Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

Everest Climbing Gear - Then and Now

National Geographic has another interesting article and photo gallery up today, this time taking a look at the past and present gear used on Everest. The slideshow contains a number of fantastic images, and each one focuses on a particular topic, such as "communications" and "insulation layers," with information what was used when Hillary and Norgay completed the first ascent, versus the gear that the rank and file mountaineers are using now.

Today's climbers are outfitted with highly technical apparel, a host of gadgets, and gear that offers an amazing weight-to-performance ratio. Everything from the boots they wear to the tents they stay in have improved dramatically over the past 60+ years. With all of the advanced fabrics and space-age materials at our disposal, it is easier to climb lighter, faster, and more comfortably than ever before, which is part of the reason so many more people are making the attempt.

So just how different was it back in 1953? In the Nat Geo article we learn that Hillary and Norgay couldn't use wireless communications higher up on the mountain, so they communicated by laying out their sleeping bags in a particular pattern that could be seen below. Today, walkie-talkies, sat phones, satellite messengers, and even cell phones can be used to communicate from any point on Everest, including the summit.

Similarly, the tents used on the first ascent where heavy and bulky. Those shelters were made from cotton, and were often crowded, uncomfortable, and very heavy. In contrast, today's tents are surprisingly strong, lightweight, and warm, even at higher altitudes. Every aspect and component of a tent has been upgraded, making them easier to carry and assemble, even when the weather turns bad.

The story is a fun one and well worth a read for Everest fans and gear junkies alike. Lots of good information here comparing climbing now to then. You're likely to come away with even more respect for those early Everest climbers.

Gear Closet: INO Weather Pro

As outdoor enthusiasts, one of the things we keep any eye on the most is the current weather conditions. The weather has a huge impact not only on our ability to do the things we love outside, but our safety as well. Which is why keeping tabs on current and future conditions is vitally important at times. Thankfully, smartphones have made this a lot easier to do than in the past, but those devices are only as good as the forecast that they are feeding us and aren't all that helpful in telling us exactly what the weather is like directly around us. On top of that, should you find yourself in the backcountry where a data network is not existent, a smartphone becomes all-but useless for tracking changing weather patterns.

Fortunately, there is a device that can fill that niche, and provide a wealth of weather data to help keep us safe wherever we go. It's called the INO Weather Pro from INO Technologies, and after putting it to the test extensively, I can attest to how handy it is to have in your pack.

Designed to fit in the palm of your hand, the Weather Pro is a gadget that comes packed with an array of sensors simply designed to monitor the conditions around us. As such, it can provide the current temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, heat index, dew point, and more. It can also use its onboard barometric sensor to detect your current altitude as well. But best of all, it can also detect lightning strikes within 40 miles of the device, and provide audio alerts if those strikes get too close.

If you spend a lot of time in the outdoors, you can probably already see how a gadget like this one would be nice to have at your disposal. Monitoring sudden shifts in atmospheric pressure and temperature could prove to be incredibly useful, if not life-saving, while knowing when lighting is moving into your area is something that anyone who is climbing or hiking in the mountains can appreciate.

While testing the Weather Pro I found it to be very accurate in most of its readings. Upon powering it up, it takes a few minutes for the device to acclimate itself to its current location, but once it does, temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, and other readings soon reflect the conditions around you. A simple touchscreen interface makes it a breeze to access that info, which is displayed on the screen in a large, easy to ready font. That screen can get a bit washed out in bright sunlight however, but the display offers solid performance without draining the rechargeable battery too quickly.

My test unit did on occasion register a few false positives when it came to lightning strikes however. It would often indicate that there had been two or three strikes near by, even though that wasn't the case. Those readings never set off any of the active alarms however, and I chalked it up to the device recording other atmospheric anomalies. Were a real thunderstorm taking place around me, it would not only indicate the number of lightning strikes in a given time period, but the Weather Pro would have also given off an alert tone indicating it was time to take shelter. That never happened, except when an actual lighting storm was taking place.

The technical specs on the Weather Pro indicate that it has a battery life of about 30 hours when fully charged, and I would say that from my testing that is fairly accurate. The rechargeable lithium-ion power cell can be powered up using a USB adapter, which is becoming a universal way of keeping most of our mobile gadgets charged these days. 30 hours may not seem like much battery life, but unless you're really keeping a close on the weather conditions, it is actually quite a bit of time. I found that I could power on the device, take a few readings, and then shut if off again until it was needed. In this way, that battery could go a very long time on a single charge.

The other limiting factor for the INO Weather Pro is its price. MSRP on the device is set at $497 (although it is currently on sale for $447), which makes it an expensive purchase for the casual user. However, this is a gadget that will likely prove indispensable for guides, as well as dedicated climbers and mountaineers. Basically, if you depend on accurate weather information to keep yourself, your friends, or your clients safe in the backcountry, this is a worthy investment indeed.

To find out more, and purchase your own INO Weather Pro, visit

Climb Everest in Virtual Reality on the Oculus Rift

Let's face it, most of us are never going to be able to climb Everest. Not only is it extremely difficult, requiring years of experience and training, it also happens to be prohibitively expensive too. But, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we can now all catch a glimpse of what it is like to stand on the highest point on the planet.

A company called Sólfar Studios, working in conjunction with another firm called RVX, have created a virtual reality experience that allows owners of the Oculus Rift VR headset to climb to the summit of Everest. The software offers Oculus owners a chance to take in the views from the mountain, without actually having to travel to the Himalaya or acclimatize for three weeks before starting up.

The new Everest VR experience is actually an updated version of one that Sólfar created for the HTC Vive headset last year. But, Oculus users get a couple of additional features, including the ability to climb up the Lhotse Face and a new "god" mode that takes them above the Himalaya themselves for a bird's eye view of the tallest mountains on Earth.

I don't own either of these VR headsets so I can't comment on what this virtual climb of Everest is like, but having used the Oculus Rift in the past, I can tell you that it provides a very compelling and realistic experience. We do get a glimpse of the technology at work here in the video below however, which is no substitute for actual VR, but it does serve as a preview of what to expect. This is especially true if your browser supports 360º video, allowing you to pan around in all directions. Check it out to catch a glimpse of this tech in action.

Video: Staying Powered Up on North America's 50 Classic Climbs

This video is a bit of a commercial for Goal Zero products, but it is also a case study of what works in the field too. Over the past seven years, Mark and Janelle Smiliey have been committed to completing all 50 of the Classic Climbs of North America. As they went about that project, they found themselves looking for ways to keep their electronic gear (smartphones, tablets, cameras, etc.) powered up in the backcountry. That was a real challenge, until they found Goal Zero. The three-minute video is filled with some great mountaineering and climbing shots, and product placement is kept to a minimum. Definitely worth a watch.

New Virtual Reality Experience Will Recreate First Ascent of Everest

Do you ever wonder what it was like to climb those final few steps up to the summit of Mt. Everest with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay when they made the first ascent of the mountain back in 1953? If so, then you may soon get the chance to witness that historical moment for yourself thanks to a new virtual reality project from a company called CGO Studios that is slated for release later this year.

The creative team at CGO specializes in making VR experiences that center around historical events. In the past, they've done projects that centered around the Wright Brothers' first flight and they are currently putting the finishing touches on a digital visit to Anne Frank's attic. But, the team is also knee deep in a project called "Everest '53" that will take viewers high up the Himalayan peak, where they will join Hillary and Norgay as they approach the summit.

