The Cardo Packtalk Outdoor Ski Intercom Review
It's Over and Out for Walkie-Talkies as there's now a better way to communicate with friends on the mountainSay hello to the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor Ski Intercom headset specifically designed for skiers on the mountain
The Cardo Packtalk Outdoor Handsfree ski Intercom Headset Review
Back in the UK, I know a handful of kitesurf and wingfoil instructors who use Bluetooth-enabled tech with their pupils out on the water via headsets in the helmet while they are instructing from the shore, and I've often wondered how come ski and snowboard instructors don't use the same tech?
Cardo's tech pedigree is that they have been producing communication headsets since 2005, primarily for the motorcycle market.
Opening the box what strikes first is the quality and thought that has gone into the product, again a legacy of their R&D over time in perfecting a headset intercom unit.
The amount of positive reviews on the likes of Amazon is a testament to the product, but how does the technology transfer to a mountain environment?
So I was intrigued to be able to test the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor at the recent SIGB Ski Test in La Clusaz.
What sets the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor apart from the likes of Motorola / BCA walkie-talkies is that they are far more simple to use. No pressing a button to talk, and then having to say "over", "did you get that?" or "can you repeat that please".
The system is far less cumbersome, as you are in continuous contact with whoever else is linked wirelessly to you; and without having to rely on data or a phone signal, plus it's totally hands-free.
That connectivity between units is achieved using Dynamic Mesh Communication (DMC™), which is a networking technology that enables connections, actively seeking to connect to other units. DMC will adapt based on the behaviour of units in a network to ensure communication is maintained in the best way possible.
Other functionality over and above walkie-talkies is that you can be connected to your phone via a well-proven App that provides telephone functionality should you so wish to receive and make calls while out on the hill, in addition to streaming and controlling music from your phone.
One particularly nice feature is the ability to stream music to the excellent JBL 40mm HD speakers and then should a conversation start up that takes precedence, the music is muted.
The App also provides voice activation functions to the system, such as muting your microphone or audio.
Setting the system up is relatively straightforward but as ever be prepared for those frustrating Bluetooth pairing glitches.I find that restarting your phone before attempting to pair is always a good strategy.
However, it is not necessary to be connected to the App and you can just use Cardo independently minus phone functions.
Once you have the units paired and linked to each other (which is easier than the initial pairing) then grab your helmet and secure the speakers in the ear cavities routing the wires behind the helmet lining with the supplied adhesive Velcro pads and positioning the microphone on the chin-strap. Then the next stage is to connect these to the good-looking comms unit, which you attach to the side of your helmet via a cradle, again the functional design of this hardware is as a result of the continual R&D in other markets.
And if you choose to wear a beanie under your ski helmet a la East Coast style or a buff then the JBL speakers with their velcro backing will stick to that as well.
If not using a helmet, as in climbing when ski touring, as you can see from the image at the top of the page, the Cardo unit attaches to the backpack and again the speakers are under the buff.
We've used the Cardo unit numerous times as a comms system on the mountain plus I've taken when on my own purely for playing music while climbing ski touring in mellow terrain.
The first time we used it there were three of us, and it was at the Ski Test, using it without the App so it was purely as a comms system. Now here I have to say we did think for two people it's great but three is more of a crowd, though maybe it was not the best environment as you can hear everything being said. So for instance when our friend went back to the test centre compound we could hear his conversation with others when selecting his next ski to test :)
We did find out that there are ways to mute both the microphone and the audio to alleviate this issue, either by pressing buttons or by using the Natural Voice Operation engine via the App when connected to your phone, using commands such as "Hey Cardo, mute audio" and "Hey Cardo, mute microphone" and then the reverse, "Hey Cardo, unmute microphone".
Then when streaming music there are other similar commands for turning the music on, volume, and next/previous track.
As for charging, if you forget and find your unit is low a quick 20-minute charge will give you two hours use.
So how good is the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor when skiing on the mountain?
I believe that there are countless situations on the mountain where it would perform exceptionally well.
For coaching/instructing it has to be a game changer, though I can't see one instructor using it for a group, more for one one-on-one tuition, maybe a couple at a push.
Where we used it most successfully was skiing together off-piste, where I normally lead and find the route, which was the case at the Ski Test as the terrain was relatively new to me and we were skiing to find untracked fresh snow. So I would explain over Cardo where I was going and what to watch out for.
And then when it came to taking photos...
It was brilliant for photography, as we could talk things through as to where to stop and what the best composure of the shot/video would be.
Since the Ski Test we have used it when ski touring for which it's truly excellent as it is actually quite difficult to hold a conversation unless you are really close to each other. Plus we have a rather enthusiastic mountain dog with us, and with him I tend to go at a faster pace.
On one ski tour, I was a good 500m ahead finding the best route up (and being slightly fitter), and had decided to push on to a ridge above where we were going to transition for the descent. So rather than wait I was able to explain my plan while my companions had a relaxing transition waiting while I climbed another 250m.
And so that raises the question of what is the range of the Cardo Packtalk Outdoor Ski on the mountain?
I've been both disappointed and pleasantly surprised with the range, and that's more to do with line of sight rather than distance.
Although quite close to my ski buddy I have traversed behind a small hill and communication was lost (you're told that comms is lost via the headset), and when ski touring I've gone over a ridge, out of the line of sight and again the signal was lost.
And then the time when I decided to push on towards the ridge, it was a very good test as you can see, image below.
I did lose the connection a couple of times as I went down a dip in the terrain but when I was out on the open face in clear sight we had a good signal, and I'd estimate it was nigh on a kilometre.
And now zoomed in.
The above photo is also a good example of how the Cardo is a great asset when ski touring, as when the climbing can get a little challenging, with kickturns and zig-zagging up the face it's not uncommon for a few issues to occur and it's great to be able to talk as if you're next to the person and understand what's gone wrong rather than trying to second guess.
Obviously, skiing off piste / ski touring comes with it's own issues and it's standard practice to position your phone away from your transceiver. I need to test further if the Cardo impacts upon the transceiver signal. But I think when skiing off piste, and as ever someone takes the odd tumble, you don't immediately know if they're alright or if it's even happened as you wait for them to appear, then it's a godsend to be able to hear if there is an issue or not.
And as you'd expect the Cardo is thoroughly, IP67-certified, waterproof!
I'm not too sure how well it will work when skiing in the forests that we have here in Serre Chevalier (France), as that could well be a line-of-sight issue again? I'll get back to you on that.
As for future mods, the obvious game changer would be if the actual headset was wireless so no cables to worry about, but for most, using it in their helmet is not a problem, whereas on a backpack it is slightly more of a faff.
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