Ice Screw Comparison Review (and giveaway)

I like to crunch numbers sometimes. It’s fun to engage the left-brain and get a little meticulous from time to time. I recently acquired some of Petzl’s newest Laser Speed Light ice screws and could certainly feel the overall weight difference of my ice rack in-hand but figured I would play around with the numbers a little bit and determine what my weight savings actually were.

It can be tough to make an an objective comparison when individual ice racks can vary in make up from climber to climber and region to region (and season to season and condition to condition) so for the sake of simplicity we are going to have to settle on a base line for comparison. I have settled on this as my base ice rack in New England and will make some changes based on route conditions and what not, but this is to me a “baseline” 10 screw ice rack:

1 22cm

8 13cm

1 10cm

Now before you ask why no 17’s, 19’s, etc let me explain…

First, testing shows screw holding power is all from the threads; in good ice a 13 cm screw is as strong as a 19 cm screw. I can chop through rotten ice to find the good stuff.

Second, falling while leading pure ice routes up to grade 5 in difficulty is, and should always be, quite rare. We climb in control with all these sharp things attached to us least we end up with expensive hospital bills.

Third, anchor stances are usually adequate enough that I can clear rotten ice to get full strength 13 cm screws. If it is particularly crappy ice or warm/sunny hanging belay I’ll use my 22 cm in the anchor, but the 22’s main purpose is my v-thread building screw.

Finally, if I am heading to someplace steep with hanging belays (Willoughby) I will add about four 19 cm screws to mix in with anchors and pre-crux placements bringing my screw total to 14. If I need more than 14 screws it is probably above my pay grade.

And one last note, I’m only looking at screws with fold-able speed knobs. If you want to save an extra 20% in cost you could go for “non-speed knob” screws but the extra savings are not worth it in my personal opinion.

Ok, enough on that. Let’s get to the comparison. I want to compare a pure Black Diamond rack, a pure Petzl Laser Speed rack, and a Petzl Laser Speed Light rack side by side. We will first look at the weight differences between each choice then other pro’s and con’s.

Black Diamond Turbo Express Rack


Black Diamond Turbo Express Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 47.06 ounces (just shy of 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Time tested design with a hanger with dual carabiner holes for versatility. Durable finish. Long re-sharp-ability period.

Cons: Larger hanger requires more “clear space” for placements. Threads are more prone to damage then Petzl design.

Petzl Laser Speed Rack


Petzl Laser Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 48.63 ounces (just over 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength.

Cons: Slightly heavier than Black Diamond Turbo Express. Some reports of finish wearing off quicker than Black Diamond screws (I have not noticed after 2 seasons of use).

Petzl Laser Speed Light Rack

Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws

Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 35.52 ounces (2.22 pounds) MRSP $734.50*

Pros: Lightest option available, save almost a pound on your ice rack. Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength. Limited re-sharp-ability.

Cons: Most expensive option. Least durable option (it is aluminum vs. steel).


So what should you get? This is a personal choice. What do you value most? Lightest weight? Durability? Ease of placement? If you count ounces like I do you might justify the added expense and lower durability of the Petzl Laser Speed Light screws. If you only replace your one 22 cm ice screw (the one you carry to make v-threads) with a Petzl Laser Speed Light you save a full 2 ounces. Replacing half your running protection screws with Petzl Laser Speed Light screws will probably save you a half a pound. Replacing all will save you close to a pound with a sacrifice to durability (less of a concern for those who pro-deal or shop the best sale times, or have the disposable income).

ice climbing screw review

The author places a screw on the classic grade 5 backcountry ice climb, Drool of The Beast- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The real bottom line is all three of these options are great. Meticulously thought-out designs made out of the best material that could be sourced. I hope this info helps you round out your ice rack the way you want it. Please let me know in the comments below your opinions on this topic!

Shout out!