According to CGO, the team is creating its Everest project for use with the Oculus Rift VR goggles and its Touch controller. The virtual reality experience will immerse viewers in a 360º environment, and will equip them with historically accurate tools and gear to get them to the summit. The virtual environment will also replicate weather conditions on Everest on May 29, 1953 when Hillary and Norgay went to the summit for the first time, making the experience has real as possible. Both Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay – the sons of the two famous climbers – are assisting with the project, helping to deliver more realism.

The description for "Everest '53" says that viewers will join Hillary and Norgay in the "final moments" of their ascent, but just where it will start is hard to say. Will it begin at the Hillary Step or closer to the top? Is it mostly going to just center around the view from the summit, or something else? We'll have to wait to see for sure, but it is an intriguing premise to say the least.

I've had the chance to test a few VR experiences and can say that they are a lot of fun and offer some interesting tools to do unique things. For the most part, they'll never replace actually going outside to take part in real-world activities, but I do think the technology holds a lot of promise for delivering very compelling content like this. Hopefully I'll get a chance to check it out for myself at some point.

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10 Compact Cameras Specifically Built for Travelers

Photography is an integral part of travel. It not only helps document where we've been, but it captures a moment in time from our adventures that might otherwise have been lost. It is for those reasons that so many avid travelers and outdoors enthusiasts are also aspiring photographers too. But choosing the right camera to take with us on our adventures can be a real challenge. You want some that fast and responsive, with great image quality and color reproduction as well. It doesn't hurt if it is rugged enough to survive in the outdoors either, and if it can also be small and lightweight, it would pretty much be the perfect option. But does such a camera actually exist?

National Geographic has compiled a list of the top ten compact cameras built for travelers, and if you're in the market for a new model – or simply want to see what's new – the article is definitely worth a look. You'll find everything from durable point and shoot models to full-fledged DSLRs, with pretty much everything in between, including the mirrorless options that are so popular today. What's more, most of the major brands are represented on the list, so no matter if you're a fan of Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, or something else, chances are you'll find something to your liking while still being able to maintain your brand loyalty.

So which cameras earned a spot on the Nat Geo list? The Fujifilm X-T2 was a particular favorite, as was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8. The Olympus TG-4 took top honors for ruggedized point and shoots, while Sony's A6500 earned praise for being for its all around performance as well. Each of the cameras on the list is accompanied with an explanation of what makes it especially good for travel, as well as technical information on its sensor size and other features. There are also handy "Pro Tips" to help users get the most out of that particular model as well.

Over the years, I've been able to pair down my travel gear in some impressive ways, cutting a lot of weight and learning to leave nonessential items at home. But, a good camera remains a must and by the time you add a body and a lens or two, the weight adds up fast. I'd love to find a camera that helps me shed some weight, without compromising performance and image quality along the way. These new options are a step in the right direction, with 4K video, full-frame sensors, and fast performance. One of these days it's going to be time to get serious and invest in a new unit, and this article will certainly be helpful when that time comes.

Gear Closet: ECOXGEAR EcoBoulder Bluetooth Speaker

In recent year, I've been fortunate enough to test a number of small, compact, and amazing sounding Bluetooth speakers designed to carry with you on your travels. I want to start this review by saying that the EcoBoulder from ECOXGEAR is not one of them. Don't get me wrong, the EcoBoulder does sound amazing, but it is anything but compact and lightweight. However, what it sacrifices in mobility it more than makes up for in other ways.

Somewhat resembling a carry-on suitcase, both in shape and size, the EcoBoulder includes a set of durable wheels and a telescoping handle that help to make it easier to move about. This large, wireless speaker features 100 watts of total power, which allows it to crank out impressive levels of sound. When used indoors, it can fill a large room or even a house with music, while outdoors it easily overpowers any ambient sounds that might be in the area. And with a massive battery to go along with its massive size, the EcoBoulder can keep the party rocking for up to ten hours without needing a recharge.

Often times with large Bluetooth speakers, you're forced to sacrifice audio quality in favor of higher levels of volume. That isn't the case here however, as the Boulder does a fine job of not just recreating impressive sounding bass, but also showing off its ability to share mid- and high notes too. The result is excellent sounding music, even when the volume is cranked up incredibly high. I have yet to hear distortion of any kind, and at the full audio spectrum comes through very cleanly.

As with all of ECOXGEAR's products, the EcoBoulder is built for use in the outdoors. It features an IP67 rating, which makes it completely waterproof and dust proof, as well as ruggedized against accidental drops. In deed, this speaker is built like a tank and could certainly take a lot of punishment if it had to. It can even float in water, which allows it to be used in environments where other speakers wouldn't dare to go.

Chances are you won't abuse it too much, although it could certainly survive just fine at your next campsite, provided that campsite is not too far from the car. At 27 pounds (12.2 kg), this is a speaker that lives up to its name, both in size and stature. But thanks to its wheels and handle, you can move it about very easily. Mine has transported smoothly between two houses while moving, and in and out of my backyard with any difficult at all.

The EcoBoulder utilizes Bluetooth 4.1 technology to quickly and easily pair with a smartphone, tablet, or other device. Once connected, those gadgets can stream music, podcasts, audiobooks, or whatever else you care to listen to from up to 100 feet away. And if you happen to have a device that isn't Bluetooth compatible, the speaker also has a standard 3.5 mm audio jack to plug a source into it directly.

Other nice features include two built in USB port for charging mobile devices, both of which are found inside a waterproof compartment designed to keep your smartphone safe from the elements. The EcoBoulder also comes with backlit buttons and a bright screen that make it easy to use even in the dark, and it has a microphone-in port to use it as a PA or karaoke system too. The speaker even has a built-in AM/FM radio to listen to local stations as well. And as with all new speakers from ECOXGEAR, two of the units can be paired to one another to produce even more sound.

Obviously this is not a speaker that you'll be taking with you into the backcountry or when traveling to the far side of the planet. It is a fantastic speaker for use around the house however, and it sounds amazing in the backyard. It is also fantastic for car camping excursions, while tailgating, or at other  outdoor events. Thanks to its built in wheel and handle, the EcoBoulder is surprisingly portable, despite its size. Which ultimately means you'll probably find more places to use it than even you first thought.

If you're in the market for a big Bluetooth speaker with big sound, the EcoBoulder is your best choice. It is loud, clear, and impressive sounding in every way, and it is built to survive just about anything short of a nuclear blast. On top of that, this is a versatile speaker with a host of extra features that you don't always find elsewhere. Fully water and dust proof? Check! USB charging ports? Yep! Microphone and auxiliary in? Uh-huh! This speaker has it all, and it more.

Priced at $249.99, I feel the EcoBoulder is even a good bargain. Sure, you can find other Bluetooth speakers for less money, but none that offer all of the features listed above, and such outstanding sound. This is an impressive beast, and I think you'll come to love it as much as I do.

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Gear Closet: Stacked Wireless iPhone Charging Case

One of the biggest buzzword phrases in technology surrounding smartphones in recent years is "wireless charging." For those who don't know, this is a way to power up your device without having to actually plug it into a cable and wall outlet. Instead, you use an inductive charging system – typically in the form of a special case and a charging pad – that allows you to simply place your Android phone or iPhone onto it and automatically starts recharging the gadget. It's quick, simple, and easy.

As a bit of a tech nerd, I've followed the wireless charging scene with some interest, but always had two issues with the technology. First, I never thought it was all that hard to plug a cable into my phone to charge it up in the first place, so I thought that wireless charging was largely a solution that was looking for a problem. My other hesitation with the technology is that it isn't really "wireless" per se, it just shifts the cables to other devices – in this case the charging pad – and adds another layer of tech in the form of a charging case or built-in inductive chargers. To me, wireless charging wasn't something that I saw as all that useful or innovative. Wake me up when true wireless charging hits and my iPhone automatically charges from anywhere in the house at all times.

