9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

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Want to live the #vanlife but not very handy? Leave the carpentry and wiring to the pros. These top van builders will make your dream vehicle a reality.

outside camper van conversion at night

Living out of your car, for some, is not a stigma. It’s a badge of honor. For them, whittling their belongings to whatever fits on four wheels has become a life goal, so much so The New Yorker dubbed #vanlife the “Bohemian social media movement” of wanderlusting, photo-hungry Instagramers.

Many of the amenities that make a home with a parking brake romantic and not merely cramped require a skilled hand and careful planning. Fortunately, there are outfitters dedicated to turning your rig into a live-in camper that would make any #vanlifer jealous. Here’s a few.

1. Sportsmobile

Sportsmobile vanlife manufacturer

The OG of van life manufactures, Sportsmobile has converted all types of vans into rolling homes since 1961. Sportsmobile is known for pop-top lifting roofs and pioneered many of the ergonomic interior layouts used today. It has three factory locations around the country: Fresno, Calif., Huntington, Ind. and Austin, Texas.

2. Van Specialties

van specialties

Based in Tualatin, Ore., Van Specialties began building all manner of custom vans in 1973. The company even manufactures vans for other companies on this list. It offers services that range from maintaining and upgrading your current adventure van to full custom campers built to your spec.

3. Colorado Camper Van

Colorado camper van 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

Based in Loveland, Colo., Colorado Camper Van builds a variety of campers with high- and low-top pop-top roofs. It offers full interior builds and custom exterior components, like roof racks and bumpers.

4. RB Components

RB components 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

Known for trailer, shop, and garage accessories, RB Components also builds full-custom vans. It specializes in space savings and organization products available since 2002. The company is based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

5. Outside Van

Outside van 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

Van lovers know Outside Van for aggressive styling and custom interiors designed for active lifestyles. Outside Van often configures designs specifically for a certain adventure sport or lifestyle. The Troutdale, Ore., company’s roots thrive in the active outdoor world of the Columbia River Gorge.

6. Van Works

Van works 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

Van Works builds custom vans, specifically tailored to each customer on the Promaster and Sprinter platforms. Whether you want a toy hauler, mobile office, or full camper build, this Fort Collins, Colo., company has you covered.

7. Tour Rig

Tour rig 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

Modular, versatile, custom solutions to your Mercedes Sprinter #vanlife aspirations are what drive Tour Rig, out of Golden, Colo. This company makes Sprinters that are designed for adventure.

8. Van Life Customs

Van life customs 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

Denver-based Van Life Customs specializing in homey, full custom wood interiors made to order. Dave Walsh has made his passion for the van life into a business, using his handyman skills to make other’s #vanlife dreams realities.

9. Recon Campers

recon campers 9 Camper Builders Make Your Van Life Dreams Reality

The new Nissan NV200/Chevy Express vans are the latest additions to the small van market in the U.S. Recon Campers converts these little efficient vans into modern-day VW Westy-style adventure campers. The company builds these vans in southern California, but expect to see them at dealerships near you soon.

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‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ on the Switch is basically perfect

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is poised to be the next must-have Switch game. Regardless of the last Mario Kart title you played — our experiences vary from Mario Kart 64 to DS iterations to the Wii U’s original Mario Kart 8 — Nintendo is aiming to make this the most definitive Mario racer yet. To start, there are 48 courses and 42 characters (including some Splatoon additions), as well as an upgraded 1080p mode when you’re playing it docked from the Switch and some auto-steering help for younger gamers (or grown-ups who should know better). Those Joy-Con controllers double as mini-controllers for two-player battles on the go, while a fully fleshed-out battle mode, with several arenas and play modes, form the biggest gameplay addition to the original that launched on the Wii U. Now, you probably knew most of that already, but how does it play? Four editors share their thoughts after a week of racing, while one colleague swears he won’t buy the remake, regardless of how good it might be.


Jessica Conditt
Senior Reporter

The Joy-Cons shouldn’t work. The two tiny controllers that lock into place on either side of the Nintendo Switch’s main screen should be too small, cluttered and uncomfortable to work as fully fledged gamepads. But, magically, they do.

