Monday, January 4, 2016

Basic SUP

32 inches. Upwind.

That’s all you need to know about Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP).

And from what we’ve seen all over the world, if you haven’t tried standup paddleboards, you will soon. The darned things are everywhere!

History? Well, according to COG’s research department, tow-in big wave surfer Laird Hamilton (you’ll remember him, a Kauai local, with his infant child posing shirtless for American Express magazine ads) telephoned a correspondent for SUP magazine, Ron House (SoCal surfer/board shaper):

“I get a call from Laird Hamilton in 2003 and he tells me he’s been using a big board and a big paddle to catch waves standing, that he doesn’t lie down…I was trying to get my mind around it.”

Evidently, House was not alone. Further, we’ve heard dispute about exactly how SUP innovation arose. Big wave “guns,” becalmed sailboarders, kite-boarders, radical Islamists…the waters are murky.

Nor were the big SUP boards universally admired along the point-break line-up. Specifically, we’ve noticed surf locals getting notoriously territorial about sharing “their” waves: Strong words and fisticuffs. But possible conflict here was quashed in a hurry. Early SUP adopters put out word: SUP was here to stay. COG reports Hawaiian strong men (re: the photos of Hamilton) and/or industry mavens applying “gentle” persuasion.

How gentle? Well, two years ago a dozen SUP exhibitors showed product at Salt Lake City’s summer Outdoor Retailer trade show. This (desert landscape of SLC) is not the Surf Expo in Orlando or the (now defunct) Action Sports Retailer show in San Diego. Last summer over 250 vendors showed SUP product at Salt Lake City. What the heck… that’s a 1000+% increase for vendors over two seasons. And every other vendor, that can make even tenuous connection, leapt on the runaway SUP bandwagon…tsunami?

What gives? Well, during the last year your COG correspondents stepped aboard SUPs in Byron Bay (Australia) and near the Eifel Tower, as well as at COG centers in Moab and Portland. Downtown, out-of-town, across the planet, SUP’s getting ridiculous.

So SUP gets around; lets get back to basics.

Hamilton’s right; SUP’s easy. But make sure the board you step onto is at least 31+ inches wide. Water geeks (“watermen,” in the local, sexist idiom) call this measurement the board’s (or boat’s) “beam.” Narrower boards give better paddling efficiency (for racing), but demand natural “balance” you don’t have right now.

Next, start your SUP paddling adventure upwind. That means, you paddle against the wind on your outward journey from dock or shore. When ready to turn for home, the wind’s a your back and, acting like a sail, you’ll (yep, we’re grammatically correct here…your body is now a sail) cruise effortlessly along. Reverse this itinerary-order to begin with, and you’ll struggle against the wind on the homeward-leg, when you’re most tired. And when you finally beach your board, you may be too tired to drink beer: a COG anathema.

So, besides a short learning curve, why do we see so much SUP now? COG’s guess, again: it’s easy. Plus the gear’s (a little) cheaper than kayaks. Also, they’re easier to maintain, transport and store for users and (here’s the big one) resort operators. If you’ve got a business near water, you MUST have a few SUP boards around; they’re instant revenue for modest investment.

“What can I do on a SUP that I can’t do in a kayak,” complained one of a COG relation after a maiden paddle on a windy Adriatic coast. We replied: ‘Nothing.” But you can see more and better while fully upright than sitting, your legs don’t go to sleep and, let’s be fair, there’s more to admire viewing an upright figure (paddling a SUP) than one sitting in a kayak shell. (We’re eschewing sexism here.) Sorta like the difference between strolling on the beach and sitting below decks on a sailboat…or something. And yes, our OCG correspondent had started his first SUP tour downwind on a very windy Italian afternoon. COG recommends the Grappa remedy.

Romance and revenue aside, what really caught COG’s eye was paddle boarding at night with the NOCQUA 2000 – White LED Light System, about $350 (http://nocqua.com).  Sure you can put the NOCQUA light on a kayak but the view doesn’t compare.

Now CPG’s favorite (intermediate) SUP board is the French-made, BIC, Ace-Tec Classic model, 31.5” beam, $1495.00 MSRP, just over $1000 at retail. http://shop.bicsport.com/c/sup). In business since 1979, BIC offers 35 SUP board configurations for an adventure array. The Ace-Tec SUP line employs fiberglass, EPS-core construction for higher-end boards.  Uniformly, across products lines for kayaks, sailboards, surf, SUP, paddles and small-boats, value, durability and performance predominate.  Expect to see BIC SUPs as beach rentals, as well in performance quivers.