But, recently I've had the chance to test out the Stacked wireless charging system, and I have to say that I've come around on the technology quite a bit. It definitely is convenient to use and offers quite a bit of flexibility, even for travelers. And while I still want a more advanced wireless charging system fro my future gadgets, the Stacked system is definitely something I've come to appreciate in a very short time. Well... at least mostly.

One of the things that makes the Stacked system so helpful is that it is modular, allowing you to use it in a variety of places, in a variety of ways, with the help of a few accessories. The base Stacked product includes the 360º Speed Case, which fits over your iPhone 6/6S or 6/6s Plus (a version for the iPhone 7  is coming). The case itself fits snugly on your device, and while it doesn't add much in the way of bulk, there is definitely more heft to it. The case doesn't weigh an awful lot (less than an once), but you'll definitely know that you've added it to your phone once its in place.

Like most iPhone cases, the Speed Case added a nice layer of protection to your smartphone, which some of us have a tendency to drop on hard surfaces from time to time. With this case in place however, you'll find that your fragile device is much better at surviving those little mishaps. The back of the Speed Case also has a magnet embedded in it which allows it to attach to the Stacked chargers, which we'll talk about shortly.

Priced at $39.99, the 360º Speed Case isn't especially expensive when compared to other cases, but on its own it doesn't really do much other than help protect your phone from harm. To truly get the benefits of the system, you really need to purchase a Stacked bundle ($99.99), which include a couple of options for wirelessly charging your iPhone. Without the chargers, there isn't much reason to own the Speed Case on its own. But with a charger in the mix, things get much more interesting.

The Stacked bungle comes with the case of course, as well as a battery pack and a standard charger that plugs directly into the wall. Both the battery pack and the charger have magnets that have an opposite polarity of the one found on the case. That means that when you place your phone onto either charger, it'll slide into place with a satisfying click, and within a few seconds begin charging.

The wall charger is small and comes with a fold-out power plug. This is meant to be plugged directly into a standard AC outlet for convenient charging at all times. It holds the phone firmly in place, and provides a nice steady charge, getting your iPhone back up to 100% as quickly and efficiently as the charger that came with the mobile device. The Stacked charger even has a standard USB port built into the side, allowing you to charge another device at the same time. This makes it a handy option to have with you when you travel as well.

The Stacked battery pack comes equipped with a 2000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery of its own. This is enough to fully charge your iPhone once, with just a little power left over for later. It also features two USB ports, one micro-port for charging the battery pack itself, and another standard USB for charging other device. The pack is thin, lightweight, and easy to take with you anywhere. It also has the magnetic connection system integrated right into its case as well. In fact, it has two magnetic ports, one for connecting to the Speed Case, and another for attaching a second battery pack. In this way, you can actually daisy-chain multiple battery packs (which run $39.99 on their own) for a convenient way to carry extra power with you.

In my case, I actually use the battery pack to charge my smartphone each evening. The pack is plugged into a USB charger of its own and sits on the desk in my office. Before I head to bed each night, I simply put my iPhone onto the pack – with that satisfying click once again – and the next day it is fully charged. It is quick, simple, and efficient too.

Another Stacked accessory that I've been testing is the 360º Wireless Car Charger. This add-on costs $49.99 and extends the wireless charging set-up to your automobile too. It conveniently attaches to your air conditioning/heating vent and includes the magnetic locking system as well. So, when you get in the car you simply place it on the dock which holds it in place while you drive, and provide power at the same time.

While driving I often listen to music and podcasts that stream to my audio system via Bluetooth. The 360º Wireless Car Charger holds my phone in place so I can access those audio files quickly and easily too. It also comes in super handy when you're using your phone to navigate as it allows you to see the screen as it provides direction and points of reference. And since using your phone's GPS is one of the biggest hits on the battery, keeping it charged is an essential piece of the puzzle on long road trips.

So, is the wireless charging system a time saver? Hmm... not really. I still don't find plugging in a cable to be all that time consuming, and it really doesn't take any more time than placing the Speed Case onto the charger or battery pack. That said however, I do like that I can use it with the Wireless Car Charging while in my vehicle, which is where I've found this product to be the most useful for me personally. And that said, if you were to buy this system for use in the car, it is probably in your best interest to have the charger and battery pack too.

All of that said, I do really like this line of products. All of the items are well made, look great, and are easy to use. The case provide a great level of protection for your phone as well, and it can be removed – or put back on – within a matter of seconds. And while I'm not exactly saving any time over using a directly plugged in cable, it is still handy to be able to just quickly place the phone on the charger without even thinking about it.

I did run into a few issues when using this wireless charging system while traveling recently. I was out of the country, and plugged the wall charger into an outlet for use in charging my device. But when I got up the next morning, I discovered that it hadn't worked, and my phone was at 22% charge as I was getting ready to head out the door for the day. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought the Stacked battery pack, so I instead had to plug my iPhone into a standard battery pack that I take with me on all my adventures. The problem was, I had to remove the case and plug in a standard cable to make it work. This left my phone without a case, and vulnerable to drops. In future versions of the Speed Case I'd love to see a lightning-cable pass through that would allow me to charge using a standard battery pack – without removing the case – should the need arise.

I learned a valuable lesson from that trip as well. When traveling I should always take the Stacked battery pack with me. It really isn't all that large, it serves the same purpose for keeping my phone charged, and it can help charge other gadgets too. That helps to make it a very useful gadget to have at your disposal on any journey.

After reading all of that, the question still remains – am I a wireless charging convert yet? Again, the answer is both yes and no. While I still want to see true wireless charging at some point, this is a really nice product for sure. Everything is built to a very high level of quality, and it works quite well – the one incident mentioned above not withstanding – too. I especially love using it mine car, and have come to rely on it around the home and when traveling too.

If you're going to jump into the Stacked wireless charging system, I'd recommend doing so with one of the bundles and the car charger. That combination is pretty much perfect and will have you covered for all of your needs. Find out more at

Gear Closet: Power Practical Luminoodle Plus Camp Lights

Beyond a shadow of a doubt technology has had a major impact on modern life. Now more than ever we use a host of gadgets and devices designed to make our daily lives simpler and more enjoyable. So, it seems only natural that technology would have an impact on our favorite outdoor activities too, and one of the more obvious places where that is happening is around the campsite. Now days, when we set up camp, either in the backcountry or just off the road, we bring a number of devices along with us. Everything from smartphones and wireless speakers to drones and 4k cameras are apart of our standard gear. But one area where technology has had an undeniable impact is in the options for camp lighting. The iconic Coleman lantern has been replaced with a number of other options, many of which provide some high-tech options that simply weren't available in the past.

One such product is the Luminoodle Plus from Power Practical. This all-in-one kit includes a string of the company's Luminoodle LED lights, as well at its Lithium 4400 USB power pack. This gives you everything you need to light up your tent, or an area around the campsite, all in one lightweight, easy to use package. 

For those who haven't seen a Luminoodle before, it is a five-foot (1.5 meter) length of plastic cord with a series of LED lights inside. Those lights are capable of putting off as much as 180 lumens of light, and can pretty much be hung from just about anything, including a tree-branch, the interior of a tent, or across a couple of trekking poles with the help of the included plastic ties. Those lights provide a soft glow that isn't blinding in any way, but provides plenty of illumination to help you see in the dark. An included carrying bag can also be used to diffuse the light to a degree, turning the Lumindoodle into a makeshift lantern of sorts. 

