Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer's Top Hi-Tech Outdoor gadgets

A Trek in the Grand Tetons

High-Tech Hiker Outdoor Tech

For this special feature, MSN Tech & Gadgets put nine pieces of equipment to the test on a 45-mile trek through the Grand Tetons.

With conditions in the Wyoming backcountry ranging from hail and lightning at high elevation to 90-degree sunshine on a canyon floor, here’s the gear that proved both tech-savvy and trail-tough.

-- by Rich Maloof
(with special thanks to trail brothers William Breslin, John Donato and Douglas Edlin)

SPOT Satellite Messenger
SPOT spells peace of mind both for adventurers and for the people back home worrying their safety. The device uses a GPS network to locate the user’s precise position, and can transmit a reassuring check-in message to friends and family or a distress call to emergency rescuers. Because SPOT utilizes satellite technology, it works anywhere on Earth, making it invaluable for those venturing far beyond the range of cell phone towers.

Once you’re in the wild, pressing the “OK” button sends a pre-written message like WE ARE SAFE or DON’T FORGET TO TAPE THE DAILY SHOW to your email and/or text recipients. They also receive GPS coordinates and a link showing your present location on a Google map (nice!).

SPOT’s most critical function, though, is not just as a messenger but as a lifesaver. The 911 button sends your location to emergency responders, and updates coordinates every five minutes in case you’re on the move.

Does a bear spread giardia in the woods? Yes, he does, and that’s why water from even the most pristine mountain stream must be sterilized before you drink it.

We relied exclusively on SteriPEN (the Journey model, pictured) during our trek and found its technology nearly as remarkable as it is simple to use. The tapered end of the wand dips into most any water container and emits a UV light that effectively destroys over 99.9% of illness-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa. There’s none of the tangy aftertaste familiar to users of iodine tablets, and no long wait: within 90 seconds, a smiley face on SteriPEN’s LCD indicated the water was safe to drink.

How do we know it works? After several days of four guys constantly refilling Nalgene bottles from streams and snow runoff, there was not a single midnight scramble from the tent to the latrine.

Our chief navigator relied heavily on the accuracy of Highgear’s AltiTech2 altimeter as he studied topographic maps to keep our journey on course. In fact, no single piece of gear was used more frequently, and it never disappointed. The device is billed as an altimeter but also incorporates a compass, barometer, chronometer, thermometer and watch.

Wrist-worn devices combining the same functions tend to be oversized and clunky. The beauty of the AltiTech2, though, is that it hangs on a carabiner that clips to any loop on your clothes or backpack. Data can be read even in direct sunshine on the generously sized LCD display.

We calibrated the altimeter just once, at an elevation of 7,700 feet. Six days later, when one of our team took the AltiTech2 on a technical climb up the 13,770-foot Grand Teton, the device proved accurate within three feet at the summit.

Windmill Delta windproof lighter
Say goodbye to matchbooks in Baggies. Windmill’s Delta lighters not only withstand winds up to 75 mph but are waterproof and shockproof thanks to a rugged elastomer housing that clamps securely shut with a topside clip.

The armor surrounding the Delta makes it look like a miniature hand grenade, so be prepared for a discussion with airport security on your pre-hike flight. Also, it can be tricky to light a fire with the jet of an invisible butane flame. But because the lighter has no flint or batteries, it’s virtually impervious to a downpour or a dunk in a glacial lake.

Back at sea level, the Delta lighter does a heck of a job as a cigar lighter. Overkill, sure, but awfully cool.

Jetboil Helios cooking system
Jetboil is the far-and-away leader in outdoor cooking. With the recent addition of Helios, the technology that made their personal cookers so popular is brought to bear on a group cooking system. The Helios packs light and heats up extraordinarily fast thanks to Jetboil’s FluxRing heat exchanger (insert "Back to the Future" joke here).

More than once our foursome had to rush a meal before darkness or rain, and the Helios never left us hungry. Even the most loyal users ding Jetboil cookers for onboard piezo lighters that don’t always spark, and the Helios’ 1.5 liter pot doesn’t easily find a level seat on its base. But these minor potshots are eclipsed by the Helios’ super-fast heating and economical burning of fuel. There’s no better group cooker on the market.

Olympus Stylus 1030SW digital camera
Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, crushproof — if only we could say the same for our own bodies. Instead, those are the claims of the Stylus 1030SW, and Olympus challenged us to push the camera’s limits.

