Tuesday, 31 January 2012

DMM's new products for 2012 - part 1

Fresh from its 30th anniversary celebrations in 2011, DMM enters 2012 combining its technical engineering capabilities with an expansive knowledge of all things climbing to showcase an
awesome collection of new products.
They have a new range of ice axes, new winter protection, a modern leash system, colour coded screwgate carabiner packs, and a whole new range of camming devices. As always, fulfilling the requirements of climbers throughout the world has been DMM's primary motivation. 

The new DMM axe range is the result of 30 years of technical knowledge combined with valuable feedback from a broad range of climbers. The underlying requirement was to make a set of tools that offer exceptional performance and are built to withstand the rigours of modern climbing by being ‘bombproof’ - sturdy, strong and dependable.
They have engineered the light, balanced, and supremely strong ‘T Rated Integrity Construction’ method using full strength, T Rated components throughout, double riveting and high quality materials. We have encased the hot-forged handles with a highly insulated, durable, grippy, fully integrated moulding.
The new designs see the classic best-sellers being brought into the present with full strength ergonomic handles, fresh colourways throughout and handrests on the Fly. In addition they have introduced 2 new axes at the top end: The Apex and The Switch - modern tools for modern climbing. The range is an ‘all-mountain’ offering, covering everything from mountain walking and glacier work to Alpinism and modern test pieces. The initial impressions being that they are very similar to Petzl's Nomic and Quark but without getting my hands on them I can't say for sure. They do however look amazing and very smart.

In order to provide more racking options in our active protection range they have combined some of the favourite features from their two existing cams: the tried and trusted 13.75°, single axle head unit of the 4CU, with the justifiably popular stem assembly of the Dragon with its patented thumb press and extendable sling design. The result is a lightweight, versatile, and functional device that caters for climbers who prefer single stem ergonomics, for those who are used to our traditional sizing system, and for those who want to double up their cam racks to offer even more placement options.
The range covers placements from 13mm to 100mm in nine colour coded sizes. The colours follow the same sequence as the 4CU, but we’ve reversed the cam lobe colouring to the opposite to the Dragon for easily identification.With the Demon in the DMM range, we offer the worlds premium range of protection, both passive and active, for all climbers and all climbs.

Keep looking for the next parts of this series where I will detail each item.

Friday, 27 January 2012

New DMM ice axes - teaser video

Apex and Switch axes from DMM
Released today was a teaser video from DMM showing glimpses of their new range of ice axes that are due to be released on the 29th at ISPO in Munich.

The video confirms remakes of the DMM fly, raptor, and cirque, and 2 new names to the DMM axes range; the Apex and the Switch. More to come over the next few days but for now just a short video! Stay tuned for more as it appears!

Video and more information here: http://dmmclimbing.com/news/2012/01/showing-at-ispo-munich-2012/

Friday, 20 January 2012

Electronic Mountain Leader - 3rd birthday today!

3 years, 10's of 1000's of views, and over 52,000 words, I'm still here! Whilst I didn't publish my first article until August 2009, I published a series of smaller articles which I deleted, my first ever post on the blog was 20th January 2009 making today the 3rd birthday of Electronic Mountain Leader! These days there is a website, a blog and (launched today) the new DofE blog, not to mention a Copyright on the name, tonnes of web space, and not forgetting a new contributor in Simon.

Thank you to everyone who's visited Electronic Mountain Leader over the last 3 years, and I promise I will continue writing articles as often as I can, once again anyone who wants to contact me with feedback, comments or questions please feel free! Many thanks also to the companies who have supported me by providing products to test!

New Duke of Edinburgh's Award blog and mobile app

You may or may not have noticed the  "DofE" tab that has been sat on the pages bar for the last couple of weeks, it had originally been my plan to integrate what I want to write about DofE on this blog, however it rapidly became clear that a separate blog was needed and so here we are click

There have been 4 major influences in my life which have lead me to become the man I am today; my mum,dad and family, DofE, Air Cadets and my education, all of which have been important to me (family more so than any other). DofE has always been something I have been passionate about, and I been involved in it since the age of 14 - both as a participant and as a leader, the whole idea of the DofE blog is to bring my passion for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award to people who might need some help, the new blog will feature DofE specific articles on all aspects of the expedition section of DofE including kit reviews, video guides and much more. The aim being to try and spread the DofE resources I have spent many hours creating to people who need them! It's still under construction so definitely watch this space and stay tuned!

