Outdoor Retailer: A Survival Guide

It’s that time of the year where the majority of outdoor brands, writers, photographers, and PR reps flock to Salt Lake City for this biannual meeting of the minds. From hiking and backpacking to rock climbing and SUPing; trail running and yoga to mountaineering and Zumba; Outdoor Retailer has something for everyone.

Winter and Summer show take place at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City every January and August {although the location could foreseeably change in coming years. There is a large push by many to relocate the event since SLC’s lodging situation is a bit of a nightmare with nowhere near enough hotel rooms to accommodate all of the visitors.} And without fail, I receive zillions of emails every January and August, asking for OR Show tips, suggestions, and general “how in the world do I handle this?”-type questions. Why not compile it into one big post?!

Without further chatter, here it is: your survival guide for Outdoor Retailer.

What is Outdoor Retailer?

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In a nutshell, Outdoor Retailer (OR Show) is a tradeshow for the outdoor industry. It serves two purposes: media gets a glimpse at upcoming product lines and buyers can check out the goods for potential store purchases. In recent years, I’ve heard that OR Show is largely media since the show schedule doesn’t so much align for buyers anymore, but I can’t personally attest to that since I am always on the media side of things.

Don’t forget: OR is showcasing items for the next season. So, this week’s summer show will be featuring product lines for Spring/Summer 2017.

Who Can Attend?

Technically, any brand, working media, or buyer that works in the outdoor industry can attend OR for free. However, a few years back the show cracked down on “working media” so that definition is a bit more hard-nosed than it was in past years. A lot of bloggers were getting free media badges to attend the event but many of them had very small audiences or didn’t really write about gear to begin with. Since that isn’t beneficial to the brands who spend THOUSANDS on expensive booths and displays, the rules needed to change. As a result, the show does vet any working media badge before forking it over. Here are the requirements for more details.


Catching up with friends. From L-R: Casey Schreiner {Founder of Modern Hiker}, Chris Surette {Author of A for Adventure}, me, and Justin Lukasavige {Founder of BackcountryTreks}

Personally, I’ve never attempted to register for the show through this site. Since I write for Backpacker, I always attend the show through the magazine. If you attend subsequent shows through the same publication, the OR Show registration system will remember your info and registration is a much simpler process. Or, if you are attending for a publication,  their media team will often handle the registration process for you.

A word of advice: if you can swing it, try to get a media badge if you want to actually have meetings with various brands. I have quite a few bloggers friends that have gotten into the show via a friendly hookup with an outdoor brand. This means their badge shows them as an “exhibitor” instead of “media” or “buyer.” This may not seem like a big deal, but don’t forget that all of the PR reps and exhibitors are there to get their brand coverage. If they think you simply work for another brand, they may not be as interested in speaking with you. After all, it is their job!

Where Do I Sleep?

As I mentioned above, lodging in SLC is a freaking nightmare. I love the city but they simply do not have enough rooms to accommodate the 50,000+ people that show up for OR.

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My husband, the model, featured in the Mountain Hardwear booth wearing their AP Pant

If you’re writing for a big publication who attends every six months, there is a good chance your lodging is covered. For example, I am required to attend OR for the magazine and they have a standing bank of rooms reserved every January and August. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about finding a room…anymore.

But it used to be a huge problem for me! For freelancers and bloggers, lodging can be the worst. Often, they are basically required to attend the show since it drives future projects, but they don’t have the bank of rooms reserved like larger corps. This means they are stuck reserving a room on their own but the majority of them are already snatched up by the standing reservations. Of the rooms left, the cost/night is likely to be doubled or tripled since rates skyrocket during OR Show. It’s easier to find rooms out by the airport, but the location is less than ideal since everything happens around the Salt Palace and can go late into the night. Once the train stops running {at midnight, I think?}, it can be tough to get back out to the airport.

Pro tip: if you attend the show in January, try booking a room for August before you even depart SLC. Don’t be surprised if they change the rate/night on you, but at least you will have something reserved. And also: never, ever stay on the top, not-rennovated floor of the Rodeway Inn. They literally had the last room available a few years back, so I snatched it up. It was smoke-filled, filthy, and damn near unbearable….and this is coming from a women who sleeps in the dirt by choice. Take my word for it!

Make Appointments

This is another questions I frequently see in my inbox. What about appointments?


It is best to make appointments at OR if you actually want to meet with a brand. You see, everyone at OR Show is running around like crazy and most everyone has ridiculously packed schedules. From Wednesday through Friday of this week, my appointments/breakfasts/lunches/dinners begin at 7 am and don’t stop till midnight. If you simply stroll up to Arc’Teryx {for example} without an appointment, there is a good chance that everyone will already be booked with pre-arranged appointments and you won’t get to speak with anyone. Bummer, right?

