that sell high-quality and high-priced outdoor gear. It’s initially a bit weird to be in a convention center full of environmentalists drooling over gadgets and high-tech materials. But in the same way that you have to spend money to make money, sometimes you have to spend natural resources to save natural resources.

ExOfficio designs clothes with adventure travelers in mind.

ExOfficio designs clothes with adventure travelers in mind.

There’s a balance to be struck when it comes to outdoor gear. Eric Larsen tries to separate his needs and wants into “What’s New?” and “What Still Works?” What’s new for Larsen is advancements in communications technology that enable him to tweet from the North Pole so tens of thousands of people can follow along as he explores a drastically changing Arctic in real-time. Larsen carrying a Delorme In-Reach device means non-polar explorers can see climate change in action and it also means that he can let his wife and two young kids know he’s alright so they can get to sleep at night while he’s gone for months at a time in the harshest environments on Earth. What still works for Larsen is the same MSR WhisperLite stove he’s been carrying for years, providing him warm sustenance from Antarctica to Everest.

The ATTA encourages the pushing of personal boundaries and getting out of comfort zones. Sometimes new gear helps make this possible. But travel is also perfectly natural — adventure is in our bones. As we met new partners at the OR Show this year and caught up with companies we’ve worked with for years, we kept in the mind the “What’s New? / What Still Works?” framework.

What’s new for our partners at ExOfficio is an alchemistic-sounding new fabric called “Sol Cool Jade” that has jade dust embedded in each thread so that it always feels cool to the touch. What still works from ExOfficio is ATTA member-favorite “Give-n-Go” underwear enabling lightweight packs and big adventures for bus travelers and polar explorers alike. What’s new is water filtration technology from Camelbak that will someday completely eliminate single-use plastic water bottles from travelers’ repertoire. What still works is organic cotton clothing from Toad&Co that has a lower environmental impact but makes a big fashion statement for world travelers. What’s new is personal solar chargers from Goal Zero that tour operators can make available so their guests can enjoy the great outdoors fully charged.

We’re always looking to partner with gear brands that are a natural fit with what the ATTA stands for. The words “responsible” and “sustainable” are at the very top of our Values Statement. Understanding that we are encouraging travelers in high-tech fabrics with reusable water bottles to fan out across the globe, we know that what we do is not without impact, but we do what we can to minimize the negative impacts of travel and maximize the positive impacts. And we’re quick to partner with any brand that wants to make the travel industry better with us.

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