Summer, 2014 Outdoor Retailer Highlights

I met John Long at the Addidas booth!!

I met John Long at the Adidas booth!!  (Although I look a bit grumpy, I’m smiling a lot on the inside, as I’m a big fan of John’s climbing career and writing.)

The 2014 Summer Outdoor Retailer Show is in full swing here in Salt Lake City.

It’s a huge event, taking up not only the full space in the Salt Palace, but three large temporary pavilions and a tent city as well.

I’ve spent the last day and a half wandering around the show, looking at stuff, talking to exhibitors, and trying to take in the huge number of products on exhibit.

Overall, I haven’t seen anything truly groundbreaking or game changing.  I haven’t encountered any gear that will change the way I play in the outdoors.  However, there have been a few items that have caught my attention.  Here they are:

Ropes with UIAA Dry Certification.

The UIAA recently came out with new standards for “dry” ropes.  In order to meet the UIAA’s new dry rope standard, the rope can not absorb more than 5% of its weight when subjected to being sprayed with water.  Manufacturers can still claim “dry” status for their ropes, but they can only put the “UIAA Water Repellent” label on their ropes if the ropes meet the UIAA test specifications.

The UIAA Water Repellent Logo

The UIAA Water Repellent Logo

A number of Beal and Edelweiss ropes are touted as meeting the new standard, and Mammut also had a couple of new ropes that meet the new standard.

However, not all of the rope manufacturers I talked to were excited about the new standard.  Some of them felt that the UIAA standard was not sufficient for testing of actual water resistance.  The biggest complaints centered on the fact that the test doesn’t require submersion of the rope, but rather the rope is sprayed with water.  The other complaint I heard about the test procedure was that the test is self-administered by the manufacturers themselves rather than administered by a third party lab.

A piece of rope is affixed to a slanted board, and water is sprayed on the rope.

The UIAA test protocol:  A piece of rope is affixed to a slanted board, and water is sprayed on the rope.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  My feeling, after talking with a number of people is that some rope manufacturers are going to adopt the new test criteria, but that others are going to push for a submersion test, administered by a third party testing facility.  This will likely take the form of an E.N. (European Norm) test.

So, while all this is getting worked out, there will be a few ropes on the market that meet the new standard and a bunch more that don’t.  Until the dust (or water) settles, it appears that there won’t be a consistent test for dryness that all of the manufacturers are going to use, as some of the manufacturers are simply not going to be using this new UIAA test protocol.

The North Face Ice Project Pack

North Face Ice Project:  A pack designed specifically for ice cragging

North Face Ice Project: A pack designed specifically for ice cragging

This is one of the few items I’m actually going to run out and buy as a result of seeing it at the show.  It’s an ice climbing pack that is very different than the typical ice climbing packs that I own and use.  My other ice climbing packs tend to be stripped down, lightweight affairs devoid of extraneous features or bells and whistles.  This Ice Project pack is all about bells and whistles.  It’s built for comfort, not for speed.  It’s an ice cragging pack, meant to organize all of your gear and equipment that’s needed for a day climbing frozen waterfalls or mixed routes.  It’s not really made for wearing while climbing.  It’s more for transporting all of your stuff to the base of the route, and having everything easily accessible and organized when you get there, rather than having to just dump everything out in the snow.

It has a zippered opening that makes access easy, and there are accouterments for storing up to 10 ice screws, compartments for your rope, crampons, helmet, and other gear and necessities.   It’s the perfect pack for “ice cragging” where your approach isn’t super long, and you aren’t going super light.  It’s all about convenience.

It’s available on a limited basis this fall, and will be in broad distribution by late winter 2014 or early spring, 2015.   Price is $200.  I’ve already got one on order.

Crux AK 47 x Pack

The Crux AK47x.  Alpine simplicity

The Crux AK47x. Alpine simplicity

This pack couldn’t be more different in design and conception than the North Face Ice Project.  The Crux is a stripped down alpine pack made for going fast and light on big alpine routes.  It’s got a 47 liter capacity, which makes it suitable for longer routes where you’ve carrying lots of food, fuel and/or equipment.   The frame is a semi-flexible thermo foam affair, that provides some support without adding too much extra weight.

