Revolutionary New Gear
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Revolutionary New Gear

Outside's guide to the best new concepts in gear, garb, human performance, and green.

Revolutionary New Gear

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Some 100 teams worldwide are competing to win shares of the $10 million Progressive Automotive X Prize, a competition to create cars that get 100 miles per gallon, hit 60 miles per hour in less than a minute, and emit half as much carbon as typical passenger vehicles.

Oakland, California–based BrightSource is planning to build vast arrays of huge, adjustable mirrors in American deserts, aiming shafts of sunlight at tower-mounted boilers that will send steam to turbines, producing thermal-solar electricity. BrightSource has a plant up and running in Israel; the first U.S. spread will launch in the Mojave Desert in 2012.

The Bixi bike-sharing system, in Montreal, offers use of 3,000 three-speed aluminum bikes—nifty-looking rides created by designer Michel Dallaire—docked at 300 solar-powered stations around the city. Just $72 a year buys access; an online map tells you, in real time, where available bikes are parked.

Fill ‘er up, with electrons: Better Place, a Palo Alto, California, company founded by electric-car guru Shai Agassi, is building networks of battery-charging stations at homes, offices, and retail centers. First to plug in: Israel, where 1,000 charging hubs have already been installed. Coming soon to Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii, and Ontario.

MIT’s D-Lab sends undergrads to developing countries to find out what people need—then try and make it. Sometimes the ideas become products, like Fuel from the Fields, a brand of cooking charcoal made from agricultural waste.

San Francisco’s Architecture for Humanity is awarding an international prize to the best set of plans for affordable, environmentally smart outdoor classrooms. Our fave: the Teksing Bamboo­wood School, a “zero-technology” structure—no power, no water feed—made from local materials and suited to the isolated terrain of central Nepal.

Fisker Automotive‘s new “luxury hybrid,” the Karma, will come with a “Q Drive” powertrain that can reach speeds of up to 125 miles per hour, traveling 50 miles all-electric before the gas engine kicks in. The chassis is as long as a Mercedes-Benz CLS, and the roomy interior can be lined with wool or leather—from free-range cattle, no less. Fisker, based in Irvine, California, hopes to have cars in showrooms by next summer. Starting price: $80,400.


San Francisco–based Ardica Technologies is pairing up with Mountain Hardwear to launch the first “wearable power” winter jackets in October, called Refugium and Radiance. A flat lithium-ion battery pack—sewn into the jacket and weighing less than a pound—will provide heat for up to eight hours while charging your cell phone, iPod, or camera via a built-in USB port.

Turns out that Gore-Tex fabric, made in Newark, Delaware, has a lot more applications than just breathable outerwear. The new retractable roof over Centre Court at Wimbledon is made from Gore Tenara Architectural Fabric, which allows light to pass through while still protecting what’s below from the elements. Huge blankets of Gore fabric are also being used to convert green waste to usable compost at a rapidly accelerated pace.

Schoeller Textile, based in Sevelen, Switzerland, provided the fabrics that started the soft-shell revolution, and they’re still out front. Schoeller’s C_change fabric adjusts according to the temperature of the wearer, thanks to a structural membrane that opens or closes like a pinecone to release or retain heat. C_change is used by companies such as Hugo Boss, Mammut, and BMW Mottorad to create everything from trench coats to motorcycle jackets.

Abingdon, England–based P2i‘s “ion-mask” technology uses ionized gas, created in a vacuum chamber with radio-wave pulses, to bond with various materials at a nano­scopic level. The process works miracles as a waterproofing agent on polymers, metals, fabrics, ceramics, glass, and even paper. Now that boot maker Hi-Tec’s exclusive contract with P2i is over, you’ll see it used on everything from trail runners to soft shells.

Based in Speedway, Indiana, Zipp designs some of the most coveted aerodynamic bike wheels on the planet—perfecting them with wind-tunnel tests, 3-D computer modeling, and prototype abuse. Zipp’s innovations have convinced many Tour teams to leave traditional metal-alloy wheels behind, and in the 2009 Paris-Roubaix, third-place finisher Thor Hushovd used Zipps on a course famed for rim-punishing cobblestones.


Ossur, a Reykjavík-based leader in prosthetics, brought you Oscar Pistorius’s carbon-fiber Flex-Foot Cheetah legs, but the company is also known for basic advances that help amputees as well as healthy athletes compete in events ranging from the Paralympics to the Ironman. At this year’s Summer X Games, roughly 30 athletes used Ossur products, mostly knee braces and sleeves.