When we first got the Switch, my partner and I each broke off a Joy-Con and played a few rounds of Snipperclips, but we didn’t really test out the individual gamepads until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. We were excited: We’d conquered the original game on the Wii U, playing together, alone and with roommates for months on end (all with traditional gamepads, of course).

Before Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the Switch had mainly functioned as a single-player Zelda machine in my house. This means we didn’t need extra gamepads like the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which costs $70 for some ungodly reason. So when my partner and I sat down to play MK8D, we popped out the Joy-Cons — and hesitated.

They were so small. We’d used them before, but not for hours on end, and not as stand-ins for traditional gamepads. The face of each controller has an analog stick on the left side, an array of four action buttons and either the Home or Camera button. The Joy-Cons’ bumpers — crucial buttons for drifting in Mario Kart 8 — are minuscule rectangles flush with the "top" of each controller, so that they actually disappear when reattached to the Switch.

It simply didn’t seem possible that this ridiculously light, palm-size gamepad would be able to compete with something like the Pro Controller. However, to my surprise, it did.

After rolling through one track, my hands had naturally found a comfortable position on the Joy-Con. After two tracks, I wasn’t thinking about missing the bumper or getting a cramp; my attention was on the screen, immersed in the race. By the time we’d finished two full rounds, my partner and I were marveling at the game all over again, impossible gamepads and all.

MKD8 is a beautiful game. Its upgrades are crisp and endearing, and it’s a welcome addition to the Switch, even though I played the original title into the ground. And, yes, even with the Joy-Cons.


Mat Smith
UK Bureau Chief

Mario Kart DS, released in 2005, was the last Mario Kart title I owned. This meant I was instantly wowed by the sumptuous glossiness of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. There’s the vibrant, animated characters, the huge attention to detail that you’ll see only when the action replay slows everything down, and these incredibly grand vistas to race around. Nintendo’s made bigger, wider tracks to accommodate up to 12 racers, as well as adding gravity-defying hover tires and automatic gliders for when you soar off ramps. (This was all new to me.)

Now, even before MKDS, I used to be pretty good at Mario Kart 64. I wasn’t the best, but I’d challenge my mates for pole position and occasionally claim it myself. Alas, that was decades ago. In the now, in 2017, I’m not very good at Mario Kart 8. It’s a fact that’s been (repeatedly) proven both on- and offline. (For the record, I’ve bested my colleague racers once out of twelve races. That’s pretty awful.)

I think it’s because I never had to worry about online rivals when I was playing on an N64 or my DS. I just had to worry about my buddies, their buddies, and the occasional sibling. When it comes to the Switch, there’s no lack of people to play against online — except they’re all better than me. Much better, with many of them presumably putting in the hours to master the Wii U original. (Please read further below for some examples of these monsters.)

Nintendo

I wouldn’t put it all down to my sheer lack of natural karting talent. I think it’s because Mario Kart, over all these iterations, has become more complex. Not only are there 48 tracks to both learn and (maybe) master; there are 42 characters, with acceleration and weight differences. Add to that vehicle customization: over 26 karts, bikes and ATVs, plus your pick of tires and gliders with minute (but presumably important) speed and handling differences — that’s a lot to work with. So I don’t. At least not in these first initial weeks of playing. I came here to play Mario Kart, not beat myself up over tire choices.

Fortunately, MK8D offers another option: an expanded battle mode. Balloon Battle, which hasn’t changed much, is joined by Coin Runners (collect more than anyone else to win) and Shine Thief, a constantly moving iteration of capture the flag, but with a Shine Sprite. If you’re holding the sprite, your own speed takes a hit, which keeps things interesting. My favorite, however, is the new Renegade Roundup, which is cops-and-robbers but with that Mario staple Pirahna Plants. As change-around is so swift (and weapons so plentiful), it turns into a game that’s downright chaotic. In a fun way. This is tiding me over until I suck less at the racing, and it’s the crux of what this game does so well. Even without the built-in steering assistant, it’s a rare multiplayer game that can be instantly played (and enjoyed) by anyone, regardless of their Mario Kart prowess.