One of end of the string of lights includes a standard USB plug, which is used to power the LED lights. That plug slides into a USB port on the Lithium 4400 battery pack, which – unsurprisingly – comes with a 4400 mAh battery inside. This gives it the ability to illuminate the lights for hours at a time, providing a nice power source even for longer camping outings. The same battery pack comes with four built in LEDs as well, which allows it to serve as a mini-lantern in times of ned. It can also be used to recharge other small devices – such as a smartphone – although that will eat into the amount of juice you'll have left to fire up the Luminoodle in the evenings too. 

In terms of weight, size, and simplicity, it is really tough to beat this set up. This is about as easy as camp lighting gets, as you simply plug in the strip of lights and it they spring to life, bringing a nice source of light with them. While they do come in handy around the campsite itself – and hammock campers will definitely love them – I personally like using the lights on the inside of a tent, where they provide enough lumens to comfortable read by, without causing a blinding glare that makes it tough to see. 

The Luminoodle itself is surprisingly durable. The LED's themselves are wrapped in protective plastic, Power Practical says they are waterproof down to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. That ought to be enough to allow them to survive getting dropped in a stream or left out in the open when a rainstorm hits. 

The best part about the Luminoodle Plus is that it truly has everything you need to start using these lights right away. But, that said, you can purchase the Luminoodle separately ($19.99) and power them with your own USB battery pack if you prefer. After all, most of us are already carrying one to keep our device charged already, so this is a nice, convenient way to power the lights and extend the use of your battery pack too. 

In the weeks ahead we're going to see an increasing number of interesting camp lighting solutions coming our way. Some of these new high-tech lanterns have some fantastic features that will be a welcome addition to our backpacking excursions. But, if you're looking for something that is easy to use, and is small and lightweight enough to take anywhere, it really is tough to beat the Luminoodle. This is an elegant solution for illuminating dark environments, and you'll probably find a number of ways that you can use them beyond just camping. 

The Luminoodle Plus kit sells for $39.99, which makes it a great gift for the holiday season ahead. If you have a camper, backpacker, or adventure traveler in your life, they'll love finding this product in their stocking. 

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Gear Closet: Haibike Xduro AllMtn RX Electric Mountain Bike

One of the hottest trends in cycling over the past couple of years has been the rise in prominence of the electric bike – more commonly known as the e-bike. At first glance, most of these bikes look like just about any other that you might encounter on the road, although they have a hidden secret. They come equipped with a battery-powered motor that can help you maintain higher speeds with less effort or climb tough hills that would normally leave your legs crying out in agony.

This little speed-boost has made e-bikes especially popular with commuters, many of whom find that the onboard motor helps them travel along with traffic better and allows them to arrive at their destination relatively fresh thanks to not having to exert as much energy.

An avid biker myself, I've been intrigued with e-bikes for some time, but hadn't gotten the chance to try one out for myself. That changed recently when Haibike sent me one of their electric assisted mountain bikes to take for a spin, and I have to say I came away impressed. The bike delivered on everything that was promised – and more – allowing me to power through a ride like never before. But in the end, it also left me reevaluating why I like mountain biking so much in the first place.

For my little e-bike test drive, Haibike sent me a 2015 model known as the Xduro AllMtn RX. The current model that fits pretty much the same specs is the Xduro AllMtn 7.0. Both versions sport Shimano components, 27.5" tires, a full-supsenion, and a slick looking design that looks aggressive and fun to ride. Hidden inside the aluminum frame however, is a 36-volt motor that is powered by a 500 Wh battery that help this bike truly stand out from the crowd.

Before we go too far into this review, it is important to point out that while most e-bikes provide an electric assist, but you still have to do all of the pedaling. You simply don't have to pedal quite so hard in order to get the bike up to speed nor to maintain that speed. Likewise, when climbing a hill, the speed-assist kicks in to lend a hand, making it surprisingly easy to shoot up steep grades, although you still have to put in some work to get to the top.

The motor installed on this bike has five different settings, including Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo, as well as off. Yes, you can ride the bike without any type of electrical assist, but since it tips the scales at 49.2 pounds, it does feel a bit slow and ponderous. Eco mode provides the least level of assistance, which doesn't feel like much, although it is there to lend a hand when you need it. Turbo is bit like strapping a rocket to your bike, although it comes at dramatically reduced battery life.

While testing the Xduro, I only switched over to the highest level when tackling a big hill, otherwise I tended to stay in Tour mode most of the time. This allowed me to easily maintain a good rate of speed over a variety of terrains without having to expend a lot of energy in the process. The result was that at the end of my ride, I still felt like I had a good workout, but I wasn't completely wasted, even after riding a tough trail.

The Xduro AllMtn has a built in cycling computer mounted on its handlebars that provides information such as your current speed and time, as well as offering a trip odometer, and life-time odometer all in a digital format. That same display also provides constant updates of how much battery life remains by showing not only a battery indicator but also the amount of range the bike has before it runs out of juice. The screen also has an icon that indicates which level of power that the motor is set too as well.

Getting on the bike for the first time, I was unsure exactly how things worked. The motor was engaged, but there is no throttle that you can control, so I wasn't exactly sure how I'd know if it was working properly. It only took a second to figure that out however, as when I started to pedal you could feel the electric assist kick in with a very noticeable boost, even in Eco mode. That boost only became more noticeable as increased the level of power generated by the motor.

Before too long, I found myself testing the bike to see what it could do in a variety of different conditions, and for the most part it performed very well. It wasn't quite as agile and responsive as my Trek mountain bike back home, then again that bike doesn't power up big hills as easily either. I have to admit, the Xduro AllMtn is fun to ride, and is quite capable of tackling a wide variety of trails types.

Now, all of that said, I have to say that I have a few reservations about this e-bike as well. For starters, it is a heavy beast. As mentioned, it is nearly 50 pounds (22.68 kg), which makes it more than twice as heavy as my normal ride. That added weight becomes more evident on tougher trails where agility can be an important factor. And heaven forbid you should run out of battery power while riding, as it would definitely be quite a workout to get Xduro back to the trailhead without the electric assist.

Despite how much fun I had riding the bike, I also couldn't help but feel like I was cheating a bit out on the trail. Part of the allure of mountain biking for me is taking on the challenges of the route with just my bike. That includes all of the challenges, such as climbing hills and maintaining a good speed. This bike made that so easy to do that it almost felt like an entirely different sport. At the end of my test run, I came to the conclusion that while I wouldn't mind an e-bike for commuting around town, I'm not sure I want one to replace my mountain bike.

That said, for riders who are a little older, or aren't quite as physically fit, the Xduro AllMtn is a good solution that allows them to ride challenging trails much more easily. I can definitely see the allure of this bike under those circumstances.

Durable and well-built, the Haibike Xduro AllMtn 7.0 is competitively priced at $5299. It has quality parts and components at every important spot, and a tough aluminum frame with solid geometry. It also happens to have a secret weapon hidden away in the form of an electric motor. All of that design and technology doesn't come cheap, although I've seen plenty of standard mountain bikes that fall in the same price range, even without a motor. Of course, those bikes are likely to have even better components and a carbon frame, just to put things in perspective.

If you've been considering an e-bike for your mountain biking needs, I'd certainly encourage you to give the Haibike Xduro AllMtn a look. It is a great machine for the right rider. I'm just not sure if that rider is me.

Find out more at

Gear Closet: Catalyst iPhone 6/6S Waterproof Case

Okay, I'll admit it. For a very long time I was very resistant to putting a case on my iPhone. I always appreciated the sleek, thin lines that Apple had designed for the device, and adding a case usually changed that aesthetic drastically. On top of that, most cases I saw added weight and bulk that took away from the look and feel of the phone too. And some of the cases designed for use in the outdoors ended up impacting sound quality and ease of use as well. So, as a result, my iPhone went unprotected for years, and usually when I traveled to a remote location, I'd end up leaving it at home or somewhere safe where it couldn't be harmed.