The Champion Super Suit, which will be tested on a Mount Everest climb in 2010, uses nanotechnology and a proprietary “radiant warmth” foil lining to give climbers greater mobility in the Death Zone, delivering the protection of a 40-millimeter layer of goose down in just six milli­meters. Matuse has already brought a similar revolution to cold-water wetsuits, using limestone geoprene—no petroleum products required—to make suits that are sleek, warm, and 98 percent water-impermeable.

Allen Lim, the 36-year-old team physiologist for the Garmin-Slipstream bike-racing squad, is a leader in using science to maximize the performance of athletes on the road. These days, the Boulder, Colorado–based Lim is researching new ways to increase the body’s efficiency during exercise and recovery. One application used at the 2009 Tour de France: 15-pound ice vests, which riders wore to pre-cool themselves before time trials, increasing their bodies’ ability to carry oxygen to muscle.

The TrainingPeaks software produced by Lafayette, Colo­rado–based Peaksware has emerged as an indispensable tool for athletes who want to manage and track their workouts online. The key is its unique cross-platform flexibility: TrainingPeaks allows users to upload data from 86 different fitness devices, including Polar heart-rate monitors and PowerTap power meters. Users can also access special services like virtual coaching and food search, which provides nutrition information for 50,000 branded foods.

Dr. Chris Evans, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard, has identified a gene that’s been shown to ease the pain of arthritis, and he’s about to begin human testing to see if it can prevent osteoarthritis in joints—pain caused by the simple wear and tear of recreational sports. Called IL-1Ra, it works by producing proteins that block a pain-producing molecule known as interleukin-1. Gene therapy has the potential to work better than pain pills and could continue to provide relief for weeks or months at a time.

The Iowa State Kinesiology Research Labs, in Ames, Iowa, is the home of Rick Sharp, one of the designers of Speedo’s now-banned LZR Racer swimsuit. Sharp is currently working with Speedo to develop a new suit that will meet the performance parameters laid down by FINA, swimming’s international governing body. Lab researchers are also working on a redesign of firefighters’ protective gear, using less-bulky fabric with greater mobility.


It’s like a group tour without the group: Banff, Alberta–based GPS Tour Guide rents a pre-programmed GPS device, the GyPSy Guide, that gives road-trippers narrated itineraries and travel tips for 7,000 miles of scenic roadways between Edmonton and Vancouver. Kits are coming soon for Maui and Las Vegas.

Launched earlier this year, Ocean in Google Earth has created a new era of point-and-click exploration. Compiled using data from sources like the U.S. Navy and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Google Ocean lets you peek at underwater topography, map the planet’s best surf spots, visit the site of Jacques Cousteau’s dives (look for the stocking-cap logos), track prerecorded sea-creature migrations, and more. All without getting wet.


Cottage Grove, Oregon–based Aprovecho Research Center works with clay wizards in China to make superefficient $4 rocket stoves that provide a cleaner, greener alternative to the open cook fires used by billions of people worldwide.

On Gabriola Island, British Columbia, sculptor George Georgiev builds futuristic bullet-shaped bikes that Canadian cyclist Sam Whittingham uses to break records for human-powered land speed. Their newest is the Varna Tempest, an eight-foot-long, 50-pound carbon-fiber steed that Whittingham recently used to set a one-hour distance record in Michigan, covering nearly 57 miles.

Qnuru, a New Mexico company affiliated with Santa Fe–based artist and blacksmith Tom Joyce, makes beautiful, all-solar outdoor lights that can snazz up any civic space. This fall, three sites in San Francisco—including Golden Gate Park—will get Qnuru’d as part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaign to make S.F. the greenest city in the country.

USA Canoe and Kayak has a favorite new boatbuilder: Nelo, a company based in Vila Do Conde, Portugal. Nelo builds the fast, sleek carbon-fiber kayaks that were used by 80 percent of the canoe-sprint competitors at the Beijing Olympics, who took home 20 of 36 medals. Designers constantly fine-tune with input from hundreds of athletes who visit factories and facilities in Portugal, staying at the Nelo training center while they test-drive the boats on reservoirs.

Co-founded by kitesurfing pioneer Don Montegue and seeded by $15 million from Google, Alameda, California–based Makani Power is studying the feasibility of harnessing wind energy at higher altitudes by using wing-shaped kites fitted with turbine blades. The kites would fly hundreds of feet up, sweeping the skies and sending juice to a ground station througha high-strength line with a conductive core.

Siemens, the Berlin-and-Munich-based electronics-and-engineering giant, is the creator of NX, a CAD/3-D design program that gear companies use to create computerized 3-D images of planned products, putting a 2-D sketch on an x-y-z axis. For the past five years, Black Diamond has used NX for a large portion of its designs, including its Freeride ski boot.