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Adventure Gear; Exciting Improvements In The Adaptive Niche
Disabled adventurers are well-versed in adapting outdoor gear to fit their needs. World-renowned climber Mark Wellman has made a life of it, and sells his adapted climbing gear through his own company, No Limits Tahoe. Many other adventurers with disabilities have done the same to kayaks, skis, and other mainstream equipment. But these hard-core adventurers who have spent the last decade adapting adventure gear to fit their level of need seem to have finally broken through, and the manufacturers of outdoor equipment are finally beginning to adapt their gear for people with disabilities. For years disabled adventurers and innovators struggle to gain sponsorships and financial aid to help them create adapted gear to get them back into the sports they love. Due to a combination of supply and demand, inventors seem to be catching on to this expanding niche of adventurer, and the annual Outdoor Retailer’s Show is one of the best places to showcase this.
The Outdoor Retailer’s Show (ORS) in Salt Lake City is a huge annual event that overflows into the parking lots of the Salt Lake City Convention Center. This year the show was as big, if not bigger, than it usually is, with thousands of manufacturers showing off their new outdoor gear. From big names such as Patagonia and L.L. Bean to smaller and newer companies trying to make a name for themselves, the ORS becomes a city of itself of like-minded enthusiasts. Attention-grabbers like the Paddle Pool filled with kayakers of world-class ability and evening block parties complete with live bands are annual staples for this event. Retailers come from all states nation-wide to make their seasonal purchases at this unmatched exposition of outdoor gear.
Over the past few years several companies have been working on prototypes for adventurers with disabilities. Last year’s ORS featured the first adapted tent on the market, Eureka’s Freedom Tent, designed especially for campers with disabilities. The Freedom Tent includes a front vestibule shelter for a wheelchair as well as toggle pull zippers on the doors and windows for those with hand-mobility challenges. Released during summer of 2004, the Freedom Tent spent its first year trekking around the U.S. on demonstration at outdoor expositions and conferences such as the ORS.
However, Eureka’s biggest challenge is finding its consumer. Marketing Director for Eureka, Kirsten Jankowski, emphasizes this. She states, “This tent is one of our higher priorities, but each year we have new tents that we have to spend our marketing dollars on.”
Jankowski hopes that the tent gains popularity among the disabled community, and is proud to offer this tent to them, but knows how tough it is to market to this group. Although the Freedom Tent has been on the road for a year, Eureka has sold only a handful of these tents, and has few retailers willing to offer it. But to really get the tent out there to its needy consumers, Jankowski is going to need help. To encourage other companies to follow suit and begin making equipment with a more “universal” design, disabled outdoor enthusiasts must begin to purchase products geared at their needs such as the Freedom Tent in larger numbers.
The highlight of this summer’s ORS was inventor Kevin Carr, an independent dealer and product designer for major canoe companies. Carr was proud to exhibit his latest addition in adapted canoe gear, a fully padded and supportive seatback that is still in prototype stage, but will hopefully be released in spring of 2006. Other paddling gear has been adapted for disabled outdoorsmen, including paddles with hand attachments for grip assistance as well as padded foot “cages,” but this new seat will make paddling a reality for quadriplegics and many paraplegics as well. Carr has designed the seat to fit into any canoe with easy installation. The seat was also designed to fit with removable wheelchair seats for the most comfort. Adjustable straps and a lightweight fame make this seatback a luxury for all water enthusiasts with disabilities.
Another company that has begun to prototype gear for adventurers with disabilities is CamelBak, a well-known innovator in hydration. These backpacks include water bladders and hose-attachments for easy drinking while on the trail in all seasons, but as of yet, CamelBak has not released a pack that is adapted for wheelchairs. Wesley Watson, V.P. of Operations for CamelBak, states this is something the company has already begun discussing designs for. CamelBak has been providing the U.S. Military with these hydration systems for the past decade, and has recently added a new competition design to their line. Innovative companies like this, thinking of all types of needs from combat to competition, are just the kind to begin adapting their outdoor gear for adventurers with disabilities.
Marketing these newest innovations in adventure gear will be the toughest test, and the more consumers with disabilities take advantage of these leading products, the more products will follow!
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