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March 2005

Backcountry Technology Review: Electronics and GPS

Your complete guide to the latest in outdoor electronics, including a smart watch, a weatherproof MP3 player, and the best in GPS.

©Matthew J. Reigner
Contact 3.0 Backpacker Webcast Package.

Contact 3.0 Backpacker Webcast Package

Ever wish the folks back home could see the sights you’re seeing? Now they can–in real time–without leaving their desks. With this field communications system, you can transmit expedition dispatches, photos, video, and audio from anywhere on the planet to any Web site server, all for less than 2 ½ pounds trail weight. The key is proprietary software that links up a digital camera, satellite phone, PDA, and keyboard (all included in the package price). Various hardware packages are available, but we like the Backpacker setup, which includes a Globalstar Sat phone, Compaq iPAQ 2200 PDA, and Sony DC-P93 digital camera. During tests in the Canadian Rockies, we found the system easy to use and were surprised at the near-instant transmission time. Simply type your message, attach the multimedia files, and hit send. An optional software upgrade ($200) will automatically plot your dispatch position to an online map. The system is solar rechargeable and includes all cables, a Pelican case, and software training. $2,800; 2 lbs., 8 oz.

©Matthew J. Reigner
Energizer E2 Lithium L92 AAA.

Energizer E2 Lithium L92 AAA

Finally, headlamp-friendly lithium AAAs. Like their much-loved AA brothers, these cells will work from -40°F to 140°F, store for 15 years, and offer roughly four times the life of an alkaline at 70 percent of the weight. $8 (8-pack)

Qualcomm GSP-160/Globalstar

Long-long-distance calls just got a lot cheaper, thanks to Qualcomm’s GSP-160 phone and Globalstar’s budget calling plans. During 2 months of remote travel in Canada, Rainier, and Glacier, Qualcomm’s tough 12-ounce wonder gave us long battery life, no notable voice delay, and fewer interrupted calls than other phones we’ve tried. And Globalstar has a North American airtime plan for as little as $40/month for 40 minutes (activation charges apply). An optional data kit allows for Internet and e-mail, with 9,500 kbps transfer rates. $695

©Matthew J. Reigner
Nokia 5140.

Nokia 5140

The splash-resistant 5140 is more rugged than the average cell phone, and it comes with outdoor-specific features: a digital compass, LED flashlight, and a personal fitness coach to help you train for the big trip. A tiny camera shoots low-res photos and video clips; add a headset ($30) to tune into your favorite FM radio station. $250; 3 oz.

©Matthew J. Reigner
Polar AXN500.

Polar AXN500

This watch-cum-super computer is built for hikers who like to push their fitness and backcountry boundaries. It calculates heart rate, estimates calories burned, reports the temperature, and shows compass bearings, among other features. But we really like its ability to track altitude and barometric pressure with great accuracy. The stainless-steel body is super tough, though a bit heavy on the wrist. $300; 4 oz.

Powerizer Rechargeable Batteries

Tired of throwing away batteries? These rechargeables are the most affordable (about $1 each) NI-Mh batteries we’ve found, and at full charge they rival most name-brand alkaline batteries. Our tester has used the 2250 mAh AAs and 750 mAh AAAs in various gizmos and reports no drop off in performance after dozens of rechargings. $25 (12 AAs and 12 AAAs)

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