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.
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Black Diamond nForce Ascenders: The Heavy-Duty Choice
Posted on: September 14, 2007
Weight: 245 grams
The newly designed Black Diamond nForce ascenders were a crucial piece of gear for my main climbing project this summer. Using static and dynamic fixed lines from 8-11 millimeters, my partner and I spent about ten days working on a first ascent, free, on the east face of Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos. Although the face itself rises 2,000 feet, we ascended an estimated 3,000' of fixed lines, equipping belay stations, scrubbing cracks, and rehearsing the crux pitches that, unfortunately, are still resisting our redpoint attempts.
I found that the nForce ascenders performed well, were easy to use, and inspired confidence in the exposed positions I was using them in. The most noticeable feature was the hinge at the bottom of the handles. I felt a significant difference in how well these gripped the rope (recommended rope diameter range for the nForces is 8-13mm, and in all my testing, I never had one slip), especially when weighted. So when the jugging got sketchy (sideways or diagonal), it was reassuring to know that the unit truly "generates more clamping force than conventional designs," as Black Diamond claims. These camming units would also be a good choice if you were to use them in muddy or icy conditions (such as in the alpine), as other brands on the market might slip, or not grip at all.
The trigger/thumb catch was awkward to use at first, but I soon developed the muscle memory to be able to open and close the cam quickly and easily with one hand. The ergonomic handle was comfortable, and there was plenty of room for gloves, should the cams be used in colder conditions. The carabiner hole at the bottom is big enough to get 360-degree rotation for a locking biner, which I appreciated when adjusting the length of my daisy chains.
The main cons against the new nForces are the weight (245g) and the price ($69 each). Although well designed and a bit more burly compared with their competitors, the differences are minor, and they weigh almost two ounces heavier and cost ten dollars more.
Pros: Bomber, heavy-duty performance on 8-13mm lines; extra-strong camming is designed for alpine conditions; easy to use with gloves; large carabiner hole allows for mobility.
Cons: Slightly heavier and more expensive than the competition; trigger/thumb catch is awkward to use at first.