Climbing Knives

It’s good to have a knife with you when you’re climbing.   I use a knife for making V-Threads, cutting away old rap tat, cutting slings, and various other tasks.

I keep a knife in the pocket of my Tufa chalk bag, so I’ve always got a knife with me if I’m carrying my chalk bag, (See review of the Tufa Houdini Chalk Bag HERE)

However, for those times when I don’t have a chalk bag with me (for example, any time I’m ice climbing) I like to have a knife clipped to my harness.  Pretty much any small knife will work if you’re keeping it in a pocket.  This review will focus mainly on  small knives that I attach to my climbing harness.

Left to Right:  Baladeo, Trango, Petzl, Spyderco Dragonfly, Spyderco Clip-it

Left to Right: Baladeo, Trango, Petzl, Spyderco Dragonfly, Spyderco Clip-it

Trango Piranha  0.7 ounces

The Trango Piranha is the smallest and lightest knife I’ve used as a carabiner clip knife.  It is a relatively simple design, that is made to be attached to a carabiner.  When attached to the carabiner, the blade is kept closed by the carabiner itself, which blocks the point of the blade from opening.   However, the design doesn’t work with modern lightweight carabiners.  When the knife shifts on the carabiner, the blade can open.  This tendency is made worse because the rivet that holds the blade and body together loosens up over time, and the blade flops around.  (which also means that the knife won’t stay open when you’re using it.)

Using old-school round bar stock carabiners will help solve the knife’s propensity to open while on your harness, but it doesn’t solve the “floppy blade” issue.

I had this knife open up on me while attached to my harness.  Having an open knife blade attached to your harness is not safe.  The weak rivet and floppy blade make this knife pretty much unusable.  Overall, I was very disappointed with this knife.

Spyderco Dragonfly2 H-1 FRN  1.2 ounces

The Spyderco Dragonfly is a small, high quality knife. This particular model that I use is the “Salt Water” version made with particularly rust-resistant H-1 Steel.  It came with a small pocket clip that I removed, and I tied a short lanyard to the knife to facilitate clipping it to a carabiner.  The blade is sharp and the serrations make it easier to cut through rope or webbing.  The knife can be opened one handed, and once open it locks securely until you release the blade.

Overall, I like this knife.  It’s a high-quality, dependable tool, and makes a good climbing knife.

Spyderco Snap-It C26  C26SRD  2.4 ounces

I bought this knife because it has a built in integral carabiner clip.  It seemed like a great climbing knife because it didn’t require a separate accessory biner to attach to my harness.

Like the Spyderco Dragonfly, it’s a quality tool with a sharp, serated blade.  However, the gear loops on my climbing harnesses are too thick to work with the knife’s integral carabiner clip.  The harness loops are so thick that the carabiner clip won’t close.  You can sometimes force it and wiggle it and get it on the gear loop, but then it’s really hard to get off.  This pretty much defeats the whole purpose of having a convenient, readily accessible knife clipped to your harness.

It’s really too bad that this knife’s carabiner clip isn’t a tiny bit bigger.  With a bit more clearance, this could have been a great climbing knife.  As it is, I don’t use it for climbing.

Petzl Spatha Small (1st Generation) 1.6 ounces

This has become my go-to climbing knife.  It has a simple design, with a partially serrated stainless steel blade.  The blade rotates into the open position by turning the blue ring.  The large hole in the handle is designed to accept a carabiner, so you can clip the Spatha directly into a biner.  However, I’ve found that D-shaped biners don’t allow the knife to move freely on the biner and so I tied a short loop of cord through the knife that I clip the biner to.  This allows greater freedom of motion and prevents the knife from binding up on the biner.

The Spatha has become my favorite climbing knife primarily because of its robust design. When closed, the blade is mostly covered by the protective handle, and I like the fact that when clipped to my harness, the blade tip is pointing down, so there is almost no chance of the tip ever catching on anything and opening accidentally.

It’s easy to open and close the Spatha with a gloved (or even mittened) hand.

While the Spyderco Dragonfly2 is also a great climbing knife, the simplicity and robust build of the Spatha give it a slight edge in my opinion.

I tried the new redesigned version of the Petzl Spatha, and although it’s supposedly “new and improved” I find that I prefer the old First Generation Spatha.  The new knife has a locking blade mechanism, and is a hair lighter, but it doesn’t feel as as simple or robust as the Gen I version.  There’s more play in the mechanism, more of the blade is exposed when closed, and it feels just a bit more flimsy in use than the Gen I.

Baladeo 15G  0.4 ounces

This knife is NOT something that I keep on my harness.  I carry this knife in the pocket of my Tufa Houdini chalk bag, so I have it with me whenever I’m rock climbing.  (Review of the Tufa Houdini Chalk Bag is HERE.)   The Baladeo is a very light knife.  (The 15G stands for 15 grams.)  In spite of its small size, it is a well made knife with a sharp blade, and an innovative design that integrates the knife handle into a locking mechanism.  This knife is not suitable for carrying clipped to your harness, but if you’re looking for a small, light pocket knife for climbing, it’s a great choice.  Note that Baladeo knives are now manufactured and marketed under the “Deejo”  Trade name.

Left to Right: Baladeo, Trango, Petzl, Spyderco Dragonfly, Spyderco Clip-it

Left to Right: Baladeo, Trango, Petzl, Spyderco Dragonfly, Spyderco Clip-it

 

The Greatest Chalk Bag Ever Made (Tufa Climbing Houdini Chalk Bag)

Regular and "Alpine" Houdini Chalk Bags

Regular and “Alpine” Houdini Chalk Bags

Chalk bags are a pretty generic piece of climbing gear.  It’s hard to get excited about a chalk bag.  They are really just a bag that holds chalk.  Arcteryx came up with a fancy twisting mechanism for keeping the chalk from spilling with their “Aperture” chalk bag, but other than that innovation, chalk bags haven’t changed much since I started climbing in the 80’s.