But, as the speed and functionality of the device increased, and the camera continued to improve year in and year out, I've now started taking my iPhone with me pretty much everywhere. It serves as my mobile command center, allowing me to take notes, share images and impressions of the place I visit, snap amazing photos, keep in contact with friends and family, and navigate foreign cities with ease. And since the device is now a constant companion during my adventures, I found that I needed a case to help protect it from the elements too. Finding the right one however, took some time and plenty of trial and error. But finally, I've found what just might be the perfect match for my particular needs in the form of the Catalyst Case for iPhone 6S.

As mentioned, one of the things I have always disliked about most iPhone cases is that they change the look of the device, and add a lot of bulk as well. This is especially true of a case that has been designed for use in the outdoors, which typically brings a measure of protection from dust, accidental drops, and water. The Catalyst Case does all of that, but manages to do so without turning your elegant-looking device into a massive brick. That's because it has been unique designed to provide a high level of protection with the most minimal amount of material necessary. In fact, it is easily the thinnest and lightest protective armor I have ever seen for a smartphone.

That doesn't mean that Catalyst skimped on the specs however. This case can keep your iPhone safe from water down to a depth of 5 meters (16.4 ft). It is also dust, sand, and snow proof, and is rated to survive a drop of 2 meters (6.6 ft) onto a hard surface. In other words, it was built for use in rugged, demanding environments, and should be able to keep our precious devices from suffering an untimely demise.

The case is also comfortable to hold and provides users with a firm grip at all times, which makes it far less likely that the phone will slip out of your hand in the first place. It also comes with external buttons that allow you to adjust volume and power the device on and off as easily as you could without any type of case at all. At Catalyst has even integrated a special rotating crown that allows you to flip the mute switch just as easily as well. The case allows full access to the camera and flash, and even the Touch ID fingerprint scanner functions normally too. In short, once this suit of armor is in place, you won't lose any of your normal functionality.

Installing the case on your iPhone is about as easy as it could possibly be. Everything snaps precisely into place, and fits as snugly as you would expect. It took me just a couple of minutes to take the product out of its packaging and have it installed on my smartphone, which is not something that I can say about some of the competing products that I've tested over the years. Best of all, the case comes off easily too, for those of you who only want to use it when absolutely necessary.

One of the issues with many cases like this one is that the thick armor that is installed ends up having a detrimental effect on the sound quality from both the microphone and speaker of the device that it is installed upon. This can make it difficult for you to hear the person you're talking on the phone with, and it can muffle your voice for them too. Thankfully, that isn't the case here, as Catalyst has found a way to deliver a high level of protection without interfering with audio performance in any way.

Inside the box you'll find a couple of additional items that could come in handy. For instance, Catalyst includes a special adapter that allows headphone users to more easily access the standard 3.5mm audio jack. This port may be gone from the new iPhone 7, but it is still in use by many who haven't made the leap to Bluetooth wireless headphones just yet. But some earbuds have an tough time of locking securely into place when a case is on the phone. This adapter makes sure that that isn't a problem. There is also an included lanyard that can be used to further secure the device when carrying it around as well.

Catalyst sells this case for $69.99, which is actually quite competitive for something that turns your iPhone into a waterproof and durable gadget. Similar cases from the competition can cost nearly twice that, and often add a lot of bulk to the phone in the process. But considering how sleek, well built, and easy to install this product is, it is easy to recommend it to those of you who – like me – are reluctant to add a similar layer or protection to your phone as well. If you happen to fall into that category, or are simply looking for a great case to keep your iPhone safe during your travels, this is the option for you. Once you have it installed, you'll wonder why you ended up waiting so long.

Adventure Tech: goTenna Extends Backcountry Communication with New goTenna Mesh

Earlier in the year I took a look at an innovative method for staying in communication while in the backcountry called goTenna. This simple, but effective device, connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth technology, and allows you to send text messages and share your GPS location with others who are equipped with a goTenna of their own. In a sense, the device creates its own data network for use in places where shell service is nonexistent, and while it doesn't facilitate voice comms, I found it very useful for staying in touch nonetheless. Now, the team at goTenna is back with a new product, and while it works in much the same way as its predecessor, it has the potential to extend the range of the device much, much further.

Dubbed the goTenna Mesh, this new unit launched on Kickstarter yesterday. A bit smaller than the original model, this new device brings some interesting new technologies to the table that should make it more useful to travelers, backpackers, climbers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. For instance, the Mesh now operates on UHF radio frequencies, which have brought it's out-of-the-box range down slightly, but make it more adaptable to a wider variety of environments, including both the outdoors and interior spaces. Switching to UHF has also allowed goTenna to bring their product abroad too, opening it up for sale in foreign countries where the previous generation's VHF radio waves were not allowed.

But more importantly, as it's name implies, the goTenna Mesh brings "meshing" technology to users as well. This allows the device to relay data that is sent to it on to other users, thereby extending the range almost indefinitely. Where as the original goTenna simply blasted out the messages that it broadcasted to all other goTenna users in range, the Mesh can analyze the data, and then rebroadcast it to others too. In this way a message that is sent can potentially reach a recipient, even if they weren't in range of the original sender.

The first generation goTenna has a range of about 1 mile in urban settings and 4 miles in rural areas, although greater ranges can be achieved depending on elevation and so on. The goTenna Mesh has a similar range when used for peer-to-peer communications, with 1 mile in cities and 3 miles in the backcountry. But, since it has the ability to relay data, a message can hop from one device to the next, provide there are several of them working within range of one another. So while two Mesh devices might have a range of roughly three miles, three or four units working together could stretch that range considerably further.

When goTenna launched the Kickstarter campaign for the new Mesh model it was with the hopes that it would generate $150,000 in crowdfunding to help get the device into production. Just 24 hours later, the campaign has generated $132,000 and climbing. That means that the new product should begin shipping in December as expected, with a price tag of $179 for two units. Of course, a third goTenna Mesh is really needed to see the true benefits of this second generation model, but this is certainly a good start. Early-bird contributors can reserve their goTenna Mesh units for as little as $129 by pledging to support the Kickstarter campaign now however.

In addition to revealing the Mesh, the company is also launching a new service called goTenna Plus. Users who sign up for this plan receive additional benefits from the goTenna app that is installed on their iPhone or Android device, including improved topographic maps for sharing your location, tracking of speed and distance while out hiking, and even sharing your current location with a designated individual on a set schedule, much like a SPOT Satellite Messenger. goTenna Plus users can also take advantage of network relaying which allows a device that is connected to a cell network to pass along goTenna messages to other users in that way too.

goTenna Plus is normally priced at $29 for a year, but is currently available at an introductory price of just $10. Seems like a pretty reasonable rate to me.

Find out more about goTenna and all of its gadgets at

Video: Introducing the GoPro Karma

Last week, just before I left for my backpacking trip to Bryce Canyon, GoPro introduced its first drone, the Karma. I barely had enough time to share some thoughts on this new UAV before I skipped town, but this video does a great job of showing off what it can do. While it doesn't look like a revolution in drone technology, it does appear that it will be an affordable solution that has a lot to offer those looking to add a drone to their collection of gear. From what I've heard, the footage that it captures is quite good, and the fact that it can fold up and be easily transported makes it a good choice for use in remote locations. Looking forward to learning more about it in the days ahead. It should go on sale on October 23. Here's a sneak peek at what to expect.

