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The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
The rest of the MS Team
Mountain Standards Gear Review: IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide Mike Lewis has been appreciating the Trango Agility 9.1mm rope for its handling and added safety feature of prominent red markings on each end of the line. He writes: "I believe the red ends will likely become a standard in rope design and manufacturing, and...the tight 'Spider Wear' construction allows [the Agility] to run through a device as smooth or smoother than any rope I've ever used." Five stars.
Mountain Standards Gear Review: Alpinist Digital Editor considers the merits of the oft-overlooked Metolius Offset Master Cams during a solo aid-climbing trip to Arches National Park (Ancestral Puebloan, Hopi, Navajo, Ouray, Paiute, Uintah, Ute, Zuni land). While he generally prefers the other brands, Franz notes that the Metolius design has its place on the rack. He writes: "Each design lends itself to being more suited for different situations. That's why I think it's important to 'diversify your portfolio,' as investment bankers say, and carry a variety of brands and styles. This is especially important when aid climbing because small variances can make all the difference between a solid placement and a sketchy one.... The Metolius Ultralight Offset Master Cams turned out to be the MVP (most valuable piece) during a solo ascent of the Tower of Babel (5.6 C3-, 450')." Three stars.
Mountain Standards Gear Review: IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide Mike Lewis has been using the Blue Ice Akila ice axes for a variety of missions. He writes: "The Akilas kick butt for skiing and light and fast technical mountaineering because they are light, have technical picks and curved shafts (so knuckles don't slam into ice when ice climbing), and are short and can fit either on the back of a small pack, or even in it. Whip them off the pack for some low-angled ice or even a steep bulge, and then plunge them in 50-degree snow to top out a major mountaineering objective. An effortlessly slidable plastic pinky rest makes for easy gripping on technical ice, yet can be moved out of the way, further up the shaft or completely off the axe, when sinking into deep snow." Five stars.
Mountain Standards Gear Review: IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide Mike Lewis announces that the Trango Vergo has replaced the Petzl Grigri in his kit, awarding the Trango Vergo five stars. He writes: “Having been a die-hard fan of the…Grigri for more than 20 years, I now proclaim that after less than three months of using the Trango Vergo assisted braking belay and rappel device, I am officially a Vergo convert. A light sadness trickles through my body in making this bold statement.”
Mountain Standards Gear Review: IFMGA guide Rob Coppolillo has been testing a set of Edelrid Starling Protect Pro Dry 8.2mm Twin/Half ropes in Chamonix for the past several months. The Protect design adds a high degree of cut-resistance to the sheath, though it also adds some dollars and grams to the bottom line. After using the ropes on about 50 pitches of rock and 15 pitches on ice, in addition to some deliberate abuse on some sharp edges, he writes: “I think the Starling 8.2 makes a ton of sense on multipitch alpine rock.” Five stars.
US Ice Climbing Team Member and Ouray Ice Festival gold medalist Corey Buhay has been using the Grivel Dark Machines all season, from Colorado to Cody, Wyoming. In this report, she tells us where the Dark Machines shone, and where they left her swinging for something better. "What a pity that the glorious ease of use existed only for Cody's steeper pitches. For many of the area's ice climbs, the crux sections are stitched together with lower-angle WI2-3 gullies and slabs. On those portions of climbs...the arched profile of the Dark Machines proved to be more of a liability than an asset...." 3.5 stars.
Tad McCrea used the Fixe Ultralight Alien Revolution cams on 20 big routes in the Sierra Nevada Range this past summer and he was very happy with their light weight and performance, especially for the Double Sling design that allowed him to carry less gear for extending placements. He did not find any significant drawbacks to the latest version of this long beloved cam . Five stars
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz has been wearing the unusual "armless" Ombraz Sunglasses since last spring. Instead of the typical rigid arms that are on most glasses, they are worn with an integrated lanyard that keeps them around the face or allows them to hang around the neck. The glasses also pack flat, allowing for easy stowing. Franz reports that Ombraz are highly durable with quality Zeiss Optics lenses. They are comfortable to wear with a variety of helmets but are less fashionable than traditional sunglasses. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz has been wearing the Black Diamond Vision MIPS helmet on many climbs, from long multipitch routes in the Black Canyon to short bolted sport climbs. "Thanks to advancements in materials and design, helmets are now so light and low-profile that it's harder to justify not wearing one, even at the sport crag," he writes. "Weighing slightly more than half-a-pound...factor in the durability of the Black Diamond Vision MIPS, and you have light, comfortable head protection that will holdup throughout frequent use." Five stars.
As an IFMGA/AMGA guide, Mike Lewis spends a lot of time in the mountains in all conditions, rain, snow or shine, and he appreciates the value of quality eyewear, especially after LASIK surgery that left his eyes more sensitive to the elements. He's been using the Dragon Alliance Flash LL Ion Sunglasses that feature Dragon's Lumalens technology and eco-friendly manufacturing. Lewis points out that the big, flashy style of the shades might not be for everyone, but the quality is all there. Five stars.
Kate Erwin has been using the Scarpa Ribelle HD boots in the Canadian Rockies. The crossover style is similar to Scarpa's Ribelle OD but with a leather upper and no ankle gaiter. Erwin's Ribelle HD boots performed well in the Bugaboos while carrying a heavy pack. She reports that the balance point of the boots took some getting used to compared to other mountain boots she's used, but ultimately she concluded, "I really like it." Four stars.
Chris Kalman continues his quest to find the best all-day, all-around climbing shoe. Everyone knows that a certain brand's TC Pro has set the standard in this category. Can the Acopa JB—named after the climbing legend and late Acopa executive John Bachar—compete? "It's a toss-up," Kalman reports. Four stars.
Whitney Clark was skeptical about the Beal Opera's skinny 8.5mm diameter when she first laid her hands on it—how well could such a thin cord really hold up against the sharp rock of alpine routes? The Opera is certified to be used as a single, twin or half rope, which adds great versatility for alpinists, and sure enough, the rope held up. After using the Opera at Index, Washington, the Cascades, Sawtooths and Wind River Range, Clark writes, "the Opera is a great choice for alpine routes when saving weight is key." Five stars.
The DMM Dragonfly Micro Cams are among the smallest and strongest cams ever made. Chris Kalman tested them on the thin cracks near his home in northern Arizona. He reports that there are some aspects of the design that he absolutely loves, but ultimately he was disappointed with the narrow size range of the cams compared to other brands. The narrow range required much more careful selection for placements. Three stars
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz has been using the slightly redesigned La Sportiva Testarossa climbing shoes for the past several months and discovered what he's been missing in his collection. He writes, "I only recently came to realize why so many of my climbing partners have been rocking the La Sportiva Testarossa for the last 17 years. I get it now!" Five stars.