There are a number of well thought out details that climbers will appreciate, such as a grab/haul loop that is large enough to be easily grabbed while wearing big mittens, and 4mm climbing spec drawcords that can be used as rap tat in an emergency.  The AK47 x differs from the regular AK47 in that it has an extendable/removable top lid, as opposed to the fixed top lid on the regular AK47.

Crux has a bit of a cult following in the U.K., where they are based, but this company is relatively unknown here in the U.S.  This pack looks like a contender for climbers who want a light, streamlined, no-nonsense alpine-oriented pack.

Crux webpage here.

ak47x

Crux AK47x Suspension

 

SMC Spire Belay Device

Lots of companies are coming out with new belay devices these days.  I looked at new devices from DMM, Edelrid, and various other companies.  The one that impressed me the most was the SMC Spire.

The Spire functions pretty much like the Black Diamond ATC Guide.  It can be used to belay a leader using one or two ropes, and can be used in “guide mode” to belay one or two followers in autolocking guide mode.  What sets it apart from devices like the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 3 are its small size (easily the smallest and lightest of the three) and the clever mechanism for lowering a following climber when in guide mode.  The guide mode release function is horizontal rather than vertical, and provides an easy and controlled lower that is much easier to actuate and control than the ATC Guide or Reverso.  It’s a very elegant and simple piece of engineering.  If I were in the market for a traditional (non locking assisted) belay device, the Spire would be at the top of my list.

I found a Youtube video demonstrating the Spire HERE.

SMC Spire Belay Device

SMC Spire Belay Device

SMC Picket Cables.  

Another interesting find at the SMC booth are the new detachable picket cables.  This relatively simple product is nothing but a cable with a connector that allows it to be attached to the holes in pickets.  Some pickets come with cables attached permanently, but I’ve not seen picket cables that can be attached and detached.  This allows you to either use the cable or not as you wish, or move it up and down on the picket as conditions dictate.  It’s not a ground-breaking, super innovative product, but it does allow a climber to have a bit more flexibility when it comes to using cabled pickets.

SMC Picket Cable

SMC Picket Cable

Energy Food That Doesn’t Taste Horrible

I’ve been kind of fed up with energy bars lately.  I’m getting to where eating a Pro Bar, or Power Bar, or Cliff Bar or trying to down a pack of Gu or other energy gel makes me gag.

There were dozens of outdoor food companies hawking their wares at the O.R. show, and I sampled everything I could, trying to find things that I enjoyed eating.  Here are my favorites:

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwiches.    These were a real surprise.  Bridgford makes these as part of the U.S. Army’s new “First Strike Ration.”  I figured that if it was Army food, it probably was nasty.  These sandwiches are actually pretty tasty.  There are some meat sandwiches (my favorites were the Italian sausage and BBQ beef) and sweet sandwiches (including a quite good French toast flavor.)  They kind of remind me of “hot pockets.”  They can be eaten cold, or warmed up by dipping the sealed pouch in boiling water.  I could see myself brewing up some hot cider, and using the hot water to warm up one of these sandwiches before mixing up my drink.

Folks who insist on all-natural, organic, gluten free, low fat, and low sodium will need to look elsewhere.  These sandwiches don’t check any of these boxes.  However, I don’t really care.   I don’t eat enough meals in the backcountry that having some artificial or non-organic ingredients is going to harm me.  When I’m in the backcountry, all I really want is something simple, convenient, that tastes good and that will provide me with the energy I need to keep going.   These sandwiches fit that bill well.  I ordered a couple cases of them at the show.

Link to Bridgford

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwich

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honey Stinger Waffles and Honey Gels

These are organic waffles filled with honey and various natural flavorings.  They tasted great, and the mix of honey and carbohydrates should provide a good energy boost.

The Stinger folks also market an energy gel made from honey.  I sampled a few flavors and found them to be more palatable than the typical energy gels I’m used to eating.

I’m going to stock up on both of these items before my next climbing trip.

Honey Stinger Waffle

Honey Stinger Waffle

Chef Five Minute Meals Tuna and Chicken Salads with Tortillas

The Chef Five Minute Meals folks make various kinds of ready made meals.  Most of them seemed a bit heavy for backpacking (they are not dehydrated) but they had a couple of items that seemed reasonably practical, particularly for shorter trips where paring down weight to the absolute minimum isn’t essential.

