Jeep Revives the Cherokee…or Does it?

The Jeep Cherokee was one of Jeep’s true icons back in its heyday and arguably the originator of modern SUV design. Jeep canceled the model back in 2001, replacing it with the Liberty. While the Liberty has had its fans, it never quite reached the legend status of the Cherokee.

For those that weren’t watching, the Cherokee was basically a cheaper, smaller, grittier version of the Grand Cherokee. It had off-road prowess surpassed only by the likes of the Jeep Wrangler but more space and versatility. As outdoor lovers, we’ve missed seeing it on the market.

Well, after more than a decade of absence, the Cherokee is finally coming back to market … kind of. More accurately, a model named the “Cherokee” is coming to market.

Late last month, a picture of the new model was leaked onto the Internet, so Jeep jumped the gun on its introduction and showed a few official photos.

The new model bears exactly zero resemblance to the original Cherokee, losing all of the namesake’s hard lines and square corners. The new car looks more crossover hatchback than land-rambling off-roader and is actually curvier and softer-looking than any current Jeeps. It certainly is not what original Cherokee fanatics have been waiting for.

The bad news is that the new Cherokee isn’t a proper Cherokee, and Jeep probably should have called it something entirely different. The good news is that it’s still a Jeep, so it has more of a chance of being a fully capable off-roader than most of the other watered-down mid-size crossovers dominating the segment now. Jeep also says that it will have fuel economy that is nearly 50 percent better than the Liberty it’s replacing.

So, in other words, we have a potential combination of Jeep-branded off-road performance, mid-size utility and better fuel economy – sounds like it could be a great car for shuttling gear and friends to the resort or trailhead. If only Jeep had chosen to call it anything other than Cherokee, Jeep enthusiasts might be excited instead of irritated.

Not only does the new Cherokee not look anything like the original, it doesn’t really look like any Jeep we’ve ever seen. It has entirely fresh styling with a new face and new curves. We haven’t seen it from every angle yet, but it definitely appears to be more crossover and less SUV.

The new Cherokee will debut as a 2014 model. Jeep will drop full information about the Cherokee later this month at the New York Auto Show.

Ortovox Gets Modular With Avalanche Airbags

For the 2013 winter sport show circuit, Ortovox introduced a new avalanche airbag system designed for increased flexibility. The Modular Airbag Safety System (that’s M.A.S.S. from here on out) leverages ABS TwinBag technology in a system that easily removes from one backpack and installs in another.

A few years ago, you’d have had to search to find an avalanche airbag – or anyone using one – in North America. Now, it seems every major backpack and backcountry ski safety manufacturer has one, if not a few…Bergans, Dakine, Mammut, The North Face, and on and on. Ortovox feels its pack is special, and industry folks seem to agree, rewarding the German outfit with an ISPO Award for the M.A.S.S. design.

The packaged TwinBag ABS system can be pulled out of the backpack with ease and reinstalled in any one of five compatible Ortovox bags. The airbag unit can also be pulled out altogether on stable days and left at home, shedding 4 pounds of weight and opening up extra room inside the pack. Ortovox says that the system can be installed in as little as three minutes. The Trigger activation mechanism can be placed in either right- or left-handed position and adjusted to the rider.

M.A.S.S. will give backcountry skiers and riders more flexibility in buying and using packs that fit their individual missions, rather than being tied down to a single pack simply because it’s the only one that has an ABS system. Ortovox has three sizes of pack (24- and 26-liter men’s versions, and a 24-liter women’s) in the Free Rider series, aimed at lift-served slackcountry and light tours, and two (32 and 30 W) in the Tour Series, designed for deeper, earn-your-turn skinning and splitting. This way, you can ride a smaller pack for lighter trips and easily swap the ABS to a bigger pack when planning a more ambitious outing. Then use the packs for summer and other non-avalanche activities without the system at all.

All M.A.S.S. packs include the X-Skifix Ski Fastening System, which uses aluminum clasps to mount skis, snowboards and snowshoes. It offers diagonal and crossed mounting options.

