Backcountry Electronics – 6 Month Use Report

Post by blogger | September 12, 2006      

About six months ago I blogged on a few items we’d chosen for backcountry electronics. We’ve given the stuff a pounding — time for an update. The Canon A620 has been incredible. Actually, I’m writing of the TWO A620s we now own, since one spent nearly six months buried in the snowpack and was retrieved when it finally melted out in spring. We’re still using that camera, as well as its replacement. Incredible battery life, works in the cold, even takes good video. Gotta love it.

Is Canon going to upgrade the 620 to something that still has the foldout LCD but more megapixels and wider range zoom?I might sound like I’m praising something like the cup holders in my truck when I exalt the foldout LCD on this camera, but it is incredibly useful for odd angles and self portraits, and also folds face to the camera for protection from impacts or from nose sunscreen when you’re using the viewfinder. New stuff is coming from Canon, we can only hope the trick LCD won’t die.

(September 15 update: It appears the Canon’s upgrades of their A series (stands for using AA batteries) cameras might be the ticket. Info here.)

The Origo alti watch has held up and it works, but we’re not awed by its performance as the altitiude readout seems to jump around way too much. If you need an altimeter give the Origo a hands on test and see what you think, as the price can be very attractive. I also mentioned the Highgear Axis watch in the initial review. That puppy has undergone the ultimate torture test, buckled to my daypack shoulder strap on everything from fourteener ski descents to 4×4 rock crawling trips. If you’re shopping check it out as well, as our impression is that it’s a better unit than the Origo. In our opinion all altimeter watches need a control lock. Buttons such as those on the Origo and Highgear are easy to push (as they should be), but they get pressed accidentally by who knows what and it drives you crazy. Makes you reach for the superglue.

Bummer is the LG C1500 cell phone. These things are the biggest chunk of junk this side of Jupiter. I’m now on a warranty replacement but still frustrated. The range of the LG is severely limited, and it tends to drop calls more than other cell phones I’ve used when in fringe areas. I finally had to buy an external antenna for my truck just so I could talk from within the vehicle for more than 30 seconds at a shot — even when I’m line-of-sight of a cell tower! On top of that, the first LG I got malfed bigtime a few weeks ago. It quit working for no good reason. I hadn’t dropped it (in my beer or on the floor), the thing just started acting funny and eventually became unusable. Cingular’s warranty service was good. But hey, now I have the same model phone only without my address book, and Murphy knows it’ll probably explode again just after the warranty is up. Highly un-recommended, but I’ll test it to the bitter end.

Woops, forgot to mention the Mammut Barryvox avalanche transceiver. Mine quit working towards the end of the winter, and Mamut warrantied it immediately. I used the new one on quite a few trips, but also used my Tracker when headed somewhere that seemed more risky — I have to admit to a bit of concern with the Mamut. That said, I’ve not heard any big shout about Barryvox transceivers quitting all over the place, so mine was probably a rare failure and perhaps the result of me dropping it or something like that. Transceivers in general need to be smaller and more durable, I think we’ll eventually see that trend. I really don’t care if they can do fancy multiple victim searches or find a heartbeat — I just want it to work, have good battery life and not feel like a brick. Am I the only voice crying for that?

But you know how they market cell phones. “Sorry about the missed calls and dropouts, do you like the built in camera?”

There you go. Please leave comments about what cell phones you think have good durability and range, and let us know when you find a good alti watch with a lock button that’ll work for backcountry skiing.

Backcountry Skiing Electronics
Backcountry skiing electronics. Canon A620 digital camera, Origo OC-036 altimeter watch, LG C1-500 cell phone.


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11 Responses to “Backcountry Electronics – 6 Month Use Report”

  1. Cody Clark September 12th, 2006 9:13 am

    Thanks for the info on all the tecno stuff. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and haven’t hear you talk about helmets for the back country. I’ve seen a lot of different stuff used. What are your thoughts on the subject?


