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The Dangers of a Wired Wilderness

Once upon a time we went into the backcountry to unplug. Constant connectivity, while obviously a boon to society in many ways, is exhausting. Your attention is pulled in a hundred directions and every few minutes you’re jostled out of your groove by another beep or buzz. And so we retreat back to nature to get away from all that and rediscover our humanity.

But here’s the thing: the Grid is expanding. Our hiding places are shrinking away, and before the decade is out, there may be no refuge left. Yes, really.

Consider: This week, a team from MIT collaborated with NASA and demonstrated technology that can beam lightning-fast Internet to the Moon. Yeah, the freakin’ Moon. The one orbiting Earth 238,000 miles away. If science can do that, you can bet that streaming Game of Thrones in the middle of Yellowstone is child’s play. And companies are already hard at work to provide such a service.

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For the last year, Google has been testing an idea known as Project Loon. The concept is to essentially blanket the entire planet in Wi-Fi by putting a network of solar-powered, antennae-toting weather balloons into the stratosphere. Each balloon would float for roughly 100 days, and would be steered so that the grid of connectivity is essentially gapless around the world. 

On the one hand, it’s an extremely laudable goal, making the Internet (theoretically) accessible to everyone on the planet. The aid it would provide to previously unconnected locations in the arenas of education, medicine, and commerce is massive. On the other hand, what happens to our most sacred places once the web creeps into them? Yes, you’re enjoying the majesty of nature, but part of you feels like you should check your work email, just to make sure nothing is on fire. And since you have the ability to do that, isn’t it the responsible thing to do to just take a quick look?

Even if Google’s balloon project doesn’t float (sorry), this is the direction we’re headed. Earlier this year, when Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere completed Robert Scott’s ill-fated 1,800-mile walk to the South Pole and back, they were dragging computers, satellite antennae, and solar panels so they could blog and upload photos and video from their tent each of the 100-plus nights they spent out there. I guess you’ve got to keep the sponsors (Intel and Land Rover) happy somehow. As satellite data speeds increase, though, you’ve got to wonder how far we are from someone live-streaming HD video while summiting Everest or K2. 

Even us unsponsored Joe and Jane Schmoes out for a few days in the backcountry already have options. Last year Thuraya introduced the SatSleeve, which is basically a case for your iPhone that pops it onto a global satellite network with the press of a button. 

And earlier this year we met the Iridium Go!, a portable Wi-Fi network that fits in the palm of your hand and allows you to connect a whole array of devices to satellite Internet. Now, both of these services are limited in the apps you can use with them, they’re prohibitively expensive for many, and they positively crawl at early 1990's dial-up data speeds. But the point is they’re here already, they work, and they’re only going to get better.

Obviously, there’s some good that comes with all of this. Lost in the wild? Download a map. Not sure how to treat an injury? Get medical advice. Running a couple days late because of bad weather but otherwise fine? Let your family know so they don’t freak out. Someone needs to be medevac’d? Press of a button. These are good and potentially life-saving features.  

There’s a dark side, though. One of the best things about going way off the grid currently is that you just have to make that decision once, and then once you’re out there, you’re committed to it. You aren’t constantly wondering whether or not you should be checking your phone because, simply, you can’t. It’s not an option, and so you let go of those nagging voices, and you’re able to fully relax and recharge. 

If, however, we lived in a world where even the most remote nooks and crannies were Internet-ready, then, “I want to check my phone. Should I check my phone?” is a decision you will have to make over and over again, even while you’re out camping in the middle of nowhere. The current lack of technology makes it easy for us to just be in the woods when we’re there, but once the capability is an option, not-checking becomes a matter of will power. And you’ll be subject not just to your own habits, but to the expectations of others. There will be no more, “Sorry boss, I’ll be off the grid next week,” because the entire planet is on the grid.

{%{"quote":"As satellite data speeds increase, you’ve got to wonder how far we are from someone live-streaming HD video while summiting Everest or K2."}%}

Last month I did a through-hike across Zion National Park with some friends. One guy used his iPhone as his only camera, which meant it was always on him and always within reach. Sure enough, almost every time we got to a ridge he would check to see if he had bars on this phone. Occasionally he did. So while most of us stood there, jaws agape, staring at the incredible red rock canyons, he would take the opportunity to fire off a quick work email or say hi to his girlfriend. Now, his work and his girlfriend both knew he was going to be off the grid for a week and had no expectation of him checking in, but he did it anyway. Why? Because he was tempted and because he could. And every time it happened we felt him disconnect from the group, from the nature around us, and from the present moment.

