Review: Petzl Sitta Harness

The Petzl Sitta (pronounced SEE-Tah) is a stand-out harness in the very small and exclusive class of high-end technical harnesses. I bought my first top-of-the-line harness back in 1995 when I realized I was addicted to climbing. The Petzl Guru was a stand out at that time both for its notice-able rescue orange color and its high price point (it was double what most harnesses cost in the 90’s).

Petzl Sitta Review

Petzl Sitta Review

Despite the price tag I never regretted the purchase as it was really comfortable for the era and served me well for the start of my climbing career from Red Rocks to the Rockies and back East. Since I retired it around 2000 I’ve gone through a steady stream of harnesses, almost always Petzl; Adajama, Corax, Calidris, Sama, another Adajama, then a Hirundos (review), and now the Petzl Sitta.

Let’s take a close look at this technically advanced harness!

Petzl Sitta Review

10.5 ounces (294 grams)


Without question the first thing you will notice when holding this harness in hand is how unbelievably light it is. My size large weighs in at 10.5 ounces (or 294 grams) on my home digital scale. Manufacturer specifications indicate a size large is 300 grams (10.58 ounces), so I’d say the claimed weight is easily met! The only similar featured harnesses on the market in this category are the Arcteryx  FL-365 which weighs in at 365 grams / 12.9 ounces (size not given) and the CAMP Air CR which weights in at 350 grams / 12.3 ounces (size medium).

That makes the Petzl Sitta the lightest full featured harness on the market designed with a broad spectrum of climbing disciplines in mind.


I’ve always preferred harnesses that pack up small. Since we usually don our helmets at the same time we put our harnesses on I’ve been in the practice of folding my harness up and storing it neatly inside my helmet like I show here in my Hirundos harness review:

Petzl Sitta Review

Petzl Hirundos stored in Petzl Sirocco Helmet

I’ve started doing things a little differently with the Petzl Sitta. Like most harnesses the Sitta comes with a storage bag. With every harness I’ve ever owned I’ve tossed the storage bag or used it for something else; make-shift crampon pouch, random organizing stuff sack, etc. But the stuff sack that comes with the Sitta is a bit more utilitarian. First, it’s small:

Petzl Sitta Review

About 6in x 4in x 4in

The harness packs up so small I find the space inside my helmet is too large to store the harness snugly, so I started using the stuff sack to store the harness in my pack. It’s small profile allows for more efficient packing when trying to maximize available space. After gearing up I started using the stuff sack as a mini-essentials kit since there is a conveniently sewn loop on the sack allowing you to clip it to the back of your harness if you are leaving your pack on the ground. I typically toss in some snacks, bug dope, small climbing knife, headlamp, phone & car keys!

Petzl Sitta Review

Just the essentials

While this isn’t re-inventing the wheel I think most harness stuff sacks are too big to really hang off the back of your harness. This one isn’t and the quality of the stuff sack material and zipper instills confidence. In fact you can clip a small loop from the zipper and the carry handle with one carabiner, which adds some redundancy and keeps the zipper closed when scumming your way up a chimney!

Petzl Sitta Review

Secure hang-ability


Reviewers all over the web have commented at length on how surprisingly comfortable this harness is and I’ll be echoing those sentiments. To quote’s review (which also granted Climbing’s Editor Choice Award to this harness):

“Lightweight harnesses aren’t supposed to be this comfortable”

I’ve worn the harness now for a little over two months and find it just as comfortable as the more padded Petzl Hirundos that I reviewed earlier this year. Petzl achieves a high degree of load distribution via their “WIREFRAME” construction. Spectra® strands are incorporated in the waist-belt and leg loops to aid with this. Basically Spectra® is a super strong static material. Because it does not stretch like regular nylon load distribution can be optimized with careful design. I would say this harness is as comfortable as any harness I have worn in the last 10 years! Another benefit of this high tech design is the harness is very breathable in hot humid weather and has a very sleek low profile when climbing with a larger backpack.


Petzl Sitta Review

WIREFRAME Construction

Petzl Sitta Review

Waist belt tapers from 3 inches to 2 1/4 inches in the back

Elasticized fixed leg loops:

I’ve said it before that I prefer this style of stretchy leg loop. It offers excellent freedom of movement, less weight, and less bulk. I actually feel these shouldn’t be called “fixed” because they really are “auto-adjustable”. The stretchy adjustable part stretches up to 2.5 inches which is more than enough for me to add some long-underwear and soft-shell pants for this winters ice climbing season!

