Are you trying to outfit your house in cameras and lights that you can control with your voice? Or do you just want to make vacuuming, cooking, and streaming content a little easier? Either way, there’s a bunch of Memorial Day sales this weekend on products that can make your home a little smarter.
TP-Link Kasa Spot Camera for $30 ($5 off): I really like the Kasa cameras I tested, and they’re quite affordable. However, they don’t currently offer two-factor authentication. That’s probably OK if you’re not planning on putting these anywhere that they might capture sensitive footage and are more interested in short-term use like watching pets when you aren’t home.
Monoprice Stitch Smart Power Strip for $20 ($5 off): Smart power strips are really useful to control a bunch of things at once (or individually). This Monoprice one is affordable and easy to configure via the app. It has four outlets plus two USB ports, but the latter two aren’t smart.
Sony XB501G Speaker for $100 ($200 off): We’re fans of Google Assistant, and we particularly love this speaker for parties, which we can hopefully start having again soon. It has two drivers and a subwoofer in a small 9-inch cube. It’s also water-resistant (IP65) and has 16 hours of battery life. You can connect it to your Wi-Fi if you’re home, or use it with Bluetooth if you’re not. Plus there are LEDs and mini strobe lights.
Roku Ultra for $88 ($12 off) at Amazon: The updated Ultra is more expensive that most of the options besides the Roku soundbars, but it has stronger Wi-Fi and the ability to stream in Dolby Vision. It also has an Ethernet port and comes with earbuds that plug into the remote for private or nighttime viewing when you’re trying to be quiet.
Roku Express HD for $25 ($5 off) at Amazon: This is a perfectly fine Roku if you have a standard HDTV. It has the basic Roku offerings, without some extras like voice search, and the remote can’t control your TV’s power or volume.
In May of last year, I canceled my Amazon Prime membership.
The pandemic had just devastated New York City. Some Amazon warehouse workers protested their working conditions, demanding hazard pay and adequate sick leave. Two Amazon engineers spoke up in solidarity — and were fired.
Do I still buy shit I don’t need on other websites? Sadly, yes. But let me tell you, that $119 Prime membership fee is an anchor. Once you fork that over, any product that doesn’t include “free” Prime shipping seems like a waste of money.
I put “free” in quotation marks for a reason. Last week, the attorney general for Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit. It claims Amazon punishes merchants who sell products for less elsewhere on the internet, including on their own websites. How? By limiting their visibility on Amazon. Conveniently, one way companies can increase their visibility is to pay Amazon a hefty commission to handle their merchandise.
As Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, put it in his BIG newsletter, “the reason you can’t find better prices isn’t because Amazon sells stuff cheap, but because it forces everyone else to sell stuff at higher prices. All of this is done so Amazon can continue to offer ‘free shipping’ while using access to its hundred million plus Prime members as a cudgel to force third party sellers to pay high fees.”
(In a statement to CNBC about the lawsuit, Amazon said it had the “right not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively” and that the suggested measures would “force Amazon to feature higher prices to customers.”)
And it’s not like retailers have a lot of options. Amazon controls an estimated 50 to 70 percent of online retail sales.
After I canceled my membership, Amazon made headlines for:
It felt good to wage a little protest against corporate hegemony, as futile as it might be. Amazon’s rivals aren’t perfect, of course. But it’s easier to ditch a retailer — over prices, anticompetitive behavior, etc. — if you don’t spend $119 a year to shop there.
And, again, now that I look back, I haven’t missed Amazon Prime. At all. Plenty of sites offer free shipping, even if, as the lawsuit demonstrates, “free” is a relative term.
What about Prime’s famed one- and two-day shipping? Other retailers, including Chewy, Best Buy, and Target, delivered things to me quickly — often in just a couple of days. The best part? I felt no obligation to keep shopping at any of them. I also felt no pressure to make impulse purchases just to get the most out of my Prime membership.
I don’t have some dramatic story about how quitting Prime totally changed my life. And that’s the point. It might feel like a huge inconvenience, or an extra expense, to shop elsewhere. But it’s seriously no big deal. And that’s a message Amazon doesn’t want Prime members to hear.
Google unveiled a new super-speedy way to get rid of your most recent search history during Google I/O, its annual developer conference.
In case you missed the keynote event, here’s exactly how to clear the last 15 minutes of your most recent search queries. The feature is currently live for iOS users in the Google app, and will be rolling out on Android in June.
Step 1: Navigate to your menu
All you have to do is click on your profile icon in the top right-hand corner of the Google app. Easy peasy!
Step 2: Tap on “Delete last 15 min”
Then just select “Delete last 15 min.”
Yes, it’s really that simple. It’ll be hard to miss, too, since Google will be flagging the option with a big blue “New” label.
And with that, your most recent searches will be your little secret.
Anyone who works from home on a regular basis knows this all too well: Laptop speakers just don’t cut it most of the time.
Sure, for a Zoom call or the occasional YouTube video, they’ll get the job done. But for jamming out to music or streaming your favorite TV shows or movies, a real set of desktop speakers goes a long way. At just $40 and with a cool design, strong bass, and the simplest setup imaginable, the Creative Pebble Plus is a strong contender to round out audio on your home desktop.
Futuristic orb aesthetic • Bassy • room-filling sound • Quick and easy setup • Incredible value
The Bottom Line
Creative Pebble Plus is an excellent budget option for anyone who wants to enhance their home desktop audio setup, as long as cable management isn’t a turnoff.
⚡ Mashable Score 4.25
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????Ease of Use 4.0
????Bang for the Buck 5.0
Aural orbs and confounding cables
Visually, the Creative Pebble Plus speakers are hard to miss. You’ll get two black orb-shaped 4.5 x 4.8 x 4.5-inch satellite speakers with a flat base for stability and concave speakers, so there’s no question which side is the bottom and which is the front. The right-side speaker has a self-explanatory volume dial on the front and a high/low gain switch on the bottom. Enabling that increases the speakers’ power draw to output higher volume and better bass. The left-side speaker, on the other hand, looks exactly the same but has no controls on it whatsoever.
That right speaker does even more heavy lifting because there are four (!) cables coming out of the back side. One connects to the left speaker, one to a USB connector for power, one to a shorter AUX cable to connect to the laptop, and the last to a longer AUX cable that connects to a 5.9 x 7.7 x 8-inch down-firing subwoofer.
Introducing four cables to a desktop is going to create headaches for just about anyone, especially someone like me who isn’t the best at cable management. Port placement on your laptop can make this even more annoying; the headphone jack on mine is on the left side, so I have both the right speaker cable and the shorter AUX cable snaking behind the laptop’s display. It’s just too much for me, especially as someone who likes to put things other than a laptop on my desk.
Cable annoyance aside, Pebble Plus wins a lot of points with me by being incredibly simple to set up out of the box. It’s literally plug-and-play, as you connect the speakers to a laptop via USB 2.1 and AUX ports, rotate the volume dial clockwise to turn them on, and you’re good to go. As long as your desktop has a USB 2.1 port, you don’t need to worry about power outlets at all. If it doesn’t, Pebble sells a $20 power adapter, which admittedly makes cable management slightly worse and drags down the value a bit.