(Tech tips for entry-level SUP boards: 32” beam, flat-bottom, hard-rails yield best touring stability.)

By this point, as late-blooming surfers, the COG team thought we’d gained insight into the huge SUP enthusiasm: Surfing—sailboarding—kayaking—the industry needs something haoles can do more easily. Money talks.

Yet, while COG reviewed SUP boards, we noticed some tie-down toggles on the board’s deck.

“For SUP yoga and fitness classes,” the BIC sales rep told us. “It’s really popular at resorts; the guests just raft their boards together and do exercise routines.”

Huh? SUP fitness? Is this possible? What about all those yoga mats?

So disregarding SLC’s midday August heat melting the crosswalk, we hustled outside the Salt Palace to witness OR’s demo tank. The photos show more than you need to know about SUP fitness, which involves core-strengthening as we’d never imagined. COG interviewed professional SUP fitness instructors, for real. We did not get phone numbers.

OK. We’ve captured sunny SUP adventure, romantic lighting, fitness and BIC value. This pretty well defines the COG mission.

Everything else we’ve learned about the SUP craze, we can only outline: It’s not just yoga classes. Evidently, everybody’s doing everything on a SUP board. We think it’s, maybe, over the top.

Yep! SUP athletes are making first descents of the usual: Amazon, Ganges, Nile Rivers. First to paddle: USA East Coast, West Coast, Aleutians, UK circle, Greenland, Baja….we expect a solo circumnavigation of Australia and other large islands soon.

So naturally, SUP advocates cry out for SUP as the next big, summer Olympic Games sport. (Didn’t we hear this about ski-telemarking in the early 1980s, just before snowboarding “took off?”)

This list isn’t complete. But our SUP attention span is so done.

SUP Specific Gear for your $:

Reality TV star and survival expert Bear Grylis “Scout” SUP

SUP for Hunting & Fishing.

SUP for Whitewater

SUP World Tour

SUP World Series

SUP Rack & Rack Locks

SUP PFDs, Hydration packs, Accessories

SUP Paddles

SUP Waterproof Speakers

SUP Floating Hardware/Eyewear

SUP Trailers

SUP Sunscreen

SUP Paddle Holders, Tie-downs, Water-Bottle Holders

SUP Tandem

SUP Clothing

SUP Footwear

SUP Fishing

SUP Hunting: Blast and Cast

Saturday, January 2, 2016

GRIPPED UP with Grip Pro

When COG’s most elderly correspondent reported being “gripped up,” we thought he was talking about short 5.10s he barely exited in style 40 years ago.
(For the record. Smith Rock’s Karate Crack, 60’, 5.10a and North Wales’ Cenotaph Corner, 120’, 5.10a…both routes feature tidy hand jams to the very top. Here climbers have just enough hand-strength to pass the tricky crux right: either into a pod or out of one.  Film reference: 2001 Space Odyssey, “Open the pod-bay door, Hal…”)

But no. This wasn’t nostalgia for the classic UK test-piece, Cenotaph Corner. Our pal’s orthopedist had diagnosed “trigger finger,” an arthritic condition rendering a finger-joint “permanently” fixed with a right angle bend.

Our guy rejected arthritis.

“I cooked those two knuckles lighting a gas-fired broiler on St. Martin,” averred our crook-fingered friend. He palmed a rubber-ring hand-exerciser at COG headquarters

Flexing the rubber-ring, we could clearly hear his middle-finger knuckle “lock,” slip and slide through its regular range-of-motion: no smooth movement here, just three-distinct, painful indents.

“Each morning, I can’t open this finger; it’s so locked-up. I have to pull it straight and flatten it down [with my chest in bed] for a few minutes before I get up. Otherwise, it stays crooked.”

But a few minutes with COG’s Grip Pro Trainer (we’d bought one at an industry event years ago) revealed that our elderly correspondent had lost grip-strength in his damaged fingers. A right-hander, his left-hand now over-powered his dominant hand. A lot. A rock-climbing gym regular, our guy was appalled.

So we loaned the old fellow our Grip Pro Trainer rubber-ring (www.gripprotrainer.com). Within days (using the rubber-ring for two sets of twenty-reps/day), he reported that his fingers remained flexibile throughout the night. Two weeks later, our friend’s grip-strength was normal. While joint movement wasn’t silky smooth, our correspondent felt comfortable ignoring medical advice to visit t a hand surgeon.

