Gear: April 2008 Archives


April 22, 2008

Nalgene is announcing they are going to phase out their polycarbonate bottles:
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (April 18, 2008) - In response to consumer demand, Nalgene will phase out production of its Outdoor line of polycarbonate containers that include the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) over the next several months, it announced today. Nalgene's existing product mix, including the recently launched Everyday line, already features a number of containers made from materials that do not contain BPA.

"We have always been focused on responding to the needs and concerns of our customers," said Steven Silverman, general manager of the Nalgene business. "With 10 different product lines in several different materials, we have the largest bottle offering on the market today. By eliminating containers containing BPA from our consumer product mix, our customers can have confidence that their needs are being met."

The company recently unveiled its Everyday line, an assortment of bottles manufactured with Eastman's Tritan copolyester. The line includes favorites such as the OTG ("On the Go"), the iconic 32-ounce Wide Mouth and the Grip-N-Gulp sippy cup. Tritan is impact resistant, withstands a wide range of temperatures and does not contain BPA. The new Everyday products are already available in stores and will be available through next month.

I guess once you have an alternative, it's pretty easy to get rid of the offending product. I wonder if Nalge will start lobbying for a ban on BPA now.


April 19, 2008

Opinion has been shifting against polycarbonate plastics for a while now, and now Canada has decided to ban polycarbonate plastics for baby bottles:
OTTAWA -- The Canadian government moved Friday to ban polycarbonate infant bottles, the most popular variety on the market, after it officially declared one of their chemical ingredients toxic.

The action, by the departments of health and environment, is the first taken by any government against bisphenol-a, or BPA, a widely used chemical that mimics a human hormone. It has induced long-term changes in animals exposed to it through tests.


The health minister, Tony Clement, told reporters that after reviewing 150 research papers and conducting its own studies, his department concluded that children up to the age of 18 months were at the most risk from the chemical. Mr. Clement said that animal studies suggested "behavioral and neural symptoms later in life."

Clement claims that adults aren't at significant risk (note: I haven't really reviewed the literature myself at all), but MEC and Patagonia have already pulled polycarbonate drinking bottles (aka Nalgene bottles) off their shelves, and Nalgene has already introduced a new line of bottles called "Everyday" which aren't based on BPA but on Eastman's Tritan, which is supposed to be comparably tough to polycarbonate. Also, according to this article, Charles Shumer has introduced a bill to ban the use of BPA-based polycarbonates in food and drink applications. Industry has been pretty actively opposing this kind of regulation, but given that alternatives are starting to appear, I suspect we've reached an inflection point where they'll just start replacing polycarbonate in most applications instead.


April 14, 2008

Joe Hall asks why one would want a GPS-enabled watch. Roughly speaking, there are three features I want:
  • Altitude measurement (though note you can get sports watches with a barometric altimeter, which is actually more accurate, at least when you want to measure elevation gain;/lost).
  • Speed and distance. It's nice to be able to get some sense of how fast you're running and I find the GPS more convenient and comfortable than the foot pod pedometers that are the alternative.
  • Performance comparison. For my money, the coolest feature of a GPS sports watch is that you can get real time display of where you stand compared to a previous performance on the same course, which is a lot easier than remembering your time at multiple checkpoints. I can't figure out whether this is really useful—in fact I suspect it encourages you to push your workouts too hard to beat your previous pace—but it's still pretty sweet.

In principle a gizmo like this might be useful for getting you un-lost, but the fact that you don't have a real map, just a view of where you've been, makes it pretty hard to use for anything other than backtracking. If, for instance, you're doing a loop and there are multiple trails but not a dense enough network that you can just vector in on your start point directionally, than without a trail map a GPS is pretty useless. Pretty good for out and back trips, though.


April 11, 2008

I recently found myself in the market for a new water filter to replace my venerable Katadyn Hiker (don't ask what happened, suffice to say it wasn't Katadyn's fault). Anyway, I cruised over to REI and after a bunch of dithering let the sales guy talk me into an MSR Sweetwater. In theory the Sweetwater has some advantages over the Hiker:
  • The handle gives it more mechanical advantage so it's supposed to be easier to pump.
  • The fitting for the nalgene bottle screws on so there's less risk that it pops off and lands in the contaminated water you're filtering out of.
  • You leave the tubes permanently connected and the pump has grooves to let you wrap the tubing around it. There's a cap that screws onto the nalgene fitting so you don't need to bag it to protect it from the contaminated hoses.
  • There's an overpressure port that's supposed to squirt out water when the filter clogs, giving you warning.

That's the theory. The practice was a little less overwhelming. First, the pumping action promises to be convenient but I actually found it quite awkwared and worse than the Hiker. Worse, I hadn't pumped 10 liters of clean water before water started spurting out of the overpressure port. I first attributed this to a tight seal with the container I was pumping into, but even after I vented the container (which seemed to help some), it still seemed to be spurting. When this happens you are supposed to scrub the inside of the filter. This seemed to help temporarily, but later in the day when I was forced to pump from some murkier water, it clogged again and worse yet the output seemed to be slightly green. We were able to scrub the filter and get OK-looking output from a cleaner stream later, but this did not leave me feeling very warm about the whole thing, and seeing as I originally bought it from REI, I returned it at the conclusion of our trip. It's surprising, actually, since I've had other MSR gear (including the classic Whisperlite stove) and had found it to work pretty well.

At this point, I'm trying to choose between another Hiker. I've had several and they're quite solid. There's also the brand new MSR Hyperflow. It's only about 2/3 the weight of the Hiker or Sweetwater, and pumps twice as fast. It's a different filter technology than the Sweetwater so there's no reason to think I'll have the same clogging problem. On the other hand it's absolutely brand new, so I'm tempted to wait for others to gain some experience with it before forking over my money. The one bad thing I've heard so far is that if you let the filter freeze it destroys it, so for cold weather camping you'd need to sleep with it, which is kind of lame.


April 5, 2008

In the comments section Brian Korver points me to Priority Start, which is a third party gizmo that claims to detect excessive battery drain and disconnect the battery, thus avoiding complete drain. Looks pretty slick. Anyone have experience with one of these?

April 1, 2008

Went to start our Prius today and the door wouldn't unlock. I thought it might be the key fob but when I manually unlocked it, put the fob in the ignition and got inside, none of the console lights would come on. It turns out that we'd left the dome light on and run the battery down to zero. How can this be, you ask? It's a hybrid car with a 6.5Ah battery. Surely, it should be able to power a crappy roof mounted lightbulb more or less indefinitely. It turns out, however, that that battery just runs the drive system. There's a dinky little lead acid battery that's used to run the onboard electrics and (presumably) start the gas engine. This is easy to run down. Or at least so says the guy who came by to jump start it. Sure would be nice to have some gizmo that detected when you were running down the battery and shut down the internal lights. Not exactly a complicated piece of science to add...