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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 extensive testing, Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz reports that the Lowa Rockets are best suited for toe- and heel-hooking, with a secure fit that ensures they won't slide off the heel. Franz had trouble finding a size to fit his foot comfortably, however, and there is some bagginess over the top of the big toe. Three stars.
Whitney Clark tested the Mystery Ranch Scepter 50 backpack in Patagonia and in the Sierra Nevada Range. She reports that the pack provides a comfortable suspension system and is great for hauling loads. "I think that the Scepter 50 does really well if you have just the perfect amount of gear, but it does not adjust well to smaller or bigger loads," she writes. Four stars.
Chris Kalman put the Scarpa Maestro Mid through the paces on different styles of climbs to see how they compared to his La Sportiva TC Pros, which have set the standard for this type of shoe for several years. Kalman notes some differences between the shoes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and concludes that the Scarpa Maestros are a solid alternative, especially for people who have not found an ideal fit in the TC Pros. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz tested the Sea to Summit Alpha Pot Cookset and awarded it five stars for its "lightweight, compact, self-contained and user friendly" design.
Drew Thayer tested the Osprey Mutant 52 backpack on ski tours, cragging days and even a three-week packraft trip in the Amazon rainforest. While the pack isn't the most ideal option for serious alpine climbing, he found that it works well for a variety of missions. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz tested the Beal Escaper, which the company describes as a "detachable abseil system" that enables climbers to rappel on a single strand of rope and then still be able to retrieve the rope from below. Franz reports that if used properly the Escaper can be a handy tool to facilitate a fast retreat, but he also found that the device has some limitations. Three stars.
Chris Kalman details his experience with the D4 Octapod, a unique portaledge designed by the legendary big-wall gear inventor John Middendorf. Kalman tells the story of his early frustrations with the D4 ledge and how he ultimately came to love it, awarding it five stars.
Tad McCrea used the Cnoc Vecto and Versa Flow Gravity Water Filtering System on an expedition to Aconcagua where the rivers ran thick and brown with sediment. The simple, lightweight Vecto-Versa system worked well and kept Tad healthy. He awards it four stars.
Chris Kalman recently took the 7mm Maxim Personal Escape Rope to the big wall jungle of Cochamo, Chile, where he used the tag line to haul gear and rappel while exploring new routes. The Maxim PER is designed to be strong, light, water-resistant and its stiffness makes it less prone to getting snagged. Kalman reports that the rope is a great tool for alpinists, though they should be careful hauling with it to avoid core shots. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz used to make fun of people who used rubber gloves to protect their hands while crack climbing, but now he's become a convert with the Ocun Crack Gloves. He likes that he can easily take them on or off, as opposed to wearing a pair of tape gloves all day, and no time or materials are wasted by making tape gloves that often expire after a day. Four Stars.
Drew Thayer did some winter camping in the Hilleberg Allak 3 and awarded it five stars. He writes, "My overall impression of the Allak 3 is that it's the best combination of storm-proofness, comfort, and weight among three-person, four-season expedition tents. Its ease of setup, durability, and livability in harsh conditions are all superb. The question is, is it worth the weight for your needs?"
Clint Helander tested the La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX boots on some Alaskan ice climbs and cannot think of a single con. He reports that the Trango Towers are the "new iteration" of the discontinued "silver bullet" EVO Extremes and that these boots are "ideal for ice/mixed climbing and single-day mountaineering." Five stars.
Chris Van Leuven has been weathering the winter in Yosemite and Colorado with the Patagonia Micro Puff Storm Jacket. He found it to be a bit too warm to wear while climbing, but he enjoyed it for cold belays and camp life. Four stars.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz writes of the Mountain Equipment 30+ backpack, "This is the most hardcore rucksack I've ever used.... No frills. All utilitarian grit." Franz reports that the pack is designed for the hardest mountain routes and leaves some convenience to be desired for more casual outings, but the Tupilak is well made for its intended purpose. Five stars.
Hyalite Canyon local Todd Preston tested out the new Black Diamond Ultralight Express screws on some of Montana's classic ice climbs. He concluded, "For...pursuits where weight savings can be critical, the Ultralights are clearly the new gold standard and I would rate them 5 stars. However, several days of climbing frozen waterfalls using both Ultralights and traditional Express screws revealed some design limitations...." Four stars.