What's New

Matt McClelland

With the rapid change in material sciences and technology much of the gear we have access to today would be unrecognisable by bushwalkers of 30 years ago. Some of the stuff replaces gear that used to be really heavy. Other stuff is just junk that you don't need. But there are also bits of gear that enhance the walking experience. Let’s see some of the new stuff.

GoTenna

GoTenna is a cute new product about to hit the shelves in the USA. This is a digital transceiver that connects to your phone via Bluetooth and can send text messages to another GoTenna user. The idea is that you can send messages to your friends when there is no mobile phone reception (or to avoid using the phone network). This sounds like it might be a handy device for walkers who want a way to communicate between groups.

Think of it as a walkie-talkie that uses your phone as a screen and keyboard (you can only send text messages - no voice). You buy them in pairs but you can set up groups and send a message to one or a few people you know.

Stuff I like about it

  • Light weight
  • Simple design
  • Approximately 30 hours of run time
  • Can store messages (if your phone is not connected but the device is on it will store new messages allowing you to read them later)
  • Not crazy expensive
  • Allows you to 'broadcast a message' to all goTennas in the area. Normally you would send a message to people in your group. This is suggested as an emergency feature.

gotenna

But it is not perfect

  • Even though it uses a lower frequency (although goTenna did not respond to my questions about the actual frequency) it still operates in line of sight. So sending a message to a friend on the far side of the hill is likely not going to work. But on top of hills you should get a good range.
  • Their website promotes the device works between distances of 75 kilometre - very impressive - but there is a big "but". You need to get at the top of a 600 metre hill with no obstacles between you and the other user. According to their calculator in flat tree land you are more likely to get a range of four kilometre. Have a play with the calculator yourself.
  • Don't use this instead of a PLB or satellite comms. Under normal conditions this product is not a reliable way to send for help in an emergency.
  • Can't replace the battery in the field so for longer trips you will need to be careful of battery use and consider a USB charger.
  • I asked goTenna if device can act as a repeater allowing longer range comms. This would be handy to allow comms through some environments likes caves (assuming you could afford to buy a few sets and scatter them around). But no response from them yet.
  • No release date announce for Australia yet.

Buy or not buy?

Well I am a bit of a gear junky with stuff like this but I generally carry a two way satellite pager to stay in touch. I tend to think that if I need to be in touch then use the most reliable tool I can afford, otherwise just don't stay in touch. Stuff not working when needed just frustrates me. I am a bit worried that some people might think these are reliable ways of getting help in an emergency. I would be keen to play with a pair of goTennas and see what kind of range you get in real life. There are certainly times that this would be a handy thing and I love the idea of not having to pay for every message I send. So I think it may have a place. For the intro price of $US150 I would consider buying a pair - but for the RRP of $US300, I think you can count me out.

Spot

Most of us are familiar with the SPOT satellite tracking device, a one-way messaging tool that sends your location and text messages to your friends via satellite. These devices are small and generally have an affordable pricing model for the subscription service.

New Satellite phones are fairly common at the moment with new networks becoming available. SPOT has released a new phone designed for the adventure and with a pricing model more attractive to the irregular user and traveler.

spot-gen

Make crystal-clear calls, send emails and access the internet when your adventures take you beyond cellular.

The handset is $US500 outright. Then there is a wide choice of pre-paid and postpaid options. The thing I like about the model is that you can buy 12 months worth of credit and use it any time in the year. Call rates vary depending on your plan from $0.50 to $2.50 a minute. Most service providers currently do a month by month system. So this allows you to pay for the year and use the phone when you want when travelling. Still mostly set up for North American use (e.g. you can't use pre-paid in Australia yet). You get an American local phone number for incoming calls.

SPOT-GEN3

SPOT GEN3
Ideal solutions for hikers, campers, boaters and aviation enthusiasts. Reach emergency responders, check-in with family or friends, share GPS coordinates and track your adventures, all at the push of a button.

The phone weighs 200 grams and has a four hours talk time. Yes you can get internet access through it as well - but speak with your bank manager first. It is a lot of money all up, so it is not something everyone will be keen on - but worth knowing the option exists if you are in the market. Check the coverage map - you don't get worldwide coverage as some other networks provide.

More info

SPOT-TRACESPOT TRACE

And more

The Deuce of Spades

Digging the toilet hole just got sexy - well kind of - okay not really but this is still pretty cool. At a feather weight of 17 grams this is the lightest spade I have ever seen. I got mine through the Kickstarter.com campaign and I must say I am pretty impressed. You’d think it will break just by looking at it, but it is surprisingly strong. I have not tried to break it, but used it to dig a few holes now and I prefer it over my old spade.

Unlike the bright orange spades that look fairly strong which means people break them fairly often (through misuse). These look fragile so they encourage people to use them as intended. If in a hard rocky ground you can turn it upside down and use the handle for digging - it seems strong, but not as sharp.

digging

It is made from aluminum and costs $US20 (plus delivery). If you are interested in shaving weight from your pack and still want a spade I would recommend it. More info

And following are some other useful things also found on Kickstarter.com.

RugRat3/4

At 3.5 kilograms this three person tent looks great for families with younger kids - there is also a four person version. Looks like a pretty solid design ideal for a group of people. More info

Hammocks

Hiking hammocks popup on kickstarter a bit. Here are a few recent notable ones:
Alpine Hammock: Designed for hanging or as a ground dwelling bivvy bag. More info
Alpine-Hammock

Hummingbird Hammock: The crazy large hammock in this series seems like fun. Could see it being set up long on those lazy hikes making it a nice place to chill out and play cards. More info

Hummingbird-Hammock