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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
Several years ago I humped a 92-pound pack full of the cheapest, heaviest climbing gear in the world uphill for several days in Wyoming's Wind River Range. We're talking old school: full-gate oval biners on everything; 11mm ropes; old, rigid-stem Friends; big hexes; everything horrid you can imagine. I seriously debated purchasing either a large dog or a small burro for my next expedition.
Frequently I am accused of being a pack snob. It started way back in college when I had a part-time job sewing backpacks for a small outdoor company in Bellingham, WA. The owner and I would stay late tweaking, modifying and otherwise trying to improve the current line of packs as well as our personal climbing packs. Whether building custom packs, bringing old, well loved packs back to life, or modifying brand new packs, it was rare that I saw a pack that didn't need some improvement.
"It's the single piece of gear I'm excited about buying this year," said Nic, my gearhead friend, about the new line of Arc'teryx harnesses. It was an unusual comment—the thought of controlled spending—for someone who has a steady job and climbs or skis every day. Nevertheless, I told Nic he had his priorities straight. If I had to recommend a single climbing upgrade for 2008, I'd suggest the Arc'teryx R-320 harness I've been testing for the past six months. It has everything I want in a harness—and nothing I don't.
When I picked up Rab's Latok Alpine jacket for the first time I was skeptical. The Latok was lighter than any of the performance hard shells I'd worn previously, and the bright orange eVent label on the sleeve made me wary. Adding to my incredulity, I had never heard of Rab. Learning to love the Latok took a good deal of research and a bit of a brand-name leap of faith, but—after a fall and winter season of epic approaches, climbs, bootpacks, hailstorms and vertigo-inducing white-outs—I've found I like the Latok; I like it a lot.
Every summer in Chamonix, among the 350+ mountain guides working in the valley, there seems to be one piece of gear that becomes eminently popular, and by the end of the season most guides have it. This year it was the Cilao OZ 22 Race harness, which weighs in at an insanely light 3.5 ounces. Easily recognizable by its bright green color, you would constantly see it traversing the range, from glacier slogs across the Valle Blanche to the higher elevations of Mont Blanc.
I've always been skeptical of Gore-Tex footwear, and it's almost guaranteed that I'll have cold feet regardless of the temperature (unless I'm clunking around in double boots), so I was curious to see how the Lowa Cristallo X Pro Gore-Tex boots would perform climbing and scratching around the Canadian Rockies.
When I was taking my ski exam in Europe, back in 1998, I was nicknamed "Zorro" by Bela Vadasz, one of the examiners. But truly, I did not feel like Zorro until I wore the Cloudveil Zorro jacket on many rainy days this summer and fall. In fact, I felt like grabbing my ice ax like a sword and making a "Z" in the snow more than once while wearing this piece, a great lightweight and windproof hard shell.
DMM claims they put a lot of research into these new screws, and it showed the first time I placed one. It quickly bit into the ice and turned easily, with little friction, but then, panic! There was no jiffyquickwindything to blaze in the screws.
This is my primary headlamp for dark approaches, late exits, and occasional epics; it generally stays in my rock or ski pack full-time. Weighing less than 3 ounces (78g), the Tikka Plus is so lightweight that it is hard to justify leaving it behind.
Having shredded multiple ultralight packs while alpine climbing and cragging the past couple years, I've been looking for a new versatile and medium-sized assault pack for some time, and Granite Gear's Alpine Vapor sounded like a good contender.
NEMO, a relatively new company out of Nashua, New Hampshire, has designed a unique technology to keep their tents and bivies light: air. This fall I tested their Gogo bivy, one of the lightest on the market. Instead of using poles to support its mouth, an air-filled beam creates structure and stability, and cuts down on weight. After countless seasons using standard tents and bivies I was curious to see how this improbable new design would hold up to rugged conditions in the Tetons.
Lowe Alpine released the 20+20 Extreme Attack special edition pack (only 2,000 made) in commemoration of their 40th anniversary. It's a great name. And a great pack.
This summer while wandering around Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, I had a new item in my backpack. Although the two-liter Mountain Safety Research DromLite bag may not have had the glamour or intrepidness associated with a rope or cams, it seemed functional—and I was curious. Many of my climbing partners have long sworn by their MSR hydration bags. Would the DromLite be a suitable "fast and light" successor to the time-tested black Dromedary Bag?
Every summer I spend many nights camped in the mountains, and this year has been no different. Alpine weather and conditions in my favorite local stomping grounds, the Bugaboos and Canadian Rockies, have tendencies to change faster than you can see them coming, and—all too often—you're shivering, getting snowed on or cowering from the latest thunderstorm. Fortunately, I was able to retreat on multiple occasions to the comforts of the Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 32-degree synthetic sleeping bag.
I just returned from a rock-climbing trip to northern Patagonia's Bariloche, where we visited the new areas of La Buitrera and Roca Parada, a thousand-foot tower in the middle of the Patagonian pampa near Esquel. The new ultra-light Metolius Power Cams were our weapons of choice for all small cracks. Aside from being extremely light, the cams performed just as well on Patagonian granite as they did on andesite and sandstone. They are easy to place, have great range and holding power (5-10 kN, varying with size), and tested well in real life on numerous pitches, including a slippery 5.10c high off the deck.