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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.
I'd had my eye on a new mid-sized daypack for some time, so when I saw the Talon 33 first advertised, I took note. "The Talon 33 is the most versatile pack in its series, meeting the needs of everyone from the expert light and fast backpacker to hardcore do-it-in-a-day alpinists," read the description on the website. The weight—one pound, 12 ounces—made it an instant contender for alpine climbs, and despite being so light, it sported numerous bells and whistles: hipbelt pockets, ax attachments, helmet pocket in back, sunglasses pocket in the top lid, hydration slot, haul loop, topo pocket inside the top lid, exotic buckles adorning most edges, and some loopy harness system that takes a university degree more advanced than mine to operate. And the design—all swoopy and sleek, with futuristic graphics showcased in colors such as Spicy Chili, Moonlight Blue, and Acid Green—was sexier than anything else on the market. Acid Green! My wife has an Osprey Switch 26 ski pack, and last winter she extolled the intelligence of its design: the top lid holds a ski helmet, an outer pocket houses shovel and skins, there's place for probe pole and hydration bladder alike. Given her praise of the Switch, and the light weight, features and pure sex appeal of the Talon, I thought I had found my pack.
Washington's mountains experience a summer drought and a winter monsoon. Between these perfect conditions for climbing and skiing, spring and fall bring persistent storms that deposit large quantities of rain or wet snow during shoulder-season outings, leaving me no choice but to pack a hard shell. Generally, mild temperatures cause me to loathe wearing a rain jacket, as sweat inevitably builds up. I pull on my hard shell when I reach the point where I am getting wetter without it than I will be while sweating in it. Get stuck in rain or wet snow on a long climb with no waterproof layer and, as Canadian guide Scott Davis says, "the forecast calls for pain." That said, there are days where nothing less than waterproof will work. Despite marketing claims, no fabric is both adequately breathable and waterproof. I thus prefer my shell jacket to be light, compressible, totally waterproof, and able to be worn over a soft shell.
For this past summer's guiding season, I wanted a jacket light enough that I could carry it along, even if there was the possibility I might not need it. I found that this was a common situation in the Tetons—I would start summit days in shorts, convinced that the conditions would prove comfortable, but inevitably the winds would swirl and the temperatures would plummet to below freezing. So while guiding in the Tetons this summer, the lightly insulated Generator Jacket from Rab proved itself to be a brilliantly designed, key lightweight layer.
These are a new-ish, beefy approach shoe from 5.10. I saw them quite a bit in the Tetons this summer and expect to see a lot more of them in the future. Why? These shoes rule!
Early this summer I began testing the Black Diamond Firstlight Tent, from the Vedauwoo desert to the alpine flanks of the Grand Teton. I was pleased with its versatility—it seemed the perfect tent for any summer conditions. That worried me. The ultra-lightweight, single-wall shelter is marketed as a four-season favorite, but I feared how it would fare against the wintry precipitation and cold so common from October through April in the Rocky Mountain West. Yet now, in the middle of November, having weathered significant snowstorms and cold rainstorms in the Firstlight, I'm eager to sack up in this dome no matter the forecast.
In spite of the plentitude of masculine, heavy-duty shells on the market, I spent this past summer testing the women's Mountain HardWear Quark jacket. Why, you ask, did I eschew various men's models in favor of the women's Quark? Because it's extremely light, and Mountain HardWear touts it as the lightest (9 ounces), truly waterproof raincoat on the market.
There may be other inflatable sleeping pads out there, but you know you've got a corner on the market when your brand name becomes the vernacular for your niche. For years, however, I avoided Therm-a-Rests, preferring the closed-cell pads that, while they might not offer quite the same insulation and comfort as an inflatable pad, had the distinct advantage of low-tech: you could be pretty sure they'd never fail in the field, regardless of how many times you flopped your crampon-laden pack down on them at inopportune moments.
