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The Other Stuff

Review, April 1997

The Other Stuff

Roces Big Cat | Peak 1 Xpedition | Whispering Waters Steller
Roces Big Cat
If knobbies work so well for bikes, why not for skates? Roces is the first company to follow this perhaps suspect line of reasoning, offering up the Big Cat (800-521-2011), a sort of monster truck of the in-line world.

The Big Cat's boot is identical to that of other Roces skates — plastic with ratcheting buckles — but the story is in the fore and aft wheels, a whopping 110 millimeters in diameter, about a third again as big as conventional wheels. Roces considers the Big Cat something of an experiment, and used as such, it's pretty entertaining. The wheels have dirt-grabbing hard-plastic knobs all over them, and the skate has no brake, meaning that the more dubious T-stop or hockey stop is your only method of self-arrest. While I found that the Cat's extra-long wheelbase provided ample stability, it's too cumbersome to cross over on sweeping turns. If you use more of a skate-skiing technique, however, the Big Cat is a lot of fun on hard-packed dirt or paths chunked up with debris.

Although the prototype I tested felt a little harsh on anything other than dirt, Roces is adding a spongier footbed and more forgiving wheels to the final version (available this month), which should make those stretches of pavement easier on your teeth. Even so, the Big Cat might be best suited for the skater with extra shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock — they sell for a not-cheap $500 — or for someone searching for a different way to get off the beaten path.
— Dana Sullivan


Peak 1 Xpedition
Waiting for the marinara to heat while your pasta turns to cold, gluey lumps on the bottom of the unwarmed pot isn't the best recipe for a happy meal. Thus many a backpacker has longed for a lightweight dual-burner stove. Such a luxury is finally available for weight-conscious backcountry hikers, compliments of the Peak 1 Xpedition ($90; 800-835-3278).

Designed to handle a pair of 7.5-inch pots, the Xpedition's burners run off a single fuel canister and are controlled by separate knobs fat enough to manipulate in mittens. At 25 ounces, the Xpedition is slightly heavier than simply lugging two single-burner stoves — but it's much more compact when collapsed and therefore perfect for shoving into the side pocket of a pack. It's a handy piece of gear that leaves me with one burning question: What took so long?

You could ask the same of Peak 1's new cold-weather fuel, a 40/60 propane/butane mixture that doesn't sputter and seize in subfreezing temperatures like standard butane fuels. It kept the Xpedition raging at full throttle for over an hour on a frosty morning in the White Mountains, while I whipped up a feast of omelettes and pancakes. I was surprised to find, however, that for all practical purposes the stove has only three choices in heat-control: off, barely on, and borderline blowtorch. But to my mind, keeping a close eye on the pot is a small price to pay for a backpacking stove that lets you eat your cake and have your coffee too.
— Michael Lanza


Whispering Waters Steller
Buying a kayak paddle inevitably involves a trade-off: finesse or strength. Wooden paddles provide comforting heft with a subtle flex that lets you intimately feel the river, but they're fragile — smack a spruce blade on a rock and you may be left with a pile of kindling. Fiberglass and Kevlar models, on the other hand, are incredibly tough but don't have nearly as sensitive a touch. Hoping to meld both qualities, Whispering Waters introduced the first line of paddles to mate a shaft of laminated cedar and ash to blades of Kevlar and carbon fiber, the newest of which is the Steller ($325; 530-893-1047). Consider it a high-performance hybrid.

The Steller's blades are asymmetrical and exceedingly thin, so they slice in and out of the water with nary a ripple. And like most top-notch paddles, the blades have a smooth, concave face that provides solid purchase during the power stroke — put the Steller in the water and it feels as if you've stuck a spade in the dirt. The handsome shaft is bent in two spots to fit the hands and to keep the wrists in a more natural and comfortable position. If you prefer shifting your grip through the day, you can opt for the straight-shaft version, called the Stinger. Either way, you'll be able to run the gnarliest of waters without worrying that your paddle will end up in splinters, leaving you up the proverbial creek.
— Andrew Rice


Photograph by Clay Ellis

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