Great Weatherproof Gear That’ll Keep You PFC-Free This Autumn


Move over, BPA. Step aside, parabens. Perfluorocarbons are the environment’s new public enemy number one. The compounds, found in many common household items (look for keywords like “nonstick” or “stain-resistant”), have been the subject of several incriminating exposes in recent years.

Last year, PFC-laced runoff from a DuPont’s manufacturing plant was blamed for major birth defects and other health issues in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Studies have linked exposure to the chemicals to testicular and kidney cancers, obesity and decreased response to vaccines, among other things. The consequences of PFC bioaccumulation are so serious that 200 scientists signed the Madrid Statement to express concern over the continued production and release of PFCs.

You can’t get rid of PFCs just by replacing your cookware with cast iron. PFCs are also used in durable water repellent (DWR) to repel moisture on many items of outdoor gear, like jackets, pants, sleeping bags and tents.

Many clothing manufacturers, like Adidas and H&M, have pledged to stop using PFCs. Outdoor gear manufacturers have been slow to do the same. While many, like Patagonia, promise to phase out the use of PFCs at a later date, they claim that the current alternatives are just not as effective. If you got cold and wet while mountaineering, you could die from exposure. Or at the very least, be severely uncomfortable.

But the technology is catching up. Here’s a head-to-toe roundup of PFC-free gear for your upcoming season in the outdoors. If a brand-new rain jacket is not in the cards for you at the moment, you can also reimpregnate your older gear with PFC-free waterproofing agents like Nikwax‘s hardshell or softshell wash-in ($13); the company has been PFC-free since its inception.

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Nau Quintessentshell Jacket

Scheduled to be released in spring of 2017, the Quintessentshell jacket from Nau ($245) is designed to look like a classic denim jacket but with rainwear features like a removable, adjustable hood, covered zipper and adjustable cuffs. Made from recycled polyester over a cotton lining and impregnated with PFC-free DWR, the fabric resembles chambray but disperses both drizzle and simulated heavier rain (in the shower) handily.

In my testing, the Quintessentshell was lightweight and breathable on long, drizzly walks, even without zippered vents. Like most of Nau’s product line, it passes seamlessly from the city to the woods. Perhaps the most striking feature of the jacket is light, fluffy feel of the cotton lining; it’s like wearing a waterproof duvet.

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Fjällräven Kaipak 28

One of the first companies to recognize the need for PFC-free outdoor gear, Fjällräven’s entire line has been PFC-free since 2015. That might be easier to do for a heritage brand—Fjällräven was one of the first companies to commercially manufacture framed backpacks in the 1960s—but it’s a noteworthy achievement nonetheless.

The Kaipak 28 ($150) is the smallest version of its stripped-down, lightweight technical backpack, with a top-loading main compartment and compression straps on a narrow frame that are ideal for smaller backpackers. The bag is made of a durable, tightly-woven fabric that the company calls G-1000, a blend of recycled polyester and cotton that is then impregnated with Fjällräven’s proprietary blend of beeswax and paraffin.

On my hikes with it, the fabric kept the contents of the top-loading main compartment dry in heavy simulated rain. However, for overnight trips in wet weather, you’ll need either internal dry bags or one of Fjällräven’s optional polyurethane rain covers ($50). After ten minutes in the shower, water stopped beading on the backpack’s surface.

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Páramo Velez Adventure Trousers

This small, UK-based company is one of the few outdoor gear manufacturers on the burlier end of the spectrum to commit to being entirely PFC-free. Many have signed pledges to phase out PFCs at a later date, but Páramo was the first to sign Greenpeace’s Detox Outdoor Commitment in January of 2016. In February, professional mountaineer and Greenpeace volunteer David Bacci summited Monte Fitz Roy in Patagonia while wearing Páramo clothing, demonstrating that PFC-free garments can stand up to the harshest weather on the planet.

Páramo designed its versatile Adventure Trousers ($163) to be used in all weathers, under all conditions. The fabric is a Nikwax Analogy design, a two-layered system with an outer layer that repels water at the surface and draws evaporative moisture off your skin through the inner layer. The fabric itself is wonderfully comfortable, with plenty of give and a silky feel directly against the skin.

The trousers are as good at dispersing moisture as advertised. They held up in the simulated rain of the shower remarkably well. They are slightly too heavy to be rightly considered all-weather; the pants are thick and warm enough to be used for snowsports, even if they do have two protected thigh vents. However, they were remarkably effective at moving moisture from the inner to the outer layer as well. An hour of determined hiking in 70-degree weather did not produce the dreaded “swamp crotch” effect.