Matt Brian
Managing Editor, Engadget UK

Until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe arrived at my house, the Nintendo Switch was sacred. I had one game, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and my two boys — aged six and seven — weren’t allowed to touch it. It’s not because I’m a bad father (although you could argue otherwise), but because the Switch feels surprisingly fragile undocked, and they had barely scratched the surface of Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 3DS. However, that changed when a neon box arrived, advertising Nintendo’s latest take on its smash race series. It suddenly became very easy to hand out the Joy-Cons and attempt to show the kids who’s the boss.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers two new features aimed at beginners and younger players: smart steering and auto-acceleration. If you’ve played racing games with children before, you know that fast cars and twisting courses can lead to upset and ultimately result in the loss of a racing buddy. Nintendo knew this, so it placed a small antenna on the back of each kart, a visual cue that lets you know that the console will help keep racers on the track and pointed in the right direction — even when racing in 200cc mode. Inside the game, you can toggle the feature on or off when selecting your kart by hitting the plus and minus buttons (although it’s not very obvious and took me a while to find).

Engadget

I knew that before I selected the first series of four races on the Mushroom Cup, racing my kids wouldn’t be easy. Like most boys a year apart in age, they’re fiercely competitive and had already honed their Mario Kart skills on the original Wii and 3DS. In practice, they were more than proficient, boosting around corners and finding shortcuts that I had barely noticed. I won, but make no mistake: The game’s automated guidance kept them (and occasionally me) in the running a lot of the time.

From my experience, Nintendo has created a racing system that accounts for fine margins. Sure, you can put the Joy-Con or Pro Controller down and the game will complete the race on your behalf (in some cases winning), but it’s also adept at recognizing when a player isn’t new to Mario Kart. Attempt a drift too late or too early and the auto-steer function will kick in, but you’ll lose nearly all of your momentum, allowing human and AI racers to catch up. It won’t just let you mash the ‘A’ button and zip around the course with no regard for the layout of the track.

While Nintendo has dialed down rookie driver frustrations, it’s still kept the essence of what makes Mario Kart, erm, Mario Kart. As a teenager, I remember getting into arguments over Mario Kart 64 when my friends would "blue shell" me while leading on the final corner of the last lap. Going from first to third in a couple of seconds will always leave me salty. In MK8D, power-ups are often unrelenting (you can carry two weapons at a time), and in all honesty were the only real bone of contention with my boys.

It’s pretty hard to temper a child’s frustration when he feels he’s racing well and he gets hit by an ink attack, shrunk by lightning and then hit by a barrage of red shells, causing them to slide down the ranks. However, I think I’d rather have that than have them constantly slide off the side of Rainbow Road and generally find it hard to keep the kart moving forward at speed. My kids are constantly begging me to play, so I can only see that as a good thing.


Sean Buckley
Associate Editor

Despite being an ardent Nintendo fanboy, the announcement of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch did little to stir my interest. Of all the games announced between the console’s first reveal and its official launch, it was by far the least interesting. Sure, Mario Kart 8 was a great game — but it was also "just a port," a game I’d already played to exhaustion. Like the HD remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on the Wii U, I expected it to hold my attention for a weekend or two at best before fading to the back of my library. Instead, the game has dominated my Switch playtime for the past few weeks. Maybe I’m wrong about Switch remasters of Wii U games.

From a purely clinical point of view, my knee-jerk reaction wasn’t wrong. For the most part, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the exact same game I grew tired of on the Wii U — the same tracks, most of the same characters and, with the exception of a few bonus multiplayer modes, all the same features. And indeed, the first evening I tried it on my TV, I found replaying it all pretty underwhelming. The next day, however, I took my Switch out of the dock and played it in the bedroom. Then I took it to a friend’s house and played local multiplayer. The next weekend, I brought it with me to Silicon Valley Comic Con and played both single-player Grand Prix and local multiplayer battles while waiting in line for panels and talks. The game hadn’t changed much, but the experience had.

