Review: Whistle 3 Pet Tracker

Because I work from home, and because my dogs are the best dogs, we are in contact all day, every day. We're a three-headed, ten-legged Hydra, rotating around each other as we move from my office to the living room to the kitchen. Whatever I do, they're usually there too—whether that's sleeping at night, pacing around my living room, or feeding my kids.

And unfortunately, whatever happens to me, usually happens to them too. Last night, a friend saw my dogs after a long absence. “Hey you!” he said, scratching one of my dog's ears as she wagged her tail and sat at his feet. “Um…you look like you put on a little weight.”

I winced. Was he talking to me or my dog? Having two kids has made getting exercise just a little harder for all of us. At least I'm not scarfing peanut butter sandwich scraps from under my son's high chair.

So I put a fitness tracker on my dog. It’s harder to take long, rambling walks through the woods now, but it’s still important to make sure that my dogs are getting the exercise they need. And as someone who spends most of every day sitting at a desk, I like, and need, frequent reminders to move.

The Whistle 3 is a small GPS tracker and motion sensor that your dog wears on its collar. It’s small, easy to wear and use, and has a long battery life. Whether you’re home with your pets or hire a dog-walker, the Whistle 3 is an easy, comparatively affordable way to help make sure your dogs are both safe and getting the exercise they need.

The Price is Right

At $80, the Whistle 3 is more affordable than the spendy Link by AKC. It’s also smaller, less obtrusive, and less luxurious-looking. Rather than a rich leather collar with a click-in unit, the Whistle 3 is a small plastic box that comes in three different colors. It is 1.82 inches long and 1.45 inches high. It comes with a plastic holder that uses a rubber loop to attach to my dog's collar. On my 70-pound heeler mix, it’s barely noticeable.

The Whistle 3 uses a combination of cellular service, GPS, and Wi-Fi to pinpoint your pet at all times. As with the Link collar, you need to subscribe to a monthly or yearly service to access AT&T’s cellular network. The subscription service is $10 per month, but gets more affordable with a one- or two-year agreement.

To use the Whistle 3, you have to download the simple app. To designate a safe zone on your home’s Wi-Fi network, look up your address on their location map and draw a perimeter around your property. We're not the Beckhams or anything, but my single-family house is on a perfectly respectable 0.15 acres. The Whistle app warned me that my safe zone was a little smaller than they prefer, in order to avoid false breach notifications.

Nevertheless, it begrudgingly let me set my minute patch of dirt as the safe zone. So far, it works. In a week of testing, I haven’t gotten any false breach alerts. Still, this may be an issue if you live in an apartment, or on an even smaller property.

The unit took two hours to charge. One charge lasted me five days, but it probably would’ve lasted longer if we hadn’t been traveling. If you’re connected to your home’s Wi-Fi network, the Whistle 3 turns on Power Save mode and stops GPS tracking to reserve battery life.

For four of those five days, my dog and I were traveling away from home. When we have access to my home’s Wi-Fi network, the power usage is much lower. As of today, we’ve been home for three days with at least one long walk each day, and the battery is still at 79 percent.

I can check the battery life on the app, as well as add multiple owners to each Whistle, or add multiple Whistles to each account. You can set your pet’s age, weight, and breed, and set a daily activity goal. If you don't know how many minutes your pet should be exercising, the app will predict one for you based on the information you provide in your pet's profile. It suggested thirty minutes of activity a day for my ten-year-old dog, a low bar that I ended up raising.

The app also estimates how many calories your dog has burned based on the metabolic rate predicted by their weight. You can also keep track of the distance they've traveled, and how many hours of rest they got per day (a cool 18 hours, on average. Good work, dogs). The Whistle app will then reward your pet with a series of badges for different achievements, like traveling 50 miles or meeting your pet’s exercise goals for a full week.