However, I have found a chalk bag that I am actually quite excited about.  It’s made by Tufa Climbing, a small company that turns out chalk bags and other climbing soft goods in Missoula, Montana.  We worked together on the design, and ultimately I ended up with what I think is the greatest chalk bag ever made.  They call it the Houdini Chalk Bag.  It’s available on their web site HERE.

The thing that makes the Houdini chalk bag worthy of excitement is the bottom zippered pocket.  There are lots of chalk bags with zippered pockets, but this design has a pocket that actually is large enough to hold some useful emergency items.   The pocket is located in the bottom of the bag, and accessible with a water resistant zipper.  The position and orientation of the pocket makes it so that you can stuff the pocket full, and it doesn’t interfere with the function of the chalk bag.  (Side pockets tend to impinge on access to the chalk when stuffed too full.)

I have two of these Tufa Houdini chalk bags, one slightly smaller that I use for everyday cragging, and a larger one that I use on long alpine routes.  The pocket in the smaller bag is large enough to comfortably fit a headlamp, a knife, a small sparklight and a couple of tinder tabs, along with an ultralight windbreaker (Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Jacket.)  The pocket in the larger Alpine chalk bag bag is large enough to hold those items, plus a few Gu packs or the like.

Tufa Houdini and the kit it carries.

Tufa Houdini and the kit it carries:  Ghost Whisperer hooded wind shirt, Petzl E-Light, Baladeo knife, sparklight flint, and 2 fire tabs

What this means, is that whenever I’m climbing, I’m never without some basic emergency gear.  I’ve already made use of this once, as we got behind a really slow party on a multi-pitch route at one of the local crags.  We finished in the dark, and it was very handy to have the headlamp and the windbreaker available.

In normal climbing use, the Houdini chalk bag functions just like a regular chalk bag, and I pretty much forget I’m even carrying anything in it other than chalk.

So, there you have it.  The greatest chalk bag ever made, and the first and only chalk bag I have been excited enough about to write a review on.

Winter Climbng Gear Update: Petzl and Salewa Ice Screws

Ice Screws:

Salewa Quick Screw and Petzl Laser Speed Light

The winter of 2014-15 was something of a disappointment for those of us living in the Mountain West.  Temperatures were warm.  Precipitation was scarce, and often fell in the form of rain instead of snow.  Here in Utah, the ice climbing season was short and inconsistent.   As a result, I only got out for a couple of days locally, and took a couple of trips down to Ouray, which also was suffering through a relatively warm winter.

I did get to try out some new ice screws by Salewa, and also got to use my aluminum Petzl Speed Light screws a bit more.  Here are my impressions:

The Salewa Quick Screw is a screw that incorporates a number of interesting features.  It has a compact head with a fold out crank.  The head is some sort of composite that supposedly makes the screw less prone to melting out when placed in direct sunlight.  The most unusual feature of the Salewa Quck Screw is that it comes with an integral racking system.  The screw is permanently attached to a quick draw via a sliding hanger, and the quick draw attaches to the screw by means of a plastic clip.  This makes them very easy to carry.  There is no need for racking on a separate biner, caritool, etc.   Biners and screws are color coded by length.

Salewa Quick Screws

The racking system is very convenient, however, it does require a few extra steps when placing the screw one-handed on steep ice.  Here is the sequence:

1:  You grab the carabiner that the screw is racked with.   you’ve got hold of the carabiner, but the screw is still clipped into the plastic carrier, and the head of the screw is dangling down.

2:  While grasping the carabiner, you use the heel of your palm to whack the screw up against your body (or the ice) to break the grip of the plastic carrier and release the screw body.

3:  You’re still holding the carabiner, but you really need to be grasping the head of the screw.  So, you give it a little jerk, and let the hanger slide up towards the head, so that gravity helps the screw get oriented correctly.  Then you work your hand up onto the head of the screw.  (This can be a bit tricky wearing gloves and worrying about fighting a pump with big air beneath you.)

4:  Once you’re grasping the head of the screw, you punch it into the ice and start turning it in.  When the teeth catch, you deploy the crank handle and crank it in.

5:  Clip your rope into the biner, and you’re good.

Once you are grabbing the head, the screw goes in very nicely.  It bites as well as any other screw I’ve used, and the shape of the head makes it very easy to get pressure on the screw when you’re starting it.  However, moving your hand grip from the biner to the head (step 3 above) can be a bit tricky, and certainly requires more dexterity than placing a normal screw because when you remove a normal screw from your rack, you’re already grasping it by its head.

I bought 4 of the Salewa screws.  I think that’s all I’m going to buy.  They are nicely made, and I will probably carry a couple of them on most climbs because they rack so easy with their integral biners and don’t take up space on my caritool.  The long size in particular is a great option as I can use it for V-Threads and not have to worry about racking it.     However, the fiddly nature of the sequence of placing them one handed means that I’m always going to want to have some more traditional screws with me for steep panic placements.

Petzl Laser Speed Light Aluminum Ice Screw

Last fall, I posted my first impressions of the aluminum Laser Speed Light screw HERE.

After using them climbing water ice this winter, my first impressions have been mostly confirmed.   I love the light weight, and their aggressive teeth make starting them very very easy.  Although I bought them primarily as a light weight alpine ice screw, I find that I’m using them as a go-to all around water ice screw as well.

However, the binding issues I encountered when I first used the screws have continued to occur.  These screws tend to freeze into the ice when placing them in temperatures near freezing.  Colder temperatures seem to result in less freezing/binding.  I have seen other people posting on the internet with similar experiences, so my conclusion is that this is not my imagination, but is something inherent in the aluminum design (probably related to aluminum’s conductivity.)

The bottom line, however, is that the binding/freezing issue is relatively minor when compared with the excellent traits of these screws.  Their light weight and high performance have earned them a place on my climbing rack both for water ice and alpine ice.