Ultimately, this is a story I’ve told before. The Nintendo Switch’s portability has consistently surprised me at every turn — not only by keeping me entertained on the go, but by enabling bespoke social experiences on the fly. I knew this worked with games like Puyo Puyo Tetris and Snipperclips, but I didn’t expect the hybrid nature of the console to revitalize a game I’d already put aside. If the Nintendo Switch was nothing but a typical TV console, I probably wouldn’t have played the game for more than a few hours. Instead, I’m obsessed with it again — challenging friends, trying new Kart combinations and struggling to learn how to drive in 200cc mode. Last month, the idea of porting old games to the Nintendo Switch sounding dull to me. Now, the idea sounds amazing. I’m starting to wonder if I would have given up on Wind Waker HD if it was this easy to pick up and play.


Jamie Rigg
Reviews Editor, Engadget UK

I love Mario Kart 8. It’s the first racing title I’ve been truly enamored with since turn-of-the-century PlayStation classics Gran Turismo 2 and Crash Team Racing. Back when MK8 was first released, I studied vehicle and character attributes, risk-assessed shortcuts and bested every challenge the game offered. At the time, I returned to it regularly in an attempt to shave milliseconds off my best lap splits, occasionally hopping online to demoralize opponents with my newly perfected lines. Both DLC packs were immediate purchases. And yet, there’s absolutely no chance I’m revisiting the fantastic game on the Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Perhaps I’m bordering on hypocritical, because I don’t think ports and other forms of re-release are always a bad thing. As a former Halo 2 addict, I was fidgeting with excitement the day Halo: The Master Chief Collection was due to be delivered, only to abandon the game when its fundamentally broken multiplayer element irreparably soured my perception.

I can even understand the hype Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered generated. For as long as I can remember, every new entry in the Call of Duty franchise has felt like the same chaotic shooter with new box art. That gamers would want to revisit Modern Warfare and play the first title that was set outside World War II, when there was still some originality to the series, makes sense.

But Modern Warfare Remastered hasn’t turned out to be a particularly fan-friendly affair. The game, available solely as a bonus within the "Legacy Edition" of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, doesn’t include the original’s DLC map packs. The cherry on top is that these additional battleground bundles are now nearly twice the price they were ten years ago when Modern Warfare was first released. There’s been a renewed outrage this week in certain corners of the internet (and rightly so) when the Variety Map Pack DLC landed on Xbox One and PCs — and I regard Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with similar sentiment.

The obvious rebuttal is: "Shut up and stop moaning … nobody is forcing you to buy it."

I paid £40 for Mario Kart 8 when it first came out, and shelled out (pun intended) a further £14 on the two DLC packs, taking my total spend to around £54 (roughly $70 at the current exchange rate). And that’s not even factoring in that MK8 was the primary reason for buying a Wii U more than a year after the system launched in the first place. And now Nintendo thinks I’ll spend more than £40 to buy basically the same game again for the Switch? Fat chance.

The obvious rebuttal is: "Shut up and stop moaning … nobody is forcing you to buy it." It’s a fair point, but it’s not just the money situation I’m frustrated by (even if my only meaningful avenue of protest is to boycott the game — voting with my wallet, as they say). The thing is, I almost want MK8D. Not for the couple of extra vehicles and Splatoon characters, nor the improved battle mode, which still doesn’t amount to enough additional content for my liking. It’s more that the Switch hardware makes multiplayer so much more accessible, letting you face off with a friend, each with one little Joy-Con in hand, or pairing multiple handhelds locally for serious sessions.

If it were a cheap, download-only port, or if Nintendo at least offered a heavy discount to owners of the Wii U version, I could maybe entertain picking it up. But like I said, it’s not just about the money. I think it’s a pretty lazy, unimaginative attempt by Nintendo to pad out a sparse launch lineup — which Zelda: Breath of the Wild is propping up almost exclusively at this point — while making a quick and easy buck from everyone caught up in the Switch fanfare. And selling it for the same price as the original, three-year-old game is the icing on the unpleasant, greedy cake.

At least I have a new NBA Jam to look forward to.

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A Single Pack For Singletrack: Mission Workshop Hauser

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This 14-liter, roll-top hydration pack is made in America. Through bikepacking, international travel, and backyard rides, our reviewer gave it a rigorous test.