A big thanks to my good friend, fellow mountain guide, former jeweler, and current magician at making dull things sharp again, Jason Hurwitz of A Nice Screw dot Com. Jason can sharpen ice screws, crampons, and ice axes to better than factory condition. Please check out his website out for details!


I have a brand new 22 cm Omega Pacific ice screw with speed knob for this giveaway. Omega Pacific was excluded from this comparison review because they did stop making ice screws a few years ago, however this is the perfect “v-thread” maker or anchor screw. Estimated retail value $49.95. Click this link for up to three ways to enter!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

*total weight assumed 9 Petzl Laser Speed Light screws and one BD Turbo Express 10 cm screw since Petzl does not make the Laser Speed Light in 10 cm.

Disclaimer: I purchased all the items referred to in this comparison with my own money. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

Posted in Climbing Gear Reviews, Gear Reviews | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Gear Review- Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket

The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is the lightest synthetic belay jacket I have tested this season that also competes well in the heat retention department. I previewed this jacket back in November and now that I have tested it above treeline on Mount Washington and while hanging at icy cold belays while ice climbing throughout the White Mountains I am ready to share some more first hand opinions on this piece.

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review- Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Let’s start with the most important feature:


The Big Agnes Dunkley Hooded Belay Jacket uses 120g of Pinneco Core™ fill in the body and 80g in the sleeves. This “feels” warmer and puffier than the Primaloft ECO insulation used in other jackets I am testing and has decent compress-ability. I wore this over my typical soft-shell and Merino wool layers on Mount Washington in 60+mph winds with wind chills hovering around -40 degrees and was very pleased with the protection it offered. Yesterday after topping out a remote back-country Grade 5 route off the Kancamagus Highway I was grateful for the full enclosure insulated hood while I was stationary and exposed belaying both a photographer and my partner for the better part of a windy hour. Here’s some video from that climb:


Big Agnes does not list much detail in relation to the shell fabric, just: “100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant”. I have reached out to Big Agnes for more info and will update this as soon as I hear back! That said I found it fully windproof. It is likely there is a DWR treatment on the fabric as climbing under a drippy chandelier of ice a week ago the jacket did not take on any moisture.

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review- photo from


24.5 oz. / 695 grams. The lightest option in this seasons line up of synthetic belay jackets this piece easily stuffs into an included high quality 10 x 7 stuff-sack. Oddly the manufacturer’s website description references an interior chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack but I believe this must be a web error as there is no interior chest pockets and the exterior chest pocket is far to small to function as a reversible stuff sack.


I went with a size large for my 42 inch chest and it fits great over my typical load out. The adjustable hood is the perfect size for my helmeted head. Arm length is slightly shorter than similar models and the back length feels slightly shorter, which works well over my climbing harness. If in doubt consult the manufacturer’s size chart!

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review


  • Center front zipper includes interior no-draft flap and a zipper garage at chin
  • Features YKK Reverse coil zippers
  • Textured zipper pulls are easy to use with gloves
  • Adjustable drawcord at hem seals out wind
  • Two zippered hand-warmer pockets with zipper garages
  • Large interior mesh pockets for extra stash space
  • Exterior check pocket
  • Separate stuff sack included
  • 120g Pinneco Core™ synthetic insulation in body, 80g in the sleeves
  • Insotect Tubic™ construction provides supreme loft and thermal efficiency
  • 100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant
  • Jacket weight, size Medium – 24.5oz/ 695g


The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is a solid choice for a synthetic belay jacket, a must have item in every ice climber/mountaineer’s kit. I like the high visibility yellow but it also comes in a visible bright blue if yellow isn’t your thing. It comes in black too but I would not recommend that color for a belay jacket (bright colors are happy colors when you are freezing your tuchus off). If you’re in the market for a solid performer in the belay jacket you can pick this one up here at a great price.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Big Agnes provided Northeast Alpine Start a sample for this review and the product has been returned to the manufacturer. All opinions stated above are my own. Affiliate links above support this blog.

