Surf report: Gadgets for the Great Outdoors

Surf report: Gadgets for the Great Outdoors

With summer under way, Surf Report has highlighted new gear for traversing the Great Outdoors.

Garmin's fenix starts at $400.

GPS watch guides you back from off-the-beaten path.

Tired of getting lost while hiking? At some point, pulling out your phone to check Google Maps gets old, especially given nature’s notoriously shoddy reception.

From there, you can begin recording up to 1,000 tracks, which log time, location and elevation along a route, and store up to 10,000 waypoints, such as trailheads, campsites and other points of interest. Using a feature called TracBack, fenix can also shepherd you back along your recorded route, giving you ease of mind to veer off track and explore. The company’s desktop software BaseCamp lets you download and upload routes using a computer. Guided by fenix, which is shock resistant and waterproof to 50 meters, geocaching enthusiasts can also find hidden treasures, or caches, around the globe.

Those who want to use fenix as a fitness monitor can opt for the Performer Bundle, which costs an extra $50 for an external heart rate monitor, speed bike sensor and a foot pod that attaches to shoelaces to analyze movements. Another unique add-on for fenix comes from Rugged Apparel which creates custom paracord watch bands ($45). But all of these things can seem a bit excessive when this watch alone costs $400.

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Runtastic debuts fitness hardware.

Understandably, not all hikers are willing to drop four C-notes on a sports watch. Known for its suite of fitness apps, Runtastic has thrown its hat in the health monitor ring, launching a line of hardware in May: a GPS watch, Bluetooth heart monitor and bike sensor, all of which complement the company’s existing apps.

Though Runtastic’s GPS watch ($150), which comes with an external heart rate strap, isn’t as robust, easy to navigate or simple to read as fenix, it comes at a fraction of the cost while still packed with plenty of functionality with four modes: time, compass, GPS navigation and GPS workout. In GPS workout mode, the watch tracks speed, distance, training time and heart rate (when used with the chest strap). GPS navigation mode, meanwhile, can save 10 routes and up to 99 waypoints on a path. While water resistant, this watch isn’t meant to be taken into the shower or while partaking in water sports, greatly limiting its use as a sports watch.

Though Runtastic is known for its mobile apps, its hardware hasn’t followed the likes of Fitbit in offering wireless data transfer over Bluetooth. Instead, you’ll need to download the Runtastic Connect desktop software and sync manually each time.

Lightweight chair for camping.

Lately, when people have asked me about my favorite gadget, I’ve been pointing to decidedly lo-fi camping furniture, specifically REI’s Flex Lite Chair ($70).

This chair is the perfect (non-human) companion for roving and exploring. Made of ultralight tent-like materials, it’s easy to haul around — weighing just 1 pound and 12 ounces, and collapsing down to 14 inches in length and 4 inches in diameter. Together, the aluminum frame, which snaps together like tent poles (in essence almost assembling itself), and the seat made of a ripstop nylon can support up to 250 pounds.

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Great for camping, music festivals and most outdoor settings (exceptions being places with uneven or non-solid ground, such as the beach), the Flex Lite Chair takes almost no time to set up and dismantle. It’s exemplary of how cool gadgets don’t need bells and whistles but can instead rely on fantastic, highly functional design.

Outdoor bag with fast camera access.

For your next nature photo shoot, carry your gear in Lowepro’s Photo Sport Pro 30L AW ($200). The high-capacity bag introduced in May has a large main compartment, roughly half of which is taken up by a removable camera chamber that can hold an SLR with a large telephoto lens in addition to other photo accessories. The rest of the space is for clothes, snacks and other miscellany, which is accessed through a top-loading opening. Attachment points let you carry hiking poles when they’re not in use, and a special pocket capable of holding a 2-liter hydration reservoir makes this great for the trail. If you choose to use the Photo Sport Pro solely as a hiking or camping bag, you can detach the camera compartment, one edge of which is lined with velcro to secure to a flap.

A great combination between fast and light, the Photo Sport Pro lets you shoot on the move. Taking a page from the company’s Fastpack line, the bag features side access to the camera, allowing you to quickly grab your gear without removing the pack. A number of strategically placed pockets, such as an external pouch across the front and a small zipped lid opening, put smaller items within reach as well. Similar to the Rover Pro, the Photo Sport Pro uses a breathable trampoline-style suspension system to balance and distribute the weight of your gear while keeping your back cool. The Photo Sport Pro also hides an all-weather cover at the bottom to protect its precious cargo if the weather unexpectedly changes.

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A pen to help you survive the backcountry.

Who has the patience to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together? It’s a handy skill to have, but using a fire starter is much easier.

Smith & Wesson has packaged one in a convenient form factor: a pen. The Tactical Fire Striker Pen, carried by ThinkGeek for $40, writes like an ordinary ballpoint, but when its two parts are unscrewed, they reveal a Ferro rod. Rubbing it against the pen’s top, a fire striker with grooves fitted to the rod, can yield sparks. Since it’s housed in a body made of aircraft aluminum, this 6-inch pen is a bit weighty at about 2 ounces. But its heft is beneficial if you intend to use this for its other main function: a tactical pen — you know, in the event you find yourself needing to defend against something sketchy in the woods.

E-mail Alice Truong at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @alicetruong.