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How High Can GoPro Go?

By this point, GoPro cameras have been used to film just about every activity on the planet, from BASE jumps to baby’s first steps to surgical operations. Amateurs affix to them to dogs and kites, professionals use them to shoot Discovery Channel shows and feature films. But the company found itself in unfamiliar territory earlier this week: the stock market.

This past Thursday, GoPro’s initial public offering brought the company into the world of public trading. It’s the first consumer electronics company to go public since headphone maker Skull Candy debuted in 2011, and early signs look promising for GoPro. Its shares rose 31 percent by the time the floor closed Thursday, giving it a market value of 3.9 billion, nearly equal to that of Domino's Pizza Inc., according to the Wall Street Journal

By just about every measure, the company is on fire right now: revenue increased last year by 87 percent to nearly $1 billion, it sold 3.8 million cameras last year, and GoPro customers uploaded nearly three years worth of video in 2013 alone. But founder and CEO Nick Woodman’s brainchild has run into some recent debt, and revenue dropped 7 percent in early 2014. A source with knowledge of the situation said that the IPO was not a result of that debt, but that it’s simply a natural progression of GoPro’s evolution.

{%{"quote":"For many of us, a GoPro is not unlike a fancy new juicer. We buy one because it’s new and cool. We’re excited to use it at first, but then we realize that it’s easier to just buy juice. Or watch someone else’s awesome video."}%}

As hot as GoPro is right now, its IPO comes at a pivotal time for the camera maker. One of the big questions on the table, which the company acknowledged in its IPO filings, is that it currently makes nearly of all of its money selling cameras (that cost upwards of $400). This is a serious issue.

For many of us, a GoPro is not unlike a fancy new juicer. We buy one because it’s new and cool. We’re excited to use it at first, but then we realize that it’s easier to just buy juice. Or watch someone else’s awesome video. That’s because creating a fun little video that your buddies might want to actually watch is not easy: you need to do something cool, film it from multiple angles, and then edit it creatively. There’s lots of boring POV footage on people’s hard drives; there are lots of GoPros sitting in people’s gear bins, no longer being strapped to chests or mounted atop helmets on a regular basis.

One big example stands out as a cautionary tale. Remember Flip Video cameras? If so, you probably haven’t seen the company around lately. Cisco Systems bought Pure Digital, maker of the Flip cam, for $600 million worth of stocks in 2009, and yet the ascendance of the smartphone camera rendered the product obsolete. Cisco shut the Flip operation down in 2011.

Despite what some financial analysts might be predicting, GoPro is a long way from becoming obsolete. While it’s true that every few months a new competitor enters the action-cam scene, often selling a similar product for less money, no one has yet to make a comparable—let alone better—camera. We know this because we’ve tested nearly all of the rival cameras. New technologies, like wearable cameras that capture 360-degrees of footage, will eventually erode some of GoPro’s market share, as will smartphones, whose video capabilities are only getting better, but not any time soon.

GoPro is acutely aware of the challenges it faces. It just recently debuted new software that makes it easier than ever to edit your own movie. Newer, fancier, smaller, more user-friendly cameras are in the works. And they’re rapidly trying to transform themselves from a camera company into a media empire, à la Red Bull. Woodman told Bloomberg on Thursday that GoPro’s “focus is to help customers capture, manage, share quality content.” The product he’s trying to sell is not just the technology itself, but the experience of reliving last week’s bungee jump through video. 

{%{"quote":"GoPro is a long way from becoming obsolete. While it’s true that every few months a new competitor enters the action-cam scene, often selling a similar product for less money, no one has yet to make a comparable—let alone better—camera. We know this because we’ve tested nearly all of the rivals."}%}

Not everyone bungee jumps, though. And while they’ve done an exceptional job at marketing themselves at active people doing rad things, they need to do a much better job marketing its camera to the rest of us. This will require new and different branding and marketing campaigns.

The biggest question, however, is whether or not they can figure out how to make money as a media company. GoPro recently struck a deal with Microsoft to be a channel on the new Xbox, and has begun to monetize its content on its YouTube and Virgin America channels, but these are relatively small drops in the bucket. To make significant amounts of money, GoPro will need to negotiate deals with bigger and bigger content distributers as well as forge new licensing partnerships.

And GoPro will need to do so pretty quickly. The reason Red Bull has been able to sign up hundreds of athletes and musicians, sponsor major events and stunts, and become a massive media and marketing empire is that many people drink several cans of their stuff every day. GoPro doesn’t have that luxury. As its camera sales inevitably decrease, it needs to figure out how to distribute and make money off its own content, be it user-generated or of its own creation.