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AIARE Avalanche Course 1-6-17 to 1-8-17

Here we go! While some providers have run a couple courses already we just completed our very first one of the season yesterday and it was epic! A new venue, classroom tech, on-site lodging, awesome students, and great snow all led to a fantastic 3 days!

Having a professional photographer along for our Ski Tour was also a nice bonus. Here’s a quick recap and some info on how Northeast Mountaineering is diving head first into the field of avalanche education!

First, our new classroom space!

Avalanche Course

Our cozy classroom

Our classroom sessions were held in “The Bunkhouse” living area in Bartlett, NH. This was extremely convenient for the students as 2 nights of lodging are included in the course tuition. All seven participants stayed in the bunkhouse which led to a pretty immersive course and some new friendships and touring partners.

Another big classroom change is the use of iPads pre-loaded with the AIARE Student Manual. The “Notability” app allows custom note-taking and the ability to email yourself the manual with notes throughout the course. I’ll be adding some CalTopo style mapping options on them to help with our trip planning sessions. For those who prefer a paper copy of the manual we do have them for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to non-profit conservation groups! Hats off to NEM co-owner Brett Fitzgerald for spearheading this unique initiative!

After two days of mixing up classroom and field exercises we headed up into Tuckerman Ravine for a ski tour designed to re-enforce the knowledge and skills we had gained the days prior.

Avalanche Course

Trail-head Beacon Function Check

Avalanche Course

A student sees something in the ravine

Avalanche Course

After the steeper section of the ravine approach

Avalanche Course

Skinning up towards Right Gully

Avalanche Course

Following the skin-track and learning how to kick turn

Avalanche Course

Investigating the melt-freeze crusts and faceted layers 30-40cm down

Avalanche Course

CTE Q2 SC (easy to collapse) but ECTN7 (not so easy to propagate)

Avalanche Course

A student checks out some of the facets that have been forming from our prolonged cold temps and high gradients

Avalanche Course

Getting ready to drop from our pit location on my new DPS Wailer 112PRC skis!

A bit of GoPro footage from the day

Avalanche Course

And a fun run down the Sherburne ski trail

Avalanche Course

Group shot after our course debrief at the Bunkhouse

A huge thank you to the first seven students of my 2017 avalanche course season! Each one of you brought something to the course with your engaging questions, camaraderie, early morning shenanigans, and cold weather endurance.

Our next course starts Friday but is sold out. We have a few more spots left in our Jan 20th course. We are also working hard at bringing on another course instructor so we may be able to open more seats soon. If you want to get into a course this season with me check the dates here:

Use promo code “DavidNEM” when you reserve for a chance to win a free guided day.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Mountaineering, Trip Reports | 1 Comment

Hitchcock Gully, Mt. Willard 12/30/17

This past Friday I had Syed and Thomas for the last day of a 3 Day Mountaineering course with Northeast Mountaineering. On the first day they had learned some of the basics with me at the North End of Cathedral Ledge. On the second day they had a great day on Mount Washington getting less than a quarter mile from the summit (sometimes the weather gods just say “not today”). For their last day we took on a multi-pitch alpine climb, the classic “Hitchcock Gully” on Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park.

Almost a foot of snow had fallen the day before so I was grateful to see a party had broken trail from the parking lot and we made our way to the start of the climb. After roping up we short-roped and short-pitched our way up to the more technical climbing.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Thomas and Syed reaching our first 5th class belay point after climbing 500 feet of 3rd class snow

The first 5th class pitch was quite standard with a smidge of funky ice at the choke. I had been following fresh boot-prints until this point but right above the choke they disappeared into a small avalanche debris pile. After setting up an anchor in the first bomber ice on route I took a look at the small crown and guessed it was probably triggered by the climbers who had just proceeded us. While this was a very small slab avalanche on the “Destructive Size” scale it was big enough to sweep a climber off their feet.

