While most companies operating in the outdoor market try to keep the facts under wraps, it’s a well-known fact that the industry has become a hot-bed of innovation servicing the U.S. military complex. Once the darling of the outdoor market, Camelbak has become known worldwide for its hydration units for the military in Iraq after actions by soldiers requesting the product from family members in care packages. The military, in an effort to get lighter and faster, has turned to the industry to feed off of the innovations that are perfected by the serious outdoor athlete and participant.

Cascade Designs makes no secret of its desire to capture that order for “Made in USA” product that the military requires. But for every well-publicized deal like Camelbak, or the public company revelations of the reliance that a Danner, Phoenix Footwear, or Johnson Outdoors has on military orders, the industry has even more companies working behind the scenes on similar deals that boost revenues and provide much-needed RD&D dollars. You only have to walk past the Arc’Teryx or Sierra Designs booth at the show to see the obviously non-industry people kicking the tires.

This new reality is one of the primary reasons why the private equity guys see so much upside in this market.