Petzl Sitta Review

Auto Adjustable Buckle-less Leg Loops – My favorite!

Petzl Sitta Review

Leg loops 2 1/2 inches at widest


The reinforced tie-in points are made with high-tenacity polyethylene which resists fraying and wear from repeated rope movement at these high stress points. This really is a nice feature since I usually decide to retire my harness when I have notice-able “fray” in this area and this material will definitely slow any the harness “fuzz” development.

Petzl Sitta Review

High-tenacity polyethylene for improved resistance to wear from rope friction


Here’s another area Petzl has really been innovative with! The Petzl Sitta has the traditional 4 gear loops but there are some important design considerations to take note of. First, the front gear loops are LARGE and RIGID! I can rack a standard rack easily on the right front gear loop. The rigid support facilitates clipping & un-clipping protection and quick-draws.

Petzl Sitta Review

Right front large rigid gear loop with adjustable divider and soft rear gear loop for comfort while wearing a pack

The gear divider is interesting, it can be adjusted forward or back to give you some customization. I keep it in the middle and rack passive pro and small cams in front, and every thing bigger behind the divider. I’ve found having the divider is a really nice “blind reference” when reaching for gear without looking down. Need a .4 Black Diamond C4? Find the divider and it will be the carabiner right in front. Need a .5? Find the divider and it will be the carabiner just behind the divider.

Petzl Sitta Review

Racked up with full double rack up to size 3 and all multi-pitch tools (along with that sweet Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody hanging off the back!)

For ice climbing I plan on sliding the divider back since the Petzl Caritool slots are within the gear loop area. There is a spot for one Petzl Caritool on each side.


Different but related to comfort, how a harness fits is quite personal. We are all shaped differently, so to help you choose the correct size lets start with the official size chart from Petzl:

References C10AO S C10AO M C10AO L
Size S M L
Color(s) orange/white orange/white orange/white
Waist belt 67-77 cm 74-84 cm 81-92 cm
Leg loops 48-53 cm 52-57 cm 55-60 cm
Weight 240 g 270 g 300 g

You really should measure yourself accurately before you order, but for your convenience here’s a quick conversion of the waist sizes:

Small is for 26-30 inch waist.

Medium is for 29-33 inch waist.

Large is for 32-36 inch waist.

I have a 34 inch waist, and the large waist belt fits perfectly. My thigh, measured at it’s thickest part, is about 59 cm. I still have plenty of stretch in the leg loops to accommodate thicker ice climbing layers.

Petzl Sitta Review



The above features make this harness an excellent choice for a slew of climbing disciplines. I’ll briefly give a 1-10 rating with a short explanation based on the features for each discipline before jumping into a summary:

  • Gym Climbing 5/10– If all you need is a gym harness this is overkill. Get a cheaper harness.
  • Sport Climbing 9.5/10– I can’t think of what else a dedicated sport climber could want from a harness. This is an excellent pick for sport climbing!
  • Traditional Climbing 9.5/10– Again, this harness has everything I would want for multi-pitch trad climbing
  • Ice Climbing 8.5/10– I’m REALLY looking forward to this ice season but wish they added just one more Petzl Caritool slot, preferably under the back of the right rear gear loop
  • Mountaineering 8.5/10– A great choice if skis and glaciers are not involved!
  • Glaciers & Ski Mountaineering 7.5/10– Closed leg loops make this less than ideal for glacier travel and ski mountaineering, but it’s not the end of the world. Just wear your harness all day, with this one you will forget it’s on!
  • Bouldering 1/10– What are you thinking?


It’s really hard to fairly compare this harness with what else is on the market.

Price-wise it is at the far upper end in the recreational category, but its incredible light-weight pack-ability and comfort can make it easy to justify the purchase. As mentioned near the beginning of the review only the Arcteryx  FL-365 and CAMP Air CR come close and I’m hoping to get samples of those to review here soon. For now I’m eagerly awaiting the cooler temps and early season ice climbing. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself and should just enjoy the quickly approaching foliage climbing season, definitely my favorite time to rock climb in the White Mountains!

If you’d like to upgrade to this harness you can purchase it directly off Amazon here!

Petzl Sitta Review

The Petzl Sitta Review

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts and opinions on the the review, harnesses, etc. below in the comments!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: This harness was provided to the author at no cost. All opinions stated above are his own. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.