Suluk 46 TiCa Ice Tool

The Suluk 46 TiCa ice axe weighs 4.9 ounces with a 55cm shaft.  (Yes, that’s 4.9 ounces, as in less than 5 ounces.)

Suluk 46 website HERE.

It is not UIAA approved, and is not suitable for technical ice climbing, but after some use, I have concluded that this is a terrific axe for snow and low angle glacier travel.

I bought this axe in anticipation of a trip to the Bugaboos.  Approaches and descents in the Bugs generally require travel over glacial terrain.  An axe is needed for self arrest, balance, step cutting, and easy climbing.  Having an ice axe that is as light as possible is a benefit because when you’re rock climbing, the axe is just dead weight.

axe-2

Suluk 46 TiCa ice Tool on a snow climb

After some use and testing in the Bugaboos, and on snow slopes closer to home, here are my thoughts on the TiCa axe.

It’t not for long, steep, technical climbing.  This seems obvious, but I figured I would state it up front.  The axe doesn’t have enough heft to swing all day on steep ice.  If you’re climbing something steep enough to require front pointing and it continues for more than 10 or 20 meters, you will probably be better served with a real ice axe.  I wouldn’t want to use the TiCa Ice Tool on water ice either, other than just the occasional patch of water ice.  It’s just too light to have enough momentum to sink the pick into hard water ice very efficiently.

You’re not going to have an easy time using the TiCa to climb out of a deep, overhanging crevasse.  However, you really aren’t going to be able to climb out of a deep, overhanging crevasse with only one tool, no matter how technical that tool is.  If you’re only carrying a single ice axe, you’re going to need to rely on prussiks to self-rescue anyway, regardless of what sort of axe you’ve got.

It’s not safety rated by the UIAA.  That means that I can’t really trust it for boot/axe belays or as an anchor when used in a T-Slot.

What it is good for:

It cuts steps.  Before I had the chance to test it out, I wondered if the TiCa axe would be any good at cutting steps.  It’s so light that I worried that the axe would not have enough heft to chop steps.  As it turns out, it does a pretty good job.  Even though it is feather light, all of the weight is concentrated in the head, so the swing weight is pretty good.  I cut steps in hard glacial ice in the Bugaboos without any problems, using both the adze and the pick.  If you need to cut steps to get you across a patch of steep, icy ground, the TiCa works well.

The pick is functional for upward progress and for self arrest.  I used the TiCa axe for climbing out of a bergshund, and it worked fine.  I played around with it on steep glacier ice, and it works fine.  It’s not a technical tool, and as I wrote above, I wouldn’t use the TiCa for long bouts of climbing AI3 or water ice, but for occasional use on steeper ground, it will work.  There is no hand rest, and I didn’t use a leash, but the titanium spike on the bottom sticks out a little bit, and this gives you a sufficient grip on the shaft for pulling.  The titanium pick bites into ice adequately for decent security using piolet ancre technique.

Note that the pick is shipped from the factory un-sharpened.  I sharpened it with a file to give it better bite on ice.  If you want to use the TiCa for anything other than self arrest, I would recommend that you sharpen the pick.

For self arrest, the TiCa works just like any other ice axe.   I found it no  harder to use than any other mountain axe.

axe

Suluk 46 TiCa Ice Ax

The spike on the bottom of the shaft works fine for plunging in snow and softer glacial ice.  It’s not particularly sharp, so it’s not as effective on harder ice.  Still, I found it adequate for general mountaineering use in piolet canne technique.

Overall, the TiCa is something of a niche product.  It’s for times when you want something for self arrest, and for negotiating the occasional icy step, but you don’t necessarily need a full on ice axe.  Ski mountaineering, easy glacier travel, snowy cols, approaches to alpine rock climbs, and other such situations are where the TiCa axe comes into its own.

I think I will be using the TiCa as my go-to axe for non-technical situations.  It’s just so light, that I can put up with its other limitations.  I wouldn’t recommend it to someone as their only axe, but for times when you just need a very simple ice tool for non-technical climbing, and weight is at a premium, I feel it is a good choice.

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screws: First Impressions

I recently bought some of the new Petzl Laser Speed Light ice screws.  The Speed Light screw is one of two screws on the market that is constructed with aluminum.  (The other aluminum screw is the E-Climb Klau screw which I reviewed previously HERE.)

I have not yet had a chance to thoroughly test the Petzl Speed Light screws, however I have taken them on one alpine ice route (Mount Helen’s Tower 1 Gully in the Wind River Range.)

Based on this initial use, these are my first impressions of the Petzl screw.  I will update this post when I get more opportunities to use these screws and have enough data to provide a more thorough review.

Petzl Laser Speed Light on right, E-Climb Klau on the left

Petzl Laser Speed Light on right, E-Climb Klau on the left

Construction:
The  Speed Light is made mostly from aluminum.  The body and hanger are aluminum.  The teeth and the crank handle are steel.  The crank is a fold-out handle that provides extra leverage when turning the screw into the ice.

Weight:
Light weight is the primary benefit of an aluminum bodied screw.  The Petzl Laser Speed Light is significantly lighter than a steel screw, and is also a little lighter than the E-Climb Klau aluminum screw.

Weights for the Petzl Speed Lights are as follows:

13cm  3.1 ounces

17cm  3.5 ounces

21cm  3.8 ounces

Some other screw weights for comparison:

19 cm Black Diamond screw  5.7 ounces;

22cm Black Diamond screw  6.2 ounces

16 cm Grivel 360 screw   6.2 ounces

14 cm E-Climb Klau aluminum screw 4 ounces

18 cm E-Climb Klau aluminum screw 4.4 ounces

22 cm E-Climb Klau aluminum screw  4.7 ounces

The Petzl Speed light achieves this low weight because most of the screw is made from aluminum, including the tube body and the hanger.  The E-Climb Klau incorporates an aluminum tube, but the hanger is constructed from steel.   On the Petzl, only the teeth and crank handle are steel.