Scan me (Android only)
I also knocked up a quick Android mobile app using an online app maker, I do have a full app in the works that will hopefully feature a simple GPS feature, as well as articles and exclusive content. The app available through the barcode to the right is just a simple strip down version of the website, the content will update when connected to WiFi or Mobile internet, it's not graphics heavy so it's easy to view the latest posts! It also has Google maps with basic GPS functionality. Any feedback welcome!

Petzl NAO - the future of head torches?

© Petzl
RRP: £135

Petzl's latest headtorch has been announced; the Petzl NAO will be available from July 2012....but what is it?

Petzl's new NAO headtorch features a heads-up sensor at the front that adapts the light output of the headtorch according to what is required. For example scanning the horizon will result in the headtorch adapting to maximum output and maximum concentration, whilst looking at a map will cause the torch to reduce output and increase beam width. From Petzl's website:

"REACTIVE LIGHTING technology is a revolution in hands-free lighting. A built-in light sensor adapts the headlamp's beam pattern and light output instantly and automatically to suit the user's needs. This means the user gets an ideal amount of light with minimal manual adjustment required. This self-adjusting lighting mode also results in longer burn times, due to more efficient use of the rechargeable battery"

The diagram to the left from the Petzl site illustrates how the torch functions. The light sensor on the torch detects what light level is required, close range wide beams where needed and long range concentrated beams where needed. The result? Minimum adjustment needed, and maximum battery life. The torch weighs a respectable 187g - not the lightest but definitely a good power/weight ratio. The Nao also picks up where the Petzl Core left off - with USB charging (2300mAh Lithium Ion battery), however this can be supplemented with AAA batteries if required. The official Petzl press release is below:

The Petzl NAO is a new-generation head torch that represents a genuine step forward in hands-free lighting.
The NAO uses Petzl's innovative Reactive Lighting technology, providing light that automatically adapts to your environment. A sensor constantly monitors reflected light from your direction of vision and adapts the head torch output accordingly. This means there is no need to manually adjust brightness when switching between close or distant objects. The dual benefit is automatic optimisation of battery output, giving extended burn times. The Petzl Nao gives you the right light when you need it – automatically.
One of the big problems with today's head torches is the relationship between high-performance LED power consumption and battery capacity. The choices are limited; either unregulated light, giving rapidly diminishing light output, or regulated output where maximum power is only available for relatively short periods.
Petzl's Reactive Lighting technology allows your battery to optimise its output, only providing the power you need for the environment you are operating in. The result is that battery life can last at least three times longer than it would do under constant full power*.
The Petzl Nao features a front headset with twin LEDS and sensor, linked to the rear-mounted battery by the new Zephyr cord-lock headband. The battery is a 2300 mAh lithium-ion unit, rechargeable via an integrated USB plug. There is a belt kit version for the battery, plus a detachable top strap for additional stability when running.
Lighting is controlled via a large rotating on/off switch, which can be locked in the 'off' position. The switch allows the user to choose between Reactive Lighting or Static modes, with high/low output options in each. Static lighting gives a fixed output (non-reactive).
In Reactive Lighting mode the headset uses a single high-output LED in a wide-angled beam. In Static mode the headset uses both the wide-angled beam and a second high-output LED configured for a focused beam. Maximum power output is 355 lumens. Performance profiles can be customised via Petzl's OS 2.0 on your computer.
For 'emergency use', the battery pack will accept 2 x conventional AAA batteries. UK RSP will be £135.00.
*Required output will of course depend on ambient light and the pattern of your usage, ie how much you switch between near/far objects.
© Petzl
So what do I think? I think this looks really cool, Petzl have produced a new unique system that really does have potential for being a useful addition to a climbers arsenal. A torch that can adapt to reduce output when looking close to the crag placing gear, then increase output as you look up the route, all without fiddling around with dials and buttons, is a genuinely useful idea! However Petzl have included an override function for those people who prefer to be more in control! The Petzl OS 2.0 software can be used to fine tune the unit making it even more efficient, this is another nice little feature included by Petzl. Lets hope that it lives up to expectations! But thumbs up to Petzl for a unique and innovate idea! 

