| Outside Magazine, October 1998|
Force Fin Extra
If you're weary of leg cramps from too-stiff scuba fins, you might slip into the Extra from Force Fin (800-346-7946) for a fast and facile kick on your next regulated-air plunge. Modeled after the V-shaped caudal fins of speedy fish such as tuna, they're uncommonly powerful — Navy SEALs use them — and so beauteous that the Museum of Modern Art recently snagged a pair for its permanent collection. Force Fin's signature open-toe design allows these flippers to grip the foot over the instep, instead of across your piggies, thereby shifting the burden of propulsion from the ankles to the quadriceps. There's so little resistance you'll swear they don't work — until you notice the sandy bottom zipping by. Plastic blades reminiscent of ride-hitching remoras efficiently channel water to the V in the fin as you thrust. Reposition these "whiskers" inboard for high speeds, or tilt them out for a more plodding glide. At $475 a pair, the cheery, translucent polyurethane Extra is the most expensive fin we know of. So if you're at all concerned about being fin-jacked, opt for the black polyurethane model, something of an ugly stepchild by comparison, but one that costs much less — $220 — and is only slightly less resilient.
— Andrew Rice
Fleece pants may be the ideal garb for kicking around in, but get a good arctic breeze blowing — or just a nasty draft — and they're about as protective as fishnet stockings. Not so with Mountain Hardwear's Gore WindStopper Tech Pant ($195; 800-333-6800), innovative trou that blend the flannel-like feel of fleece with windchill-busting usefulness. The key is the WindStopper membrane, first cousin to Gore-Tex, which is laminated to a layer of microfleece. The result is a breathable fabric that lets water vapor (read "sweat") out while keeping incoming gusts at bay. Wear these pants as insulation on an alpine trek, as an outer layer to grab the Sunday Times, or as pajamas for lolling by the fire. Waterproof Cordura reinforcing the knees and a swatch of three-ply polyester across the seat let you scuff around camp without fraying the fleece, while a slim nylon belt keeps the pants in place. Best of all, a convenient front fly and full-length side zippers mean that if you find the need to drop your drawers out of doors, at least you'll be able to minimize your risk of exposure.
— Stuart Craig
Ultra Light Therm-A-Rest
Any backpacker tired of puzzling over how best to lash sleeping pad to pack — only to have it catch a tree branch — will appreciate the Therm-a-Rest Lite Foam Ultra Lite 3/4 from Cascade Designs ($50; 800-531-9531). It's the first such item that can be handily stowed inside your pack. Roll up the self-inflating pad and its 3.5-by-11 airless inches tuck into your hauler's hood or water-bottle pocket. It weighs just 15 ounces, imperceptibly more than Cascade Designs's bulky egg-crate style Z-Rest, yet is nearly as plush as the weighty but popular Staytek Standard, making it the wisest of the company's 21 choices in backcountry bedding. The secret is an inch-thick, honeycomb-shaped piece of foam — essentially a thinner slab of the old stuff, perforated and stretched like an accordion. At 20 inches wide, it offers an ample toss-and-turn berth, though its 47-inch length means you'll be hangin' ten. But that's a small price to pay to protect yourself from getting attacked by any overzealous scenery.
— Michael Kessler
Aiwa XP-SP 1200 Personal CD Player
If outdoor survival, to your way of thinking, hinges upon the constant availability of digitally remastered tunes, you'll applaud the arrival of the Aiwa XP-SP1200 ($180; 800-289-2492), a personal CD player that never — yes, we mean never — skips. The technology isn't exactly new; the XP-SP1200 essentially plays a stored snippet rather than letting you listen in real time, thus preventing you from detecting any jarring of the laser. What's unique, however, is that its memory buffer holds a whopping 40 seconds, ensuring a seamless stream of hi-fi whether you're grooving through Grizzly Gulch by mountain bike or Ecuador by budget tour bus. And it's tough, too: The shell clamps with a satisfying snap and rubber gaskets seal out grit, keeping the Aiwa's workings healthy just about anywhere save the sea (it's water-resistant, not waterproof). As for performance, the 15.1-ounce XP-SP1200 has random and repeat playback, battery strength lights, and a bass booster that sounds more natural than others — assuming "natural" is a word you'd use to describe listening to The Verve in otherwise untarnished backcountry.
— Brent Hurtig
Photographs by Clay Ellis