So, COG discovered a medical/orthopedic/age problem and an exercise solution. No surprise here. End of story, right?

Well, as usual with the COG team: not so fast.

You see, the Grip Pro Trainer is manufactured of black rubber. Our friend carried the Grip Pro to his car for exercising (more than patience) while stalled in rush hour traffic. Enter girlfriend. Late night dinner, maybe some dancing. Shuffling around the front seat. Dark. Grip Pro pushed to the car-floor. Hasty exit. Next morning, where’s the Grip Pro Trainer?

Missing daily grip-strength sessions means our guy’s fingers immediately “gripped up.” So, he urgently hustles over to his neighborhood REI, 10am Saturday morning. $7.95 being much cheaper than surgery…but what? No Pro Grip Trainer?

OK. Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer looks about the same: a squeezable rubber-ring (www.blackdiamondequipment.com), $6.95, in blue. Available everywhere online, including BD. But not stocked at REI?

What if you need a grip strengthener immediately?

Is there anything on REI’s shelf?

The Gripmaster Hand Strengthener, $14.95 (www.rei.com) comes to hand. Cumbersome name for a complicated-looking, spring-loaded device.  Gripped at a “high” angle across the knuckles, the Gripmaster focuses isolated loading of each finger: nice for finger control. But our guy needs a more powerful, rolling action for his whole hand, fingers and forearm in order to arrest arthritic degeneration. BD’s and the Pro Grip’s rubber-rings are perfect, but where to find one, today? Not at Dick’s, not at Sports Authority, not REI, nor our local fitness equipment retailer.

Back at COG headquarters, we hand over a freebie Boreal (climbing shoe maker) had given us many seasons ago.

Now, we happen to like Boreal shoes. However, Boreal’s FS Quattro (at several years’ remove) generated negative reviews on climbing blogs. The promotional grip trainer, branded with the FS Quarttro label, worked about as well as many thought the rubber works.

[COG’s friction-shoe tests favor these resoles: 5.10’s Stealth and Vibram’s newest, XS Grip2.]

So our trigger-finger guy bought a Metolius’ Grip Saver Plus, $17.95  (www.metoliusclimbing.com). The Metolius take on grip-training is injury prevention, an exotic concept for many. The red, palm-sized squeeze-ball is perfect for easy grappling. But the real rave’s for the ball’s finger-extension feature: nothing’s better for warming-up finger-tendon sheaths. And as everyone knows, dynamically balanced, incremental-load training is essential for avoiding repetitive motion and overuse injuries.

For the next three days, our griped-up cousin maintained his hand exercise/recovery regimen using his Metolius Grip Saver Plus (also available at REI stores), while awaiting delivery of his online orders. He judged the Melolius squeeze-extension ball a perfect pre-exercise/climb warm-up routine.

Meanwhile, COG made phone calls. We ordered another Grip Pro Trainer and chatted with Grip Pro’s Erich Esswein. Asked why we couldn’t find his product at REI, Dick’s or even our local fitness equipment retailer (dealing the premium Lifefitness Brand, among others), Esswein replied that “…big-box retailers, and even REI, have squeezed out small manufacturers…” with economies of scale. Better for the retailers, not so good for hand exercisers ready to hand.

Here’s our final tally for Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer ring and Grip Pro’s ring: Dead-heat for quality resistance and hand-finger position variety. Order online; order early.

The Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer offers a single resistance increment: 35 lbs.

Grip Pro’s 3-ring set delivers three resistance increments: green, 30 lbs; black, 40 lbs; red, 50 lbs. 

To which our broken-down rock-jock says: “I could stay at 35-pounds (resistance), but I may as well get stronger while I’m at it (using a 3-ring set).”

Grip Pro wins on versatility and progressive strength training.

In the spirit of gender neutrality, we’ll mention: the 30 lbs, green Grip Pro ring is perfect for small, fair hands.

Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer (COG 5-star rating)
$7.95 each/$19.95, three-pack / gripprotrainer.com
Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer (rings)
$6.95 / blackdiamondequipment.com
Gripmaster Hand Strengthener (springs)
$14.95 / gripmaster.com.au
Metolius’ Grip Saver Plus (squeeze ball + extension), (most innovative)
$17.95  metoliusclimbing.com

Friday, January 1, 2016

Going Places: Women Only.