Their Tuna Vegetable Salad, and Chicken Vegetable Salad are very tasty, and when matched with one of their tortillas would make a nice lunch that doesn’t require any refrigeration and very little preparation effort.

Packable chicken salad and tortilla

Packable chicken salad and tortilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSR Windboiler Stove

MSR Is coming out with a new system stove, called the Windboiler.  It’s kind of the little brother of the MSR Reactor, and looks positioned to compete with the ubiquitous Jetboil line.  Claimed advantages of the new Windboiler over the Jetboil are increased wind resistance.  (The Jetboil sucks in wind.)  The Windboiler is supposed to have better simmer control when compared with the Reactor, which will make it better suited for tasks other than snow-melting.  A hanging kit will be available for the system.  If MSR’s performance claims for this stove are accurate, the Jetboil system is in for some very stiff competition.

Stock Photo of the MSR Windboiler.  (I wasn't allowed to take a picture of it at the show.)

Stock Photo of the MSR Windboiler. (I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of it at the show.)

 Unsubstantiated Stove Rumors

I was really looking forward to the Jetboil Joule, a stove with a high output burner and inverted canister.  It looked like it was going to be competition for the MSR Reactor for cold weather snow melting tasks.  However, I was disappointed by how big the Joule was.  It’s just too big for climbing or backpacking use, except as a basecamp stove.  However, I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that the Jetboil folks are working on a lighter, more compact version of the Joule.  If true, then this is quite interesting news.  Until this becomes reality, however, I’m sticking with my MSR Reactor.

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L Pack

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L with shockcord compression straps I added.

 

15.8 ounces (with add-on shock cord compression straps.)

The Patagonia Ascensionist pack line is Patagonia’s new foray into making backpacks.  The 25 liter pack is the smallest of the line-up, suited for day trips and traditional alpine climbs from huts.

The Ascensionist 25L pack is stripped down to the bare essentials.  The suspension is Spartan but effective for its size.  It has a thin sewn-in foam back pad, lightly padded shoulder straps, and a removable waist belt made from 1 inch webbing.  If you pack it carefully, it carries well, even with a full ice climbing load.  The pack doesn’t have any compression straps, but I added my own compression system by weaving a couple of pieces of shock cord in and out of daisy chains on the sides of the pack.  This helps control the load when the pack is mostly empty.  They also allow me to strap crampons to the outside of the pack.

Pack Characteristics:

1  Weight:  Weight is only 15.8 ounces, including the shockcord compression straps and cordlocks I added myself.  (Weight from the factory was 12.8 ounces.  This is good, as it’s hard to find a technical daypack that weighs under a pound.  Most climbing daypacks have lots of heavy “features” that add weight but are of questionable functionality.  The Mammut Trion Light 28L pack is a good example of this trend, as it’s about the same size, but weighs more than twice as much as the Patagonia Ascensionist.

2:  Top lid:  The top lid is unique.  It is secured with a single drawcord that can be opened or closed with a single gloved hand.  When you open the pack, the top lid stays propped open on its own, which makes access convenient.  There is a top pocket that is accessed by a horizontally oriented zipper.   Nothing about the top lid is game changing or a massive leap forward, but it is very cleverly and thoughtfully designed and definitely is an improvement over the typical day pack lid.  The top lid is closed by means of a simple aluminum hook.  I’ve found that the hook doesn’t stay fastened when the pack is not full and there’s no tension on the hook.  This isn’t really a serious issue, however, as when there’s no tension on the hook, it’s not needed to keep the pack lid closed.  One caution about the top lid design:  It does not allow for you to stow a rope under the top lid securely.  I am used to being able to coil my rope and stash it under the top lid for the approach and descent.  The Ascensionist design doesn’t accommodate this practice very well, as the rope doesn’t stay put and there isn’t really any good way to keep it in place.  If you need to transport a rope, you will need to either shove it into the pack, or just do a mountaineer’s coil and carry it slung over your shoulder.