“Over time, if you think of all the resources that Apple or Google can bring to bear, not this year but next year, GoPro could have some problems,” said Paul Meeks, a tech industry financial analyst with Saturna Capital. “It’s the same kind of scenario for GoPro. They have to become a bigger ecosystem than the product." 

Which is exactly what it’s trying to do. The IPO is getting all the mainstream media attention, but behind the scenes GoPro is reportedly signing up musicians, producers, and content creators of every stripe. It also recently beefed up its roster of athletes. In short, it’s ramping up big time. So while you may not use your GoPro as often as you thought you might, don’t write the company off yet. 

If it can pull it off, it will be a clever trick.

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The Front Runner Slimline II

In theory, roof racks should be pretty simple—and most of them are. A couple of bars and a bracket or two designed to hold outdoor equipment. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Enter the world of car camping, where it’s generally accepted that your roof rack needs to carry a bike, a shovel, spare fuel, water, firewood, and your ridiculously heavy rooftop tent. Oh yeah, and it now has to be aerodynamic and efficient.

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That’s when you need the Slimline II, a simple, secure, lightweight system made by South Africa-based Front Runner. Made from high-strength aluminum, the low-profile Slimline II has all the rigidity of steel without the weight. And it's been tested in Africa as an expedition-grade roof rack for safari and overland vehicles.

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You’d expect water, shovel, jack, spare-tire, and fuel-can mounts on a system like this. But Front Runner didn’t stop there. You can buy accessories like the company’s Dutch oven mount, bottle opener (why not?) and table, which slides underneath the rack. Of course, there’s also a full line of mounts for your outdoor gear, including skis, snowboards, kayaks, and bikes (in all, the company offers more than 25 add-ons).

The Front Runner Slimline II is available in more than 55 sizes with plenty of mounting options for most vehicles. Prices start at $729 for smaller racks, with most popular SUV models starting around $1,100, with free shipping.

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Giro Synthe

At a wind tunnel in Scottsdale, Arizona, helmet and apparel manufacturer Giro released what it describes as the next iteration of the aero road helmet.

According to Giro, the Synthe combines the comfort and cooling-abilities of its top-selling road lid, the Aeon, with the aerodynamic benefits of its aero road model, the Air Attack. “This is the helmet that has it all,” says Eric Richter, senior brand manager at Giro. “Cooling, aerodynamics, and light weight.”

Up until July 2012, when Giro launched the Air Attack, the aero road category didn’t exist. There were road helmets, which were feathery and well ventilated. And there were time trial helmets, which minimized drag but were bulky and extremely hot. But the two variants were mutually exclusive. “For the road rider, we had taken lightweight as far as it could go,” says Richter. “We realized that the real gains to be made were in aerodynamics.”

The Air Attack was Giro’s first attempt at bring the aerodynamic benefits of a TT helmet to a lid you could wear comfortably every day, all day. However, not everyone loved its looks. “Industrial design was an impediment to some people buying the Air Attack,” Richter admits. So the company set out to make a more conventional-looking helmet that was just as aerodynamic as the Air Attack.

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Enter the Synthe, which Giro says is 16 percent faster and two percent cooler than a comparable-size Aeon, and 13 percent lighter than the Air Attack. According to one journalist, the Synthe also looks at least 114 percent better than the Air Attack.

The performance numbers can seem obscure, even doctored (every company seems to have similar stats to bolster its product), which is why Giro debuted the Synthe at Faster, a fit studio with an in-house wind tunnel in northeastern Phoenix.

There, we witnessed several wind-tunnel tests on both the Synthe and the Air Attack that validated those stats. According to Giro’s tests, the Synthe not only has significantly less drag than the Aeon, but it also supposedly edges the Specialized S-Works Evade by about 8 grams of drag over a 40-kilometer course—the equivalent of about four seconds.

But it’s not just about aerodynamics. In Giro’s thermal testing—a lab protocol dubbed the “Therminator” that uses 24 sensors to monitor the temperature of a heated-up head in the wind—the Synthe dissipated heat better than any of its top competitors, meaning it will cool riders' heads more quickly. Aero models such as the Air Attack and the Evade were the least breathable on the scale.

In addition to all the lab protocols and results, Giro brought test samples of the Synthe for on-road testing. On our first outing, the new helmet felt surprisingly cool and well-ventilated despite the 85-degree Phoenix morning heat. Testers especially liked the sunglass docks, which make it easy to store your shades while climbing or at dusk. 