When nature calls, your COG reporters step behind the closest tree, bush, boulder or serac … in town, absent a nearby WC, we’ll stroll between parked cars for a moment. We’re discrete, if not genteel.

Or female COG reporters, on the other hand, bridle at this behavior. When they call out, “boys are so lucky,” they’re not amused.  You can guess why.

“Standing up would be so much simpler,” our main COG gal opines. Often.

Now COG’s Patricia Crawford has taken biological “advantage” … ahem … head on. A gal with super leg-strength, Patricia’s able as any fellow taking a “natural break” outdoors; Or in Left Bank Parisian toilets with only footpads for support. But she’s been “PO”ed about this for years.

Enter GoGirl, sent along by the FemMed for COG testing.

From the GOGirl website:

“Simply put, GoGirl is the way to stand up to crowded, disgusting, distant or non-existent bathrooms. It’s a female urination device (sometimes called a FUD) that allows you to urinate while standing up. It’s neat. It’s discreet. It’s hygienic.”

“FUD” is of Euro origin COG reckons.

Patricia’s first response: “I’ve tried this kinda of thing years ago. The plastic was too hard, too small and you couldn’t aim it.”

Well, twenty-plus-years’ materials-science advancement changed our GOG gal’s mind.

“Amazing,” was Patricia’s first report. “I stood in the shower, assumed the upright stance and let go. No overflow, no problems hitting the target [i.e., GoGirl’s reservoir], no problems managing at all. Using this thing with hiking-up a skirt or dress: no brainer. I can’t wait to try it with jeans.”

Conscious of our own shoes under similar circumstances, the COG guys queried, “did you have to stand with your feet apart, particularly.”

“Nope. That tube’s really flexible; you can aim wherever you want.”

Which remark had the COG guys checking their hydrodynamics textbooks for liquid flow-rates in relation to the GOGirl’s “reservoir” volume. Without going into detail here, it would seem the GoGirl’s architecture projects fluid-volume more advantageously than male’s corresponding plumbing. We’re taking our female testers word on this: COG will not perform side-by-side testing.

Very flexible, germ-resistant, class VI medical grade silicone fabrication seems key here along with catenary-cut design of the reservoir’s downward-facing inner edge. The generous, ovoid-shaped upper opening should more than accommodate any anatomy, according to COG’s tester. Apparently, the “seal” is foolproof.

Now as a sporting sort (riding, climbing, running, diving, paddle-boarding, parasailing…), Patricia’s not given to floppy trousers. So she set about how to work the GoGirl with tight jeans.

Her words:

“I stood with my skinny jeans just below my hips: just enough room to get the ‘spout’ over the zipper opening. Feet [were] about the width of the toilet. I was afraid I’d ‘miss’ with my knees barely bent, but I had no trouble hitting the bowl. Standing up: no leakage whatsoever.”


“With a GoGirl, I’ll never squat again. Anywhere. Especially those creepy Left Bank restaurants.”

Now about GoGirl’s medical grade silicone, 12” extension tube. We think this is intended for use with bedridden or convalescent patients. Our COG gal mused, “I think this might work in a tent with a pee-bottle!”  COG’ll take her word on that.

GoGirl’s designed by a female oral surgeon and a medical device expert. Launched for consumers at the Minneapolis Women’s Expo on Jan. 16, 2009, GoGirl went big at retail, July 2013, Outdoor Retailer.

GoGirl by FemMed Inc.
 lists GoGirl’s price as $9.99 and $12.99 each; three-pack at $26.97 and $34.97. Pricing differentials might reflect initial offering and big retail release dates.

$13 / go-girl

Going Places (Original French title, Les Valseuses )
A novel by Bertrand Blier, Lippincott & Co., 1972.
Film directed by Bertrand Blier, 1974.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Scrubba, Washing Machine in a Bag UPDATE

This past summer your peripatetic COGgers enthused at length over the Scrubba, Australian-made Washing Machine in a Bag. Five-star rating: flat-out best performing, most useful product innovation we’ve seen in years. Anyone who wants clean clothing needs a Scrubba. For back up, if nothing else. Overnighting: trail, dorm, hostel, RV, hotel, boat, trailer, back-seat of your dad’s crew-cab? Ten minutes (max): clothes fresh as any automatic washing machine could make ‘em. (See COG Review: Scrubba, October 23, 2013)

But our COG team testers reserved judgment on the Scubba Bag for white fabrics. Only white fabrics. Early wash loads showed slight but noticeable color transfers from the Scrubba’s lime-green, “dry” bag, coated-nylon exterior to white tee-shirts. As we admitted, our COG tests ranged well beyond the manufacturer’s suggestions as to detergent concentration and wash-load soak times.