Assuming the best port circumstances, it just takes a few seconds to get rolling with your favorite tunes or podcasts. No need to install weird proprietary software or anything like that. As long as you get the cable mess sorted out, these are attractive little speakers that don’t look like they cost only $40. The best part is they don’t sound like it, either.
Full sound with the full setup
There are a few different ways you can use Pebble Plus, but to get the most out of these speakers, you should really make use of both the subwoofer and the high gain mode.
The subwoofer is just a big black box that doesn’t really fit visually with the rest of the package, but place it under the desk and you’ll never need to think about that. The speakers do work without it, but its additional bass output makes a big difference. The entire setup is honestly pretty weak without the subwoofer.
High gain mode isn’t as essential as the subwoofer, but it does add a nice punch to volume and bass levels. This adds enough to the overall package that I can’t really think of any reason to turn it off besides a desire to not piss off your neighbors. Even then, they should just get better taste in music, right? Anyway, one oddity here is that Creative’s website says you need the aforementioned power adapter to get the maximum high gain output because the speakers can’t draw enough power otherwise. In other words, using high gain mode without the adapter is good, but the best experience theoretically comes with the adapter.
Since I didn’t have the adapter, I can’t say whether or not it makes a big difference, but I can say it’s not necessary at all. Creative Pebble Plus pumps out very high-quality audio for the price, thanks to deep bass and rich higher elements of the sound. The speakers are respectful to whatever you’re listening to, producing room-filling audio that elevates the subtler nuances of a song even at a higher volume.
For some reason Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” sticks out from my testing. The percussion comes through with a satisfying crunch, the left/right stereo balance is just right, and the overall experience made me appreciate that song even more than I already did. What a bop.
The one “flaw” I found with the sound — and it’s a very forgivable one — is that the speakers don’t really produce omnidirectional audio at all. You need to be sitting in front of them to really enjoy whatever you’re listening to. Considering how the average person sits at a desk, that shouldn’t be a problem.
There’s no getting around it: $40 is an incredible steal, considering the overall sound quality and inclusion of a subwoofer. These aren’t the only decent desktop speakers that cost less than $100, however, but most of them don’t come with a subwoofer, and it’s hard to imagine many of them sounding better than this.
Cyber Acoustics CA-3602FFP ($40), a similar two-satellites-and-a-subwoofer setup that looks less cool, but includes a separate control pod for volume
Sanyun SW102 ($38), two wired satellites with 360-degree audio but no subwoofer
I haven’t personally spent time with those other speakers, but based on how great Pebble Plus sounds, I’d be hard-pressed to consider any of them over Creative’s offering. Plus, I just think orbs are cool.
Worth it even with the cable mess
Creative Pebble Plus is an unbelievable bargain at $40 with excellent, deep audio output thanks to the addition of a subwoofer and a high gain mode. These speakers make working from home more fun, and the fact that you can go from unboxing them to using them within 60 seconds is a huge bonus.
Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of cables and that does hinder my opinion of the speakers to a degree. Adding four cables to a desktop that usually has one at most on it is a real drag. Different people have different levels of tolerance for cable management, so your mileage may vary, but that’s a pretty major issue for me.
Even with that in mind, Creative Pebble Plus provides excellent desktop audio for an absurdly affordable price. These little sound eggs pack quite a punch as long as you make use of the subwoofer and the high gain switch. I apologize in advance to your neighbors, though.
They’re hanging bags of canine excrement in the trees. Little black parcels of poo swinging gently in the breeze. It is one of the more unlikely consequences of the pandemic: a plague of dog shit, with no obvious solution in sight. And it stinks.
The rise is down to the sheer number of potential pet owners that rushed to realize the dream of owning a dog while in lockdown. Such was the demand, the price of puppies in the UK more than doubled last year, with popular breeds selling for more than £3,000 a pup. And with such money came the thieves and fraudsters.
But even though we have passed the peak of the puppy spending spree, it is clear there will be lasting effects. Unpleasant ones. For when it comes to dog poo, supply follows demand.
The reason people are bagging up their pets’ motions and hanging the offending items in trees and on bushes—something Scottish national newspaper the Daily Record has dubbed the “the hanging gardens of jobbylon”—is these new owners can’t be bothered to carry such deposits to the nearest dog poo bin. Oh, they’ll go to the trouble of bagging it, but carting it about? No thanks. So they hang it on hedgerows—a literal crappy Christmas tree—for the local authorities or other community-minded citizens to spot and do the dirty work for them.
Other countries are reporting similar scatological issues. In Australia, park rangers in Melbourne have spoken about how they usually deal with “90 kilos of dog poo every three days or so. Now we’re doing that every two days if not more.”
Interestingly, dog poop wasn’t a problem in mid-19th-century London. Back then, dog mess was called “pure” because of its properties for purifying leather and was sought after by tanneries. To meet this demand, “pure” finders would roam the streets, collecting their product and selling it on.
Now, however, it’s a health problem, an unsightly, smelly one. The estimated 9 million dogs in the UK each produce on average 340 grams of waste a day—that’s more than 3,000 tonnes in all. The 77 million dogs in the US industriously turn out 26,180 tonnes, more than the total weight of the Statue of Liberty, every 24 hours. “It’s full of viruses and bacteria,” Andy Coleman, who runs dogfoul.org, told The Guardian. “There’s no obvious solution at the moment.”
Robots and drones, however, could offer just the solution Coleman craves. Mark Cridge, mySociety CEO, which runs FixMyStreet, an app for easily mapping and reporting street problems to local councils across the UK, says that, according to their data, 2021 is “going to be a bumper year for dog poo.” He adds that evidence for waste resources is critical, “especially when councils are under a continuing amount of austerity and reduced budgets” so there is less money to deal with the problem. What’s more, poorer areas suffer more. “Dog fouling cross references with multiple indices of deprivation,” Cridge says.
Could drones provide this evidence for waste resources, letting local authorities know where dog poo is being dumped?
Ferdinand Wolf, creative director at DJI Europe, says it can. “Flight time has seen a big improvement in drone technology,” Wolf says. “From the original Phantom that maybe flew seven or eight minutes, now we have drones that easily fly 30-plus minutes, which is essential if you want to scout for dog poo or litter and not constantly land to recharge batteries.” Also, drones now routinely have multiple visual sensors to help navigate autonomously around parks or down country lanes without hitting trees and the like.
“And we can now run image recognition on the drone itself,” Wolf says. So the drones could be programmed to distinguish a dog poo from, say, a rock? “We have databases on the drone where it can look up and compare images. It can differentiate between a human being, a bicycle, a car or a ship. So, if you go further, this is similar. This is a piece of paper or this is the rock or this is a dog poo. If it can look up a database and say, OK, this is usually what dog poo looks like, then this is all technology that can be used for that.”
Talking about trash recognition in general, Zack Jackowski, chief engineer for Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, puts it more simply: “The way the machine learning works, if you can visually recognize it as a distinct thing, you can train a robot to recognize it. If you have an easy time picking it out, a robot can have an easy time picking it out.”
“Of course, there’s a lot of different forms of poo that can look very different,” Wolf says. “Form and sizes and consistencies can vary a lot, if it’s on grass and has sunk down or decomposed – but for sure it’s possible.” The really good news is that Wolf says the crap dangling from branches is the easiest to identify. “Something like a bag hanging in a tree would be very easy to detect, and flag, because it will have a very similar shape and color.”
