Hunt Gear Checklist Part 1: Introduction and Clothing

Hunting Gear and Clothing:  Intro and Context

This is part 1 of my post on hunting gear and clothing.  A few notes about this list to provide some context:

I hunt deer and elk.  My hunts are all self guided.  I tend to backpack hunt, generally 3-8 miles from my vehicle.  I don’t have pack animals.  Everywhere I go, I walk.

I hunt public lands in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado.  (Thinking of hunting Montana in the future.)  Because I only started hunting a few years ago, I have not accumulated significant preference points in any state.  My hunts are generally over the counter, general season tags, or easy to draw limited entry units.  I try to hike in to places that other hunters don’t go.  Terrain is usually high country; either heavily timbered, or more sparsely covered high mountain terrain.  Temps can range from hot (Utah early season) or cold and snowy (Colorado 3rd rifle season.)

I’m a meat hunter.  I don’t have any place in my house to hang a taxidermy head.  I will keep antlers, but have no real use for a big mounted trophy.  Because of this, I don’t really care about an animal’s “score.”  Given two healthy, legal targets, I will opt for the smaller, younger one, on the assumption that the meat will be better.  (I prefer females to males for the same reason.)   You will see this preference reflected in some of my equipment decisions.  For example, I don’t need a giant spotting scope to count antler tines, so I generally bring a smaller lightweight spotting scope.

Most of my hunting is solo.  (Another reason I prefer to harvest a smaller animal.)  I generally plan on spending 5 or 6 nights on a given hunt.  I’m getting older (in my 50’s) so I try to keep my pack weigh down as much as possible.

A final note about my hunting gear.  I’ve tried not to make any compromises with my gear.  With very few exceptions, if I’ve chosen to take a particular item of clothing or equipment on a hunt, it’s because I believe that it is the absolute best piece of clothing or equipment for the purpose.  After a few years of hunting, I have refined and honed my hunting clothing and equipment over and over again.  I have finally got the list to a pretty stable state.  Stuff that doesn’t work or is not needed has been trimmed from the list, and many items have been changed out for things that work better.

My "trophy" Elk tenderloin medallions.

My “trophy”
Elk tenderloin medallions.

Clothing:

Hunter Orange.

Idaho and Arizona do not require hunter orange.  Colorado and Utah do.  Because of this, when I’m hunting in Utah or Colorado, I don’t bother with camo on my upper body.  I just wear orange clothing.   Most folks wear camo and an orange vest.  I opt for just wearing orange clothing and not bothering with a vest.  I’m not convinced that camo clothing makes a huge difference in how easily elk or deer can spot me, particularly at rifle hunting distances.  Furthermore, the orange vests that I have tested with a UV light have glowed like crazy, indicating they have heavy optical brighteners in their dyes.  My orange clothing doesn’t glow under a UV light.  (Deer and elk are sensitive to the UV spectrum, so generally, UV optical brighteners are bad because they make you more visible to your prey.)

Camo clothing for an Idaho Deer Hunt

Above:  Camo clothing.  Below, orange clothing.

Hunter Orange Clothing

Hunter Orange Clothing for Colorado and Utah

Hands.  

DeFeet Duraglove ET Wool   These are great lightweight gloves made from a blend of synthetic and merino wool.  Good dexterity for fine tasks (including shooting.)  Compatible with phone touch screen.  Good grip.  Durable.

Dachstein boiled wool fingerless, mittens, with fold-over cap.  These are my go-to cold weather hand gear.  They are warm, windproof, water resistant, and easy to convert from fingerless to mitten configuration (just fold over the finger cap.)  These mittens provide warmth for my hands, while the fingerless feature makes them easy to shoot with without removing them.

Simms Freestone fingerless, fold over mittens  This is my warmer weather version of the Dachstein mittens.  Same features in a lighter weight fleece version.

REI Minimalist Rain Mittens.    Waterproof, seam taped rain gear for your hands.  Ultralight fabric is not very durable, but I only wear them if it’s raining, and it doesn’t rain much where I hunt, so it’s not a big problem.

