Gear: New tech can make for happier trails

When the weather cools off (we hope) this fall, the active man and woman will hit the trail. Whether you hike, bike, run or bird-watch, carry a giant backpack or a pocket-sized water bottle, push your heart rate to the limit or barely break a sweat, the items below will add to the fun — helping to speed you along, keep you on track, record the adventure and get you home safer and sounder.

Smart head light

Petzl NAO: Patented, self-adjusting headlamp for all-night marathoners, mountaineers and rock climbers that automatically alters light output based on how far you are from an object, theoretically maximizing safety and battery life.

Likes: "Reactive lighting," as Petzl calls it, works like magic. Similar to autofocus on a camera, NAO uses optical sensors to illuminate a wide-open trail like a floodlight, narrow into a beam when you gaze far into the distance and dim down into a small spot when you aim it at a book, allowing you to read inside a tent without waking anyone. There's no need to manually adjust the beam. The lithium-ion battery fully recharges from a USB port on your computer in about four hours; a cable is included. A green light tells you how much battery remains. It has two light settings: steady and reactive. A free download allows you to store "activity profiles" and program 10 customized lighting levels.

Dislikes: It's amazing and wonderful but also heavy (half a pound) and crazy expensive. For this price, it ought to come with a wall charger and carry bag, so you won't lose any of the parts.

Price: $169. http://www.petzl.com


Shock-absorbing poles

The Easton CTR-80: Adjustable-length carbon-fiber poles that absorb shock through gel pads in the rubber grips. Very light (1.44 pounds for the pair), the three-section poles telescope out to 4 feet, 7 inches and collapse down to 25 inches for easy transport.

Likes: The 3/4-inch-wide V-Brake gel inserts, located about 1.5 inches from the top of the handles, clearly absorb some of the shock typical of regular pole without the complexity of the spring-loaded shock absorbers found in the lower leg of other brands. The simple "Rock-Lock" clamps that hold the three sections in place seem more secure than common twist-lock mechanisms, which I've found can slip over time.

Dislikes: The single gel insert in each pole handle is a good start — but they'd need at least two or three to match the comfort of the spring-loaded poles.

Price: $140; http://www.eastonmountainproducts.com


Sports watch-o-pedia

The Suunto AMBIT: Handsome multi-feature GPS sports watch/heart-rate monitor/data monster aimed at high-octane hikers, runners and cyclists.

Likes: It's jammed with useful data, is powerful and accurate, and can take a beating. Combining GPS navigation, altimeter, compass, temperature, barometric pressure and a heart rate monitor, it tells you where you've been and where you are and how fast you're going. It records your route and ascents and descents, guides you home and then makes it easy to transfer it all to your computer for analysis on Movescount.com. It stands out from other super-watches with the following: extra-long battery life (50 hours for hiking and 15 to 18 for faster activities that require more satellite connection, such as ultra-running and mountain biking); unbroken accuracy, due to its pairing of GPS with an accelerometer, which takes over when tree cover blocks the GPS signal; customizability, as you can set and edit up to eight information screens for your activity to show, for example, distance, stop watch, ascent, descent, pace, vertical speed. You can also add waypoints. The Ambit has tactile, easy-to-navigate buttons and is well sealed from the elements. Its USB transfer cable connects to you a computer via a big clip, not a port, keeping it highly water-resistant. It is compatible with Santo Bike, Road Bike and Cadence Pods

Dislikes: It's not cheap, although it might be seen as a bargain by dedicated data geeks.

Price: $500; http://www.suunto.com


Insta-camera

Capture Camera Clip System: Six-ounce hardware device that allows you to attach any camera with a threaded mount — from a point-and-shoot to a digital single-lens reflex camera — to your backpack strap for instant access.

Likes: It works. No more missing a shot because you had to reach into a pack to grab your camera. With this, your camera de-clips from the backpack strap almost instantly when you press a release button. Installation is a breeze: Clamp the bracket around the strap via two finger-tightened screws and spin a small release plate into your camera bottom.

Dislikes: While you barely notice a point-and-shoot, having a big heavy DSLR dangling on your chest takes some getting used to.

Price: $79. http://www.peakdesignltd.com

Wallack is coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100" and "Barefoot Running Step by Step." roywallack@aol.com

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