Gear Review- Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

Black Diamond has released their most advanced approach shoes yet this past Spring, the Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes. I’ve been testing a pair for the last few weeks and am ready to share my take on their comfort and performance. First lets look at the manufacturer claims and specifications.

Manufacturer Description

Engineered for days when the word “approach” actually involves full-on climbing, the Fuel is our most technical performance shoe. The Fuel’s upper combines breathable EnduroKnit, a durable stretch woven lateral panel, and welded TPU film overlays for maximum durability and precision fit. The internally overlapping tongue allows for fewer seams and a sleek comfortable fit with minimal bulk, while the lace-to-toe construction features webbing and scalloped eyelets for variable, adjustable fit and tensioning to suit different conditions. A climbing-specific forefoot construction allows for exceptional edge control and our BlackLabel Mountain rubber is ultra-sticky for superior grip on rock. Finally, a tag-loop on the heel and tongue gives you the option to clip the Fuels to your harness once you rope up.

  • Capable of easy 5th class climbing with confidence and comfort.
  • Upper construction of Black Diamond developed knit and woven textiles with welded TPU film overlays for adaptable fit and maximum durability
  • Low profile molded collar padding and lining
  • Protected lateral laces and smooth upper construction
  • Overlap tongue means fewer internal seams for precision fit
  • Lace to toe with webbing and scalloped eyelets for adjustable fit and tension depending on conditions Functional climbing forefoot construction for edging control and durability
  • Tuned dual density EVA midsole with stiffness and comfort
  • Black Diamond BlackLabel Mountain is a high performance sticky rubber
  • Rubber toe protection
  • Multiple webbing loops for tagging options

Tech Specs

  • MaterialsPolyester Enduro Knit, EVA Midsole, BD BlackLabel-Mountain Rubber
  • Size RangeM’s US 6-14 1/2 sizes
  • WeightEACH: 312 g (11 oz)
Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

My opinions…

Out of the box the first thing I noticed was the lightweight feel. My US Size 9 pair weighs 1 pound 5 ounces (600 grams) which is slightly lighter than the manufacturer claimed weight an about an ounce heavier than my LaSportiva TX 2’s. A fair comparison in terms of weight and support would be closer made to the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes.

The second most notable feature was the welded “TPU film overlays” especially on the upper around the heel. I’ve seen this technology used in high end waterproof jackets and using it on an approach shoe not only gives the shoe a very high tech look but also inspires confidence in the long term durability of the shoe.

Fit/Comfort

I went with a US Men’s size 9, EUR 42, and the fit was pretty spot on for my medium width regular arch foot. I probably could have sized down a half size but with a full length lacing system I was able to snug these up sufficiently for low 5th class climbing. I did notice some heel lift while wearing them around the house on Day one of testing but interestingly when hiking around Rumney NH I didn’t notice the heel lift. The heel cup could definitely be a little deeper. The wrap style tongue and padding was quite comfortable while testing with and without socks… something to consider in hot weather these actually felt pretty comfortable without socks. The EVA midsole provided plenty of under foot support and had noticeably more cushioning in the heel than other approach shoes in this category.

Performance

In class 2, 3, and 4 terrain these perform well as approach shoes. They definitely had adequate grip and comfort over 4-5 mile trips in New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains. To test them in fifth class terrain I climbed a half dozen routes at Rumney, NH ranging from 5.3 to 5.7. They felt more secure while edging vs. smearing which I think may be in part to the rubber used in the outsole. The “BlackLabel Mountain rubber” feels a little stiffer than the compounds used in competing brands which makes these feel like the soles will have longevity with a small reduction in the coefficient of friction. As I’ve found with most approach shoes I’ve tested the friction can improve as the soles break in a bit. I usually have maximum confidence in my smear-ability once the “dots” on the soles have been worn down and the bottom of the approach shoe looks more like the bottom of a climbing shoe. Perhaps after a full season of use I’ll feel these smear a bit better.

Durability

It’s not easy to speak to much on durability when my testing window is only a few weeks long. That said a close look at the construction of these inspires confidence you will not wear through a pair of these in a couple seasons. They would certainly outlast some similar models with the futuristic welded seams and significant toe rand.

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

Summary

The Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes are a welcome addition to the growing list of approach shoes. The price and features puts them up against shoes like the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes and they certainly can compete. A slightly deeper heel cup would be nice and a softening and smoothing of the outsole over time will likely increase the security while heading up slabby terrain. I also think it is great that Black Diamond is producing a women’s version since options for women’s approach shoes haven’t always been there. If you are in need of some new approach shoes this is a model to consider, especially if you’ve worn Black Diamond climbing shoes before and know their sizing fits your feet!