Ortovox will get the M.A.S.S. packs to market by next fall. Fully equipped M.A.S.S. packs will run around $1,200. The M.A.S.S.-compatible backpacks will retail for around $320 when purchased on their own without the airbag hardware.

A Leatherman Just For Snowboarders

For years, snowboarders have been at the mercy of the resort when it comes to fixing and fine-tuning gear. Fix-up benches have become commonplace, but they were once few and far between. And while there have always been plenty of pocket-sized multi-tools on the market, there aren’t many designed around the specific hardware needed for riding.

Leatherman recently teamed up with the snowboard innovators over at Signal Snowboards and designed the Hail, a multi-tool built for riders. The flat multi-tool is built for both on- and off-mountain repairs. It includes a #3 flat/Phillips screwdriver, a 10mm wrench, a lacing assist and a scraper. It also comes with the obligatory multi-tool bottle opener and an ear bud winder. The tool is small and flat, so it should stash easily in a shell pocket. It’s also TSA compliant.

The Hail can be purchased/used on its own or paired with the Leatherman Style PS, a more classic Leatherman with pliers, wire cutters, scissors and other tools. The Style PS docks inside the Hail, creating a single tool with 13 functions. The Hail base model is $25, and the Style PSA version is $45. Unfortunately, Signal Snowboards lists them both as sold out, so you may have to search the secondary market for yours.

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The Caldera NX4 Neckwarmer and Face Mask

Sometimes you need a face mask, and sometimes you don’t. It’s not always that easy to tell which will be the case when you set out for a day of skiing or snowboarding. I used to use a face mask and found it a bit annoying to carry around because I only ended up wearing it one day every season or two. Eventually, I realized the face mask was essentially an unnecessary lump in my pants pocket, so I stopped carrying it around altogether.

If you tend to ride with a neck warmer or scarf, there’s a better way of carrying a face mask than stuffing it in a jacket or pants pocket. The new NX4 from Caldera integrates the face mask into a neck warmer, so it’s there when you need it, gone when you don’t. The mask is contained in a weatherproof pouch, and you simply unzip the pouch, pull the mask out and put it over your face when you want it. The soft fleece feels smooth against the skin and the integrated anti-fogging feature prevents you from blowing mist all over your goggles.

The NX4 is windproof and splashed with a DWR coating. It includes Thinsulate insulation to keep you warm. A simple Velcro strap secures it to your neck.

Caldera International, an Oregon company that specializes in sports therapy products, had the NX4 on display at last week’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show and will also be at the upcoming SIA Snow Show. The NX4 is already available via SkyMall for $29.99, and we assume it’ll be in more retailers in the future.

Voltaic USB Touchlight is a Versatile Lighting Solution for Any Situation

voltaic usb touchlight

Ever stop to count the number of flashlights, headlamps, lanterns, mini-LEDs, etc. that you have strewn about your garage, den, closets and deck? For many outdoor lovers, the number probably extends deep into the double digits. If you’re going to add a new light to that surplus, it had better do something special. Better yet, it had better do several special somethings.

The Voltaic USB Touchlight is designed to slim down your lighting collection by providing a versatile template that can be used in a number of ways. The LED light can be powered by any USB source, including one of Voltaic’s battery packs. It’s designed to be hung up by the included long extension cable or stood up like a desk lamp with the stiff flex cable. Both of those configurations could be useful in a tent or around the campsite.

While the Touchlight’s wide-angle light might make it better for ambient uses like lighting up a tent or room, it looks like it could also serve as a makeshift flashlight. Slide the battery in a pocket and hold the light to brighten your path and surroundings. With a little bit of hacking skill, the 4-ounce Touchlight could probably be turned into a headlamp.

The Touchlight gets its name because of its simple operation. A slight play on the ever-popular touchscreen, the light shifts between three brightness levels from – 50 to 175 lumens – with a tap of the lens. Battery life ranges between 4.5 and 20 hours.

The Touchlight is waterproof, making it ideal for rugged, outdoor usage. There’s no need to worry about rain or river crossings drowning out your light.