Laser Speed Light has aluminum body, steel teeth

Laser Speed Light has aluminum body, steel teeth


Ergonomics and Placement

The Speed Light racks well.  The screws have hangers that nest neatly on the ice clipper and don’t get tangled or fouled up easily.

The teeth are aggressive, and the Speed Light starts easily.  In my use, they seemed to start about as well as the E-Climb Klau, but the ice we were climbing on was relatively soft and warm, so I can’t really say which might be better, as most any screw will start easily in softer ice.  I will need to wait until I encounter harder colder ice conditions before I will be able to do a real evaluation of how easily the screw bites and starts compared with its competitors.

One negative thing I did notice when using the Laser Speed Light was that it had a tendency to bind up and become quite difficult to turn on occasion.  This happened constantly on the alpine ice route I was using them on.  I would start the Speed Light, begin cranking, and then, rather suddenly, the screw would become very difficult to turn.  The first time this happened, I wondered if I had hit a rock.  Given the depth of the ice, however, I determined that this was unlikely, and decided to just keep cranking.  After a fair amount of effort, the screw began to turn normally again.  This was a common occurrence with the Petzl Speed Light screws, with the “binding” occuring once or twice with just about every Petzl screw I placed. My partner also experienced the same binding as I did.

I’m not sure why this happened, but my speculation is that the ice core was melting and then re-freezing in the tube.    Temperatures we were climbing in were hovering right around freezing, and it’s possible that the friction of placing the screw was causing slight melting of the ice core, and then it was freezing up again, creating blockage.  Aluminum conducts changes in temperature more readily than steel, which may contribute to this effect.

I have noticed that when using aluminum screws, (both Petzl and the E-Climb screws) it is generally a bit harder to clear the core from the tube than when using a steel screw, which seems to support this theory.  However, I really don’t have anything else to support this belief or otherwise explain this behavior of the screws.  I also don’t even know if this is going to be common when using the Speed Light, or if this “binding up”  was just the result of an unusual combination of ice conditions and temperature.   I should note, however, that I did not experience any similar binding when using the aluminum E-Climb Klau screws.

At this point, I’m not sure what to make of this experience.  I need more use of the Laser Speed Light in a variety of conditions to determine how much of a factor this will be.  At any rate, the screws were still usable, they just require significant effort to get them started again once they bind up.

Initial Conclusions:

I don’t have enough uses of these screws across broad conditions to come to final conclusions, but based on my initial use, I think that these screws will find a place on my alpine climbing rack when weight is at a premium.  They start easily, rack easily, and weigh significantly less than steel screws.  There is the issue of binding up when driving them home, but my suspicion is that the binding issue is likely limited to specific temperature and ice combinations, and won’t be a universal problem.

I am looking forward to using them more.

UPDATE:    My updated conclusions after using these screws a bit more can be found HERE.

 

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.

Assisted Braking Belay Rappel Devices Suitable for Trad and Alpine Climbing: Edelrid Mega Jul and Micro Jul, CT Alpine Up

I am becoming more and more convinced that belay/rappel devices with assisted braking are a big improvement over traditional ATC or Reverso type belay/rappel devices.

Assisted braking devices are not fully auto-locking like a Gri Gri, but provide significant extra friction when catching a falling leader or rappelling, when compared with an ATC or Reverso.  I really like the added security of the braking assist.  When catching lead fall, the effort needed to control the rope running through the device is minimal, and there is very little rope slippage.  Similarly, when rappelling, it’s very easy to stop yourself while on rappel.  Generally, you can just take your hand off the device, and it stops itself.  In most circumstances, this eliminates the need for a prussik back up when rappelling.

My first assisted braking device was the Mammut Smart Alpine (see my initial review of that device HERE.)

Mammut Smart Alpine in belay mode

Mammut Smart Alpine in belay mode

The Smart Alpine is a pretty good design, but it has a few flaws that have led me to abandon it in favor of some newer devices:  First, the Smart Alpine tends to lock up too easily when feeding out rope.  It also had a habit of allowing thinner ropes to migrate under the separator bar, causing the ropes to get stuck, and a somewhat jerky rappel mode when in auto-lock configuration.  I put up with these issues because of the enhanced safety of the assisted braking, but these flaws made me interested in trying out other assisted braking options.

Enter the Edelrid Mega Jul and Micro Jul:

My next trial of an assisted braking device was the Mega Jul and Micro Jul by Edelrid.  These devices are identical in design, but the Mega Jul is designed for ropes of diameter from 7.8mm to 10.5mm, while the smaller Micro Jul is made for skinny ropes from 6.9 to 8.5mm.

My first impressions using these devices were so good that I bought 2 Mega Juls and 2 Micro Jules.  They seemed like they would replace all my other belay devices.  However, I was somewhat disappointed and worried when the thumb cables failed, first on my Micro Jul, and then on a Mega Jul.  I sent all four of them back to the Edelrid distributor, and they eventually replaced them with new ones that have improved connection between the device and the cable.

Early Jul devices had weak cable attachment

Early Jul devices had weak cable attachment

The new and improved Mega Jul and Micro Jul devices seem to have solved the problem of the weak cable attachment, as I have used them without any failures.  These devices are really very good.  They are made of steel instead of aluminum, so they can be made very compact and still retain the needed strength.  The Mega Jul is very compact and weighs only 2.3 ounces.

Belaying with the Mega Jul

In spite of its small size, the Mega Jul is a very versatile device.  It provides a very effective assisted braking function while lead belaying, can be used in guide mode to belay one or two seconds (with an autoblock function that locks up automatically in the event they weight the rope,) and can be used to rappel in either an assisted braking mode, or in a normal mode similar to a regular ATC or Reverso.