Thankfully, we didn’t find ourselves in the 14-degree temperatures or 33 feet of water the 1030SW is advertised to withstand. But the camera was splashed by cold water, knocked around on rock scrambles, and sloshed in the mud of a soaked campsite — and never stopped shooting 10.1 megapixel photos. On a single charge, its new battery also endured six days of repeated power switching, picture reviewing, and even movie-shooting.

The camera garnered many oo’s and ahh’s when it captured the vastness of a canyon in a panoramic composite, and we found a full complement of additional features accessible via bright, easily navigable menus. (The image back on slide 1, incidentally, was taken with the 1030SW.)

K2 Focus Control Plus headlamp

Anyone who has fumbled with a flashlight while setting up camp or rummaging through a backpack knows the value of a good headlamp. You want both hands free and a bright light on the ground, even if strapping a light to your noggin does make you feel something like a coal miner.

Essential Gear’s K2 Focus Control shines an extremely bright 85 lumens of white LED light, the type renowned for luminescence and battery preservation. Holding down the power button on K2’s pivoting head activates smaller blue, green, or red bulbs — great for ambient light and further reducing the draw on the headlamp’s three AA’s, which are housed in a back-of-the-head battery pack. There’s also a rear-facing strip of red light on the pack so you can be seen from behind as you flee the woods at night.

Bushnell Excursion EX Binoculars
What’s that moving behind the pines ahead — a bull moose? A bison? A b-b-bear? With a pair of 8 x 42 mm binoculars from Bushnell’s Excursion EX line, we were able to suss out the threat from a safe distance. OK, so it was just a bird, but with these binoculars we were able to scope it with outstanding brightness and clarity.

These hi-res EX glasses boast an impressive 330-foot field of view, are waterproof, and in our experience never fogged in any weather. They’re quite lightweight at 1.5 lbs; and though that’s still more than some long-distance hikers want strung around their neck, one simply can’t appreciate nature’s distant gems through a pair of opera glasses. We found these Bushnells worth their weight in gold for zooming in on bald eagles and for spotting our narrow trail clear across a snow-strewn basin.

Oregon Scientific ATC3K Action Camera

These days, you don’t talk about a great outdoor adventure — you post it on YouTube. So strap an ATC3K to your arm — or to your helmet, hang glider, handlebars, or wet suit — and start shooting footage from the extreme athlete’s POV. This “all terrain camera” is waterproof to 10 feet and designed to take a pounding on land or sea.

The ATC3K is about half the length of a hot dog bun, and at half a pound (with batteries) doesn’t weigh much more. With an optional 4GB SD card, you can shoot up to 120 minutes of hands-free, full-color video in 640 x 480 VGA at 30 frames per second. Oregon Scientific includes all the mounts and straps you could need, and even throws in a mini tripod if you want to use the ATC3K as a webcam. To share footage, simply upload via USB or play back directly to your TV. VoilĂ , you’re an instant action hero.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Extreme Tech - Extreme Sports Athlete's Tech Gadgets

Extreme Tech - Extreme Sports Athlete's Tech Gadgets

Do you know Tony Hawk? He's cemented in the skateboard extreme sports history as the most famous guy to ever ride a skateboard, let's take a peek at his gadgets favorites and the technology in his pockets and desktop

Tony Hawk: Skateboard superstar, entrepreneur, philanthropist, gadget geek. Find out what tech toys this frequent traveler and tech enthusiast uses to keep himself in touch while he’s on the go.

Extreme Tech (© Tony Hawk)

Tony Hawk, tech aficionado
Tony Hawk may be the world’s premier skateboarder, but he’s also an avowed tech enthusiast. When he’s not doing 900s, stalefishes or 360 varial mctwists, he’s checking out the latest technology. Though the video games that bear his name are best-sellers, technology is not just a professional interest. Electronic gadgets have been a lifelong passion. When MSN Tech & Gadgets spoke with Hawk recently, he talked at length about his current gear and hinted at his wish list for the future. So, if you were Tony Hawk, what tech would you require?