Further testing, however, put our initial concern to rest…without reservation!

After six-straight weeks of forced nightly washings, our COG Scrubba cleaned clothes like a possessed launderette AND left no traces of color transfer whatsoever!

What happened between our first tests and this summer’s coursing after Aeneas? (Our team spent some time sailing the Mediterranean.)

Our COG team traveled 3000+ surface miles by ship and car. Long hours and many miles afoot produced heavily “used” clothing and little time for coin-ops along the way. COG’s Scrubba bag rendered service every night: two sets of underwear/person, three times/week, each. Jeans and R1 sweaters took to the wash-bag every three days. Our reporters averred their ensembles remained fresher throughout their six-week, death-march tour than at home, using their regular washer/dryer.

Particularly as to color transfer: our team’s Scrubba bag started to “break-in.” After three weeks, the white graphics printed along the bag’s side began fading. Then the lime-green bag took on the look of a life-jacket (PFD) left a couple summers on the dock, in direct sunlight. By this time the bag’s graphics were mere shadows (of themselves); the Scubba bag’s color dyes (i.e., the Scrubba product’s actual color) had totally stabilized. COG’s team washed white cottons, polyesters and the full array of white performance fabrics with no color leaching at all. Problem solved!

That is, the Scrubba’s performance improved the longer and harder it was used!

And that white, silk, Armani blouse? Our COG gal rinsed hers repeatedly in the Scrubba with a mild, silk-oriented solution: whiter and cleaner than ever!

Now COG’s only problem with the Scrubba? Who gets to keep it in their travel kit?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Treading Lightly: Vibram comes up FiveFingers short.

Re: COG’s extensive discussion of minimalist footwear: Holy Caballo Blanco! October 15, 2012.

The Huffington Post reports, May 12, 2014:

“If you were one of the 70 million Americans who purchased a pair of those weird-looking “barefoot running” shoes, you may be entitled to some cash.
Vibram, the company behind FiveFingers shoes, just settled a $3.75 million class action lawsuit over false claims that its running shoe yields health benefits, Runner’s World reports.”

Our COG team member’s first response: “No one shoe or type of shoe can do it all for everyone. I still think there is some merit for the design–for some people.
There’re lots of happy barefoot runners out there.”

Our COG team’s second response: “We like the Vibram folks. We cherish our few moments with the late Caballo Blanco [hero of Christopher McDougall’s inspirational Born to Run, the bible of “natural running” advocates] and we still think, “Light is right.”

However, continues Huffington’s report:

“The thin-soled, flexible shoes, which cost about $100 a pair, are said to mimic the experience of running in bare feet, and thus “improve foot health” — an unsupported claim the company falsely advertised.

The lawsuit was first filed by Valerie Bezdek in March 2012. According to court filings, Bezdek claimed that Vibram deployed deceptive marketing and falsely advertised the following benefits from wearing its shoe, without basing its claims on any scientific research:

(1) Strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs 
(2) Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet, and toes
(3) Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
(4) Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
(5) Allow the foot and body to move naturally.

But experts say barefoot running — an experience the shoes are said to mimic — may actually have a negative impact on foot health.”

Language geeks will note: a couple, simple modifiers inserted within Vibram’s advertising copy would have saved the manufacturer nearly four million dollars and lots of bad press. Absent scientific research, copywriters might consider using the subjunctive mood in crafting verb-parts of written assertions. [Verb “helpers” like might and may signal the subjunctive mood…and give lawyers a foothold in fending-off class action lawsuits.]

So far as COG’s foot health is concerned, COG’s had no problems over the last two years. But our testers mostly use minimalist Vibram footwear (two testers, four-pair of Merrells, over two years) for travel and long, town-walking excursions. COG hasn’t run distances in these shoes. But, over eight, 5K road races during this period, COG has run among many elite racers using minimalist footwear. Our non-scientific, anecdotal observation: more than a few elite road-racers seem to do just fine with the thin-soled, Vibram running shoes. Many of these are devotees.

