Whether it’s the Kindle with free worldwide internet and email access, or a James Bond-style watch that does everything but tell you your temperature, we’ve got a round-up of the best tech for travellers.
Amazon Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device
Perhaps not currently on the kit list of every outdoor enthusiast, but at 247g – less than the weight of a standard paperback book – and with a battery life of up to a month, this wafer-thin gadget really should be. As well as storing up to 3,500 books, this model comes with contract-free 3G wireless offering free access not only to the Kindle store but also the internet (and, therefore, email too) via the built-in browser in over 100 countries.
The high-contrast anti-glare E Ink screen has to be seen to be believed, a world away from an energy-sapping laptop or tablet display and as close to digitised ink as you can get. Perfect for long winter nights in the tent or epic cross-continent coach journeys.
Smartphones have been accompanying travellers into the outdoors for years, sheathed in everything from freezer bags to roll-top dry bags in an attempt to protect the expensive and weirdly soluble internal electronics from moisture. The Motorola Defy changes this – it’s a smooth Android smartphone surrounded by a water-and-dust-resistant case (IP67 rated apparently) and possessing a scratchproof Gorilla Glass capacitive screen.
Expandable memory, a 5MP camera and replaceable battery complete a well-specced package available for half the price of more fragile smartphones, supplemented by an Android marketplace full of useful outdoor applications.
Teamed with an iPhone, Symbian or Android smartphone, Viewranger offers the functions of a dedicated top-of-the range handheld mapping GPS complete with online tracking and connectivity. Viewranger can be loaded with topographical maps from around the world ranging from New Zealand to Netherlands, and display your position, heading and velocity using the phone’s internal GPS. The Viewranger Buddy Beacon feature can broadcast your position securely to specified contacts, and the new Social Hiking application can collect these beacons to create a map of your route online. Social Hiking then collects information from other sites to include on this map – for example from Twitter (with threaded conversations), Twitpic, Audioboo or anything with an RSS feed. The resulting map can be accessed via the Social Hiking site or hosted on a personal blog – an ideal way to keep loved ones informed of progress and attempt to share the experience. Viewranger prices vary according to operating system and mapping. As an example, the whole of the UK at 1:50k costs £100, and a 320 sq km tile of Sweden costs £15. Social Hiking is free.
In honour of legendary mountaineer Apa Sherpa’s world-record 20th summit of Mount Everest, Suunto has released just 8,848 units of its limited edition watch (inspired by the height of the mountain). In common with the rest of the Core range, this timepiece possesses an auto-switching altimeter and barometer, compass, depth gauge, thermometer and sunrise/sunset times. Apparently it also tells the time, with a plethora of date and alarm functions.
Suunto will donate a portion of all proceeds to the Apa Sherpa Foundation to help support the education of the children living in the remote village near the base camp of Mount Everest.
Panasonic is reknowned for the Toughbook range – the choice of armed forces around the world as well as mechanics, heavy industrial users – and, of course, hardened adventurers. The CF-C1 draws on this experience in a lightweight yet rugged convertible laptop, with a central hinge to convert the display into a touchscreen tablet. At 1.5kg this isn’t a particularly heavy laptop – it certainly won’t compete with the current range of tablets, but would they survive a drop from 76cm? And more importantly perhaps, do they have USB ports?
The standard battery should give 4-5 hours of life, but with dual battery slots this can be effectively doubled, and power users can even hot-swap batteries if the laptop simply can’t be turned off. Internal specifications are decent including an Intel Core i5-520M processor, but Panasonic offer a wide array of optional extras including a SSD hard drive for the ultimate in shock-proof mobile computing.
The FreeLoader Pro uses on-board solar panels or USB to charge an internal 1600mAh battery – the manufacturer states that this takes 7-9 hours in sunny conditions though I’d suggest somewhat longer in Scotland… Once fully charged the manufacturer suggests that the FreeLoader Pro is capable of delivering enough power to give a mobile phone 70 hours of standby time, 5000 page turns on an eBook or a full charge of a digital camera battery via the included CamCaddy.
The Supercharger Pro is bundled with the Freeloader Pro in the Globetrotter Pro pack and offers a massive increase in the amount of solar panel offered to the sun. Charging times are massively reduced for a minimal weight increase of 249 grams for a total weight of 411 grams when combined with the Freeloader Pro. The panel is fully weather resistant and can be attached to a backpack or panniers using two buckles and a velcro attachment strap.
Striking a good balance between functionality and price, the Kestrel 2500 gives participants in weather-dependent activities a fighting chance to predict upcoming atmospheric changes and act accordingly. Calculated over a 3-hour period, a trend arrow displays whether the barometric pressure is rising, stable or falling, and is monitored even when the device is switched off.
As well as barometric pressure, the Kestrel 2500 can measure wind speed, temperature and wind chill and display these on an easy-to-read digital display with backlight.
Possibly the most exciting new product in this list, the brand new nPower PEG harvests and stores the kinetic energy that you’re already generating through moving and converts it into usable power for recharging a huge range of hand-held electronic devices. Billed as a ‘personal energy generator’, the PEG will be effective no matter the weather and requires little or no maintenance. At a list weight of 310 grams, the titanium PEG can be placed in a rucksack pocket and the 1000mAh Li-ion battery allowed to charge over the course of a day before outputting 500mA at 5V DC. In a worst-case scenario, the PEG can even be charged from a USB port.
At time of writing the PEG is on backorder thanks to perhaps predictable massive demand, but the potential for this device is mind-boggling and will no doubt grace the backpack of many long distance travellers.
A headtorch with USB connectivity may sound like the height of geekiness, but in reality this rechargeable Li-ion battery pack is much more than just a gimmick. Replacing the disposable AA batteries in compatible Petzl headtorches, the CORE has obvious environmental benefits as well as the convenience of charging from any USB-equipped laptop or device.
Connected to a laptop the CORE can be programmed using Petzl’s free OS software – I’ve programmed my XP2 with a reading mode consisting of low light output with maximum battery life and a high intensity but short-lived mode for overnight adventures.
It’s difficult to justify a mobile phone as your primary means of emergency communication if you regularly venture out of reception, whether in the Scottish Highlands or the middle of the desert. In this situation the SPOT provides users with more than just the ability to send an SOS, providing a check in function that will notify loved ones via SMS or email rather than scramble a chopper. This is teamed with a ‘Help’ function for non-critical emergency situations – again notifying your pre-programmed contacts without involving emergency services. A tracking facility plots your position on an online map, and there is the inevitable Twitter and Facebook integration.
The unit retails for €179 (152 pounds), the basic functionality requires an annual subscription of €99 (84 pounds), with an additional €40 (34 pounds) for the tracking feature.