Adventure Tech: GoPro Unveils the Karma Drone at Long Last

It seems like we've been waiting a very long time, but today GoPro finally took the wraps off of its highly anticipated Karma drone, giving would-be filmmakers yet another tool to help them create their outdoor and adventure travel masterpiece. By now, we all know what a drone is, and how it can be used in a variety of ways. Over the past few years, the drone market has matured dramatically, with companies like DJI leading the way. But this is GoPro's first foray into UAV's, and in order for the company to make a dent in the industry – and possibly reverse its flagging fortunes – it knew that had to deliver something different and unique. Was the Karma worth the wait? We'll have to hold on a bit longer to know for sure, but it certainly is intriguing.

Gear Closet: JBL Reflect Mini BT Wireless Sport Headphones

In case you haven't heard, there is a new iPhone coming out this week. That's pretty much common knowledge considering how much press Apple gets. But what you might not have heard is that one of the design elements of the new smartphone that is getting the most attention is Apple's decision to drop the standard audio port. This has freed up some precious space inside the phone that Apple engineers can use to add more tech, but it also means that we can no longer simply plug in a standard set of headphones. Moving forward, the iPhone's lightning port will pull double duty for both charging and audio output, which means you'll need to either use a set of lightning earbuds, a lightning-to-3.5mm adapter (included in the box), or wireless headphones to listen to your music, podcasts, and audio books. While all of those are obviously viable solutions, Apple is making a hard push towards Bluetooth headphones, particularly since they are releasing their own unique entry into that market with the new AirPods and some updated wireless options from Beats.

I haven't had a chance to test out the AirPods yet, but I have been testing some other wireless headphones that are specifically designed for use by those of us who are fairly active. I actually made the switch to Bluetooth earbuds awhile ago, and I have to say that it is a niche shift. Not having to deal with cables while running or cycling is a major plus in my book, and I think that while some will continue to be reluctant to make the change, once you do, you'll never want to go back.

Recently I've been testing the new Reflect Mini BT sport headphones from JBL and have discovered a product that ticks all of the boxes in terms of what I'm looking for when it comes to earbuds. And while they may not be quite a fancy as Apple's AirPods in terms of design and technology, they still perform very well and cost a lot less.

The Reflect Mini use Bluetooth technology to connect wirelessly to your smartphone. There once was a time when that pairing process was a bit of hassle, but those days are long over at this point. It literally took just a few seconds to pair the two devices together, and after that when ever I turned on the headphones they would automatically connect with one another. That's the way all wireless audio devices should work, and that has pretty much been my experience with all of them for some time.

As with most wireless earbuds these days, the Reflect Mini comes with an inline remote that allows you to control volume, switch tracks, pause playback, and so on. It even has a built-in mic that gives you the ability to pick up incoming phone calls too. Those are fairly standard features at this point, but JBL has made them easy to use thanks to a remote that has large buttons and a simple, straight forward configuration.

I've tested wireless earbuds in the past, and one of the biggest challenges I've typically faced is finding the right sized rubber ear tips to fit into my ears properly. Some previous models I've tried out have come with as many as seven sets of those silicon inserts, and I'd usually have to mix and match to find the ones that worked best for me. The Reflect Mini ships with four ear tips – two sets of sports and two regular. But, this time out there was now fiddling to find the right fit. The ones that came preinstalled worked perfectly for me right out of the box, snapping into place and staying there while I ran. Obviously you may find that you'll have to play around with the tips a bit to find the ones that work for you, but I've never had fit this good before.

In terms of audio performance, I found these earbuds to be solid, but not overwhelming. Music sounds crips and clear, even at higher volumes, and there was even some solid bass mixed in, something you don't always find on smaller, sport-oriented earphones. The Reflect Minis probably aren't going to win any awards for their performance, but in terms of something that you want to wear out on a run or for a workout at the gym, they are definitely up to the challenge. I will note that some of the podcasts I listened to while wearing these headphones did sound a bit muddled at times, but that is probably more due to the quality of those recordings and less about the earbuds themselves. Music tracks, which have higher production values, sounded great, which is a better way to judge overall quality.

Battery life is the other element that always concerns me, as unlike standard earbuds you'll need to recharge your wireless models on a regular basis. JBL says that the battery is good for about 8 hours playback, although that number can vary depending on volume, audio source, and so on. In real-world testing, I found that I was getting closer to 6 hours of battery life, which for me translates to having to recharge after I've run with the earbuds four or five times. While I would like to get a bit more battery life out of the Reflect Mini, I've been mostly satisfied with their performance so far.

On that note, it doesn't seem that JBL has built-in an auto-off feature for the Reflect Mini, which means if you accidentally leave them on, you'll drain the battery somewhat even when they're not in use. When you're done working out, be sure to turn them off so they'll be charged for your next session.

Since these are earbuds designed for use while being active, they have been built to be sweat proof. That means that they can survive your wet hands pawing at the remote control or you working up a good sweat while running. That doesn't mean that they are water – or even rain – proof however, so keep that in mind when using them. I've had other wireless earbuds that were sweat proof in the past, and some would stop working if I used them on a run in the rain. I don't know if that will be the case here, as I haven't tried the Reflect Mini BT in the rain yet, but it is definitely something to keep in mind.

In terms of long term durability, we'll simply have to wait to see how well these earphones perform. Right now, they function very well, with great battery life, solid audio performance, and very few distortions or audio cut-outs while in use. But, some of the wireless earbuds I've used in the past haven't stood up to the test of time, wearing out after just a couple of months of use. Hopefully that won't be the case here, but only time will tell.

In terms of price, JBL has delivered a good product that performs very well, that won't make your wallet duck for cover. At just $99.95, the Refect Mini BT stacks up very well against the competition in terms of performance and value. Apple's new AirPods, which aren't specifically designed for use while exercising, cost $159, making them a bit pricer for those who are just entering the wireless earbud market.

Whether that's you, or if you're simply looking for a new pair of wireless earbuds, the JBL Reflect Mini BT is a good choice.

Gear Closet: Kyocera Hydro Shore Waterproof Android Phone

Now days, most of us carry our smartphones with us wherever we go, including into the backcountry when we go hiking, camping, or backpacking. That's because those devices have proven invaluable just about anywhere we might travel, including places where cell network connections are at a premium. The problem is, most smartphones are also incredibly fragile, which means taking them with us on these adventures means putting our precious gadget in jeopardy, or shelling out extra cash for a case that is waterproof and rugged. But what if you could have a smartphone that is already designed to survive in that type of environment? Better yet, what if that device was also very affordable? That's exactly what you get with the Kyocera Hydro Shore, a budget phone designed to run on AT&T's GoPhone network.

First things first, it is important to note that in terms of onboard technology, the Hydro Shore features components that won't compete with high-end, flagship phones from competitors including the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S7. It's 5" high-def display is bright and colorful, but not on par with those found in more expensive phones, and its 1.1 GHz Snapdragon processor is under powered at this point of its lifecycle. Additionally, the Hydro Shore's 5-megapixel main camera won't win any awards either and lags behind the competition in performance as well. On top of that, the device comes with just 8GB of onboard storage and 1GB of RAM, which is underwhelming when compared to other smartphones too. As if that wasn't enough, the device runs the Android 5.1 (Lollipop) operating system, which is two full versions out of date at this point, with no clear upgrade path moving forward. Taken as a whole, that makes this a fairly average Android device to say the least, and well behind much of the competition in what has become an increasingly crowded market.

