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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
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.
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."