Posted in Climbing Gear Reviews, Gear Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review (and Giveaway)

After finishing another Wilderness Navigation Course today for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch I decided it was finally time I post a review on the one piece of equipment I have carried in the mountains for over two decades. My compass, the Sunnto MC-2.

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

The compass is the 2nd piece of equipment listed in the often referred to “Ten Essentials” and is a must for anyone heading to the mountains for a bit of adventure. A great gear list for hiking & backpacking can be found here on

Since this piece of equipment is so important it’s wise to put a little thought into your choice. For the money, I have not found a more fully functional compass that can do as much as the Sunnto MC-2 anywhere, which is why I have happily replaced mine three times in the last 20 years when I misplaced (or loaned) it to someone and never got it back.

Without getting into the intricacies of accurate map & compass work I want to call out exactly what sets this compass apart in the field.

Sighting Mirror

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

How important is a sighting mirror? Depending on the range to your target the sighting mirror can play a significant role in accurate bearing reading. It allows you to hold the compass at eye level and arms length and still read the information given on the dial/bezel. Two “sights” are present, a higher “gun notch” and a level gap below the mirror, so you have better accuracy based on relative elevation to your target. I find I can get a bearing 3-4 degrees more accurately with this style than a regular “base-plate” type compass. In my lectures I compare the accuracy of this style compass to a rifle aimed from the shoulder vs. a pistol fired from the hip. A sighting mirror is more accurate hands down. It also has the added benefit of being an excellent signal mirror for search and rescue aircraft and allows me to easily put my prescription contacts in on multi-day trips!

Extended Baseplate


Suunto MC-2 Review

While technically an off-shoot of the sighting mirror the fact that a fully opened Sunnto MC-2 can cover 7 inches across a map makes it really convenient for taking bearings and plotting location with known points (re-section & triangulation). These skills, when used with smaller base-plate compasses, often involve estimation, map folding, or the use of a straight edge to get an accurate reading. With the Sunnto MC-2 plotting on a map is simple.

Large clear dial


The orienteering lines are highly visible under the bezel/dial, making accurate measurement possible from any north-south lines on the map or along the edge of the map.


Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

A clinometer measures slope angle. This is extremely important for those travelling in avalanche terrain as a difference of 5 degrees of slope can often mean the difference between a slope being stable  or unstable. Savvy mountain travelers in avalanche terrain are constantly checking slope angle, and to do so accurately one needs a clinometer. The Sunnto MC-2 has one built in that can function on the slope like the photo above, or in conjunction with the sighting mirror while looking up or down a slope.

The above photo of me measuring slope angle was coincidentally taken moments before a human triggered size-able avalanche caught 5 people on Mount Washington. One of the people caught is just disappearing out of the safer area we where at before the incident occurred. My write up of this incident is here.

Adjustable Declination

The Sunnto MC-2, like many top tier compasses, allows one to set the magnetic declination for the area of operation. I am not going to dive into a detailed conversation on declination in a gear review but simply put this is a solid feature for a vast majority of recreationalists and mountain professionals. There are many professionals out there that feel it is almost required. Since I teach courses to people with various pre-owned compasses my personal opinion is if one truly wants to understand solid map & compass work one needs to be able to navigate with an adjustable or non-adjustable compass. That being said, the fact it is an option on this compass is win-win, I just choose not to use it.

Magnifying glass

A small feature, but helpful none-the-less! This feature really helps when decoding small print & icons on a faded map!

1:24k and 1:62500 scales

The Sunnto MC-2  has two distance scales along the side calibrated to the two most popular USGS map scales. Combined with the included lanyard it should be quite easy to accurate estimate distances on your maps.

In case you want some manufacture specifications here they are:

  • High grade steel needle with jewel bearing
  • Balanced for northern hemisphere
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • Liquid filled capsule for stable operation
  • Mirror for sighting bearings and signaling
  • Sighting hole and notch for accurate bearings
  • Non-luminescent bezel
  • Clinometer
  • Luminescent markings for working in low light
  • Metric scales and inch ruler
  • Baseplate with magnifying lens
  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard with wristlock. Easy to detach for working with the map
  • Suunto limited lifetime warranty
  • Made in Finland
There is little improvement to suggest on such a well crafted piece of outdoor gear. For global travel Suunto does offer a slightly more expensive global version but for anyone staying in the northern hemisphere you can pick this compass up at a great price on Amazon right here. Using that link will help support this blog and earn you karma and increased karma means less chance of getting lost*.
I’m giving a away a mint condition Suunto MC-2 through Rafflecopter! You can get up to five entries in the contest, just click the Rafflecopter link for details!

