Outside magazine, February 1998
Just when you began to think of ice axes as, well, boring, along comes a different bird from Grivel. Designed for the tight spaces and awkward maneuvers of the new style in ice climbing — clawing up shorter, trickier "sport" routes — the Machine ($275; 802-985-5056) is more a precision instrument than a barbaric tool. For starters, it has a shock absorber. That's right: Removable, steel-shot-filled aluminum cylinders, which weigh 5.5 ounces, add force to your swing and quiet the vibration ringing through the aluminum shaft, all but eliminating the nasty problem of your forearms giving out. A relatively high bend in the shaft means instead of brutishly whaling away to stick the pick above bulgy, cauliflowered ice, one exacting thwack usually does the job. Another friendly feature — a rubber nub on the handle — protects your knuckles from getting sandwiched against the ice and taking on the hue of a seasoned street fighter's hands. Grivel's chrome-moly Cascade pick, designed for the thin ice common to these routes, comes standard, and three others ($39-$45) are also available. Whichever your pick, the Machine won't leave you hanging. — ROD WILLARD
If it seems strange to see an avalanche beacon dubbed user-friendly, like one more laptop computer, consider that the odds of surviving a sudden snow burial drop precipitously after the first 15 minutes. With this statistic in mind, Backcountry Access introduced the Tracker DTS (Digital Tracking System), a friendly piece of survival equipment indeed.
What's unusual is that the Tracker ($300; 800-670-8735) gives you handy visual cues, an efficient advantage in avalanche rescue. Now you can forget establishing a precious-time-consuming search grid and clumsily sweeping back and forth, all the while straining to hear whether an amplified blip is growing louder. The Tracker, using a microprocessor and a configuration of three internal antennae that lock onto the transmitted signal, triangulates the direction and distance of the buried beacon for you. An arc of LED lights points you in the right direction: Square up so that the middle light is blinking, and simply trudge straight ahead. For good measure, this transceiver also features audio, but the tone increases in cadence rather than volume as you hone in on the buried signal.
For the backcountry rookie, operating the Tracker is intuitive. Seasoned ski patrollers, however, may be thrown off at first because such digital precision makes it easy to overcorrect and miss your target. The unit is only slightly bulkier than conventional beacons and weighs 8.5 ounces. It switches easily from transmit mode (world standard frequency 457 kHz) to receive mode with mittened hands. And shudder to think, but should another slide come thundering down, the Tracker will automatically revert to transmit mode after five minutes, so you can be found. — R.W.
Whether inspired by some ancient mammalian instinct or merely a case of cold feet, Slumberjack hit on something irresistible with its aptly named Body Sock ($50; 800-233-6283). Possessing the feel and purpose of a blanket and the shape and cozy appeal of a sleeping bag, this midweight polyester fleece cocoon will see you through any tour of couch duty, from a Seinfeld rerun to Infinite Jest. A slit from midleg up eases getting in and out, and the silhouette is wide, leaving you enough wrap to dodge any draft. Tough, slick nylon covers the bottom, which aids in scooching around the house. No longer will you waste your down time futilely tucking square corners around stocking feet. — MICHAEL KESSLER
Khakis may be the universal badge of travel, but the cloth tends to stain, wrinkle, sag, and, worst, absorb the film from those honey-roasted peanuts. The North Face has offered up a good alternative in the Yak Canvas Pant ($74; 800-719-6678). A cross between flat fronts and garage-dwelling work pants (minus the hammer loops), the Yak uses a new matte nylon Cordura that's more supple than the stuff of your backpack. Designed with an absence of frills — other than three pockets — these earth-tone trousers will present well with that lovely hot-pink short-sleeved number you picked up at the Manila airport gift shop. And though the straight-leg cut inhibits out-and-out running, a wicking treatment means you need not hesitate to break into a sweat if you should have to chase after a plane, train, or pickpocket. — JOHN ALDERMAN
Photographs by Clay Ellis