There’s always that one guy or gal on your list that seems to have everything. Or doesn’t seem to want anything. Fortunately, advances in the tech world happen so fast that pretty much every holiday season there is something new. And who doesn’t love a new toy!! Here we review some of 2018’s best tech offerings for the backcountry adventurer.
If communication is the key to any relationship, think of what a set of Midland GMRS Two-Way Radios could do for you! Midland makes a variety of models of two-way radios for use in the backcountry. It is important to understand a little bit about these radios. FRS (Family Radio Service) radios operate on very low frequencies that are designated by the FCC for use by recreational walkie-talkies. This is why you won’t hear your local FM radio station as you are talking to your buddy in the next room. GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) units also operate on specific and restricted frequencies; these units have specific channels within this frequency that FRS units can’t use. This reduces the competition for bandwidth. Additionally, GMRS units can be modified to extend their range. Sounds great right?! The catch with these models is that you need to have an FCC license to use them. Midland offers several models of handhelds. The GXT1000 is their top of the line unit with 50 channels and 142 privacy codes. This allows you over 3000 channel options to ensure privacy. It boasts a waterproof case and Midlands longest handheld transmission range at 36 miles. This also includes a NOAA weather alert system.
These radios are your choice if you are spending long days out in the wilderness. Hut-to-hut backcountry trips or major mountaineering expeditions will find this level of communication indispensable. Route finding and snow reporting will help your expedition stay safe and efficient. I have used these radios on hut-based backcountry trips; they’re great for communicating not only with parties that are out with you but with the folks back at the hut. I mean, you want to know when the soup’s hot, right? Prices vary depending on which model you choose; you can get into a pair for around $100
If you are going to be functioning out of a base camp, pairing a Midland Base Camp Radio with your handhelds will give you even more range and more function. The base camp radio has 5 different options for power- “AA” batteries, rechargeable battery pack, dynamo crank, an AC adapter or a DC adapter. It also has a USB port so you can recharge your other devices if you need! It has a NOAA alert capacity and an AM/FM radio feature. This 22 channel radio has a range of up to 38 miles and comes with an accessory handheld mic. It also has a flashlight. This is considered a GMRS radio so you do need an FCC license to operate.
This is certainly not the unit you are going to be carrying with you as you explore new terrain. This one you set up and leave in the mess tent in base camp. In other words, this unit will be indispensable for a multi-day mountaineering expedition. It will give you clear communication between base camp and your skiers and riders on the mountain. In the case of an emergency, communication with first response personnel and medical assistance away from the expedition will be greatly enhanced. The Base Camp radio retails for about $90.
Moving into the more novelty tech item category, we take a look at the Bonx Grip. The Grip is also a communication device. It functions through your phone and a Bluetooth connection. A free downloadable app completes the set-up. The system essentially sets up a ‘private chat room’ in which up to 10 people, each with the app, a phone with service and the ear-piece can converse. The really cool thing about this device is that you can connect with anyone in the WORLD as long as you have the device and a phone signal. If you lose the signal and therefore the call, once the signal is regained, the device will reconnect. You don’t need to dig your phone out of your pocket. The earpieces are equipped with a noise canceling feature. There are two external buttons- one to answer and hang up calls, the other is a mute button. The rubber coating and housing serve as shock and water resistance.
The Bonx Grip is a great hands-free communication device. It has more features built in than a regular Bluetooth headset or earpiece AND you can have more than one person on the call. This is ideal for families skiing at an area. They are small enough that they will fit under most helmets. Imagine making lunch plans with the kids or après ski plans with your buddies without having to fumble with your phone on the chairlift. Without your gloves on. In a blizzard. Magic! Due to its dependence on a phone signal, this would not be an ideal device for communication in the backcountry. You can pick up a pair of earpieces for $139.95. The app is free.
Moving away from communication and into data management, the Casio ProTrek WSD-30 smartwatch is a versatile adventure toy. The watch is powered by Google’s Wear OS operating system. It comes loaded with several exclusive, developed just for Casio apps including ViewRanger- a trail map sharing app and MyRadar- indispensable weather information.. You can also download multiple apps onto the watch including Strava, Ski Tracks, TrailNav. Google maps are available for online map use and MapBox for offline. The watch is built to military specifications for durability and is water resistant to 50m. Its sensor features supply a barometer, altimeter, and compass. It has full GPS capabilities. It is Bluetooth capable and has wifi connectivity.
This watch’s user LOVES to geek out on the stats of an adventure. Or is in training for some serious randonee racing. The sensors give you so much information and the connectivity allows you to keep a record of routes, tracks, and other milestones. The weather forecasting features will be very useful for the backcountry traveler- especially if you are thinking of being out for a couple of days. I do believe that the size of the display on smartwatches will continue to render these less than the ideal navigation tool. However- paired with a good ole fashioned topo map- the ProTrek will increase a backcountry traveler’s accuracy and safety. And learning how to access all the features and functionality will keep you entertained for hours! These retail for $550.
Moving into familiar territory, GoPro introduced the Hero7 line in 2018. All of the Hero7 line cameras offer a waterproof protective case, an LCD touch screen, video stabilization, voice command capability, wifi capability, and Bluetooth compatibility. The Silver (mid-range model sandwiched between the Black (top) and the White) sports a 10 MP photo, 15 frames/second burst feature and 2x slo-mo video. All of these features are accessible with a simple finger tap on the LCD screen. The Silver also has GPS; this allows you to track your altitude, speed, distance and elevation gain. You can actually tag your footage with these stats.
So who uses this camera? If you are looking to get into the high-end video production biz or enhance your social media presence- you are going to want the features of the Hero7 Black. However- if you are looking to shoot some great footage with decent resolution, share it with your friends and family and perhaps throw in some special effects that are finger-tip available- the Silver is for you. The Silver retails for about $299.
The last cool tech toy we are going to take a look at is the Rylo 360 Camera. A 360 camera does pretty much just what it sounds like- it shoots everything around you. 360 degrees of footage. The Rylo is generally considered to have the best combination of software and sturdy quality hardware. The video stabilization software allows for industry leading smooth video free of wobbles and shakiness. The 360’ camera hardware captures everything. The editing software enables you to choose and re-frame the shot you want after the footage has been captured. The Rylo shoots [UPDATE – 4K capture has now been upgraded to 5.8K capture] which in a flat video is fairly good. For a 360, it’s not quite enough to make the footage super crisp. On a large monitor, you will notice. The Rylo has a removable battery. It is not waterproof so you will need some sort of a case for outdoor winter use!
If you are looking to capture a lot of footage but don’t want to spend inordinate amounts of time setting up your shots, this is the camera for you. This over capture/reframe style camera gives the user the freedom to choose their frame and their point of view after the fact. Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube all support 360 video making sharing these fantastical images easy. The ideal accessory for the 360 camera user is a virtual reality headset. So whether you are out backcountry skiing in a silent and pastoral wonderland or building a kicker to throw big tricks, this camera can bring home the images and let you really feel as though you are right back there. If you have relatives who simply don’t get it or don’t have the faculties to get there- this is the premier piece of equipment to share your life. This is on the expensive side of the range at about $500
Technology is amazing isn’t it? From communication to data to recording your passion, what is on the market now is high quality and usable. All you need now is a vision and the legs to get you there!