Hunting, fishing and camping inventions are as deep-rooted at the Northwest Sportshow as are the showroom displays of dreamy, faraway resorts.
Dave Perkins, the former owner of the Sportshow, said the annual gathering has been a familiar launchpad for innovative fishing and hunting gear for 85 years. From rods, reels and super lines to the latest in boats, the Sportshow has suited inventors and entrepreneurs of all sorts — from basement workshop denizens to the big guns of corporate research and development.
Starting Thursday and running through Sunday, a 12-member team from Eden Prairie-based AWOL Outdoors Inc. will keep the tradition alive by extolling the “wow factors” of Camp365, a new lightweight camper that can be pulled over freeways and backwoods trails.
“It’s the world’s first fold-out cabin,” said Dale Ylitalo, sales and marketing representative for AWOL.
Perkins said the Sportshow has featured too many new-product successes to count. But he vividly remembers an exceptional case from the late 1950s. That’s when an energetic Minnesota salesman, the late Jim Ferguson, chose the Sportshow for the regional introduction of the now-historic “Little Green Box” fish finder by Lowrance.
“He’d sit there and talk about it from morning until night,” Perkins recalled.
Camp365 isn’t the only new product on display at this year’s Sportshow, and it’s clearly more evolutionary than revolutionary. Officially unveiled last August at Game Fair, the aluminum-framed Camp365 is the dream child of Wisconsin ice angler Scott Davidson.
According to Ylitalo, Davidson had a vision while fishing and told his nephew, Kevin McGregor, he wanted to revolutionize the pop-up trailer. McGregor held him to it and the two men are still very much involved. Davidson’s original mini-prototype gave way to eight years of additional development work, including thousands of hours of engineering.
“It’s been a team of guys working evenings and weekends … many years in the making,” Ylitalo said.
So far, only about 30 units have been sold. But that’s been enough to stimulate investment in new assembly space in Eden Prairie to initially make 120 to 200 campers a year when the orders roll in.
A base model Camp365 camper starts at $18,995 with modular option packages available including marine grade carpet, sleeping systems for 2-6, propane heat, air conditioning, hot water, refrigeration and a big wheel off-road kit. More amenities are in the works, including an indoor hot shower.
The key selling points include seven feet of headroom, full insulation, only minutes to set up and roomy occupancy. The company says Camp365 sleeps four comfortably and will sleep six “if you all love each other,” Ylitalo said. Just as important, the 1,500-pound camper can be towed by a four-cylinder car over the highway and by an all-terrain vehicle over trails. It can be equipped for ice fishing and can be tucked away in the garage or shed when not in use.
“We kind of see ourselves as an ultralightweight camping solution,” Ylitalo said.
Loren Olson of Elk River RV said ultralight, versatile campers are priced from the “midteens to the mid-20s,” making them a tough sell against larger, conventional campers that cost just as much.
Elk River RV is Minnesota’s only dealer of the ultralight Cricket and two smaller campers made by Houston-based TaxaOutdoors. Who buys them? “Off-the-grid-type people,” Olson said. “It’s an extremely limited market.”
But Ylitalo said the full range of Camp365 users still is coming into focus. There’s obvious suitability for people who like to camp in remote places or hunt on back ranges and in remote habitat. It’s also possible the camper could catch on as a temporary home at tailgating venues, outdoor concerts and weekend festivals.
“We think some millennials will enjoy it,” Ylitalo said.
The Camp365 booth will be located in the rear of the convention hall, next to the World of Wolves display in the back-left corner. Overall attendance at this year’s Sportshow is projected to be in the neighborhood of 35,000 visitors.