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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
I'll admit it: I've got a small head. As a result, I've spent the past few years bouncing between glasses that slide down the bridge of my nose, frames that feel like a loose, dead handshake, and cheapos bought shamefully from the children's aisle. So, when Julbo asked me to pick one pair of mountaineering glasses to test, I chose the Neve, a pair of glasses designed with Alti-Spectron X6 lenses for small heads, and, yes, women.
My go-to approach shoe for three years has been the La Sportiva Exum Ridge. Sturdy yet nimble, stealthy enough for talus-hopping but rugged enough to endure all the missteps that result in abrasion, the shoe has held tough for me through three summers in the Tetons without blowing out or debilating the tread. It's a tough benchmark to beat.
More than any piece of rock gear I've seen advertised over the past few years, I wanted to hate these Omega Pacific Link Cams. All those moving parts and the inevitable dumbing-down of racking-up brought out the Luddite in me. And the cost—about $100 a pop—seemed prohibitive, and the weight...
When you hear the name "Monster," it may conjure visions of a huge, ugly beast. Or for all you movie buffs it might bring a horrifying vision of Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci. Scary. Luckily, when I hear the name "Monster," I associate it with Metolius' climbing rope line—burly and strong.
Let's begin with an understanding. If given the choice either to snowshoe or ski on an approach, I am going to pick skis every time. When guiding on Denali, however, I find that the combination of people's varied ski skills, and the fact that we are schlepping huge loads up the Kahiltna Glacier, makes snowshoes the right choice.
I was looking forward to getting a set of Black Diamond's new C3 cams since I first saw the prototypes, and when I did, they were everything I expected them to be. They've been on my rack for a year now, and have been put to the test in just about every condition imaginable. From the misty summit of Torre Egger to a first ascent on Mt. Alberta; from greasy Squamish finger splitters to Bugaboo wall routes; and from overhanging quartzite trad routes at the back of Lake Louise to the mixed desperates of the Icefield Parkway, these cams have served me well. Despite the abuse, they're still working like new. They've held my repeated whippers, inspired the confidence I need when it comes time to run it out, and have shaved precious grams off the weight I've carried.
Mountain Hardwear has come out with a new 3/4 pant, the Silcox. This pant is made from eighty-five percent nylon and fifteen percent elastane and—when combined with articulated knees and a full-length gusset—has four-way stretch that is ideal for climbing, running, and... well, stretching. I sampled a size medium with a 23 1/2" inseam, and it fit perfectly (I'm usually a classic medium with a 32" waist). The pants come with an integrated belt made from 3/4" webbing for cinching them up when the time comes to send that project.
I used the cushy Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4 this summer in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, where I was guiding Gannett Peak for Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. I cannot say that this was my first Therm-a-Rest experience; I have owned many over the years. But the Prolite 4, the four-season model in Therm-a-Rest's Fast and Light Series, is truly a step above. It elegantly blends weight savings with packability and, most importantly, comfort.
Weighing in at 1.11 kg, the Osprey Talon 44 is one of the lightest packs for its size on the market. While I welcome any opportunity to lighten my load, I wondered if this svelte pack, when filled with ropes and cams, could hold up to being sat on and thrown on to rocks.
In the midst of searching for the right lightweight alpine harness for this season, Alpinist's call to review the Petzl Luna couldn't have come at a better time. Out of the slick mesh bag it comes packed in, my first critical look quickly revealed that the harness had the features I desired: lightweight and compact; four gear loops that would be compatible with wearing a pack; adjustable leg loops; a full-strength loop in the back for a tag line; and mesh construction that offers enhanced breathability. I've had the harness for over a month and used it for typical guiding days in the Tetons, where its lightness and breathability is an asset.
Since I first put on the Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Jersey to guide in the Tetons five weeks ago, it hasn't left my sight. I traveled to Chile last week to heli-ski guide and, amazingly—summer or winter—this jersey was always comfortable and left my core at just the right temperature. And at nine ounces, it's so light and small that it easily fits into a quart-sized zip-lock bag for easy waterproof storage.
I hate tight rock shoes. Don't get me wrong—I realize the need for a precise, tight fit, though after nineteen pitches and almost eight hours, I will take comfort over anything else. My partner and I were nearing the top of Mt. Stuart's classic north ridge when I realized something remarkable: my feet were totally comfortable. While this isn't inconceivable in rock shoes, I wasn't used to this kind of comfort in a shoe that climbed so well. I had cranked them down for the two crux gendarme pitches and was able to edge easily on small nubbins. When the climbing backed off again, a quick flick of the Velcro put me back into super-comfy mode.
Fast and light always took a backseat to cheap and available when it came to my rack. I justified this mentality by telling myself that the added weight translated into added durability. That attitude completely changed when I picked up a box of Trango's Superfly Wire Gate biners.
Add smooth operation and a doubled sling for versatility, and the Max Cam has all the hallmarks of a standard in the making.
I've been climbing and skiing in Schoeller autumn, winter and spring for six or seven years now, and have come to appreciate—OK, love—the quiet comfort of that miracle fabric for my pants and jackets. They breathe perfectly and wear like iron. There's never a crinkly or rough moment, only a soft comfort you never notice on those long approaches, thrutchy offwidths and swooshing descents.