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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
The Valhalla does an admirable job of balancing the contradictory demands of climbers—light but durable, waterproof yet breathable, stiff but comfortable—but this also means that in no one circumstance do they truly shine. However, that didn't stop them from being my preferred shoes on trips with a little bit of every kind of terrain.
Ultimately, the Kingpins don't fit my hand as snugly as I had hoped, though they are still one of the best multi-purpose gloves I have used. The combination of durability, craftsmanship, warmth and attention to detail make these my current favorites for a variety of alpine endeavors.
For many years, stove inefficiency was a problem that was largely unaddressed by manufacturers. Finally, a new generation of hyper-efficient stoves hit the market, and MSR's Reactor is by far the best. In my experience, the Reactor reduces my fuel needs by 50 percent.
While there is a cam or two on the market that has a wider expansion range and can handle shallower cracks, the Master Cam is a worthy competitor and an expertly manufactured piece of pro.
Weighing just 1 pound, 7 ounces, this down-filled sack has no frills. No Gore-Tex or other waterproof coatings to repel moisture and no extra, hidden pockets for your snicker bars. It's just a simple pairing of paper-thin nylon and 800-fill down.
The generous coating of sticky rubber and a roomy toe box make the Grandstones perfect for chimneys and offwidths, but they flail on smaller cracks that require a sleeker profile.
Even though stainless steel isn't the ultralight miracle metal that one might believe, Black Diamond's design and construction alone make the newest Cyborg one of the best tools available for hard winter climbing.
After several months of abuse, capped off with a thrutchy ascent of Red Rock's Epinephrine, I was amazed to find Prana's Tangra pants still looking new. However, when it came to everyday use, the pants are clearly designed for fashion over function.
While the axe is fairly light, it is the weight distribution that really impresses me. With a curved aluminum shaft and a stainless steel head, this tool feels solid in the hand and swings like champ.
In a seven-month period I logged 100-plus days in the Helium in a wide variety of situations: spring snow storms on Mt. Rainier, trekking in India, bivouacs in the North Cascades and more than a few nights in the guide lounge and my VW van. Thinking back on all those trips I can't recall a single instance where the Helium let me down in any way.
I thought the flashy pink (and I mean pink) color of the Selena was a cover-up for a disappointing lack of women-specific features. When I actually put the harness to the test, I was pleased to find that the design is thoughtfully tailored for the smaller, curvier climber. However, ladies who plan to climb more than just single-pitch sport will be frustrated by the Selena's other design features on long trad climbs.
Those in search of bondage slippers that match a sporty banana hammock to wear while working "the proj" in Thailand will be disappointed. The Force are a comfy and reliable factory basic, but that's what I like about them.
When it comes to V-thread tools Black Diamond's First Shot is the most advanced. It is the first V-threader that cannot be replaced with a pocket knife and a piece of wire. And the only tool with a guidance system for quick and easy V-thread creation.
Does size matter? This question, historically the domain of trashy women's magazines, is now relevant to the ever-evolving climbing gear industry—in particular, rapidly shrinking carabiners. The Metolius FS Mini wiregate now stands as the smallest full-strength carabiner on the market, but how small is too small?
The TC Pros are comfortable, offer great protection while jamming and edge powerfully. However, because these shoes lack the sensitivity and aggressive shape of a sport-climbing shoe, face-climbing bolt clippers might not be impressed.