Sciences of travel

Adventure travel blog


Garmin Garmin Garmin Chameleon

Technology keeps changing and Garmin is no different. It’s extraordinary how advanced personal GPS units have become over the past five years. In 2006 I picked up one of Garmin’s Edge 305 units to use here in Europe. At the time I was really impressed with its functionality. It didn’t have all the memory necessary to have a true map of where I was biking, yet it was able to trace all of my routes, pinpoint markers as well as calculate altitude, speed and all the other fundamentals by calibrating geographic location. The screen was pretty “primitive,” but in all respect it was a great starting point for many of today’s Garmin models, notably the Edge 705. This unit is a must for any long-distance bicycle adventurer. The 705′s joystick makes it a handy tool to toggle through the screens (which are color) and the classic buttons make it easy to activate the programs. The simultaneous displays are also customizable and the screen itself is huge compared to the 305. The added benefit is that it records your routes as its younger brother does, and it will tell you how to get to where you’re going if you download the regional maps to the unit. It will then memorize your routes and favorite locations just as your car Garmin will. It’s an exceptional piece of equipment for anyone interested in testing out their adventurous spirit who doesn’t have a map (although a map is a handy thing to have). If you’d like more on the reviews of the 705 check out the lads at They’ve done an excellent job explaining the 705′s assets and what Garmin needs to do to improve the next model (I would also add a feature to upload all of your data to the web by remote connection – maybe we won’t be waiting too long since Garmin has recently come out with the Nuvifone. Only time will tell).

After working as a bicycle tour guide for a decade and a half, I’m surprised so many of these niche tour operators are still using paper directions. Sure, from a cyclist’s point of view there’s a bit more security in having a hard-copy of directions in your hand, but I wonder how green the process is. I can imagine the amount of paper and toner wasted on each cyclist for each departure. There aren’t many companies in the industry making the switch from paper to portable technology. However Pomegranate Journeys is implementing the Garmin units on every bicycle for every tour. That’s a bold move considering most people are accustomed to thumbing through maps and folding over directions while pedaling along the itinerary. It’s only a matter of time before people start operating the units and follow the itinerary displayed on them instead of reading and riding (we’ve all just about replaced our land lines with mobile phones and our computers with smart phones right?). Granted, a map is still a nice thing to have, but when you’re on an organized tour with ten other cyclists, two guides and a van, you can do without the map and focus on the road. This initiative also gives Garmin a great opportunity to test multiple units simultaneously, affording them another huge technological change in next year’s model. What color will it be?

Salomon XWing Fury All-Mountain Skis

I’ve read a few reviews on last year’s Salomon Fury All-Mountain skis and I think there should be some correction. Although I agree with the reviews that the ski lacks versatility and is tough in rounding out the turns, I still feel that the ski is very well suited for general all-mountain skiing. I had used the Fury and the Tornado over the course of a full season last year while I was out in Livigno, Italy and there is an obvious difference in side cut between the two which translates into a tighter turning radius for the Tornado. In fact, the Tornado on piste was heavenly: nice short turns and a breeze to maneuver on any level piste and in the bumps as well.  With the Fury’s 16.6 radius, I was considering getting a longer ski (for powder and off piste), but what I did was go with a slightly smaller ski to keep the handling on piste within range. Since I was doing a lot of work both on and off, I honestly needed a ski that could do, well, everything. It was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did the ski float in powder and cut through crud, but the edges on the Fury are razor-sharp and over some nasty ice patches the ski danced like Jeremy Abbott. True, you have to convince the ski to initiate and round-out the turns, but I think its great for the legs: there’s no harm in putting a little work into your skiing right? Besides, it’ll get you ready for cycling season….

