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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.
After a big session on the Torres in Patagonia last winter I came back to advanced base camp and found my body seizing up from raw abuse. I had never used an Exped Downmat 9 (distributed in North America by Outdoor Research), but I snagged one out of a friend's tent and collapsed into a solid night's sleep. As soon as I woke up I was jealous of my buddy's pad and swore I'd never do another expedition without one. Since then, the Downmat 9 has allowed me to have sweet dreams while camped on the rock slabs in the Bugaboos, as well as some winter roadside bivies along the Icefields Parkway in the cold Canadian Rockies.
Preparing for an ice climbing trip is like preparing for war. The enemy: screaming barfies, brittle ice and—worst of all—warming your partner's freezing toes on your stomach. So when packing for a day of climbing in the Canadian Rockies, I was glad to know my feet would be well taken care of in the Trango Extreme Evo Light boots. I have owned the La Sportiva Trango boots, the little sister boot without a toe-bail notch, for a while. They are super comfortable, but a bit soft for long sections of ice. So for the artillery, I chose the Trango Extremes.
In my decade-long quest to find the perfect little pack, one that has all the right features and none of the bells and whistles, this one comes as close as it gets. The Lowe Alpine Summit Attack 30 Hyperlite is the only pack I've owned that's been spared the knife and trimming that my other packs have been subjected to. It may not be the beefiest, but as long as it lasts, it'll be comfortably on my back.
With a huge rack in my pack and a bunch of loose 'biners and runners for alpine draws, I sometimes overlook a fundamental piece of climbing gear: the standard quickdraw. New for spring 2008 DMM is introducing the Shadow Quickdraw. The Shadow is a desirable piece of gear for the discerning climber who wants full-sized carabiners yet appreciates that ultimate combination: light weight and super strong.
Having spent numerous ski tours climbing and skiing steep, bulletproof terrain, I found myself wanting some added security in the often-precarious ski mountaineering environment. The latest model of the Black Diamond Whippet provided what I was looking for.
Being a certified gear whore isn't necessarily a bad thing, but being a gear whore in Jackson, Wyoming—where rent is unfathomably exorbitant—is certainly frustrating. You see, I live in a crawl space.
"Man, I wish my thumbs were bigger." Testing these gloves is, unquestionably, the only time in my life I have uttered that phrase. The Marmot Alpinist Pro glove has, far and away, the largest thumb of any glove I've ever worn. I don't know how to rectify this fact with the rest of my impressions of the glove, which were generally positive.
Winter mountaineering: some people love it. But rarely do I picture the clear summit days with perfect cramponing and one-swing ice. Instead I think of the long and cold nights, my sleeping bag stuffed with everything I don't want to freeze. I consider days at a stretch in the tent, arguing over a magazine before tearing it in half, broken only by endless sessions of postholing. With these grudges in mind, I've been known to obsess over weight (hence the magazine instead of a book). When I received the new CiloGear Dyneema(R) 45 mountaineering pack to test, I knew immediately that it would lighten my load.
In December I headed down to Ouray, Colorado's Ice Park, to begin testing the Petzl Dartwin crampons. With all kinds of immediate climbing to be had, Ouray seemed the best place to determine effectiveness on everything from low-angle ice to crazy mixed testpieces...
Functional enough to withstand three weeks of high-altitude desert and mountain exploration, yet snazzy enough to sit down to tea with the King of Mustang, the Marmot Women's Snazette performed royally on a recent trip across the Himalaya.
A principal function of a climber's stove is to melt snow and ice, producing drinkable water. Hot soup, coffee and the occasional hot water bottle are perks, but on long trips fuel weight adds up. For Alaska I budget 48 ounces per day for a group of six—about 8 pounds of fuel each for a three-week expedition. While toiling with such donkeywork I imagine the ideal stove, where every calorie of fuel burned produces the maximum amount of water. This process, called heat transfer efficiency, inspired the design of the Jetboil Personal Cooking System (PCS).
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.