Top 10 outdoor gadgets and wearables of 2015
Sure, you can still enjoy the great outdoors with the tried-and-true gear you've been using since the 70s, but there's some pretty cool high-tech gadgetry being designed for the likes of trekkers, skiers, surfers and trail runners these days, and there's nothing shameful about updating your gear list with a touch of cutting-edge tech and design. Whether you're looking for helpful tools to jumpstart a New Year's resolution of getting outside more or shopping for the outdoor junkie in your life, these gadgets are sure to result in fresh air and big fun.
Ctrl One sunglasses
I originally picked out Uvex Variotronic shades for this spot, but Ben Coxworth beat me to it with his 2015 cycling innovations piece. Fair enough, he's the guy that reviewed 'em. We're on the same page because "electrochromic" was the big buzzword in sunglass technology this year, reverberating across several models we covered, including the Variotronics, Skuggas and these here, the Ctrl Ones.
Designed for activities with ever-changing light conditions – think sunny bicycle trips across open meadows, through thick forests and up bald mountains or skiing between patches of shade and sun – these sunglasses keep up with changing light faster than their photochromic counterparts. Using the same tech as the Variotronics, Ctrl claims its lenses adjust tint in just a tenth of a second, providing instantaneous reaction to the changing light around you. You can also switch manually with the push of a button. Ctrl ran a successful Indiegogo campaign earlier in the year and is still advertising its sunglasses for a US$200 preorder price through the crowdfunding page.
MSR Guardian Purifier
MSR has combined a water filter and purifier into what it calls "the world's most advanced portable purifier," the Guardian. It's maintained a familiar, portable design and doesn't rely on batteries or chemicals, instead using a mechanical pump action to filter and purify. Originally designed for the US military, the device purportedly purifies 2.5 liters of water per minute, taking care of particulate, bacteria, protozoa and pesky, super-tiny viruses.
After introducing the Guardian, MSR took home a slew of industry awards, including an Outdoor (Friedrichschafen) Gold award and National Geographic Adventure "Gear of the Year." The Guardian will hit the market in January 2016 for a retail price of $350.
Fogo flashlight multi-tool
The Fogo builds upon the idea of electronic outdoor multi-tool from less-equipped predecessors like the Eton Scorpion. It's not quite as slick a design as the Earl backcountry tablet, still in development, but it promises a lot more potential multifunctional goodness.
The modular device has the form factor of a regular flashlight, and indeed offers a claimed 1,000 lumens of light output. The built-in LCD gives you basic GPS navigation, and the digital radio offers user-to-user text messaging from a connected smartphone when out of cell range. Screw on the walkie talkie cap and you can communicate by voice. The various bits of hardware are also designed to interact, providing a flashing warning light if you stray off your GPS course, for example.
There was talk about other modular caps, including a satellite modem and avalanche beacon, when we discussed the Fogo back in February, but we'll let Fogo get the basic device to market before getting excited about those. Its first Kickstarter campaign failed, but a second attempt with a lower target was a success, with Fogo currently listing a "January 2016" date for shipment of preorders, which are currently listed at $220.
The North Face Modulator ABS avalanche airbag
We've seen growth in the wearable ski airbag category, with both new types of avalanche airbags, including a vest, and the emergence of ski racing airbags. The North Face Modulator ABS provides a more flexible avalanche airbag package, giving the user more options in how to wear avalanche safety.
Instead of an all-in-one backpack with airbag system, the Modulator is a universal system designed to secure to any backpack. So you can choose the right pack for the day and add emergency snow flotation capabilities rather than always having to use the same avalanche pack. Strap on a small, lightweight pack for quick pre-work trips and upgrade to a big sack when heading out for the whole day or more. At $1,000, the Modulator is actually more expensive than many dedicated airbag packs, but a little extra flexibility and choice in safety gear is not a bad thing.
We'll admit that the tiny tools on the Tread bracelet don't look like the most reliable in Leatherman's multi-tool chest, and on adventurous outings they should surely be carried in conjunction with, not in place of, traditional multi-tools. That said, the Tread is just a flat-out cool design, letting you strap more than two dozen tools (Leatherman said 25 when it introduced it, but now lists 29) around your wrist and automatically up your "prepared for anything, anywhere" status – all without weighing down your pocket with a traditional multi-tool.
