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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
Sometimes seen as an aid-specific tool for the pin scars on big-wall routes in Zion and Yosemite, offset cams can be invaluable almost anywhere.
The Cevedale Pro GTX boot is comfortable right out of the box. A stretchy tongue combined with a well-padded midsole helped them break in quickly, and a partial-length shank lets the boots flex for walking. Lowa offers a novel approach to balancing the tension between the forefoot and the ankle, which is critical for maintaining a snug fit while avoiding pain in the Achilles tendon. An inventive lacing system uses low-friction ball bearings in the eyelets which allow you to quickly cinch the boot around the lower foot, then lock off the laces in cam buckles at the ankle in a simple motion.
Andrew Councell reviews Ortovox's trifecta of avalanche-rescue equipment: transceiver, probe and shovel. "In the States last year alone, avalanches claimed the lives of seven climbers. It's clear that we are not immune," he writes.
I love watching my own mind make back flips, and it has put on quite an acrobatic show since the release of the Omega Pacific Link Cam in 2006: Early on, I remember looking at these crazy one-size-fits-all cams and thinking, "Yeah great...or how about just learning how to correctly place gear?" Later, I came to understand that recognizing the Link Cam's crazy genius is only a matter of the appropriate application.
After a day of cruising through the rolling hills and trees surrounding Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, under constant wet snow, the High-E Hoodie was damp around the sleeves and shoulders—a fact I didn't notice until I'd been in the car for fifteen minutes.
I never gave too much thought to my socks. In general, any pair of mid-weight wool socks would have been interchangeable for most days out in the mountains of New England.
I've been wearing the Mountain Standard Hooded Down jacket practically nonstop for the last three months. It came with me up El Cap this winter, and kept me warm and comfortable at hanging belays and when climbing through the night.
Bluebird days are so rare in Vermont that an overnight low of -18 degrees didn't dampen my enthusiasm for a day of ice climbing at Smugglers' Notch on Mt. Mansfield. I wore a Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket, a slim-and-trim synthetic belay parka, to keep warm if our pace slowed or we lost the sun.
The Black Diamond Xenos mixed/ice climbing harness is aptly named since it enables you to visit some of the most unique and uninhabitable places known to humankind, places where we truly are the aliens.
Mentor to many aspiring mountain guides, Marc Chauvin once told me, "When you're out of options, you're dead." Now that statement might seem obvious, but he meant it with some wordplay: perspective often has an influence on the options you see.
DTS BUGrip provides a comfortable, somewhat cushy, and nimble ride, with positive traction for nearly all conditions.
While the basic anatomy of a pack hasn't evolved much since the hand-sewn rucksacks of Norman Clyde, a thoughtfully designed pack can be a major help to a day in the mountains. There's a fine line, however, between a smooth design and gimmicks.
Mary Williams considers climbing approaches and descents at Rocky Mountain National Park a necessary evil. For improved traction, she wears micro spikes to cross icy terrain. "I have used [them] with light hiking boots, my ice-climbing boots, running shoes, and even a few times over my ski boots," she writes.
Alpinists know that a tool capable of performing well in a variety of mediums and serving a variety of tasks is, indeed, quite pleasing. All the time. The Petzl Sum'Tec tools go a long way toward accomplishing that.
I'm one of those guys who have a different pair of shoes for every situation and will debate my options to an embarrassing extent. Over a year ago, while searching for a good all-around pair of approach shoes, I tried a pair of Salewa Wildfires.