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Courtesy Jens Staudt for REI

Best known for street-savvy bike bags, Mission Workshop‘s Acre Supply is the brand’s grittier line, dedicated to “the road-less traveled.” For dirt-prone cyclists, it offers the Hauser hydration pack in 10L and 14L volumes.

The San Francisco team brings its A-game to this pack, staying true to city-wise Mission roots. Its American-made construction, attention to detail, and good looks all make this an attractive pack for those with a thick wallet.

We gave the $215 Hauser 14L a thorough test to see if it’s worth the price.

In short: Great fit, durable construction, and a handy toolkit are nice perks. But the price is steep, some features can frustrate, and the size is limiting.

Hauser Hydration Pack: Construction

The Hauser uses heavy weatherproof nylon, paired with a hanging laminated nylon inner pack. It’s water resistant, and can be rolled closed and secured via a thick Velcro top strap. Or snap it shut with a pair of buckles that can also secure a helmet to the pack.

Four pockets keep must-have items within reach. A small zippered back pocket holds keys, wallet, or passport. A small right-side pocket sleeves a smart device or tickets. A third pocket sits low on the pack and stores straps. Finally, a large back pocket billows out to hold a compartmented tool bag (included).

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The back panel unzips from the body of the pack to make filling the reservoir a breeze.

Instead of accessing the reservoir from inside the pack, you unzip a fifth pocket to separate the hydration compartment from the backpack. Inside, you can hang a 3L reservoir, compatible with most popular hydration companies. And port exits on both shoulder straps enable you to route a hydration hose through either side.

The shoulder straps and back panel are lined with 3D mesh, providing padding and ventilation. A gel pocket sits on each shoulder strap.

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The four “square” rings on the hip wings help adjust the pack to fit most riders

A pair of higher and lower rings on the lumbar wings configure both the shoulder and hip straps, and help personalize fit for different riders.

Pack Fit And Design

The pack indeed fits well. The long, flat back pad isn’t as much a part of the pack as it is an extension of the rider.

The long, shallow cargo space keeps the kit close to your chassis, instead of bloating out, away from the body. This design effectively glues the pack to your back even while spritely descending downhills. A little time spent adjusting the hip and shoulder straps goes a long way to make sure you reap the benefits of this fit.

The carnivorous main compartment eats up a day’s worth of supplies supplements a bikepacking rig nicely. It was large enough to swallow a sleeping bag, pad, and rain gear. That said, its smallish 14L volume kept me honest, begging the question “Do I really needed to carry the item?”

Mission Workshop Hauser Pack: Pros

I’m partial to packs that separate the hydration slot from the cargo space. This allows you to refill the bladder without dumping all of your equipment. The hydration pocket opens wide, allowing you to fill the bladder with ease.

It’s not completely waterproof, but the material is top-shelf and the roll-top closure does a fine job at sealing out the elements. I got a chance to test this when I “commuted 200 miles to work,” riding across Bavaria in a downpour.

With the main compartment sleeved, my laptop (thankfully!) stayed completely dry during a day-long deluge. Barring falling off the road and into the river, the Hauser will keep your kit dry.

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The (included) tool-roll can swallow a virtual bike shop, ready to tackle any trailside mechanical.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the pack is the (included) tool roll. When I bring tools on a ride, it’s usually a hasty afterthought grabbing tubes, levers, pumps and stuffing my pockets with a curiosity of supplies. The Hauser elevates tool organization to a zen-like art with a four-pocket tool-roll that can store three tubes, a patch kit, pump, and tool kit.

Yes, the tool-roll can be purchased separately, but it will set you back $65.

Finally, the pack is made in America, with craftsmanship guaranteed for life.

Cons

Price. Over $200 is a hard bolus to swallow, especially for a hydration pack sans reservoir. Heck, $200 can buy you a backpack capable of summiting Everest. For some, though, the made in America tag will justify the price. The craftsmanship certainly warrants the price and it’s backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Also, a single zipper conceals the hydration pocket. This requires that you always route the hose through the shoulder straps and leaves you with no backup should you blow the zipper.

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A closeup of the 3D mesh pad that makes up the back pad and shoulder straps.

