The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Gear

Blowing Up: Inflatable Gear of the Future

Inflatable gear is nothing new. You probably even have a Therm-a-Rest or blow-up raft stored in your gear shed as you read this.

Now, designers are getting more creative with their inflatable designs. Stand-up paddleboards, tents, and even snowshoes can be set up with an air pump—or some powerful lungs. That means lighter, more portable gear for you.  

Black Diamond Halo Jetforce Avalanche Airbag ($1,275)


Few inflatable products have drawn as much buzz as Black Diamond's new avalanche-safety bag. The Halo Jetforce revolutionizes the airbag pack, making it more versatile and practical for most backcountry skiers.

Jetforce technology uses a battery-powered fan instead of a compressed-gas cylinder, so you deploy can the airbag multiple times on a single trip. You'll also save money since canisters are good only once before they have to be refilled, which can be expensive. They're also difficult to travel with because of TSA restrictions.

Klymit Ulaar Jacket ($295)


If there's an inflatable revolution, expect Klymit to lead the charge. The company has developed a seam-welding technology that allows it to produce products like ultralight cutout sleeping pads and inflatable pack rafts. It's even trying to replace old rigid backpack frames with air-filled ones.

The company's most impressive product to date has been its inflatable clothing, which was initially funded through Kickstarter. Both the Ulaar jacket and Double Diamond vest allow the wearer to dial in the amount of insulation using argon gas. The weightless compound provides better insulation than fibrous materials because it won't get wet and weigh you down. 

Heimplanet The Cave ($670)


Inflatable tents are no longer reserved for carnivals and used-car lots. Hamburg, Germany–based Heimplanet has developed expedition-worthy air-pole shelters.

Stefan Clauss and Stefan Schulze Dieckhoff founded the company in 2010 because they wanted a tent that was quick and easy to pitch even in bad weather or at night. They created the Cave, a geodesic structure of air chambers that can be inflated from a single point.

If a frame section fails, a built-in safety system allows the user to separate the chambers. (You likely don't have to worry about this, however: Videos show the tent holding up to 60 mph gusts.) As a bonus, the tent looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica.

Hövding Helmet ($410)



Swedish company Hövding set out to develop a bike helmet that acts like the airbag in your car. Dozens of sensors in the helmet monitor the cyclist's movement. At the first sign of an abnormality (read: a crash), the helmet inflates and covers the rider's head and neck. Crash tests show the helmet inflating in less than a second, well before the cyclist hits the ground.

Worn around the neck, the uninflated helmet looks more like a bulky scarf than a typical lid. Take note: This helmet isn't designed for mountain biking. "Since it's based on movements from people cycling normally in the city, it could be 'oversensitive' while cycling downhill or jumping," says company spokesperson Maria Persson.

NRS Baron 6 ($1,395)


Inflatable stand-up paddleboards make a lot of sense in environments from whitewater rivers to high alpine lakes. They're easier to transport, harder to damage, and lighter than their fiberglass counterparts.

If you're looking for a casual-float board, check out NRS's Baron line. At six inches thick and 358 liters of volume, the board could almost accommodate the whole family next time you take to the river.

Like many inflatable SUPs, the Baron inflates to 15 psi, which keeps the board rigid and helps it glide smoothly. The triple-fin setup is versatile enough for rivers, lakes, or even catching a few waves.

Billabong V1 Wetsuit ($TBD)


After nearly drowning at California big-wave spot Mavericks, pro surfer Shane Dorian wanted a wetsuit that would help keep him safe. So Billabong and maritime safety company Mustang Survival teamed up to design a special suit.

Dorian repeatedly tested the V1 suit in huge waves and found that his time held underwater dramatically decreased with it on. In 2011, the suits were distributed to a handful of elite surfers, but the research and development continued, and Billabong still doesn't know when the product will go to market.

In the meantime, other companies began to follow suit. Patagonia developed the Portable Self-Inflation (or PSI) vest, and big-wave pioneer Jeff Clark helped come up with the Quatic Inflatable Surf Vest. Few of the products are available to the public yet, but expect to see more prototypes this year and next.

Read More

First Look: Whisky 70W Carbon Fat Rim and 45NRTH Vanhelga Tire

Whisky Parts Co., the boutique carbon bike and accessories manufacturer under the QBP umbrella, today unveiled the first-ever tubeless-ready, carbon-fiber fat bike rim.

The 70W No.9 Rim uses a double-wall construction for durability and ease of sealing, and a recessed channel to keep the rim tape clear of the bead hook for a clean seal. The 70mm-wide rims are optimized for tires between three-point-eight and four inches, though Whisky says they will work just fine with the biggest tires on the market.

Whisky teamed up with winter bike accessory specialists 45NRTH to craft a compatible tire. The result: the Vanhelga, a four-inch-wide folding tubeless-ready tire with chunky knobs, extensive siping for traction, and tighter bead tolerances to ensure a leak-free seal with the new rim. There’s also a new flat edge along the bottom of the bead, which creates more contact with the rim shelf.

{%{"image":"","caption":"Courtesy of Aaron Gulley"}%}

We received a test set of the rims laced to Salsa hubs, and the setup couldn’t have been easier. Included in the kit were valve stems and lightweight rim tape, and after we dumped in four ounces per wheel of sealant, the Vanhelga tires set up onto the rims with reassuring pops.

Many racers have already been running their fat bikes tubeless, but the broad range of rim and tire combos, plus the wide tolerances in tire production, has made sealing tricky and burping air common.

The fact that Whisky and 45NRTH have built these products in tandem should ensure that they provide better tubeless performance than anything else on the market. You can run these tires with as low of pressure as you want and not have to worry about blowouts or losing the bead from the rim.

Though the 70W should provide a suppler ride than comparable aluminum rims, the biggest advantage will be weight savings. We swapped the new wheels onto a bike that came equipped with Surly Marge Lite rims and Nate tires to shave exactly two pounds off the bike. That’s a massive savings in rotating weight.

Whisky isn’t the only company entering the tubeless-fat-tire market. Last week, Stan’s No Tubes announced the 52mm wide Hugo, an aluminum rim that marks the company’s first foray into the fat bike world.

The profusion of parts and bikes for the fat market shows that the trend continues to mature and catch on. In the last few months, RockShox debuted the Bluto, the first fat bike suspension fork, which was the precursor to Salsa debuting its sexy Bucksaw, the first production full-suspension fat bike. Both are good indications that fat biking is moving beyond just the snow and cold-weather niche. 

The 70W No.9 Rims will sell for $600 apiece and will be available this fall. Whisky also plans to announce complete wheel builds soon. The 45NRTH Vanhelga tires will come in two models, 120tpi for $155 and 60tpi for $125, and will go on sale in September.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

{%{"image":"","caption":" "}%}

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.

{%{"image":"","caption":" "}%}

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.

Read More

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.


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.

Read More

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

to Outside
Save Over

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!







Previous Posts




Blog Roll

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.