Voltaic sold out its first Touchlight production run, but it plans to have more available in March. The light costs $35, which seems like a bargain for a versatile gadget with solid beam power. We could see it working well as a hanging lantern or standing reading light in a tent or camper.

In addition to the Touchlight, Voltaic offers a variety of products that could be useful to outdoor enthusiasts. It has a full line of portable solar panels, backpacks and carry cases, and a number of portable lights. You can see their full line at voltaicsystems.com.

 

 

 

The 470-hp 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

The Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee are two of the surest means for traveling far off the grid for camping, boating, backcountry skiing and other adventures. If you’re looking to attack the dirt with a little more grunt, the Grand Cherokee SRT is the way to go. Jeep introduced the all-new 2014 GC SRT at the 2013 North American International Auto Show earlier this week. This upgraded Jeep packs a full horse farm of power and a mean, aggressive exterior that brags about it.

Like the current SRT8, the 2014 SRT gets a significant power boost courtesy of the massive 6.4-liter V-8 HEMI engine. That powerplant churns out 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque, ensuring that you have plenty of performance on tap. The driver is connected to that grumbling eight-cylinder by way of a new eight-speed automatic transmission engineered to optimize shift quality. For those that believe that man is still greater than machine, the transmission offers a manual mode that makes use of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

A hulking, HEMI-powered Jeep may never be an EPA fuel economy leader, but new technology will help SRT drivers get a little more out of their pumped gas. A new Eco Mode, available at the push of a button, optimizes the transmission’s shift schedule and deactivates four cylinders when conditions allow. The result is a more fuel economical ride. Five other modes -Auto, Sport, Tow, Track, and Snow – fine-tune drive settings for different conditions.

Jeep hasn’t listed the performance figures for the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT just yet, but a look at the 4.8-second 0-60 mph time of the 2013 SRT8 indicates it will continue to perform like a high-end sports car while allowing drivers the freedom to roam anywhere. Perhaps more important than speed or acceleration, the upgraded Jeep has an improved towing capacity of up to 7,200 pounds, so drivers can get all their toys where they need to go.

Outside, the SRT’s body has received some updates, including a burlier grille, new headlamps with LEDs, larger tail lamps and a redesigned liftgate spoiler. The liftgate itself is operated at the push of a button.

inside rear
No matter how gritty the terrain outside, the SRT’s interior wraps occupants in luxury. The cabin has a Laguna leather interior and new 8.4-inch radio touchscreen. The touchscreen can be used to show 0-60 mph times and track times and can share those numbers with other SRT enthusiasts via 3G connection. The infotainment system also provides access to the services of Uconnect Access Via Mobile, which offers cloud-based features like Internet music, Bing searches and voice texting. A heated SRT steering wheel sits in front of a 7-inch color instrument panel display. Buyers can also opt for an available 825-watt 19-speaker premium Harman Kardon audio system.

The 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT will go on sale in late-2013. No pricing yet, but the $60,000 base price of the 2013 SRT provides a clue.

Panasonic HX-A100D – Wearable HD Video Camera

Panasonic HX A100

First JVC, then Sony, and now Panasonic … the action cam market is officially the new grounds for competition in the electronics market. At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Panasonic unveiled its all-new HX-A100 wearable action camera. While the manufacturer battle will come down to footage, function and price, the camera does appear to offer some advantages over competitors.

Unlike the more common integrated designs used by GoPro, Contour and others, Panasonic splits the guts and the lens up into two components. This keeps the wearable part small and lightweight while allowing you to store the bulk comfortably in a pocket or backpack.

At first look, the camera is most similar to the pricey VIO POV.HD, but unlike that model, it doesn’t include a built-in LCD screen. Instead, it relies on Wi-Fi to let the filmer broadcast live streaming video via Ustream or view files on a smartphone or tablet. The separate rectangular component houses the controls and battery. It’s connected to the lens by a hard cable.

While the idea of a lightweight lens unit is definitely appealing, Panasonic’s design isn’t without its own issues. That cable looks awfully easy to rip out, and we could see that happening during the trials of action sports filming.