I had initially stayed away from using longer ropes due to their weight and bulk. The Apogee, at 9.1mm, dispenses with this concern, but its slim profile gave me doubts about its durability. After significant testing on summer alpine rock routes in the Tetons, alpine climbing in the Bugaboos and the establishment of new multi-pitch sport and trad routes at Rock Springs Buttress in Jackson Hole, my doubts about the rope's durability were firmly laid to rest.
Over the summer I tested the Sprint double rope (8.4mm, 60m), a member of the new Infinity line from Wild Country. While the company is a relatively new rope manufacturer, they've got the time-tested reputation to back up their products, and I was not disappointed. The rope, weighing in at 64 grams/meter, has a UIAA fall rating of 8, a relatively high impact force rating of 875 daN, an 8 percent elongation and 0mm of sheath slippage. And as a double-dry rope, both the core and sheath are treated to resist saturation. All of the aforementioned specs prove that Wild Country is truly putting safety and functionality at the forefront of their rope design.
The luggage gods are not kind. Multiple times, when traveling internationally, I've had to wait days for my luggage to catch up with me. I'm starting to get used to it—but it becomes problematic when I'm scheduled to guide clients and my gear is in airline purgatory. This was the case at the outset of a recent twelve-day trip to the Alps. Luckily, my bags arrived on the first evening as we prepared to leave for a backcountry hut. But one of our clients was not so lucky—her bag had not arrived by the time we departed. Between me and the other guide, we assembled an ample amount of climbing gear for the client. She ended up with my normal LED headlamp, and I pulled the Petzl e+lite from my first aid kit to use for myself.
This lightweight glove packs a punch for as light as it is and as well as it climbs. Had the temperatures been more normal in the Tetons this season, I probably would have squeezed more milage out of the thin Rab gloves, but global warming had most of us stripped to light sleeves—and certainly gloveless—many a day up high.
When I first heard of a new truly hydrophobic (no water absorbtion) synthetic belay parka called the Dually Belay Parka from Arc'teryx, I was sure it could not be true. We have all heard the promise before: "This synthetic insulation will keep you warm even when it's wet." The disappointment of realizing you are not warm—but in fact cold—sitting in a damp belay parka is true betrayal. This feeling goes away when you realize there is no better solution. Now there is no reason to compromise, or be wet and cold, as the Dually Belay Parka insulates while refusing to absorb water.
Anyone who has exited from the top of the Aiguille du Midi ice cave to descend the narrow ridge leading into the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix will agree: it has your full attention. To the left, the ridge drops away down the famous Frendo Spur, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 vertical feet. To the right, 800 feet of 50-degree snow will drop you to the base of the Midi's south face. So as I guide two guests down the steep and exposed arete, the last thing I need is my crampons balling up. Holding the rope tight between us, I wait for just the right moment, when all's steady, to whack my boots with my axe and knock the snow from them. That's it. I am buying new crampons, I tell myself. Tying yourself to people who are seemingly trying to pull you off of your feet every other step can make the cost of a new pair of spikes seem like chump change.
I've burned through a number of different belay devices, as my climbing obsession (and job) lead to unremitting use of these tools from March to November. I chose to test the Wild Country VC Pro because of its seemingly simple but effective design. This piece is an update from the VC belay device that has been on the shelves since the late 1980s. The classic version was a long-standing, standard device; the new VC Pro has big pitbull teeth on one side that allow for better bite with thin ropes. More importantly, it has all four hallmarks I insist on: smooth handling, effortless rappelling, secure holding and a simple design.
Guided clients demand a higher level of safety and preparation than you might find in a recreational group. Part of being safe is keeping your packs lean without skimping on necessary safety gear. While guiding I often need a satellite or cell phone to schedule pick-ups with my bush pilot, check weather, or communicate in emergencies. Over the years, I have started to use a small solar panel to charge my phone, allowing me to get through a long trip with a single lightweight battery.