3:  Construction and features.  Fabric is a mid weight gridded ripstop in the body, with a doubled, heavier fabric on the bottom of the pack.  I haven’t used it enough to have any opinions on long term durability.  Ice axe attachments are by means of traditional loops on the bottom secured at the top by adjustable shock corded hooks.

Overall, the pack is a study in simplicity.  It’s stripped down to the basics, which is generally a good thing in my book.

However, there are a couple of things that I wish this pack had:

It doesn’t have any provision for carrying a hydration bladder.  There’s no hole to slip a hydration hose through, and there’s no loop inside to hang a bladder from.  Adding a small hydration hole and hanging loop would make the pack much more user friendly for those of us who tend to use hydration bladder systems.

Also, the foam back pad is not removable.  Having a removable back pad would allow me to strip out the pad and use the pack as a low bulk stuff-sack summit pack like the old MEC Genie pack, or replace the pad with a folded up bothy bag.

The changes for hydration compatibility and making the foam pad removable would have added very minimal weight (probably less than 2 ounces total) and would have made the pack a little more versatile.

The pack lists for $99, which is pretty expensive for a lightweight daypack.  The MEC Alpinelite 24 pack is $54 Canadian, and the REI Flash 22 pack is $49.50.   However, the Ascensionist 25L is significantly lighter than the MEC Alpinelite, and more climbing oriented than the REI Flash.  Whether it’s worth an extra $50 compared with those packs probably depends on how tight your budget is, and how often you think you will have need of a good daypack that’s focused on climbing.

So far, I’m happy with the pack.  I’ve used it ice climbing and hiking, and have been pleased with its performance.  I’m probably going to get it modified to add a hydration bladder exit port and a bladder hanging loop.  I’ts likely to be my go-to technical daypack for a while.

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L on ice

This Link is to a nice video of Steve House explaining the various features of the Ascensionist 25L Pack.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack

Ice Pack in the Cascades

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack is a lightweight alpine pack that I have been using lately for big days and light overnights in the mountains.

The ice pack is about 40 liters (2,400 cubic inches) in capacity, and can hold everything I need for a day of ice climbing or winter alpine climbing day trips. When packing carefully, I have used it on overnight climbs as well.

The Ice Pack is very light weight. In a size large frame, it weighs 2 pounds, 1.3 ounces. It is stripped down to the essentials, with a roll-top closure instead of a lid, and no useless frills.  The pack is made from a Cuben fiber material that keeps the weight down.

The suspension on this pack is simple, but very effective. The frame is made from two lightweight aluminum stays, coupled with a lightly padded back panel. The hip belt is also lightly padded, and does a good job of transferring weight to the hips.  The suspension allows me to carry loads in the 40 pound range comfortably, and I don’t have aching shoulders, back, or neck at the end of the day.

This pack is different from most in that it does not have “load lifter” straps that run from the shoulder straps to the top of the pack to keep the pack pulled into your back. The Ice Pack relies solely on the shoulder straps to keep the load in balance and snugged tightly to your back. Because of this, getting the right fit is critical. On most packs, the shoulder straps are designed to come a bit below your shoulders, and wrap around them. On this pack, however, you want the shoulder straps to be level with the crest of your shoulders. (Make sure that this is with the pack fully loaded, and with the aluminum frame stays bent to shape.)  The Ice Pack comes in 4 sizes to accommodate different back lengths.

With the proper fit, this pack carries really well. With the shoulder straps comfortably snug, the pack sticks to your back like glue, and I haven’t had any issues with the pack shifting around while climbing. I’ve climbed multi-pitch technical rock and ice routes in this pack, and I just forget I’m wearing it.   The pack has a couple of side compression straps, which allow for scrunching down the pack to adjust for smaller loads.  There is also a very effective top mounted compression strap system that allows you to compress the load from the top.  This top compression strap system can also be used for securing a climbing rope.  I also use it for strapping on my climbing helmet.

