DIGITAL CAMERAS are often so fragile that they should carry a warning label: for INDOOR USE ONLY. That's changing. Most major manufacturersincluding Canon, Pentax, Olympus, and Minoltanow offer rugged, hard-plastic waterproof housings specifically designed to give their digi- cams a beefy outer shell. Tuck one of these shooters inside its matching case, snap it shut, and you'll be able to pop off underwater JPEGs at depths of 100 feet. The new cases will also protect your camera from mud, dust, salt spray, and even hard knocks. (In field tests, each of the five hermetically sealed models we tested survived intact after a four-foot drop onto a rock.) Granted, your wallet may take a little punishmentthe most affordable digicam-plus-housing setup here will run you $598but just think of all the waterlogged memory cards you won't have to replace.
Dry and high: Make your digicam adventure-ready with a sturdy waterpoof housing.
The Amazing Pocket Fisherman and Foam Noir
A) THE AMAZING POCKET FISHERMAN!
The tiny PENTAX OPTIO 430RS offers an impressive four megapixels of resolutionthat is, each image stores four million dots of information, which makes for crisp enlargements. Meanwhile, the 14 gasket-sealed buttons and dials on the PENTAX O-WP1 waterproof case give you access to virtually every photographic setting and task. Make sure you know your way around the controls, though, since some of the camera's icons can be difficult to read through the plastic shell. If you catch and photograph nine different fish, the Optio's sharp LCD monitor lets you view them all at once, before deleting the little guys. (Camera, $683; housing, $250; 800-877-0155, www.pentaxusa.com) GOOD CHOICE FOR: ANGLING, BIRDING
B) FOAM NOIR
Is your boat already brimming with gear? Don't panic. Even inside its waterproof housing, the four-megapixel CANON POWERSHOT S400 DIGITAL ELPH is about the size of a box of animal crackers. The WP-DC800 case allows you to access all camera functions, and you probably won't drop it in the drink, thanks to an ergonomic thumb notch that provides a good grip. Though the housing adds bulk, it comes with a diffusion platea patch of frosted plastic that, especially during those moment-of-dread close-ups, helps evenly distribute light from the flash. (Camera, $599; housing, $240; 800-652-2666, www.usa.canon.com) GOOD CHOICE FOR: RAFTING, RIVER BOARDING
Boundary Waterproof and Fiesrt Ascent, Mount Megapixel
A) BOUNDARY WATERPROOF
The ergonomic styling and anti-squint rubber "awning" on the FANTASEA CP-4 PRO housing shades the LCD screen from glare, making this combo a useful tool for the J-stroke set. With four megapixels of resolution, NIKON's COOLPIX 4300 camera will crisply capture a swimming moose. But while the housing buttons let you tap into the digicam's settings, they won't let you turn it on and off. Because the Coolpix has an extendable zoom lens on an already thick body, this combo will appeal to paddlers with plenty of stowage space. (Camera, $499; 800-645-6687, www.nikonusa.com; housing, $179; 203-637-5192, www.fantasea.com) GOOD CHOICE FOR: CANOEING, ROWING
B) FIRST ACCENT, MOUNT MEGAPIXEL
With a zoom lens that extends inside the camera, this is the slimmest waterproof package we testedperfect for ounce counters. At just two inches thick, the MINOLTA MC-DG100-encased MINOLTA DIMAGE XI is thinner than all the other housing-equipped models shown here, though with the camera's slightly sub-par 3.2 megapixels of resolution, your Annapurna shot won't be quite as sharp when you blow it up. The housing buttons provide remote access to all the camera functions, including voice recording, so mind your language when you're stuck below the crux. (Camera, $599; housing, $249; 201-825-4000, www.minoltausa.com) GOOD CHOICE FOR: CLIMBING, TRAVERSING
Outdoor Retailer 2003: The Gear Guy's Roundup
More from the floor: Part II
Ice 'n' slice: Montrail's I.C.E. 9, crampon compatible
Light at half the price: the Dagger Specter 15.5
PICKIN' AND CLIMBIN'
There has always been a strange mismatch between boots and crampons. Crampons have to be designed to fit a generic boot; boots a generic crampon. But Montrail hopes to change that with its newish I.C.E. 9 boot ($350), just now hitting retail channels after a long gestation. It's a high-end insulated leather boot, available with a matching gaiter ($85), and, best of all, a crampon specifically designed for the boot ($185). The crampon uses attachment points at each end of the sole, plus one in the middle. That lets a climber wear a semi-rigid boot for comfort, with the great ice-climbing leverage of a rigid crampon. I'm usually skeptical of gear "systems," but this makes sense and I think will work well.
THE FUTURE OF KAYAKING?
Fiberglass boats have always been the dreamboat for serious touring kayakers. But they're expensiveoften close to $3,000. In Salt Lake City, Dagger and Perception were showing boats made of a new dual-layer plastic called Airalite. It looks, weighs, and paddles like composite materials, but costs much, much less. The new Dagger Specter 15.5, a day-touring boat using Airalite, will run at $1,500, half the price of some composite boats. It's what I'm getting in the spring when I pop for a new boat, that's for sure. The Dagger people are talking seriously about abandoning fiberglass boats if the new material finds wide consumer acceptance.
DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
Black Diamond had some new headlamps at the show. Its three-ounce Zenix uses a focused LED to throw out the light of a halogen; price is $42.50. Bibler, feeling the pinch from low-cost single-wall tents such as the Mountain Hardwear Waypoint, showed a new tent made with silicone-impregnated Epic fabric. Called the Lighthouse, it weighs a mere three pounds and sells for $369. Schoeller, the company leading the way in the soft-shell category, has come up with "nano-particles," tiny bits of material applied to a fabric surface that repel water, dirt, and stains. Mammut was showing the stuff in its new Cerro Torre soft shell, selling for $239. Manzella will soon introduce its new Expedition 850 glove ($50), which employs Polartec Power Shield and a tough synthetic leather. I wore a sample pair on Rainier in July, and was amazed by their warmth and dexterity. Finally, Garmin was showing a wrist-mounted GPS unit called the Forerunner 201, designed for hiking and training. It'll retail for $160.
IF I COULD BUY FROM ONLY ONE COMPANY...
It would be Marmot. They've always made good stuff, but in recent years they seem to have really ramped up their line of offerings and its quality. Their packs, jackets, layering clothing, sleeping bags, and tents all look great. I'm anxious to try the Equinox, a lighter and improved version of what has long been one of the better (albeit heavier) three-season tents on the market. Price will be $259. It has lost about a pound, and uses a new "knee"-pole design, which puts a slight bend in the pole a foot or so above the ground. In effect, it braces the pole against wind, while also creating more-vertical sidewalls. In bags, I liked the 15-degree Helium, which uses 900-fill down and superlight Pertex fabric to create a near-winter bag that weighs a mere two pounds (cost will be $399). Marmot is also expanding its hugely popular lineup of affordable, functional PreCip rainwear. New in spring 2004: the Rim jacket, with a revised formulation of the PreCip material that is more breathable. Taped seams, stash hood, arm and chest pockets, all for $189.