In addition to the typical gear and helmet mounts, the HX-A100 comes with what Panasonic calls an Earhook. Similar to a Bluetooth headset, the camera can attach to your ear for easy mounting even when you’re not wearing a helmet. It is also available with a multi-mount for securing it to a helmet or backpack.
In terms of optics, the HX-A100 has a mix of bright F2.5 lens, BSI Sensor, and Advanced Image Processing LSI. Panasonic says that it works well in both bright and low-light conditions. The camera helps to minimize filming mistakes with image stabilization and a Level Shot function that rights tilted images. It shoots in 1920 x 1080/60 fps, 1280 x 720/120 fps, 640 x 360/240 fps. The battery offers over two hours of high-definition filming with the Wi-Fi turned off.
Out in the field, you can dunk your HX-A100 in up to 5 feet of water for 30 minutes and rely on the dustproof design in gritty, windy environments. The Wind Noise Cut feature cuts out excessive noise when it’s blowing and gusting.

The HX-A100 retails for $299.99 – the same as the mid-range GoPro Hero3 Silver Edition – and will start shipping in March, just in time to catch some late-season ski footage.

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It’s nice to see major electronics manufacturers entering the action cam market, but so far their offerings have failed to really impress. While JVC, Sony and Panasonic has each offered some kind of a feature to set its camera apart, none of them look to be hands and shoulders above traditional offerings from GoPro, Contour and the like. We would have hoped the companies would have used their extensive resource base and expertise to markedly improve what’s available. So far, they seem content to just compete on the same playing field.

Ski Retriever: A Burial Beacon for Your Skis

If you’re a dedicated powder fiend, neither cold, nor wind, nor minor injury, nor work will keep you from getting a powder-morning fix. There’s one thing that can stop you, however: losing your skis. While this may or may not be a problem you’ve ever experienced, it’s one you don’t want to face. Few things about skiing could be as disturbing as the image of friends, acquaintances, gapers and foes lapping you and carving scars across your virgin snow while you dig frantically for your skis – that’s no way to spend a powder day.

Because of this problem – or at least the potential for it – Pacific Northwest-raised powder hound Anthony Kolb designed a solution. The Ski Retriever is almost like an avalanche beacon for your skis. A homing tag attaches to each ski and a handheld receiver helps you track them down if they get buried in snow. Kolb released his Ski Retriever at last year’s SIA show and is trying to raise funding for an updated version.

The latest version of the Ski Retriever, now called the AKKA Ski Retriever, uses an OLED screen that works in conjunction with audio cues to indicate the distance and direction to your skis. So instead of shoveling around with your hands, you can pinpoint your skis with ease and get back on your way.

If you’ve never lost your skis in the snow, you may have trouble understanding why you’d need a device like this. The idea that inspired the design is that skiers can get separated from their skis on a fall. On particularly deep days, those skis can get buried without a trace. The Ski Retriever makes them easier to find.

Snowboarders don’t have to worry about losing their board on a fall, thanks to strap bindings, but the system can easily be used on a board if you have a history of losing track of your ride during particularly hard, mind-clearing après sessions. It can also be used with other easily lost devices, including action cams and poles.

Given that the AKKA Ski Retriever has barely made a dent on its $100,000 Kickstarter goal (about $2,500 with 24 days left, as of publishing), we’re guessing Kolb is going to have to find funding elsewhere. If he’s able to secure that funding, he mentions exploring alternative uses like anti-theft security and avalanche search.

Those that want to be early adopters of the AKKA Ski Retriever can pre-order on Kickstarter for $125. The price includes the receiver and two homing tags and represents a significant discount on the expected retail price of $199 +. Plans are to get those pre-orders shipped by next fall, but judging by the slow fundraising start, that date may very well get pushed back.

The original Ski Retriever, which is a slightly less evolved design based on the same concept, is currently available on the company’s website. The listed retail price is $160. Extra tags are also available, and each Ski Retriever has the ability to pair with up to four tags.