How to handle it: start scheduling appointments as soon as you know you are attending. My calendar is full by the end of June so that I know I can meet with everyone I need to see. If you don’t have contacts for certain brands, get creative. Track ’em down on Twitter or their website or through a friend.

What To Bring?

Y’all, there is so much fun stuff happening at OR that it’s super important to be prepared for anything. Definitely bring a backpack with you to the show floor because you will likely gather a fair bit of swag, and don’t forget to throw in a water bottle {trust me; you’ll need the hydration! CamelBak always has a nice water station for refills} Don’t forget your notebook and pen for notes, and most people carry a stack of business cards as well. {I don’t use business cards because I’m a tree hugging-hippy who can’t waste the paper, but I’m definitely the anomaly.} Also: seriously consider your footwear! The Salt Palace has those brutal concrete floors that can wreck your back after standing for awhile. I wore flip-flops one year and was almost in tears by lunch; lesson learned! If you’re attending as media, this is a special concern as you will walk SO MANY miles. I clocked 11 miles on one day last year!

Don’t Forget to Network

Of course, everyone is there to do their jobs but networking is a big part of that game. Get to know the people you’re meeting with; attend the free happy hours and meet a new friend. The outdoor industry is one of the friendliest groups I’ve ever been fortunate enough to work with; I’m sure you’ll discover the same.

Tips & Tricks


Stumbled on these in January: Altai Skis. So different, so weird. Check ’em out!

After attending Outdoor Retailer for so long, you start to acquire a few tricks up your sleeve! Some of my favorites:

  • If you’re into bacon and ice cream, don’t forget to swing by Darn Tough. They always have free maple ice cream cones with {optional} bacon sprinkles!
  • During summer show, head outside to Tent City where many brands have pitched their tents. I spend a lot of time out here {since I cover tents for BP}, but many people don’t even know it exists. It’s great for naps, trust me!
  • Most appointments begin at 9 am {media isn’t allowed on the show floor before that.} However, I always book my first day appointment at 9:15 or 9:30 in case I run into issues picking up my badge.
  • Definitely check out the OR Daily {ORD, as it is commonly called}, the daily newspaper of the show. Kristin Hostetter, the former gear editor at Backpacker, is now running the show and they are doing some cool things for show coverage. In particular, their new Hot Sheet helps media zero in on the day’s events, happy hours, cool discussion, etc. Sign up here.
  • Don’t forget to swing by Vasque’s free pancake breakfast; they usually start at 9 am every morning. Run through line, grab a pancake, and head to your first appointment!
  • If you’re an introvert at heart {like me}, it is likely that you will need to find some downtime in your day. Whenever I find 15 minutes, I’ll scoot out into the deserted hallways in the back by the fitness area and sit against a wall for a few minutes. I don’t talk to anyone; I don’t look at my phone; I don’t take any notes. I simply recharge, and it works wonders.
  • Don’t forget your cell phone charger! You will undoubtedly need to recharge your phone at some point, even if it’s at a booth in the middle of a meeting {no shame!}


I know I forgot something! Newcomers: what other questions do you have about Outdoor Retailer? Veterans: what would you add to the list?




  • Reply Nina Reed at

    I didn’t even know OR existed before this blog post, but it’s funny how similar it sounds to my experience with Book Expo from my book blogging days 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      Hahaha maybe all trade shows are the same?!

  • Reply Debbie Saviano at

    Heather, having never attended this event, you did an incredible job of thoroughly describing it.
    Thanks for sharing! Great Tips!

  • Reply Kristen at

    Oh man, I was just in SLC for an outdoor adventure-themed bachelorette party! This would have been amazing place to stop by! Darn, guess I’ll have to keep it on the radar for next year.

    Thanks for the heads up!

  • Reply Rachel @ Better LIVIN at

    I would love to attend this show but my vacation schedule never lines up with it! My lodging would be covered since my brother lives in SLC. 🙂

  • Reply Lynn @ Not Dead Yet at

    Are you going to do an Instagram Story on OR? Sorry if you have and I didn’t see it. IS is totally overwhelming for me. I only follow about five people on SnapChat–I hate SnapChat because I’m always afraid I’m accidentally going to Snap myself, and it will be like my left nostril or something. I follow way more people on Insta so having a huge list of stories…Man. I just don’t have the time for that.

    Which is a long, rambling way of saying, if you so a story on Insta, I’ll look for it and actually watch it!

    • Reply heather at

      I’ve been putting a few things on there! Still figuring it out and trying to figure out whether I’ll use IG story or Snapchat more. But, short answer is that I’m already trying! 🙂

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