Third, every surface that touches the body — the back panel and shoulder straps — are covered in a 3D-foam mesh. On hot days the foam pads didn’t manage moisture as well as I’d like. Less expensive options, like Osprey or CamelBak, incorporate ventilated back panels that truly allow air current to flow between your back and the pack.

Lastly, I wish the hydration pocket was a little larger, but not for the sake of hydration. At 7″ wide, it’s a hair shy of accommodating my laptop. This ought to make pulling it out at TSA checkpoints easy, but the laminated nylon in the sleeve sticks to the laptop as you pull it out and it’s a chore to fit back into the pack.

Made In America Hydration Pack

For many, a hydration pack is a beast of burden, a necessary requirement to carry a day of supplies on extended bike trips. But if a bike backpack is your jam, riders take note: The Hauser’s wide back panel conforms to the back, and stays glued during vigorous descents, making it one of the more comfortable packs I’ve ever used. There’s more than enough room for all-day epics and it makes a fine travel companion for bikepacking trips. And the tool-roll is a fine perk.

Overall, Mission designed the Hauser as a pack for those looking for style. But for those who prefer to open their packs wide to get full access to their kit, the smallish roll-top opening might be too restrictive. And if ventilation and price point are key purchasing criteria, you’ll probably dismiss the Hauser as your weekend workhorse and seek another hydration option.

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Mission Workshop Hauser

  • Frameless
  • Volume: 10L / 14L
  • Price: $205 / $215
  • Outer Fabric: Dimension-Polyant 210d nylon VX ripstop with waterproof laminate
  • Liner Fabric: 70d nylon ripstop with waterproof TPU laminate
  • Zippers: YKK urethane coated watertight zippers. (#5 and #7 coil)
  • Back panel: Ariaprene™ hexagonal perforated foam with nylon mesh laminate
  • Tool-Roll: 500d Cordura nylon, heavy duty nylon mesh, YKK #5 reverse coil zippers
  • External dimensions: 19″ x 10″ x 6.5″
  • Cargo dimensions: 19″ x 9.25″ x 3.5″
  • Made in: USA
  • Warrenty: Lifetime
  • More info/company contact: Mission Workshop

 

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Mountaineering Great Ueli Steck Killed Near Everest

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Ueli Steck, a renowned mountaineer known for blisteringly fast ascents of technical peaks that earned him the nickname “Swiss Machine,” died today while training for a climb on Mount Everest. He was 40.

According to a report in the Himalayan Times, a group of six rescuers discovered his body. Other mountaineers had seen him climbing alone prior to the accident.

Note: This article has been edited to clarify that Steck was climbing on Mt. Nuptse, not Everest, at the time of the accident. Nuptse is close to Everest and accessible from the standard Mount Everest route.

Steck was acclimating for an attempt to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen at the time of the accident.

Steck’s family is “infinitely sad and asks the media … to refrain from speculation about the circumstances of his death due to respect for Ueli.” This is from a statement on Steck’s website.

His body has since been recovered from the mountain. This is the first death of the 2017 Everest climbing season.

Ueli Steck: 1976-2017

Ueli Steck; photo by Ludovic Péron – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Steck was among an elite cadre of mountaineers who climbed difficult mountains at high speed. He held many speed records, such as the North Face of the Eiger. On November 16, 2015, Steck took advantage of good weather and climbing conditions and pushed for the summit of the classic Heckmair Route (ED2, 1,800 meters) in a mere 2 hours 22 minutes.

He won two Piolet d’Or, one of the highest honors in mountaineering, in 2009 and 2014.

His list of first ascents and speed records is legendary. He first climbed the Heckmair route of the Eiger in 1995 at age 19. In 2009, he set a speed route up the Matterhorn north face (Schmid route) in 1:56 hours, solo.

Steck reached Mount Everest’s summit without oxygen in 2012. In 2015 he climbed all 82 official alpine peaks over 4,000m (13,100ft) in the Alps in France, Italy, and Switzerland in 62 days.

He also climbed many huge and committing mountain lines in the Himalayas and around the world, including Makalu, Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, and Annapurna.

Steck’s climbing was not without controversy. In a bizarre incident in 2013, Steck and fellow climbers Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith were involved in a fight with Sherpas. The incident shed light on the complicated relationships between foreign climbers and Sherpas on the world’s tallest mountain.

