Hikers walking along coastal path
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The Top Travel and Outdoor Gear Trends of 2023

If you haven't heard, traveling and recreating outside are increasingly popular activities. According to the Outdoor Foundation's annual outdoor industry trends report, some 164.2 million Americans aged 6 and up participated in an outdoor activity in 2021, up 2.2 percent from 2020. That's more than half (54 percent) of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, the travel industry continues to recover and grow to pre-pandemic levels and beyond.

As the outdoor and travel industries grow, gear companies constantly innovate to provide better products for an increasingly diverse set of travelers and outdoor participants. Brands are finding crafty ways to build sustainable products and include a wider group of people in their product lines. We anticipate brands increasing the emphasis on sustainability, inclusivity, and planet-friendly practices in 2023. Here are all the trends we expect to see in the gear market in 2023.

Bye, PFCs

Not long ago, we started learning more about the impacts of commonly used waterproofing treatments on our natural world. Per- or polyfluorinated chemicals (also known as PFCs) are traditionally widely used in outdoor and travel gear because they're so good at shedding moisture. They're also very good at staying in the environment and animals and have since been called "forever chemicals."

After those reports came to light, many brands began innovating other ways to waterproof gear while avoiding these harmful chemicals. Patagonia started changing the chemistry behind its waterproofing in 2019 and has been at the forefront of industry-wide change. "We have been full steam ahead on changing the chemistry in our waterproof materials for our products," Corey Simpson, Patagonia's communications manager, told us. "This may seem like a small part of our overall product creation efforts, but it has a very big impact on the planet and hopefully the apparel industry as a whole." As of this past fall, Patagonia said that 78 percent of its water-repellent materials are PFC-free, and the goal is to be 100 percent by 2024.

Another major piece to this waterproofing puzzle fell into place a couple of months ago when Gore, the company behind Gore-Tex, announced a new Polyethylene (ePE) membrane that will be PFC-free. As a supplier of waterproofing materials to many brands around the world, this is a considerable step towards ridding PFCs in outdoor and travel gear.

Simpson said Patagonia plans to use it in its new Storm Shift kit for this year's ski season. Mountain Hardwear will also release its first jacket featuring the new ePE membrane in the fall of 2023. "Mountain Hardwear recognizes the importance of shifting more towards the adoption of these sustainable materials and is continuing to incorporate more and more of them into its new products," said Chris Curtis, a senior product manager of Mountain Hardwear's Outerwear division. The Trailverse Jacket will be "a first-to-market offering that utilizes Gore-TEX ePE in a 3-layer construction," Curtis explained.

"Mountain Hardwear is ahead of the game in moving to C0 (PFAS free) DWR for almost everything and adopting Gore-Tex's more sustainable membrane as quickly as they can roll it out," Curtis said, adding that dozens of states currently have varying levels of legislation to ban forever chemicals. Besides Mountain Hardwear and Patagonia, Gore said other brands adopting the new tech in 2023 will include—but are not limited to—Adidas, Arc'eryx, Dakine, Reusch, Salomon, and Ziener.

Another major player in the space—Polartec—is also set to launch a new PFAS-free material. "Polartec is continually sourcing new living matter substitutes for petroleum-based products while increasing the efficiency and performance of fabrics and materials, like the new bio-based Polartec Power Shield waterproof breathable fabric technology, coming to market in outdoor apparel and gear in 2023," said David Karstad, Polartec's creative director.

The new material is an "expedition-grade" and "fashion-forward" marriage of plant-based and non-PFAS materials that Karstad said will be "an industry-leading combination of waterproofness, windproofness, long-lasting breathability, high durability, and comfortable stretch."

"At the center of Polartec Power Shield's revolutionary functionality is a major advancement in membrane technology. The highly durable monolithic membrane is a barrier specifically engineered to be impermeable to outside weather while transporting moisture vapor from skin to surface via molecular diffusion," said Ramesh Kesh, senior vice president of Research, Sustainability, and Textile Development at Milliken, Polartec's parent company.