The Tread lets you easily swap tools in and out; all it takes is a coin to twist out the screws holding each link in. When you fold the bracelet flat to access the tools, it actually looks like it'll be fairly functional for some tasks. The experience surely won't be as smooth as using a full-sized model fresh from the toolbox, but you don't tend to wear those kind of tools everywhere you go. The main drag here is the $165+ price tag, which is on the expensive side for either a multi-tool or a man-bracelet. Probably worth a spot on your holiday wish list, though.
Klymit Dash 10 running pack
Klymit offers a very different kind of inflatable backpack design than seen on The North Face Modulator ABS. Its Air Frame back panel serves in place of more traditional pack suspension systems, giving the user the ability to adjust the level of inflation with a shoulder strap-integrated hand pump, thereby adjusting the suspension, fit and feel of the pack. It's meant to be more maneuverable and lighter than traditional backpack suspension systems.
The Air Frame launched several years ago, so it isn't brand new for 2015, but Klymit did devote much of the year to expanding its Air Frame pack lineup. Given the claimed weight and body-conforming advantages of the Air Frame system, a running pack seems like the perfect application for the technology, providing a light, stable pack that's ready to stride across street and trail. Klymit launched its first running pack, the 15.9-oz (450-g) Dash 10, in October. The pack holds up to 15.5 lb (7 kg) and has a running-specific harness with integrated Air Frame pump. The pack has a $90 retail price but is listed on Klymit's website at $72, at the time of publishing.
Vargo Titanium Cleats
Vargo Titanium Pocket Cleats are designed as a light, ultra-portable alternative to snow traction devices like the ICEtrekkers Diamond Grips we reviewed last month. One of the problems of using some of those devices is that once you stop needing them on your feet, like when you leave the icy street or get to a drier stretch of trail, you're stuck carrying around a somewhat awkward, dripping wet pair of traction aids.
To eliminate that hassle, Vargo's two prongs fold, and the cleats slide into the accompanying nylon carry case, which resides neatly in a pocket. Designed for activities like winter running and ultralight hiking, the cleats weigh 4.6 oz (130 g) per pair in size medium. We'd have to test the traction out to really know how they stack up, but the $60 cleats sure look more convenient than the competition and are undoubtedly better than slipping and sliding on bare rubber outsoles.
Kingii wearable lifesaver
Designed as an alternative to bulky, uncomfortable personal flotation devices (PFDs), the Kingii brings inflatable flotation to your wrist. This potentially life-saving bracelet is far from the first wearable inflatable designed for water lovers, but it's billed as the smallest, the idea being that the smaller and less intrusive a lifesaver is, the more likely folks are to actually wear it. The device includes a CO2 cartridge, pull lever, bright-orange inflatable bag, compass and emergency whistle.
We're not sure how comfortable Kingii would be to wear in the water, especially when you're actively using your arms for swimming or paddling, but the initial response was big; Kingii shot way past its Indiegogo goal to reach over $630,000 earlier this year. It is now selling its lifesaver bracelets directly for $90.
Buy now at Kingii.
Glagla Trek-Connect boots
Suunto Traverse sport watch
Not every outdoors enthusiast is a world-class professional athlete completing his or her checklist of world first, highest and longest adventures. Some would rather focus on the terrain and scenery than on tracking their every micro-movement with a high-performance wrist computer. Still, functions like "not getting hopelessly lost" are nice to have.
For these folks, Suunto introduced the new Traverse sport watch this year. A lighter, simpler alternative to its Ambit series of watches, the Traverse pulls focus away from the advanced multi-sport tracking that casual outdoor users might not care much about, turning attention more toward accurate navigation. Suunto adds GLONASS functionality to the GPS hardware for more accurate location tracking and fits a barometer for accurate altitude readings. No price break, though; the Traverse retails for $450.
Let us know if any of these will make their way under your Gore-Tex or into your backpack in 2016. Any other intriguing all-new outdoor gadgets we missed? Sound off in the comments section.