This is the sticking point. Drones would be ideal for flagging and tracking dog poo deposits, but not the actual cleanup. In 2017, a startup in the Netherlands claimed to have created two poop-scooping “Dogdrones,” but the idea never took off. Volunteers willing to help in the testing stages were, perhaps understandably, thin on the ground. Besides, the scooping drone of the pair was ground-based anyway.
“Picking up a bag might be something possible, I guess,” Wolf says. “Picking up the poo itself, with like a little shovel, that would be hard to implement. You need to increase the size of the drone, the utilities, then that will make everything bigger and more cumbersome.”
Robots to the Rescue
Robots are frequently envisioned as fulfilling jobs involving the three Ds: “dirty, dangerous and dull”. Clearing up dog mess certainly ticks all these boxes. So, for reliable ground clearance, therefore, what we really need is a robot that can go wherever dogs can. This could be one of the best use cases for Spot yet. Indeed, the robot has already been fitted with its Spot Arm for clearing up trash outdoors.
Boston Dynamics itself says there is interest in a use case for “Spot + Spot Arm” to be used for cleaning of public spaces and along roadsides, and the operation is in essence similar to the “fetch” behavior the BD engineers have already demonstrated.
It may not be as daring as, say, being used in military training, but Jackowski says devising ways that Boston Dynamics’ canine robot can help society, even if it’s just by cleaning up, is what actually gets his team fired up. “Our engineers love doing applications [such as picking up rubbish] where robots can directly help people. There’s something that feels really good about having a robot cleaning the environment around us, and relieving people of this,” he says.
As for relieving people of picking up doggie doo-doo, Jackowski says that, even though this is not an area the company is pursuing, Spot could handle this right now. “If it’s in a bag, that’s easy to recognize, and it’s actually probably pretty easy to pick up.” What about unbagged whoopsies? “You probably want to give the robot a plastic bag over its gripper. And, if you were really getting into it, you would have a mechanism that lets the robot have a plastic bag that it can change.
“You would have some kind of holder where it can stick its gripper and put it on like a glove,” Jackowski says. And, you know, when it’s done, you deposit the whole plastic bag and object that it picked up in the backpack. Then it would grab a new little glove for itself. That’s all stuff that is pretty easy to engineer and absolutely possible now.”
What’s more, deploying Spots for clearing public spaces in general might even be cheaper than human labour, particularly in the long-term. “Yes, the robot is expensive today. But people are quite expensive,” Jackowski says, “especially if someone can get injured doing a task. We’re pretty long-term thinkers. Even over the next few years, the costs of this technology will drop rapidly to the point where it makes obvious sense to have robots doing these kinds of interstitial or clean-up tasks. We’re pretty close today, and we’re definitely going to be there in the three-to-five year period.”
Wolf suggests we can even go further than reactive clean-up when it comes to turd transgressions. He thinks that drone tech could be used to actively catch the dastardly dung hangers in the act. “You could use our bigger DJI drones to hover in those spots like drone police. They have big, low-RPM blades, and large zooms. In the UK, the police use them for surveillance of criminals, and they hover in place for hours,” he says. “You can easily spot if a dog is in ‘the position’ and then simply check if the owner takes care of his dog’s work—all from a distance where you would not be able to hear and spot the drone.”
When people build dams—giant walls that hold back entire lakes and rivers—they have to build an overflow channel called a spillway, a mitigation against flooding.
A spillway could be something as simple as a path for water to flow over the top of the dam, or more complicated, like a side channel. Sometimes, there is just a big hole at the bottom of the dam (on the dry side) so that water can just shoot out like a massive water cannon. This is how it works at the Funil Hydropower Plant in Brazil. There’s a nice video showing the water coming out—it looks like a river in the air, because it basically is a river in the air.
But the really cool physics of this spillway is that the speed of the water coming out of the hole mostly just depends on the depth of the water behind the dam. Once the water leaves the tube, it essentially acts like a ball thrown at that same speed. Yes, you know what I’m going to do: I’m going to use the trajectory of the water leaving the spillway to estimate the depth of the water in the reservoir.
There’s actually a name for the relationship between water flow and depth—it’s called Torricelli’s law. Imagine you have a bucket full of water and you poke a hole in the side near the bottom. We can use physics to find the speed of the water as it flows out.
Let’s start by considering the change in water level during a very short time interval as the water drains. Here is a diagram:
Looking at the top of the bucket, the water level drops—even if just a little bit. It doesn’t really matter how much the water level decreases; what we’re interested in is the mass of this water, which I label as dm. In physics, we use “d” to represent a differential amount of stuff, so this could just be a tiny amount of water. This decrease in water level at the top means that the water has to go somewhere. In this case, it’s leaving through the hole. The mass of the exiting water must also be dm. (You have to keep track of all the water.)
Now let’s think of this from an energy perspective. The water is a closed system, so the total energy must be constant. There are two kinds of energy to think about in this case. First, there is gravitational potential energy (Ug = mgy). This is the energy associated with the height of an object above the surface of the Earth, and it depends on the height, the mass, and the gravitational field (g = 9.8 N/kg). The second type of energy is kinetic energy (K = (1/2)mv2). This is an energy that depends on the mass and the speed (v) of an object.
Since the total energy must be constant, the change in kinetic energy plus the change in gravitational potential energy must be equal to zero. The water at the top of the bucket (which I will call position 1) is stationary, and the water at the bottom (position 2) has some exit velocity, v. Putting this together, I get the following:
Notice that this is just the magnitude of the velocity. It actually doesn’t matter if this hole points straight down from the bottom of the bucket or horizontally out through its side—the water’s speed will be the same. But let’s say that the hole is on the side, so that the water shoots out parallel to the ground. If the distance from the hole to the ground is y0, how far from the hole will the water stream land when it hits the ground?
Even though this would be a stream of water, we can treat each molecule like an individual particle with just the downward-pulling gravitational force acting on it. Yes, this is your classic projectile motion problem.
The key idea here is that we can separate the horizontal and vertical motion into two separate problems. This means that in the vertical direction, the shooting water is the same as if it were just a single drop falling straight down, with an initial vertical velocity of 0 meters per second (m/s) since the water was shot horizontally. We can use this vertical motion to determine the time it takes to fall down to the ground. For the horizontal direction, it’s just a drop of water moving with a constant velocity—the same velocity that it was shot from the hole. Using the time from the vertical motion, I can calculate how far the water travels.
Here, x is the distance along the ground from where the water came out of the container. I can use my expression for the velocity of the water, and I get the following relationship between the height of the water in the container and the distance the water shoots.
OK, this is kind of awesome. First, notice that the gravitational field (g) isn’t in this expression—it cancels. That means that if you did this same water-leaking experiment on Mars, you would be the first human astronaut to make it to another planet. Oh, also the water would go the same distance as it does on Earth, even though the gravitational field on Mars is lower. (That’s assuming the water doesn’t freeze first.)
Another cool thing is that the distance the water travels changes with the amount of water in the container—but it’s not a linear relationship. (Remember y0 is a constant distance from the ground to the hole.)