 

Splitboarding gets Kwicker with K2 Step-in Bindings

K2 Kwicker

Over the past few years, skiers and snowboarders have migrated increasingly from resort slopes and parks to surrounding sidecountry and onward to deeper, more remote backcountry peaks and lines. While backcountry riding has opened up all kinds of new possibilities, it’s also increased the need for more purpose-built gear. K2 answers this need with the all-new Kwicker splitboard package, which promises to be the most user-friendly splitboarding solution on the market.

K2 calls the Kwicker package the quickest and lightest available and says that it makes big strides in three key areas: weight reduction, transition speed and overall user-friendly mechanics.  K2 claims that the set-up is as light as a traditional solid board set-up and easier to use than existing splitboards.

At the heart of the new package is an old, near-extinct technology: step-in bindings, specifically K2’s Clicker system. All the rage about 15 years ago for their ease of use, step-in bindings declined in popularity and essentially disappeared from the snowboarding scene because of inherent problems and a market preference for strap bindings. K2 believes that step-ins are officially ready for a revival, and that revival will come in the form of a split design.

“The weak point in the Clicker system was the boot,” K2’s global marketing manager Hunter Waldron explained to Transworld. “ Ten years ago we just didn’t have the technology to solve the highback and ankle strap replacement challenges.  But with the Endo construction and the Boa Conda internal heel hold, those problems are solved without bulky external parts that were bolted to the previous generation boots.  Also, fit technology has improved by leaps and bounds in ten years.  With better materials like Intuition foam liners, Boa precision lacing, and better last shaping our modern day fit makes a step in system possible again.”

The included boot’s Endo Construction uses an integrated urethane endoskeleton that serves as a sort of internal high back, solving the support issues related to step-in bindings. The Boa Condor, meanwhile, serves as an internal ankle strap.

Testing the K2 Kwicker
Testing the K2 Kwicker

The Kwicker BC Binding uses the evolved step-in system along with splitboard binding hardware from Voile to keep things light and easy to use. The system does not rely on pins and switches between uphill skinning mode and downhill shredding mode with quickness and ease.

K2 has been working on the Kwicker system for two years and is ready to show it to retailers and riders. It will have more information about it at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and SIA shows later in the month. It has yet to release pricing or availability information, but we assume Kwicker will be ready for next season. It will be sold as both a full board-boot-binding package and as separates. We’ll update you with more details when K2 releases them.

Never Lose Your Buzz with the Bottle Grenade

These days, it’s really not too difficult to find a bottle opener. In addition to pretty much every multi-tool you own, you’ll find bottle openers on clothing, belts, sunglasses, keychains, etc. Go to any type of ski resort or bar event and you’ll probably get a handful of bottle openers just for shoving your body through the door.

So why can you remember multiple occasions when your mouth went cotton while you clawed and twisted desperately and futilely at a non-twist beer cap? No matter how many bottle openers there are in the world, there are still times when you don’t have one. So get another one.

The Bottle Grenade brings just a tad of innovation to the bottle opener market. Not only does it include the usual pop-top pry, it also has a top gripper that will give you some extra oomph when taking a twist top off – assuming you’re comfortable enough in your man (or woman)hood to use it. The central cut-out also holds your bottle cap, so you can wear your favorite beer like a fashion accessory, true redneck style. A belt clip ensures that that bottle cap won’t be hidden in your pocket.

While many pocket knives and multi-tools start off with other tools and add a bottle opener for good measure, the Bottle Grenade takes the opposite route. It’s a dual-function bottle opener first and foremost, but it also packs a few other tools. Buyers can select their hex wrench of choice and use the bit holder for screwdriver bits.

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Despite the aforementioned surplus of bottle openers on the market, it seems like people always have enough drawer and pocket space for another. The Bottle Grenade has already earned nearly $20,000 on Kickstarter – way over the $2,500 goal. With nearly a month left to go, it’s not too late to put in a pledge of your own. The first pre-orders are sold out, but pledge as little as $25 and you can get one by May or June. In addition to the standard model, a magnetic version is available, ensuring you can stick your bottle opener right on the same fridge that keeps your beers fresh and cold. You can also get it custom engraved, making for a pretty rad bachelor party gift.