Petzl also released a short video accompanying the press release, (see below) enjoy!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Memory Map Adventurer 2800 - great unit at a great price

GPS technology has rapidly increased over the last 2 years, with the introduction of more and more phones that feature GPS, the outdoor industry has seen massive strides taken in the outdoor GPS handset category. Memory Map have always been at the forefront of electronic mapping, with their software arguably being the most popular and most advanced out there. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that they have ventured into the GPS handset market and produced their own range of handsets that not only integrate with existing maps but also come pre-loaded with 1:50k maps. In this category it is certainly up against some tough competition with units like the Garmin eTrex 30, Dakota and Montana, Satmap Active 10, and other high end sets. So how does the Adventurer 2800 compare?

First things first, straight out of the box this unit feels great. It's solid feeling - the kind of unit you want to take out into the mountains with you. It's also very light (135g with battery), so the unit isn't a huge amount of extra weight to carry. Switching the unit on reveals the vibrant high resolution screen. It displays the maps with beautiful clarity, if you look at other units available it's easy to see why the Adventurer really dwarfs the competition. Below are the stats compared to a couple of other units:

Adventurer: 96,000 pixels, (400 x 240)
Garmin Dakota: 38,400 pixels (240 x 160)
Satmap Active 10: 76,800 (320 x 240)

Looking at the above you can clearly the see the adventurer boasts a far superior screen, and it really does show when looking at maps especially zoomed in. So far so good!
Memory Map software is great for route tracking,
and as a teaching aid.

Onto the technical side of things, the adventurer comes with a couple of options for maps, you can buy the unit with either 1:50k national parks or 1:50k entire UK (for a small price difference). In addition to this if you own memory map and have your own maps you can add them on as well on the MicroSD (various sizes available) expansion card. For me this meant I could have 1:25k detail as well, which is a real bonus. The maps are really clear and detailed and show all the data on a 1:25k map not just vector mapping details that are found on some mapping systems. The GPS antennae is very powerful, gaining a fix quickly and efficiently. It maintains this fix even in thickly wooded areas, and inside. I compared the speed of the fix against my Garmin eTrex 10, and the eTrex was faster, however not by much, and considering the Adventurer is able to acquire the fix and place your position on a 1:25k map, it's worth waiting the extra minute!

The touchscreen is easy to use, but does require a bit more effort if wearing gloves, this could be an issue in colder conditions, however you can buy "e-tip" gloves (various shops and brands that mean operation even with gloves on is easy.

Overall I love this unit, it's great value, it's easy to use, its powerful and quick to get a fix, and worth the money bigtime especially if you have Memory Map already and want to use existing map

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Magellan eXplorist - neat little GPS handset

After the OutDoor show 2011 I was keen to get one of these to test. Thanks to my friends at the Outdoors Company I was able to get one of these for a few weeks to test.

The version I got was the GC (geocache) version, however I am going to ignore the geocaching functionality of this unit as it is not something that interests me in a GPS, but I will add that if you are into geocaching (I'm not) there are a lot of features on this GPS that you will enjoy!

Right so the unit; it's well built, and substantial feeling when you hold it. The loop on the bottom I mentioned in my first impression review below, but it is a very useful feature, and I immediately added a cord lanyard onto it to make sure I didn't lose it. But I really like the feel of the unit.

When you switch it on you are met by a nice looking menu screen that, (in contrast to the etrex 10) is in full colour. The unit is easy to understand, I like to gauge ease of use based on what I can pick up instantly without having to consult the manual, and in this case I was able to pick up everything I wanted from the set without needing the manual at all.

