All the New Tech That Will Transform Outdoor Gear in 2020

Lou Mazzante, Will Egensteiner, Adrienne Donica
Photo credit: Staff

From Popular Mechanics

The outdoor industry has come along way since wool coats and wooden skis reigned supreme. Decades ago, today’s vacuum-insulated coolers or ultra-premium waterproof technology were nothing more than figments of the imagination.

So what’s on the horizon to become the next big thing? During January’s Outdoor Retailer trade show, we saw, heard about, and even tested some pretty sweet new gear. We also spotted six innovative technologies likely to spark new trends in the outdoor world that we couldn’t help but geek out on. The future of gear looks more eco-friendly and full of adventure—just as it should be.


Photo credit: Courtesy

Atomic Brings Data to the Slopes

The technology of skiing—from high-speed quads to avalanche safety tools, to ski construction—has always been fascinating. But Atomic (and a few others) are bringing in some cool tech to the way we track our runs and improve our skills. The Atomic Connected app, uses sensors in your boot and an app on your phone to turn every run into an opportunity to analyze your performance, compete virtually with your friends, and collect a mountain of data on how you ride. The sensors record your balance, edge control, and G-forces so you can see how well you’re carving. It also reads things like slope angle, turn radius, run count, average speed, top speed, and total vertical. Then it analyzes your technique and offers insight on where to improve. You can share your stats with friends, or notify them when you hit a training goal (or crushed them by racking up more vert). You can even see how you measure up against pros like Daron Rahlves. This app and sensor come on Atomic’s Hawx Ultra 130 and Redster CS 130 boots, which each cost $1,000. Or you can buy it on its own for $449 and add it to whatever boot you’re already rocking.

Photo credit: Adrienne Donica

Polartec Reinvents Fleece—And It’s Very Warm

Microplastic shedding is the silent killer in your favorite fleece. More and more garments are made of polyester and synthetic fibers, but those fibers come loose in the washing machine and eventually make their way into the ocean and the diets of marine life (and possibly humans). As the issue has garnered widespread attention, gear and apparel manufacturers have been working on ways to cut down on the shedding.

In 2019, Polartec launched Power Air, an insulation that the apparel insulation maker says sheds one fifth the amount of fibers as other fabrics while still holding up performance-wise. This year, an improved version of the ultra-stretchy fabric is recyclable, 25 percent lighter than the original, and made of 73 percent recycled fibers. More than 20 brands, including Adidas and Houdini, will start making apparel with the updated Power Air. We already put in some testing time with Houdini’s Mono Air Houdi, coming in the fall for $200. The zip-up hoody is as soft and comfy as you’d want from a fleecy mid-layer, with enough stretch to move easily. We wore it indoors and out as a lightweight jacket, and under an insulated ski jacket during some zero-degree skiing. It’s warm, breathable, and is reasonably light. We haven’t worn it or washed it enough to evaluate how well those fibers hold up to Polartec’s claims against shedding, but overall construction and comfort are on point.

Photo credit: Yakima

You Can Now Charge Your Devices With A Rooftop Car Carrier

Portable power, and solar panels in particular, have changed the game for overlanders and backcountry explorers, who can now keep their devices changed even when they are hundreds of miles away from the closest electrical outlet. Now, #vanlife gets another boost with the Yakima CBX Solar, the first rooftop cargo box equipped with a solar panel.

The 36-watt, 5-volt thin-film panel was developed by Sunflare, a Los Angeles area company that specializes in flexible solar panels. Unlike the silicon-based panels installed on most roofs, Sunflare’s panels use copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, solar cells and don’t have a frame, making them thinner, lighter, flexible, and more durable for when you’re off-roading (or cruising down a city street with too many potholes to count). Charge your electronics using one of the two internal USB ports in the 16-cubic-foot cargo box that opens from either side. Retailing just shy of $1,300, the CBX Solar will be available on August 15.


Photo credit: Adrienne Donica

Plane-Ready Avalanche Packs Are Going Mainstream

A sophisticated avalanche airbag technology from Swiss engineering company Alpride is making its way into more packs from Scott and now Osprey this fall. Unlike traditional compressed-gas canister designs, the Alpride E1 uses an electric fan to inflate the airbag, which then can be deflated, repacked, and deployed multiple times on a single charge. This makes it easier for skiers to practice using the safety equipment before they find themselves in an emergency and to fly with the packs, removing one more barrier for backcountry expeditions. Scott’s Patrol E1 Backpack Kits, from $1,100, will be available in 22-, 30-, and 40-liter models. The Osprey Soelden Pro 32 Avy Pack and Sopris Pro 30, for women, cost $1,200.

Electric fan packs aren’t new. Black Diamond’s Jetforce was the first to the starting line in 2014, with the Voltair from Arc’teryx following a few years later. But the E1, which debuted in winter 2019, signals that we’ll start to see more electric avy packs in the future. (In the latest update to its Jetforce Tour 26L pack, Black Diamond even made the switch to the E1 mechanism.) This newer tech has a few key advantages over the first-to-market products. It’s the first system that can charge via a lithium-ion (standard for electric packs) or alkaline batteries. This energy is then stored in a supercapacitor—similar to the ones found in electric cars—and doesn’t require chemical reactions to maintain power, so the pack shouldn’t fail even in the harshest of environments. According to Alpride, the E1 system is the also lightest electrical model on the market, weighing in at about 45 ounces. Best of all, the new packs from Scott and Osprey are slightly cheaper than their Black Diamond and Arc’teryx competitors.


Photo credit: Blake Bekken

Got Bad Knees? You Can Still Shred Powder

Skiing is notoriously hard on the knees, and injuries or chronic pain have sidelined many a weekend warrior. San Francisco-based Roam Robotics is helping to get them back on the lifts with the Elevate. It looks like a souped-up version of a knee brace from your orthopedist’s office, equipped with an air bladder, sensors, and smart software, and powered by a battery backpack. Designed to be worn as a pair, the exoskeleton automatically inflates and deflates the air pockets to provide support when you need it and offload up to 30 percent of your body weight, according to the company. It’s not a medical device, but it does relieve stress on your body, adding some stability and cushioning to your runs. Perhaps most importantly, the Elevate is a confidence-inspiring tool for people who thought their days on dawn patrol were long gone.

The Elevate has been around since late 2018 but with very limited availability. This year, you can rent the exoskeleton at 10 ski resorts in the mountain west. A two-hour rental runs you $25 and a full day is $109. Roam is expecting to expand to more locations next winter and is offering a 30 percent discount for pre-orders, bring the grand total down to a cool $3,500.


Photo credit: Courtesy

Archer Brings Electronic Shifting to Mountain Bikes (In an Affordable Package)

Okay, the Archer’s system isn’t exactly cheap. But at $359, it costs less than just the derailleur from Shimano’s DI2 electronic mountain bike drivetrain. So there’s some value. What Archer offers is an add-on kit that affixes to your bike just ahead of the rear mech, turning any 1x (no front derailleur) cable-actuated system into one that shifts electronically, using a small motor in a control housing. Set up is simple using the Archer app and doesn’t require any special tools, so you don’t need to be a bike mechanic to install it. Once connected, shifts come fast and precise with a simple tap of the included shift pod, and because there are no cables that stretch, fray or stick (when they’re covered in dirt and grime), the system requires less maintenance than a mechanical one. Electronic shifting is taking over road cycling, and this option makes it more accessible for more mountain bikers, too.

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