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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
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz tested the Beal Escaper, which the company describes as a "detachable abseil system" that enables climbers to rappel on a single strand of rope and then still be able to retrieve the rope from below. Franz reports that if used properly the Escaper can be a handy tool to facilitate a fast retreat, but he also found that the device has some limitations. Three stars.
Chris Kalman details his experience with the D4 Octapod, a unique portaledge designed by the legendary big-wall gear inventor John Middendorf. Kalman tells the story of his early frustrations with the D4 ledge and how he ultimately came to love it, awarding it five stars.
Tad McCrea used the Cnoc Vecto and Versa Flow Gravity Water Filtering System on an expedition to Aconcagua where the rivers ran thick and brown with sediment. The simple, lightweight Vecto-Versa system worked well and kept Tad healthy. He awards it four stars.
Chris Kalman recently took the 7mm Maxim Personal Escape Rope to the big wall jungle of Cochamo, Chile, where he used the tag line to haul gear and rappel while exploring new routes. The Maxim PER is designed to be strong, light, water-resistant and its stiffness makes it less prone to getting snagged. Kalman reports that the rope is a great tool for alpinists, though they should be careful hauling with it to avoid core shots. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz used to make fun of people who used rubber gloves to protect their hands while crack climbing, but now he's become a convert with the Ocun Crack Gloves. He likes that he can easily take them on or off, as opposed to wearing a pair of tape gloves all day, and no time or materials are wasted by making tape gloves that often expire after a day. Four Stars.
Drew Thayer did some winter camping in the Hilleberg Allak 3 and awarded it five stars. He writes, "My overall impression of the Allak 3 is that it's the best combination of storm-proofness, comfort, and weight among three-person, four-season expedition tents. Its ease of setup, durability, and livability in harsh conditions are all superb. The question is, is it worth the weight for your needs?"
Clint Helander tested the La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX boots on some Alaskan ice climbs and cannot think of a single con. He reports that the Trango Towers are the "new iteration" of the discontinued "silver bullet" EVO Extremes and that these boots are "ideal for ice/mixed climbing and single-day mountaineering." Five stars.
Chris Van Leuven has been weathering the winter in Yosemite and Colorado with the Patagonia Micro Puff Storm Jacket. He found it to be a bit too warm to wear while climbing, but he enjoyed it for cold belays and camp life. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz writes of the Mountain Equipment 30+ backpack, "This is the most hardcore rucksack I've ever used.... No frills. All utilitarian grit." Franz reports that the pack is designed for the hardest mountain routes and leaves some convenience to be desired for more casual outings, but the Tupilak is well made for its intended purpose. Five stars.
Hyalite Canyon local Todd Preston tested out the new Black Diamond Ultralight Express screws on some of Montana's classic ice climbs. He concluded, "For...pursuits where weight savings can be critical, the Ultralights are clearly the new gold standard and I would rate them 5 stars. However, several days of climbing frozen waterfalls using both Ultralights and traditional Express screws revealed some design limitations...." Four stars.
Todd Preston is a geologist for the US Geological Survey who has been ice climbing for 20 years. He tested the Black Diamond Reactor ice tools and concluded that the Reactors are ideal for steep ice and cragging, awarding them a solid four stars.
Chris Van Leuven tested the latest version of the Petzl Nomic ice tools. He reports that the upgraded Nomics have that same familiar look and feel—same swing—as with previous generations, but are now more functional and come with additional features. His main criticism is that the tools come standard with the Pur'Ice pick, which is too narrow for hard mixed/dry tooling, and other picks must be ordered separately. Four stars.
Whitney Clark tested The North Face Women's Summit L4 Softshell Pants in a variety of alpine climbing conditions and found them to be well designed to handle the wear and tear of ascending rock and snow and they were also well-made for female climbers. Her main complaint is that the fabric pilled after washing. Four Stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz took the SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger into the mountains and desert to test its capabilities. He appreciated the device's unlimited two-way messaging and navigational tools, not to mention the potential to send an SOS signal if he needed a rescue, but he reports that there is room for improvement. Three stars.
Alpine guide Mallorie Estenson has been using the Osprey Mutant 22-liter backpack for multipitch climbs around the Pacific Northwest, and she found it to be well designed for those fast-and-light day trips when you want to bring a bit more than the rope, rack and shirt on your back. Four stars.