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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 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.
This year I put my new pair of Electric Tech One sunglasses through rigorous field-testing. I wore them on a month-long climbing trip to Colorado's Front Range, the Moab area and northern Arizona.
Coffee is as essential to climbers as ropes, sticky rubber and excuses why they don't climb hard. Whether it's trad climbing at Joshua Tree, alpine starts in the Tetons, or iced-coffee afternoons at Tonsai, coffee is essential fuel for climbers. The problem is that camp coffee methods are often sloppy and cumbersome.
I'm a wilderness camping minimalist, bringing just enough food and not bothering with extras or luxury items. I eat freeze-dried meals out of a bag, eliminating cooking, cleaning pots and other annoying dish duties. My no-cook system is not perfect, since I usually eat tasteless freeze-dried meals, but it's difficult to reach food deep inside a bag without spilling it.
I used the Mithril on glaciers in the North Cascades, and cragging and multi-pitching in Colorado's Front Range. I took whippers, hung and worked moves, belayed from hanging anchors, and rappelled off Cynical Pinnacle, in Colorado's South Platte, in an electrical storm.
While working as a guide I choose footwear that connects me to the terrain, inspires confidence in movement, and is comfortable enough to be worn for long durations. Recently I was able to test out the newest member of Five Ten's Guide Tennie family, the Mid-GTX. I used the shoe while preparing for, during, and after my AMGA Guide Exam this fall in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada.
Back when I learned how to trad climb seven years ago, I got used to using straight-tapered nuts. Despite the ease of cleaning them, this design, which was popular in the 1970s and '80s, fell out of vogue. This is because curved nuts are just more versatile and fit in irregular placements, but they do have a tendency to get stuck.
Deciding on a sleeping system is a major consideration when packing for an expedition or alpine climb as a good night's sleep can make the difference between feeling groggy and slow or energized and on-point. With so many mats on the market it can be hard to choose: Classic closed-cell foam mats are virtually indestructible, but inflatable ones are often lighter, more compressible and more comfortable.