The Synthe will be available in eight colorways, including a revolving special edition version, and will sell for $250. It will go on sale in late fall. Both the Aeon and the Air Attack will remain in the line.

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Topeak Bikamper

You don’t need a tent to go camping. And when you’re riding across the U.S. on a bike, you definitely don’t want to lug around a stuff sack full of tent poles.

Enter the Topeak Bikamper, a personal shelter that forgoes poles in favor of a 26-inch mountain—or 700c road—wheel and handlebars for support. Just prop the wheel at one end and the bike frame at the other to give structure to the tent's walls.

The three-season tent weighs just over three and a half pounds, and comes with mesh panels for ventilation and stargazing, and a waterproof 70-denier ripstop-nylon fly. It packs down into a stuff sack that straps onto handlebars so you'll be able to fly as you tour the country. 

$175, topeak.com

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Pitch This: 5 Alternatives to the Tent

Yes, tents are an institution in the gear shed, but (gasp!) they’re not always the best option. Dozens of alternatives exist, many of which weigh less, are more comfortable, or simply work better in certain conditions. With camping season now in full swing, it may be time to try something new and leave the pitching to baseball.

Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter ($199)

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Pros: Hikers obsessed with ultra-light options (and Boy Scouts) caught onto this secret a long time ago: With a good roof, you don’t need a floor. A tarp is lighter, easier to set up, and can be used in most bad weather situations.

Sea to Summit’s Escapist would surely get the Boy Scout seal of approval, weighing in at just nine ounces. It’s waterproof and has eight tie points to ensure stability even in windy conditions. It can be pitched with hiking poles or without, and the company offers a few minimalist mesh shelters that fit under the tarp if you need protection from mosquitoes. 

Cons: In a severe rainstorm, you're going to get wet. 

Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot ($219)

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Pros: Sleeping under the stars is the most romantic part of camping. But you'll need good weather, the right campsite, a killer view—and the proper bedding. 

While sleeping on the ground is always an option, cots add a level of comfort that turns a good starry night into a great one. But temporary beds are typically clunky and they’re rarely portable—or durable—enough for backcountry travel.

Therm-a-Rest aims to reconcile cot complications of the past with its LuxuryLite line, which is easy to set up, sturdy, and light enough to toss in a backpack. The low-profile cots can hold up to 325 pounds and will keep you four inches above the ground.

Cons: The LuxuryLite UltraLite still weighs about as much as a plush inflatable pad. And you’re going to need great weather if you plan to use the cot without additional shelter over your head.

Black Diamond Spotlight Bivy ($219)

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Pros: There’s something inherently adventurous about the ability to throw down your sleeping bag, whip out your bivy sack, and crash just about anywhere. On the side of a mountain? Sure. Suspended on a big wall? No problem. Bivy sacks are one of the most versatile shelters you can buy. 

Black Diamond’s Spotlight Bivy solves the traditional bivy problems (condensation on the inside and no headroom) with a single hoop pole that keeps the shell material from rubbing on your head and dousing you with raindrops. There’s also a large mesh panel with a zip-over awning for increased ventilation.

Cons: Bivy sacks are small and will limit movement. If you toss and turn in your sleep, you might find feel a tad confined. 

Clark Vertex Hammock ($599)

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Pros: Like ultra-light backpacking, duck hunting, and coffee brewing, hammock camping has its own fanatics. And for good reason. Hammocks are light, easy to set up, and comfortable. And in recent years, there’s been a big movement to improve the classic design.

Clark Outdoors has risen to the challenge, designing innovative two-person, four-season hanging shelters that resemble bunkers more than hammocks. Features include insulating pockets, a waterproof rainfly, mosquito netting, and an integrated hanging system that can hold more than 300 pounds.

Cons: Some people don’t sleep well in the curve of a hammock. And, no matter what, you’re going to have trouble hanging one of these things in the desert.

Sylvansport GO Trailer ($8,495)

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Pros: Tent trailers sit on the lavish end of the blue-collar-camping-equipment spectrum. Yes, they offer some comforts you won’t get in a tent, but they’re typically utilitarian, not luxurious.

But Sylvansport aims to change that. The company has revamped the tent camper, ditching the usual hard-shelled, canvas-walled pop-ups. The GO features a fold-out aluminum frame and a rip-stop polyester shell. When not in use, the tent folds neatly on itself and the trailer can be used to haul gear.

Cons: Though the GO has 13 inches of clearance, you won't get too far off the beaten path towing one of these trailers. And the price tag may have you running for shelter in your much more affordable tent.

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