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Disclaimer: David Lottmann has bought this compass, more than once with his own money, because he thinks it’s the best damn compass out there. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.

*not getting lost depends on trip preparation, not karma, but ordering through those links can’t hurt

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Posted in Gear Reviews, Land Navigation, Wilderness Navigation | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

DMM Dragons vs. Black Diamond C4 Camalots vs. Ultralights Comparison (and giveaway!)

For the last two decades Black Diamond Camalots have been a mainstay of my rack. When the new C4’s came out in 2005 I upgraded my whole rack and saved over a pound in the process. While I’d been aware of the DMM Dragon Cams for a few years it wasn’t until I needed to replace a few well loved cams on my rack that I decided to give them a try.

DMM Dragon Cams Review

DMM Dragon Cams Review

I picked up the 2, 3, 4, and 5, which is equivalent to the Black Diamond C4 .75, 1, 2, and 3.

Since the numbers the manufacturers assigned for the sizes do not correlate well we will be happier if we refer to them by color (which thankfully correlates). So I picked up the green, red, yellow, and blue size.

DMM Dragon Cams Review

A welcome addition to the rack

While they felt light in hand manufacturer specs and my home scale confirmed they are almost identical in weight to the Black Diamond C4’s. A full set of each weighs within one ounce of the other, with the Dragons coming in a hair lighter.

While I was not able to obtain a set of Black Diamond Ultralights for this review using the manufacturer specifications I calculated one would save about 8 ounces, half a pound, over either the DMM Dragons or the Black Diamond C4’s for a full rack.  That weight savings comes at considerable cost, about $200 more for a full rack. The weight savings are noticeable throughout the size range but the largest gains are made in the biggest sizes.

DMM Dragon Cams Review

Breaking down the numbers

When comparing weight savings we have to take a look at probably the most noticeable feature of the DMM Dragons, the inclusion of an extendable dyneema sling.

DMM Dragon Cam Review

Expandable sling not extended

DMM Dragon Cam Review

Expandable sling extended

The advantages & disadvantages to this unique feature are a bit specific to the route & type of climbing you predominantly do, but lets take a look. First, you can gain 12-14cm of “free” extension on your placement without having to carry an extra quickdraw. How much weight can that save? Well 7-8 average quick-draws like the Petzl Djinns weigh close to 2 pounds, so that’s significant. On a straight up route where the gear is in-line this advantage is less pronounced as you’ll be clipping the sling un-extended, just like the sling on a C4. On a wandering line or alpine route this feature could probably save you a few draws and slings further reducing total pack weight.

DMM Dragon Cams Review

Hot forged thumb press

There are a few considerations with this design. First, the “thumb loop” found on the Black Diamond C4’s is considered to be one of the easiest to manipulate when pumped or trying to surgically get the best possible placement in a weird situation. Personally I feel the thump press on the DMM Dragons is plenty sufficient to keep control of the cam while making difficult placements. The thumb loop does provide a higher clip point on the protection, which should only be used for aid climbing applications, so this point is quite obscure for non-aid climbing applications. The last concern is the more complex cleaning process for the second. If the sling is extended it can be tricky to re-rack the cam one handed without it hanging low off the harness. With a little practice it can be done, but it is definitely not as easy as re-racking an unextended sling.

As for holding power there has been anecdotal comments since they were released in 2010 that the slightly thinner surface area might be a concern in softer rock (sandstone). I have not seen any evidence of DMM Dragons failing in softer sandstone conditions when a thicker cam head may have held, so I think that theory can be debunked at this point.

DMM Dragon Cams Review

DMM Dragon Cams Review

While I can only compare tech specs on the currently sold out Black Diamond Ultralights I am looking forward to reviewing them (and the Metolius Master Cams) in detail once I get my hands on them. I’m hoping the above spreadsheet is helpful for some when deciding if the additional weight savings is worth the additional moo-lah. For some it will be a resounding yes, and others will be happier with the flexibility of the DMM Dragons, or the time-tested standby of the C4’s (especially if also aid climbing).

Right now both DMM Dragon cams and Black Diamond C4’s are on sale on Amazon here and here! You could pick up a full set of Dragons for around $450 or C4’s for around $400!