So what exactly does the Hydro Shore have going for it? For starters, it is very affordable. The device carries a price tag of just $79.99, which puts it amongst the least expensive smartphones on the market at the moment. It also has expandable storage capacity through the use of memory cards (up to 64GB), and it features a design that makes it easy to grip and use with one hand – something that we shouldn't take for granted in an era where smartphones continue to expand in size. Plus, the phone has solid battery life – up to 13 hours of talk time – which is better than most of the competition too.

But best of all, the Hydro Shore also happens to be waterproof, which is certainly not something you find at the $80 price point all that often. In fact, the device is certified IP57 waterproof, which means that it can be fully immersed in up to 1 meter (3-feet) of water for 30 minutes without harm. That means that it should survive rainstorms, kayaking trips, and accidental dunkings, which is not something you can say about most other smartphones on the market regardless of price point.

And since the Hydro Shore was built for use around water (hence the name!), its 5" screen was made to be interacted with even when you have wet hands. That means you can snap photos, make a call, or send a text no matter the conditions. I personally appreciate this feature after a long run, which is when my sweaty hands can sometimes make it a challenge to interact with my iPhone too.

The Hydro Shore's case is made from a soft, easy-to-grip material that provides a measure of protection from accidental drops, but isn't as durable as some other ruggedized phones that I've seen, including the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active.  Samsung's offering is bulkier, heavier, and costs more, but includes better waterproofing, a shatter-resistant screen, and a host of other tech features, such as wireless charging. That said, the Hydro Shore feels like it can survive quite a bit of punishment, although you may still want to add a case for a bit of extra protection.

In addition to its waterproof design and great pice, the Hydro Shore's other best feature may be that it connects to AT&T's GoPhone network, which is available through Walmart. Not only does this give consumers an option to purchase phones and services without a yearly contract, it offers affordable voice, text, and damage usage too. Plans start as low as $30 a month, although the top-end option runs $60 and includes unlimited talk and texts from the U.S. and Canada, as well as voice, text, and data usage while in those countries as well. That makes GoPhone and the Hydro Shore an intriguing and affordable option for anyone who frequents those destinations, even if they happen to own another smartphone.

As a self-confessed tech nerd, I have to say that there isn't a lot to get too excited about technology wise with this device. Its specs clearly lags behind the competition in nearly every way. But, as someone who travels a lot, and often visits remote places, the fact that they Hydro Shore is waterproof is certainly a major benefit as is the GoPhone options for use in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. If you happen to visit those places on a regular basis, and want a solid, reliable phone for use while traveling, this is a great option. It is tough, dependable, and has great battery life. Additionally, it is also so affordable that you can actually keep your high end phone and this one too.

Find out more at the Hydro Shore official website.

Video: Hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park

Zion National Park is home to some of the most outstanding landscapes found anywhere in the American west. It is also home to one of the most spectacular hikes as well. The walk out to Angels Landing is beautiful and challenging, making it difficult for some to reach the breathtaking view found at the end. Thanks to this video – shot on the new DJI Osmo camera – you won't have to. Sit back and enjoy, it is a jaw-dropping experience.

ANGELS LANDING (SHOT ON DJI OSMO) from Baris Parildar on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: Casio WSD-F10 Smart Outdoor Watch

As an Apple Watch owner I've come to rely on my smartwatch more than I ever thought possible. Not only does it give me the date and time, but it also provides access to my calendar of events, quick viewing of texts and alerts, the ability to control the music on my iPhone right from my wrist. It also tracks my workouts, provides weather updates, and gives me scores of my favorite college and NFL football teams. Heck, it even holds my boarding passes when I'm traveling, providing a very convenient way to whisk through the airport.

But for all of its strengths, the Apple Watch has plenty of faults too. For instance, its battery life is limited to about one full day of use, which makes it a challenge to keep charged while traveling. It is also designed to be more of a fashion accessory rather than something that is truly built for adventure travel or outdoor activities. In fact, it is rather on the fragile side, which is why I recently used the Apple Watch Case from Catalyst while traveling through Quebec. So, while I love the idea of wearing my smartwatch everywhere, it just isn't always practical to do so. That is, unless you happen to have the Smart Outdoor Watch from Casio, a timepiece built specifically with the outdoor enthusiast in mind.

Officially designed as the WSD-F10, this smartwatch was built from the ground up for adventure travelers and the active outdoors person. As such, it comes equipped with a host of sensors and features that will make our life in wild and remote places much easier. For instance, the watch has a built-in electronic compass, altimeter, and barometer. It also comes with a database of the current times for sunrise and sunset based on your current location, and it even has a tide chart to help you plot the movement of bodies of water. Casio's device even serves as a fitness tracker too, closely charting your movement and calories burned throughout the day.

Despite all of that functionality baked into the Smart Outdoor Watch, there is one feature that is glaringly missing – GPS. Most high-end outdoor watches today come with some GPS capabilities that allow their users to track their routes, follow trails, and keep track of speed, distance, and direction. The WSD-F10 does all of those things, but it uses the GPS chips on the smartphone that it is tethered to in order to accomplish those feats. That means you'll need to carry your smartphone with you everywhere you go, including the backcountry. Considering how many of us already do just that however, it seems like a small price to pay, even if you now have to keep two gadgets – your phone and your watch – charged.

Speaking of keeping a device charged, if Casio's smartwatch has an area that needs improvement, it is probably battery life. Don't get me wrong, in standard operating mode, it will easily outpace the Apple Watch, lasting for as many as three days between charges. But, turn on a host of features, interact with apps on a regular basis, and have it track your movement while out on a hike, and suddenly the battery life begins to drop significantly. In fact, it is possible that you might not even be able to make it through a full day of usage if you turn all of its features on and leave them functioning for an extended period of time. As with most smartwatches that are currently available, this one could use a bit more juice.

Those issues aside, the WSD-F10 is a great watch for use while traveling and in the outdoors. It is rugged and durable enough to take anywhere, including into the water. This watch is waterproof down to 50 meters (164 ft) and it is both dustproof and hardened against drops according to the MIL-SPEC 810G standards. That means that you can take this watch on a trail run, mountain biking, and paddling and never worry whether or not it's going to survive.

Casio has used a unique two-screen system on this watch that not only allows it to show the current time at all times, but it can do so without wiping out the battery. The first display is a simple monochrome option not unlike something you might find on a Kindle. This particular screen is used to give users the time and date at a quick glance, even in bright sunlight. This low-power display sips energy from the battery, which is what allows it to be on all of the time. The second display is a full-color screen that is used for interacting with apps, reading text messages and alerts, and providing other information to the user. It is bright and vivid and on par with pretty much every display that I've seen on a smartwatch to date. This two-screen approach works seamlessly to the person wearing the watch and brings some versatility to the WSD-F10 that isn't found in its competitors.

While Apple uses its own proprietary Watch OS to power its wearable, Casio has employed Android Wear to run its device. This lightweight operating system has been designed specifically to run on devices such as the WSD-F10 and as a result it is fairly snappy in its execution and provides a solid platform for creating unique apps that can run on the device. Android Wear doesn't have nearly as many apps for it as Watch OS, but most of the big names that you would expect are there, and can be used with the Smart Outdoor Watch too, provided you use an Android phone. The WSD-F10 will pair with an iPhone, but its functionality is severely limited due to the restrictions that Apple places on access to iOS functionality.

One of my favorite features of most smartwatches is the ability to customize the face of the watch to display exactly the information that you want to see. The WSD-F10 has this same functionality built-in as well, but with a nod to its particular audience. Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate that with a quick glance they can check their current altitude, direction they are moving, speed, route, and more. The sheer amount of customization that can be done is a bit surprising at first, but you'll soon discover that it is very nice to have that level of versatility right at your fingertips.