Once you’re home, the Whistle 3 downloads your pet's activity to the app. While it only retains a location map for 24 hours in the app, you can check your pet's travels, as well as stat aggregates like miles traveled, in your weekly Whistle email. I like seeing my dog travel all over the state, but it's a little depressing to see how much time she spends in our house.

And finally, the Whistle 3 stayed put when I went hiking with my dog, who plunged into rivers and brush and dug holes in the sand. The device is rated IPX7 to withstand full immersion, and was unaffected. I didn’t even need to brush sand out of the holder.

Bare (Dog) Bones

The Whistle 3 is a pretty no-frills device. For example, you can’t store pictures in the app, or log medication reminders. It doesn’t have a light, or temperature alerts.

I also wish I could compare routes from day to day. And unlike the previous iteration of the Whistle, you can’t compare your dog’s activity levels to other dogs of her age and breed, which I was weirdly eager to see.

But those are sacrifices that I’m more than willing to make in favor of the Whistle 3’s great utility. Drawing a safe place within the app and using home Wi-Fi was much more effective as a boundary marker than using the charger as a Bluetooth base station, the way the Link does it. I never got false breach notifications with this method.

The battery life is much, much longer than competing products, which makes it a more effective tool for dogs that like to escape. Once your dog leaves your home Wi-Fi network, GPS pings her location every six minutes. Even when my dog was riding next to me in my car, I usually got an alert on my phone that she had left the house before I even got to the end of the street—it's that precise.

You can also opt for email or text notifications. And it's sturdy, too. There's no place for dirt or sand to gunk up things, and the holder is compatible with any collar that is under an inch wide.

Being a dog is tough. I’ve often felt guilty that the reward for my dogs’ devotion was to be replaced by young nano-humans that shout, poke them in the eyes, and grab their tails. A steady supply of dropped Cheerios is the least I can do to make up for the fact that their daily quota of walks and scratches have been replaced by caring for my young kids.

Having a Whistle 3 would be most helpful if I employed a dog walker or if my dogs were escape artists. But the Whistle 3 can still help me interrupt their 18 hours of snoozes per day for a brisk run around the park. It may be harder for me to meet my own exercise goals, but at least I've gotten a badge for working them out for the past seven days. The three-headed, ten-legged Hydra will take what we can get.

Read more:

adminadminReview: Whistle 3 Pet Tracker
read more

Review: Riese & Mller Load

Like canning tomatoes or wearing only second-hand clothing, riding a cargo bike has long been something I’d like to do, if only it wasn’t so hard. Cargo bikes are expensive, awkward, and heavy. When I went to Portland’s Splendid Cycles to pick up the Riese & Müller Load and ride it twelve miles home, I straddled it dubiously.

“Look at it this way,” said Splendid Cycles proprietor Joel Grover. “By the time you get home, you’re going to be a lot better at riding it than you are now!”

It’s true. After two weeks of riding the Load around my neighborhood to the grocery store and to drop my kids off at preschool, I’ve finally gotten used to it. In fact, I love it. But it wouldn’t be at all possible without electrical assistance. This bike is designed to cart around 440 pounds of weight. There is no way that my puny legs would be able to move this thing without a motor.

Points of Interest

In 1992, German mechanical engineers, fathers, and entrepreneurs Markus Riese and Heiko Müller realized that if you give a bike full suspension, those points of suspension can double as points of rotation for a folding bike. Less than a year later, Müller read about the Hesse Innovation Prize and built an aluminum prototype in ten days (and nights). The Birdy won the award, which was the push that Riese & Müller needed to get started.

The Load is their full-suspension cargo e-bike, with a double-battery Bosch electric assist motor. With a wheelbase of a little over six feet, it’s slightly more compact than you might expect from a cargo bike. As with the Yuba Boda Boda, it was too big to strap to a car's bike rack, so I planned to ride it twelve miles home.

Riese & Müller

When I got to Splendid Cycles, Grover had tricked out the Load Touring HS for my children. The cargo box is completely customizable. He installed two five-point harnesses in the box, protected by the interior low side walls that were attached to the trellis. He also threw in a Cordura child rain cover, which has clear plastic panels for your kids to see through.

