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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.
US Ice Climbing Team Member and Ouray Ice Festival gold medalist Corey Buhay has been using the Grivel Dark Machines all season, from Colorado to Cody, Wyoming. In this report, she tells us where the Dark Machines shone, and where they left her swinging for something better. "What a pity that the glorious ease of use existed only for Cody's steeper pitches. For many of the area's ice climbs, the crux sections are stitched together with lower-angle WI2-3 gullies and slabs. On those portions of climbs...the arched profile of the Dark Machines proved to be more of a liability than an asset...." 3.5 stars.
Tad McCrea used the Fixe Ultralight Alien Revolution cams on 20 big routes in the Sierra Nevada Range this past summer and he was very happy with their light weight and performance, especially for the Double Sling design that allowed him to carry less gear for extending placements. He did not find any significant drawbacks to the latest version of this long beloved cam . Five stars
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz has been wearing the unusual "armless" Ombraz Sunglasses since last spring. Instead of the typical rigid arms that are on most glasses, they are worn with an integrated lanyard that keeps them around the face or allows them to hang around the neck. The glasses also pack flat, allowing for easy stowing. Franz reports that Ombraz are highly durable with quality Zeiss Optics lenses. They are comfortable to wear with a variety of helmets but are less fashionable than traditional sunglasses. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz has been wearing the Black Diamond Vision MIPS helmet on many climbs, from long multipitch routes in the Black Canyon to short bolted sport climbs. "Thanks to advancements in materials and design, helmets are now so light and low-profile that it's harder to justify not wearing one, even at the sport crag," he writes. "Weighing slightly more than half-a-pound...factor in the durability of the Black Diamond Vision MIPS, and you have light, comfortable head protection that will holdup throughout frequent use." Five stars.
As an IFMGA/AMGA guide, Mike Lewis spends a lot of time in the mountains in all conditions, rain, snow or shine, and he appreciates the value of quality eyewear, especially after LASIK surgery that left his eyes more sensitive to the elements. He's been using the Dragon Alliance Flash LL Ion Sunglasses that feature Dragon's Lumalens technology and eco-friendly manufacturing. Lewis points out that the big, flashy style of the shades might not be for everyone, but the quality is all there. Five stars.
Kate Erwin has been using the Scarpa Ribelle HD boots in the Canadian Rockies. The crossover style is similar to Scarpa's Ribelle OD but with a leather upper and no ankle gaiter. Erwin's Ribelle HD boots performed well in the Bugaboos while carrying a heavy pack. She reports that the balance point of the boots took some getting used to compared to other mountain boots she's used, but ultimately she concluded, "I really like it." Four stars.
Chris Kalman continues his quest to find the best all-day, all-around climbing shoe. Everyone knows that a certain brand's TC Pro has set the standard in this category. Can the Acopa JB—named after the climbing legend and late Acopa executive John Bachar—compete? "It's a toss-up," Kalman reports. Four stars.
Whitney Clark was skeptical about the Beal Opera's skinny 8.5mm diameter when she first laid her hands on it—how well could such a thin cord really hold up against the sharp rock of alpine routes? The Opera is certified to be used as a single, twin or half rope, which adds great versatility for alpinists, and sure enough, the rope held up. After using the Opera at Index, Washington, the Cascades, Sawtooths and Wind River Range, Clark writes, "the Opera is a great choice for alpine routes when saving weight is key." Five stars.
The DMM Dragonfly Micro Cams are among the smallest and strongest cams ever made. Chris Kalman tested them on the thin cracks near his home in northern Arizona. He reports that there are some aspects of the design that he absolutely loves, but ultimately he was disappointed with the narrow size range of the cams compared to other brands. The narrow range required much more careful selection for placements. Three stars
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz has been using the slightly redesigned La Sportiva Testarossa climbing shoes for the past several months and discovered what he's been missing in his collection. He writes, "I only recently came to realize why so many of my climbing partners have been rocking the La Sportiva Testarossa for the last 17 years. I get it now!" Five stars.
Alaskan alpinist Clint Helander tested the Mystery Ranch Tower 47 backpack for all sorts of activities. The pack is designed as a crag pack for rock climbing—for which it shines—but Helander also used it for ice climbing and skiing. The pack is big and bulky, he reports, but its durability and functionality make it worth the extra grams. Four stars.
Alpinist digital editor Derek Franz has been using the Zenbivy Light bed system for the past year. As a guy who prefers to avoid the constriction of mummy sleeping bags, he sleeps comfortably with the Zenbivy in a variety of environments. His only critique is that the setup can be a little tedious. Four stars.
Alpinist Tad McCrea has been using the latest model of the Petzl Quark ice tools for the past year. As a longtime user of the earlier models, he reports that the tools continue to live up to his expectations. He writes, "If you already have a set of the last Quarks, maybe you don't need to jump to an upgrade just yet, but if you want a set of axes that handle it all, and are in the market for an alpinist's dream tool, look no further." 4.5 stars.
Alaskan climber Clint Helander generally prefers softshell jackets instead of hardshells when climbing and skiing, but the Rab Muztag GTX Jacket proved to be an exception. He writes, "I have always appreciated the ability of softshells to breathe and stretch while I methodically plod up steep snow slopes. In my mind, Gore-Tex jackets were still too heavy and restrictive in regard to movement.... I was happy to be proven wrong." Five stars.
Whitney Clark used the women-specific Lowa Alpine Expert Gore-Tex boots in her snowy stomping grounds of the Sierra Nevada Range. She appreciated their lightness and comfort. The boots weren't as warm as she would've liked, however, and on one occasion the supposedly waterproof boots soaked through while she was postholing and her feet got wet while her partner's feet stayed dry. Four stars.