The best part of the annual Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show is being surprised by fun and interesting gear that makes you smile and think, “Wow, that’s really a creative approach!” After checking in on paddlesports trends at the outdoor demo day, I spent a couple days last week between appointments scouring the massive convention hall for new and cool. Here are a few of the items that caught my eye.


VSSL “Emergency” Kits.

Take a simple, rugged stainless steel tube. On one end, put a high-quality oil-filled compass. On the other, an LED flashlight that screws off to give access to the tube. That’s the beginning.

The VSSL system is brilliant. The base of the whole system is the VSSL Cache, the aforementioned tube that costs $49. In that one tube you can put whatever you want, hence the name. You can imagine what they put in the Cache in Colorado.

But you can also purchase the Cache full of goodies. Different models contain different goodies, such as a first aid kit, a shelter, a survival model, and even the Flask, which contains a flask and collapsible shot glasses. The Zombie model features (not kidding) a “skull-perforating” tactical weapon and a medical mask to prevent infection. I’d rather have the Flask, thank you kindly.


The KLAX Lumberjack

Imagine a knife that doubles as an ax. Or an ax that doubles as a knife. It’s hard to classify exactly what a KLAX is, but it is cool tech. The KLAX Lumberjack is an ax blade designed to create its own handle. Just use the ax head as a knife to cut and trim a branch, insert the blade into a split in the branch and tighten it down with the built-in system.  Swing it a few times, tighten it up again, and you have a hatchet.

The coolest thing about it is that it is also useful when not attached to a branch. Hold the blade vertically and you have an Ulu knife. The cutout in the blade makes for a decent emergency wrench for hex bolts, and it comes with a nice ballistic nylon sheath to keep things safe in your bag.

I put the Lumberjack ax head on a piece of wood and cranked down the screw that holds things fast. I was surprised. It felt substantial. I’d love to keep one of them in my bailout bag.


MSR TrailShot Water Microfilter

The recent phenomenon of straws as water purifiers seems a little clunky and awkward to me.  Do you really want to lay down on your belly to drink from a stream? I don’t. Straws that filter are great for emergency use, but I’d rather use the TrailShot. The water filter works simply: Drop the end of the hose in the water and squeeze the pump to squirt water into a bottle or directly to your mouth. Flow rate is about a liter a minute.

The TrailShot weighs just 5 ounces, and is rated to filter over 2,000 liters. Cleaning is done by shaking the pump a little. I tried it in the MSR booth, filtering tan, ugly water into pure, clear water ready for drinking. I can see one of these living in my thwart bag on my canoe to use in the middle of a big northern lake.


Leatherman Tread

I’ve been a fan of Leatherman multi-tools since I got my first one in the mid-’80s. I almost always have one in my pocket. A pair of pliers or a screwdriver is usually more useful than a pocketknife.

Both beautiful and useful, the Tread is a piece of highly functional gear and a funky, rugged bracelet. Each link has two different tools on it: screwdrivers, both phillips and flathead, and Allen wrenches in popular sizes, both metric and standard. Having 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm wrenches means this will now go on every bike ride with me. Box wrenches are at the center of every link, and also included is a small web cutter and a carbide tip for etching or for using as a glass breaker.

Downside is that if you have smaller wrists you have to remove links to get it to fit, so you might lose a tool or two. I just took out the standard Allen wrenches. No biggie.

P.S. Tim Leatherman signed mine. I am in heaven. Signed my wife’s too.

— Check out more from Darren Bush’s coverage of 2016 OR as he outlines four good trends (and one bad one) from the world’s biggest outdoor gear show, as well as C&K Gear Tester Darin McQuoid‘s most eye-catching picks.

— See Bush’s latest boat review on Life after Royalex and his regular camp-tip column, BushCraft.