Now, that is what happens today when, at best, you’re grasping for a bar or two here and there. What happens when you have consistent, quality Internet in the wild? Could you resist uploading a photo until you get back? Could you resist the siren song of your email and social networks? Well, how strong is your will?

Just because we at Outside prioritize getting out and away doesn’t make us luddites. We recognize the advantages that technology brings, and how beneficial it can be in an emergency. But our stance is that emergencies are what this should be reserved for. Bring your phone, but keep it in your pack, with the power off. Think of it as a lifeline that’s there if you need it. You will be tempted. We’ll all be tempted. But remember why you’re out there in the first place.

In the near future, the only way to get off the grid will be to willfully pull the plug yourself. We hope you’ll pull it. Deep breath. It’ll all still be there when you get back. 

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The New Era of Low-Cost, High-Risk Expeditions

British mountaineer Ed Farrelly, 22, has a better climbing pedigree than most. (It was his great uncle Sir Christopher Summerhayes who gave Edmund Hillary the British flag he plonked atop Everest). But the young adventurer has found out the hard way that landing easy money to pay for adventure is a thing of the past.

“What’s making sponsorship more difficult is the sheer quantity of people chasing money,” says Farrelly, who sets out on a solo trek up Khan Tengri in Kyrgyzstan in July. “Everything gets lumped in together so that ‘adventuring’ becomes dumbed-down. I get through to someone on the phone and say I’ll be the youngest Briton to solo climb 7,000 metres, and the reply I get is, ‘Sorry, we’ve just sponsored someone to run the London marathon.’”

To survive in this competitive world, he’s working to perfect the art of low-cost, high-risk climbs. The goal: to give his hard-won sponsors an unbeatable return on investment, including dedicated “Ed-time” where companies can do everything from use him in product shoots to book him on a public speaking tour. He has a policy of never saying no to his investors. 

We sat down with Farrelly to chat about what it takes to secure sponsorship for extreme expeditions, and how he’s refined these low-cost, high-risk climbing trips.  

OUTSIDE: Is sponsorship the only way you fund your trips?
FARRELLY: Yes. I'm still a student, and I was determined to find a way to do some cool climbs without going into debt. I spend whole days tracking people down on LinkedIn and then calling people up, and most of the calls go nowhere.

I’m getting better at it because I do interesting, challenging climbs and I keep the costs really low, whereas a lot of climbers go through what’s basically a tour operator and that makes it more expensive. They need to find a lump sum, hand it over to a middle man, and then he sends that cash out in various directions so you can achieve what you set out to do.

While I’m not saying that’s bad, it does mean that people are trying to take too big a slice of the sponsorship pie. I can do a trip for half what some people are looking for.

How much will your Kyrgyzstan trip cost?
FARRELLY: By organising everything myself, I can do it for about $6,000. That’s a month and a half over there, all the flights, everything. The only back-up I’ll have is my dad at base camp, and he’s paying his own way.

What are the biggest costs associated with a big expedition?
FARRELLY: Transport. The Antarctic is the big one—it can cost upwards of $50,000 and most of that will go toward logistics. Insurance is a massive hidden cost when doing solo trips and can be as much as the flights, which on my next trip means about $1,000. Sat phones are another huge cost. Including upfront charges, sat phone services cost an additional $1.50 to $2 per minute. It’s easy to be stuck there sending photos back and finding yourself almost weeping as the seconds tick by.

Why send the photos back to your sponsors?
FARRELLY: It’s all part of the sponsorship deal. You have to get the information back to the very people that your sponsors want to find out about it.

Is your success rate with sponsorship money getting better or worse?
FARRELLY: It’s getting better, I think, but only because I’m getting better at it. I no longer try and persuade people who aren’t interested. I move on as quickly as I can. It’s a numbers game. If someone’s interested, I cut to the chase and tell them what I need, which is usually $1,500 to $2,500. They seem to appreciate the honesty.

