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The North Face Debuts ‘Virtual Outdoors’ Project

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Could The North Face encourage people to get outside with a virtual reality project? A soon to launch company initiative aims to present a “360 and 3D” experience to anyone who visits a The North Face store.

It’s set to kick off in select retail stores early this year. But yesterday morning at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah I got a first look at the project. The sneak peek included an Oculus Rift headset, headphones, and footage shot by Camp 4 Collective.

Put on the headset and you’re delivered to an ersatz outdoor environment. Like most virtual-reality experiences, you can look up, down, side to side, and straight ahead at the subject. The goggles simulate an experience of being there.

Yosemite rock climbing in “360 and 3D”

At the trade show, I was transported to Yosemite and a famous rock route, “Separate Reality,” where a climber struggled on an overhang. He reached to a hold, pausing with hundreds of feet of air beneath his body. I looked down with him, the VR view the same jaw-dropping scene that the climber saw.

Then he fell, a whipper onto trad gear, swinging back into the rock face. My stomach dropped as gravity took the climber off the wall.

Later in the video, BASE jumpers in the Moab, Utah, area leapt from cliffs. The camera had tracked the jumpers with a drone and a camera equipped with 16 lenses to capture 360 degrees.

The North Face worked with Jaunt, a Bay Area startup, on the project. A crew filmed in the Southwest and Yosemite over a week in November to build a couple minutes of immersive footage.

The author undergoing the VR effect

“Imagine a kid in New York or somewhere who puts this headset on,” said Eric Oliver of The North Face. “It’s so real-seeming it might encourage them to get outside and see this stuff in their real life.”

The company hopes to roll out VR at select stores soon. I believe Oliver’s observation is correct — the visual trip provided by the footage captured and the hardware that delivers the experience was so effective that it caused excitement and vertigo at times as I watched while sitting down.

It’s fun to see a new application of video, and it is good that The North Face is pushing limits with its ideas. Over the coming months and years 3D and virtual reality will become more common. Let’s hope it encourages people to take off the goggles and head outside to experience the real world on their own.

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