Head

Golightly cashmere Expedition Weight Hat  (Replace with orange Golightly cashmere watch cap for Hunter Orange states.)   These hats are warm and super comfortable.  I wear them in cold conditions and for sleeping.  They are ridiculously expensive, but buying them is a fiscally irresponsible decision I have never regretted.

Golightly Expedition Hat

Golightly Expedition Hat

 

Buff headband/neck gaiter  (orange for Hunter Orange states, camo pattern for Idaho)  This is an indispensable piece of clothing.  It’s a sweat band in hot weather, a neck gaiter, and an ear band in cold weather (Sometimes a warm hat is too much, and all I really want is something to keep my ears warm.)

Outdoor Research Sunrunner cap  (I tie-died this cap to give it a more camouflaged look.)  Replace with LL Bean mesh and cool-max hunting cap for Hunter Orange states. (The Bean cap is discontinued, but Headsweats makes a similar cap.)  Keeps the sun out of my eyes, and absorbs sweat.

Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra Light lenses.  These sunglasses are made for trail runners, and they vent well and resist fogging.  The photochromatic “Zebra Light” lenses adjust to allow for good vision in shadows and bright sun and glare.  Comfortable, and durable.

Base layers

Smartwool boxer briefs   Merino wool underwear is low stink and comfortable.  I generally will bring a spare pair on a multi day trip.  (This and my socks are my only spares)

Kuiu Peloton 200 Zip-Off  long john bottoms  These long johns are genius because they have full length zippers that allow you to take them off and put them on without removing your boots.  This is a common feature for raingear, but Kuiu is the only company I know of that does this with base layers.

Ibex merino t-shirt  (orange for Hunter Orange states.)  Low stink.  Comfortable.  Doesn’t dry as quickly as synthetic, but more comfortable.  Not durable.  Knit wool fabric won’t stand up to bushwhacking very well.

Primary Layer; Pants  

FirstLite Obsidian Pants  These pants made from woven, ripstop merino wool are my choice for early season hunts and any time when I’m not expecting snow or wet conditions.  I don’t like belts, and these work well with suspenders.  They have a high waist that fits well and is comfortable under a backpack hip belt.  They are a replacement for the Kenab pants, and have better pockets, and a more durable fabric.  Not at all water resistant.  Not great for snow or wet conditions.  They will get wet and don’t dry as fast as some other pants.

Sitka Timberline Pants.      These are my pants of choice for wet and/or snowy conditions.  They have some water resistance and dry quickly.  The seat and knees are waterproof, so you can sit or kneel on snow and not get your butt or knees wet.  Good suspenders.  Comfortable under a pack hip belt.  Knees have removable knee pads which are flexible and comfortable.  High waist and suspenders.

 Primary Layer; Torso

Voormi Blur Jacket   This is my camo layer for Idaho or Arizona, when I’m not worrying about hunter orange requirements.  It’s a nice, hooded softshell jacket, made of a merino wool blend.  It is weather resistant, and will shrug off light rain or snow.  It has a wide temperature comfort range.  Two chest pockets and two handwarmer pockets provide ample storage.  The Blur Jacket is one of several similar hunting oriented tops in Voormi’s clothing line up.  There is a similar top with many of the same features in a pullover version, the Voormi Two Pocket Hoodie.  All of Voormi’s clothing is made in the USA from American sourced materials.

Voormi Blur Jacket, Firstlite Obsidian Pants

Voormi Blur Jacket, Firstlite Obsidian Pants and Firstlite Brambler Gaiters

For hunter orange states, the Voormi Blur jacket gets replaced with an orange Patagonia Nano Air Light hoodie.  This is a lightly insulated softshell with excellent breathability and good stretch.  Not as warm or wind resistant as the Voormi Blur, but lighter and better for high exertion activities.

Rain Gear

I don’t hunt in any states where it typically rains a lot.  My primary concern with rain gear is that it is light weight.  I don’t really care if it’s durable, as I don’t really plan on wearing it all that often.

Kuiu Teton Rain Jacket   (Replace with Patagonia M10 Anorak for Hunter Orange states)  These are some of the lightest rain jackets available.

