Tools & Tech


I’m thinking of renting or purchasing a personal locator beacon (PLB) for winter backpacking trips as an added safety measure. What’s your opinion of PLBs? Bill Billerica, Massachusetts

I'd like to get a new pocket knife but recoil at the price tags I've recently witnessed. Is there a good reason to buy a $200 pocket knife? Scott Kingston, Ontario

Safety First The Bottom Line Guidelines to make the most of winter: » If people start debating skiing vs. snowboarding, walk away. » Ski in La Grave, France, at least once. » Much better in theory than in practice: getting drunk midmountain. » In your pockets: ID, credit…

I’m looking for a digital, waterproof camera that will perform well while I’m white-water kayaking. What’s your take on the Pentax Optio W20 and the Olympus 725SW? Michael Melbourne, Victoria, AUS

My husband and I are traveling to Alaska and want to buy binoculars for viewing calving glaciers, wildlife, and general scenery. Which binoculars would you suggest, preferably under $150? Would the zoom function be useful? Anchita Dallas, Texas

Are there any digital cameras that operate normally at temperatures below freezing? Besides just keeping the camera warm next to the body, can you recommend any equipment or techniques for using digitals below freezing? Hugh Santa Monica, California

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Is it legal to use U.S.-bought family /general mobile radios in Italy for staying in touch with people from our party? Do I need a special Italian license? If so, how do I get one? Howard Phoenix, Arizona

In the last two years, a lot of new altimeter watches with a lot of new features have hit the market. So in terms of value, what’s your pick for the best altimeter watch for under $100? How about for under $200? Cliff Aspen, Colorado

My wife and I want to upgrade from our Canon PowerShot G5 to a more hiker-friendly digital camera. We’d like one that focuses quickly in a variety of lighting conditions, is capable of taking multiple exposures in rapid succession, allows for fast scroll between images taken, and is both lightweight and durable. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Devin Glen Allen, Virginia

The 4.9-ounce SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC T-30 boils 7.2 megapixels of blur-reducing digital muscle down to the size and weight of a deck of cards. You won’t notice it until you need it. $500; Sony Cybershot DSC T-30 Sony Cybershot DSC T-30…

I've recently taken up sailing, and a GPS unit would sure come in handy during those fogs in the San Francisco Bay. But I'm bewildered by the variety of GPS units offered, with prices ranging from less than $100 to more than $500. What features will keep me from a watery grave and what's just nice to have? Jeff Fremont, California

I’m in the market for new binoculars that are waterproof, rubber coated, and show excellent contrast and light-gathering ability in low-light conditions (like when viewing sbur deer in the Victorian high country in winter). I have considered Browning 8x42s and Nikon Monarch 8x42s. Any advice? Bryan Point Cook, Victoria, Australia

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I'm an avid cyclist and want to upgrade my dated bike computer to something with more features. A model with gearing and cadence information plus a heart-rate monitor is ideal. What’s my best bet for such a computer that’s compatible with my bike’s Cpy components? Brian Madison, Wisconsin

My husband and I would like to be able to communicate while riding our bikes. What would you suggest for a hands-free experience? Dotty Boulder, Colorado

Can you recommend a digital camera that is durable enough to survive the rigors of an extended trip covering a variety of terrain and weather conditions, is small enough to fit into a pocket, yet will still produce high-quality pictures of everything from landscapes to wildlife to action shots? All for $500 or less. Ryan Winnipeg, Manitoba

Cut the rope or a rug with the same knife. The VICTORINOX S. BEAT integrates a one-gig audio player in the classic blade-scissors-tweezers-file model. The 1.1-ounce unit comes encased in stainless steel, and the player detaches for air travel. $200; Victorinox S. Beat Victorinox S. Beat…

I do a lot of trail running and hiking and need a watch with an altitude function, but the faces of all the ones I've found are larger than my wrist, which is very uncomfortable for running. Is there an altimeter watch designed for the slimmer wrists of women? Killaine Vancouver, British Columbia

The new road-warrior electronics embrace the adventurer's creed: Do more with less. From a pocket cinema to an MP3 watch, these ten ultra-portable gadgets let you get lost in style.

What's the best point-and-shoot film camera? I entering the Peace Corps in a few months and know that I will be in rural Africa. I need a small camera that will have a long battery life, will be durable enough to withstand life on the continent, and will take high-quality pictures. I usually use Nikon digital cameras and at a loss as to which point-and-shoot to choose. Katie Chico, California

I'm getting into photography for the first time and need a decent camera for taking wildlife shots. Can you point me in the right direction? Warren Portsmouth, United Kingdom

How do I find the best GPS receiver for my needs? I looking for a GPS that can provide detailed trail information as well as city information. I want something reasonably priced but flexible enough for long-term use. Do I need one with a PC connection or SD card compatibility? I going to the Grand Canyon later this year and want a unit that will help us safely navigate the trails. Grant Chicago, Illinois

Readers may have recently come across my thoughts on some of the more offbeat reader questions. One was: "What three or four skills should a true outdoorsman be able to do with a knife?" I had to admit—I was stumped. I use a knife to make shavings for a fire or for various gear-repair chores, but despite many years of hiking and camping, I'm not much of a knifesman. So I asked readers for help, and got some! Sue Duncan in Billings, Montana, read my plea, and responded with a detailed note. I thought her advice so good that it was worth posting.

