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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C.A.M.P. Carbon Fiber Avalanche Probe: Featherweight
Posted on: July 3, 2008
Full size: 240 centimeters
Packed size: 40 centimeters
Weight: 123 grams (4.34 ounces)
I typically relate to the mountain maxim "light is right" when it comes to hefting gear. I was excited to learn, then, that C.A.M.P. had released a carbon fiber avalanche probe that weighs just over 4 ounces. Though marketed for "competitive ski mountaineering," and complying with the minimum requirements of the International Ski Mountaineering Federation, I have a feeling that its featherweight design will attract more than lycra-clad rando racers. Who wouldn't want to shave a few more ounces from their packs? When I received the probe, however, it seemed to lack heft and lateral stiffness, and so, before even bringing it into the field, I was concerned with how well it would perform.
With numerous backcountry ski tours under my belt throughout this past ski season, I was able to test the probe in a wide variety of snow conditions, from deep winter snowpacks to wet slide debris. My initial concerns were mostly put to rest until the densest of debris paths served up a challenge for the probe's lateral stability. Although it sank remarkably smoothly in most types of snow, the chances of breaking the probe's thin carbon fiber segments became all too realistic when I felt it bend its way in and out of icy, hardened chunks of compact snow. Under the same circumstances, a standard probe would certainly have performed better, but for now the unit remained intact, exceeding my expectations for such a lightweight probe.
I thought it reliable enough to take it on a ski trip to Montana's Spanish Peaks. Questioning the stability of the north-facing slope we were about to enter, we decided to dig a snowpit. I pulled the probe out of its bag, and while assembling it, I noticed that the plastic piece—fixed at the end of the cord to keep the probe together—had somehow fallen off. I disappointingly watched as each segment freely slid down and off the 2mm Dyneema cord, soundlessly landing on the white surface. Putting the probe together has proven nothing short of annoying since then.
I still believe in shaving off a few ounces here and there whenever possible, but only so long as my safety or the reliability of the gear is not compromised. C.A.M.P.'s Carbon Fiber Avalanche Probe is well suited for randonnee racers and weight-conscious backcountry skiers who will not encounter heavy and thick avalanche debris. The durability caveat I experienced could have been specific to just this one piece, but it has nevertheless decreased my enthusiasm in recommending this probe as a reliable alternative to heftier models for everyday backcountry use.
Pros: Lightweight; fairly stiff and effective in all but the thickest avalanche debris.
Cons: Fragile parts can threaten the structural integrity of the assembly system.