Now it’s time to just try this thing out. I’m going to get a vertical tube and add some water and then let it shoot out the side. This is what it looks like:
Since I was thinking ahead, I put a ruler right there. Now I can measure both the height of the water in the tube and the distance the ejected water travels. Then I can see if that equation actually works. Here’s the data I get from that image:
Height of water in tube (h = 0.477 meters).
Height of water hole above the ground (y0 = 0.334 m).
Horizontal distance water travels (x = 0.421 m).
Using the values for h and y0 I get a theoretical distance of 0.798 meters. This is clearly not the same value as the measured distance of 0.421 meters. But don’t worry—Torricelli’s law actually deals with this discrepancy. The actual water velocity leaving an opening is going to be the theoretical velocity (the one I calculated) multiplied by a “coefficient of discharge” (μ). This coefficient takes into account the properties of the hole that slow down the flow of water. A nice circular hole would have a coefficient close to 1.0, but an outlet that has a bent shape will slow down the exiting water. Using my measured horizontal distance, I get an actual water velocity of 1.61 m/s and a theoretical velocity (based on the water height) of 3.06 m/s. This gives a coefficient value of 0.53. OK, that’s fine.
Now, what about the massive amount of water shooting out of the spillway at the Funil Hydropower Plant? This water doesn’t come out horizontally, but with a rough measurement I get a “launch” angle of about 27 degrees above the horizontal. It’s difficult to get an exact measurement of how far it travels, but I feel like it’s maybe 50 feet horizontally, or around 15 meters. With this distance and the angle, I can use the following equation for the range of a projectile:
Using this and solving for v, I get a water speed value of 13.5 m/s. (That’s 30 miles per hour, in case you were curious.) If I assume a coefficient of discharge similar to my experiment (I’m going with 0.5), then the theoretical water speed would be 27 m/s. With this speed, I can now calculate the depth of the water behind the dam. This gives a water depth of 37 meters (121 feet).
Oh, look at that. Wikipedia lists the dam height at 39 meters. That’s pretty close to my calculated value. But why is it different? There are a couple of reasons. First, I just estimated the coefficient of discharge—it could be some other value. Second, the lake behind the dam most likely doesn’t go all the way to the top of the wall. And third, the spillway hole is probably slightly above the bottom of the lake floor. Either way, I’m pretty sure physics still works.
That’s a long time from now, which means it’s time to make some compromises. Here are the next best ways to get your fix when you can’t build a new system.
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If You Must Buy New: Get a Prebuilt or Laptop
Let’s get one thing out of the way: If you’re flush with cash but just can’t catch a GPU before bots scrape them all up, you should consider buying a prebuilt PC or a gaming laptop. As a PC builder for over a decade, I never thought I’d utter those words, but given the current conditions, it’s your best bet for getting top-tier graphics performance today.
Since OEMs like Dell, HP, and others get their own allotment of graphics cards to sell in their systems, and they tend to have a bit more supply than retailers selling stand-alone cards—though you may still need to wait a few weeks for the machine to show up on your doorstep. I’m hesitant to narrow these options down to one or two given the fluctuations in price and shipping delays that may occur throughout the rest of this year, but I’d start by looking at big-box options like the Dell G5 and HP Omen 30L, as well as more customized system integrators like iBuyPower, Maingear, CyberPower PC, or NZXT BLD. You could also go with something like the Alienware Aurora R12 and Corsair One for a more compact machine, as long as you’re willing to deal with the more challenging upgrade paths that come with the smaller form factor. We have a whole guide to the best desktop PCs for gaming, along with what you should know before you buy.
Speaking of difficult to upgrade, gaming laptops are also a viable option these days. If you haven’t checked out the space lately, you might be surprised at the quality available. The days of hulking, battery-strained behemoths are starting to shrink in the rearview mirror as well-built “thin and light” laptops have become more popular. Asus’ ROG Zephyrus G14 is an incredibly popular midrange model that works well for daily use, while the MSI G66 and Razer Blade 15 sport mobile RTX 3080 chips for the best graphics you’ll find in a notebook. You can see more recommendations in our guide to the best gaming laptops. It may seem like heresy to a desktop user, but if you hook it up to your existing monitor, keyboard, and mouse, it’ll do the trick.
If You Have an Older Graphics Card: Use Graphics Scaling Features
If you have a PC with an aging-but-borderline graphics card already, consider yourself lucky: At least you have a working card. Even today’s low-midrange cards like the GTX 1650 are hilariously overpriced, so your best bet is keeping that card and tweaking your games to perform “well enough” with the hardware you have.
You’ve probably already tried turning graphics settings to low, and if that isn’t quite enough—or if it makes the game look too ugly—you might try some of today’s fancier graphics-scaling features. The gaming community is all abuzz about features like DLSS, and while it is great—it’s the only reason I’m able to get close to 60 frames per second in Cyberpunk 2077 on my 2060 Super—it’s only available on newer RTX cards. On older cards, though, you could try:
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Resolution scaling: We’ve talked about resolution scaling before, but essentially, this renders the game at a lower resolution while keeping your HUD and other UI elements full resolution. Many modern games offer static scaling, while some even offer dynamic scaling that’ll scale the resolution on-the-fly in more demanding scenes. You might be surprised at how decent games still look when scaled down to 75 percent or so.
Image sharpening: Both Nvidia and AMD offer sharpening features in their drivers, which allow you to run a game at a lower resolution, then sharpen the image to make it look more crisp—getting you a better-looking image with barely any loss in performance. Some games may even have AMD’s CAS solution built in, so check your game’s settings to see if this is available, then turn it on and crank the resolution or scaling down as far as you can before things start to look bad.
Overclocking your graphics card: While it won’t turn your GTX 1060 into a GTX 3060, overclocking your GPU can get you a bit of extra performance without having to buy new hardware. Grab a tool like MSI Afterburner, a benchmarking program like Heaven, and slowly ramp up that clock speed until your benchmarking program glitches or your card begins to overheat.
Looking for game patches and other hidden tweaks: Finally, remember that some games are terribly optimized when ported to PC, and you may be able to get much better performance from your existing card by fixing the game itself. Plenty of games have community-made patches that aim to increase performance, while others may have hidden config file tweaks that help you out. Search around for the game in question to see what other players have discovered.
One of these may not be enough to tip the scales, but when used in tandem, they add up to a noticeable performance boost—without making the game look like garbage.
If Your Hardware Is Weak but Your Internet Is Strong: Try Streaming
These services may not have garnered the best reputation when they first came out, and sure— playing on your local machine is almost always going to provide a better experience, thanks to the lower latency and lack of video compression. But in an age where gaming hardware is nearly impossible to come by, a streaming service becomes much more compelling, provided you have a decent network connection—which is where that Ethernet cable comes in handy.
Even with a wired connection, latency may not be up to snuff for truly competitive online games, but those tend to have lower hardware requirements anyway, so you can run those locally while streaming graphically-intense titles over your service of choice. If the latency is making you miss more headshots than you’d like, consider that a good excuse to turn down the difficulty. You can always cancel if and when you get your hands on that elusive hardware upgrade.
