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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.
Frequently I am accused of being a pack snob. It started way back in college when I had a part-time job sewing backpacks for a small outdoor company in Bellingham, WA. The owner and I would stay late tweaking, modifying and otherwise trying to improve the current line of packs as well as our personal climbing packs. Whether building custom packs, bringing old, well loved packs back to life, or modifying brand new packs, it was rare that I saw a pack that didn't need some improvement.
"It's the single piece of gear I'm excited about buying this year," said Nic, my gearhead friend, about the new line of Arc'teryx harnesses. It was an unusual comment—the thought of controlled spending—for someone who has a steady job and climbs or skis every day. Nevertheless, I told Nic he had his priorities straight. If I had to recommend a single climbing upgrade for 2008, I'd suggest the Arc'teryx R-320 harness I've been testing for the past six months. It has everything I want in a harness—and nothing I don't.
When I picked up Rab's Latok Alpine jacket for the first time I was skeptical. The Latok was lighter than any of the performance hard shells I'd worn previously, and the bright orange eVent label on the sleeve made me wary. Adding to my incredulity, I had never heard of Rab. Learning to love the Latok took a good deal of research and a bit of a brand-name leap of faith, but—after a fall and winter season of epic approaches, climbs, bootpacks, hailstorms and vertigo-inducing white-outs—I've found I like the Latok; I like it a lot.
Every summer in Chamonix, among the 350+ mountain guides working in the valley, there seems to be one piece of gear that becomes eminently popular, and by the end of the season most guides have it. This year it was the Cilao OZ 22 Race harness, which weighs in at an insanely light 3.5 ounces. Easily recognizable by its bright green color, you would constantly see it traversing the range, from glacier slogs across the Valle Blanche to the higher elevations of Mont Blanc.
I've always been skeptical of Gore-Tex footwear, and it's almost guaranteed that I'll have cold feet regardless of the temperature (unless I'm clunking around in double boots), so I was curious to see how the Lowa Cristallo X Pro Gore-Tex boots would perform climbing and scratching around the Canadian Rockies.