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Danner Mountain Light Cascade

In Greenpeace’s audits of weatherproof apparel, footwear was one of the biggest culprits in terms of PFC concentration per square meter. For example, one boot had a concentration of 1770 micrograms per square meter; in contrast, a waterproof jacket with DWR has between 70-106 micrograms.

While it’s important to keep your feet warm and dry, traditional weatherproof materials like oil and leather are more than sufficient for a vast range of outdoor activities. The newest version of Danner’s Mountain Light Cascade ($360)—the iconic backpacking boot made famous by the movie Wild—now comes with a thinner midsole for reduced break-in time, a Dri-Lex lining to move moisture away from the foot, and a narrower footbed for anyone who would occasionally like to switch out their heavy backpacking socks.

The boots remained impervious to my simulated rainstorm, even though the leather did darken noticeably (which may be a selling point for some). I recommend cleaning and reconditioning the boots in between treks to maintain their waterproofing abilities.

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The North Face Apex+ ETip Gloves

In the same Greenpeace study, only four pieces of outerwear came back from independent testing with no traces of PFCs. One of those items was a pair the ETip gloves from The North Face, a fleece-lined glove with conductivity in all five fingers for using a touchscreen.

The newest Apex+ ETip comes with The North Face’s new non-fluorinated DWR softshell fabric, called ClimateBlock. Unlike the older version of the ETip, the fleece-insulated softshell fabric repels water handily and all five fingers remain remarkably effective when using a smartphone. (Just be sure to shake off the water first.) It’s not usable for snowsports—after five minutes of full water immersion, dampness crept in through the suede and silicone palm—but it’s more than suitable for cold, rainy casual use.

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How YouTube Reinvented Itself for the Next Billion Users


YouTube’s offices in San Bruno, California are spectacular. Standing desks, couches, nap pods. Kitchens around every corner stocked with free food. I’m told there’s even a pool. It’s all par for the Silicon Valley course, really.

However, one thing inside The House Cat Videos Built feels out of place: one of the Wi-Fi networks crawls at mind-numbing speed. When John Harding, YouTube’s VP of engineering, takes out a tester phones and taps the YouTube icon, the app takes more than a minute to load. As the thumbnails and icons render, Harding pulls out another phone, connected to the same network. He taps the home screen to open something called “Video App.” It opens in seconds, a scrolling list of video thumbnails on a white background.

This app isn’t called “Video App” anymore. Starting today, it’s called YouTube Go, and it represents more than a year of work to rethink YouTube for a new kind of user. The so-called “next billion” Internet users are coming online, many of them in India, Indonesia, Brazil, and China. They aren’t like the users who came before. They have different devices, different connectivity, different social norms, different ideas about what the Internet is.

Spend enough time talking to Silicon Valley types and you’ll hear them say “we made something we’d want to use.” That’s why laundry startups proliferate. But what do you do when you’re making something for everyone else? If you’re YouTube, you send your engineers, researchers, and designers to India, Indonesia, Singapore, and beyond to find out how the next billion will use YouTube, and how they might change the service forever.

The Human Network

India is one of many countries YouTube is targeting with Go, and a fairly representative one: It has more than a billion people occupying every socio-economic class and living in every imaginable setting. India also is uniquely enticing for any company looking for growth markets, says Forrester research director Ashutosh Sharma. “It’s a country of 1.25 or 1.3 billion, and only 200-250 million people have Internet connectivity,” he says. It’s also more open and accessible than, say, China. “There’s a growing middle class,” Sharma says, “and people crave foreign brands. It’s going to be even more open in coming years.”

YouTube Go's home screen is clean, simple, and super fast to load.

Google has offices in India and the YouTube team has partners and engineers there, but the company decided early on to send the people making the new app to meet their new users. Nibha Jain, YouTube’s research lead for the Next Billion Users group, says her team was learning as soon as it got off the plane. “We realized,” she says, “that when we got there, we would look into our phones to see, oh, where do we go? But what you need to do when you’re in India is roll down the window of your car and ask the guy on the street.” The research team found that every experience, even with technology, is inherently social. The next billion team started calling this the Human Information Network. “I have a phone, I have an individual experience,” Jain says. “When we move to these societies, it’s very social, it’s very integrated. How do we respond to that?”

YouTube Go compresses and caches thumbnails for videos, so you can poke around the app and see what’s there. You can see videos, share videos, and watch videos without ever pinging a cellphone tower.