Although the seat and the handlebars were set to a much taller person’s height, it only took a few minutes to adjust the saddle and the stem to fit me. Not only can you adjust the stem height to make the handlebars shorter, you can also loosen a clamp to adjust the stem angle to bring the handlebars closer to the seat.

I was able to stay on bike routes for the entire twelve-mile ride home, which is something that might not be a possibility in places that are less bike-friendly than Portland, Oregon. Still, the definition of viable cycling infrastructure can vary greatly, even here.

While the Load comes with fat Schwalbe commuter tires, it still feels a little unstable at speeds below ten miles per hour. It’s hard to maintain that speed on bike routes that are shared with pedestrians and joggers.

Unlike the Shimano STEPS e-assist system I've tried, the Bosch e-assisted system doesn’t automatically downshift when you stop. That meant that I had to do a lot of frantic down- and up-shifting to keep the bike going, as I slowed and restarted to avoid pedestrians or let people merge into traffic.

Portland’s bike routes, while plentiful, usually also involve at least a few narrow hairpin turns and spiral ramps. At one point, I tried to navigate around one hairpin turn and found myself at the dead end of a trail, filled with many of Portland’s currently unhoused residents. They looked on with great interest as I executed a tortured one-billion-point turn on the most bougie electric cargo bike in the world.

Eventually, I gave up on staying on protected bike routes and went for cruising on main thoroughfares. Being passed by eighteen-wheelers was terrifying, but it was a relief to not stop for crosswalks or swerve for dogs. The Load HS has a top speed of 28 mph, and I was able to get the bike up to 25 mph without too much effort.

When Push Comes to Shove

Once I got back to my neighborhood, things started looking up. My husband loved having a cargo box. It was easy for him to make quick runs to the hardware or grocery store and put bags in the box, without trying to pack everything into panniers.

My toddler loved riding in a cargo box, too. Especially with the child cover, it was far less exposed than riding in a bike seat. I appreciated being able to see and interact with her at a glance. The cargo box is also compatible with infant child seats, with an optional attachment.

The double-battery system has incredible longevity. Granted, my daily rides are all within a mile of my house, but as of two weeks’ worth of riding, I haven’t had to charge it. And the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are effective at bringing its rolling mass to a halt. I was extremely nervous about taking a couple hundred pounds of gear, bike, and humans down a 30-degree slope. But the brakes stopped us halfway down with no problem.

Riese & Müller

It's a miracle how comfortable this bike is. I hopped on my commuter bike after a week riding the Load, and was shocked by how squirrelly the handlebars were and how jolting the ride was, after a week spent cruising smoothly on a fully-suspended bike with perfect geometry.

And fittingly, given Riese & Müller’s history of innovative thinking, there were many small details that made the bike easier to use. For example, being able to quickly adjust the saddle and stem heights meant that it was easy for my spouse and I to switch off who rode the bike.

One of the biggest hurdles to riding a big e-bike is how to lock it up when you’re running errands. Bike stands are crowded, if you can even bring yourself to smash your multi-thousand-dollar car replacement in with a bunch of beater fixies. The Load comes with not only an integrated wheel lock, but an optional folding Abus Bordo lock whose holder doubles as a water bottle holder! We took the Load to outdoor picnics and locked it up, free-standing, next to our blanket and knew it wasn't going anywhere.

And finally, it’s a great-looking bike. It's sporty, yet practical. I can’t count the number of times that I almost fell off when people shouted compliments as I rode past.

Short People

The Load comes with the option for a ton of useful accessories. It's amazingly comfortable to ride, and it looks sharp, too. But having ridden an e-bike with automatic downshifting and push assistance, I don't think I can ride a cargo bike without it.

Often, I met other parents—moms, mostly—at preschool drop-off. They admired the bike, and admitted, "I've always felt like I'm not strong enough for a cargo bike. Do you find that you're strong enough?"