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review
Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. Thank you.

Gear Review- Osprey Poco Kid Carrier

This is a different kind of “review” than I normally post as both my kids have now outgrown our beloved Osprey Poco Premium Kid Carrier that we used for over 7 years and close to 250 trail miles in the White Mountains. In fact this item was probably the most important item I owned when I first started blogging with my “Adventure With Alex” blog… a father/son hiking journal… If you scroll through some of those older posts of the now suspended blog you’ll see this iconic backpack all over the place, including probably our most memorable which was Alex’s first 4000 footer, Mount Washington!

Plus

While our days using this pack have ended seeing Osprey continue to improve the design and create what I felt was the best kid carrier on the market 10 years ago, including a new “LT” model that is about 3 pounds lighter than our older “Premium” model, has inspired me to share this with other newer adventurous parents who might follow me!

If you’re looking for the best kid carrier backpack available consider one of these three models…

Osprey Poco

Osprey Poco LT <- lightest and most affordable

Osprey Poco Plus <- deluxe with removable kid sized day pack and most storage

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip- Snap Bowline with Yosemite Finish

The bowline is an excellent knot for securing your climbing rope around an object, most commonly a tree. You might be securing the bottom of a stacked rope while top-roping to “close the system” while also creating a handy ground anchor if needed, or fixing a rope for a single strand rappel while scrubbing your next project. In this short video I demonstrate the traditional “scouts” way of tying it as well as the alternative “snap” method (I refer to this also as the “handshake” method). I also demonstrate an alternative way of finishing the knot with a Yosemite finish. If you like this type of content please subscribe to the YouTube Channel and I’ll keep producing videos like this throughout the summer!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review: Wild Country Mosquito Climbing Harness

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

I’m really into lightweight climbing gear so when I saw the new Wild Country Mosquito Harness only weighed 220g I had to try it out. After a few months of use I’m ready to share and compare it with some of my other favorite lightweight climbing harnesses. First let’s get the manufacture description and tech specs out of the way:

Product Description

This is the lightest harness Wild Country has ever made. Engineered specifically for sport climbing, its precise fit delivers super-lightweight comfort, agility and freedom of movement. The advanced yet lightweight, laminated waistbelt construction features internal load-bearing webbing that distributes the load evenly across the entire harness structure. Combined with super-light mesh padding and a robust, fast-drying and abrasion-resistant covering with seamless edges, this harness is soft and smooth next to the skin. The Mosquito harness was built specifically with freedom of movement in mind. Its sleek, stripped-down construction adapts to your body for full, unhindered, flexibility as you climb. An important stand-out safety feature is the wear indicator on the reinforced lower tie-in point – a feature that has been used by Wild Country since the ’90s. The wear indicator clearly indicates when it is time to retire the harness, which is when its red threads become visible after excessive wear and abrasion.


The Mosquito is equipped with lightweight gear loops: two rigid front loops and two softer back loops, to prevent pressure points when climbing with a pack. All gear loops are designed specifically to hold your gear and draws away from the harness for smoother retrieval. There is also a decent-sized rear haul loop that also doubles as a chalk bag attachment point.


With a self-locking, aluminum slide block buckle on the waist belt to ensure a secure and comfortable fit plus lightweight, supportive leg loops with elasticated risers. The Mosquito packs down small and comes in a stylish, two-tone black and white design with a classic Wild Country tangerine orange buckle.

  • Ultra-lightweight: 220g (size XS)
  • Lightweight, smooth abrasion-resistant, ripstop fabric
  • Engineered for full freedom of movement and to evenly disperse load
  • Integrated wear indicator at lower tie-in point
  • Lightweight aluminum buckle for secure and comfortable fit
  • Four lightweight gear loops: two rigid front gear loops, two flexible, low-profile rear gear loops that won’t interfere with a pack 
  • Fixed leg loops with elasticated risers 
  • Rear haul/gear loop
  • Supplied with a lightweight protective storage bag
  • Unisex design

My opinions

Weight

The biggest selling point to me in this category of ultra-light harnesses is unsurprisingly weight. The Wild Country Mosquito Harness is one of three ultra-light harnesses I’ve now reviewed. It competes with the Black Diamond Airnet Harness and the Petzl Sitta Harness in the category. Here’s a breakdown of claimed weight and my home scale observations:

Manufacture Claimed Weights:

Wild Country Mosquito Harness 220g for XS 280g for L

Black Diamond Airnet Harness 235g (size not specified)

Petzl Sitta Harness 240g for S 300g for L

Home Scale Weights

Wild Country Mosquito Harness 280g size L

Black Diamond Airnet Harness 262g size L

Petzl Sitta Harness 300g size L

So for my size harness in all three models the Wild Country Mosquito Harness comes in right in the middle of a almost 40 gram spread with the Black Diamond Airnet Harness being the lightest of the three by 18 grams and the Petzl Sitta Harness being the heaviest by 20 grams. It’s important to note that all three come in under 11 ounces which is probably a few ounces lighter than what most climbers are used to.

