The 5 Best Outdoor Gear Breakthroughs Since 1986

Sierra Trading Post has witnessed a lot of innovative outdoor gear inventions in the 30 years since the first catalog was sent, but I narrowed this list down to the 5 best outdoor gear breakthroughs.

1. CoolMax® moisture-wicking fabric (1986)

High-performance apparel wouldn't be where it is today without CoolMax® fabric technology. Born in 1986, CoolMax® is the same age as Sierra Trading Post. CoolMax® was developed by DuPont (now Invista) and engineered to offer incredible breathability and moisture-wicking performance compared to cotton.

Without the technology developed to make CoolMax®, active apparel and outerwear simply wouldn't be the same. The lightweight, breathable, quick-drying and moisture-wicking performance you enjoy during hikes, runs, rides and backpacking excursions is all thanks to the trailblazing of DuPont and their CoolMax® fabric.

2. CamelBak hydration reservoir (1989)


Now considered a must-have item for hikers, campers and cyclists, the hands-free hydration of a CamelBak reservoir was invented in 1989. Like some of the best outdoor gear inventions, the hydration reservoir was created out of necessity.

Cyclist Michael Eidson was participating in the grueling "Hotter 'N Hell 100" road race when he decided to fill an IV bag with water and carry it in a tube sock in the back of his bike jersey. Eidson enjoyed hands-free hydration while the rest of the cyclists were messing with their water bottles, and the CamelBak hydration backpack was born!

3. Elan SCX Shaped Ski (1991)

Arguably the most influential invention in downhill skiing history, the Elan SCX shaped ski made it to market in 1991 and created quite the controversy in ski racing during the early '90s. The SCX shaped ski was made in Slovenia using a mold that allowed designers to create a ski with a variable sidecut, and then sent it over to the USA for prototype testing.

The Elan SCX was the first to use a deep sidecut (110mm-63mm-105mm, which was three times deeper than what most racers were using) and proved to be incredibly fast in races. The skinny ski was nicknamed "the cheater ski" for its drastic impact on skiers' GS race times. Thanks to Elan and their innovative ski mold, skiers are able to choose from all sorts of different shapes and sidecuts in their skis today.

4. Petzl LED Headlamp (2000)

Best Outdoor Gear Inventions

Hitting the market in 2000, the first LED headlamp to be offered in the outdoor gear market was the Petzl Tikka LED headlamp. LED headlamps were first used by spelunkers, but were often modified at home and not available to the wider market. Explorers immediately saw the benefits of having efficient, hands-free lighting in all kinds of outdoor adventures, and headlamp popularity grew quickly.  Now, anyone can now enjoy the ultralight and efficient lighting of an LED headlamp, thanks to the Petzl Tikka.

5. C4 Waterman SUP (2007)

Best Outdoor Gear

Finally, the most recent breakthrough in the outdoor gear industry is now a popular choice for water-lovers all over the world. Stand-up paddle boards (SUP) burst onto the paddle sports scene in 2007, thanks to the Hawaii-based SUP company, C4 Waterman. The rise of the C4 Waterman SUP was spearheaded in Honolulu by islanders Todd Bradley and Brian Keaulana. Bradley and Keaulana are the bona fide pioneers of stand-up paddleboarding, and were the first to bring the sport to the masses with their beloved C4 Waterman SUP.

That rounds up my list of the best five gear inventions since Sierra Trading Post got its start in 1986. There were a lot of inventions that didn't make the list, like rockered skis (Volant, 2001), merino wool socks (SmartWool, 1994) and wiregate carabiners (Black Diamond, 1995), just to name a few. Can you think of other gear inventions that I missed?

Which gear inventions and innovations have made the biggest impact on your life in the outdoors?
Comments (4)
7/13/2016 at 3:56 PM
The first one I thought of, and was amazed to see missing from the list, was Jetboil. I'll bet there are far more Jetboils in use than the skis and SUPs combined.
7/13/2016 at 11:17 PM
I was thinking of polypropylene and how its evolved, Gore-Tex and how its too evolved, and Jetboil yes but the Peak1 backpacking stove was a revelation and the MSR stove line, revolutionized backpack cook stoves which were like Model A's for so many decades before then... Lexan's made water bottles usable, for me... Purification filters weren't around much before the mid-'80s I think (and probably weren't so necessary as they've become)... And what about Therma-Rest which revolutionized backpack sleeping and quickly became more than a luxury (essential for aging bones)... Alp sandals became the rage and made backcountry hiking in sandals first practical/possible... And SuperFeet orthotic insoles changed the game and mindset too... The '80s saw so much introduced by passionate engineers... Internal-frame packs got the upper hand... And wasn't the mid-80s also about when Friends (cams) took off in climbing hardware?
8/24/2016 at 12:56 PM
Hopefully, the paddleboard people will learn about water safety. 80% of the users I see don't use board leashes and/or pfd. They also, have the paddles turned the wrong way. And finally they take their pet out with them. Probably a problem that sales and rental staff need to address.
8/24/2016 at 2:50 PM
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