Priced at $500, the Casio WSD-F10 Smart Outdoor Watch is about on par with similar products from both Suunto and Garmin. However, those watches all tend to come with GPS built-in and have longer battery lives, which will make them more appealing to many customers. But, they also lack most of the "smart" features that make Casio's device so intriguing. If you don't mind recharging your watch more often, and are already carrying a smartphone with GPS capabilities, the WSD-F10 may just be the more full-featured option.

Personally, I really like this watch. The fact that it is a smart wearable designed for those of us who venture out to remote locations on a regular basis makes it a great option for adventure travelers and outdoor lovers. I appreciate its high quality construction, excellent built-in features, and expanding app ecosystem. This is a watch I can wear on daily runs and bike rides, as well as trips to the far side of the planet. That alone gives it a leg up on my Apple Watch, and makes me wish Apple would crate something similar. That will never happen, but thankfully Casio is here to fill the void.

Buy the Casio WSD-F10 Smart Outdoor Watch at REI.

Gear Closet: Catalyst Apple Watch Waterproof Case

I have a confession to make. I absolutely love my Apple Watch. In fact, I pretty much wear it every day. It isn't just a watch for me, but also a fitness tracker, communications device, and a way to keep tabs of my calendar. It also holds my boarding passes when going through the airport, discreetly displays text and alert messages, and controls my music and podcasts when I'm out on a run. In short, it has become an important part of my daily life. 

All of that said, there are times when I wish the Apple Watch were a bit more rugged. Sometimes I'll wear it on my outdoor adventures, and it seems a bit fragile for use in the backcountry. Especially if I'm doing anything that involves being out on the water. Don't get me wrong, the Watch can survive a dunking, but Apple falls short of actually declaring it water proof, and you're on your own if you go swimming with it. Which is why I was eager to try out the Apple Watch Case from Catalyst, a product that promises to add rugged protection to the smartwatch and even protect it from water.

The Apple Watch Case is certified to the IP68 standard, which means it will keep your watch waterproof down to 50 meters (165 ft). It has also been built to the MIL-SPEC 810G standard for protection against drops as well, giving your Apple Watch a suit of armor that protects it from the elements. Those two factors alone make it a worthwhile product for anyone who like to wear their smartwatch in the outdoors, as you'll definitely feel more confident when it is wrapped up in this protective shell. 

Installing the Apple Watch Case is surprisingly easy. There is one tiny screw to remove (Catalyst includes a proper screw driver in the packaging) to gain access to the interior of the case. Before doing so, you simply remove the current watch band that you have on the Apple Watch – a process that takes seconds – and then place the watch housing itself inside a thin rapper seal that provides an extra level of protection from moisture. Then, you place it into the case and reseal it using the same screw and screw driver. 

When it clicks into place, the housing is completely sealed tight, yet you lose no functionality. The watch face remains just as responsive to your touch as it was before and the device can continue to monitor your heart rate, provide haptic feedback, use the speaker and mic, and connect to its magnetic charger. Catalyst has even cleverly designed buttons and a digital crown to fit over the existing versions on the Watch itself, allowing full interaction with all its features. In fact, after installing the case on my Watch I almost forgot that I had made the change, as it felt just as natural interacting with it as before, and the case felt incredibly comfortable on my wrist at all time. 

Last week, while traveling in Quebec, I had the opportunity to truly put the Apple Watch Case to the test. Many of the activities took place on the water, so I spent my days stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and even whitewater rafting. Throughout all of those activities the case performed exactly as advertised, keeping my precious Apple Watch fully protected. I even jumped out of the raft and body surfed some rapids on my own, and my device came out completely unscathed. It was an impressive display to say the least, and it convinced me that the case would keep my watch fully protected just about anywhere. 

As mentioned, the case is quite comfortable to wear, and doesn't add a lot of bulk to Apple's sleek smartwatch. In fact, after my trip was over I debated as whether or not I should just leave it on permanently. In the end, I did remove it (also a simple affair) in part because I enjoy the versatility of being able to change up the look of the Apple Watch on a moment's notice. But, knowing that I have Catalyst's case at my disposal for future adventures makes me very happy.

The Catalyst Apple Watch case is available for the 42mm version only and costs $59.99. To me, it is a worth investment if you like to use your Apple Watch while traveling or exploring the outdoors. It definitely adds a great level of protection that isn't there out of the box, and will allow it to survive being immersed in water without any fears. 

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Gear Closet: The Zus Ruggedized Charging Cable is a Fantastic Travel Accessory

These days when we travel we always carry a host of gadgets with us. In fact, depending on the trip I'm taking, I often have a wide variety of devices that I need to keep charged while on the go. Those include a smartphone, tablet, and at various times a rechargeable headlamp, smartwatch, water purifier, headphones, and more. In order to keep all of those items from becoming nothing more than dead weight, you'll also need to carry charging cables, most of which are not designed for use in the back country or withstand the rigors that are often placed on them when traveling. But fortunately, there are some options on the market that are built to survive, even in remote environments, making the ruggedized charging cable a must have for outdoor adventurers.

One such cable is the ZUS from Nonda. Encased in an outer shell of tough nylon braiding over a thin PVC tube, and made up of protected aramid fibers, this cable was built from the ground up to survive darn near anything. In fact, the ZUS was tested in the lab and survived being bent more than 15,000 times without suffering damage. But if that wasn't enough to convince you, it is also backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Available in standard micro-USB, USB-C, and Apple Lightning versions, the ZUS cable definitely feels more substantial in your hands than most other charging cables I've used, especially those that come directly from a device manufacturer. There is a clearly defined resistance in the cable that you can feel as you use it that simply provides a sense that even though you're twisting it about, it isn't doing any kind of damage to the cable itself.

Speaking of twisting it about, the ZUS has also been built to be tangle free, which is something I appreciate when traveling. The materials used to create this cable also prevent it from wrapping up around itself, which means you can pull it out of your pack and plug it into your device and charging solution within a matter of seconds. If you're carrying multiple cables with you, this feature is even more handy, and the ZUS doesn't end up wrapping itself around them. And since it comes with its own built-in Velcro tie, it is extremely easy to keep it organized too.

I've been using the ZUS on a number of my summer trips ranging from up-state New York to the wilds of Mongolia to the craziness that is Outdoor Retailer, and beyond. I have found that it has now become my go-to cable whenever I need to charge something. Partly because it is easy to pull it out and plug it in, but mostly because I know it will survive whatever I throw at it. Moving forward, it is likely that I'll replace all of my cables with the ZUS as it just happens to be a great choice for the adventure traveler.

If I had one complaint about the design of this cable it would be that the USB plug is turned at a 90º angle over what you are most likely accustomed to. Nonda says that this is to improve its compatibility with the ZUS car charger (which I reviewed here!), but I found it to be not as handy when plugging it into other charging units, including the battery packs that I carry with me when I hit the road. A most standard approach to the plug layout would have been more useful for me in general, and I suspect others might find similar challenges from time to time.

That said, this is an extremely well built cable that travelers will appreciate immensely. And at just $19.95, it isn't priced all that much more than most other cables on the market, while being less expensive than other ruggedized cables that I've come across.

A review of charging cables certainly isn't as sexy as the latest boots, sleeping bags, and jackets from our favorite outdoor companies, but it is still a product that most of us use on a daily basis. In this case, we're getting a cable that is built specifically for road warriors and outdoor adventurers, something that can't be said about most. If you happen to find yourself breaking or fraying your charging cables while out in the field, give the ZUS a look. I think you'll be happy with the the $20 investment, which will survive just about anywhere that you take it.