The team spent months talking to individual users, or sitting down with small groups to figure out how they use apps together. There was the guy in a one-room house who couldn’t wait to show Johanna Wright, YouTube’s VP of product management, his favorite WWE wrestling videos but couldn’t get them to load fast enough. Or the guy who got videos from a brother-in-law who worked in a bakery with decent Wi-Fi. He’d download videos at work, then use the Shareit app to send them to his friends and family. The YouTubers saw more languages than they expected, more varied use cases for the Internet, and an entirely different way of sharing content. People didn’t discover videos on Twitter, they found them by swapping SD cards or sharing directly with their friends.

Ultimately, the next billion team came up with a handful of core principles for a new YouTube experience. They focused on making the app work even on even the cheapest phones, enabling sharing between people, localizing the app as much as possible, and maximizing data-friendliness. That last one was the hardest, because it meant the app had to work offline far beyond just letting you download videos (though you can of course download videos). Data is expensive, and connectivity can be hard to come by. Many people keep data off, except when they need it. “I can honestly say, after being in India,” says Arvind Srinivasan, the team’s engineering director, “that the 2G in our office is fantastic.” For YouTube, that meant the app had to feel alive even without a connection. YouTube Go compresses and caches thumbnails for videos so you can poke around and see what’s there. You can see, share, and watch videos without ever pinging a cellphone tower.

Because it’s designed to operate offline, YouTube Go’s sharing also is an almost entirely local experience. Once you’ve downloaded a video, it sits on your phone like any other file. In the YouTube Go app, you go to a sharing menu, and it shows you who’s around waiting to receive a video. Tap their name and the video and the app sends it over a local Wi-Fi network. The app does a light check-in with the YouTube server to credit the creator (and ensure the video’s not deleted), and unlocks the video on the new device. In theory, one person could download a long video and share it with everyone on Earth, one by one, without ever having to download the entire file again.

YouTube Go is mostly designed for viewing, and sharing, offline.

YouTube Go also includes a preview feature that lets you see a few frames of a video before deciding to spend data to watch it. “You really want to know a lot more about it than the thumbnail,” Akkad says, “before you invest 200MB both on your phone and from a data perspective.” It only uses six-second ads, which don’t cost much data. And they compress the ever-living hell out of every video, to make downloads as small as possible. Before you download anything, the app tells you the size of the file, so you can decide if it’s worth the money.

Coming Online

The relentless expansion of Silicon Valley into the rest of the world’s business has been, and will continue to be, a messy affair. Just ask Facebook. Or Uber. Or, uh, Google. Everyone is still pushing at the borders, and the smart ones realize that the users they want are nothing like the users they have. That is forcing companies to re-think what they make and how they operate, and that will change the Internet for the rest of us.

This might help explain why YouTube goes out of its way to say YouTube Go is the very start of something. The new app doesn’t have subscriptions, or trending modules, or comments, or many other things you’d expect. There are no new features for creators, either. Some of that is intentional. “Giving them something that YouTube has iterated on with its users over ten years, all at once? That’s a little daunting,” Akkad says. “So we want to stage how we introduce people to different functionality.” YouTube Go is launching with a few thousand users, then expanding in stages before YouTube makes it available to everyone early next year.

The phased rollout is also a chance for YouTube to continue learning what works and what doesn’t. The team is keenly aware that it is building a product for people far removed from its comfy San Bruno offices, and that few of its ideas about YouTube are useful there. Before starting work on Go, a group of engineers went through an internal Google bootcamp designed to open their minds to new ideas. Srinivasan calls it “almost a spiritual experience.” Everyone constantly reminds me, and seemingly themselves, that their job is not to build what they think would be cool, but what their user wants and needs.

If YouTube Go is successful, it will change every part of YouTube. It’s just a numbers thing: If a billion-plus people start experiencing the service through local sharing and downloads, they won’t give that up to switch to the “real YouTube.” And whether it’s video previews or video compression or the overall lightness of the app, many of the changes will appeal to everyone. YouTube Offline launched in India two years ago, and is now part of the product around the world.

A billion people are about to tell YouTube what they want, and they’ll do the same with every tech company you know. Those companies would be crazy not to listen.

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Roku’s New Streaming Lineup Is Built for a 4K World


If you need evidence that 4K TV is now mainstream, look no further than Roku’s brand-new batch of streamers. A year after the company unveiled the Roku 4, its first 4K set-top streaming box, it now offers three 4K-capable boxes. As of today, there are more 4K Roku boxes than HD Roku boxes—and two of the new devices play HDR content, too.

