Outpost Upends the Trade Show Format

Swapping fluorescent lights and convention center fatigue for the great outdoors

Twice a year the outdoor industry descends on Salt Lake City for Outdoor Retailer, a massive four-day event at the Salt Palace Convention Center featuring next season’s products. From athletes and buyers to media, the cavernous hall is packed with the kind of people who cringe at the thought of a sunny day spent indoors. While many brands and attendees make the most of it, the general mood is that the event is an obligation. Thankfully, there’s an alternative that’s gaining steam and simply comparing it to a trade show doesn’t do the experience justice.

The Outpost recently hosted its third event in the Catskills, from 23-25 June, after two successful runs in California. Bringing together brands, media, influencers, and enthusiasts—the event feels like a two-day adult summer camp where connections are forged over the campfire rather than in a trade show booth. Set two hours from NYC on the inimitable Outlier Inn property, an eclectic collection of micro-sized design-forward dwellings complete with a farm and state of the art recording studio, the event was a free-flowing blend of networking, live music, food and micro-adventures. The magic, it seems, was in the open-ended nature of the event—and that’s exactly how the Outpost team imagined it.

“Unlike other trade events, we focus on building human connection through authentic shared experiences in gorgeous outdoor settings,” explains Outpost CEO Eric Bach. Bach co-founded Hipcamp, the sharing economy’s answer to camping, and brings a genuine passion for the outdoors. “We take away the booths, forced interactions, and worries, so that you can really let your guard down and focus on the moment,” Bach adds.

From the second guests arrive on site, everything is included: check into your glamping-approved Barebones tent, meet your bunkmates and don’t worry about anything else for the duration of the event. Each brand partner is integrated into the experience in a way that feels organic. Rather than simply hanging a banner or setting up a table with product, brands own activities that tie into their values. The result for visitors is a hands-on experience with both product and representatives of the brands that are fun and memorable.

“Our goal is to shake up the traditional B2B trade event model by proving that trade shows aren’t the only way to tell your brand story and get in front of a collection of people that can help your business,” Bach says. “We think we have a better way; one that fosters real relationships, collaborations, and an opportunity to tell a brand story beyond the confines of a 10 by 20 booth.”

Between yoga and meditation sessions in an Instagram-friendly geodesic dome, there was a full day of activities for guests to drop in on. Environmentally minded apparel-maker United By Blue led the cleanup of a nearby lake while Oru offered relaxing kayaking session. Meanwhile every attendee assembled their own Hydroflask bottle for use throughout the weekend—no plastic waste here. While being outdoors is the main draw, Bach is quick to note that Outpost isn’t just an “outdoor industry” event.

“We feel that it’s important to expand upon the definition of the ‘outdoor industry’ to be more representative of the modern outdoor lifestyle that many of us live,” Bach says. Technology, food, music, art and culture are now firmly rooted in the outdoors identity Bach suggests. “We don’t necessarily have all of the answers, but we do know that there’s a lot of nuance there that hasn’t been explored yet,” Bach continues, “by bringing a diverse group of brand partners and thought leaders from varied backgrounds and industries together we’ll begin to see some really interesting and innovative things that will begin to organically define the culture.”

Throughout the weekend of activities, campfires and panel discussions the culture Bach refers to becomes more clear. Where 150 strangers started out on Friday afternoon, a new network of friends left sunburned on Sunday afternoon. The experience came first and business an ingrained second. In the future, Bach and his team plan to grow their events and the community that’s created around them.

Outpost is currently offering a limited number of badges for its flagship event in Mendicino, CA from 8-10 September.

Images courtesy of Monica Semergiu, Molly Decoudreaux and Matt Lief Anderson