Paying out rope to the leader is pretty easy.  I found the Mega Jul (and Micro Jul) to be easier to use for lead belaying than the Alpine Smart.  They hang up less often than the Alpine Smart, and are smoother when paying out rope.  Lowering a leader and rappelling are about the same as the Alpine Smart.  Both devices are adequate, but are not super smooth.  They tend to be a bit jerky when lowering or rappelling.  Rappelling is greatly facilitated by using a separate carabiner, although you can use the thumb release.  If you use a separate carabiner, it needs to have a nose that is narrow enough to fit in the carabiner hole.  (The Edelrid small locker biner fits well, but not all others do.)

Video showing the various techniques for belaying and rappelling with the Mega Jul and Micro Jul.

Guide mode is also reasonably good.  Taking in rope requires about as much effort as with an ATC Guide or Reverso, and lowering a second while in guide mode isn’t overly hard.  (It requires a third carabiner inserted into the carabiner hole to release tension.)

Overall, the Mega Jul and Micro Jul are superior to the Mammut Smart Alpinet.  They outperform the Smart Alpine in lead belaying, and are much smaller and lighter.  Performance in guide mode and rappelling are about the same.

Climbing Technology Alpine Up.  

The Alpine Up is made by the Italian company, Climbing Technology.  It has some advantages over the Edelrid Jul devices, but is signficantly heavier and bulkier.  The Alpine Up weighs in at 6.2 ounces, which is close to double the weight of the tiny Mega Jul.  It is designed to work with twin and half ropes from 7.9mm to 9mm in diameter, and single ropes from 8.9 to 10.5mm in diameter.

If you can overlook the significant disadvantage in size and weight, the Alpine Up is the best performing assisted braking device I’ve ever used.   The signature feature of the Alpine up is the “click up” mode.  The click up feature allows the rope to run more smoothly than any other device.  This is because when the rope is not weighted, the rope runs in a loose, large radius curve that allows for very quick and easy rope control.  Paying out or taking in rope is effortless, with very little friction and resistance.  However, when the rope is weighted (when the climber falls) the rope changes position, and “clicks” into a tighter assisted braking position.

Alpine Up in Click up Mode. The rope is not weighted, and runs very smoothly with very little resistance.

This feature makes the Alpine Up by far the easiest of the assisted braking devices for belaying a leader.  It doesn’t hang up or bind, and makes taking in or paying out rope super easy and smooth.

The rope has been weighted, and the rope and carabiner have clicked into locking position, providing assisted braking force.

 

Once the device is locked, a flip-out lever allows for easy lowering of the leader if necessary.  If the leader begins climbing again after a fall, you just give a tug on the carabiner and move it back into the non-braking position.

The assisted braking configuration is also used for rappelling, with the lever controlling the rate of descent.  Rappelling is very smooth and easily controlled, and you automatically stop if you take your hand off of the release lever.

Guide mode with the Alpine Up is very smooth, and requires the least effort of any belay device I have used other than the Kong GiGi, which is designed specifically for use in guide mode.

Overall, the performance of the Alpine Up is superior to any other belay device I have used.  The only drawbacks of the Alpine Up are price (about $100 including a carabiner) and weight and bulk.

Instructional video detailing how to use the Alpine Up

Bottom Line:  What is the Best Assisted Braking Device?  

So, given my views regarding the Alpine Up’s performance, It would seem as though it would replace my other belay devices.  However, even though it’s the best performer, there are times when I still prefer the Edelrid Mega Jul or Micro Jul.

The Mega Jul and Micro Jul are significantly lighter and more compact, so when weight and space are at a premium (i.e. alpine climbing) I will usually reach for one of the Edelrid devices over the Alpine Up.  Also, the Micro Jul is the only device capable of being used with really skinny twin ropes, such as the 6.9mm Edelrid Flycatcher.

Bottom line is that when I’m cragging, I generally take the Alpine Up.  When I’m alpine climbing, I generally take the Mega Jul or Micro Jul.

Cassin Bladerunner Crampons

Bladerunners on Thin Ice

Cassin Bladerunners on thin ice

The Cassin Bladrunner crampons are a new modular design that is supposed to provide both maximum versatility and excellent performance.   The design allows the crampons to be set up with either horizontal or vertical front points, (or, I suppose, one of each,) and there’s a great deal of choice on how the front points are configured.  You can use single front points or double front points, and you have a wide range of options as to how you want to mount them.  (Single offset, double closely spaced, single centered, double offset wide apart, etc.)  The relative length of the two points is fixed, however, so if you want to climb with one short and one long front point, you’re out of luck.

The Bladerunner also gives a choice of toe attachment options.  You can use a standard wire toe bail, or change it out for a nylon front strap (like Grivel’s “Newmatic” option.)  The standard heel lever is used in both cases.  (There is no option for replacing the heel lever with a heel strap.)  One thing I have noticed with the front strap option, is that the front points end up quite long.  When the strap is mounted as far forward as it will possibly go, I still end up with 2 inches of front point extending beyond the boot toe.  This is because the strap is a bit on the narrow side, so my fat toe’ed boots don’t extend very far forward in the strap.  Smaller boots with narrower toes may have more of an adjustment range.

Bladerunner and a Scarpa Charmoz boot.  Note how far the frontpoints extend beyond the boot's toe.

Bladerunner and a Scarpa Charmoz boot. Note how far the frontpoints extend beyond the boot’s toe.

The most obvious competitor for the Bladerunner is the Petzl Lynx, which also features interchangeable (vertical and horizontal) front points and interchangeable toe binding options.  There are a few design features that set the Bladerunner apart from the Lynx, and other crampons on the market.  Most modern technical crampons are made from three pieces: a front piece, a heel piece, and a connecting bar that holds the two together.  The Bladerunner is made from two pieces.  The front piece, and a heel piece that integrates a wide connecting bar.  This wide connecting bar section fits rather solidly into the front piece, making the Bladerunner a bit more stiff and rigid than a typical three piece design.

The rear portion of the Bladerunner also has a unique feature I’ve not seen on any other crampon.  The wide connecting bar has an abrupt bend in it, that’s designed to hook on the underside of the heel of your boot, providing a tighter fit.  This means that careful attention needs to be paid to the sizing of the Bladerunner in order to achieve the optimum fit.