Do the sponsors think they're getting a good ROI?
FARRELLY: They seem to. The value of the deals is going up, and they’re being renewed when they run out, too. I appreciate how hard it is to put a tangible value on what I can give them in return, but I take the responsibility seriously and I do my best.

What do sponsors want from their money?
FARRELLY: I would say they either want a quality story which is going to get them exposure, or content—photos, video, blog posts—which somehow represent their brand. The latter requires more work to utilize on their part but is probably better from a branding point of view. Too many companies are interested in just the first.

As far as what the stories are about, I guess the classic angles are youngest, oldest, fastest, and so on, but these are perhaps losing some of their allure as they have been done quite a bit, particularly on the classic challenges like Everest. Maybe now it's about being a little more inventive in terms of finding new challenges which haven't been overdone yet. But explaining why you're different to the press is easier said than done.

Are climbers always talking about money and how to fund their expeditions?
FARRELLY: Yes. If they’ve found it for their current expedition then they’re already talking about how they’re going to find it for the next one, and if they haven’t found it yet then they’re talking about it constantly.

It’s the one thing that stands between you and doing what you want—same as with most things, really. Some would-be adventurers never really make it, because it can be hard to get a toe in the door. There’s a ‘positive feedback’ aspect to it, so the more you do and the bigger your name, the less work you need to do to find the money. I’m nowhere near the big league, but sponsorship deals with Adidas, Rab, and Scarpa all help, and they’re obviously the names I mention when looking for new deals.

What’s your advice to budding adventurers seeking sponsorship?
FARRELLY: Don’t turn up on the wrong day! Actually, that isn’t necessarily a disaster, as it happened to me when I went to see Osprey looking for funding a few years ago and I turned up a day early. I drove two and a half hours to the meeting and I was sitting in the waiting room when the woman I was supposed to be seeing the next day walked past and seemed to recognize my face. She was good enough to do the interview there and then, although we had to change meeting rooms four times because obviously nothing had been booked.

How did your initial sponsorship meeting with Osprey go?
FARRELLY: I must have done a good job because they sponsor me now. I guess if what you’re selling is something people are interested in, you can overcome a few hurdles—though screwing up the date is obviously not an approach I would recommend.

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Hitch Up to Adventure with This Trailer

A trailer isn’t simply about carrying more gear. Rather, it’s designed to let you hitch up and take off for the backcountry at a moment’s notice.   

Enter AT Overland's Chaser, which lets you store your adventure-ready equipment in the trailer rather than in your SUV or garage.

The Chaser isn’t your normal cheesy pop-up camping trailer that you’d imagine getting towed behind the Griswold’s station wagon. No, the Chaser is the modern version of a classic military trailer—durable, functional, with some nice creature comforts inside. 


With its high-tech, trail-ready Trailing Arm Air Suspension (TAAS 4.0) mounted to a laser-cut steel chassis, it’s very rugged and very capable. In fact, this trailer is likely more capable than the vehicle you plan on towing it with.


The weather-resistant, six-foot long cargo box provides 46 cubic feet of dry storage—about three times the amount of storage you’d get in a Jeep Wrangler. You can outfit this space however you want, from a full glamping setup to a bare-bones storage unit. The Prescott, Arizona-based company specializes in customizing your rig.  

Options include: roof tents; awnings; hot water showers; freezer-fridges; bike carriers; and full kitchens. You can outfit the AT Overland Chaser the same way you’d outfit your vehicle—except you don’t have to drive it to work Monday morning.


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Sealander Camper

You’ve always wanted a camper that can travel by land or by sea, right? 

If so, you're in luck. Folks in Germany created the Sealander, a towable trailer that’s both a camper and a boat. The transition from land to sea is surprisingly simple: just secure the low-emission, outboard motor to the stern and launch the two-in-one vehicle into the water.

As you might expect, the Sealander as a boat is best suited to calm, shallow bays. (Don’t even think about a trans-Pacific crossing.) Thankfully, the shell is made from fiberglass-reinforced plastic designed to stay afloat even if it springs a leak.   

Inside, you’ll find all the creature comforts you’d want in an amphibious trailer. The Sealander comes with a large sunroof, a fold-out table, and seating for six that turns into a bunk bed. Plus, there’s plenty of below-seat storage, and customizable add-ons are available. 