Extreme Tech // Sony AVCHD camcorder (Image Courtesy © Sony)

Sony AVCHD camcorder
Hawk shoots a lot of his own video for His camera of choice: a Sony AVCHD camcorder, the HDR-SR7. He likes the fact that his camcorder has a 60GB hard drive and that it creates fairly small files. Hawk likes to shoot while he’s skating. “It's also small enough to do handheld shots,” he says. The camcorder’s Super SteadyShot® optical image-stabilization capability keeps images clear even when Hawk is in motion. Featuring Zeiss lenses and a 10x optical zoom, the HDR-SR7 creates a crisp, clear picture that makes you feel like you’re there on the half-pipe with Hawk. Sony has since produced several more models in this line.

Extreme Tech // T-Mobile Sidekick LX (Image Courtesy © T-Mobile)

T-Mobile Sidekick LX
When you’re a globe-trotting skateboard superstar, a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man, you’ve got to stay in touch. One way Hawk stays connected is with his T-Mobile Sidekick LX, much more than a mobile phone. Turn it horizontal, slide it open, and you’ve got a high-resolution LCD screen topping a full QWERTY keyboard for sending e-mail, surfing the Web and sending instant messages on most of the major messaging services. A 1.3 megapixel camera with flash allows you to take pictures no matter where you are. And a slim profile lets you slip it into your back pocket without a second thought.

Extreme Tech // MacBook Pro (Image Courtesy © Apple)

2.6 GHz MacBook Pro
Tony Hawk says that for “speed, power, storage and editing capabilities,” the MacBook Pro is his laptop computer of choice. The MacBook Pro contains Intel Core 2 Duo processors that run up to 2.6 GHz, plus full size screens at either 15 or 17 inches (or plug it into the 30-inch Apple Cinema display for a truly epic experience), exactly the tool Hawk needs for editing his own videos. The MacBook Pro offers many features similar to its competitors, and is still portable enough for a frequent traveler looking to keep his load light.

Extreme Tech // iPod (Image Courtesy © Apple)

Where would any of us be without our iPods these days? Hawk didn’t specify which model iPod he takes with him when he travels, but each model offers its own advantages for someone constantly on the go. The iPod classic offers up to 160 GB of storage, which translates to up to 40,000 songs or up to 200 hours of video. Hawk’s interest in video might also point him to the iPod nano, which offers up to five hours of video, with a smaller profile and a lighter body than the classic, making it a little more comfortably portable.

Extreme Tech // Griffin 9781-TRP30BK iTrip FM Transmitter (Image Courtesy © Griffin)

Griffin 9781-TRP30BK iTrip FM Transmitter
Sometimes an iPod just isn’t enough. Among the gear Hawk always travels with is the Griffin iTrip FM transmitter. This small device plugs into your iPod and turns it into a portable radio. The iTrip offers a choice between LX and DX modes, which allows you to adjust your reception for the clearest signal possible under a variety of conditions. And the iTrip is a great way to maximize your iPod on the road, expanding its versatility.

Extreme Tech // Panasonic Lumix camera (Image Courtesy © Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix camera
Hawk’s current camera is Panasonic’s DMC-LX2, a compact camera that packs a punch. It offers 10.2 megapixel resolution, 4x optical zoom and video, as well as still shooting capability, a nice option to have when he’s not toting his camcorder with him. That kind of versatility works well for a working dad with a tight schedule.

Extreme Tech // Sony PSP (Image Courtesy © Sony)

Sony PSP
Hawk lists the PlayStation Portable (PSP) as one of his must-have gadgets on the road. Not only does it allow him to play games instantly anywhere, he can play music downloaded from his computer, watch movies on universal media disc (UMD , developed by Sony for use with the PSP) or from a memory stick, share photos and play games with other PSP owners via Wi-Fi, among other things. Its 4.3-inch wide LCD screen provides a bright, clear image for playing games and watching video.

Extreme Tech // MacBook Air (Image Courtesy © Apple)

Wish List Topper: The MacBook Air, plus …
When we asked Hawk what was on his tech wish list, it wasn’t a product already on the market. He told us that he’s waiting for a MacBook Air with a bigger hard drive. Currently, the MacBook Air comes with an 80 GB hard drive, apparently not enough for Hawk’s dream laptop requirements. With its 13.3-inch LED screen and full keyboard, and weighing in at only 3 pounds, it’s already a frequent flier’s dream. But given his need for light, portable and -- most important -- powerful technology, it’s easy to see why the MacBook Air of the Future would be Tony Hawk’s ultimate laptop goal.