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

Packability

The Wild Country Mosquito Harness packs up almost as small as the Black Diamond Airnet Harness and Petzl Sitta Harness. Oddly it comes with a large stretchy mesh storage bag that is more than double the size needed to store the harness. I like how the Petzl and Black Diamond storage bags are a snug fit which helps when packing low capacity climbing packs… I’d suggest Wild Country consider packing these in small bags or I’d use one of my ultralight Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sacks.

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review
The Wild Country Mosquito, Black Diamond AirNet, and Petzl Sitta in their storage sacks

Comfort

As far as ultralight harnesses go the Wild County Mosquito Harness is just as comfortable as the very similar styled Black Diamond AirNet Harness. While testing I hung in a no stance position during some rescue training for almost thirty minutes without much discomfort. To be honest though these are not rescue or aid-climbing harnesses… they are plenty comfortable for semi-hanging belays but don’t expect more comfort than is reasonable when considering ultralight harness. The exception I will say, is the Petzl Sitta Harness, which I find incredibly comfortable for the category (but with double the retail cost).

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

Features

Features wise the Wild County Mosquito Harness looks and feels very similar to the Black Diamond AirNet Harness. The rigid front gear loops are about a half inch bigger than the gear looks on the Black Diamond AirNet Harness. The soft rear gear loops are almost an inch bigger than the Black Diamond AirNet Harness, so this harness can probably handle oversized racks a bit better. I usually only climb with a regular rack without many doubles so this distinction isn’t as important to me as it might be for someone who is always wishing for more room on their gear loops.

The “floss” style butt straps that I’ve become a fan of are a bit more re-enforced on the Black Diamond AirNet Harness at their connection points leading me to think the Black Diamond AirNet Harness might resist wear/abrasion at the point longer, but that is conjecture as I’ve only been testing it for about 3 months now and they appear to be holding up fine. For context I had this point wear prematurely on an early model of the Petzl Sitta Harness which is now be more re-enforced at this potential wear point (Petzl replaced the harness at no cost).

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

While we are talking about wear I should point out one of the cooler features of the harness is the “wear down” indicator inside the belay loop. Inside the belay loop are red threads… when they become visible the belay loop has experienced enough wear and the harness should be retired. Since many climbers might not keep strict records of how old their harness is this is a nice safety addition in my opinion.

Summary

The Wild County Mosquito Harness enters the realm of ultra-light packable harnesses at a very competitive price point. Half the price of a Petzl Sitta Harness (my gold standard for a year round harnesses), $60 cheaper than the Black Diamond AirNet Harness, and able to hold its own in most comparisons. This harness is marketed for sport climbing, but I tested it for both sport and traditional climbing about 50/50 and I think it’s a great traditional harness as well as suited for sport climbing. This harness is not equipped for ice climbing just like the Black Diamond AirNet Harness (no slots for ice clippers), so if you’re looking for a year round harness that can handle ice climbing as well I’d point you back to the Petzl Sitta Harness. If you are looking for an affordable ultralight breathable sport and traditional climbing harness that packs up small and performs great, this would be a solid model to try!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog.

Space Available Wilderness Navigation Courses!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles through dense forest.

I’ve partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club for years to teach my own custom 8 hour Wilderness Navigation course and one of the three scheduled courses are sold out but there are some spots available for the June 19th and Sept 25th courses. You can see more details and reserve you spot at one of these two links:

June 19th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/126518

September 25th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/124874

I also offer this course locally on a private basis through partnership with Northeast Mountaineering. Rates for that can be found here:

http://www.nemountaineering.com/courses/wilderness-navigation/

I also can travel outside my local area to offer this curriculum to high school and college outing clubs. Just send me an inquiry at nealpinestart at gmail dot com (or use the contact form on my “about page”) for details.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review- Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet

Until recently I would rarely wear a helmet while skinning uphill. I run hot and would usually carry my ultralight climbing helmet inside my touring backpack until it was time to rip skins and descend. After over a week of touring both up and down with the new Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet that’s changing, and I feel better protected for it! After reading some statements from Bruce Edgerly, co-founder of BCA, I feel like this helmet was designed specifically for me!

