Every year, about half the U.S. population participates in an activity outdoors and about 20% of the population is active outdoors twice a week or more. The most popular outdoor activities are running (52 million participants annually), fishing (47 million), biking (46 million) and hiking (42 million). That outdoor activity generates an enormous industry of gear and services which gathers twice a year for the Outdoor Retail trade show. That show will happen next week in Denver and on the day before it opens there is a competition among startups called Pitchfest in which seven women-founded companies are selected from a group of more than 60 applicants to compete by presenting their new businesses to a panel of outdoor industry experts. The companies in the final competition this Sunday are what outdoor industry leaders think are the most interesting new ideas from the larger group of startups. I spoke with the finalists and got a preview of what those outdoor industry leaders think is new and interesting.

Just as we are finding in other markets, these finalists are not created the way startups used to be: people from inside an industry creating their own business to compete with their former employers. Instead, they are created by founders with no experience in an industry but who believe they have a better idea about how the industry should serve its customers.

I’ve broken down the finalists into three categories: Gear and Food, Experiences, Clothes.

Gear and Food

Heather’s Choice – Heather Kelly studied sports nutrition and eating psychology in college. While backcountry backpacking she found that the portable food choices were not consistent with how she was advising people to eat during sports activity and exertion. So she created her own production facility in her native Alaska to make unique, tasty and energy-dense products she believes athletes need during outdoor, remote sports. The challenge for Heather’s Choice today is distribution. You can buy the product online right now but the product needs broader distribution in retailers so that more consumers have the possibility of choosing Heather’s Choice.

Hero Clip – Hero Clip makes a hook that is the Swiss Army Knife of hooks, with millions of uses. It has proven so useful that it is now in every REI store and is being expanded to many other retailers as well. Sales of the company are exploding and more products are going to be introduced shortly. New uses for the hook are being created every day.

The Experiences

Intellectually these are the most interesting because they are not an improvement on what already exists, they are a new way of thinking about going outdoors. All these services are trying to reinvent outdoor activity by making it easier,…