  2. Stephen Mills September 12th, 2006 4:49 pm


    Last year you wrote about a new Avy tranceiver that you liked at first, then had problems. (Mammut Baryvox ?) Did you get a replacement, and if so, what is your current opinion. I bought the unit after your blog and have not had any problems, but value your opinion.


  3. Lou September 12th, 2006 5:13 pm

    Stephen, I should have mentioned that. I added to blog post. Thanks for asking.

    Cody, good idea. Till I spout my infinite wisdom, enter “helmet” and “helmets” in the blog search box and see what you find. Some good writing on the subject came out last winter, and you’ll find links to that as well as some of my opinions.

  4. Steve Seckinger September 12th, 2006 5:36 pm

    Good timing – I had to contact Highgear customer service about my Aerial watch. Seems I got an older model where the ascend-rate log resets itself after 3300 feet of gain. Strange to build that logic into the original design, but they are offering to swap me into a newer model at no charge. This watch is for my Nike altimer, which started to reset itselft to 1-1-2003, and that watch was a replacement for my old Avocet Vertech which just plain quit working (even after being sent back to Avocet).

  5. Stephanie Shea September 13th, 2006 6:15 am

    I have the LG VX8300, and it is bombproof. Different carrier though- Verizon- so I don’t know if you can get it through Cingular. I actually had an earlier version that was stolen which I replaced with the same since I liked it so much. I have spilled things on it and dropped it on countless surfaces (often pavement), and it still works great.

  6. becky September 13th, 2006 9:55 am

    My Nokia nGage was pretty good the last time I went skiing. I climbed at 2400 meters, and it was freezing, somewhere around -30 degrees celsius, still, the transmission was good, the batteries did not die… it’s still a bit fragile, since it wasn’t designed to be the strongest mobile around. They have them bomb-proof models too, I’m a Nokia fan!

  7. Tim September 15th, 2006 5:49 pm

    Lou, Cannon has announced the A630 and A640, with a larger fold-out LCD and more pixels, 8 mp and 10mp respectively:

    The message boards over at DPR are full of opinions about the new cameras.

    I love my A610.

  8. Lenka K. September 26th, 2006 10:03 am

    Hi Lou,

    concerning your dead Barryvox beacon, a friend of mine who lives in Switzerland (where about every single backcountry skier has one) said she knew quite a few people whose beacons died for no apparent reason … so you’re definitely NOT alone in having problems with yours!

    Lenka K.

  9. John Aardappel September 24th, 2007 6:09 pm

    Advice well taken on the Origo. I’ve had 2 Highgear Summit Watches now, both have broken. The 1st one after a dip in the ocean (it’s not waterproof by a long shot, not that I mis-read “water resistant” or anything), and the second when the band came off at the pin, marred the plastic and wouldn’t stay in place when I put the pin back into the two holes. So, I’m off to test the Origo. My Highgear stayed at 1 altitude well, and the sensor was against my wrist rather than on the side like Origo. I used to have an old Casio Alti-Watch in the 90’s that also jumped around, and it had a sensor on the side as well. Maybe that’s the cause. I’ll come back in 6 months and give you an update on my Origo’s performance. It’s the same one you list on your site.

  10. Allen December 24th, 2007 2:21 pm

    Lou, I have had two of the BarryVox Opto 3000 for 4 seasons now. Went to use one of them this week only to find that it is dead for no apparent reason. The interesting part is that I used it all last winter with no problems. The other which is the same age is working fine.

    We also have a couple of the new Pulses. As was commented on the beacons really need to focus on both the single search and yet have the multiple as well.

  11. John Aardappel October 7th, 2008 1:46 pm

    Update on my earlier posting, my Origo watch has to date performed okay. When the battery is nearing dead, it does all sorts of funky things, so you will really know it’s going.

    Backlight and other buttons either stick frequently or I just must push them while typing or doing an activity. Seems to go thru batteries like crazy.

    My only complaint to date is that the buttons seem to stick and there is NO guide online…here’s the website if you want to try it yourself: I can’t get the site to give me the downloaded manual, and my old one is hiding somewhere in my house…but it should be posted online.

    At any rate, good watch, probably WON’T rebuy though.

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