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review

From BCA:

“Our goal is to save lives,” says Bruce Edgerly, BCA Vice President and co-founder. “Asphyxiation is only part of the equation in an avalanche: about 30 percent of fatalities are caused by trauma, mainly through head and chest injuries. We think skiing and snowboarding helmets are an essential piece of backcountry safety equipment, but they need to be lighter and better ventilated.”

The BC Air’s minimal weight of 340 grams/11.9 oz (in size S/M), paired with an abundance of ventilation in the form of passive channel venting, provides direct airflow between head and helmet. This venting system moves moisture and heat to avoid clamminess on long days. The balance of lightweight breathability is intended to allow wearers to forego removing the helmet on the ‘skin track’ portion of the day, thus increasing safety in avalanche terrain while maintaining comfort. For sweaty ascents, earpads can be removed when maximum airflow is needed.

The goal, as Edgerly notes, is “to be able to leave your helmet on all the time: whether you’re going up or coming down the mountain. Do you turn your transceiver off on the uphill? Do you put away your airbag trigger? Of course not. And you also shouldn’t be taking off your helmet.”

Integrated headlamp clips allow users to maintain visibility during non-daylight hours to aid in safety during dawn and dusk backcountry missions. Also included: a Boa® fit system allows for a snug fit across a range of head sizes so that the BC Air can offer maximum protection without slippage.

A full ASTM snow sports certification of the BC Air touring helmet provides proper safety in the event of a crash or impact. This further discourages those looking for a lighter option to choose a climbing helmet that’s not correctly rated for skiing and riding-related head impacts.

“We’re always excited to address the ‘bigger picture’ regarding safety,” Edgerly explains about BCA’s new venture into headwear. “By addressing the trauma side of backcountry safety, we’re broadening our scope and increasing our ability to save more lives.”

How I Tested

This past March I wore this helmet on three Spring tours to the Gulf of Slides, two tours on the west side of Mount Washington, and one quick mission out and back on Hillman’s Highway. One the westside tours saw temperatures in the mid-fifties with almost no wind and strong solar gain. A week later the same tour was made in more winter like conditions with temps in the mid-20s. During all 6 tours I but the helmet on at the trailhead and left it on for the entirety of the tour. I wanted to see if BCA’s claims of superior ventilation would hold up. I learned some other nice advantages of having a helmet like this that I will get into below.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
The author topping out Hillman’s Highway on 3/30/21 in t-shirt conditions! Photo by @colbydeg

Protection

The best attribute of this helmet is the level of protection it offers. With a full ASTM snow sports certification this helmet can actually protect me from a serious crash. The ultralight mountaineering helmet I usually tour with is not rated for the types of impacts possible when riding avalanche terrain. And that’s not the only extra level of protection I started to think about while touring with this helmet. Now, any time I am in avalanche terrain, I can have this important piece of PPE on regardless of whether I’m in uphill mode or not.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
The author on a colder day of testing over on the west side of Mount Washington

Convenience/Faster Transitions

Another realization I made was how wearing my helmet throughout my tour led to some improvements in efficiency. First, since I wasn’t storing my helmet inside my touring pack like I usually do I opened up storage room in my 32 liter touring backpack. It was definitely easier for me to fit my full guiding kit in my backpack with the helmet on my head, and for quick recreational missions with a partner or two I could see me reaching for a smaller/lighter touring pack than what I would usually carry.

Anyone that rides in the backcountry with me knows I like to work on my efficiency at transitions (going from skinning hill to ready to descend). In my avalanche classes it is clear this is a skill most backcountry travelers could improve upon. In a group of seven riders I often time the gap between the first person clipped in and ready to ride and the last person, and it’s usually between 10-15 minutes! I realized while transitioning at the top of our run already having my helmet on was one less step needed to be finished with my transition.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
Acc

Comfort/Sizing

I have a large head and often struggle finding helmets that fit my dome well. The L/XL size of this lid fits perfect! The Boa system makes it feel custom molded and I found it easily adjustable for when I was wearing it over my bare (and bald) head or over a medium weight wool hat during a colder tour. A soft plush sleeve over the chin strap might be good for some but I removed it as it felt almost to warm and fuzzy on my neck and I don’t mind a bare nylon chin strap. The breathability of the helmet really is the stand out feature in comfort though… air just moves through this helmet freely and even after skinning uphill for 2.5 miles and gaining 2k of vertical in mid-fifty degree low wind temps I felt zero discomfort. Seriously I am very impressed with how breathable this design is! I didn’t even realize that the ear pads are removable if you need even more breathability until I started writing this review so I admit I haven’t tested it with the ear pads removed, but will update this when I have.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
Trauma protection for the up and the down- photo by @calbydeg

Certifications

From BCA:

The BC Air helmet that we offer in North America has been tested by an accredited 3rd Party laboratory that validates that it meets the specifications and requirements of ASTM-2040-2018 (Snow Helmets) and CPSC 16 CFR1203 (Bike). There are no certification documents for these standards.