Starting at $24,575,

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First Ride: Specialized S-Works Enduro 29

We’ve been waiting more than a year to ride the Enduro 29. The delay has been partly a question of availability and crossed signals. There was a bit of apathy, too, because since the bike’s launch, a whole slew of new long-travel 29ers (including the BMC, the Niner, and Intense) have hit the market—and our garage.

But the wait’s been instructive: while we’ve been anticipating the Enduro 29, we’ve ridden back-to-back editions of the Enduro 26. During the 2013 test, riders were keen on the small-wheeled iteration of the bike. But last January, during trials for the 2014 bikes, most testers shrugged it off in favor of the longer-travel 29ers, which seem to have come into their own this year with tighter geometries, quicker handling, and feathery weights. 

One reviewer—an ex-pro downhill racer and current bike shop owner—swore that he’d never again stock 26-inch wheels in his shop after he was repeatedly hung up by the Enduro 26’s small wheels in the rocky chunk on the trails around Tucson.

Such is the market right now. While long-travel 29ers were once considered ponderous and almost carnival-esque, they’re now gaining traction. (And, if the rumors are to believed, the Enduro 26 won’t be around much longer anyways as there are whispers of a tweener model in the works.) 

That’s all to say that by the time the S-Works Enduro 29 (E29) arrived last week, our expectations were exceptionally high. (Especially after watching footage of Matt Hunter carving the perfect turn aboard this very bike.) But then it’s a $9,250 bicycle, which should put the bar about as high as you can reach.

And after two rides, we’re not disappointed.

Though a bike with 155mm (6.1 inches) of travel out back and 160mm (6.3 inches) up front is almost by definition all about slamming the descents, what has struck us most so far is the E29’s climbing manners.

Thanks to exceedingly short chainstays for a bike this size, surprisingly nimble geometry (including excellent standover), and an almost unbelievable 27.4-pound total weight, this bike ascends with the directness and ease of an escalator. That might verge into hyperbole, but—no joke—the acceleration when you step on the pedal is comparable to bikes two inches smaller and three pounds lighter, and the steering is so agile and accurate that we’ve yet to even consider front-end drift, even on the steepest, loosest pitches. 

And of course the E29 absolutely shreds the downhill, too. That credit largely goes to the RockShox Pike fork, which balances firm and plush and long travel like nothing else currently on the market. 

The rear end, with the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock, has taken a bit more fiddling to get used to and still doesn’t feel quite dialed. But so far it’s energetic and bottomless-feeling in the big stuff and gives the bike an overall playfulness. As we’ve said before, if they’re built right, 29ers can be just as quick and agile as bikes with 26-inch wheels. (Anyone who doubts that should take one-after-the-other runs on the E29 and several 26ers.) We’ve done it now, and we were both quicker and happier on the 29er.

The big complaint is sure to be the stratospheric price tag on the S-Works E29 (though realistically it’s in the same ballpark as every other high-end bike on the market). But there’s no denying the expense, which gets you a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, carbon Traverse SL wheels, and Specialized’s Command dropper seat post. (A note about that post: Though it gets lots of flack for its high-speed return rate, we don’t really perceive that as a problem and actually prefer this post to most other brands, which break down often. The Specialized is the only dropper we’ve ever owned that hasn’t failed, and that’s after three years of hard use.)

Don’t get me wrong. The E29 isn’t a perfect bike. The XO brakes are mushy and squawky and will hopefully be replaced in 2015 by either the new SRAM Guide brakes or anything by Shimano. Likewise, the Butcher tires are the cheapest, lightest model and both got sidewall cuts in short order. We realize bike companies stock gossamer tires at retail to keep the showroom models feeling lightweight on the floor. But on a bike this meaty, we’d prefer a little extra heft if it meant we’d get some sidewall protection. These are little niggles, but, as noted, at this price we expect almost perfection. 

If you can’t justify almost $10,000 for a bike (and few can) the E29 comes in two additional specs: the Expert at $6,600 and the Comp at $3,500. Naturally, neither will be as light or spry as the S-Works version, but they will pack the same geometry, basic ride feel, and manners for much less capital.

And no matter which model you chose, judging by our rides so far, we’d be shocked if you didn’t ride away as a long-travel 29er convert.

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