Written by Nelson Bruni, SCA alum and staff member. Nelson has been working in the SCA Equipment Warehouse since 2004, where he is responsible for maintaining, purchasing, repairing, and shipping gear for almost all SCA field programs. Nelson also assists in the training of SCA Crew Leaders, not only in the world of gear, but also as a Conservation Work Skills Instructor. In addition to his full time work at SCA, Nelson is a Veteran Crew Leader (9 crews!), an alumni of both the Big Cypress Restoration Corps and the NH Parks AmeriCorps, and as a Recruiting Intern with SCA.
Now, when you find yourself on a plane to Salt Lake City on the third Thursday of January, it’s almost guaranteed that you will not only find yourself seated next to those seeking snowy lands, you are also going to find yourself next to someone who is getting ready to head up to Park City for that movie scene lover’s dream- the Sundance Film Festival. On that same plane, tucked away behind the gentleman with the BYU hat, you will find another ‘scene-ster’, the person dressed in some of the finest brands of outdoor gear, on their way to the Salt Palace and the twice a year gathering of lots of gear and lots of gear-heads, the Outdoor Retailer Show.
For four days, while Park City is filled to the brim with Hollywood Stars and Directors and the Paparazzi, just about every outdoor company in the US and Canada is doing its best to showcase their newest products, building up hype by bringing in the rising stars and the honored legends of the climbing and skiing world, giving away all sorts of great SWAG (Stuff We All Get); pretty much doing just about anything they can do to get you over to their booth.
And now you ask, ‘What does this have to do with SCA’? For the past eight years, I’ve been lucky enough to be SCA’s Equipment Manager, meaning that I supply a majority of the camping, cooking, and first aid supplies for the entire organization, which in turn means that I purchase large portions of gear from many of the same companies that attend the OR Show. So, for the past five years, I’ve made the pilgrimage out to SLC, meeting with the representatives of the companies that supply most of our programs gear, while at the same time keeping an eye out for other companies that can provide new and innovative products that will improve our programs. And, of course, for a self-confessed gear head, I have a lot of fun getting to meet with fellow gear-heads and looking at and trying out all of this cool stuff!
Nelson working at SCA's equipment cache getting ready for thousands of SCA members' summer in the field.
From the beginning, the show is always a bit of a shock- you find yourself in a sea of people, trying to get your bearings, using the larger companies’ showcase booths as reference points of a sort, and trying to keep track of how long it takes you to get from the big Mammut blow-up mammoth mascot to Royal Robbins’ espresso bar, just so you can make sure you won’t be late to your meeting at Sierra Designs. So, in general, a lot of the time is just spent wandering about, getting used to the flow, and finding your way to where you need to go.
But, despite the constant wandering and excitement of playing with all this gear, the most important aspect of my visits is just to meet with the companies we work with and to let them know just how much their products help make sure our people in the field have a dry, comfortable, and safe SCA experience. I’ve been meeting with many of these folk for all five years and they’ve become more than just business associates and more like partners, wanting to know how our programs are doing, how they can assist, and always wanting to make sure we have what we need. It’s quite reassuring to see these companies so invested in our programs and enjoying the fact that it’s their tents, sleeping bags, stoves, backpacks, and clothing that is ensuring a certain amount of success for our members in the field.
SCA's stash of Sierra Design sleeping bags ready for use.
In the end, after a few days of being surrounded by all this gear and being in constant gear related conversations, I easily find myself in gear-overload. As I leave the show and head to the airport, my bags are a little heavier with swag, stickers, and catalogs, and my mind is filled with all sorts of ideas for how to get even more good gear in the field for our SCA members, but now it’s time to head back to New Hampshire and the Equipment Warehouse and to turn those thoughts into action.
So, do you want to know the scoop in next year’s gear? Check out my top 3 buzzworthy Gear or Displays.
- Sierra Designs' DriDown : traditional down treated with a molecular level polymer that keeps your down drier longer and helps it dry quicker. It’s really like magic!
- Cascade Designs:  the maker of the friend (or foe) of almost every backpacker, the MSR WhisperLite, had a great display made up of almost 40 years worth of their gear, including the original sandwich-press machine that manufactured the original RidgeRest closed foam sleeping pad.
- Liberty Bottleworks : this small company in Washington State has been making metal waterbottles for only a few years now, but despite a large number of other water bottle makers in the market, they manage to stand out for several reasons: 100% post-consumer metal is used for the bottles; consistent use of sustainable practices; great design; amazing artwork; and, believe it or not, they are made in the USA!