“Aw buckaroos, it’s time to slide one by you once more…” Yeah, here we are again amidst the hype and glory of GEAR. Overall impression: Outdoor industry as viable as ever, though I heard two undercurrents today that perked my ears.
First, someone was talking about a project to predict the outdoor recreator of 2030 — or at least the one that’ll keep all these gear makers and retailers afloat. All I could think is he or she would have a GPS implanted in a skull socket and have to pick between human power and anti-gravity. But I’ve been wrong before.
Another undercurrent: “We’re not making as much stuff for the military as we used to.” Hmmm, one has to wonder what part of that rampant outdoor industry growth was due to war? Painful.
On to the gear; a few highlights.
I was taken by the Salewa footwear, mainly their Escape and Ramble model shoes incorporating a new Gore-Tex system that places breathable mesh _under_ your foot that can exit heat and water vapor through vents in the sole. For those of us who always seem to have feet too hot; the ticket. Apparently we’ll be eventually seeing this Gore system on lots of shoes, but Salewa is one of the first. I’m looking forward to the review, perhaps with testing on a jet flight to Munich?
Continuing on the footwear trail, I stopped by La Sportiva to check out what they’ve done with their Spectre “4 buckle” backcountry ski boot effort. Early incarnations of this shoe didn’t have the stiffness to match up with the current 4 buckle standard we’ve come to expect. Sportiva agreed, and put what appears to be major effort into keeping Spectre light at 1,427 grams per boot, only 32 grams heavier than the previous sample. Word is they “threw away the molds and started over.” That’s probably more a figure of speech than reality, but I’ll bet they did some major carving and otherwise modding on the existing molds. The cuff has visible beef, the tongue does not have a V cut in front of your shin, and areas that bulged during carpet testing have been thickened. I have high hopes for this boot. It is indeed light, stiff, and even has the buckles mounted where they won’t catch on rocks and ice when you’re doing the alpine polka.
I’ve been on the technology walkabout as well. We’re always looking for new communication devices that you’d consider for backcountry skiing. A while back, Iridium came up with a “black box” that provides and internet hotspot of sorts. “Texting Anywhere” appears to have re-branded the Iridium box and coupled it with a smartphone app, thus yielding a nifty texter that works anywhere on the globe quite intuitively. From what I saw, this thing is easy to set up and use, and somewhat different than other solutions.
Cost for the Text Anywhere “box” looks like it’ll be around $399.00 (typically expensive Iridium gear), with monthly subscription around $29. Downsides: the box is bulky and requires a smartphone that’s batteried up. This rig is too bulky and massive for hardcore lightweight alpinism, but would work well for basecamp. Considering the facts that you cannot text from a Globalstar/Spot satphone, and that texting from an Iridium phone is incredibly lame, at half the cost of an Iridium phone the Text Anywhere could be a solution.
(Latest incarnation of SPOT is still the most compact emergency locator option, but of course it won’t two-way text — in my opinion a huge downside.)
I’m of course all over the GPS stuff. As predicted, the Garmin booth was looking rather deserted due to smartphones taking over the GPS market in the same way they’ve decimated the camera business. Garmin’s stopgap solution is odd. The recently went public with their Monterra GPS that’s essentially a weather-proof Android smartphone that doesn’t work as a phone. Really, just plain weird. They need a reality check. Buy a used Android phone on Ebay, stick it in a waterproof case, and you essentially have the same thing only cheaper. Smartphone battery life is of course the issue — but Monterra is only rated at 16 hours, not impressive. It’ll be interesting to watch the market decide.
Another big stop for me was Trimble. I got to meet with their app developer. He and his associates appeared very responsive to some feedback about their app. Yes readers, they “charge for maps” so they’d better be giving us something beyond the “free” or semi-free GPS apps breeding like rabbits. I have a number of somewhat minor issues with the Trimble “Navigator” app, things like showing a decent compass on their map screen, and having a more intuitive way of downloading maps tiles for offline use (when you’re in the real backcountry). It’ll be fun to see if those items get reworked.
In all, it’s fun to be in the city for a few days — but Wildsnow field HQ is reaching out to me — siren call of the mountain seductress.