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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
Reviewer Drew Thayer notes, "The Ultamid 4 is currently the lightest option for a spacious, four-person shelter that can adapt to just about any conditions.... It's a great shelter for backcountry pursuits where versatility and light weight are necessary. And it's made right here in the USA."
Climber and guidebook author Stewart M. Green reviews the Mammut Belay Chain: "Unlike the personal anchor systems made by Metolius, Sterling and Black Diamond that use six links of the same size, the Mammut chain links are of two different sizes. The first three links are 11 inches long, and the last three links are 3.5 inches long. These differing lengths allow you to attach to different anchors at a belay station easily and quickly."
As a guide, I'm often asked what I carry on my harness. In addition to standard climbing hardware, plus prussic cords, a Tibloc, and a Micro-Traxion for glacier travel, I carry a knife. Once my clients see the knife, they often reference Joe Simpson's classic mountaineering epic, Touching the Void. Unlike the moment of decision in the book when Simon cuts the rope to free himself while letting Simpson fall into a crevasse, I carry a knife for other reasons: these include to cut tat, add cordage to existing anchors, and cut the free ends from a stuck rope.
The insulation in the Brooks Range Drift 15 sleeping bag is treated with DownTek, a down coating that prevents the feathers from absorbing water. Since water rolls off the down, the feathers stay light and fluffy—keeping you warm. Unlike synthetic sleeping bags, which are typically bulkier and heavier than down, treated down sleeping bags offer the lightweight, low bulk warmth found in down bags without sacrificing packability.
Recently I added Patagonia's Merino Air Hoody base layer to my collection. Unlike my other merino wool items, The Air Hoody, with its fluffy appearance, resembles a thin, non-itchy sweater more than a typical next-to-skin layer.
Although rope technology has greatly improved in the twenty-some years since I started climbing, I was still skeptical when a lime-green Mammut 8.7mm Serenity rope showed up on my doorstep. The manufacturer states this rope is designed for single, double and twin configurations. Mammut also says the rope is designed to stretch 31 percent when arresting a fall. When used as a single, the Serenity is the thinnest-diameter cord in Mammut's line.
Instead of collecting new feathers, Neokdun recycles down that has been sterilized from old duvets in its special processing plant. The Spanish company Ternua works with Neokdun to process the down in their 800-fill power Loughor jacket.
The rope is the single most important piece in your pack. During alpine climbs, the rope is subject to needle-sharp crampons, errant ice tools, rock and ice fall, and abrasive terrain while climbing and descending. For me, the most important qualities to look for in a rope are: durability, minimal weight, ease in handling and a permanent, obvious center mark.
Maybe Jerry Seinfeld said it best in one of his stand-up bits when he said that the helmet is designed "to preserve a brain whose judgment is so poor, it does not even try to avoid the cracking of the head it's in." As climbers and skiers, we embrace some risks while seeking to minimize others, and wearing a helmet seems like the obvious way to continue doing both.
Ice climbing is about high-energy output in cold, wet conditions. Adapting to changing weather can be as much of a struggle as the climbing itself in the winter season. I try to find layers that are versatile across a range of conditions.
A climber's relationship with his ice screw rack is a personal thing. Find the right match and life will be good. Play the field, using whatever happens to clip to your harness and you may regret it later.
I've used an REI Revelcloud Hoodie for a year now and have worn it in all seasons and while participating in numerous activities, including ice climbing, running, hiking and climbing. Every time I put it on I find it useful, no matter the time of year.
When you climb in cold places, you quickly learn the value of a lightweight puffy jacket. The promise of a sunny morning can dissolve quickly in the alpine: the wall passes into shadow, belays get long and cold, and the wind picks up. An insulated jacket can make the difference between starting the next pitch excited or shivering.
We packed up camp high on the Roosevelt Glacier and began climbing towards Mt. Baker's North Ridge (WI2-3, 3,000', Beckey-Widrig, 1948), in Washington's North Cascades, at 6 a.m. Challenging weather conditions required creative route finding. At noon, six hours later, we climbed into a storm below the summit.
Though I spend countless hours in a harness every season, I rarely get excited about them. To me, they are merely utilitarian. As long as the harness is comfortable and functional, I don't think too much about it. That changed with the new Petzl Sitta harness.