Gear Shed

Q:

How Does Bluetooth Work With Outdoor Gadgets?

What’s the deal with Bluetooth? My phone supposedly has it. Can I connect camping and workout gadgets with Bluetooth to my phone—and will they work?

Two skiers calling from their cell phones on top of mount Titlis Switzerland

Phones are now appearing everywhere in the backcountry,     Photo: Antonio Jorge Nunes/Shutterstock

A:The good news is that a bunch of slick new outdoor hardware has arrived, and it suddenly makes your phone a lot more useful. These new products use the wireless system called Bluetooth, which is a lot like the wireless Internet in your house, except scaled down for cell phones. Bluetooth connects portable speakers so you can listen to music in the tent and around the campsite. It bridges to heart rate monitors so you can track workouts and measure your fitness. It even connects technical products that turn your phone into a sophisticated weather station or sailboat navigation device, a function that normally costs thousands of dollars.

The downside? Bluetooth is kinda wonky. Unlike the wireless Internet you're used to, the system requires the two connected devices to see each other. This “line-of-site” requirement means that every time your cell phone gets pushed behind your back in your jersey pocket, the Bluetooth heart strap stops working, and has to be manually reset. The line-of-site thing is a huge pain, but when it’s working, the connection stretches for 30 feet. In some ways, Bluetooth is far better than wireless Internet because it uses a fraction of the battery power; it’s embedded in almost every modern cell phone; and it’s named after a Norse king who united a bunch of Scandinavian kingdoms. So it’s got that going for it too.

After the jump, we’ll show you some new Bluetooth gadgets for running, biking, and weather collecting.

Philips Shoqbox
Wahoo Heart Rate Monitor
Kestrel 4000

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