Best gadgets and gear for fighting (and embracing) winter
By C.C. Weiss
January 7, 2014
Winter has officially set in across the Northern Hemisphere, bringing with it feet of snow and record-breaking low temperatures across the US. That doesn't mean that you have to pen yourself indoors for the entire season and pray for Punxsutawney Phil to go blind, however. We've got some of the latest winter gadgets and gizmos to help you brave the cold, frost and snow.
Fight over flight
Most folks don't have the option of migrating to warmer climes for the winter, nor can they hibernate inside for three + months of the year. They'll have to stay and fight Old Man Winter. These weapons will help in battle.
Strap-on traction systems are a great way to add a little stability on slick, icy ground, but they have a couple of problems. If you encounter ice unexpectedly, the traction spikes you left at home are of absolutely no value. Elastic traction systems also have a tendency to slide off shoes.
The Tecvision system that Meindl integrated into its winter boots eliminates both of those issues. Because the spikes are built into your boots, they're always at the ready and never slip off. Simply crank the spikes when you need extra grip and retract them when the sidewalk is clear. One pair of boots is ready to walk nimbly over all types of winter ground.
If €360 (US$490) is a little too rich for your blood, the $170 Korkers SnowJack is another traction boot option.
Crank up the heat
Slipping and sliding is only one of the hazards that your feet face this winter, the other notable one being freezing toes. If you want to turn your Meindls (or winter boots of choice) into cozy warming huts, a set of heated insoles is the way to make it happen. With the help of a small wireless controller, ThermaCELL Heated Insoles avoid overheating, hot spots and sweaty feet by automatically turning on and off to keep your feet at normal body temperature. Your boots maintain a steady, comfortable temperature inside, no matter what's going on outside the leather.
Fill up the float
Glass-slick sidewalks and cold toes are common problems in all types of cold-weather environments, but waist-deep snow is one that many folks don't even consider. A broken-down snowmobile or vehicle can leave even the most prepared winter adventurer fighting for his life against virtually unnavigable deep snow.
The average set of snowshoes is too big and heavy to serve as an emergency tool, so you won't find them in most roadside emergency or survival kits. That's where inflatable snowshoes come in. Inflatables like the Airlites and Small Foots pack small and light then blow up to give you the extra surface area you need to walk atop deep snow.
Fully functional flushed fingers
While technology has long helped man fight the winter, it's also opened up new doors for the feisty old man to weasel his way in. The age of the touchscreen and text message has created the dilemma of whether to navigate nimbly with frostbitten fingers or punch at buttons in vain with warm, blunt mitts.
BearTek smart gloves let you have the best of both worlds. They won't be able to draft text messages for you, but they allow you to take calls, control music playback and operate a camera while keeping your hands dry and toasty. A couple of snaps of the finger is all it takes to control the paired device. The $250 Snow model includes an Aquatex waterproof insert, Primaloft insulation and goatskin leather exterior.
A jacket to watch over you
Back when we were kids, we had mom to call us inside when she thought we were going to catch cold from the winter weather. Adults that spend a lot of time outdoors for work, play or otherwise don't have that little childhood convenience.
A smart jacket being developed by Scandinavian research outfit SINTEF could one day be a sort of wearable "mom." The jacket uses sensors to monitor outdoor temperature, body temperature and activity level, sending the data to a computer. The idea is that supervisors can view the data and call workers in before issues like cold, fatigue and stiff joints become dangerous.
While the jacket is still in the early stages and aimed at outdoor workers, it's easy to imagine the technology one day trickling down to a retail smart jacket connected to a smartphone app. The app could include a series of alarms warning you to take a break or head inside for the day. The only thing that'll be missing is mom's hot chocolate.
Revel in winter
Winter comes every year, so outside of keeping yourself warm and safe, there's no sense fighting it too hard. Instead, welcome it with open arms by enjoying its bounty of cold, invigorating air and fresh snow.
Ripping snow like Clark Griswold
If an adult shows up to the local sled hill alone, with nothing but a snow saucer in hand and pom-pom hat on his head, he's likely to find himself answering police questioning as to why he's loitering around young children. However, if his sled is the Snolo Stealth-X, parents and guardians will be too busy jealously ogling the carbon fiber monocoque to even think about dialing the local department.
The $2,549 Stealth-X is designed for adults looking for serious snow performance – sledding that's a ski/snowboard alternative, not just a way for children to while away a snow day in the front yard. It straps to the rider's back for more comfortable climbs into the hills and mountains, and on the way back down, it sends its rider shooting to speeds up to 40 mph (65 km/h).
Not all snowy terrain is hilly, so one cannot rely on gravity alone for winter thrills. The Ziesel is a tracked, motorized chair designed to rove right over winter's bounty. While it's designed mostly for work like ski rescue and transporting gear across the snow, we have to believe there's some fun spewing snow at speeds of up to 22 mph (35 km/h), all from the comfort of an armchair. At €21,710 (US$29,500), it's not really the most practical snow toy, but it sure looks fun in the video.
Want to stretch your muscles a little more than you can in a moto-chair? The Defiant Big Easy is one of the latest electric fat bikes to come to our attention. The 500-watt, pedal-assist powertrain helps spin the chunky, 4.7-in tires over all types of terrain – from sunny, dry summer commutes to slushy winter treks. The motor has a range of up to 56 miles (90 km) and offers speeds of up to 20 mph (32 km). The bike is available for preorder, starting at $3,950.
Gone... with a Trace
Every year, we see more and more devices and apps aimed at tracking various sports stats. What we like about the Trace from ActiveReplay is that it comes in a small, simple, 2-oz (57 g) package that's adapted to several specific sports.
Instead of wearing the Trace on your face, like Recon goggles, or strapping it to your wrist, like any number of performance monitors, you mount it to your equipment. With extra mounts, it easily moves from one sport to the next. On the snow, it uses its GPS and 9-axis sensor set to track your movements, logging standards like vertical and speed and more advanced measures like tricks thrown and air time.
ActiveReplay completed a successful Kickstarter campaign last year and plans to start shipping Trace sensors early this year. The Trace is currently advertised for a preorder price of $169. The device and software are still under development, so its final specs could change.
Parachutes and paragliders have mingled with ski equipment over the years, resulting in such extreme sports as speed riding and ski BASE jumping. These sports work with gravity, but new outfit UpSki reverses directions for what it calls "wind mountaineering." It believes that you can have just as much fun skiing up mountains as you can skiing down them, and has designed a round sail to pull skiers uphill. The UpSki could eliminate the need for long, arduous backcountry ski climbs, providing thrills on the way up before the thrills on the way back down.
The company claims that the sail is powerful enough to pull you up 45-degree slopes and maneuverable enough to avoid obstacles and come to a comfortable stop on a ridge. It says that the system has been used on ascents of 14,000-ft (4,300-m) peaks in the U.S. and on 22,800-ft (6,950-m) Aconcagua. Once at the top, the UpSkier packs the 10-lb (4.5-kg) chute into a backpack and skis back down.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign last month, Colorado-based UpSki is working to make good on its promise of winter 2014 production. That includes fulfilling its Kickstarter orders and building a demo fleet for those that want to try the experience without spending thousands of dollars on equipment. The UpSki started at a special package price of $2,400 when offered on Kickstarter.
And if none of these options take your fancy, there's always the old tried and true approach of putting your feet up in front of the fire with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.