I’m giving away a brand new Black Diamond Camalot C4 Size #1, a $79.95 value! The contest is being run through Rafflecopter and ends at 12:00am September 30th, 2016! Enter up to four times!

Just click the link below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought all the items referred to in this review with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.




Posted in Climbing Gear Reviews, Gear Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

This Spring & Summer I climbed almost exclusively in the Petzl Hirundos and would like to share my opinion on this well received harness by Petzl. The Hirundos is a solid option for any climber looking to shed a couple ounces and gain a bit of comfort. Let’s have a look.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Stock photo from

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Exploring Middle Sugarloaf whilst wearing the Petzl Hirundos harness- May 2016


I prefer lightweight weight harnesses that pack up small. My home scale weighs my size XL Hirundos in at just over 11 ounces.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

11 1/4 ounces

This is a full pound lighter than my Petzl Corax that I used last winter and if there is a slight loss of comfort in the design I have not noticed. I also prefer harnesses that collapse neatly and fit easily inside my climbing helmet as I usually pack my helmet towards the top of my climbing pack. Since I usually don my helmet as soon as I get to the cliff it is most convenient to pack my harness with it.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Efficient use of space


According to the official size chart I would have fit a large with 6 cms to spare but a similarly built co-worker suggested I purchase an XL and his advice was spot on.  My 5’9″ 180 lb frame with a 34 inch waist and thicker thighs definitely needed the XL despite the Petzl size chart.

References C36AO XS C36AO S C36AO M C36AO L C36AO XL
Color(s) orange orange orange orange orange
Size XS S M L XL
Waist belt 65-71 cm 71-77 cm 77-84 cm 84-92 cm 92-100 cm
Leg loops 48-53 cm 48-53 cm 52-57 cm 55-60 cm 57-62 cm
Weight 250 g 270 g 280 g 300 g 315 g

While this harness is marketed towards sport climbing (and alpine climbing) I would suggest anyone that has muscular thighs to consider sizing up if you can’t get to a gear shop to try it on. If you have more than a 36 inch waist you will want to look at other options.


The Hirundos uses something called “Fuseframe” technology. A fancy word for a pretty straight forward idea. Instead of just adding padding around the structural strength of the waist belt Petzl splits the support with “thermo-formed foam” in a way that reduces pressure points and aids in weight distribution. It is extremely comfortable for a harness that weighs less than a pound! I also found the mesh to be breathable and quick drying even when the humidity was high.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

A day in July on Cathedral Ledge

The stretchy fitted leg loop material is more comfortable to me than any “adjustable” metal buckled leg loops I have ever used, and has enough range of movement that I have no concerns about adding some long underwear and some soft-shell ice climbing pants to this outfit for some ice climbing this winter (is it winter yet?).


The “DoubleBack HD” buckle provides quick secure on/off adjustment of the harness. While double-back  buckles have become standard in this category this small profile buckle adjusts more smoothly than larger style buckles that are in common use.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Slim buckle- stock photo from

As typical of this style harness there are 4 gear loops but Petzl has put more thought into them then just adding 4 loops. The front two are rigid, allowing easier clipping and un-clipping of quick-draws and protection. The rear two are flexible and soft which makes wearing a full size backpack a bit more comfortable (and aids in the compress-ability of the harness for packing).

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Well designed gear loops- photo from

There are two integrated CARITOOL screw/tool holder slots so I’ll definitely be using this harness once the ice season starts (is it here yet?) If you ice climb you should definitely pick a couple of these up:

Rounding out the features are detachable rear buckles that can help with sorting a tangled harness (and answering nature’s call) and the inclusion of high-tenacity polyethylene (instead of just regular nylon) at the tie-in points that helps reduce abrasion and wear at a high stress point.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Detachable butt straps- photo from



After 4 months of climbing sport, trad, and alpine I can give this harness a hearty endorsement. It’s light, pack-able, comfortable, and well thought out. If you’re looking for a new rig check this harness out on Amazon here!


If you liked this review or want to plug YOUR favorite harness please do so in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought this harness with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

Cannon Cliff

Posted in Climbing Gear Reviews, Gear Reviews, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Family Rock Climbing (8/21/16)

This past Saturday I had the privilege of taking the New Jersey based Schenck family out rock climbing at Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledge. Having spent the previous day kayaking the Saco River they were ready for some vertical fun.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

On our way to the cliff

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Alexa was dying to go first!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Coming down took some getting used to but we got there!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Ricky takes on the challenge. Heights isn’t Ricky’s thing, but he gave it a solid shot and I hope he tries it again!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Alexa liked belay duty as much as climbing!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Hanging out at the base of Thin Air in the afternoon

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Alexa took multiple laps on the route

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Definitely hooked on climbing!

