Personal Tech

High-tech gear for the next big storm

Eton FRX5

Eton FRX5  (Eton Corporation)

It may have been the biggest historic storm that didn't happen, but that doesn't mean winter is over. There's still plenty of rough weather ahead of us, and doubtless some serious storms to worry about. Whether you're facing a Nor'easter or a hurricane, here's some of the toughest tech to make it through a dark and stormy night.

Radio, Radio

Information is your best friend in a storm. But if the power goes out, you can be left in the dark in more ways than one. You may not know whether it's safer to stay where you are or to evacuate the area. So I consider a hand-crank emergency radio essential.

One of most full-featured models is Eton's FRX5, which is available for less than $100. It has a rechargeable lithium ion battery that lasts for about five hours so that you can monitor AM/FM NOAA weather band radio stations. (It will also run on three AAA disposable batteries.) You can set it to automatically broadcast local alerts, and the FRX5 includes a built-in LED flashlight and a USB port for charging a smartphone. The radio has better reception than cheaper models, and there's also a built-in solar panel that takes about five hours to fully charge the radio.

Buyers should also note that it takes about four minutes of hand cranking to get about 10 minutes of radio time. Furthermore, the FRX5 is "splash proof" but not water proof.

Crush-Proof Case

Hauling stuff through inclement weather presents its own challenges, and it doesn't help things if all your gear gets soaked trying to escape a storm.

Pelican is renowned for making fireproof, tsunami-proof cases used by the military, and the company's new ProGear Elite line for consumers builds on that experience. The $545 Elite Carry-On EL22 uses a double-walled construction that can withstand up to 1,500 pounds of pressure. There are no zippers to jam or rip. It uses recessed locking latches and a watertight rubber O-ring seal to keep things dry inside. Should it ever get submerged, there's a built-in purge valve that automatically vents the interior to maintain equal pressure inside and out, preserving the waterproof seal. The case is rated to withstand an hour under three feet of water without leaking.

I hauled this case through snow, rain, and tossed it (accidentally) down a rocky hillside path. Through it all, everything inside the EL22 remained dry and unsullied. 

Emergency Cell Phone

A major power outage can easily outlast the battery capacity of a smartphone. And that's assuming your phone is fully charged when the lights go out. A smarter solution is an emergency-only phone that you keep in a go bag (along with other essentials like a water filter and a flashlight).

An excellent choice is the $50 SpareOne Plus Emergency Phone. Rather than a rechargeable battery, this cellphone runs on a single AA battery and comes packed in a waterproof pouch. It comes supplied with a lithium AA battery that if left unused in the package and stored for emergencies only will hold a charge for up to 15 years, according to the company. The SpareOne Plus is an unlocked phone, meaning that it will work with a SIM card from GSM carriers, such as T-Mobile. But you don't need a SIM; you can make emergency 911 calls on this phone right out of the package.

Rough Weather Jacket

The Stio Environ jacket is designed to keep back country skiers and other extreme winter sports enthusiasts warm and dry. So it's perfect for enduring a variety of inclement conditions, from driving sleet to sub-zero, frostbite weather.

The $395 Environ (for men and women) uses a unique three-layer fabric with a special laminate that makes it water proof -- but also breathable. The latter feature is important if you're exerting yourself outside and begin to perspire; the breathable membrane means you won't get soaked underneath and then freeze when you stop moving. It also has a DWR (durable water repellant) coating to enhance its water resistant abilities. 

I found the jacket versatile enough to handle hiking in Yosemite after the season's first snowfall and trudging through torrential downpours in Manhattan. Its soft fabric is more comfortable than some stiffer shells, and the removable hood kept the rain out of my face. To keep warm in really cold weather, you'll need a fleece underneath. The best part? Should the next historic storm never come, the Stio Environ jacket is perfect for going skiing or snowboarding and enjoying the winter weather.

John R. Quain is a personal tech columnist for Follow him on Twitter @jqontech or find more tech coverage at