NEVERTHELESS: COG thinks the court’s word of warning is appropriate. Inspirational stories and “back to nature” affections must be subordinate to scientific scrutiny. COG carefully analyzes our own personal biomechanics before putting our thoughts into action. All consumers should apply (critical) skepticism to (advertising) words, as well.

Huffington concludes: “Class action members who purchased a pair of FiveFingers shoes after March 2009 can submit valid claim forms to receive a partial refund of up to $94 per pair, although Runner’s World says the likely payout per person will be between $20 and $50, based on similar settlements in the past.”

COG still thinks, “Light is right…” But, should we take the money anyway?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

G-Form iPad/Netbook/Laptop Extreme Sleeve Computer Cases

A year ago, COG reviewed the Pelican HardBack Laptop case. We thought the HardBack’s most bombproof available. See COG’s index.

Then last summer a Verizon tech rep stopped us along Outdoor Retailer’s Salt Palace’s far aisle. He handed us a Verizon smart phone streaming cool video. No protective case for this phone, we noticed.

“Drop the phone… no! Not on the carpet, on the bare concrete!” So from chest height, we drop the smart phone. After years of trying specifically not to do this, dropping a phone onto the floor is harder than you’d think.

The Verizon labeled smartphone bounces hard, edgewise off the bare floor. And the video’s still running.

Next, Verizon’s rep grabs the phone off the floor and tosses it into a fish tank…full of water. The phone’s twelve inches underwater now: And we can plainly see the phone still streaming video.

“So, how long have you been dropping and dunking this phone today,” we ask.

“This is my third trade show on this phone.”

COG should have seen that one coming. But we’re too stunned even to test phone performance. Check with Verizon: it’s too much for us and maybe too good to be true. Other reviews are “mixed.” Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE from Verizon.

But…not so fast!

The most extreme demo for hand-held, electronic-device impact protection we’ve ever heard about couldn’t be found on the main OR Show floor.

As usual, the COG team had to hunt up OR’s greatest gear at the new vendor’s pavilion. Outside. Around the corner.

This is the “back 40 (acres)” at OR: this outer circle of hell, a cyclical limbo where vendors new to OR await their turn for booth space on the main show floor: “Main Street,” the Salt Palace’s central selling-floor where we find retailer traffic most intense; retailer buying (“writing paper” in vendor parlance) fever pitched if not out-right frantic.

(A long digression here on “tent city”: So we fight our way out of the Salt Palace Convention Center, through downtown SLC traffic, across the street to the tent city sheltering the new vendors. We notice: why has the traditional, OR bouldering “wall” moved from the foot of OR’s Main Street, the Summer OR industry’s very heart, to the lifeless pavement outside the new vendor’s pavilion? Yes, we can see the bouldering area’s now cheek-by-jowl with the fly-casting tank and the SUP/Kayak tank. Clearly, management wants $ revenue from the casting tank, SUP tank and climbing wall floor space, formerly sited on the main floor…However, since “OR” first “demo-ed” itself as the SportsExpo, back hall of Vegas’ annual Ski Industries of America (SIA) show (early 1980s), the bouldering area’s “demos” have allowed gear makers and retail shop folks common ground. And, no! A demo day prior to the trade show doesn’t fill the same function. Authenticity is verified when SUP/Kayak tank, casting tank and bouldering wall physically “back” manufacturer sales folks on the sales floor: immediately adjacent to product display booths and “writing rooms” where those products actually “move” towards you, the end user. Shutting the “demo” gear/function out onto the sidewalk makes the trade show more profitable for show owners, no question. But the attendant reduced conviviality (let’s call that “fun factor”) on the trade show’s sales floor will function as a false economy: all parties will realize less $ over time. New OR Show owners…are you listening?)

Nevertheless, we’re wandering the new vendor’s pavilion wondering what could be cooler than the Pelican HardBack iPad Case. Maybe a smartphone too tough for a case?

We’re stopped dead in our tracks: some guys are dropping a 15-pound bowling ball four feet straight-down onto a concrete block. Between the bowling ball and the concrete block: the G-Form guys have placed an iPad streaming a movie. We couldn’t help but wince at the impact: hand-crushing blows.

But the iPad’s movie doesn’t skip a frame. The bowling ball just bounces “dead” against the iPad’s protective G-Form Extreme Sleeve.

What the…?

Bystanders wanted to stop the madness, but the bowling ball drops time and again. After each drop, the iPad streams faultlessly inside the G-Form Extreme Sleeve.

