Magazine article Insight on the News

High-Tech Recreation

Magazine article Insight on the News

High-Tech Recreation

Article excerpt

The market for sporting and outdoor gear is driven by simple needs made complex by advances in materials science, ensuring an unlimited supply of novel fabrics and gimmicks.

Advances in modern technology have made recreation a highly complex pursuit. Today's consumer faces a bewildering array of sporting and outdoor goods that seem better suited for space-age fiction. Namely:

* a lightweight viscose rayon towel that feels like paper and, in theory anyway, can absorb up to 10 times its weight in water and dries in minutes;

* a fleece jacket made out of recycled plastic bottles; and

* a self-heating gourmet food bag.

"It's all technology," says an enthusiastic Joe Sakaduski, hard-goods buyer for Hudson Trail Outfitters, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Md. "We're only starting the journey into high-tech for the outdoors. As these new materials are invented and discovered and we learn how to work with them, it's simply a matter of application."

There are sleeping bags of varied weight and content for nearly every kind of weather; warm-weather rain gear and cold-weather rain gear; shoes and boots for every possible terrain. The field is a growth industry, with a seemingly unlimited supply of novel fabrics, safety devices and gimmicks catering to the demand for lighter, more flexible and more protective gear for both amateurs and professionals

Neither Hudson Trail nor the Seattle-based REI chain makes any distinction between novice and expert when it comes to marketing products, however. Anyone can buy a global-positioning system to replace a compass or a superlight travel alarm clock that sets itself. Portable devices can filter and purify water. Storage bottles made of a hard plastic called Lexan won't discolor or retain odor and are impact- and temperature-resistant. A miniaturized bulb headlamp, dubbed "the world's lightest," gives a bright white light powered by three triple-A batteries.

"Such technology is on its way to home use," Sakaduski says. "Most of our lights in the next 10 years will have it. It weighs 3 ounces and gives 80 hours of burn time" -- useful for bicyclists, for example.

Advances in metallurgy have resulted in intriguing camping and hiking aids, such as fold-up, pocket-size gas stoves and titanium cooking sets. Titanium, stronger than either aluminum or stainless steel, also is lightweight, thereby reducing the poundage of equipment carried in a backpack.

Space-age research also contributed to the invention of self-heating food bags. …

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