Fit and Sizing: 

The Bladerunner comes in two sizes.  The variation is only in the rear piece however, as the front section is the same for both sizes.  The Camp/Cassin web site says that Size 1 fits boots that are Euro size 37-46, and Size 2 fits boots that are Euro size 40-49.  The characteristics of the connecting bar, however, make the length of the sole’s heel the most important consideration when getting a decent fit with these crampons.

Here are some pictures of the Bladerunner crampons on a pair of large boots (Spantik) and somewhat low volume boots (Scarpa Rebel Ultra.)  As you can see, getting the right fit depends on matching the rear piece to the length of your heel, and to some extent, the depth of the heel.

The asymmetrical Bladerunner shape fits well on this Scarpa Rebel Ultra boot. (Size 45 boot, Size 2 Bladerunner Crampon)

The sharp angle in the heel piece locks into the underside of the heel section of your boot, providing extra stability (if the fit is good.)

If the heel piece is the wrong size, it doesn’t extend to the back of the boot, and you end up with your boot heel hanging out over your crampon. (Size 45 Scarpa Rebel Ultra, and Size 1 Bladerunner)

Size comparison of the Size 1 and Size 2 Bladerunner heel pieces.

Size 2 Bladerunner on a Size 45 La Sportiva Spantik. In spite of the somewhat bowed appearance, the fit is very secure.  Makes me wonder if you’d get snow build up between the boot sole and the center of the heel piece, however.

Performance and weight:
Although I have both the horizontal and vertical front points, I have not yet used the horizontal points. They have a broad, chisel profile that will likely give good purchase in snow and neve. However, I can’t speak from experience on this issue.

I have used the vertical points (in my preferred offset mono-point configuration) on both ice and mixed routes. I’ve been very pleased with the Bladerunner’s performance. The crampons are very solid and secure, and I don’t feel any slop or vibration when climbing on them. They are very good technical crampons.

Weight of a single Bladerunner crampon is 1 pound, 2 ounces in monopoint configuration with wire toe bail, and 1 pound, 4.1 ounces in dual alpine front point configuration with the plastic toe strap.  This is not particularly light weight, but not too far off of similar modular crampons.  For comparison, the Petzl Lynx configured with two front points and nylon toe strap is 1 pound 3.4 ounces.  A Black Diamond Cyborg with a monopoint and wire toe bail is 1 pound, 2.1 ounces.  A non-modular Grivel Aiir Tech crampon with “New-matic” nylon toe strap is 1 pound, 1 ounce.

The crampons come with anti-balling plates that seem to work well, and the front points are easy to swap out, as changing front points doesn’t require disassembling the whole crampon as with some other modular crampons I’ve used.

Conclusions:

I’ve only owned the Bladerunners for a couple of months so far, and have only used them for water ice climbing and mixed climbing.  So, my conclusions are not based on long term use, or use for alpine climbing on snow and neve.  I like them very much as a technical water ice/mixed crampon.  They fit my boots well, and there is very little slop or vibration in use.  The aggressive secondary points are well suited for steep ice.  The only issue is their price.  MSRP for these crampons is $350.  That’s a lot.  I’m not sure I like them that much better than other (less expensive) technical crampons I’ve used.

I suppose that the price premium could be justified by the idea that this single crampon will do everything, because of the various configurations of front points and bindings.  If you didn’t own any other crampons at all, and needed a crampon that could do everything, then maybe it would make sense.  However, I have a whole box of various crampons, and I’m not fully convinced that these Bladerunnrs are going to replace my Grivel Air Tech crampons for alpine climbing.  I like the lighter weight of the Air Techs, and the New-Matic binding Air Techs seem to fit my boots better than the nylon toe strap configuration of the Bladerunner.

So, I guess I’m still on the fence regarding the Bladerunners.  They have become my go-to technical crampon.  I’m planning on taking them to the Cascades this summer, where they will get a proper testing in the alpine environment.  I will have to wait until that trip to really evaluate their versatility as a “quiver of one” do everything crampon.

Here is a link to a Cassin VIDEO showing the details of the Bladerunner crampons

Some manufacturer pictures of the Bladerunner in Alpine and Monopoint modes:

Cassin Blade Runner crampons in alpine configuration

Cassin Blade Runner crampons in alpine configuration

Cassin Blade Runner crampons in monopoint mode

Cassin Blade Runner crampons in monopoint mode

 

E Climb Klau Aluminum Ice Screws

The E-Climb “Klau” ice screw is not widely available in the United States.  As of this date, I couldn’t find a single U.S. seller.  I ended up ordering the screws directly from Spain, where E-Climb is headquartered.  E-Climb Website HERE  The E-Climb Klau screw has a couple of features that make it different from most other screws on the market.  It has an aluminum body, and removable/replaceable steel teeth.

E-Climb Klau Ice Screw

The aluminum tube body makes the Klau screws marginally lighter than all-steel screws.  This is a nice feature for gram-shaving alpine climbers who obsess over gear weight.

Some weight comparisons:

19 cm Black Diamond screw  5.7 ounces;   22cm Black Diamond screw  6.2 ounces

16 cm Grivel 360 screw   6.2 ounces

14 cm Klau screw 4 ounces; 18 cm Klau screw 4.4 ounces; 22 cm Klau  4.7 ounces

The per screw weight savings aren’t really huge.  Average savings of less than 2 ounces per screw.  However, with a 10-12 screw rack, you could save about a pound or more with aluminum Klau screws compared with traditional steel screws.  For weight obsessed climbers, a pound of savings may well be worth it.