Catch Up on Old Games You Missed
Finally, I know you don’t want to hear it, but listen: There are probably a host of games from the past year or even decade that you haven’t gotten around to playing yet. Look at your backlog—those games are begging to be played now that you’re forced to wait for better hardware.
Some games didn’t get the attention they deserved at launch, like Titanfall 2 and Spec Ops: The Line, and will run perfectly fine on systems sporting hardware from that era. Indie games can often run on darn near anything, and I’m willing to bet you have a copy of Celeste, Hollow Knight, or Night in the Woods that you got for free in some bundle. And don’t get me started on the retro games you’ve been avoiding—I finally played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the first time, and it’s probably the most exciting and interesting game I’ve played in a few years. You don’t have to play the game everyone’s talking about to have a good time.
None of that’s even to mention the console games you’ve avoided for fear of betraying your PC roots. Haven’t played God of War or Spider-Man yet? Craigslist is littered with PlayStation 4s for affordable prices (heck, even the PS5 is easier to get than a graphics card). It may not be a PC, but desperate times call for desperate measures—and you might just be surprised at how much fun you can have digging into the archives.
You’d think after 15 months of being completely digital, it would get easier and not more complicated. Yet while I’m lucky to keep my dual jobs as an author and teacher, I’ve often been caught by surprise by the programs and platforms that have emerged during the pandemic.
One recent Saturday morning, I woke up early, showered, blow-dried my hair, applied makeup, put on a dress, and met my husband—wearing his nicest Armani jacket—at the laptop on my desk in New York. I called my mom in Florida, who’d been the only one at her beauty shop at 8 am. We were excited to see everyone at a Michigan family friend’s online bar mitzvah. While a tad technophobic, this was not our first remote religious rodeo. I’d Zoomed in for a Christian memorial service for a former teacher. And my husband had been to another web-based Jewish rite of passage for a coworker’s son at a different congregation. There he saluted the host and joked with his cohort before the camera cut away to the boy reading from the Torah.
This time we weren’t emailed a Zoom link in advance. I texted my friend Lisa, the boy’s mom, to ask why. “Go to the website on the invitation,” she said. There we scrolled to find a video of the service being livestreamed. Aha! So we wouldn’t be seen on camera at all. I changed back into sweats to watch the bar mitzvah boy do his haftarah, embarrassed I’d wasted an hour dolling up for nothing.
Weeks before, asked to give a talk at a virtual conference, I assumed we’d use Zoom. But soon I was staring at my own image and talking into a webcam for my “Intrado session.” When it wouldn’t function, I was told to switch my browser from Safari to Chrome at the last minute because they’d “detected a pop-up blocker and contact controls that had to be disabled.” That done, the only way I knew 44 participants were watching was by the questions they asked in the chat.
While much of life will remain online, each person, platform, and occasion has a method with its own rules and techniques that are constantly revised and updated. Here’s how I’m avoiding being taken aback, confused, or disappointed again.
Ask Preliminary Questions
For any web invitation or virtual appearance, get the details up-front before committing: Will it be recorded? Is it audio and video? In what format? To what end? This is more complex than it sounds, and it’s important to get answers, especially if it’s a professional appearance.
When my funny former student Elisa asked me to be a guest on her variety show, I thought we’d be Skyping or Zooming, as I’d done for other talks and lectures. There I was used to pressing a filter and sitting farther back from my laptop to avoid an unflattering middle-aged mug shot. Yet when Elisa sent me the recording, I hated how I looked closer up and filterless. I found out her YouTube comedy hour was on Streamyard, “a live streaming studio” that allowed the host—and not the guest—to add filters, and I looked horrible. I’m now only saying yes to being recorded over Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts which allow me to filter first.
Discuss the Tech in Advance
After asking the Strand Bookstore the specifics of how a literary panel I was hosting would be handled, I learned that only the panelists would be seen online. That depressed me, since the occasion was a big book launch on my birthday where I’d hoped to greet friends showing up from all over the country. While the bookstore’s Zoom package was just set up for webinars like this, the kind person in charge compromised, suggesting an after-party Zoom for a Q&A with a new link, where I was happy seeing 100 familiar faces and hearing their voices. For a wonderful Shakespeare and Co. event, we found a way to greet everyone Zooming in, followed by “spotlighting” only the panelists once we began.
Protect Your Image
When I was taped moderating an in-person publishing talk for a media group, I didn’t sign a release form and had no idea that my Vimeo way-too-close-ups would pop up on Twitter forever. Checking back, I found an Eventbrite email confirmation with the fine print: “This event will be recorded. By entering the event premises, you consent to be photographed, filmed, and/or otherwise recorded.”
Had I realized the group owned the recordings and that they would repost clips and highlights from them forever, I might not have done it. A colleague said her church had taken to livestreaming services with the same caveat. Make sure you find out in advance when and how your images will be shown publicly, even if you think you’re only attending one event. That panel, ceremony, or reading could be repromoted in the future, with your images or video used for other purposes later down the road. This will give you the chance to opt out, or at least to dress nicer and wash your hair. (Which I’d recommend doing anyway.)
You Can Veto Video
A well-known Australian podcaster saw my substance abuse recovery posts on Instagram and asked if he could interview me. Flattered, I said sure, assuming that because it was a podcast they’d just be recording my voice. Yet the host expected to videotape me too. Not wanting someone else to control even more visual content of me after previous bad experiences, I said, “I’d prefer just doing audio.” They said “no problem” and it wasn’t. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.
Limit Your Exposure
When I was thrilled to be on author Laura Zam’s vlog Sexual Healing, posted on Youtube and distributed by Pandora, I asked if I could approve the clips of myself before they were posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She agreed, which made me feel more comfortable doing the interview.
This may not be possible for every opportunity, but it never hurts to ask and better control your image, especially these days, when you never know when your online content will be screen-grabbed and reposted elsewhere.
Go “Off the Record” in Writing
Launching online classes and publishing seminars with students from all over the world, I knew the rules were changing. But before the session had even ended, I was confused to see pictures of my Zooming self posted on Instagram and the photo of a group email I’d sent to my class shared on Twitter, along with my syllabus.
I immediately contacted the posters—who’d innocently, in their excitement, thought they were promoting me and my course. I explained that my classes were private and asked if they’d take the photo and info down. Now I write on the syllabus that everything that happens in class and in correspondence is off the record, not to be publicized or distributed. While protecting myself, it also lets my pupils and clients understand my expectations and rules in advance, and it serves as a reminder that not everything is sharable.
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As students, friends, and colleagues have embraced online communication wholesale, I’ve needed to explain to them what doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to be phoned, Facetimed, or texted “Hey what’s up?” during working hours. I miss many direct messages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
I prefer direct emailing so I have an easily found record of the conversation. Since I’m over-emailed, I prefer to be taken off any group lists, especially the annoying ones where the poster uses BCC so that I get thousands of responses from strangers. I don’t appreciate seeing other’s business solicitations, ads, unsolicited criticism, or provocative comments on my social media. (That’s what your pages are there for.) And since I prefer to use Zelle instant payment, I don’t appreciate being sent money I’m owed by PayPal or Venmo—services I no longer want to pay fees for, except in emergencies.
