The ongoing slow expansion of the European outdoor industry, proven by the latest industry estimates, was reflected by a rather buoyant mood at the OutDoor fair in Friedrichshafen, which was busier and more international than ever.

Just over 15,500 people went through the turnstiles during the four days of the fair, up 2 percent compared with last year. About 77 of the exhibitors and 60 percent of the visitors came from outside Germany, consolidating the fair’s position as the annual meeting point for the European outdoor industry. Just a few hours after the opening of the show, several executives pointed out that they had already done more business than throughout the entire ISPO fair a couple of weeks earlier.

The business climate was aided by the growth of the industry, which saw its turnover rise by 2.3 percent to €5.451 billion last year in the European Union, Switzerland and Norway – based on estimates published by the European Outdoor Group (EOG). Germany remains by far Europe’s largest outdoor market and it remarkably recovered last year, with a sales rise of about 3.5 percent to €1.5 billion. It was followed by the UK at just over €1 billion and France at €924 million.

The market’s growth was fueled chiefly by increased sales of lifestyle-oriented clothing, which rose by 5 percent to €1.47 billion. Excluding this category, the European outdoor market’s sales inched up by 1.3 percent in 2005. At an estimated €2 billion, the market for functional clothing remains larger than the lifestyle segment but its growth was limited to 1.1 percent.

European sales of backpacks and outdoor footwear increased along the same lines. On the other hand hardware sales were thought to have remained stable, and sales of sleeping bags declined by another 8.3 percent to €133 million.

The fair turned the spotlight on the promising women’s market for the industry’s future growth. Suppliers came forward with an unprecedented array of women-specific products – from backpacks with adjusted belts for wider hips to sleeping bags with thicker foot ends (women’s feet tend to be more sensitive to cold temperatures) or mattresses reinforced in the middle to protect the hips of women lying sideways.

Research presented by NPD Sports Tracking Europe, based on findings from the German market, indicate that women represent about 48 percent of the outdoor business, against 47 percent for the overall sports market. Due to the dearth of women-specific products, however, only 38 percent of consumers wear women’s outdoor shoes, and 40 percent wear outdoor apparel specifically designed for women.

The buzz at the fair was further stimulated by a record number of product introductions and the launch of the fair’s first Outdoor Awards, in the footsteps of ISPO. Haglöfs walked away with the Gold Award for its Gore-Tex Paclite pullover, which was praised for the sharpness of its cut and its ultra light weight. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, was elected as Outdoor Personality of the Year, due to his company’s consistent commitment to the protection of the environment.

Meanwhile Hervé Chabert, Patagonia’s European general manager, was placed at the head of the EOG’s newly founded Association for Conservation. Each of the visitors and exhibitors at the OutDoor fair has contributed to the fund, which aims to preserve the environment to the benefit of outdoor enthusiasts. One of the largest donations came from CamelBak, which collected €25,000 for the cause during the fair through the sale of CamelBak bottles at reduced prices.