I'm going to track and observe wolves in Yellowstone in March with a group of biologists. Do you recommend binoculars and/or a spotting scope? What models? My budget is mid-range, from $250 to $750. Kristy Hudson, Illinois

I recently purchased a Canon GL1 and I would like to be able to take it skiing with me this year. I concerned about moisture getting into the camera and killing my baby. Is that actually an issue, or would I be safe so long as I didn't drop it in the snow? I was thinking about getting a watertight case. Good idea or not? Kyle Salem, Oregon

I need a waterproof backpack for my digital SLR on canoe trips—something that won't leak at all! I've checked REI and other outdoor websites and stores, but couldn't find anything. Do you have any suggestions? Brandon Hilton, Ontario

After a disappointing performance on Mount Rainier, I have decided to retire my point-and-shoot and start carrying an SLR into the mountains with me. But what kind? Should I choose a pro-level for toughness and control? A compact for its light weight and portability? A manual focus for both light weight and durability? Or are digital SLRs now reliable enough for the cold and exposure in the mountains? Nick Los Angeles, California

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I going peacock bass fishing in Brazil's Amazon this November. While there are four of us, we're going deep into the forest, so I would like to take a GPS unit with me for backup. Equally, I wouldn't mind taking along a personal communicator. Is there a GPS unit (with or without communicator) that has detailed Amazon maps available? John Dallas, Texas

I a runner and cyclist looking for a watch that tracks distance as well as elevation. Can you tell me the difference between GPS-based watches such as the Garmin Forerunners/Timex Body Link versus watches with the footpod attached to the shoe (Nike Triax CV10 or Polar S625X)? I'm leaning towards the Polar one since it's got a heart-rate monitor in addition to the cycling add-ons. Your thoughts? Mauro Sunnyvale, California

You've never let me down, Gear Guy, and I know you won't this time either. My entry-level GPS (Garmin eTrex) seems unable to see the sky if there is a tree within 50 feet. On a recent Sierra backpack it did well above timberline but not in forest, even with big clear gaps in the canopy. Would a more expensive GPS do better? Help me, I need my waypoints! Frank Sacrento, California

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My wife and I (non-glasses wearers) are going whale-watching in Canada. We don't want to spend more than $150 for binoculars, and we'd like something with a little durability. What can you recommend? J. Sweinberg New York City

My wife and I will be backpacking in Denali as a 25th wedding anniversary getaway in late August. The Nikon 10x25 Premier LX L binoculars were recommended an ideal way to see the wildlife. However, Nikon's own 10x25 ProStaff Waterproof ATB's seem to be spec'd identically to the LX L's, except for weight (which we could live with) and, oh yeah, they cost a third as much. We don't want to use inferior binoculars on the trip of a lifetime, but that's a big dollar difference. What's your take? John San Diego, California

I going on a seven-day backpacking trip to Yosemite and would like to take along my Nikon D70 camera. What is the best pack or way to carry this camera so it is easily accessible but protected from the elements? Paul Elizabeth, New Jersey

Last March you were not enthused about weatherproof digital cameras. Pentax's OptioWP looks promising. What are your thoughts? Tom Normandy Park, Washington

Which is the best solar charger for backpacking? For years, I have taken along my Canon Elph film camera on my adventures, mostly because I don't have to worry about battery life while on extended trips. Well, now I have the digital Canon SD20, so I need a way to charge its proprietary batteries with the sun. Rob Cambridge, Massachusetts

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I getting back into backpacking and hiking after a 12-year hiatus, and I'm appalled at some people's apparent need for technology like cell phones and two-way radios out in the backcountry. Is this stuff necessary and desirable in the wilderness? Gary Denver, Colorado

I have a Yashica T4, bought new in 2001. It no longer works (not a battery problem). What should I do with it? It's a great little point-and-shoot. Hate just to toss it. Nick Santa Fe, New Mexico

Would there be any advantage in having a small two-way radio system attached to your rock-climbing helmet? Basically so you and your partner can talk to each other easily while climbing. Tim Dunedin, New Zealand

I'm looking to purchase a digital camera for a road trip that my girlfriend and I will be taking this summer. Apart from being able to take nice photos (five megapixels, three-power zoom), I'd like something durable as I an avid hiker and climber. Can you recommend something for no more than $300? William Rancho Cuconga, California