This is something ice climbers who solo our local alpine gullies should keep in mind especially after a foot of fresh snow has just dropped. While the danger had passed probably less than an hour earlier now that the small slab had released, two climbers who caught up to us decided to solo the first pitch despite having a rope and a party of three directly ahead of them. While they climbed efficiently they still had to wait 20 minutes for us to finish the rock pitch…so… why not pitch out the first pitch when we have a NWS avalanche warning in effect? You got nothing to lose and might as well bust out that rope you are hauling especially if you’re going to have to wait a few minutes for the party ahead of you.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Small climber triggered slab in Lower Hitchcock. You can see where it stepped down to another thinner slab, and the crown went from buried rock to buried rock (weak spots)

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Syed figures out the rock moves on Lower Hitchcock

After finishing Lower Hitchcock we made our way up to the start of Upper Hitchcock. There were some climbers on East Face Slabs Right but we didn’t make contact so I could not confirm if they were the party that triggered the small slab. Upper Hitchcock looked great!

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Upper Hitchcock

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Syed and Thomas ready for Upper Hitchcock

The climbing was great with good ice and comfy temps. Soon after leading the first long pitch we were all at the anchor and ready to climb the last bit of fun ice at the top.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Syed finishing the first pitch of Upper Hitchcock

As I topped out I noticed the trail was not broken so we would be doing a little bit of “wallowing”. The pow was so fresh that it was one of the easier bushwhacks to the summit I can recall when breaking trail.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard

Last few steps to the summit

We enjoyed the summit for a few minutes before quickly booting it down the nicely packed out Mt. Willard Trail (thank you snowshoes for packing that thing out minutes after a Nor’Easter’!)

My first day on Willard this year and a great reminder of what an awesome place it is to climb!

Before I wrap up this quick trip report a quick PSA. This is shaping up to be a banner winter recreation season. If your hobbies take you into steep snow covered terrain, you need to be thinking about avalanches. They don’t just happen on Mount Washington. They don’t have to be big enough to bury you to cause injury. Anywhere you go on snow that is over 35 degrees could be avalanche terrain. Even being on flat terrain under this steeper terrain can be a risk.

Know Before You Go!

There is more avalanche education available this season than there ever has been! Take advantage of that and take a course, or a refresher, THIS YEAR!

Don’t wait for a close call (or worse).

Some important resources:

And if you want to take an avalanche course with me we are almost sold out. Please check the dates here to see what is left this winter:

If you book a course through the above link use “DavidNEM” at checkout for a chance to win a free custom guided day of your choice (ski tour, ice climb, snow pit work, companion rescue, you name it!).

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Trip Reports | Leave a comment

Gear Review- LaSportiva Castle Pant

While I was searching for a new soft-shell pant for ice climbing this season I came across the LaSportiva Castle Pant. While billed as a ski pant this lightweight soft-shell slim fitting tech pant is a great choice for waterfall ice climbing and lightweight mountaineering which is how I primarily tested it over the last two months. The fact that it can serve double duty as a light back-country ski tour pant is definitely a bonus.

La Sportiva Castle Pants Review

La Sportiva Castle Pants Review

Let’s start with a look at the manufacturer description and specifications:

“The Castle Pant is a stylish and comfortable soft-shell ski pant made with technical, performance-focused features to give you everything you need to move confidently around the mountains.”

• 5 pockets <- manufacturer typo? Model has 4 pockets total, 2 front hand warmer pockets, one right rear pocket, and one right thigh pocket large enough for an iPhone 6s Plus

• Adjustable inner gaiter

• Reinforced bottom hem

• Front fly

• Reflective safety details

• Pre-shaped knees

• Suspender attachment

• Flat pocket construction

SIZES: Men’s S – XL
WEIGHT: 20.56 oz (583g)
FABRIC: Main – Ectoshield™ (90% Nylon, 10% Spandex) • Bottom hem insert – Superfabric® • Inner gaiter – 100% Nylon
FIT: Regular

Not a ton of info from the manufacturer so I’ll break into some real life impressions starting with the choice of fabric.


