The Other Stuff

Review, March 1997

The Other Stuff

The North Face Lhasa | Olympus D-200L | Stealth Retendo

The North Face Lhasa
Serious backpackers sneer at convertible travel packs, many of which are little more than glorified duffel bags with flimsy shoulder straps. The North Face's 4,400-cubic-inch Lhasa ($225; 800-447-2333) may change a few minds. It's a backpack first, then a suitcase--but its generous size and attention to detail will warm the hearts of both kitchen-sink packers and trail-savvy trekkers.

Access to the polyurethane-coated nylon Lhasa is hassle-free: The entire front panel opens by way of a beefy, U-shaped metal zipper. Inside, a retractable shelf divides your laundry from your sleeping bag. Neatfreaks will appreciate the two zippered organizer pockets, one of which has straps to batten down heavy items. The internal aluminum stays, cushioned hipbelt, and padded shoulder straps will stand up to a 40-pound load, and the full-feature, zip-off daypack is ideal for road or trail. It was a cinch to adjust the single-size Lhasa to my torso by repositioning the shoulder straps using hook-and-loop tabs.

Morphed into a suitcase--a zippered panel covers the suspension--the Lhasa is easy to throw onto an airport conveyor belt, thanks to two sturdy handles and a removable shoulder strap. But if you face a long schlepp through a crowded terminal, I suggest keeping it in backpack mode: The Lhasa's handles aren't well padded. A minor sacrifice, however, considering the pack's impressive might and versatility.

--Douglas Gantenbein

Olympus D-200L
Once solely a cumbersome and costly tool of the photojournalism trade, the digital camera is now available for the layperson. A host of companies have unveiled point-and-shoot digital cameras of late, and one of the best--balancing price and performance--is Olympus's D-200L ($600; 800-622-6372).

Rather than using film, a digital camera translates light coming through the lens into electronic information, which is stored on a microchip. Later, you transfer the images to your computer so that you can catalog them, manipulate them, E-mail them to friends, and of course, print them.

The D-200L has an excellent fixed-focus lens, equivalent to a moderate wide angle, and it offers all the stock features of a "simple" camera--built-in flash, red-eye reduction, self timer. But the fun begins once you snap a shot: Seconds later, you can view it on the 1.8-inch LCD monitor. The monitor doubles as a viewfinder, but unlike similarly priced models, the D-200L also features a conventional viewfinder, important in the wash of bright light.

Getting the photos out of the camera--it stores 80 low-resolution shots or 20 at high resolution--may well send you to a community college computer primer. In theory, all the horsepower you need is a PC running Windows 3.1 (with a 486 processor) or a Macintosh running system 7.0 (with a 68040 processor). In practice, however, my two-year old PC wouldn't talk to the D-200L, and I found that a computer running Windows 95 (with a Pentium processor) is the way to make it go. In the Mac camp, new models equipped for multimedia should suffice. It's worth noting that I didn't suffer my technical trials in isolation; Olympus's support crew proved patient and helpful. The camera comes with the necessary computer cable, as well as Adobe PhotoDeluxe software.

The Olympus D-200L isn't yet the idiotproof toy that conventional point-and-shoots have become, but once set up, the system hums along nicely. And although I'm not quite ready to replace my quiver of film cameras, the D-200L is well worth the attention of any photographer who spends as much time at the computer as in the outdoors.

--Glenn Randall

Stealth Retendo
Gone are the days of trying to finesse your boat around Cadillac-size boulders while bundled with enough layers to pass as the Michelin Man. The new Stealth Retendo from Stohlquist WaterWare ($185; 800-535-3565) is less constricting than the traditional nylon dry top. Made of soft, thin Polartech 100 fleece that's laminated to a layer of stretchy urethane, the Stealth moves with you and is toasty enough to be worn € la carte.

With spare styling and inner-tube-like sheen, the Stealth has the look of a toxic-waste cleanup suit. Except for a small mesh pocket at the waist, it's free of zippers and flaps--smart, since a PFD renders chest pockets inaccessible. On the river, however, the Stealth's four-way-stretch fabric seems to disappear: no noise, no resistance, and enough give to accommodate even the most limber rodeo-boater.

Stretchability doesn't come by way of compromise, however. The seams are sealed from the outside, and the spray skirt tunnel is covered with a hook-and-loop-closing cuff, making the Stealth unquestionably watertight--though neoprene gasket covers at the wrists and neck would help protect the sun-sensitive latex. An antimicrobial finish on the fleece helps keep you from smelling like mildewy laundry. As are all dry tops, the Stealth is best suited for cold-water paddling--40 degrees or below. But unlike the others, the Stealth doesn't force you to choose between maneuverability and warmth when braving early-season snowmelt.

--Andrew Rice

Photograph by Clay Ellis
Copyright 1997, Outside magazine

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