As is our tradition following Outdoor Retailer trade shows, SNEWS continues our look at who is doing what in the world of headlamps and electronics. Please realize that this is not a "we're writing about everyone just because you were there" kind of affair. On the contrary, we're offering only highlights that grabbed our editors' attention as we perused the Summer Market show floor:
You'll pardon us the pun when we say that LED headlamps were a bright spot during the show. The energy-sipping Light Emitting Diode bulbs are paralleling the Moore axiom about computer memory (twice the power and half the price every 18 months) albeit at a much faster rate -- two shows a year is barely enough to highlight what's new. Headlamp companies are also paralleling the tech industry in another way -- they'll soon run out of adjectives to describe the increasing power of their LED beams.
Black Diamond -- A case in point: Black Diamond, which only entered the headlamp market a few years ago, was stopping a lot of floor traffic with the new Xenix lamp, the first to pair a focused "hyperbright" LED with two conventional LED bulbs ($44.50). The Xenix's columnar-focused LED, which throws a beam 30 meters, will run about 12 hours full bore or 140 hours on the two LEDs -- an order of magnitude improvement over the bad old days when batteries would generally only last one long weekend trip before dimming. We can expect more innovation from BD, which has had so much success in its lighting line, it's spinning lights off as a separate division -- as soon as CEO Peter Metcalf can find a managing director he's comfortable with.
Petzl -- Not to be outdone, northern Utah competitor Petzl was turning heads with the stylishly designed, and very functional, MYO series. Combining a dual Xenon halogen bulb with either three or five LEDs, the MYOS ($45-$69) have won praise for their "functional art" design, which features the familiar rotating bezel on/off switch, which also accesses a variety of lighting modes. The MYOs throw a huge beam -- up to 100 meters, a big plus. Another feature worth noting: When the batteries are almost run out, the headlamp switches to reserve power mode, stretching the remaining juice long enough to hunt for more batteries.
Princeton Tec -- Around the corner, Princeton Tec, long the biggest player by volume, had buyers filling order tickets for the new Yukon HL and the Matrix2 -- both utilizing 1-watt LED's that the company claims "rival the light output of a typical incandescent halogen or xenon bulb." In addition to the 1-watt LED, the Yukon HL adds 3 high-output, 5-millimeter LEDs configured in Princeton Tec's recognizable triangular design for a variety of lighting options. Both headlamps packs their features in a waterproof housing -- long a trademark plus of all Princeton Tec designs.
Boldt -- However, the real buzz was coming from a new player in the headlamp sandbox -- Boldt. The Arcata, Calif., company, which produces hydration lines as well as lighting, was turning heads with its techno-looking silver and blue bulbous headlamps that are reminiscent of the Seeker attack robots from the Matrix movies. The line of four headlamps is priced to move. The entry-level task.LITE is $20, and the top-end hi.LITE (with one Xenon, two LED spots, two LED floodlights as well as an amber reading light for a total of seven light settings) is only $50. All feature comfortable silicon headbands and FIT.hooks, which allow users to easily anchor the lamp to head, waist or anywhere else they'd like a little light to shine. A battery jack allows you to extend the run life of the three AA batteries up to 300 hours. Boldt, headed by Duncan Roberts, formerly of Watermark, aims to be a value-driven company that takes care of its employees, customers and retailers, something it should easily do if its sales match the show floor buzz -- keep an eye out for this company.
If there was a theme to the new electronics unveiled at Summer Market, perhaps it was "don't get lost -- and if you do, don't worry because we've got an electronic brain to help you out." At least, that's what we were thinking after looking over our notes of the new products that caught our eye on the show floor.
Wristtop Computer -- Start on your wrist, where buyers were strapping on the burly new Highgear Summit watch ($160). It's got all the usual watch features, plus gee whiz items like built-in compass, thermometer, barometric pressure readings, altimeter and -- get this -- weather prediction. Plus, it's big enough to chock the tires on your truck on a steep hillside. OK, so we exaggerate, but it is beefy and right up there with some of the offerings from Suunto, albeit at a retail price about $40 less for a comparable unit. The release of the Axis comes at a good time for Highgear -- its popular Altitech unit has been pulled from the U.S. market since late March, due to a patent-infringement claim by Timex over its signature carabineer-style clip (the patent infringement claim does not affect Altitech's distribution in the international market). Come November 1, however, the company will be back with the Altitech 2, which has a revised clip that is a vast improvement over the original. That's a turnaround of just a few months from design to store shelves -- impressive.
GPS and then some -- Meanwhile, in the "don't get lost" category, Magellan continues to prove there's no end to the number of bells and whistles that can get crammed into a GPS. Its latest: the Magellan SporTrak Topo (price TBA), which comes pre-loaded with 108 megs of topo maps and an additional 16 megs of memory to download even more detailed info. That's all in color, of course, and comes in a pretty lightweight and waterproof package, and the cell phone-sized package floats, in case you take a digger into a stream while gazing at the full color screen. It seems these days GPS units are like computers -- they just keep putting more performance in a smaller package.
Solar Roller -- Speaking of computers, while waiting for that rescue crew to come, you could be charging the batteries on your laptop so you can type up the saga of your narrow escape -- powered by a portable solar panel that fits in your pack. It's the latest packable power gizmo from Brunton, which continues to both define and dominate the portable power category. New at Summer Market was its 14 watt SolarRoll ($399). Basically a roll up solar panel, the SolarRoll packs enough portable juice to run a satellite phone or digital camera, and can charge laptop batteries. Then it rolls up to about the size of a paper towel tube -- a pretty neat trick, but is there a market for it? Brunton CEO John Smithbaker says yes, noting that portable power is the company's fastest growing sector. For retailers noticing an increasingly tech and gadget savvy customer base, that's information worth noting.
PLBs -- So you've got a watch telling you the weather and direction, a GPS telling you where you are, and juice for your digital camera or cell phone, but what if you can't get out and need help? No worries -- if you're deep in the backcountry, there's a new way to call for rescue, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then ACR Electronics should be feeling pretty good these days. Long a pioneer in personal rescue gear, ACR brought the first Personal Lifesaving Beacon, or PLB, to market virtually the day it became legal, July 1. The paperback-sized unit has a collapsible antenna that once deployed and turned on emits a "send help!" signal to geosynchronous satellites, then on to a rescue center in Langley, Va., which calls the nearest search-and-rescue team. A neat trick, given that PLBs work where cell phones don't. Critics may carp that this one-size-fits-all panic button will have rescue teams out searching for city slickers too lazy to hike back to their car, but there's no telling how many lives will be saved because word can now finally get out for help to be sent to the back of beyond. Explanations aside, it's clear there will be a market for these units, and now ACR's got it.
While ACR was showing its GyPSI model ($699) which measures 1.9 by 6.5 by 3.8 inches and weighs 17.6 ounces, Revere Supply was pushing its trim-looking Fastfind Plus, which like the GyPSI comes with a built-in GPS, meaning rescue crews will get word of your position to within 100 feet -- taking the search out of search and rescue. The fold-up unit suggests a tri-corder -- resist the urge when lost to say, "Beam me up, Scotty." Suggested retail is a hefty $1,199, though, they're likely to sell for less that $1,000. The FastFind Plus, with a minus 40 degree battery, weighs 11 ounces and measures 3 by 6 by 2.4 inches. Look for both price and size to drop on these units, and for potential controversy over their use to heat up.