The teeth of the screws are steel, and can be replaced if they are damaged.  Changing out teeth is pretty easy.  You just screw off the teeth, using the crank handle of another screw as a wrench.  The replacement teeth then just screw back on.  The replacement has some dry adhesive (think  “loctite”) on them to keep them from unscrewing when they’re not supposed to.  Replacement teeth are about $13.  The instructions for the screws say that conventional sharpening can mess up the interchangeable facility of the screws. I don’t think that a little touch-up with a file here and there would ruin it, if you stayed away from the little threads that secure the teeth to the tube.

Replaceable tips/teeth for E-Climb Klau screws

The most important characteristic of an ice screw for me is how quickly and easily it can be placed.  The Klau is comparable to other modern screws in ease of placement.  It bites into the ice and gets started just as easily (maybe a little bit easier even) compared with my Black Diamond screws.  Starting them seemed about the same as my Grivel 360 screw.  I could place a Klau screw with my left hand, which is a good test, as I am pretty clumsy with my left hand.  The folding crank gives good leverage for turning it into hard ice.  The crank doesn’t have much up and down wiggle room, however, so on featured ice, you will need to chop away lumps and bumps that impede rotation of the crank, as there is very limited ability to maneuver the crank over such obstacles.   In my completely non-scientific tests of these screws, they do seem to be slightly more difficult than steel screws when trying to clear ice out of the tube after use.

screw-1

E-Climb Klau (left) and BD screw (right)

The threads on the E-Climb screws are not quite as tall as the threads on other screws in my arsenal.  I have no idea what effect this difference might have on holding power.  However, I think that I might place the screws in a more horizontal position compared with the slightly down-facing position of other screws with larger threads.

Overall,  I like the Klau screws.  I like their light weight, and they place easily in hard ice.  I don’t think that they will replace my steel screws for every day ice cragging, but for alpine climbs where weight is an issue, I will definitely use the Klau screws to lighten my load.

 

2014 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market Highlights

 

Like the gates to the Emerald City, the OR Show entrance is designed to dazzle.

The 2014 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market presents an overwhelming array of products to assess and be dazzled by.   After a couple of days wandering the halls of the  outdoor retailer show, here are some of my impressions:

Backcountry Ski Touring:

As the winter oriented show, it’s not surprising that there were tons of backcountry skiing items to lust and drool over.  By far the coolest of them all (and my favorite thing I saw at the show in any category) was the new Jet Force airbag back from Black Diamond.

Jetforce

The coolest thing at the entire show: The new Jetforce airbag packs from Black Diamond.

The Jetforce pack differs from conventional airbag packs in that it uses a battery driven fan to inflate the airbag rather than releasing compressed gas from a canister.  This allows the pack to be taken on an airplane, which is problematic for compressed gas systems.  When trying to figure out the logistics of getting my airbag packs to Alaska for a heli-skiing trip, it was very difficult to work out how to do it, as I couldn’t bring the gas canisters on the plane, so they had to be shipped separately ahead of time.  The Jet Force pack can simply be brought on the plane as checked luggage.

Performance wise, there are a number of other benefits of the fan driven system.  First of all, the pack can be deployed and then easily be readied for another deployment in minutes.  At first, I didn’t really see how this was a big leap forward, as getting caught in multiple avalanches on one tour shouldn’t be on anyone’s agenda.  However, the ease of redeployment makes it easier to pull the ripcord if you’re unsure of whether you’re in a serious slide or not.  The hassle and expense and finality of traditional canister systems makes me reluctant to activate the airbag in marginal situations.  I’m unlikely to pull the ripcord unless I’m certain I’m going for a big ride.  Having the Jetforce pack makes me more likely to activate the pack just in case.

Jetforce Deployed

Jetforce pack with airbag deployed

Once activated, the Jetforce keeps reinflating for several minutes, allowing for full inflation even in the event of a small puncture in the bag.  After several minutes, the fan reverses, and sucks all the air out of the bags, leaving a big airspace that facilitates breathing or even self rescue.

Readying the pack for use again after it has deployed is simple.  The fan forcefully deflates the airbag, so it’s ready to stuff back in the pack.  The airbag doesn’t need to be folded in any particular manner, you just stuff it back into the airbag pocket, fasten it all up, and it’s good to go.

The non-airbag features of the Black Diamond Jetforce Packs are also very nice.  The packs are clean, with well thought out compartments, accessories, and suspensions.  The packs are available in 11, 28, and 40 liter versions, with the two larger sizes available in two different back lengths.  Weight is a bit over 7 pounds for all three models, which places them in the middle of category when compared with other airbag packs.  They aren’t the lightest, but they aren’t the heaviest either, and given the functionality and features, it’s a pretty impressive design effort.  Retail price is about $1,100.

I had seen pictures of this airbag pack previously, and had read descriptions of how it functioned.  However, watching demonstrations of its capabilities and looking at the thoughtful design and construction of the packs I came away very very impressed.  I want one (or two) of these packs very badly, and will likely get at least one of them (likely the 28 liter version) as soon as they become available next fall.

Salomon Backcountry

Backcountry is big business and the big players are all in it.

Everybody is getting into the backcountry ski market. Some alpine touring boots from Fisher.

Snow Shovels:  

One backcountry ski trend that I found very encouraging was the proliferation of avalanche shovels that can be used in “hoe mode” with the blade angled at 90 degrees like a hoe.  Previously, Ortovox seemed to be the only company that recognized the benefits of being able to set up your shovel like a hoe (which makes moving snow much easier in some situations.)  At the OR show, lots of companies, including Black Diamond, BCA, and Mammut were showing off snow shovel models whose blades could be used in hoe mode.  Nice to see some more options here:

BD shovel with “hoe mode”

BCA Shovel with hoe mode

Ski Touring Bindings:

I was impressed with the new G3 tech binding, the Ion.  Having been pretty underwhelmed by their first tech binding, the Onyx, I wasn’t expecting too much here.  Happily, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The Ion has a number of innovative features that make it stand out when compared with the standard Dynafit offerings.  First off, it clamps the boot with steady forward pressure, eliminating the gap at the heel of the boot as with the Dynafit and Plum bindings, and supposedly providing more consistent performance throughout the full range of ski flex.  They have a DIN range of 5-12, which is plenty for the backcountry, even for a big guy like me.

