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The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
The rest of the MS Team
In all, the NeoAir's most impressive feature is its (remarkable) compressibility. On top of that, the outer nylon has a pleasant, grippy-but-not-sticky feel that keeps the pad from sliding around the tent; the entire package rolls nicely when you are deflating it; and it's more durable than I would have imagined. But there are a few things that keep this from being perfect in my mind.
I group the Variant with obsolete layers such as the heavy-duty Synchilla jacket. Wind rips right through the fabric, necessitating a windproof layer that makes me overheat. Sure, fancy new designs look good at the coffee shop but this jacket, at least, is not mountain functional.
Climbing in the Alps all winter, I put the Terra Nova Quasar pack and its "Ultra" fabric through an ice-and-granite gauntlet. While the pack is a little worse for the wear, it's come out on the other side still capable of holding my gear.
With slim webbing straps, light weight and, of course, the ponytail hole, the Elia offers women-specific features that suggest it may have even been designed by a real she-climber (or at least a man on good terms with his feminine side).
I have often struggled to find an alpine pack for one- or two-night trips. A pack of this size needs to be comfortable enough to carry up to about forty pounds of gear while hiking into a high camp, yet trim and lithe enough to use for technical climbing on summit bids. Mammut has found a happy medium with the 45L Trion Guide.
There are only so many ways of describing an ice tool. Attributes worth discussing are shaft clearance, pick angle and spike pointy-ness—the X-All Mountain excels at all of them. But in reality, biomechanics have a lot to do with matching a user to their perfect tool. And the X-All Mountain feels like a custom tool made just for me.
With it's classic design, neutral angle blade and abnormally large spike, it seems as though this axe was well designed for meandering through low-angle snowfields thinking about the late greats and golden ages - but nothing more.
What started as a gift from a client that I planned only to wear out of courtesy, inadvertently became my go-to layer for climbing, skiing and traveling. If my house were on fire, my Shak jacket is one of the items I would grab on my way out.
But once I gave them a chance, trusting that the steel front points on the aluminum body would hold up, I found that the XLC Nanotech is one bomber, why-didn't-I-think-of-this piece of gear.
When I look for winter pants I think of two words, "waterproof" and "hardshell." Some of you (probably people who only ski powder, don't break trail or are too hardcore to use their tools on ice) will disagree. That it is fine, wear your softshells all you want. But I want pants that will keep me dry when kneeling against melting ice, breaking trail in heavy snow or on a multi-day trip. I also want a single pair of pants that I can comfortably climb, skin, ski, hike and, occasionally, toboggan in.
The Espri is exceptionally light for a double-wall, with a simple set-up and take-down. And though it's advertised as a backpacking tent, I suspected it would work for most summer alpine climbing in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. I was right.
Adding these cams to my collection has made my trad rack much more versatile; they absolutely excelled in the granite cracks of Mont Blanc and even tagged along with me in the desert. They are not the best choice for Indian Creek splitters, but funky, flared cracks (on both free and aid routes) are their forte.
The Hummingbird's size and weight are that of a light, minimalist bag (I've eaten burritos that were bigger). However, the conservative twenty-degree temperature rating, overstuffed fill and moisture-repelling exterior compels me use it on more occasions than just alpine sufferfests.
A finely crafted approach shoe should handle the approach and descent, sure. But it should also allow you to step into 5.fun terrain without hesitation. Rarely, if ever, does a shoe do both well. Climbers and footwear manufacturers, take note. I found it.