Although most of us have some favorite pieces of equipment for trips to a park, the combination of modern technology and human ingenuity continues to come up with newâand sometimes betterâideas. Here's a fun look at a few examples of outdoor gear that could be described as the most innovative, unusual or ....well, I'll let you pick your own adjectives.
By the way, since we do occasionally include reviews of new outdoor items here on the Traveler, I'll point out that we've neither tested nor offer an opinion on the merits of the following. Read on, and you'll soon see why we'd likely have a tough time getting our hands on a free "review copy" of these marvels.
This Watch Tells More Than Just The Time
First up is the Radiation Detecting Watch. Priced at $1,500, this "tactical watch" includes a radiation detector for sensing harmful ionizing radiation. The timepiece's integrated Geiger-MÃ¼ller tube measures single-dose gamma ray levels, as well as cumulative exposure; users can set their minimum radiation threshold, and an alarm will sound when this level has been reached. Oh, it also tells time.
This item may seem a bit of a luxury for fans of pristine places such as national parks, but not so fast. If the proposed Manhattan Project National Historic Site comes to fruition, and if it includes the "Hanford B Reactor" site, these watches might suddenly become a hot item for some tourists and staffâjust in case they wander out-of-bounds during a visit.
A much more common worry for some visitors to a few parks is a strictly natural feature. Although we know the risks of injury from a bear are in about the same range as hitting it big in the lottery, some folks are still nervous about an ursus worsus encounter. If you're really paranoid about bears, a Canadian inventor might have the solution for you.
One Tough Suit
After a worrisome encounter of his own with a bruin, Troy Hurtubise, of North Bay, Ontario, spent at least seven years perfecting a bear-proof suit, and his invention won the 1998 Ig Noble prize for Safety Engineering. The Ursus Mark VII bear-proof suit is made from stainless steel, heavy-gauge aluminum, and cast titanium. It features a built-in video screen, a cooling system, pressure-bearing titanium struts, advanced protective airbags, shock absorbers, fingered hands, swivel shoulders and built-in arms.
Mr. Hurtubise had very serious intentions for his work, and figured his invention might prove useful for anyone conducting research on grizzly bears or similar large carnivores. Although I've not heard that the suit ever made it into commercial production, he certainly gets credit for perseverance, and as the video below shows, bonus point for demonstrating his faith in his invention by wearing it during some very rigorous product testing.
Finally, on a somewhat more practical level, many outdoors persons like to make sure they're equipped with a good knife before they set off into the wild. Serious knife fans are divided into several camps, based on their preferences for brands such as Buck, but for a combination of name recognition and popularity, it's hard to beat one of many versions of the Swiss Army Knife.
The "Biggest Knife in the World"
There are plenty of models of those knives in the marketplace, and that apparently stirred the creative juices of someone at the Wenger company. According to a company spokesperson, someone asked,'"What if we put all our Swiss Army knife tools in one single model?' That is how, one morning, the biggest knife in the world was born."
"The initial aim was ... simply to check that we were capable of achieving this technical feat. Then some collectors got wind of the existence of this unique model and were very keen to get their hands on it. So, exceptionally, we produced a second model for an enthusiast, then a third and a fourth and so on."
Now dubbed the "Giant Knife," this "tool box in a knife" has "87 precision-engineered tools that perform at least 141 functions." Perhaps one of these not-so-little babies could prove handy on your next park excursion.
A Tool for Almost Any Need
Whether your preferred mode of transportation is two or four wheels, motorized or pedal power, there are plenty of potential uses for 25 flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers and bits, plus wrenches, pliers and wire cutters. Cyclists have some specific needs, and they haven't been overlooked in this device: there's a removable tool for adjusting bike spokes and a bike chain rivet setter.
Plan to do some fishing on your park visit? There are several standard knife blades, and although they might be a bit small for filleting a trophy-size catch, the tool does offer a fish line guide, fish scaler, and a fish hook disgorger. If you want to be sure that fish you landed is long enough to qualify as a "keeper," there's a ruler, calibrated in both inches and centimeters.
When it's time to prepare dinner at the campsite or picnic area, you can fold out the can opener/bottle opener and corkscrew, and of course there's a selection of blades to meet all your spreading and cutting needs. Want a small fire to warm your meal or ward off the chill? Just call on the double-cut wood saw to trim those dead and down branches to the right size.
To really see the best of any park, you've got to get out of your car and explore a bit, so the compass included on the Giant Knife could come in handy. It also has a flashlight, although this one is certainly best suited for reading your map, not negotiating a mountain trail on a dark and stormy night. Sorry, the current model does not include a GPS unit.
The designers didn't overlook the naturalists in your group, so when you want to take a good look at flowers, insects or other items of interest, just flip open the mineral crystal magnifier.
Extending Your Reach
Sometimes in the Great Outdoors it's a good idea to "look but don't touch," and in such cases a telescopic pointer could be mighty handy. If you want to direct the attention of your group to features best viewed from a greater distance, such as an impressive patch of poison ivy or a feisty rattlesnake, you can call on the laser pointer, which has a range of up to three hundred feet.
I realize most park purists frown on the thought of a golf course in a park, but there are a few in or adjacent to several NPS areas, including Yosemite's Wawona Golf Course. If your park visit will include some time on the links, you might find a use for this knife's golf club face cleaner, golf divot repair tool or golf shoe spike wrench.
And finally, when it's time to get cleaned up after your day in the park, there's almost always a good use for the nail file and nail cleaner.
Everything considered, the designers have packed a lot of gadgets into a single piece of gear, but one group of park users is likely to be just a bit skeptical. Serious backpackersâthe ones who cut handles off of a toothbrush to save some weightâwill have some qualms about this knife's size (almost nine inches long) and weight (two-and-three-quarter-pounds). Well, there are some tradeoffs for those conveniences.
Like to see a short demo of a few features? Click on the "play" arrow in the following video.
You can find a Giant Knife at various on-line retailers for about $1,300 and up. If you're on the fence about this one, perhaps you'd like to know that the Giant Knife is "holder of the Guinness World Record for 'The Most Multifunctional Penknife.'"
I'll leave it to you to sort out the definition of "penknife."
So...any other candidates for the title of the most unusual outdoor gear?