They have a number of thoughtful improvements, including little guides at the toe, that position your boot in the right spot to engage the toe clamps. The rep told me a bunch of stuff about how the specific radius of the wings helps with consistent engagement of the boot.  I only understood about half of what he was saying and have no idea if it really makes a difference or not.  I can say that the clamping wings have a nice positive engagement on the boot.

G3 Ion

The new G3 Ion Binding. The toe guides are the vertical black pieces sticking up just in front of the toe wings.

The heel piece has easy to engage climbing plugs, and burly brakes.

G3 Ion Heel

G3 Ion Heel Piece

Overall, I was really impressed with this binding.  I have no idea how it will function in the real world, as I haven’t had a chance to ski it, but it certainly looks promising.

 Ice climbing gear:

The ice climbing gear I was most excited over are the new Petzl Laser Speed Light ice screws.  They are aluminum body screws with steel teeth.  This concept is not new.  I climbed on Lowe R.A.T.S. (ratcheting aluminum tube screws) back in the old days, and they had a similar combination of aluminum body and steel teeth.  Currently, the e-climb Klau screw is also made with an aluminum body and steel teeth.  I’ve never seen one in real life however, and I don’t think they are sold here in the U.S.

The Petzl screw looks like it incorporates the sharp, fast-placing tooth design of their Laser screws, but with significant weight savings due to their aluminum tube body.  Seems like just the ticket for alpine routes where I’m trying to save weight.

Sadly, they won’t be for sale until June or July.

Aluminum tube body. Steel teeth and hangers. Looks perfect for alpine climbing.

New, but not necessarily improved.

Cassin is updating their X Gyro umbilical leash with special purpose carabiner clips to replace the Nano 23 full strength biners on the older version.  I’m not convinced that this is a positive thing, as I think the Nano 23’s do a fine job in this role and are full strength.  They have kept the thin cord attachment that you can use to larks-foot your umbilical directly to the tool if you don’t want to use a biner.

The “big” news that wasn’t really all that exciting was the new Nomic clone from Black Diamond, the new “Fuel” ice tool.  No idea if it is as good as or better than the Nomic, but it looked very similar.  It might make high grade mixed climbers excited.  It didn’t do much for me.  (Probably because I’m not a high grade mixed climber.)

The new (yawn) Fuel from Black Diamond.

Mountain Boots:  

Everybody who makes mountain boots now has a version of the Scarpa Phantom Guide/Sportiva Batura.   This is a good thing, as these insulated integral gaiter single boots tend to be light, well-performing, and versatile.  With more companies offering these types of boots, everyone should be able to find a fit for their foot.  (I saw them from Scarpa, Sportiva, Lowa, Mammut, Salewa, and there are no doubt others I missed)

Salewa mountain boots

Lowa Mountain Boots

The big news is that Scarpa’s terrific Rebel Ultra boot is being discontinued from their U.S. lineup.  (but will still be available in Europe.)  Too bad, as I think it’s a terrific boot.  The Scarpa rep said that the Ultra just wasn’t beefy and durable enough to justify its price tag for the majority of consumers, who expect a $500+ mountain boot to have tank-like durability.

Scarpa’s 2014 mountain boot lineup. (Note the unfortunate absence of the Scarpa Rebel Ultra.)

 Stoves:

By far, my biggest disappointment of the show was the Jetboil Joule.  I’m a serious stove geek, and the idea of a high output liquid feed tower stove with an alpine hanging kit and pressure regulator really had me excited.  The MSR Reactor is my current favorite alpine stove, but I figured that the Jetboil Joule would dethrone it due to the Jetboil’s inverted canister liquid feed design, which is great for very cold temps when butane loses pressure.

However, when I saw the Jetboil Joule in person, I was amazed at how big and bulky it is.  My first thought when I saw it was, “That thing’s the size of a soccer ball.  It would take up half the volume in my back pack.”  It’s maybe not quite as big as a soccer ball (probably more like a volley ball,) but it’s way too big to be of use to me as a stove for climbing or backpacking.

A great concept, but way too large for climbing or backpacking.

The Jetboil rep said that the stove was optimized for groups of 4 to 6 people and would be a great basecamp stove.  He’s probably right about that, and I was impressed at its simmering capabilities and the ease at which it roasted marshmallows and melted chocolate without burning it.  However, I really have very little use for a stove that large.  I was hoping for a compact, cold weather snow melting mega blowtorch that I could take on cold alpine climbs.  What Jetboil delivered was a bloated comfort-camping and basecamp stove.  I’m hoping they can come out with a smaller, more streamlined version of the Joule, sized like the smaller Jetboil Sol or Sumo stoves.  Until they do, I’m sticking with my MSR Reactor.

Clothing

strata

Rab’s Strata, with Polartec Alpha Insulation

Not too much new as far as clothing goes.  The only stand-out stuff that piqued my interest were the lightweight insulated pieces using new ultra breathable synthetic insulation.   Polartec Alpha is the best known of this new breed of insulation, which is touted as being more breathable and having a much broader comfortable temperature range than traditional insulated pieces.  The Rab Strata and the Patagonia Nano-Air were two of these new clothing pieces, with the Patagonia piece having the benefit of additional stretch in the outer fabric, and the Rab piece having the benefit that it is on sale right now.  (The Patagonia Nano-Air is not yet available.)  The Patagonia offering doesn’t use Polartech Alpha, but rather a proprietary insulation that seems to share Alpha’s highly breathable characteristics.  Not quite sure if I “need” one of these Polartec Alpha garments, but Patagonia’s “Put it on, Leave it on” sales pitch did sound pretty good.  I’m trying to figure out just where one of these garments would fit in my alpine clothing arsenal.

Patagonia’s Super Stretchy Nano-Air hoody, with extra breathable Insulation.