For some, tech gadgets may seem antithetical to an authentic back-to-nature experience.
After all, isn't the point of hitting the trails, slopes, and peaks to unplug and enjoy the natural world? Perhaps. But even the backpacker who revels in starting a fire with friction or creating a shelter out of twigs and buckskin understands the importance of preparing for the worst-case scenario. A few high-tech gift ideas for the outdoorsperson in your life:
Power Pot ($149)
Because gadgets are no good without a way to charge them, it's smart to bring along some type of power generator. The Power Pot is perfect for the tech-resistant backpacker or camper because it uses an item they'd be bringing anyway—a cooking pot—to turn the heat of the campfire into power for cell phones and other gadgets. There are plenty of other ways to pack power (solar is all the rage lately) but we like the Power Pot for its multi-tasking abilities.
Spot Gen3 ($150 plus annual subscription)
This handy satellite beacon lets loved ones know where you are and how you're doing. And if you do get lost, it can help you get found. An obvious choice for anyone who takes multi-day trips into the wilderness out of cell phone range, but also not a bad idea for solo adventurers on day trips. Bonus: It creates a record of your travels to revisit later.
Mammut Ride RAS Backpack ($900)
Serious auto accidents may be infrequent, but we still opt for airbags in our cars. That same logic applies to airbag packs for backcountry skiers. An avalanche is an unlikely, but devastating occurrence. Protect your loved ones by ensuring they have the gear they need to survive if they get hit by a slide. Mammut also makes some fancy, and highly functional, beacons. (Recommended by David Marchi at Crow's Feet Commons.) MEMORY MAKERS
Since the proliferation of smart phones has turned everyone into an amateur photographer—and the infiltration of social media has convinced them that every shot is worth sharing—the market is saturated with gadgets designed not only to capture once private moments in nature, but also to upload them to the web. Each claims to be virtually Mother Nature-proof, ensuring that the epic video of your bike/ski/foot race—and the embedded information about your heart rate and incline—doesn't get scrambled just because you traveled through a storm. A few of the standouts:
GoPro 3+ Black Series ($399)
When it comes to toughness, most reviewers agree that the GoPro takes the cake. It can handle the elements better than some people (for instance: I'd prefer not to be submerged under 130-plus feet of water, but the GoPro can handle it). The camera comes with the waterproof housing, a wifi remote, quick release buckles, sticky mounts, a three-way pivot arm, and a USB charging cable. Now there's really no excuse not to document every last exhilarating second of your next adventure. (Recommended by Jon Hansen at Pine Mountain Sports.)
Garmin Virb camera ($350)
This waterproof 16 megapixel POV camera not only films what you see, it also connects with other gadgets like smart phones and heart-rate monitors via built-in wifi to embed your video with all the data a camera can't pick up—temperature, altitude, vital signs, etc. Now, when you show the video to your buddies, you won't have to add the commentary about how intense it was—they'll already know.
Pivothead video-recording sunglasses ($299)
While a lot of cameras out there are described as point-of-view, a glasses based model gets you closer to the real deal than a helmet-mounted one. These multitasking sunglasses capture audio as well as video and still photos without any bulky extra equipment. Not exactly Google Glass, these shades have an 8 MP camera built into the bridge, with 8 GB of storage (more than the laptop I had in college). You can even get them with prescription lenses, and they come in 17 styles so you don't have to worry about looking like every other guy with video sunglasses.
High tech doesn't just mean gadgets. These days, a lot of technology and technical know-how goes into the design, engineering, and construction of outdoor gear. And right now, that looks like a lot of carbon fiber-based products. Long story short: carbon fiber is strong and light; perfect for outdoor gear (and race cars). It isn't cheap, but you get what you pay for. A few of the products where it is showing up:
DPS Spoon Powder Skis ($1,299)
Designed for heli/cat/backcountry skiing, these skis are—you guessed it—spoon shaped, improving how the skis float in deep powder. Because they are carbon-built, they are lighter and stronger than fiberglass skis. (Recommended by David Marchi at Crow's Feet Commons.)
Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon ($4,500)
This top-of-the-line mountain bike is the kid brother of SC's top-shelf (and $10,000-plus ENVE XXI model). Nothing to sneeze at, it boasts components from Fox, Race Face, Shimano, and WTB, all on a feather light carbon frame of just over 14 grams. This bike was selected by Syndicate for the 2013 Enduro World Series. Not too shabby. (Recommended by Jon Hansen at Pine Mountain Sports.)