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I've looked for a year now to find a sturdy watch for my smokejumper. Money isn't the object. I'm looking for simplicity in functions: time, waterproofness, stopwatch (and, made in this decade!). A date display is OK, too. Sounds easier to find than it is, so I come to you. Kary Boise, Idaho

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What is the best handheld GPS on the market for hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing? Harlan Olympia, Washington

I'm looking for a recommendation on a digital camera that is safe for the beach (i.e. sandproof). Scott New York City

Which manufacturers make a portable GPS that will operate at sub-zero temperatures? Garmins work to plus five degrees Fahrenheit, which doesn't cover most of the year in Fairbanks, Alaska. David San Diego, California

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I'm looking for compact binoculars that I can carry for various activities, such as kayaking where size and access counts. Mostly, I'll use them for birding. Rick Port Townsend, Washington

I'm looking for a kick-ass sports watch for my boyfriend who's into lots of sports, currently mountain biking. What do you recommend ong those that show heart rate? JT

Can you recommend a quality camera to use while spending the next two years in the Peace Corps? I'm open to either digital or film, but not sure which would be the best option. I also don't know if I'll be living in the middle of the jungle or in a metropolitan area. Matt Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I'm looking for a versatile fixed-blade knife to carry in all sorts of weather and activities. I will be using it mostly as a cp tool but do a lot of lightweight backpacking. I can't seem to find one that's light, durable, sturdy, and priced at around $25 to $50. Any ideas? Josh Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

What's a good, trail-worthy MP3 player? It's got to be light and needs lots of storage space since I'm out in the woods for days at a time. I've looked into the iPod mini, but if the battery dies, I can't swap it out for a fresh one. Any ideas? Matt Shasta Lake City, California

I thought I saw during the Tour de France that Lance Armstrong was wearing the latest Oakley glasses with an MP3 player built into them. I right, and did Lance actually wear them during the race? Susan New York City

We are searching frantically for a ccorder—preferably digital—that tolerates operating temperatures below freezing to take on ski holidays in Norway and Finland, where winter temps are around ten degrees. All the ones on the market for less than $1,000 state operating temps of 32 degrees plus. What do folks use in Canada or Alaska, for exple, without breaking the bank? Martina London, United Kingdom

My husband and I will be climbing in Patagonia this Christmas. As a pre-trip, pre-holiday present, I'd like to buy him a ccorder. Can you recommend a good model, one that's compact and burly enough for a week in the outdoors? Margaret Chattanooga, Tennessee

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My boyfriend has paddled a couple of rivers solo and is planning a third this fall. Typically gone for a week, he tries to call me each night to give me his location and coordinates, but sometimes ends up in places that don't have cell-phone coverage. His parents and I are afraid of "sounding the alarm" too soon after not hearing from him for 24 to 48 hours. I can see him peacefully eating his granola as the cavalry rides in to save the day. Therefore, we have decided to buy him a personal locator beacon (PLB) for his birthday for peace of mind! Which one, then, do you recommend? Marisa Charlotte, North Carolina

What is the best camera for new photographers wanting to get into wildlife photography? Pela Monroe, LA

My wife keeps bugging me about getting a phone so I can keep in touch with her when I'm out backpacking for several days. Is there something light and somewhat affordable available? Peter San Carlos, CA

Do you know where I could purchase mountain-biking trail maps that are uploadable to my Garmin GPS V unit? I'm specifically thinking the Bend, Oregon, area. Mike Bend, Oregon

I'm a snowboarder interested in recording video footage of skiing and 'boarding. The mind boggles, though, with all the available formats, options, models, etc. I've also been told I should get a camera with a wide-angle lens, but all the salespeople I've asked didn't even realize wide-angle lenses were either interchangeable or available. Help! Stu Yakima, Washington

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Where can I find a good digital-camera tripod that's lightweight enough for backpacking? Crystal Tacoma, Washington

I'm a little boggled by all the choices in multitools these days. From the venerable Swiss Army all-in-one to the expensive Schrade creations that look like they've been crafted for Viking warlords. Any faves? More importantly, what tools do you think essential, which are gear-makers' fripperies? Malcolm Vancouver, British Columbia

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I'm trekking to Everest Base Camp in October and want to buy a new camera for the trip, probably the Yashica T4 Zoom. As I can't find any advice on photography at high altitudes, would you recommend this camera or go with a digital? Thanks, Gear God. Adam Bethesda, Maryland

A lot of training guides I consult for my running and cycling training talk of heart-rate "zones." I have been looking at the wide range of heart-rate monitors and wondering if you could suggest one that's reasonably priced and good for running and cycling? Michael Providence, Rhode Island

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