Kuiu Teton Rain Pants  Light weight.  Full side zips make them easy on and off without removing boots.

REI Minimalist Rain Mittens.    Waterproof, seam taped rain gear for your hands.  Ultralight fabric is not very durable.

Kuiu Teton Rain Suit

Kuiu Teton Rain Suit

 

Puffy Jacket  I always carry a puffy jacket.  I want insulation that I can layer on top of my other clothing for times when I am stationary and not generating heat.  Hooded jackets are warmer than non-hooded versions.

FirstLite Uncompahgre Puffy Insulated Jacket This is a nice insulated jacket.  It pairs well with my Voormi Blur softshell, and keeps me warm and toasty when glassing and hanging around camp.

For hunter orange states, I use the Patagonia Fitzroy hooded down parka.  This is a very warm, very light down filled puffy that is great for really cold conditions.

Glassing in my Uncompahgre Jacket

Glassing in my Uncompahgre Jacket

Feet

Gaiters keep rocks and sticks and moisture out of your boots.  I wear the FirstLite Brambler Hunting Gaiter,  except in early season, when I prefer a shorter, more breathable gaiter.  For early season, where snow isn’t an issue, and I’m pretty much just keeping rocks and sticks out of my boots, I opt for the Kennetrek Hiking Gaiter.  They are light, stretchy, and breathable.

When I’m backpacking and hiking (not hunting) I seldom wear boots.  I pretty much just wear lightweight trail running shoes.  However, after trying to wear trail running shoes while hunting, I’ve found that I prefer more substantial footwear.  When I’m hunting, I tend to travel off trail most of the time.  Boots provide more protection and comfort off trail.  The loads I’m carrying (especially if I’m packing out meat) also tend to be heavier than typical backpacking loads, and I find that I want a bit more support than trail running shoes provide.

My primary boot of choice is the Zamberlan Lynx.   These are high quality, Italian boots that are waterproof, comfortable, and great for cool to cold weather.  One thing I really appreciate about these boots is that they come in both regular and wide widths.  I have a somewhat wide foot, and the wide width fits me perfectly.  They are very nimble, with a grippy sole for scrambling over rocks.  Their mid-height construction doesn’t bind or constrict.  These are great boots, and I use them for everything except hot, early season conditions.

Zamberlan Lynx

Zamberlan Lynx

The Keene Liberty Ridge hiking boots are my choice for early season warmer conditions.  They are a bit lighter than the Zamberlans, but still provide good support.  They are water proof.  They don’t come in different widths, but they have a relatively wide fore foot, so they fit my feet well.  As a bonus, they are made in the United States.

As with my merino boxer briefs, I generally bring a spare pair of socks.  I wear merino blend socks pretty much exclusively.  Nothing surpasses wool for sock material.

With my Keen boots, I wear Lorpen Merino hiking socks.  These socks are comfortable, durable, and maintain their shape well.

With the Zamberlan boots, I wear Patagonia Expedition weight merino hiking socks.  I don’t think that these socks are still made by Patagonia, which is too bad, as they are great socks, with good cushioning and excellent warmth.  A good warm, thick sock like these allows my feet to stay warm and comfortable in cold temperatures.  I find that even in more mild conditions, the thick terry-looped merino interior absorbs any sweat from my feet and my feet stay comfortable and don’t feel too hot.

Item weights:

Clothing:
Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra light lenses and cloth bag 1.4
Smartwool Merino boxer briefs (2 pair) 2.6 ounces each 5.6
Sitka Timberline Pants 32.7
First Lite Obsidian Pants 22.6
Kuiu Peloton 200 zip-off bottoms 8.5
Merino t-shirt 5.5
Voormi Blur Jacket 26.3
Orange Patagonia Nano Air light hoodie 11.8
Expedition weight Cashmere Hat (Golightly Cashmere) 5.3
Orange Cashmere Watch Hat (Golightly Cashmere) 3.1
Orange Buff 1.3
Outdoor Research Sunrunner Hat 2.9
Orange Cap (LL Bean Technical Upland Cap) 2.2
Keene Liberty Ridge Mid height Hunting Boots 51.4
Zamberlan Lynx Gtx Mid height Hunting Boots 64.4
Lorpen mid weight wool hiking socks x2 (2.8 ounces per pair) 5.6
Patagonia Expedition wool socks x2 (7 ounces per pair) 14
DeFeet ET Dura glove 2.2
Dachstein fingerless mittens with fold over cap 5.3
REI eVent rain mitts 1.6
First Lite Brambler gaiters 11
Kennetrek Hiking gaiters 5.5
Patagonia Fitzroy Down Parka (Orange) 21.1
First Lite Umcompagre puffy jacket with hood 22
Orange Patagonia M10 Anorak 8
Kuiu Teton Rain Jacket 9.6
Kuiu Teton Rain Pants 6.9

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer line of clothing are pieces that are designed with the overall goal of providing protection with the least possible weight and bulk.  I own the hooded down jacket and the hooded windbreaker.    This review is of the hooded down jacket

Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket   8.8 ounces (size X-Large)  

I’ve owned the Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket for about 9 months now, and it has become one of my favorite and most used pieces of clothing.  It weighs only 8.8 ounces and is filled with water resistant 850 fill power down.  The quilting on it is of sewn through construction, rather than box baffled.  The hooded down jacket provides warmth and wind protection that is greater than a fleece jacket, at considerably less bulk and weight.  It’s an excellent light “puffy” for climbing, or any backcountry activity where you need some lightweight warmth.

I’ve been taking this jacket with me on backcountry ski trips, on “shoulder season” rock climbs in the spring and fall, and summer alpine climbs.  It fits easily into a small daypack, and provides me with warmth for chilly belays or cold evenings.  For how light and compact it is, it provides a remarkable amount of warmth.

Cold day in the desert:  Ghost Whiperer down jacket on Castleton Tower

Cold day in the desert: Ghost Whisperer down jacket on Castleton Tower

The hood fits nicely over a helmet, and the elasticized cuffs and simple elastic cord at the hem keep out drafts.  The Ghost Whisperer fabric is water resistant, and I’ve had no issues fending off light drizzle and mist.  The 850 fill power down is treated with something called “Q-Shield” which is supposed to make it more water resistant than normal down.  I can’t really comment on the effectiveness of this down treatment because I haven’t ever soaked this jacket.

Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket on the Lower Saddle, Tetons.

Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket on the Lower Saddle, Tetons.

There are two zippered handwarmer pockets, and you can stuff the Ghost Whisperer into a pocket for storage.  There is a loop so that you can clip the stuffed jacket onto a carabiner.

Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded Jacket stuffed into its own pocket

Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded Jacket stuffed into its own pocket

The jacket does have some limitations due to its light weight design.  The fabric is extremely light weight.  I haven’t managed to rip it or wear a hole in it, even after climbing in it a bit, but it really isn’t made to take much abuse.  If you’re looking for a jacket for groveling up chimneys and off-width climbs, this is probably not a good choice.  The zipper is very lightweight and it doesn’t take a whole lot of pressure to pull it apart.  I’ve had several occasions when it has separated from the bottom and come undone.   So far, this hasn’t been a big issue, as I’ve been able to unzip it and then zip it back up again.  The zipper coils haven’t seemed to have been harmed by this.

Regarding warmth, this jacket is very warm for its weight, but it’s not a substitute for a thick insulated jacket for really cold conditions.  For cold winter ice climbs and high alpine bivis, I would still want a thicker, heavier belay jacket, but for most other situations, the Ghost Whisperer is sufficient.

Sizing on this jacket is a little on the small side for an over-layer.   I tend to wear a size large in most jackets, and a size large would have fit me, but I wouldn’t have had much room with a size large to layer clothing underneath.  An X-large size gives me room to use this as a top layer.   If you’re planning on using this jacket as a mid layer, then I’d suggest you get your normal size.  If you want to use it to layer on top, then I’d suggest going up a size.

