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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
Geography is a big determinant of destiny. So it's only logical that Italy, a mountainous and boot-shaped country, would be home to many of the companies producing high-end footwear for our alpine endeavors. The nation with a centuries-old heritage of crafting fashionable and functional shoes is home to brands including La Sportiva, Scarpa, Kayland and the makers of my recently worn ice boots, Asolo.
It's the modular components that really make the new Quarks stand out: I'll start at the spike. If climbing more snow than ice, simply use a hex wrench (provided) to remove the bottom grip rest. This allows for a great plunging experience from a technical tool.
It was 1994 and I was headed to the Valley. I'd saved up for an extended climbing trip and I would return to Salt Lake City with a donut for an account balance. A couple big-ticket items would put a dent in that savings right from the start. One was a portaledge. The other was a GriGri.
In all, the NeoAir's most impressive feature is its (remarkable) compressibility. On top of that, the outer nylon has a pleasant, grippy-but-not-sticky feel that keeps the pad from sliding around the tent; the entire package rolls nicely when you are deflating it; and it's more durable than I would have imagined. But there are a few things that keep this from being perfect in my mind.
I group the Variant with obsolete layers such as the heavy-duty Synchilla jacket. Wind rips right through the fabric, necessitating a windproof layer that makes me overheat. Sure, fancy new designs look good at the coffee shop but this jacket, at least, is not mountain functional.
Climbing in the Alps all winter, I put the Terra Nova Quasar pack and its "Ultra" fabric through an ice-and-granite gauntlet. While the pack is a little worse for the wear, it's come out on the other side still capable of holding my gear.
With slim webbing straps, light weight and, of course, the ponytail hole, the Elia offers women-specific features that suggest it may have even been designed by a real she-climber (or at least a man on good terms with his feminine side).
I have often struggled to find an alpine pack for one- or two-night trips. A pack of this size needs to be comfortable enough to carry up to about forty pounds of gear while hiking into a high camp, yet trim and lithe enough to use for technical climbing on summit bids. Mammut has found a happy medium with the 45L Trion Guide.
There are only so many ways of describing an ice tool. Attributes worth discussing are shaft clearance, pick angle and spike pointy-ness—the X-All Mountain excels at all of them. But in reality, biomechanics have a lot to do with matching a user to their perfect tool. And the X-All Mountain feels like a custom tool made just for me.
With it's classic design, neutral angle blade and abnormally large spike, it seems as though this axe was well designed for meandering through low-angle snowfields thinking about the late greats and golden ages - but nothing more.
What started as a gift from a client that I planned only to wear out of courtesy, inadvertently became my go-to layer for climbing, skiing and traveling. If my house were on fire, my Shak jacket is one of the items I would grab on my way out.
But once I gave them a chance, trusting that the steel front points on the aluminum body would hold up, I found that the XLC Nanotech is one bomber, why-didn't-I-think-of-this piece of gear.
When I look for winter pants I think of two words, "waterproof" and "hardshell." Some of you (probably people who only ski powder, don't break trail or are too hardcore to use their tools on ice) will disagree. That it is fine, wear your softshells all you want. But I want pants that will keep me dry when kneeling against melting ice, breaking trail in heavy snow or on a multi-day trip. I also want a single pair of pants that I can comfortably climb, skin, ski, hike and, occasionally, toboggan in.