It's not a sexist question. At five-foot two, I'm not an imposing physical specimen. Cargo bikes are heavy. In order for someone who is my size to find them a viable car substitute, I need all the help I can get. With the Bosch e-assist system, the answer is only, "Well, most of the time."

Still, if you're not terrified of pushing several hundred pounds up a steep hill, the Load has plenty to recommend it. It's much more versatile and enjoyable to ride than a regular bike with an extended rear rack. While I found the Yuba Boda Boda more intuitive to use, my spouse and toddler definitely preferred the Load. Maybe after a six-month weight-training program, I'll feel a little differently.

Correction appended: 7/10/2018, 3:30 pm PDT: A previous version of this story stated that the Load does not have push assistance. It does.

Read more:

adminadminReview: Riese & Mller Load
read more

Review: Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Swimrun

Finding the perfect summer travel shoe can be an overwhelming task. No one wants to tote around a suitcase full of sneakers and sandals, but it's hard to have fun on vacation with blisters or a limp. Can you hike all day and walk into a nice restaurant for lunch? What if your travel plans include a morning run? Will French people stare at me if I'm wearing these?

Is there a shoe out there that is at once durable, sporty, good for water, and good-looking? Or should I just give up and put my Chacos back on?

With one minor caveat, I can announce that my search is over. For the past few weeks, I’ve been running, hiking, wading through rivers, and meeting friends for lunch in Vivobarefoot’s Primus Trail Swimruns.

The Swimruns were originally designed for a Swedish race series called the Ötillö Swimrun, which can be described as an off-road triathlon sans the pesky biking portion. These versatile kicks are light, athletic sneakers that are designed to fit like a sock, with a breathable and draining mesh upper for when you go into the water and a durable, sticky, bright orange sole.

You don’t need to be a dedicated barefooter to enjoy these shoes, but if you plan on running in them, you probably should be. I’ve been running for ten years in successive pairs of Merrell Trail Gloves, and even I needed a little time to adjust to the Swimruns. But once you have, you probably won’t want to take them off.

Fun Run

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t exactly recommend barefoot running as a method of injury prevention. But anecdotally speaking, I took up barefoot running ten years ago as a way to strengthen my legs and feet while recovering from an ACL repair. I’m a lot slower now, and I don’t think I’d wear barefoot shoes if I still wanted to race. But I haven’t hurt myself since.

I’m not the only one at WIRED who loves barefoot running, and Vivobarefoot. Galahad Clark, the seventh generation of shoemakers from comfy shoe manufacturer Clarks Shoes, founded the company in 2004 as Terra Plana. They became Vivobarefoot in 2012, and they use innovative designs and materials to activate all the bitty nerve endings in your feet by letting them feel the ground. This can help you fire up ancillary leg and ankle muscles that may be dormant in a more supportive shoe.

The Swimruns slip on like a pair of wetsuit booties, or a pair of socks. I normally wear a size 8 in running shoes, but I had to size down to my casual shoe size in a 7.5. I have an extremely low-volume foot, but it was easy to cinch down the quick laces to accommodate them. The shoes also come with a removable thermal insert for extra padding and warmth if you need it.

I’ve been wearing them without socks for a few weeks, while running and hiking in and out of water. So far they haven’t started to smell, but I do take them off and dry them in the sun every afternoon.

If you've never done any barefoot running, it feels less like running and more like padding around a forest like a kitten. it will take you awhile for your feet to acclimate. Even if you're familiar with it, I suggest taking it easy at first. The Trail Gloves are one of the most stripped-down running shoes around, but even they offer a little more support. It took a week or two of extremely short, slow runs on asphalt, gravel, groomed trails, and un-groomed singletrack for the tendons in my heels to acclimate to the Swimruns.

