Review: The Other Stuff

Outside magazine, May 1998

Review: The Other Stuff


Jenex V2 Roller Skis

Cross-country skiing may be the most complete aerobic workout available, but what's the use if it's available only in winter? For summer kick-and-glide thrills you can either move to Greenland or get roller skis, those wheeled contraptions that let you ski nordic on asphalt. (They provide a better aerobic test than their hip cousins, in-line skates.) Maybe not an item you've coveted, but perhaps that's because they require an acquired skill and pricey boots and bindings.

You can skip all that with Jenex's V2-Nordixc ($349; 603-672-2600), made for cross-country skiers of all abilities. Bindings complete with a high-back cuff and ratcheting straps hold any athletic shoe of any size firmly in place. But Jenex's proudest innovations are in a number of features that tone down the fear factor. Two rear wheels instead of one render the aluminum-chassis Nordixc incredibly stable, even on rough pavement. A ratcheting front wheel spins forward but not backward, so you can climb more efficiently. And to stop on the Nordixc you can rely on a real brake instead of prayer and a sturdy snowplow: Slide one ski forward without bending your knee, and pressure on the ankle cuff causes a plate to press against the rear wheels. This provides amazing stopping power — even on a steep hill you can execute a controlled halt inside of 15 feet. For insurance, engage a roller that drags against the front wheel, essentially downshifting for better control. It makes for a confident ride. Good thing, considering asphalt is somewhat less forgiving than snow. — Stuart Craig

Kokatat Life Vest

Anyone who's ever had to cinch a personal flotation device tourniquet-tight to keep from squirting out of it in the water will appreciate Kokatat's incredibly comfortable MsFIT Women's Front Zip Vest ($97; 800-225-9749). The MsFIT was built from the start for the lines of the female body, but as it happens, this life jacket is so adjustable that it's turning some men into crossdressers (the extra large size translates to a men's medium).

For its intended audience, the key to the MsFIT is its curvy front seams, which allow the vest to conform to your figure instead of squashing it. And it stays right there: Because it's short and tapered, the jacket won't ride up uninvited under your arms. Parallel side straps at the waist, lower rib cage, and chest — not to mention a seldom-seen set at the shoulders — secure the fit. The shoulder straps are a godsend for those all too familiar with the boat-on-bone grind of portaging, as they're lined with corrugated foam and covered with slide-proof Hypalon fabric. A zippered stretch-mesh bellows pocket lies flat so you need not worry about its snagging a branch, and there's even a concealed hook that puts an end to your hide-a-key days. — Nancy Coulter-Parker

Classics: The Leatherman PST

When tim leatherman arrived for a tight-budget tour of Europe in 1975, he wasn't worried that Fiats like the $300 beater he picked up in Amsterdam harbored a mean reputation for continual breakdowns. He knew how to fix things. Trouble was, his lone means of doing so — a pocketknife — worked fine for spreading chevre but wasn't so handy under the Fiat's hood. After one too many tinkering sessions with the carburetor, Leatherman realized something: He didn't need a knife masquerading as several tools. He needed a multipurpose tool with a knife.

Back home in Portland, Oregon, the 27-year-old mechanical engineer set about fabricating his idea. The result was the Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool, a clever collection of necessary implements that metamorphoses into pliers — an admirably versatile appliance in its own right. The burnished stainless steel PST possesses the sure-handedness of professional-quality needle-nose pliers and the teeth of regular pliers, so you can get after a seized bolt. A long file and a knife blade fold out from the other end, as do a host of shorter blades, such as four screwdrivers, a can and bottle opener, and an awl. Its satisfying mechanical precision is worthy of any Museum of Modern Art gadget.

In ten years I've never needed my PST to cut the umbilical cords of Sudanese twins or to perform a root canal on a Burmese army rebel, as international relief workers have reported doing, but I've had my situations. Car tires don't often throw a tread, but when mine did on a dicey drive to New York's Shawangunks, I was relieved to be carrying my five-ounce toolbox. The tread was thrashing the car, so I stopped and used the PST's knife to remove the dangling rubber and the file to sever the steel belts, and drove to a safer spot to change the tire. No wonder so many firefighters, stagehands, and FBI agents consider the PST standard issue.

Eight million Leatherman PSTs have followed since the first one was produced in 1983. The design has changed little — save for refinements such as the re-engineering of the Phillips head to fit both #1 and #2 screws — and the price has held steady at $50. Leatherman (800-762-3611) has added five models, and the entire line has inspired countless knockoffs, about which he is understandably peeved. "I don't want to become the next Kleenex," he says. But he probably shouldn't worry about elaborate would-be Leathermen: It's the canny simplicity of the PST that gives it such lasting value. — Mark Borden

Photographs by Clay Ellis

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