Life can sometimes feel like two different things, like ‘sports medicine without the medicine’

What’s the future of outdoor dining in New York? How about the future of form-fitting 30-pound puffer jackets as fashion accessories? We had a chat last week with the folks behind two brands leading the pack in the contemporary outdoor apparel market, as well as conversation about the future of outdoor dining, and what’s been done in our cities. While those conversations were super-interesting, it turns out, there are some big, loose questions I had about my pitch meeting with the management of the Urban Outfitters store in the Fairfax Mall. They wanted to hear the vision of The Outdoor Retailer tradeshow I was representing. They were freaked out about my “tight Puffer jacket.”

Ouch. But they were really impressed and excited, so I braved it, carrying the requisite black blazer, parka, and blanket combo. Then the trade show curator said it would be OK. In her words:

It’s kind of like dressing for inclement weather, to have an extra layer or two. I think you could say it’s just general attire, especially for the longest outdoor events at a trade show.

I think some of the most important conversations about outdoor apparel are less about specific garments and more about understanding the goal and context: What is the goal? What are the context? And what are the rules?

This is what I mean. Back in the 1990s, outdoor events were an interesting question mark—along with big business in general—around San Francisco. People asked, Why would I want to go to a city where people are usually snowed in? The answer is that we have the longest winters on Earth. We have to get outdoors.

The response to this question was that we go outdoors because it’s good for us, and we should be doing this for ourselves and for each other. Many people in sports medicine didn’t think we should go outside because we didn’t have to move our body. While that is true (in our hearts and minds) for some people, there is still real pain in the joints and injuries to muscles and joints. You are going to get banged up in the air and get hand burns, and even foot burns. And, yes, you will get dropped.

In other words, this goes beyond the idea of “going out” in a park, and it becomes a fundamental part of who we are.

Now, the rules of outdoor clothing and proper safety have not fully caught up. This was not lost on me, as I walked around numerous trade shows, which were ironically very warm and dry.

Over at Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, for example, I had a conversation with Mark Wiens, the co-founder of Big Foot, a puffer jacket that was originally marketed as an athletic and sports coat. Big Foot had this line of jackets with a nylon liner on the inside, a “puffer” on the outside. We had a discussion about Puffer jackets falling out of favor before “the new” was even invented.

So why did the guys at Big Foot come back out with the new Big Foot? They made a model because they didn’t want to manufacture a puffer jacket that no one could buy.

To me, that’s a great example of what it means to know what the goal and context is, as well as creating a lifestyle context for our outdoor activities. We really are a national recreational activity. We can get out there, and that’s my goal. At the same time, I work for our lifestyle brand, Red Bull Black Gold, so I do an annual lesson on how to get in shape for the mountaineering season at the Mountain Equipment Co-op.

In many ways, my moment of clarity over the weekend was thinking about the importance of habits—to who we are and how we function. We are fundamentally good at what we do because we have a good habit.

I like Mark Wiens’ line of puffer jackets.

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