I didn’t wear the shoes while swimming, but I do take my dogs out on and around the rivers of Portland, Oregon, a couple times a week. Sports sandals, like Chacos, are the water shoe of choice around these parts, but I have mixed feelings about them. Dirt and pebbles can wiggle their way under the soles of my feet, and I have to shake them out. Not to mention my tendency to walk into sharp sticks, or stub my unprotected toes on rocks.

The Swimruns, however, were a great alternative. On one outing, my toddler daughter and I walked out on a narrow wooden barricade that jutted into the Willamette River, only realizing, too late, that we had to negotiate several thickets of overgrown thorns. Rather than sign up for another prickle-and-scratch session, I opted to hop off the barricade and directly into murky, knee-deep water.

The Swimruns have protective, puncture-resistant rubber zones, so I didn't worry about bumping into, or stepping onto, anything sharp or splintery while wading back to shore with a squirmy three-year-old under my arm. The rubber is dotted with draining mesh holes, so when I got back on the beach, a few steps pumped all the water out of my shoes. Within a minute or two, my feet were dry.

Over the past few weeks, I've taken them through water, sand, dirt trails, and deep mud. After rinsing them off, they still look as good as new.

Wee Heavy

Though I loved these shoes, I have one minor gripe: they're not quite as light as the Merrell Trail Gloves. At 500 grams, or slightly over a pound for both shoes, they are just a few ounces heavier. If you're sensitive to that sort of thing, it's worth noting.

At least the extra weight doesn't keep them from compressing easily. For example, they fit in the top compartment of my small Matador daypack.

My family is planning a few trips this summer, in deserts and on beaches, traveling by car and by air, and I’m already planning on taking the Swimruns with me. The quick laces mean that you can easily slide them on and off. You can wear them with or without socks, for sprinting through airports or going on hikes. You can use them as water shoes to protect your feet while swimming or paddling.

And unlike some of Vivobarefoot's more wacky designs, these look like street shoes. I like the sporty black mesh and bright orange soles (the women’s version also comes in a more toned-down blue). At $135, they’re a little pricey but certainly not out of reach for many people, especially if you’re only planning on wearing one pair of shoes.

If you’re looking for a sporty travel sneaker that can double as a casual shoe, congratulations! The Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Swimruns tick all the boxes. Plus, the locals won't judge you for your choice of footwear, so you can use all that empty backpack space to tote more snacks, instead.

Read more:

adminadminReview: Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Swimrun
read more

Review: Salewa Ultra Train 2

When hiking, there are a few items that are non-negotiable: A backpack and a windbreaker; water, beef jerky and sunblock. Shoes, however, can be a surprising point of contention.

It makes sense to wear hiking boots when you go, er, hiking. But, when taking into consideration your individual preferences, the terrain you’re covering, and the season, it’s not always a given. I own several nice pairs of hiking boots, but in the summer, they go back in the closet. I don’t suggest backpacking in flip-flops, but unless you’re hauling your own body weight up a 40-degree incline, trail running shoes might work just as well.

If you want the light weight, breathability, and maneuverability of a running shoe without sacrificing traction and protection, speed hikers like the Salewa Ultra Train 2 are a good compromise. Developed for extreme athletes who want to cover a lot of ground in rough terrain fast, the Ultra Train 2 are what you’d get if you crossed a pair of running shoes with a pair of approach shoes, which are the shoes that rock climbers wear when they’re approaching a climb through rocky ground.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been wearing the Ultra Train 2 for trail running, hiking, and tooling about town. If you’re looking to upgrade your hiking game from a pair of waterproof Converse, these might be your next pair of kicks.

In The Middle

Headquartered in the Dolomites, a mountain range in northern Italy, Salewa has been churning out premium alpine gear since the 1930s. The Ultra Train 2 is the spring version of the Ultra Train Gore-Tex. It has a breathable mesh upper instead of a waterproof Gore-Tex lining, although a rubber rim that extends all the way around the base of the shoe does offer some puddle protection.