According to Roku, the new lineup is due to 4K TV sales finally hitting critical mass. The company says 55 million 4K sets are projected to be sold worldwide in 2016, and Roku represents nearly 50 percent of the U.S. streaming-box market, according to ComScore research.

The five new Roku devices represent a complete refresh of the company’s streaming-box lineup. There’s also a major change to the naming conventions you may be used to. Essentially, three boxes replace the Roku 4. The new highest-end model is the Roku Ultra ($130), which does 4K at 60fps and supports HDR streaming on compatible TVs, offers USB and Ethernet ports, and has optical-out audio. The remote also supports voice search, and the box shares the beeping remote-control finder of the Roku 4.

The lower-priced Roku Premiere+ ($100) shares many of the same features, including a quad-core processor, Ethernet connectivity, and a headphone jack on the remote for private listening. Like the higher-end Ultra, it also does 4K and HDR streaming, but it’s missing the optical-out audio, the USB port, and the voice-search feature on the remote. Cheaper still is the Wi-Fi-only Roku Premiere, another quad-core box that does 4K at 60fps but not HDR. It lacks the headphone jack on the remote, it doesn’t have the Ethernet port, and its remote works via infrared instead of Wi-Fi.

So think of it this way: Instead of having to choose between the Roku 1, Roku 2, and Roku 3 box, there are now tiered versions of Roku’s 4K streamer. The Ultra offers the full slate of Roku options, the Premiere+ lacks some of the advanced I/O options, and the Premiere lacks HDR, the ability to stream over Ethernet, and some of the advanced remote features.

But Roku also isn’t leaving HD or even SD TV owners in the lurch, either. All those 4K boxes also stream in HD, and they’ll likely offer faster performance due to their processing muscle. But there are also a pair of super-cheap, Wi-Fi-only HD boxes if that’s all you need.

The new Roku Express is the smallest and cheapest Roku box yet, more akin to the size of the company’s streaming stick than its set-top unit. It’s also crazy cheap: At $30, it does Roku’s full slate of 3,000 channels in HD over an HDMI cable. If you have an older TV with RCA inputs, you’ll need the $40 Roku Express+, which offers those old-school connectors in addition to HDMI.

But all that new hardware is only part of the story, as Roku wants to make it easy for viewers to find Ultra HD content. The new 4K-capable boxes offer a “4K Spotlight” channel, which pulls in Ultra HD content from multiple channels instead of having to seek it out yourself. And thanks to an OS update for all Roku boxes, system-wide search features will get smarter for all other Roku devices, as well. The company is expanding its cross-channel search feature to support 100 channels—up from about 20 or so earlier this year.

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How to Watch the First Presidential Debate


The interminable presidential campaign is almost over! Monday night’s presidential debate marks the start of the seven-week home stretch in the race between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. They square off at 8 pm Eastern at Hofstra University. Can’t be there? No problem. You can watch it pretty much anywhere.

On TV

Unlike the primary season debates, the three presidential debates will be simulcast across the major networks and cable channels. Pick one: ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Univision, or C-SPAN. Lester Holt of NBC is the moderator, if you want to stick with the home team.

Online

All of the networks and major cable outlets have an online presence, so of course they are streaming the debates along with digital-first outlets like Buzzfeed News, The Daily Caller, Huffington Post, Politico, and Yahoo. Telemundo, the Wall Street Journal, and Hulu will stream it, too.

One online effort worth a special mention? PBS NewsHour and Microsoft have created an interactive site where you can check out presidential debates since 1960, filtered by specific topics or by year. Mon dieu, Mondale!

Getting Social

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube aren’t about to pass up a chance at engagement. Look for Facebook Live broadcasts from journalists and those packed into Hofstra. Twitter will use the same live streaming system it uses for Thursday night football, trading sacks for facts and working with Bloomberg for footage. The candidates won’t be wearing Specs, but Snapchat will compile Live Stories for bite-sized debate nuggets. YouTube will feature coverage from NBC News, PBS, Fox News, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Telemundo.

Virtual Reality, But Don’t

NBC will stream the debate in 360 degrees through a partnership with AltspaceVR, including, no joke, a “virtual Al Roker.” The good news is that AltspaceVR has apps for all the major platforms, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Gear VR. The bad news is that this is not a way that we recommend anyone watch a debate we recommend.

OK, you’re all set! It’s going to be easy to do your civic duty and watch the first presidential debate. As for what happens on that one uncle’s Facebook page afterward, you’re on your own.

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Snapchat’s Wild New Specs Won’t Share Google Glass’s Fate