But overall, Steck was a giant of mountaineering and highly respected for both his ethics on the mountain and his seemingly superhuman abilities.

“When I’m in the mountains, I’m where I want to be,” Steck wrote on his website. “That’s where I feel happy and content.”

Outdoors & Mountaineering Community Reacts

The news of Steck’s death shocked the outdoors world this weekend. His larger-than-life abilities inspired many around the world.

“My deep condolences to all of Ueli’s family, friends and admirers around the world. This is a truly tragic day in mountaineering,” climber Alan Arnette wrote on his website.

Steck leaves behind a legacy of bold ascents in the mountains and inspiration to many. Our condolences to his family, friends, and mountaineering companions around the world.

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Chinese Hackers Show How To Steal Your Car With $20 Of Hardware

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I’ve never really been crazy about proximity keys, mostly because I’m a scatter-brained fool. The overall car industry loves them, though, and most new cars use these types of keyless entry systems. A team of Chinese researchers have figured out a very clever and cheap way to hack the passive keyless entry system and actually drive off in people’s cars.

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The team that figured this out calls themselves Unicorn Team, and consists of three researchers, Yingtao Zeng, Qing Yang, and Jun Li. They presented their findings at the HITB conference in Amsterdam.

From the team’s slide deck.

Essentially, the way most keyless entry systems work is that the key fob, nestled in the warm, welcoming confines of your pocket or purse, sends radio signals to the car, which responds, and the tiny, fast data-conversation between the two results in the car unlocking and being ready to drive.

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This only works if the key is very close to the car; hence the name ‘proximity’ key. What these researchers have managed to do, in essence, is to fool the car into thinking the key is very close by, even when it’s not.

The way they do this is via a pair of radio devices: one is near the key, capturing the radio signals, and the other can be up to 1000 feet away, receiving the signals from the key fob and sending them to the car.

That means a pair of dishonest people could get access to your car and even drive it off (once they turn it off, though, they won’t be able to re-start it) by having someone just near the proximity key, and another near the car. They made a little video dramatizing the excitement:

Effectively, they’ve built a range-extender for the proximity key. Earlier versions of this same concept essentially just recorded the radio signal, transmitted it, and played it back. These earlier attempts used equipment that cost thousands of dollars (later down to hundreds), and had a range less than a third of the range of this new hack.

What makes Unicorn Team’s hack so amazing is that they have reverse-engineered the radio signal from the proximity key, and are able to convert that signal to data, and then re-send that data at a much lower frequency, which allows for the far greater signal range.

The team has suggested to manufacturers that a way to help prevent these sorts of signal-relay attacks would be to reduce the amount of time it takes before the car’s lock system times out, though the nature of such passive-key systems is inherently insecure.

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There are solutions, though! Keep your key in something like a Faraday Cage would keep the signals from being detectable, like your refrigerator or microwave. You carry a microwave around with you anyway, right? Just put your keys in there!

(Thanks, Charles!)

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Watch SpaceX’s second attempt at launching a US spy satellite

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Yesterday morning, SpaceX had big plans for launching US spy satellite NROL-76 on the back of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral. Unfortunately, a sensor issue put paid to the idea, but just one day later, the company is back and attempting a do-over for the mission. At 7:15am ET, SpaceX will attempt to fire the secretive craft into the heavens and then, crucially, return the Falcon 9 to the ground.

Following separation, the Falcon 9’s first stage is hopefully going to return and land on SpaceX’s pad at Cape Canaveral. As we pointed out yesterday, the land-based return is fairly unique and means that we’ll get high-quality video of the event that isn’t normally possible with drone ship landings. It’s also another milestone on the road to Elon Musk being able to boast of saving a small fortune on space travel with his reusable rockets.

Update: Success! The first stage has successfully landed back in Cape Canaveral.

Source: SpaceX

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Nintendo explains how ‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ speed boosts work

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Longtime Mario Kart fans know all about the drift-boost.

It works like this: do a little hop as you move into a turn and your kart will start to drift, releasing a burst of colored sparks behind it. During longer drifts, the sparks even change colors. 