Super fun day with this outdoorsy family! I think a multi-pitch climbing day with Alexa & her dad may be in-store for the near future!

Hope everyone is enjoying this spectacular climbing weather!

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

Posted in Rock Climbing, Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wilderness Navigation Course (8/20/16)

This past Saturday I led an 8 hour Wilderness Navigation Course for EMS Schools North Conway. A few guides from a NYC outdoor adventure company and mountain enthusiasts from around New England met at 8:30am for some classroom discussion and exercises before we traveled to a field location to practice our newly acquired skills.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Bushwhacking our way to Hurricane Mountain

This is a great area to explore off trail. It is a fairly active site for rock collectors, or “rockhounding“, and we came across a lot of fresh piles of crushed rock and sand where intrepid collectors had found veins of rock in search of semi-precious stones. There is also some type of tree research nearby as we traveled through a stand of younger trees all tagged with metal numbered tags. I’m curious to their meaning.

After plotting a course back to our starting point we embarked on the well traveled Black Cap Trail. Before reaching the ledges we found a nice specimen of the edible and easy to recognize “Chicken of the Woods“. It was clear someone had foraged a bit of this specimen but there was plenty left for those inclined to gather some to cook later.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Chicken of the Woods

One we reached the first view point we stopped and practiced some terrain association, peak identification, and single point resection.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Taking a bearing

Wilderness Navigation Course

Using resection to pinpoint our location

Wilderness Navigation Course

Playing with my new Olloclip lens

After looking at some glacial striations and some classic “flagging” in the trees (both can help with finding direction) we reached the small summit and made our way down to the Black Cap Connector Trail. We then looped back towards the Cranmore Trail.

Wilderness Navigation Course

I enjoy both hi-tech and low-tech navigational aids- Theodolite app on iPhone

Wilderness Navigation Course

Looping back on the connector trail

With a little bit of time left we decided to squeeze in one more bushwhack so we headed a short ways down the Red Tail Trail before plotting a course off trail with the goal of hitting the Black Cap Trail right at the info kiosk about .3 miles from the parking lot.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Getting ready to go off trail

Everyone followed their own route and hit the Black Cap trail within sight of the kiosk. We returned to the parking lot for a quick debrief.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Our GPS track, made with the Garmin Fenix 3 HR

I really enjoy teaching this course. It’s especially fun to challenge yourself by not always following the beaten path and when you go off trail you’re much more likely to have wildlife encounters. By the end of the course most everyone was sold on the model of compass I’ve been using for almost 2 decades so I will plug it here for those shopping for a great quality compass.

Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass

While I might take the time to give this compass a full review soon for now I’ll briefly state the sighting mirror and long straight edge make taking and plotting bearings fast and intuitive. The clinometer is a great feature for winter/avalanche terrain but is also useful for determining if you are actually higher than that nearby peak. Unfortunately this model isn’t currently in-stock at EMS but is available on Amazon here.

Do you have a favorite compass model? Let me know in the comments below!

This was the last Wilderness Navigation Course we had planned at EMS Schools this summer but I think there might be interest in running another one this Fall. I will update this post if we put another one on the calendar and send out a quick post if one is scheduled. As always you can follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links.


Posted in Land Navigation, Trip Reports, Wilderness Navigation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody protects against wind and light rain and is so ultra-light and pack-able that there are few reasons why you should not pack this little piece of insurance on every outing.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review- photo from

Last summer my long time friend and climbing partner Tom turned me onto this piece which coincidentally shares its namesake with my own website. We were exploring a back-country cliff during the peak of black-fly season and despite it being a rather warm & humid early summer day he donned this jacket to provide some protection from the onslaught of blood-suckers.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black flies attempt to carry Tom away

I remarked that he must be sweating like crazy wearing a hoody like this in such warm weather and he re-assured me the piece was so light & breathable that he was actually quite comfortable. He took the majority of the leads that day while I donated a pint or two of blood to the insect world.

With that history in mind I was quite enthusiastic when Black Diamond provided a sample for review.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Fresh out of the plastic

At home impressions were quite positive. For starters this jacket is ridiculously light-weight weighing in at 7 3/4 ounces on my home scale!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

That’s light!

