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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
The Apex 22 compact-climbing pack has a tapered shape, minimal compression straps and zero extras. I tested it on single and multi-day trips and during a nine-day AMGA Alpine Guide course in the Cascades this summer.
Alpine climbing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia inevitably involves extended travel through wet weather. While attempting an enchainment of Mt. Waddington (13,186') and its neighboring peaks, I wanted a lightweight shell that was waterproof and breathable enough to wear during high-output exercise. Unlike my other shells, which fall short in at least one of these categories, the Muztag jacket exceeded my expectations.
As a guide, I've burned through several pairs of approach shoes hiking up rough gullies and talus fields. When the Arc'teryx Acrux FL GTX showed up at my doorstep, I hoped they would last more than most. Over spring and summer, I used them on short and long approaches, through torrential thunderstorms, on muddy trails and over mountain scree.
The Luchadors are constructed of a synthetic upper with a slightly cambered, semi-asymmetric last and an unlined-leather footbed. The midsole shank keeps foot fatigue to a minimum. And they flex enough to set the Trax High Friction rubber on subtle smears. A padded, single-piece tongue cushions the top of the foot that protects the laces from pinching into the tops of my feet and shredding apart when jamming cracks.
Like its chief competitor, the MSR Reactor, the Jetboil MiniMo utilizes a highly efficient heat transfer system between the burner and pot. Put your hand next to one of these types of stoves while they're burning, and you'll instantly note that efficiency: Even with hands cupped around the burner, you'll not be burned.
As a guide, I hang my derriere over a cliff edge every day, often for hours at a time. I'm constantly securing myself into anchors while belaying, instructing and overseeing clients. In these cases, I like being snug on the anchor with my weight on the rope or other connection—it chases away the little butterflies in my stomach. Thus, having a quick and efficient way to protect myself while also providing adjustability is invaluable.
These days, it feels like everyone is coming out with a "new" belay device that's touted as somehow better than its predecessors. But, at least to me, it feels like many of the so-called improvements are superfluous and clumsy. I've sampled nearly all of the variations out there, but keep coming back to my trusty favorites for both recreational and guiding use.
After flying into the Lower Ruth Gorge in early May—following a five-day wait while more than two feet of snow fell—I began to doubt my "dark horse decision" to bring along the Big Agnes Battle Mountain 2 tent. But I've always had a soft spot for the dark horse, the little guy, and Big Agnes is certainly a David among a field of tenting Goliaths like Mountain Hardwear, MSR, Sierra Designs, and an army of others.
Andrew Councell reviews five gloves from Black Diamond that bridge the gap between skiing and mountaineering. "The average ski glove emphasizes warmth and is subsequently bulky, but Black Diamond has been producing ski gloves that can actually climb as well," he writes.
This season, DMM enters the fray with the Switch. With dual offset grips and a radically curved shaft, in essence it references the Nomic. But, put the two tools side by side and you'll quickly notice the first difference: Though both are marketed as 50cm tools, the DMM is clearly almost 2cm longer. Obviously, a longer tool offers a longer reach, which sounds nice on paper, but I wondered both, "Why these dimensions?" and, "Does the added reach compromise the swing?" Taking the tools out for a first spin on Grand Illusion in Smugglers' Notch, I quickly reached the twin conclusions, respectively, of "I don't know" and "Maybe."
The versatility of the Maverick played a key role while hiking (a.k.a. sweating) uphill and making my way along a knife edge in Summit County, where winds picked up to near 35 mph, leaving little option other than getting low and waiting it out.
Sometimes seen as an aid-specific tool for the pin scars on big-wall routes in Zion and Yosemite, offset cams can be invaluable almost anywhere.
The Cevedale Pro GTX boot is comfortable right out of the box. A stretchy tongue combined with a well-padded midsole helped them break in quickly, and a partial-length shank lets the boots flex for walking. Lowa offers a novel approach to balancing the tension between the forefoot and the ankle, which is critical for maintaining a snug fit while avoiding pain in the Achilles tendon. An inventive lacing system uses low-friction ball bearings in the eyelets which allow you to quickly cinch the boot around the lower foot, then lock off the laces in cam buckles at the ankle in a simple motion.
Andrew Councell reviews Ortovox's trifecta of avalanche-rescue equipment: transceiver, probe and shovel. "In the States last year alone, avalanches claimed the lives of seven climbers. It's clear that we are not immune," he writes.
I love watching my own mind make back flips, and it has put on quite an acrobatic show since the release of the Omega Pacific Link Cam in 2006: Early on, I remember looking at these crazy one-size-fits-all cams and thinking, "Yeah great...or how about just learning how to correctly place gear?" Later, I came to understand that recognizing the Link Cam's crazy genius is only a matter of the appropriate application.