Here’s a list of other insulated jackets to give some perspective and comparisons of weights:  The only other jacket I’ve used that is close to the same weight class is the Montbell UL thermawrap jacket, which is not as warm and which doesn’t have a hood.

Insulating Layers  (Size Large unless otherwise noted)
Montbell UL Thermawrap jacket 9.2
Montbell Thermawrap parka 16.2
Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody 14.9
Patagonia R2 pullover 13.3
Golite Coal Jacket w/hood 19.5
Jeff Lowe Cloudwalker Papillon Sweater 22.5
Arcteryx Dually Belay parka 29 oz (XL) 26.5 oz (L)
Brooks Range Alpini mountain anorak down hoodie (XL) 13.6
Patagonia Encapsil Down Belay Jacket (XL) 20.6
Montbell Mirage Down Jacket (XL) 14.7
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket  (XL)  8.8
Patagonia Nano Air Hoody  14.5

Patagonia Knifeblade and Northwall Lines: Winter Clothing made from Polartech Powerstretch Pro Fabric

Patagonia Knifeblade Pullover and Northwall Pants

Patagonia Knifeblade Pullover and Northwall Pants at Ouray

Polartech Powerstretch Pro is a new highly breathable and water resistant fabric from the folks at Malden Mills.   Patagonia incorporated it into two different lines of clothing, the Knifeblade and Northwall lines, which are blurring the lines between softshells and hardshells.   The Knifeblade line is uninsulated, and the Northwall line has a light gridded fleece lining.  Knifeblade options are a full zip jacket, half-zip pullover, and pants.  Northwall line options are  jacket and pants.

Grovelling up a chimney in my Knifeblade Pullover. Bird Brain Boulevard, Ouray, CO

I’ve got a Knifeblade pullover, and Knifeblade pants, along with the Northwall pants.  These have become my all-time favorite winter climbing shells.

Here’s why I love them:

The Powerstretch Pro fabric  breathes really really well. When I am working hard, I am a heat inferno. Any hard shell I’ve ever used has never been able to cope with the amount of heat I put out when climbing. This soft shell fabric has no problem dealing with my prodigious heat output.  I sweat less, and stay dry from the inside.

Unlike traditional softshell garments, these pieces are functionally water proof.  They are billed as water resistant, but I’ve climbed in some very wet conditions and stayed dry, including once where I was pretty much stuck under a small waterfall while belaying. I’ve heard of some folks getting some seepage through the seams eventually, but I haven’t gotten wet yet during the winter.  I have used the pants in an extended period of driving rain.  After an hour, the pants leaked and continued leaking.  These are not rain pants, so don’t expect them to stand up to long bouts of heavy rain.  However, for anything I’m doing in winter, they have more than adequate water resistance.

The fabric has a bit of stretch to it.  Just enough to add significant mobility.

The cut of the Knifeblade Pullover is perfect for ice climbing. The pullover style is very clean. Length is long enough that it stays put under a harness. Cut and material make for a good, body hugging fit that doesn’t blouse up and block my vision of my ice screws on my harness, but it has enough stretch and the cut is good enough that it’s not at all restrictive. Hood works very well over a helmet.   Pockets are high and out of the way of my harness.

The pants have articulated knees, and a high waist, coupled with suspenders to keep them up without needing a belt.  Freedom of movement is excellent.  Seat can be dropped via zippers if you’ve got to poo.   The Northwall pants are lightly insulated, which makes them great for really cold days.  The Knifeblade pants are uninsulated, and better suited for more moderate temperatures.

The fabric is very durable. Long chimneying sessions, sharp ice tools and general abuse have not had much effect at all on the Knifeblade Pullover.  I’ve managed to stab some crampon holes in my pants, but the fabric doesn’t rip easily, and the holes were easily repaired with repair tape and seamgrip.

I’ve heard rumors that Patagonia will be discontinuing both the Knifeblade and Northwall lines and won’t have any Powerstretch Pro fabric clothing to replace them.  I hope this is not true.  Just to be on the safe side, I bought spares to make sure I will still have my favorite winter clothes in the event I ever manage to wear out my current ones.

knifebladep

Knifeblade Pullover and Knifeblade Pants, climbing desert ice.

