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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
NEMO, a relatively new company out of Nashua, New Hampshire, has designed a unique technology to keep their tents and bivies light: air. This fall I tested their Gogo bivy, one of the lightest on the market. Instead of using poles to support its mouth, an air-filled beam creates structure and stability, and cuts down on weight. After countless seasons using standard tents and bivies I was curious to see how this improbable new design would hold up to rugged conditions in the Tetons.
Lowe Alpine released the 20+20 Extreme Attack special edition pack (only 2,000 made) in commemoration of their 40th anniversary. It's a great name. And a great pack.
This summer while wandering around Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, I had a new item in my backpack. Although the two-liter Mountain Safety Research DromLite bag may not have had the glamour or intrepidness associated with a rope or cams, it seemed functional—and I was curious. Many of my climbing partners have long sworn by their MSR hydration bags. Would the DromLite be a suitable "fast and light" successor to the time-tested black Dromedary Bag?
Every summer I spend many nights camped in the mountains, and this year has been no different. Alpine weather and conditions in my favorite local stomping grounds, the Bugaboos and Canadian Rockies, have tendencies to change faster than you can see them coming, and—all too often—you're shivering, getting snowed on or cowering from the latest thunderstorm. Fortunately, I was able to retreat on multiple occasions to the comforts of the Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 32-degree synthetic sleeping bag.
I just returned from a rock-climbing trip to northern Patagonia's Bariloche, where we visited the new areas of La Buitrera and Roca Parada, a thousand-foot tower in the middle of the Patagonian pampa near Esquel. The new ultra-light Metolius Power Cams were our weapons of choice for all small cracks. Aside from being extremely light, the cams performed just as well on Patagonian granite as they did on andesite and sandstone. They are easy to place, have great range and holding power (5-10 kN, varying with size), and tested well in real life on numerous pitches, including a slippery 5.10c high off the deck.
Lightweight at about 4.5 pounds. Watertight. Tough, durable, double-walled. It was too good to be true... on the whole, Mountain Hardwear's Spire 2 lightweight expedition tent fit all the specs I could hope for here in the Bugaboos, where rugged weather comes standard.
Petzl has a long history of developing quality and innovative products, and their new line of ropes is no exception. Aside from the bright green color, the Nomad immediately caught my attention out of the bag with a manufactured "ready for action" butterfly coil that required no painstaking uncoiling or restacking. Sweet! I hadn't even tied in yet and the rope already won points with me.
Wild Country claims their Zero Friends to be the "smallest cams in the world but the biggest dogs on the block." After putting them to the test this past summer, I must say that I agree. The Zeros are the lightest, smallest, and strongest cams of their size on the market.
A stylish—and useful—new accessory released this year is Metolius' Logo Sock. The sock is considered the most important accessory, second to the shoe, in most circles. Who wouldn't want a pair of high performance socks with Metolius' iconic little climber dude on the cuff? For me, they were a wish-list must have! Not only would they enhance the most important fashion accessory—the shoe—the little dude would be accessorizing and performing alongside my most important piece of equipment: my feet on a summer climbing tour. I suppose, in this case, it would be a summer sock tour.
I'd had my eye on a new mid-sized daypack for some time, so when I saw the Talon 33 first advertised, I took note. "The Talon 33 is the most versatile pack in its series, meeting the needs of everyone from the expert light and fast backpacker to hardcore do-it-in-a-day alpinists," read the description on the website. The weight—one pound, 12 ounces—made it an instant contender for alpine climbs, and despite being so light, it sported numerous bells and whistles: hipbelt pockets, ax attachments, helmet pocket in back, sunglasses pocket in the top lid, hydration slot, haul loop, topo pocket inside the top lid, exotic buckles adorning most edges, and some loopy harness system that takes a university degree more advanced than mine to operate. And the design—all swoopy and sleek, with futuristic graphics showcased in colors such as Spicy Chili, Moonlight Blue, and Acid Green—was sexier than anything else on the market. Acid Green! My wife has an Osprey Switch 26 ski pack, and last winter she extolled the intelligence of its design: the top lid holds a ski helmet, an outer pocket houses shovel and skins, there's place for probe pole and hydration bladder alike. Given her praise of the Switch, and the light weight, features and pure sex appeal of the Talon, I thought I had found my pack.
Washington's mountains experience a summer drought and a winter monsoon. Between these perfect conditions for climbing and skiing, spring and fall bring persistent storms that deposit large quantities of rain or wet snow during shoulder-season outings, leaving me no choice but to pack a hard shell. Generally, mild temperatures cause me to loathe wearing a rain jacket, as sweat inevitably builds up. I pull on my hard shell when I reach the point where I am getting wetter without it than I will be while sweating in it. Get stuck in rain or wet snow on a long climb with no waterproof layer and, as Canadian guide Scott Davis says, "the forecast calls for pain." That said, there are days where nothing less than waterproof will work. Despite marketing claims, no fabric is both adequately breathable and waterproof. I thus prefer my shell jacket to be light, compressible, totally waterproof, and able to be worn over a soft shell.
For this past summer's guiding season, I wanted a jacket light enough that I could carry it along, even if there was the possibility I might not need it. I found that this was a common situation in the Tetons—I would start summit days in shorts, convinced that the conditions would prove comfortable, but inevitably the winds would swirl and the temperatures would plummet to below freezing. So while guiding in the Tetons this summer, the lightly insulated Generator Jacket from Rab proved itself to be a brilliantly designed, key lightweight layer.
These are a new-ish, beefy approach shoe from 5.10. I saw them quite a bit in the Tetons this summer and expect to see a lot more of them in the future. Why? These shoes rule!
Early this summer I began testing the Black Diamond Firstlight Tent, from the Vedauwoo desert to the alpine flanks of the Grand Teton. I was pleased with its versatility—it seemed the perfect tent for any summer conditions. That worried me. The ultra-lightweight, single-wall shelter is marketed as a four-season favorite, but I feared how it would fare against the wintry precipitation and cold so common from October through April in the Rocky Mountain West. Yet now, in the middle of November, having weathered significant snowstorms and cold rainstorms in the Firstlight, I'm eager to sack up in this dome no matter the forecast.
In spite of the plentitude of masculine, heavy-duty shells on the market, I spent this past summer testing the women's Mountain HardWear Quark jacket. Why, you ask, did I eschew various men's models in favor of the women's Quark? Because it's extremely light, and Mountain HardWear touts it as the lightest (9 ounces), truly waterproof raincoat on the market.