The rough and tough world of outdoor gear is targeting kids

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- For many outdoor adventurers it is the final frontier: shlepping the kids into the wilderness.

However, in the world of high-tech outdoor gear, more retailers are beginning to think small. Very small, as in the children of their best customers, offering the same high tech and pricey gear that their parents crave.

At last week's 20th annual outdoor Retailer Summer Market, where the trends in the industry first appear, the usual backcountry packs, electronic gadgets and slick new kayaks have some room for children's fleece snowsuits and bear-paw shaped snowshoes.

Becky Phillip, manager of Bearcub Kid-Fitters, spent her time wandering through the circus-like atmosphere of 1,000 outdoor businesses' booths looking for the latest products for her Petoskey, Mich., store.

She has seen a steady increase in the selection of children's gear during the store's seven years in business. She said many of the larger companies now are adding miniature versions of their products for young people.

When the outdoorsy set has children, they still want to keep that part of the their lifestyle, she said. But children are the first to get cold and tired.

''They're out for an hour and then they want to come back in,'' she said. ''You're only as good as your weakest link.''

Most of her customers are very active in outdoor sports, she said. They understand the allure of $10 hiking socks and high-tech fabrics.

This year's show premiered the first CamelBak hydration system for children. The company's smaller water packs were met with a feverish response from retailers, said the show's spokesman Carson Stanwood.

''We're Americans. We don't want to sacrifice our lifestyles ever,'' he said.

And they want their children to share in that lifestyle as soon as possible.

Wade Woodfill, sales manager for Jack Wolfskin, said his 9-year-old daughter toted a child-sized backcountry pack on a trip in the Teton Mountains.

''You're getting a lot of people who are having kids who are really outdoorsy,'' said Kris Koprowski, sales manager of Redfeather Snowshoes. His company's smallest snowshoes can fit a 3-year-old.

And Doug Faude, president of Molehill Mt. Equipment, sells kids-only outdoor clothing for children as young as three months.

Faude, surrounded by brightly colored miniature fleece clothing, was proudly peddling his company's sweat-wicking long johns and talking up the layering theory behind his product line.

''People are expecting the same technical features found in adult gear for their kids,'' he said.

However, while adults will pay $200 for an ultra-tech fleece jacket, they do balk when asked to pay the same amount for a coat their offspring will quickly outgrow. So Faude said he has to have lower prices. His top price for a jacket is $89.

One of the leaders in the kid niche is Kelty, which makes an off-road jogging stroller with 20-inch, knobby tires that sold out when it was introduced last year, said marketing director Ann Obenchain. The company also makes child carriers for long hikes.

Stanwood said gear for children is dramatically increasing. Parents who spend time outdoors are at least going to try to take their kids with them, he said.


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(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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