 

Eddie Bauer Guide and Guide Lite Gloves

I have 30+ pairs of outdoor gloves and mittens.  It seems like every year for the past 20 years, I’ve bought one or two new pairs of gloves, searching for the elusive perfect glove.

However, for the past couple of years, I’ve been using two gloves almost exclusively for my climbing; the Guide Gloves and Guide Lite Gloves from the Eddie Bauer First Ascent line.

Guide Gloves on ice.  Ouray Ice Park

Guide Gloves on ice. Ouray Ice Park

The problem with glove design is that it’s got conflicting goals.  A glove needs to be warm, but it also needs to not be too bulky.  It needs to keep your hands warm and dry and comfortable, but also needs to maintain dexterity.  They need to be tough enough to stand up to the abuse of climbing and rappelling, but not so stiff and heavy that they don’t perform well.  A good glove design is one that makes appropriate compromises between these conflicting goals.

Here’s why I really like the Eddie Bauer Guide and Guide Lite gloves:

1:  Fit.  They fit my hands really well.  I have relatively broad hands, but my fingers are not particularly long.  The Eddie Bauer glove pattern fits my hands almost perfectly.  Some glove makers (Black Diamond for example) tend to pattern their gloves with longer fingers.  When the gloves are cut too long in the fingers, it compromises dexterity and makes manipulating gear more difficult.  If you have extra long fingers, the Eddie Bauer gloves may not fit you well, but for me, they fit “like a glove.”

2:  No removable liner.   I hate removable liners in my gloves.  Almost without exception, removable liners make gloves more bulky, less dexterous, and harder to put on and take off.  Especially when my hands get damp with sweat, taking a close-fitting glove off will often pull out the liner, or invert the liner’s fingers, making it difficult to get back on.  I have used dozens of gloves with removable liners and have yet to find any that had the same functionality as a glove with an integral liner.   The supposed benefit of a removable liner is that you can take it out and dry it overnight.  In practice, I haven’t found this to be an advantage.  I just take my entire glove and put it next to my body inside my sleeping bag at night, and they are plenty dry by morning.

3:  Just the right amount of insulation.   The Eddie Bauer gloves have just the right amount of insulation for me for most conditions.  They both have an integral, non-removable liner made from a mix of acrylic and merino wool.  The Guide Glove has an additional layer of primaloft one insulation, while the Guide Lite just has the acrylic/wool insulation.  I use the Guide Lite gloves for climbing and am comfortable in them in temperatures down to the high teens.  The more generously insulated Guide Gloves are comfortable down to about zero Fahrenheit.  If I’m actually climbing, I can use them in colder temperatures, but I will typically need something warmer to wear on my hands when I’m not active (like when I’m standing around at the belay.)  I am seldom doing technical climbing in arctic or Himalayan temperatures, so these gloves have me covered for 95% of the conditions I’m climbing in.

I find these gloves to be considerably warmer for their bulk than any other gloves I’ve used, and are warmer than gloves that are considerably thicker.  I don’t know for sure why this is, but I suspect that the merino wool in the liner pulls away moisture and keeps my hands dry, which keeps them warm.

Guide Gloves (left) and Guide Lite Gloves (right)

Guide Gloves (left) and Guide Lite Gloves (right)

4:  Excellent Dexterity and Feel.  Both of these gloves provide exceptional dexterity and feel for manipulating equipment and climbing.  They are soft and supple, and don’t provide much resistance when clenching your fingers and gripping an ice tool.  The palms are relatively thin, and the fingers are sensitive enough to have a good feel when placing ice screws and rock gear.  The Guide Lite in particular is extremely good in this regard, providing about the same level of dexterity and sensitivity as uninsulated dry tooling gloves I’ve used that are not nearly as warm as the Guide Lite.

