As much as we like to get away from the chains of technology when we’re on the trail or the water, there are a few devices that are practical enough to take along with you. Here are a few that we’ve tried recently.
Thump Blu Bluetooth headphones by QAK
We put the Thump Blu Bluetooth wireless headphones, by Boulder-based QAK electronics, to the test at the Keystone Bike Park. If ever wind is going to be a problem with headphones, it’s barreling downhill on a mountain bike. The Thump headphones stood up to the challenge. If you are going fast enough, you’ll always hear the wind, but Thump’s in-ear design makes it possible to hear the music without turning up the volume too high.
Reception was another concern. The instructions recommend keeping your Bluetooth device close to avoid occasional breaks in audio. We didn’t see a problem. The headphones were tested with a phone in a front pocket while walking, in a pack while biking and a few rooms away in a house. The audio stayed clear and continuous. We did not test it in an urban environment, obviously. In that instance, it’s possible other things may interfere, but up here at 9,000 feet, that’s a non-issue.
As far as comfort, the headphones are one size fits all. Their wrap-around style ear buds offer a comfortable fit, without getting in the way of a bike helmet. Sport sunglasses can be worn overtop without the earpiece getting in the way too much. The ear bud bracket does shake a little when running, but the headphones remain secure in your ear. Buttons on the headset make it possible to play and pause music, adjust volume and advance tracks. The headset can also receive calls. The instructions say that the headphones will last five to seven hours on a single charge. QAK offers a variety of accessories, including a wireless adapter for non-Blutooth devices. As a whole, these headphones are a pretty solid design for the active outdoorsman.
QAK is new to the market, having only been around since last year, and is nailing down retailers at the moment. The company will be on hand at a number of events around the mountains and on the Front Range this summer. For more information, visit www.qakgear.com.
Ultralight Nomad 7 Solar Panel, Guide 10 Plus Battery Pack and Rock Out Speakers by Goal Zero
The Nomad 7 unfolds from about the size of a large paperback book to reveal two 6-by-9-inch solar panels. Strap the panel to the top of a cooler or dry box on your raft, and it withstands small splashes and intense desert heat equally well. The panel has a USB port and a 12-volt port, which means that anything with a USB or car-adapter style 12-volt plug can charge directly from the panel.
The addition of the Guide 10 Plus Battery Pack adds more versatility to the system. The battery pack contains four rechargeable AA batteries and connects to the solar panel with a cable to charge, or you can connect it to a wall outlet to charge the batteries through the USB mini port. Pop the batteries out and put them in any device that uses AAs, or charge your cellphone, camera or whatever with the standard USB port.
The Rock Out Speakers have their own built-in batteries that can be charged directly from the solar panel or from the battery pack. Fully charged, the speakers are expected to last 20-plus hours, but it really depends on how high you have the volume on them. We’re usually cranking at an 11 on the river, so they don’t last nearly that long. The speakers are lightweight and water resistant, and they are durable enough that the sales reps were using them instead of beanbags to play corn hole at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail recently.
I took the whole setup on a three-week rafting trip down the Grand Canyon in January, when there was minimal direct sunlight. Even with only a few hours of charging in indirect light each day, or sometimes every other day, the panel and battery pack still kept the two speakers, plus two digital cameras, charged for the duration of the trip, meaning I had music and photos from Day 1 to Day 18. Visit www.goalzero.com for a complete list of retailers.
Nomad 7 Solar Panel: $80
Guide 10 Plus Battery Pack: $40
Rock Out Speakers: $30 each