Publicize Your Preferences
When someone wants to be supportive, I now explain specifically how they can help. In my case, that’s showing up to online events they’re invited to. Or by following me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. It’s great when people like the YouTube videos of panels I’ve linked to my website, or repost event fliers I’ve shared publicly. And all authors love when someone leaves a good review of their books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads—especially when the praise is accompanied by five stars.
Always Ask Before You Share
A woman I know complained that her mom shared photos of her wedding and then news of her pregnancy on Facebook before she and her husband wanted to go public. I remember how shocked I’d been when a cousin posted about my father’s death before I’d told anyone. Even if it’s legal, I don’t want my images, work, or private life dispersed without my approval.
So I’m now leading by example and asking permission before sharing anyone else’s events, news, or photos. When I do get the nod to repost anything, I add a shout-out to its origin. Recently sharing a magazine editing position with my students, I wrote, “Thanks to my colleague Jessica for finding this great job opening,” tagging her. After taking pictures of the Zoom bar mitzvah last Saturday to show a relative who’d missed it, I texted them to Lisa, the host, and her kids. They let me know the shots they liked and picked which ones could be posted—and when. After I did, our mutual Michigan brigade responded with hearts and “Mazel tov,” reminding me of the beauty of staying connected via social media—with boundaries.
If your personal assistant is taking the day off and your dog is napping, you may find yourself wondering how to get your favorite Netflix programming to show up on that flatscreen across the room from your couch. Admittedly, it can be confusing — there are so many remotes, so many devices, and so many possibilities of where that Netflix signal might originate.
The good news is that if you have Chromecast on your TV or as an add-on dangling from your USB port, you can set up your Google Home to answer all of your Netflix commands.
The setup is easy. Just go to your Google Home app on your phone. Tap the gear, and under Settings you’ll select “Add,” which will bring up these options:
Select “Videos and photos,” and you’ll find a list of your streaming services:
Tap on Netflix and sign in. Once the account is confirmed, you’ll see the familiar Netflix interface:
You can also do this setup under Google Assistant services, where you’ll click on TV & Video to end up at “Videos and photos” again.
That’s it! That’s all there is! And then you can begin shouting, “Hey, Google! Play the Great British Baking Show again!”
According to the editors at Bikepacking.com the summer of 2021 will be … a lot like the summer of 2020. We may be able to walk mask-free into a convenience store to fuel up on Snickers and Gatorade, but the unpredictability of international travel will keep most of us exploring in our own backyards. For those of us who love our backyards, that’s not such a bad prognostication. If you’ve already got a working bike, all you need is a goal, whether it’s exploring new roads solo or finally signing up for that multiday charity ride.
There are no hard and fast rules for bikepacking. Some cyclists thrive on riding 1,000 miles in cutoff denim shorts, drinking from streams, bivouacking under the stars, and tempting fate with every decision. Others prefer to carry the extra weight of tents, sleeping pads, and stoves to ensure their comfort, safety, and well-being. There may not be a “wrong” way to do it, but there are some kit items, bike accessories, camping gear, and food that will make your two-wheeled foray into the wild more enjoyable.
What you’re reading now is a newly updated version of the guide we originally published last year. We’ve provided a few new suggestions for key pieces of the bikepacking puzzle and kept a few steadfast no-brainers provided last spring by Jeremy Kershaw, a registered nurse who for more than a decade has been organizing events like the Heck Epic, a three-day bikepacking race in northern Minnesota. Kershaw has pedaled thousands of miles to hone his systems. As he likes to say, “Bikepacking is a tinkerer’s dream. The pros and cons of each piece of equipment can be dramatic, but that’s part of the fun.”
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Choose the Right Apparel
There’s plenty of bike-specific gear available to outfit you from head to toe, but here’s our advice for what works best on those week-long backcountry rides.
Cleats or Flats?
If you want to maximize time off the bike on a multiday trip, try Specialized’s Rime Flat Shoes ($130 at Specialized, $130 at Backcountry). It sounds like an oxymoron, but Specialized designed this relaxed biking shoe with hiking in mind. The design pairs an uber-grippy rubber outsole with a durable mesh and TPU upper that breathes well and drys quickly in inclement weather. It also has enough interior support to properly optimize hip, knee, and foot alignment on the bike, reducing your risk of injury. At 13.6 ounces, it feels like a light hiking shoe when you wear it off the bike. In the saddle, it’s stiff enough to power the pedals forward.
For those who want maximize their power, efficiency, and style quotient while minimizing weight, the answer is the Rapha Explore Powerweave shoe ($355 at Rapha). Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s packed with tech. The stiff carbon sole of a road shoe is topped by a 3D-woven fabric with TPU-reinforced yarns that give it strength and weather resistance. The two-wheeled boa lacing system ratchets to just the right tension so the shoe ends up feeling custom designed for your own foot.
Strap on a Helmet
Some bikepackers believe that helmets only add to the fatigue they feel over long miles while providing little added benefit, especially when riding on roads lightly traveled by cars and trucks. Others wouldn’t even consider straddling a bike without wearing a brain bucket. Here’s one helmet that meets the debate in the middle: the POC Ventral Lite ($275 at POC, $275 at The Pro’s Closet). Weighing 8.5 ounces, this highly ventilated helmet is one of the lightest ever produced, making it far less of a burden on your head. POC shaved weight by scaling back the outer shell to cover only the essential parts of the liner, which is made using a lower-density EPS foam.
A cycling baselayer should wick sweat going uphill and keep you warm and dry going down. It should also stretch in the shoulders, be compressive enough to provide support, and be long enough to keep you covered. We like the Specialized Merino Seamless Short Sleeve Base Layer ($80 at Specialized, $80 at Backcountry). Made from soft merino wool, this lightweight base layer does all of the aforementioned tasks well. Thanks to its naturally antimicrobial threads, it will also keep you stink free for those nights you happen to roll out on the town.
What you wear as your primary layer is a matter of personal choice. Some prefer a basic technical tee, while others will want a standard zip-up, three-pocket cycling jersey. So, let us consider the outer layer. The latest trend in cycling apparel is the technical hoodie. They’re great for cool riding in shoulder seasons, but they are also awesome off the bike while camping. Five bike companies sent me their hoodie for testing. I especially loved Velocio’s Recon Hoodie ($249 for women, $249 for men, both at Velocio). I wear it every day. The Italian-designed piece has a streamlined fit, a merino fleece lining, two zip pockets on the front, and one smaller zip pocket on the side.
A jacket needs to be roomy and pliable enough to allow you the freedom of movement you require to safely maneuver your bike. A good jacket should also be breathable while staying fully wind and waterproof for long-haul rides. A hood is nice too. The POC Signal All-Weather Jacket ($280 for men or women at Backcountry, $350 for men or women at POC) ticks all those boxes while still packing down wherever you want to stash it; just stuff it into its own back pocket and attach it, via snaps, to the front handlebars. Its built in RECCO receiver will ping search and rescue folks with your whereabouts if you wind up in a ravine, and an NFC chip inside can store critical health details that first responders can access using a companion app that’s available for Android or iOS.
