It’s pitch dark at the edge of a forest, my headlamp too dim for the hike ahead. In need of light, I swipe a hand in the air to trigger a sensor, no contact required, and my headlamp jumps to life.
I’m testing a prototype piece of gear from Coleman. The 2016 product, called the Conquer 300 Li-Ion Headlamp, will eliminate the need to even touch the headlamp with your hand, trading manual adjustment for hand motions that control four LED levels and a red-light mode.
The Coleman Company Inc., a global brand with thousands of products and annual revenues above $1 billion, is in the midst of a corporate reset. Its massive catalog lists 8,000 SKUs, including more than 100 new items this year alone. As outdoor-gear brands go, Coleman is likely the world’s biggest.
For 2016, the company will release another 130 products, including the motion-activated headlamp and a 3,000-lumen LED lantern that looks like a mini satellite.
“Our short-term plan is to surprise people,” said Emily Donahue, a Coleman product line manager.
Coleman Brand Reboot
Over the past month, I interviewed Donahue as well as Mike Otterman, Coleman’s VP of global marketing and merchandising. With a crew of GearJunkie writers and testers, I also reviewed more than 20 new and to-be-released Coleman products on camping trips and excursions.
In short, major changes are coming. While Coleman is a large, common brand in the outdoors, its reputation is somewhat sullied as middle-of-the-road, regularly sold in big box stores. Anyone who’s followed the trajectory of the brand will notice the aesthetic upgrades and new technologies coming to market soon.
The change started in 2011, when Coleman brought on a new CEO, Robert Marcovitch, from K2 Sports. Then the company moved a bulk of its operations from Kansas to Colorado.
It hired an almost entirely new design team. Donahue said the company culture changed with the move from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains.
New energy and a corporate edict to modernize, aesthetically and technologically, drove new ideas like the motion-sensing headlamp. While not the first of its kind, it refined the concept and improves usability.
“We are refreshing the entire brand portfolio,” said Mike Otterman, the global marketing VP. “It started in 2014 with upgraded packaging, color, and an increasing speed to market for new products.”
Otterman said 2016 will see “just about every product getting a new look.”
Legacy Camping Brand
Many Coleman products are already widely recognized whether the logo shows or not, including the company’s lanterns, coolers, drink jugs, canteens, and a dozen more iconic items that have existed for decades in a similar form.
The Coleman green motif exudes a “camping” vibe to many people who grew up lighting the brand’s lanterns and sleeping in wall tents.
Otterman believes Coleman can be an “emotional brand” for people who remember the gear growing up.
“Consumers talk about their experience before they talk about the product,” he said. “But when they start to talk product it’s ‘grandpa’s stove’ or his lantern,” which a lot of the time may have been a Coleman.
Coleman’s Future Products
But 2016 will be less about looking backward. Otterman notes a focus on “premium innovation,” including flashlights with a battery lock-out feature, tents with fabric that blocks sunlight, and an inflatable bed with an “exoskeleton” frame.
Durability is also a priority, Otterman said, noting a company-wide goal to make products more rugged. Some items, including lanterns, are put through a two-meter drop test, the first time the company has demanded such resilience for gear with electronics and opaque cases that house lights.
This could be good news for consumers who’ve noted hit-or-miss quality from Coleman in the past. Ultimately, the proof will be in the usability of the products released, which will certainly be scrutinized under a new lens during the re-branding.
Coleman 2016: Significant Upcoming Products
- Conquer 300L Headlamp — Swipe of hand changes brightness mode. Also, light sensor auto-adjusts beam pattern and brightness for illuminating short and long distances.
- Battery Lock — On headlamps and flashlights, a twist feature disengages contact to stop battery drain, reduce corrosion, and eliminate accidental turn on.
- Exoskeletal Airbed — An “exoskeleton” frame encases an internal air bladder to give better comfort and support while sleeping.
- Northern Nova Lantern — Immensely bright, 3,000-lumen propane lantern. Touted to run 3 hours on high brightness mode.
- Ice Age Xtreme 5 Cooler — A temperature sensor lets you push the Coleman logo button to check temperature inside the cooler via an LED indicator.
- Carlsbad Tent — A “darkroom” material helps block sunlight for morning sleeping-in or taking naps; brand cites 99.7% of sunlight blocked.
- Tent Hinged Doors — No zipper is needed to close some Coleman tents, as the main door is on spring “hinges” and can swing open and shut.
- H2Oasis Elite Hot Water Machine — Instant 125-degree F water. Two USB ports on unit to charge mobile devices.
- Esky Series 85-Quart Cooler — Made in USA. Up to six days of ice retention, brand cites. Integrated cutting board on inside lid.
- HyperFlame FyreCommander Stove — Two-burner propane unit touts 24,000 BTU heat output to “boil water twice as fast as a standard burner.”
- See a photo gallery of Coleman 2016 new products here
Many of Coleman’s products are made in Asia. But its domestic manufacturing is significant, and the company is making a push to “re-shore” more of its manufacturing to the U.S.
The company has three domestic plants and employs about 1,000 people who make gear. The facilities, in Minnesota, Texas, and Kansas, produce about 13,000,000 units per year in full, including Esky brand coolers, Stearns life jackets, Coleman fuel stoves, and lanterns.
“It’s like a ‘billion-dollar startup’ brand,” she said, referring to the new staff, which skews young and active, hungry to innovate at a brand that’s been around more than 100 years.
Donahue added, “Coleman has a history of supporting and backing fresh perspective when it comes to designing and making gear.” After a month testing products in the upcoming 2016 line, that observation rings true.
She continued, “Coleman is your ‘grandfather’s company’ to many people, with old lanterns and stoves. But that is dwindling off, and we’re trying to get people excited again.”