The Full woodcore makes for great absorption and there is literally no flap. I’d give it a higher recommendation than some of the other reviews out there. Especially when you’re looking to ski directly off-piste from the run (at the same speed) it is the ski to have. I’m curious to see what Salomon has come up with this year in its Fury line. Seems the radius is a little shorter to allow for cleaner short turns with little skidding. But I have yet to get a pair of the new skis: I’ll keep mine until I’ve worn the edges down to the core.

First Ascent Point Success Jacket & Mountain Guide Jacket

First Ascent is the most recent branch of the Eddie Bauer line of apparel. In fact, I have never been an Eddie Bauer shopper, but when I was in Canada a few months ago, a good friend of mine suggested checking out the store primarily because of the First Ascent mountain-line outdoor apparel. “Eddie Bauer makes mountain gear?” I asked. I knew they made down jackets and sweaters to wear as you sit by the fire, but I didn’t think they made material suitable for high-altitude activities.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

It seems that this entire line of jackets, fleece, socks, – you name it – is tested by mountain guides involved in mountaineering, ice-climbing, hiking at high, high altitude. In fact, Eddie Bauer was the premier high-altitude outfitter in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and they were there in the 1953 expedition to K2. Since their lives depend on the stuff working, I though it’d have to be legitimate. I’ve so far tested the First Ascent Point Success Jacket and the Mountain Guide Jacket and I am pleasantly surprised (read “amazed”) by the results. And by the way: I do not work for First Ascent or Eddie Bauer, but I do work where its cold and nasty.

Mountain Guide Jacket

AscentJacketnFleece2-300x270Pros: The jacket is a pretty amazing feat of engineering and design: not only is it lined on the inside by a type of thin fleece, but also the outside is completely water and windproof. By mixing just the right quantities of spandex, nylon and polyester. The jacket is unbelievably light and doesn’t get in the way of moving arms or equipment. It is unlike any jacket I’ve seen on the market – and that’s a blessing. The whole system is breathable: there is enough lining on the inside to keep you warm (depending on what temperatures you’re working in) without creating a greenhouse in your jacket. The pockets are smartly lined with a mesh-nylon fabric also helping to wick-away moisture. The pockets themselves are few and deep – and that’s a good thing: two large external pockets (for goggles, hats, gloves – I was able to get all of that into one pocket) and two breast pockets: one internal (for wallet and documents) and one external (iPod friendly!).

Cons: The integrated hood is a nice touch. But its not easy to tighten down the sides when the wind blows in your face, blowing back the hood. So, the trick is to tighten it down before you see trouble coming. In any case it’s a small price to pay for an extraordinary shell.

Success Jacket:

Pros: The most intriguing aspect of this “fleece” is that – well, it not a “fleece.” Its not bulky and bunchy and it doesn’t prohibit your movements. Again First Ascent has perfectly married nylon and spandex to give the jacket a fitted-feel in the back and at the hips. I believe this is their secret to keeping the body warmer (much warmer than in my other fleece jackets) and the Polartec material keeps all wind from getting in. As with the Mountain Guide Jacket, the Success Jacket wicks away the moisture from your body so you aren’t soaking wet at the end of the day. In fact, while my friends were trying to “air-out” by taking their jackets off, I hardly even realized I had mine on: I was not over-heated or uncomfortable. I cannot emphasize enough how having fitted equipment makes the experience in the mountains all the more enjoyable. I feel most manufacturers cater to the “large and loose” body type which is not practical for winter activities.

Cons: The only thing I’d like to see is maybe an integrated zipper between the Mountain Guide Jacket and the Success Jacket. This way they could be worn as a full unit without having to take one off and then the other (or to facilitate putting them both on at the same time). Apart from this, I’d say First Ascent has made just what their jacket is: a success.

I’m very happy Eddie Bauer has decided to reinvent expedition clothing, and at the same time retain the image of themselves that was theirs in the middle of the last century. I’ll be off doing some Randonée skiing in the next few months, and I’ll be testing the Rainier Storm Shell Pants. If they’re anything like the jackets, they’re bound to be a success as well.

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