Get Some Bibs
Diehards like to show their grit by riding in cutoff shorts with no protective chamois. And while those may dry faster, bib shorts are better. Bibs are aerodynamic, don’t bind in the waist, stay up, and have a chamois to keep your undercarriage from getting chafed. There are beefier bibs out there, but we like the Pearl Izumi Interval Cargo Bib Short ($124 and up for men or women at Pearl Izumi) because it has cooling mesh side panels for hot summer riding. It also has pockets on the thighs for quick access to snacks, a leg-gripping hem, and a comfortable friction-reducing chamois. Ladies take note: The distaff version has a drop panel designed for quick and easy pee breaks. Pearl Izumi tends to run slightly smaller than other brands, so consider sizing up.
Every season, I waver on whether expensive sunglasses are worth their lofty price tags. After testing multiple brands, I found that the more affordable Tifosi Sledge Light ($70 and up at Tifosi Optics) are as good as the more expensive options. They’re lightweight, flexible, and slip-free. And, importantly for long days, they come with interchangeable polycarbonate lenses—swap in clear, all-condition, or full-sun lenses—that keep your eyeballs covered no matter what kind of light the sun throws at them.
Neck and Neck
Bandanas are still more popular, but we can’t let go of our Buffs ($14 and up at Buffs) because they provide better coverage and a wider variety of protective features. The various models offered by Buffs guard against annoyances like the wind, the cold, biting insects, and the sun (with SPF 50 protection) to match whatever riding conditions you happen to find yourself in.
On a long ride into the unknown, you’ll need a piece of technology to count the miles, and of course tell you where exactly on the green hills of Earth you are. Stem-mounted bike computers are the standard-bearers of GPS systems among dedicated bikepackers, but some multi-sport athletes prefer the versatility of wearing their way-finding tech on their wrist. Plus, a smartwatch has the added benefit of tracking your heart rate and other physical data points. Whichever option you choose, Kershaw advises that you “make sure you understand your system before heading out.”
Wristwatch: My top pick is the new Suunto 9 Baro Titanium ($419 at REI, $599 at Suunto). It’s a premium, upgraded version of the Suunto 9 that debuted in March. Track the weather, your heart rate, and your route using the intuitive buttons, or by swiping across the touchscreen on this beautifully designed Finnish timepiece. The watch offers turn-by-turn directions (the navigation system is powered by adventure mapping specialists Komoot) and provides up to 170 hours of GPS tracking in the battery-sipping tour mode—a key feature for those in the wild for multiple days with limited access to recharging. In standard mode, the watch ratchets down to 25 hours of battery life, which is plenty for city-to-city rides.
Cycling Computer: Go for the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt ($280 at Wahoo). Wahoo’s updated bike computer is a highly intuitive companion. Slightly larger than a pack of dental floss, it unobtrusively mounts to your handlebars. The waterproof—and, thanks to its Gorilla Glass screen, nearly crash-proof—device packs a new, 64-color high-contrast screen and expanded navigation features. Wahoo also increased the battery to provide a 15-hour runtime and increased onboard memory to 16GB, which means you can preload as many miles of maps as you can handle. When paired with the Wahoo Elemnt mobile app, riders can customize their data screens, sync routes between computers, and analyze their ride data.
It’s nice to get out of the elements on occasion with a night in a hotel or couch surfing with friends, but it’s also good to be prepared for those days when you’d rather just sleep under the stars.
“The ultralight tent versus bivvy versus hammock debate is endless,” says Kershaw. Hammocks you can string up between two trees, and simple bivvies (ultra-minimal shelters) are easy options because you don’t have to deal with poles, but Kershaw says you should consider an ultralight tent if you want a dry place to read at night.
For minimalists, we like the Rab Ridge Raider Bivi ($375 from Rab), a one-person bivvy rigged for sleeping anywhere—even in a ditch if you have to. You have to squeeze yourself inside, and it’s a tight fit, but its Pertex shell gives you a dry, breathable, secure hideaway for sleeping. With only one overhead hoop and a micropole at the feet to keep the morning dew off your sleeping bag, it takes less than five minutes to set up. Weighing just under two pounds and packing down to the size of an overstuffed Chipotle burrito, it’s an essential rig for those who want to keep it as simple as possible.
Those craving something more luxurious should try the SeaToSummit Telos TR2 ($499 at SeaToSummit). This two-person, three-season, two-door backpacking tent has a unique pole system; the middle pole curves in the opposite direction outward, like butterfly wings, so at its apex, the tent becomes roomy enough for somebody to almost stand fully upright. The packed weight of 3 pounds, 7 ounces, is mere peanuts, but with an innovatively designed segmented stuff sack, the tent can be distributed between two bikes. With a floor area of 28 square feet and a vestibule area of 19.5 square feet, the weight to footprint ratio is exemplary, especially when you need to spread out and dry stuff after a long, wet day in the rain.
That’s a Wrap
When it comes to sleeping bags, Kershaw’s advice is to find a sleeping bag and pad that packs down and keeps you warm. “Go as light as you want to,” says Kershaw. “There’s such a wide variety of temperature ranges out there.” Some seasoned riders just bring a tarp and wrap themselves up in it like a burrito. If this is your first bikepacking trip, however, we recommend sucking up the extra weight of a bag and pad.
Kelty’s Cosmic Ultra Down 20 sleeping bag ($200 and up at Kelty, $200 and up at Evo.com) was already a pretty ideal selection, but this year Kelty upped the down fill from 600 to 800, changed the rectangular baffles to trapezoidal ones to retain more heat, and added a soft taffeta liner. The upgrades over last year’s model shaved a few ounces off the weight (it now measures 2.4 pounds for the men’s version and 2.9 pounds for the women’s) and added $40 to the cost, but I find that added comfort is worth the extra money.
For a ground pad, try the Big Agnes Insulated Axel Air pad ($152 and up at REI, $152 and up at Big Agnes). For its light weight (around 17 ounces for my midsize pad) the Axel Air sleeps like a much beefier pad, and with an R-Value (the measure of a sleeping pad’s ability to resist heat transfer; higher is better) of 3, it kept me warm and dry even in the damp chill of early spring in Minnesota. There’s always a risk that a pad this lightweight will pop, so be gentle with it. The pad comes in multiple lengths and widths, and in a mummy shape or as a rectangular pad. All the sizes and shapes are different prices, and some are easier to find in stock than others.
You have to eat and drink out there. Here’s some tested advice on what to pack, how to pack it, and some other strategies for staying fueled up.
There’s no getting around it: you’re going to have to carry water with you. Kershaw says to secure any water bottles or bladders to your bicycle frame instead of relying on a hydration pack. “It’s much better to carry as much weight as possible on your bike as opposed to on your back,” he says. He also offers this expert advice: If your route is remote, pack a filtration system.
For those looking for efficient water storage, I like the HydraPak Seeker 2L ($22 at REI, $22 at HydraPak). More versatile than your average hydration bladder, this ultra-tough TPU water carrier will scrunch into the size of a fist when not in use. It’s also compatible with any filter (like the Katadyn BeFree) that screws on to a common 42mm thread, and it can be kitted out with a separate hydration hose for use as a hydration pack during the day. At the campsite, secure it with its leakproof screw cap and use it for water storage.