The unit acquired a fix quickly, and maintained this fix both in dense wooded areas and also inside buildings which is unusual for a GPS.

However when looking at this unit I had to compare it to the eTrex 10 that I was testing at the same time. The eTrex 10 uses both GLONASS and GPS - something that the Magellan does not do (the SiRFstarIII antenna in the GC isn't able to receive GLONASS, Magellan's GNSS receiver is their only current antennae that does this). Because of this the eTrex is quicker to get a fix, and maintains the fix to a higher accuracy for longer than the Magellan. Aside from this both units function in the same way, accept that the Magellan has a colour screen and the eTrex is monochrome.

To get back to the Magellan, I like it, it's a nice GPS unit and definitely worth considering if you are looking for a basic GPS that doesn't have OS mapping. The eTrex 10 is also worth looking at, but the Magellan has a few features including the geocaching functionality for which it was designed that might make it better than the eTrex 10.

Jetboil Flash - update of a great piece of kit

Jetboil have had a lot of success with their Jetboil stoves, and now with several on the market and selling well they are looking for ways to improve designs, and lower the weight. The jetboil flash does 50% of that! 

First off in terms of weight it's no different to the original Jetboil PCS (now called Jetboil Classic). It's exactly the same weight, with exactly the same power output, and boil time. For those of you who aren't familiar with Jetboil, the concept of the system is a small, lightweight, efficient stove unit. It can boil water very efficiently and quickly (under 2 minutes). The stove unit attaches to the cup (called the companion mug), and makes a very stable unit. A number of accessories are available for the system including a hanging kit (which isn't brilliant), a coffee press, and a stabiliser set (included with the Jetboil Flash). The stabiliser consists of a small tripod type affair that attaches to the bottom of the gas canister to stop the stove from over balancing, the set also includes a metal attachment for the top of the stove that turns the Jetboil into a more traditional stove that can have a pan or mess tin on instead of the companion mug. 
Jetboil Flash (left) Vs PCS (right)

After you finish cooking you can pack everything away inside the companion mug which saves space, and means you aren't scrambling around for everything when you want to make a brew! 

So whats new with the Flash? The Flash has a couple of new features which I feel are a real improvement on the original PCS. The first change is the gas regulator valve on the side. On the PCS this was a small knob that could be really fiddly, especially in gloves. This has been changed to larger wire frame, glove friendly adjuster - a significant improvement on the original. The second (albiet minor) change is the lid and bottom cover - these have been adjusted to an opaque plastic, this is a useful change as you can look into the stove and see how you cooking is progressing. The third change is a good one - the igniter on the previous unit was quite far away from the burner, this meant that in wind you often had to result to the backup lighter to get it working, on the Flash the piezo igniter is closer to the burner which seems to provide a much more consistent ignition! The final change is the sleeve of the unit. The sleeve now features a heat indicator that turns yellow when the contents of the stove are hot, in practice this means you can keep the lid on the stove until the sleeve turns yellow, removing the lid then will reveal the boiling water, and because you had the lid on the whole time the efficiency is maximised. 
Jetboil Flash with stabiliser

Overall I'm happy with the Flash and glad I got one when my PCS needed replacing, don't go out and buy one if you have a working PCS, as the new features are that significant, but if you want a jetboil, definitely get this one over the Jetboil Classic! 

Jetboil really is one of my favorite pieces of kit, it's lightweight, it's efficient, and it does the job I want it to do quickly, no messing around! The flash is an improvement on the original and comes with the stabiliser (previously £15 with the PCS) so that's an extra bonus! Worth shopping around for too it can be found at prices between £60-£112 so a big difference between retailers! 

Friday, 6 January 2012

Blacks: How a phoenix could rise from the ashes?

"Now is the winter of our discount tent" UKC 2012

I have made no secret of the fact that I have never been that impressed with Blacks, why? My main gripe is that the choice of brands present in the store is reflective of fashion rather than function. In addition the staff are varied; some are excellent, and really know their subject, and some are woeful and couldn’t tell the difference between their arse and their elbow never mind a softshell and a hardshell.

