Every summer, as thousands head for the ocean, a wave of new products designed to enhance the beach-going experience washes up on shore. We put a few of these items through their paces over several 90-degree-plus days in Ocean City, Md. Here's how they fared:
How it works: Just push a button and this tiny (2-by-2.5-inch) device measures ultraviolet ray intensity using the National Weather Service's UV index scale. If one or two bulbs light up, the risk is low or moderate. When three lights (high risk) go on, the machine also beeps a warning. Four or five lights, it's time to head indoors.
Praises: In case of un-cooperative kids (or husband), you can use this little gizmo as leverage to demand another slather of SPF 30 or a retreat from the beach. It's easy to carry, and the price won't break the vacation budget.
Pans: Common sense may be just as effective. Before pushing the button, we routinely guessed the outcome accurately. And you can always just go to the federal government's SunWise site (www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html) and plug in your Zip code to get the official UV forecast.
Buy or pass: Pass
How it works: This swimsuit system is designed to go from lounging on the beach to waterskiing, running, biking, etc. Materials are made to dry quickly and wick water from the skin. On the men's version, liners that look like compression shorts hook via a Velcro-like system called QMS Quick Mount beneath a regular swimsuit. For women, a bikini-suit bottom hooks to board shorts.
Praises: Two 20-somethings and a 50-plus dad all found things to like about the men's version. The liner dries quickly and prevents chafing, making that post-swim run on the beach more comfortable. The Quick Mount system allows younger men to fashionably display the top of the liner above the board shorts, while older guys can wear the board shorts higher. Several young adult women liked being able to go from beach to bar by attaching the board shorts. Comes in several attractive colors and patterns.
Pans: Unless you're skinny, these suits won't fit. The extra-large men's suit, which allegedly has a 38-inch waist, barely fit a man who typically wears a 36. The women's styling is made for a woman younger than 30 with an athletic, not zaftig, build. The phrase "get your dudz on" printed on the women's bottom got mixed reviews. And the prices are steep.
Buy or pass: Buy the men's version; pass on the women's.
Men $95, women $85 ($120 with bikini top); www.
Sand-free Tote/Sand-free Rug
How it works: The premise is simple yet ingenious -- sand can get out, but it can't get in. Lay the mesh bag or the mat on the sand, and the PVC and polyethylene mesh construction prevents sand from migrating up yet allows any inadvertently introduced sand to exit. The bag is roomy but easy to carry. The rug comes in one-, two- and four-person sizes. Interesting aside: The patented technology was first used by the military to help helicopters land in dry, sandy spots.
Praises: The products work as advertised. Throw a sandy towel into the tote, and by the time you walk from beach to condo, most of the sand has shaken out. Throw the mat on the beach, and you'll create a sand-free barrier. The tote has an inside pocket big enough to hold a Kindle, a phone and a wallet. Prices are reasonable.
Pans: The plastic rug is uncomfortable and gets super-hot in the sun; you have to put towels on top of it. The tested four-person rug, which is about 6.5 feet square, is also heavy and difficult to fold.
Buy or pass: Buy the tote; pass on the rug.
Tote $25, rugs $45-$75; www.cgear-sandfree.com
How it works: Originally marketed for menopause relief, these frozen, palm-size gel packs are now being touted to the frying-in-the-sun crowd. The zippered carrying case, which is about the size of a large eyeglass case, is designed to keep the packs cold. You place the entire case and its contents, which include the two gel packs and a larger pack, in the freezer for at least 12 hours. Then throw it in a beach bag, and when the heat becomes too intense, remove a gel pack and rub it on your sweaty brow. When it thaws, place it back in the case against the larger gel pack and use the second one. Repeat.
Praises: We put this product through the ultimate test by pulling it out in 98-degree beachside heat. It instantly elicited many "oh, wows" and arguments about whose turn was next. Unlike ice cubes, the pack feels dry to the touch and doesn't freeze the fingers.
Pans: It took only six minutes for the first pack to lose most of its coldness. By the time the second pack was similarly spent, the first pack hadn't had enough time to cool. But it was the hottest day of the summer.
Buy or pass: Buy