The pack has a number of climbing-specific features that distinguish it from the company’s other pack offerings, which are geared more towards ultralight backpacking.  There are well designed ice tool holders that will accept traditional or leashless tools.  There is also a crampon patch on the back of the pack, with an elastic bungee cord to hold the crampons on with.  I haven’t had good luck with this elastic bungee cord, however.  The clip buckles broke almost immediately, rendering the attachment insecure.  I eventually just cut off the elastic bungee cord, and replaced it with a couple of pieces of webbing and fastex side release buckles.   The pack’s waist belt has sewn on gear loops which are useful for racking gear.  You can also add ice screw clippers to the hipbelt for additional ice-screw racking options.  When you’re carrying a light load and don’t want the belt at all, you can also strip the waist belt off completely.

My biggest concern when I first got this pack was the lack of a traditional top pocket.  In lieu of a top pocket, the pack closes with a simple roll-top closure like that on a dry bag.    My habit has always been to store a bunch of stuff in the top pocket, to make it easier to get to during the climb.  Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I could live without a top pocket.   In actual use, however, I’ve found that I don’t really miss the top pocket.  I put stuff I may need while on the route in a separate lightweight ditty-bag that I just keep near the top of the pack.  This keeps me organized, and getting to this ditty bag doesn’t take significantly more time or effort than accessing a top pocket.

In actual use, the only feature I really miss on the Ice Pack is a hole in the pack to allow the tube on my hydration bladder to exit the pack.  However, I called the good folks at Hyperlite and explained my needs to them, and they agreed to add a hole in the pack above the shoulder strap to allow me easier use of my hydration bladder.  (This is one of the reasons I like gear from small companies.  They tend to have outstanding customer service and are often willing to go the extra mile to keep their customers happy.)

So far, the Ice Pack appears reasonably durable.  After several climbing trips, hikes, and cragging, the fabric shows no real signs of wear.  It seems quite well made, with well-constructed seams and reinforced stress points.

Ice Pack accommodates a 3 day load if you pack carefully

The obvious competitors for the Ice Pack are the non-woven dyneema worksacks from Cilogear.   I’ve owned and used Cilogear’s 45 liter NWD Worksack for several years now and it’s been my go-to alpine pack due to its light weight and excellent carrying qualities.  Some comparisons between the 45L Worksack and the Hyperlite Ice Pack follow:

I prefer the suspension and frame of the Ice Pack.  The twin aluminum stays are lighter than the plastic/aluminum frame sheet of the Cilo Gear pack, and still work very well to control the load and transfer the weight of the load to the hips.   I feel like the simple, no-load-lifter shoulder strap design of the Ice Pack makes the pack perform better when climbing, and it shifts around less when moving.

The Cilogear’s floating top lid design is more conducive to overstuffing the pack.  For times when you want to overload the pack on the approach, the Cilogear pack design allows for greater expansion of volume.  The Cilogear is also a larger pack all around (45 liters vs 40 liters nominal volume.)   You can overstuff the Cilogear pack to carry 60 liters of more, but this isn’t an option with the Ice Pack.

The Ice Pack is substantially lighter than the Cilo 45L NWD Worksack.  The Cilogear pack weighs 2 pounds 11..6 ounces for the  pack body, foam-pad, hip belt, lid, and 4 compression  straps.  The plastic/aluminum frame sheet adds another 16.2 ounces to that total.   In contrast, the Ice Pack weighs only 2 pounds, 1.3 ounces including the integral aluminum frame stays.

So, which is better?   Well, that depends on how much space I need.  If I can comfortably fit my gear into 35-40 liters of space, I prefer the Ice Pack.  I think it carries better both on the trail and on the climb and it is lighter.   It is the best pack I’ve used so far for light alpine climbing.  For day climbs and light overnights, the Ice Pack is my new first choice.

However, for those times when 40 liters isn’t quite enough, I will still be going to my Cilogear worksack.  Sometimes, I can’t squeeze all my stuff into 40 liters, and the Ice Pack’s limited expansion capability makes it suitable solely to light and fast endeavors.

One place where the Ice Pack clearly has the Cilogear NWD Worksacks beat is on price.  The Ice Pack retails for $260, which is significantly less than the comparable offerings from Cilogear.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the Ice Pack.  For the kind of climbing I like to do, it’s pretty close to the ideal pack.

Note:   I initially received an Ice Pack for review free of charge.  However, I liked it so much, I went out and bought one with my own money (at retail price,) because I didn’t want to be without it in the event that I was asked to return my review pack.