Camping Trends: Lighter, Tighter and Rechargeable

Your shoppers do more than just hunt. What else are they doing recreationally that requires gear you should stock?

Camping Trends: Lighter, Tighter and Rechargeable

To state the obvious, hunters are outdoorsy people by nature. That means most of them need outdoorsy gear that isn’t necessarily hunting-focused — like camping gear. Whether they’re spending weeks in a canvas-tent spike camp pursing elk out West or just taking the kids on weekend camping trips in a pup tent, many of your customers are the camping type. And they need gear.

A few trends are emerging in the camping world. After talking with retail-shop owners, managers, buyers and campers in several demographics, three topics continually emerged: lighter, rechargeable and more compact gear. 

“People my age want compact gear, like popups or truck toppers,” said Phil Kelly, 37, of Barnstable, Massachusetts. Kelly said his Coleman popup fits easily on his property when not in use and doesn’t burn an exorbitant amount of fuel. But his preference for compact flows into all his gear. 

“I can’t pinpoint what compact gear is so important to us,” he said. “But it has to do with the aesthetics and the fact it’s just easier to stow and travel with.”

The rabid camper and his wife have two young children, so all the gear they take up and down the East Coast needs to be tucked away. That’s why he has a gravel bike he mounts onto his SUV and packs a foldable baby bike travel so his kids can come along. Did I mention the portable toilet? It’s crucial, said his wife. 

Kelly also swears by his Maratec survival lantern that does double duty as a low-illumination camp lamp as well as a 720-lumen torch when needed. And he’ll take the rechargeable batteries, please.

John James of Native Summit in Oklahoma agreed the “compact” movement is a trend, and he sees it in his customer preferences. But he also added a variation: multi-use. If a customer can get more out of one piece of gear, it makes it an easier sell. We’re not talking Swiss Army knife kind of multi-use, but more like using a camp chair at a soccer game, or a hammock for the trail as well as the backyard. This spill over into clothing and trail shoes as well. 

“The idea is, people like to surround themselves with quality items that work,” said James. “And they’re not getting that everywhere they shop, but they can here. If I can make them see the multiple uses, and that they don’t have to buy two similar items, it can make all the difference in a sale.”

Although they don’t fit the same corporate demographic as most of the brands in the hunting space, outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face are designed to work really well in extreme conditions. Often they have lifetime warranties. They stand behind their products with research and proof. 

“The customer might think, ‘If someone uses this to climb Denali, then I could use it every day, yet it doesn’t make me look like some outdoor techie,’” said James. This perspective regarding selling gear has helped James succeed at this store on the north side of Oklahoma City.  

Power of Attraction

Another trend is power, or specifically, rechargeable power.  

Drew Voos, general manager at sporting goods store in Colorado, said they’re selling fewer and fewer lithium and alkaline batteries and bringing in more and more rechargeables and battery-charging banks. Voos of Garrettson’s in Greeley said Nebo is an emerging brand that people are asking for. Nebo is known to produce high-quality, non-battery rechargeable flashlights and charging devices. They range from as much as $325 for the 525-lumen Luxtreme to $25 for the 500-lumen Mycro headlamp. 

Kim Strickland, an avid camper-mom from Georgia, said never again, when it comes to regular old batteries. 

“I was so tired of trying to find batteries that would work and fit our headlamps,” said Strickland, who camps with her husband and four boys in the Blue Ridge Mountains in their lightweight trailer. “I said, ‘Enough of this,” because they are so bad for the environment, and there are so many sizes. We went all rechargeable, and it’s so much better.”

Of course, the power banks are especially popular as connectivity via phone, laptop or other devices continues to rise. 

Lighter and Lighter

Another trend — lighter — is seen from car campers to RV’ers to backcountry hunters. 

Hunters who camp in the Rocky Mountains carry a fair amount of gear on their backs: rifle, ammo, and a hefty backpack that’s rigid enough to strap on 75 pounds of elk meat for the successful walk out. They’ve been moving toward carbon fiber for years to help lighten the load. Of course, campers have also known the carbon-fiber benefits, but it seems there is more interest in products that substitute carbon fiber for steel or even aluminum. 

Voos said he is seeing more and more carbon in rifle barrels and stocks, packs, down to trekking poles. 

“That’s a big deal to shave ounces off your gear as well as keeping up with the Joneses,” he said. 

Retailers mentioned seeing a resurgence even in lighter food, specifically freeze-dried packets. One company’s name, Peak Refuel, came up several time as one that is growing in popularity, while the classic box-store brands seem to be on the decline. Peak Refuel’s heaviest meal is just 6.35 ounces. 

In the last four or five years, Peak Refuel’s shelf space has grown substantially, said Voos. “It’s real meat, and there is much less sodium.”    

Tyler Quitt, manager of Black Bird Sporting Goods in Medford, Oregon, said his customers are not always out for the latest and greatest. In fact, they trend toward the tried and true, despite weight, bulk or even if it takes disposable batteries. Black Bird has been around at this location near the Rogue River since 1962, so they are doing something right. Yet, they are always testing the waters, nonetheless.

“It’s hard not to be swayed by the hot, new gear you see at the shows,” said Quitt. “But if we see something that we think our customers might like, we don’t go all in. We test the waters.”

When paddleboarding started getting popular years ago, Black Bird customers were not interested. Black Bird carried a few, but it was not until only about three years ago that they started to sell. 

“We’re about four years behind the trends here,” said Quitt, who does a lot of A-B testing and closely watches the inventory trends. 

Yet, now you’ll find a whole aisle of premium YETI gear, plus Klymit as well as the old standard, Coleman. Quality HydroFlask shares some space with old-timey Coghlan’s accessories. The timeless brands make up the bread and butter, and the newer brands are the sex appeal. 

Black Bird buyers have a blue-collar plan that works. But — guess what? — lately you’ll find more compact, lighter and rechargeable gear in its aisles.  


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