SALT LAKE CITY - Stinkless watchbands, solar-powered ovens, zipperless backpacks.
These were a few of my favorite things at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2000.
The trade show, in its 19th year, gave store buyers, gear heads and folks like me a chance to gawk at the products that are, or soon will be, on retail shelves.
The big dogs - Columbia, Timberland, The North Face - carved out huge chunks of the cavernous Salt Palace convention hall to display their wares. They gathered crowds like flies on old fruit.
The fun was in finding the little guys hidden in the shadows of the giants, the start-up companies consisting of college buddies, families and stay-at-home moms.
What they don't have in advertising budgets or research and development teams they compensate for with a good idea and a limitless level of enthusiasm.
Take the stinkless watchband. If you own one of those sports watches with a nylon web band, you know the problem. Mine reeks of Old Bay from a dinner last month at Jimmy Cantler's. Before that, it gave off the smell of bathroom cleaner.
Well, John Cardillo, Gerald Baxter and Edward Watson - three guys from Steamboat Springs, Colo., who own Fat Eddy's Threadworks - feel our olfactory pain. They have invented "The Airband," an adjustable strap of Drilex material and Velcro that doesn't make a stink.
"Once nylon webbing gets wet, it stays wet a long time. Mildew builds up, and no matter how many times you throw it in the washing machine, it still smells," said Baxter. "We're using a material used in running shoes that wicks away moisture and allows air to flow through it."
I bought one, and so far, so good. I sweated in it during a hike and dipped it in beer. After it dried (about five minutes) to a smelly strip, I tossed in the washer. Twenty minutes later, good as new.
My only quibble on the women's version is it's a tad too wide. But Baxter said they are working on a slimmer version.
The Airband comes in a bunch of different colors and costs $9 retail.
The other cool Fat Eddy's product is the Chameleon, an adaptable bag that is at home on the back of a bicycle courier, a gym-bound athlete, a business person on the way to work or a mom or dad toting diapers.
It manages different tasks by having interchangeable inside pockets for baby things, laptops or soggy sweats. The inside is waterproof and the outside comes in about 20 different color combinations.
There are two Chameleon sizes: Big Daddy ($84.99) or Lil' Groover ($74.99).
You can find them at: www.- fateddys.com.
It takes a lot to get from an idea to a product you can sell.
For O'Malley Stoumen of Sonoma County, Calif., the idea of a solar-powered oven came in 1995 during a 10-day backpacking trip to the John Muir Wilderness. A family friend, a physics professor from MIT, prepared an exacting list of supplies for the excursion, but Stoumen noticed how difficult it was to meet his specifications, because bottled fuel "was eating up valuable weight."
By taping a space blanket and oven bags into a pouch and spray-painting a small pot black, Stoumen cobbled together a primitive solar oven.
"All we wanted was to heat water, but it was boiling," she recalled of the first contraption. "Our friend, the professor, would have none of it until we had hot water and he didn't. Now, he's a true believer."
When she got home from the hills, Stoumen began experimenting. Her husband, Jon, an architect, and their two children helped. It took two years to perfect her idea and two more to get a patent.
As a result of experimenting, "we have closets full of black pots and closets full of rolls of Mylar," she said, laughing. "We wrap all our Christmas presents in Mylar, and I make great Halloween costumes out of it."
Now, there are plenty of devices that will warm or bake foods or heat water for a freeze-dried meal. An on-line search turns up nearly 20 companies, from India to Scandinavia, selling solar cookers. But some are as large as a doghouse. Even the smaller ones have a weight problem.
To use Stoumen's CookSack, unroll the lightbulb-shaped bag, place the folding pot stand inside and put the 1-quart pot on top, fan air into the bag to inflate it, secure opening with clips, face shiny surface of bag toward the sun and wait.
While you set up camp, the bag acts as a parabolic reflector and heats the water. During a test at the trade show, a full pot reached 190 degrees in 45 minutes.
The total weight of the CookSack is 12 ounces. The price is $79.95.
Stoumen, 54, noted that her stove does not require fire, so it does not need tending, does not create empty fuel bottles that become litter, and won't run afoul of the increasing number of airlines that won't transport backpacking stoves.
Of course, the solar oven works only in sunshine, but Stoumen said that using a Cooksack to supplement a conventional stove means a hiker can carry less fuel.
Stoumen's Web site is www.soltac.com.
Tying things together