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.
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Black Diamond Express Ice Screws: Drill Baby Drill
Posted on: May 11, 2010
Sizes: 10, 13, 16, 19 and 22 centimeters
Weight: 115-180 grams
When the Black Diamond Express first came out I was living in Bozeman, Montana. My partner was a Brit from Sheffield, and he promptly bought a full rack of the new screws. I put my old Black Diamond Turbos away and, between his rack and my car, we got after it in Hyalite Canyon and the Beartooths. But eventually Paul went back to his gritstone, and I went back to my old rack. It wasn't long before I began replacing my seasoned screws with freshly minted Expresses.
In just one generation, from Turbo Express to Express, Black Diamond made a number of design improvements. The shiny hanger reflects light better, reducing some of the risk of a screw "melting out" under direct sun; the "coffee-grinder" knob is bigger and easier to use; the shafts taper towards the back, reducing friction so the screws finish faster; the hanger now has two carabiner clip-in points instead of one; and the chromoly steel seems even more rust-resistant. But the greatest thing about the Express screws is the one thing that Black Diamond didn't change: how they rack. This alone is enough for me to pick Black Diamond screws over any other brand. With Ice Clippers, I can easily rack more of these screws than I need (16 on Ice Clippers alone), and I know that the sharp ends will all point away from my legs and other vital areas. And when the climbing gets scary, I can have a screw in hand, ready to drill, with just the flick of a wrist. Sold.
This winter I climbed with a number of different ice screws. At first I admired how some screws had managed to out-sleek the Expresses with low-profile hangers. But those streamlined hangers frequently caught in textured ice on the final turns. When I went to punch the hangers to clear off the last bits of ice, I found the slim hangers a bit worthless. Instead, I had to clear the remaining ice with my pick. Though perhaps less stylish, the beefy hangers on Express screws make finishing off a placement easy.
The Express is not completely perfect. When drilling them in clear kryptonite ice, the first few turns often scrape a shallow chamber before the teeth and threads catch. When it comes to super cold ice, there are other screws on the market that will bite faster. And I prefer older models for 10-centimeter screws, as the new, larger hanger feels awkward on such a small screw.
Expresses aren't cheap either. But Black Diamond has flooded the market with these top-notch screws. The financially challenged student or dirtbag should be able to find sales or cosmetic seconds at reduced rates.
The Alpinist Mountain Standards rating system dictates that five-star gear is that which the reviewer would buy at full price—and I've done that again and again. The Express is to ice climbing what the Camalot is to rock climbing: a well-designed workhorse that sets the industry standard.
Pros: Racks well; sharp and smooth to place; bigger and easier to use "coffee grinder" knob; tapered shafts; two clip-in points; rust resistant; color-coded sizes.
Cons: A little slow in cold ice; new hanger design feels awkwardly bulky for stubbies.