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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
With it's classic design, neutral angle blade and abnormally large spike, it seems as though this axe was well designed for meandering through low-angle snowfields thinking about the late greats and golden ages - but nothing more.
What started as a gift from a client that I planned only to wear out of courtesy, inadvertently became my go-to layer for climbing, skiing and traveling. If my house were on fire, my Shak jacket is one of the items I would grab on my way out.
But once I gave them a chance, trusting that the steel front points on the aluminum body would hold up, I found that the XLC Nanotech is one bomber, why-didn't-I-think-of-this piece of gear.
When I look for winter pants I think of two words, "waterproof" and "hardshell." Some of you (probably people who only ski powder, don't break trail or are too hardcore to use their tools on ice) will disagree. That it is fine, wear your softshells all you want. But I want pants that will keep me dry when kneeling against melting ice, breaking trail in heavy snow or on a multi-day trip. I also want a single pair of pants that I can comfortably climb, skin, ski, hike and, occasionally, toboggan in.
The Espri is exceptionally light for a double-wall, with a simple set-up and take-down. And though it's advertised as a backpacking tent, I suspected it would work for most summer alpine climbing in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. I was right.
Adding these cams to my collection has made my trad rack much more versatile; they absolutely excelled in the granite cracks of Mont Blanc and even tagged along with me in the desert. They are not the best choice for Indian Creek splitters, but funky, flared cracks (on both free and aid routes) are their forte.
The Hummingbird's size and weight are that of a light, minimalist bag (I've eaten burritos that were bigger). However, the conservative twenty-degree temperature rating, overstuffed fill and moisture-repelling exterior compels me use it on more occasions than just alpine sufferfests.
A finely crafted approach shoe should handle the approach and descent, sure. But it should also allow you to step into 5.fun terrain without hesitation. Rarely, if ever, does a shoe do both well. Climbers and footwear manufacturers, take note. I found it.
This bag is pure luxury, but if you're into the whole ultra-light minimalist scene, you'll probably be disappointed.
I had owned and eventually broken six solar-powered battery chargers when I started using Goal0's Sherpa 50 Adventure Kit. No piece of the system ever failed to function in a year of frequent use, and it is the most effective solar-powered system I have ever owned.
Ueli's tool has a function for every piece of gear in my backcountry quiver: a sixty-five millimeter blade, file, hexagonal keys, flat- and Phillips-head screwdriver, wire stripper and can opener. For three months, I used the multitool to tune, tweak, sharpen, crank, slice, saw and open a beer at the end of it all.
Helmets can be so top heavy the straps can't hold them in position. You look back at your partner and his frontal lobe is shining in the sun while the helmet humps the back of his head. Thank goodness technology has finally caught up.
The trade-off with the smaller Rockcentrics versus wired hexes is strength, flexibility and weight at the cost of a couple inches of reach. But that is a trade-off that many climbers will be willing to make, especially if you want to supplement an existing rack or simply plan on using them in anchors.
The Valhalla does an admirable job of balancing the contradictory demands of climbers—light but durable, waterproof yet breathable, stiff but comfortable—but this also means that in no one circumstance do they truly shine. However, that didn't stop them from being my preferred shoes on trips with a little bit of every kind of terrain.
Ultimately, the Kingpins don't fit my hand as snugly as I had hoped, though they are still one of the best multi-purpose gloves I have used. The combination of durability, craftsmanship, warmth and attention to detail make these my current favorites for a variety of alpine endeavors.