5:  Adequate Durability.  These gloves are generally pretty durable, with leather palms and reinforcements in high wear areas.  I have worn out a pair of these gloves, but they lasted as long as I expected, given the abuse I subjected them to.  I have had one defective pair of Guide Lites, where the knit cuff became unstitched from the glove long before the glove should have worn out.  This pair was replaced by Eddie Bauer under their lifetime warranty.  (Waiting for the replacement pair to come back, I used some other lightweight softshell gloves instead, and was reminded of how much better the Guide Lites are than my other lightweight softshell gloves.)  Bottom line is that I’ve been happy with the durability of these gloves.  They don’t last forever, but I don’t expect that of my climbing gear.

Nothing is perfect.  Guide Lite gloves unraveling.

Nothing is perfect. Guide Lite gloves unraveling.

6:  Adequate water resistance.  These gloves are not waterproof.  They don’t have Gore-tex inserts or seam sealed shells.  They have water resistant fabric, and water resistant leather (and come with some Nikwax leather treatment to increase that water resistance.) If you are climbing ice that is running with water, or you’re constantly plunging your hands into wet snow all day long, the gloves will get wet.  In almost all cases, I’ve found the water resistance of these gloves to be adequate.  Even if the leather gets wetted out, my hands have tended to stay warm and comfortable.  In general, I would rather have a glove that is water resistant than water proof, because I’ve never yet found a truly waterproof glove that has decent dexterity and fit for technical climbing.  If you demand a truly waterproof glove, then these aren’t the best choice.  I have found, however, that they are water resistant enough to do the job well in almost all conditions that I am climbing in.  They dry out overnight if I sleep with them under my clothing.

Conclusion:  In spite of the fact that I have a large box filled with gloves, the Guide and the Guide Lite are the ones that get the most use for technical climbing.  They perform better across a wider range of conditions than any other gloves I’ve used.  Combined with a super warm mitten for ultra-cold belaying duties, these gloves are pretty much all I use any more.

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.

 

Rab Boreas Pull-On

Rab Boreas in Snowy Conditions

Rab Boreas in Snowy Conditions

The Rab Boreas Pull-On is a strange soft shell.  It’s not very wind resistant.  It’s not very water resistant.  Currently, outdoor clothing companies all seem to be making their softshell clothing more and more weather resistant, blurring the line between hard and soft shells.  The Boreas goes the other direction.  It’s a softshell that provides maximum breathability and minimum weather resistance.  Just based on this description, it sounds useless.  However, it’s become one of my favorite pieces of clothing.

I put out a lot of heat when I’m active.  I’m one of those people who steams in cold weather.  For winter activities, like skinning uphill when backcountry skiing, or moving quickly when climbing or approaching over easy ground, the only insulation I generally require is a midweight or heavy weight base-layer.  However, I typically need a lightweight weather resistant layer over the base-layer to add a little protection from wind and a bit of extra warmth.  Most softshells and windshirts leave me overheated and sweaty.  They just aren’t breathable enough.  They provide too much protection.

The Boreas is just right when worn over a base layer when I’m exerting myself.  It doesn’t cut the wind entirely, but takes the edge off a cold wind and allows the base-layer underneath to continue to function.  Likewise, it won’t keep me dry in sustained rain, but it will fend off snow and light drizzle.

The hood is comfortable, and fits snugly under a helmet.  The single zipper allows for venting, and a chest pocket is large enough to hold sunglasses or a small pocket camera.

So, the Boreas has become my go-to garment for moving fast in the mountains.  As long as I’m moving, it’s just enough.  I stay cool, comfortable, and don’t end up drenched in sweat.  It’s not a great piece for cold weather belaying, or other activities where I’m stopped and inactive for any length of time.  Stop and go sports like hard climbing are not where I use this.  However, for situations where I’m constantly on the move, like backcountry skiing, or easy routes in the mountains where I’m constantly on the move, its’ perfect.

The Boreas fits close.  If you want to wear more than just a baselayer under it, you may want to go up a size.

Weight:  8.6 ounces (size large)

Boreas Pull-On on the Rab Website 

The Boreas Pullover, my go-to top for backcountry skiing.

The Boreas Pullover, my go-to top for backcountry skiing.