G-Form also makes pads for moto-cross clothing, extreme cyclists, roller derby. OK, maybe not roller derby. But these pads really deaden impact.

How much?

The Extreme Sleeve booth display continues on-screen, cinema-verite style. Outside; helipad; chopper waiting in the background. The iPad’s tips toward the camera, a movie streams (“Chinatown”) as the iPad slides into a G-Form case, then lands in the helicopter. The helicopter lifts away from the camera, straight-up, 500 feet.

You guessed it! The G-Form case falls free of the helicopter, 500 feet, back down to the tarmac. Without cutting away, the camera closes-in on the downed G-Form case. Hands reach from off-screen, pull the iPad from the sleeve: “Chinatown” is still streaming.

Or you could read G-Form’s tech blurb:

“Our athletic and consumer electronic products utilize RPT™ – Reactive Protection Technology. RPT™ is a combination of PORON®XRD™ material and proprietary G-Form technology that instantly stiffens upon impact and absorbs over 90% of the energy, offering state-of-the-art impact protection in a lightweight, flexible form.”

COG likes this better: 15-pound bowling balls and 500 foot free-falls. Your case or mine?
$70 / g-form.com

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Travel Umbrellas Without Compromise

British PM Neville Chamberlain travelled to Munich for a 1938 Agreement, appeasing fascist Europe before WWII. Contemporary observers noted, “I wish [Hitler] had to deal with someone stronger than Chamberlain. He brought his umbrella with him you know? Bloody little bank manager…” (The Pale Criminal, Philip Kerr, 1990.)

Well. This early umbrella review seems a little harsh….

One the other hand, umbrellas sheltered English explorers for decades as they suffered steamy rainforest approaches to Mount Everest. For these adventurers, beset by leaches, swollen streams and constant drizzle, umbrellas were an expedition essential. (Everest the Hard Way, Christian Bonington, 1976.)

Unless you’re dealing with fascists, COG recommends keeping an umbrella with your travelling kit at all times.

But which umbrella tests best? We’re rejecting the nine-dollar umbrellas that pop up with the first shower, mostly at drugstores. These units are invariably heavy and flimsy: OK, but only if you’ve ignored our testing.

COG first reviewed trekking umbrellas last summer. These specialized units excel for a wander up to base camp: wide canopy coverage, study construction and stouter weight displacement.

However, with this current review we’ve the tested the lightest-weight umbrellas we could find: umbrellas less sophisticated than your diplomatic mission might require and probably not “up” for high winds at altitude. Here we’re looking at “urban” cruisers so lightweight that you can’t leave them at home.

Check out the photo of COG tester Patricia Crawford enjoying a first look at the Renaissance architectural masterpiece, Il Duomo di Firenze (1436 AD). While less severe than the Khumbu icefall, Florence presents unique challenges. September rains overmatch Gore-Tex rain suits in seconds, driving thronging tourists inside. Notice the snapshot’s few, high-season background figures bent-over against the downpour? Their shell-jacket hoods permit zero visibility beyond rain-soaked shoes. Patricia’s GoLite Half Dome Umbrella frames unobstructed views of the Duomo’s unique, early Gothic, white marble facade.

Featuring a 41-inch canopy-arc, 6-ounce weight and super-compact size (just larger than a men’s wallet), GoLite’s Half Dome is easily the never-leave-it-at-home winner for travel umbrellas. Such convenience requires user effort, however. The umbrella must be deployed and closed by-hand: an occasionally less than graceful maneuver. Also, the 6-ounce, lightweight unit employs a skeletal framework that’s a bit unstable in brisk wind. Patricia turned her GoLite inside-out a time or two with no ill-effect: she reversed the process by facing the umbrella’s crown back into the wind. But it’s best for GoLite’s lightweight wonder to deploy crown-forward, toward the wind, with a firm grip high-up on the handle/stem. $30.00, www.goLite.com. See a comparable, if slightly heavier, Trekking Umbrella from Sea-to-Summit (8-ounces), $40.00, www.seatosummit.com (COG review, August 15, 2013).

At the other end of our review’s strength-to-weight scale is REI’s vented, Travel Umbrella: 43-inch canopy-arc, sixteen-ounces (1lb.), push-button open/close and, folded, about the size of a compact police baton. Besides its self-defense capability, REI’s umbrella features a vented, wind-tunnel-tested canopy: the vented, double-covering allows trapped wind (when gusts force you into a horizontal, Marry Poppins configuration) to pass through the inverted canopy-arc without turning the umbrella inside-out.

