Mark Your Calendars for Next Year’s Outdoor Experience Expo

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On a sunny warm weekend in Chicago, thousands of outdoor enthusiasts spent their day inside. Why? Forty-one year old outdoor media brand, Outside, launched its first-ever expo inside – and outside – McCormick Place this past weekend, and whoa, what a fun event!

It should be no surprise to anyone who enjoys being outside this expo was jam-packed with activities for any age. Small in size, using only half the Lakeside building, it surprised the guest with so many activities that two-day pass really were necessary to fully enjoy every experience. Unlike most trade shows, this one offered hands-on trials of products in 11 Activity Zones: Backyard, Biking, Climbing, Adventure Vehicle, Run, Trail, Travel, Water, Live Well, Winter, Camping, and Pet.

There were, of course, RV campers and tents to explore, but also, an epic climbing wall for testing gear. Two man-made trails for testing running and hiking shoes made this trail runner smile; I tested Salomon trail shoes by enjoying a few quick jogs plowing through sand & dirt, ascending & descending multiple hills, and dodging fallen trees. Another activity for runners was a group run that kicked off both days of the event, from 7 to 9 a.m.

Biking and Water were most impressive zones, in my opinion. The first offered multiple “hills” for testing a variety of bicycles sold. Water Zone shuttles took visitors to nearby 31st beach to test kayaks, canoes, SUPs, and fishing gear.

The Live Well zone offered a variety of fitness classes: Pilates, yoga, bootcamp, meditation, that any age could follow along, learn, and explore. Attendees could follow up their workout with food and drinks sampled by a variety of socially responsible companies ranging from holistic protein powders to jerky to tea and coffee. For the grown ups, there was whiskey and beer to sample in giant recreations of campgrounds. And the Pet Zone included a puppy adoption corner hosted by Chicago rescue, One Tail at a Time.

At center stage, visitors learned from a variety of speakers, presentations while sitting in adirondacks, on sleeping bags, or sharing picnic tables. Notably, most of the speakers were connected to Chicago or the Midwest and included: Chicago-based Polar Explorer Annie Aggens; filmmaker & pro kayaker Harlan Taney; Chicago native, global explorer, and creator/host of “World Wide Nate”, Nate Fluellen; Director of Sierra Club Outdoors, Stacy Bare. The list of amazing speakers sharing their inspiration and insight over the weekend was diverse and thorough. One could pay for the weekend pass and spend their whole time sitting at that Yeti stage learning. And if all that wasn’t enough, one could wander outside the main expo floor to catch screenings in the 5Point Adventure Film Festival.

This inaugural year, the ticket prices were a bargain at $32 for Adult two-day passes, and $15 for Kids two-day passes. In fact, kids under 6 were free.

Organizers Outside and GoRVing already have dates set to repeat this adventure next year in Chicago, July 25 and 26. Mark this in your calendar so you won’t miss out; I’ll greet you at the morning run and let’s enjoy a kayak lesson together.

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