If you want 99.9999999 percent piece of mind that a water-borne illness won’t force you to end your trip early, pack the MSR Guardian Gravity Purifier ($250 at REI, $250 at MSR). It’s a little bulky for ultra-streamlined rigs, but if space isn’t critical, this high-flow, gravity powered system is handy. It filters bacteria, particulate matter, viruses, and intestine-ravaging protozoa.
“A lot of the fun of bikepacking is coming into a town for a food stop,” says Kershaw. But, he adds, “We can’t assume we can find places to eat, so know in advance where reliable food stops are.”
If you’re going to be far from civilization, just BYO nutrition. I can recommend the delicious, nutritious, just-add-water meals from Good to Go. For me, these have made backcountry food prep a thing of the past. The company’s new pre-packaged food kits offer an assorted selection of meals to last five to 10 days. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included. The five-day package offers 305 grams of protein, 8,430 calories, and tasty options like Cuban rice bowls, Thai curry, and Good to Go’s award-winning chicken pho. There are meal kits for vegans too. ($135 and up for the five-day kits.)
Kate’s Real Food Dark Chocolate Mint bars make a great on-the-bike snack. The peppermint-tinged bar is packed with organic ingredients including peanut butter, gluten-free oats, dark chocolate, peppermint extract, and natural cacao powder. (12-pack, $30 at Kate’s Real Food.)
When you’re sweating it out all day on a bike, you need more than just water to replenish lost electrolytes. The new Honey Stinger Rapid Hydration Mix ($15 and up from Honey Stinger) offers three types of specialized hydration: Prepare for swigging pre-ride, Perform for sipping on the bike, and Recover for your evening come-down. Each mix uses organic honey for sweetness and to provide a natural energy boost, and combines it with sodium to speed the absorption of key added nutrients. The best part: each flavor has a satisfyingly tart taste without the sickly aftertaste of many performance drinks.
If your route takes you through towns with shops and restaurants, Kershaw advises that you follow this simple plan for fueling up your engine: “Bring a tiny stove and a little tiny cook kit for cooking breakfast, then credit card camp for the rest of the day,” he says.
For making that first meal of the day, we like the MSR Pocket Rocket II ($45 at REI, $45 at Amazon). Screw this featherweight burner onto an isobutane-propane-fueled stove, and it boils water in less than three and a half minutes.
It’s about more than just the bike. Supplement your ride with these items for storage, repairs, and safety.
You might be tempted to pack a big backpack, but that’s the wrong move—see Kershaw’s advice above about carrying weight on your bike instead of on your back. “Frame bags are great, just make sure you load up and see how your bike feels before you go,” he says. And put some quality test miles on your loaded-up chariot so you can dial in your setup. “If a strap is rubbing, that annoyance will be compounded when it starts to rain.”
I like the Ortlieb Frame-Pack RC Toptube pack ($150 at Ortlieb, $150 at REI). The German-designed, four-liter, waterproof frame bag is ideal for bikepackers in wet climates who need dry storage for things like a tent, a stove, and food, yet still want to access the water bottles secured to their frame below. The combination of Velcro and roll closures keep your goodies on the inside. For more storage, Ortlieb’s fork packs ($60 each) and rear panniers ($190 for a pair) are a welcome addition; they attach to either side of the wheels in front and back.
Flats are a reality on a long ride. There are two good options for spare tubes: good old rubber; or TPU, a stretchy thermoplastic. The tradeoff between them is that the rubber may be more versatile in terms of the size tires it can accommodate, but the TPU is unmatched in weight and packability. I recommend Tubolito’s S-CX Gravel Tube ($40 at Tubolito). The lightest, smallest tube on the market, this 35-gram TPU tube with a Presta valve is as strong as a standard rubber tube at a fraction of the weight. It’s compatible with tubeless tires too, making the S-CX is the ideal spare for all 700c and 650B tires between 30-mm and 47-mm tire widths.
Pump It Up
The best method for getting a tire up to pressure and ready to roll after a repair is also a matter of debate. Some prefer the trusty method of pumping air into a tube via a mechanical pump. But that’s tedious and time-consuming, which is why others insist on the quicker, easier, and occasionally explosive option of inflating the tire with a pressurize CO2 canister.
The good news is that you can have it both ways with the Cannondale CO2 Road Mini Pump ($38 at your local bike shop). This super-compact pump is the size of an Epi-Pen, and it eliminates the debate by pairing a speedy CO2 cartridge mechanism with a mechanical backup of a real pump. The pump comes with a bike mount, but it’s small enough to be stashed in a jersey pocket or pack. It’s an especially good bet for winter riding, since the metal CO2 cartridge is already in position and ready to fire, and those things can become too cold to handle on frigid days.
Can You See Me?
A study conducted by Clemson University in 2016 showed that, on average, cyclists believe they are 700 percent more visible to cars than they actually are. That’s why, even the minimalists should still pack a strong lighting system. Consider Bontrager’s powerful and easy-to-mount light combo, the Flare RT and Ion Pro RT ($185 at Trek Bikes, $185 at REI). It comes with a headlight to illumiante the full width of any road or trail, and a rear flare that can be seen from 2 kilometers away thanks to its unique flash pattern. If you have a Garmin computer or any ANT+ device, you can use the display to track the lights’ battery levels.
There’s also a place for a headlamp in a bikepacking kit, as a backup headlight on the road, and for use in camp to more quickly and easily put up the tent or cook meals in the dark, or just to relax and read. I like the 168-lumen Third Eye Headlamp ($50 at Third Eye, $48 at Amazon) because it throws a beam that can extend up to 360 feet. It has two easy-to-use push buttons, one for white light and one for red light, which preserves night vision while still providing illumination. The headlamp portion is made from 100 percent recyclable, non-toxic plastic too. The various designs for the machine-washable headband are fun as well.
Kershaw’s recommended fix-it kit list includes a bunch of small items. Definitely pack the mini Leatherman Squirt ($40 at Amazon, $40 at Huckberry, $40 at REI) with pliers to fix cables. For tire maintenance, you’ll want a tire boot for repairing sidewall cuts, a small pump (like the one above), a tire lever for getting tires on and off the wheels, and a patch kit for fixing flats (try this $7 kit from Park Tool). All of that, of course, is in addition to your spare tube. If your route is long or filled with gravel sections, then maybe bring two tubes. Also take along a set of extra brake pads and a quick link/extra chain link for fixing drivetrain issues. And don’t forget the extra batteries or charging pack for your GPS unit or smartwatch.
First Aid and Extras
To treat the small scrapes and aches, Kershaw packs an antibiotic ointment, several large Band-Aids or 2-inch bandages, cloth tape, and ibuprofen. He also never leaves home without a bug net, headlamp, sunscreen, and lots of Voile straps ($4 at Voile Straps) for securing gear to the bike. These brilliant orange, perforated polyurethane strips with clips were originally designed to haul skis, but they work perfectly for holding a tent tight to the handlebars.
One last thing: Never underestimate the importance of seemingly small details, like the cushion in your handlebar tape. Lizard Skins just debuted a 4.6mm-version of its popular DSP V2 tape specifically designed for bikepacking ($40 and up at Lizard Skins). It provides extra vibration damping and cushioning where your hands meet metal. Plus it comes in four colors—Jet Black, Graphite, Crimson Red, and Electric Blue—so you can look stylish even when there’s not another soul for miles.