Your COG testers found the REI’s umbrella’s vent and study framework resisted even the eponymous “typhoonal flow,” a weather pattern unique along Australia’s northeast coast. Less euphemistically, Americans would call this sort of weather an hurricane’s outer edge: in this part of Australia, wind-driven rain courses over roof-tops in forty-foot long, horizontal “mare’s tails” spray. Our REI umbrellas didn’t keep your COG testers dry downunder, of course, but the umbrellas fought the local Coral Sea typhoon winds to a stand-still. If you’re looking for the toughest, compact umbrella we’ve ever used, REI vented Travel Umbrella, $37.50, www.rei.com.

COG’s favorite umbrella tested to date: Totes’ new Lite N’ Go Travel Umbrella. The Lite N’ Go has two major defects. 1) It’s got a “gimmicky” flashlight built into the handle; 2) You can’t buy the Lite N’ Go until spring. Of the pair, #2’s most serious. Outside of that, Totes’ travel umbrella tests best for our COG reviewers stationed in Western Europe, Northeastern Australia and, most exotically, Utah.

Here’s the side-by-side comparison so far: our COG guy appreciates most that he can’t find his tiny GoLite umbrella until he needs it because it’s so small (it hides in his back pocket). Our COG gal likes her REI umbrella because no matter how hard the wind blows, she can make like Mary Poppins with no worries of canopy collapse. But the Totes umbrella does a great job mediating the trade-offs. First, weight: at eleven-ounces (11 0z.), the Totes Lite N’ Go is dead-center between REI’s bomb-proof wind shedder and GoLite’s barely-there whisper. Second, strength: the Totes’ unit is tested to the same wind tunnel standard as REI’s but does without the wind-vent. COG thinks this results from Totes’ better, structurally integrated framework: frame cross-sections are closed hexagons and jointed members appear double-butted. Or something. Weight-wise: the Lite N’ Go might discourage a small dog but is too lightweight for self-defense. 12” x 1½“ closed-size doesn’t fit in a back pants pocket, but Totes unit’s noticeably lighter in the day pack than REI’s. Also, the Lite N’ Go canopy opens and closes with a push button like REI’s. Totes Lite N’ Go Travel Umbrella, $49, maybe available spring 2014.  www.totes.com,

Now about that flashlight built-in to the Lite N’ Go umbrella handle? First, distinguishing the open/close button from the flashlight switch requires close attention. If you accidently switch-on the flashlight during daytime rambles, the light’s hard to notice since the handle/flashlight points down. By the time daylight fades, you’ll likely find your flashlight “dead.” Guard against accidental discharge by taping a spare battery (it’s dime-sized) to the umbrella handle. Secondly, the flashlight-in-the-handle concept seems weird in our outdoor (lightweight-is-right vs. function) gear-head world. Our COG guys have multiple flashlights stashed away: dashboard, sun visor, glove box, daypack (x2), shoulder bag, carry-on, bedside drawer, bathroom…so the fellows think the umbrella’s built-in flashlight’s over the top. But the COG gals think the flashlight-in-a-handle’s a neat idea…if you routinely have six flashlights at hand, how can one more hurt? Especially in the rain, at night, pointed (by default) at your footpath? Thirdly, an extra $7.00 at retail.

Auto open/close umbrellas (like REI’s and Totes’) require a two-handed maneuver to force the unit into its fully compressed position. This means wet hands every time you stow your umbrella. Guys! Don’t expect your mates to do this digit-numbing task themselves. If you find a gal so inclined, would you let COG’s HR department know?

A note about travel slipcovers for travel umbrellas. As you can see with our product photos, both the REI and Totes umbrellas sport sleek, carabineer-carrying slipcovers. GoLite does the same, but without the carabineer. Besides looking cool, the carabineers secure umbrellas while you’re slumming around town or the backcountry in the sunshine. But it’s Murphy’s Law that, as soon as the clouds open, your umbrella won’t be where you left it: handy to have your umbrella secured by its carabineer. However, those umbrella slipcovers, empty and loose in a daypack, are certain never to be seen again. So, hang on to that little ‘biner: hook the umbrella handle.  But let those slipcovers find their own special place in the universe; you won’t miss the extra weight while you’re dodging liquid sunshine.