Once you come out of the turn and stop drifting, you get a momentary speed boost. It’s no more than a second or two, but those extra bursts of speed add up.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is freshly released for Switch, and the drift-boost isn’t just alive and well; it’s improved. There’s now a third level of speed boost to take advantage of. This video from Nintendo explains how to do it and demonstrates the difference between each boost. Read more…

More about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo, Gaming, and Entertainment

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The rhythm action of ‘Thumper’ hits Nintendo Switch May 18th

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Late last year, PC and PS4 gamers were treated to an surreal rhythm experience when Thumper asked them to pilot a metallic scarab down a highway of intimidating, abstract set pieces. The game is as bizarre as it is intense — but timing movements to the game’s fast-paced soundtrack and be incredibly satisfying, too. Soon, you’ll be able to attain that satisfaction on the go: the game’s developer has announced that the Nintendo Switch version will be available on the eShop in just two weeks.

Naturally, the Nintendo Switch version of Thumper won’t have the virtual reality mode found on the PS4 and PC version of the game, but the developer says it will run at a smooth 60fps in both 720p in portable mode and 1080p on televisions. The game also boasts support for the Switch’s HD Rumble feature, which promises a more nuanced force feedback experience than on other platforms. The game will be available for Nintendo Switch users on May 18th. There’s no word yet for the promised Xbox One version, but if you can’t stand the wait, you can always pick up the soundtrack on Vinyl.

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Beer Can Be a Better Pain Reliever Than Tylenol

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Photo by OiMax.

As if you needed another reason to grab a cold one, a new study suggests having a few beers relieves your pain better than popping some over the counter painkillers.

The study, led by Dr. Trevor Thompson from the University of Greenwich, and published in The Journal of Pain, found that raising your blood alcohol content to the legal limit of .08%, or about three or four beers deep, elevates your pain threshold significantly. This was according to a meta-analysis of 18 different studies looking at the effect of different dosages of alcohol on subject pain response.

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Based on the research, Thompson says alcohol is an effective analgesic (or pain reliever) that “delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity,” which probably isn’t too surprising if you’ve ever been in a bar fight or taken a drunken tumble. Not much hurts when you’re three sheets to the wind. What is surprising, however, is that the pain relieving power of alcohol was actually shown to be more powerful than paracetamol, or what’s more commonly known as acetaminophen or Tylenol.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should knock back a six-pack every time you have a headache, but it does highlight an oft-overlooked positive aspect of alcohol consumption. Of course, if you drink too much, you’re really just postponing pain until the next morning.

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Hello Cassette My Old Friend…

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On rare occasions, I come across a product that stops me in my tracks, and makes me all starry eyed like a little child. After a long time, the Elbow Cassette Player made me revisit that glorious feeling.

What happened inside cassette players has always been a mystery. While most CD players became pretty minimal (one must check out Muji’s wall mounted CD player), the cassette tape was long gone before minimalism ever kicked in as a design trend. What the Elbow does is innovative, geeky, kitschy, revivalist, and incredibly cool… all together! Developed by Lithuanian audiovisual art organisation BrainMonk, the small device (barely the size of a cigarette box) opens up, swivels, and snaps onto a cassette tape (almost like it was meant to be how cassettes were to be played!). The name for the product comes from how it looks like an ‘L’ shaped elbow when it sits on the cassette.

Unlike most cassette players that looked more like devices with the cassettes being the plug-ins, the Elbow is so petite, it looks almost like an accessory for the cassette tape! While it grabs the cassette’s spools in its elbow arms, the hinge sits against the exposed magnetic tape. A knob on the device allows you to control playback. The entire set-up is literally small enough to feel like you’re holding an iPod Classic. It even comes with a small magnetic clip, allowing you to attach it to your clothes, or a bag.

The Elbow comes with a 3.5mm audio output, allowing you to connect your earphones, or a speaker to it. It even pushes things a notch higher by including a MiniUSB port, not just for charging the Elbow, bot also for allowing you to digitally extract audio from a cassette tape to your PC! Looks like it’s time to bring the era of cassettes back!

Designers: Andrius Žemaitis & Marius Paulikas (Brainmonk).

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