It is therefore not entirely surprising that Blacks have ended up at deaths door, bargaining for a last minute reprieve. If we take Stoke on Trent as an example; Blacks in Stoke is middle of the park as far as I’m concerned. Some of the staff there are great and know their stuff, but the brands sold there are what I would consider ‘form over function’. But non the less Blacks in Stoke has had somewhat of a monopoly in recent years, with the minor outdoor shops (Mountain Fever and Hi Peak leisure) closing down, one through lack of business, one through the owner emigrating. However a recent GoOutdoors store opening, meant that Blacks was always going to struggle, introduction of a price promise, and various offers failed to achieve the required sales (nationwide also) and Blacks finds itself in administration. But why?

Price matching is great....if you sell things that people want to match. The fact is that when the high street fashion trend of having outdoor jackets went away, Blacks continued to stock items that qualified as neither fashionable (by current trends) or functional (by outdoor standards). It would be unfair of course to accuse Blacks of stocking brands that nobody liked. The range of rucksacks was always quite good, featuring top brands like Osprey, Deuter and Lowe Alpine. However I always found that the choice of brands for technical garments was found wanting. North Face and Berghaus were the 2 main options available. In my opinion they are both brands that suffered from a drop in popularity during the “outdoor fashion boom”; by this I mean that as a community we outdoorsy types are quite protective of our image, it’s our thing, and when it becomes fashionable to plod around town in Berghaus and North Face, we don’t want it. Partly because we want to be different, and partly because these brands had a noticeable refocus in purpose from function to fashion, meaning a drop in the quality of the kit; something that they are both only now recovering from. Fact is, nobody wants to go wearing the same kit on the hill, as a 15 year old chav stood smoking by the corner of the local shop, with their Burberry scarf up over their face. Even though this trend has long since passed, there is still a perception that this is the case, and that North Face and Berghaus (to a lesser extent) are too high street.
This can’t be put down to a simple case of the outdoor retailers having a hard time in general, Cotswolds, GoOutdoors even to some extents the smaller and less well known Mountain Warehouse all seem to be doing well.

Bidding is ongoing for a takeover of blacks in a pre-pack deal after going into administration this morning (6th Jan). So when a new owner emerges how will they get Blacks back on it’s feet? Here’s what I think:

1)   Get Blacks back to selling the TOP outdoor brands, I don’t want to walk into Blacks and have North Face thrust in my face from every angle, by all means sell North Face and Berghaus kit, but give you consumers a range of choice. Get Mountain Equipment, Mammut, Rab, and other top outdoor brands in there, and Blacks will once again begin to appeal to the outdoor enthusiasts. As a consumer I want a choice of the best, if you stock only a couple of brands in a given category, I will go elsewhere.

2)   Climbing hardware, Blacks had a brief flirt with climbing gear last year and did a crap job of it, why? Because they stocked only CAMP gear, and at shockingly high prices, with staff who didn’t have a clue.  They were uncompetitive, and the staff knowing nothing about the kit is unforgiveable, If they were to stock DMM, Wild Country, Black Diamond and other top notch hardware brands, and get the staff some training on how to use them, the store would appeal to climbers and mountaineers, as well as walkers and hikers.

3)   Staff training, get the staff trained on their product. If I ask a sales assistant about a jacket, I want to know their opinion, their thoughts based on their experiences, I’m not interested in hearing a pre learned speech about how gortex work – I know already, I want an enthusiasts opinion of the kit.

4)   Ditch the surfware, Animal, O’Neil etc, let Republic and other high street shops stock that kind of stuff, fact is, it’s not in fashion, and no outdoorsy types want it, it’s just dead weight.

5)   Loyalty scheme, get a loyalty scheme, similar to GoOutdoors card perhaps, or even Cotswolds Explore More card. Make Blacks feel like an outdoor shop, get some good offers, deals, and rewards for shopping there.

Start stocking better gear, with more knowledgeable staff, and the fact is people will flock to Blacks. It’s the most well known and widespread brand in the UK for outdoor kit, it’s about time it started acting like it.

A phoenix from the ashes.....we can only hope.