Black Diamond lists 7.1 ounces (202 grams) in their Technical Specs.

In addition to being one of the lightest soft shell hoodies on the market the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody is also super pack-able and easily stuffs inside its reversible zippered chest pocket!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review


When crushed into a ball its the size of a youth softball. It also has a convenient sewn loop to allow attaching it to the back of your harness just in case the clouds get a little darker.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Extra protection when you decide to leave your pack at the base of the climb

My first real test of the jacket this July on an ascent of that classic east coast alpine climb, The Whitney Gilman Ridge. Dry cool air and a 15-20mph breeze led to quite comfortable climbing conditions, until we got held up by a slow moving party on the notorious “pipe pitch”. We weren’t going anywhere for awhile so out came the hoody’s while we waited for the traffic to clear.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

It was serendipitous that I was climbing with Tom, the guy who preached about this jacket to me last summer. He had upgraded to a new color of the same jacket!

So what is this thing made of? Well technically it is “Schoeller® stretch-woven with NanoSphere® Technology (80 g/m2, 93% nylon, 7% elastane)”.

Since most people probably don’t know what exactly that means let me break it down. First off, this Schoeller® fabric is super thin. The 7% elastane gives the fabric a noticeable stretchy feel.

Second, the NanoSphere® Technology is a high end Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment that also boasts a “self-cleaning” property. You can read more on this technology here. This jacket is clearly not intended to be water-proof but it certainly has shed light rain and mist on a few blustery days while climbing in Huntington Ravine and on Cathedral Ledge. At 7 ounces I consider this a fair trade off and when the forecast calls for a significant chance of rain I will pack a more substantial shell like the waterproof Eastern Mountain Sports Storm Front Jacket.

But the breath-ability! This is the most breath-able wind shell I have tested. So breath-able that it is wearable on hot & humid days as a bug protection layer! This feature makes it ideal for high output activity in blustery conditions. Trail running, fast-hiking, XC skiing, peak-bagging, or any time you want to go fast & light! And the weight! Even if the forecast looks like this:

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Not the North East

When it only weighs 7 ounces, and packs into the size of a softball, there’s really no question in my mind like “should I bring this?” It’s been living in my summer climbing pack all season and I’ve been surprised at the amount of times I’ve actually dug it out to be more comfortable, rain or shine!

Ok, let’s finish looking at some of the smaller but important features and move on to our summary shall we?

The Hood

It fits over a helmet as shown in the photo above, but also thanks to a one-hand-adjustable shock cord & cord lock on the back it can be cinched down to conform to your melon without a helmet on as well. This tightening option also helps the hood turn with your gaze so you don’t get blind-sided by a wild moose on the loose.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Well fitted hood

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Adjustable helmet compatible hood

The only pocket on this ultralight piece is the reversible chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack when turned inside out. A reversible zipper and sewn nylon loop add utility and convenience.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Chest pocket reverses for easy storage

My first concern with this jacket was the lack of an adjustable cuff at the wrist. I’m sure this saved a small amount of weight but when climbing I really like a snug wrist cuff.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Elastic wrist bands

I have a pretty small to medium sized wrist and I found this cuff to be a bit too loose. My solution is to just slide it up my forearm until it feels snug. It’s definitely a utilitarian type look, and I’d prefer a traditional velcro adjuster in future models.

I measured the back length at 28 inches, and given the stretchy characteristic of the Schoeller® fabric it is sufficiently long enough to stay tucked into my harness even when making long over the head reaches.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Back length of size large = 28 inches

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Topping out Whitney Gilman Ridge on Cannon Cliff, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire


Tom was right. This is an ingenious piece and it will be a part of my kit for as long as it’s produced. It’s not waterproof, but that’s ok, it’s not meant to be. Think of it as a highly breathable wind shirt with a hood. Able to shed light precipitation. Able to cut cold breezes when you thought August on Cannon would be t-shirt weather. Able to pack up into a a neat little package and live on the back of your harness for those “just in case” type days. From cool weather running & cycling to fast & light alpine climbing this is a well designed piece of gear. You should check it out for yourself!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

If you do check it out you can order from Amazon here. Doing so will help support this blog and my efforts at providing fair and accurate reviews of clothing and gear designed for adventure in the mountains.

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See you in the mountains,


Disclosure: Black Diamond provided this sample for the purposes of this review and this post contains affiliate links.

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