The Other Stuff

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Review, May 1997

The Other Stuff

Sierra Designs Activent Jacket

Activent — the more breathable, less waterproof cousin of Gore-Tex — has only been around for a year and a half but is already beginning to pop up in all manner of jacket designs, much like fleece did in the early eighties. And for good reason: Considerably lighter than a full-on weatherproof membrane, Activent blocks wind and moderate rain while letting your sweat go free — ideal for high-energy workouts in iffy weather. But garments made with even the airiest of fabrics need added ventilation, lest they leave you feeling clammy.

Thus the appeal of the new Sierra Designs Activent Jacket ($159; 800-736-8551), which is constructed to enhance the membrane's breathability. Two diagonal chest vents unzip, allowing cool air to flow through the front and out a mesh-lined back vent, like a miniature wind tunnel. And at 13 ounces, it's so light it practically floats.

There's more to the Activent Jacket than its clever assortment of giant air flaps, though. On a trademark cool, drizzly Bay Area day, I battened down the vents and donned the hood — roomy enough to slip over a helmet — and stayed warm and dry during two hours of pumping on my bike. An inner chest pocket is good for stowing keys and other essential knickknacks. I would have welcomed a storm flap stiffener to prevent occasional zipper jams, but no matter: The Sierra Designs Activent may well become the high-intensity outer shell of choice in all but the hardest of downpours. — Michael Hodgson

Mini Motorola Radios No two bikers, hikers, or skiers go at the same pace. Which is why Motorola is trotting out the TalkAbout Plus ($179 apiece; 800-353-2729), a less-pricey, less-bulky way to keep tabs on your outdoor pals than cell phones or those monster two-way radios that professional rescue folk use.

Designed with outdoor athletes in mind, the TalkAbout Plus radio is about the size of a deck of cards and weighs seven ounces (including the three AA batteries), a featherweight load. It's tough — the case is made from the same material as motorcycle helmets — has a nice touchy-feely handhold, is completely weatherproof, and features big rubber buttons that are a cinch to operate while wearing bulky overmitts.

Despite its slight size, the TalkAbout Plus has impressive range — two miles, unless there's a large mountain in the way — and astonishingly clear reception. Best of all, it uses the FCC's new, unregulated Family Radio Service band, so you don't have to register and pay for a dedicated frequency as you do with a conventional two-way radio. And thanks to the TalkAbout Plus's 14 channels and 38 subchannels, you're unlikely to cross signals with anyone else. The new band isn't monitored by police or emergency crews, so you're on your own if you need a rescue — a good excuse to brush up on your smoke signals. — Nancy Prichard

Billabong 2001 Wetsuit High on the list of surfing annoyances is the frigid blast of water that wetsuits let squirt in every time you dive under a wave. Happily, the 2001 from Billabong ($299; 714-548-9375) all but eliminates such icy influxes by removing the Achilles' heel of conventional wetsuits — the zipper.

One of several new zipperless wetsuits, the 2001 is notable for the way it solves the contortionist's conundrum of how to squeeze yourself into a skin of neoprene without that handy opening along the back. Here's the move: Simply slide your body feet-first through an ovalized neck, a trick that's surprisingly manageable, thanks to the suit's four-way stretch neoprene. Once you're in, you pull a collar that's connected to the suit's chest — sort of a dickie — over your head and fasten it at the back of your shoulders with a hook-and-loop tab, and you're sealed tight.

Because there's very little leakage, Billabong is able to use thinner neoprene, which results in remarkable warmth without bulk. Don't fret durability either: The 2001 is constructed with torpedoproof seams that are blindstitched and glued. The suit also features flexible latex kneepads, which provide cushioning against the board and let you crouch into swirling tubes without feeling like someone starched your knickers. — Andrew Rice

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