DIY Repair and Second-Hand Gear

When I visited Patagonia's design headquarters last fall to see what they're most excited about, I shouldn't have been surprised when they showed me the repair kits that will start accompanying clothing and gear. For a brand that wants to reduce its products ending up in landfills and romanticizes the tinkerer, it's on brand. Starting February 2023, Patagonia will begin including Worn Wear Patch Kits with a few of its products.

"They are designed to help anyone repair on-the-go," said Lauren Bigelow, Patagonia's Worn Wear marketing manager. "The three tools were intentionally designed to be an adventure companion that can keep our gear in use and keep the adventure going—no matter what snag arises."

Bigelow said Patagonia will continue to share educational repair videos on its repair page and Worn Wear Instagram channel and host repair and DIY workshops in its retail stores. "We're designing products that have repair buddies built in," Bigelow said. "For example, our new Quandary pant comes with a discrete repair patch sewn into the waistband. And we're making how-to repair videos that can be found via a QR code also in the pant—boom, everything you need right there, in your pants."

That, of course, is on top of its Worn Wear program. Many other retailers are also adopting and growing second-hand gear marketplaces, like REI, Arc'teryx, GearTrade, and The North Face.

"We've seen great success in our resale and trade-in business in North America. We're continuing to invest in finding ways to make resale a sustainable and scalable business model so we can grow it within our own organization (offer resale and buy back in more regions) and hopefully inspire others to do the same," Bigelow said. "Worn Wear is a crucial part of Patagonia's future planning—short term and over the decades. We want to prove that a business can meet growing demand and be profitable without growing its environmental footprint. With resale, we can meet the demand with used gear and reduce our need to make as much new clothing."

Beyond Recycled Materials to Circularity

Including recycled materials of any sort in gear is a good thing. We're not here to shame it. That said, innovative brands are pushing beyond the use of recycled materials into post-consumer recycled materials or materials that fall into the category of circularity.

"As trends go, sustainability isn't new and is only getting stronger," Polartec's Karstad said. "As such, understanding the lifecycle of our gear is becoming more and more important. Brands are working to ensure their products stay continuously useful versus becoming part of the waste stream—a mode of thinking called circularity."

Karstad said Polartec and its partners focus on materials and garments that can be repurposed or recycled into fibers and yarn to knit into a new piece of clothing. "Garments like the Mono Houdi from Swedish lifestyle brand Houdini, or the Alpine Polartec 200 ¼-Zip from The North Face are both made with versions of Polartec fleece than can be remade into new fabric and garments once their original trip is done," Karstad explains.

The new hiking boot brand, Erem, baked biocircular principles into its DNA from the get-go, launching with a shoe that can break down into nature. It also provided different ways to return used boots so they can be repurposed into new boots. Mammut also has a circularity project in the works, turning used climbing rope into t-shirts. Erem and Polartec believe circularity and biocircular materials are the way of the future, 2023 and beyond.

Transparency in Products

Travelers are also increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of their trips.

"There is definitely a big change in people's mindset regarding traveling. Travelers are no longer in a race to see as many sights as possible in a short time. Instead, people are now considering their impact on the planet when they travel," said Harmonie Lefebvre, a travel product manager for Forclaz, a part of the outdoor gear brand Decathlon.

Lefebvre said that more people are interested in the carbon dioxide information that Decathlon provides on its products. "This trend has a huge impact on our products and the way we develop them. Consumers' demand for transparency and more sustainable products continues to push our team to make the best choices in order to reduce our environmental impacts on a corporate and product level. We are always seeking the best ratio of function, durability, and CO² emissions."

Accessibility and Inclusivity

Lastly, we expect brands to continually develop products that increase accessibility and inclusivity in the outdoor and travel space. In early 2022, Eddie Bauer launched its first adaptive skiing-specific line of clothing. REI also recently published a guide for adaptive camping.

The plus-size clothing market, which is already a more than $600 billion industry, is projected to nearly double in the next decade. Outdoor and travel gear companies have already begun expanding lines into the plus-size space, and we expect that to continue. Alder Apparel is a newly launched brand focused on creating more inclusive outdoor and travel clothing. L.L.Bean has also increased its range of sizing. And Smartwool and REI recently teamed up to create a broader range of sizes for Smartwool's baselayers.