La Sportiva uses a proprietary “Ectoshield™” material which is a 90/10 Nylon/Spandex blend. In hand it feels like a durable unlined soft shell very similar to Schoeller™ products I have used before. It is noticeably stretchy and feels quite abrasion resistant. The waist belt has a soft micro fleece lining on the band. There’s an adjustable nylon inner gaiter along with a heavier re-enforced crampon patch on the inner leg and adjustable outer cuff.


La Sportiva Castle Pant Review

La Sportiva Castle Pant Review

Zippered lower leg with adjustable cuff

This adjustable cuff is a nice feature as I can snap then tighter when wearing ice climbing boots or have a bit more room for my ski touring boots. Since I rarely wear gaiters while ice climbing the option to snug them up is quite nice!

It is highly likely there is a DWR treatment applied despite no mention of it on the manufacturer’s website. I climbed in them through very drippy conditions and they definitely resisted getting damp.


They fit great under my harness and are quite comfortable on the approach. As a 180 pound 5’9″ 34 inch waist I went with the USA Medium size (Euro L/50). I found the sizing to be perfect for me. Check the size chart if in doubt:

EU S/46 M/48 L/50 XL/52 XXL/54
TOTAL HEIGHT 5’6″ – 5’8″ 5’8″ – 5’9″ 5’9″ – 5’10” 5’11” – 6”0″ 6’1″+
SLEEVE 31 – 32 32 – 33 33 – 34 43 – 35 35 – 36
INSEAM 31 32 32 33 33
NECK 14.5 15 16 17 18
CHEST 36 38 40 42 44
WAIST (CLIMBING/CASUAL PANTS) 30 – 31 32 – 33 33 – 34 34 – 35 36 – 37
WAIST (OUTERWEAR PANTS) 32 33 – 34 35 – 36 37 – 38 39 – 40


After a half dozen climbing days in these I’m thinking these may be my go-to ice pants this season. The 10% spandex material gives complete freedom of movement, and they feel like they can take a bit of climbing abuse from time to time. While they fit my body quite well there are both belt loops and suspender attachment points to facilitate every body shape.

La Sportiva Castle Pant Review

Setting up some top-ropes at the North End of Cathedral while guiding


This is an excellent option for a dedicated ice climbing pant that can serve double duty as a lightweight back-country ski touring pant, something that many New England climbers, back-country skiers, and skimo folks might be looking for. Here’s a short vid of me rocking these pants a few days ago at Frankenstein in Crawford Notch:

If you’d like to pick up a pair you can find them on here and Amazon here.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

While I received this item from La Sportiva for the purposes of this review the opinions above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

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Intro to Ice Climbing

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to introduce four guests of Northeast Mountaineering to the joys of ice climbing. The North End of Cathedral is in great shape for early season climbing and we had a full day climbing on the North End Slab and the Pillars.

Yesterday I got out to Frankenstein for the first time this season and enjoyed an excellent condition Pegasus Rock Finish.

This is quickly shaping up to be one of the best ice climbing seasons in recent memory. If you’d like to book a lesson with me let me know, I still have some mid-week dates available.

If you book online use coupon code “DavidNEM” to have a chance at winning a free guided day!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Mount Washington Ascent 12-19-16

This past Monday I headed up to the rockpile again with Virginia/Maryland based Max & Rachel. After gearing up at the Northeast Mountaineering bunkhouse we hit the trail at about 8:15. Following last weeks snow/rain/deep freeze trail conditions were quite nice on the lower Tuckerman Trail. The first “step” on Winter Lionhead had considerable water ice but full crampons and ice axe, and a little coaching saw us through it in quick time. Above this step cramponing was great all the way to the summit which we reached around 1:15pm in really low wind conditions. Definitely a great day on the mountain and I hope to see Max & Rachel back for another adventure this winter!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. If you decide to book an adventure with Northeast Mountaineering use promo code “DavidNEM” to get a chance at winning a free guided day of your choosing!

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