The Ultra Train 2 look like a pair of trail running shoes. They fit true to your running shoe size—in casual shoes, I’m a 7.5, and in running shoes, an 8. Salewa sent me the tester model in a size 8 and they fit perfectly. I have a very low-volume foot, but the shoe fit snugly around my heel and midsole, with plenty of room to wiggle my piggies in the roomy toe box.

The Ultra Train 2 borrow many features from approach and climbing shoes. The first thing you’ll notice is the speed lacing system. It’s easy to use: just tug the pull on the lace end. Then, slide down the toggle to lock the laces in place and tuck the slack into the loop on the shoe's tongue. They allow you to tension the laces evenly for greater comfort, and take your shoes on and off quickly to switch between climbing shoes and hiking ones. I liked the speed laces because most of my summer hikes involve water, so, I'll be able to get the Ultra Train 2s off before taking a dip.

The second feature that is borrowed from climbing shoes are the stiff rubber rands, which is what you call the layer of rubber that runs around the outer rim of the shoe’s sole. Rands help you climb. You can use stiff rands and stiff shoe soles to propel you up sheer rock races, or protect your feet when you wedge them into gaps where, frankly, feet are not supposed to go.

I think rands are swell. The terrain that climbers have to cover isn't all that different from the terrain that all hikers have to cover, and the rands offered great protection from stubbing my toes on tree roots or accidentally swinging my heels into rocks or logs. The stiff anti-rock heel cup also protected my feet from more mundane hazards, like my daughter running her wagon into me.

The lugs are enormous and aggressive, made out of Michelin Outdoor Compound X (OCX), which is a material that the tire company uses to make mountain biking tires. They provided grip and traction on the slipperiest of surfaces, even if they were also the exact right width and depth to trap small pieces of gravel and sticks in the treads.

Despite the Ortholite insole, I found the shoe’s sole to be very stiff and hard. This can be partly explained by a protective rock plate in the front part of the sole, which prevents sharp bumpy things from stabbing themselves in the soft underside of your foot.

The fact that it was still easy for me to run over uneven ground with such a stiff sole can probably be attributed to Salewa’s trademarked 3F system. The 3Fs stand for three features: Fit, function, and performance. When you tighten the laces, you also secure a static system of webbing that runs from the insole, to the heel collar, and up to the top of the laces. As someone who has very thin heels and ankles, the 3F system helped secure a vulnerable part of my foot. My foot didn't roll in the shoe, even when running on trails that slanted sideways across steep slopes. As a bonus, I didn't have to pick any pebbles out of the top part of my shoe!

Despite these heavy rubber features, the shoes are still pretty light. Together, the shoes weigh a little over a pound. Even if they don’t have a Gore-Tex lining, they dry pretty quickly. When I soaked them in the sink around 11 a.m., they were dry enough to wear by 1 p.m. They have a neutral platform and a slight 8-mm heel drop. It’s not quite a barefoot running shoe, but it’s not far off from one, either.

To The Limit

The Ultra Train 2s aren't quite perfect. While I didn't notice the speed laces loosening while I was testing this shoe, it seems worth noting that I've had experiences with the toggle getting loose in the past. Within a limited timeframe, it's impossible to test the durability of the webbing that the laces run through, but sometimes this particular type of webbing frays as the thin laces scrape back and forth. Also, and this is a personal preference thing, but as I mentioned, they are really stiff. They work well on rocky terrain, but if you're cruising mainly on dirt and asphalt, you might want shoes with a bit more give.

But in pretty much every other way that counts, the Ultra Train 2s are bomber. On top of that, they're good-looking—you wouldn't feel out of place wearing these if you stop by a bar on your way home. If you're worried about getting gravel between your toes this summer, pick up a pair. They’re easy to slip on and off, suitable for both walking the dogs, and protective enough for two- or three-day weekend backpacking trips. At the very least, they’re definitely better than a pair of flip-flops.

Read more:

adminadminReview: Salewa Ultra Train 2
read more