The product sold in Europe is certified to CE EN1077 (Ski Helmets) and CE EN1078 (Bike and Skate).

The BC Air does not have MIPS.

Summary

It really feels like BCA was targeting me when they designed this helmet. For years I’ve justified touring with an ultralight climbing helmet not rated for full ski protection. Even though that climbing helmet had great ventilation I still opted for carrying it in my pack on the uphill portions of my tour regardless if I was in avalanche terrain or not. For just a few ounces more I can now tour with a proper ski helmet and still be comfortable. This is a solid addition to BCA’s long line of safety orientated products meant to reduce risk and injury in the case of an accident. Bulky warm helmets are fine for lift serviced skiing, but backcountry riders need to count ounces and value breathability comfort over the long skin track… the Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet can save you weight while still providing true protection in the event of an accident. 10/10

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above help support the content created on Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Tech Tip- How Not to Fall while Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

Spring Ski Season is here! Some advice how to not fall in Tuckerman Ravine!

Northeast Alpine Start

(originally posted April 2018, updated March 2021)

With the arrival of April the Spring skiing (and falling) season has started in Tuckerman Ravine. After watching a couple tumble almost 500 feet down “The Lip” last year I thought some advice on fall prevention might be prudent.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Approximate fall

First tip…

Timing

The snow conditions in Tuckerman Ravine vary greatly this time of year from day to day and often hour to hour. The best type of snow for descending this time of year is referred to as “corn snow”. This is snow that has undergone multiple freeze thaw cycles and looks like little kernels of corn. Backcountry skiers jest that we are “harvesting corn” when the conditions are good. But corn snow is all about timing.

Try to ski too early in the season or the day and the corn hasn’t formed yet. Conditions that promote the formation of…

View original post 1,160 more words

Gear Review- Arc’teryx IS Jacket

This winter I have been testing the Arc’teryx IS Jacket and I’ll sum up my experience with two words. Bombproof Furnace! In the category of synthetic belay jackets this one is a beast. Let’s look at the manufacturer description and specs then I’ll jump into some of the finer details and my opinion on the model!

Manufacturer Description

Created for alpine, ice and expedition climbing, the Alpha IS is the single-layer solution for severe alpine environments. The GORE-TEX outer delivers durable waterproof, windproof, breathable protection. Thermatek™, a DWR treated continuous filament synthetic, insulates without absorbing moisture. The combination results in a jacket providing comprehensive weather and thermal protection at a weight 18% lighter than the equivalent midlayer and hardshell system.

Specifications

Weight 610 g / 1 lb 5.5 oz

Fit Regular Fit, Hip Length

Centre back length: 78 cm / 30.75 in

Men’s Top Sizing Chart

Activity Ice Climbing / Alpine Climbing / Expedition

How I Tested

I used this jacket for about a dozen day trips this winter including summiting Mount Washington with wind chills around -30f to -40f, alpine ice climbing on Mount Willard with ambient air temps around 10f, top-rope guiding at Cathedral Ledge, and while standing in snow pits teaching avalanche courses in Tuckerman Ravine during mixed precipitation weather.

Performance

As I mentioned in the introduction the Arc’teryx IS Jacket is a FURNACE! This is thanks to the exclusive “Thermatek” syntheric insulation which has amazing heat retention properties while being so light and packable. From Acr’teryx:

Exclusive to Arc’teryx, ThermaTek™ is a continuous filament, synthetic insulation that is treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to make it highly hydrophobic, which means that it repels moisture very efficiently. The lofty insulation is then laminated to a backing fabric to ensure an even distribution and insulation.

Key Advantages

  • Arc’teryx’s most efficient insulation when used in humid and wet conditions
  • Very resilient and durable
  • The fastest drying fill insulation in our collection

While I am not a fan of this color (it is also available in a much more visible “Magma” color), I found the black color to be even warmer if the belay stance was in the sun.

I also said this jacket is BOMBPROOF, both against all forms of precipitation and winds but also against abrasion. The weather protection comes from the N40p-X 2L GORE-TEX membrane. water-tight zippers, and DWR treatment. The abrasion resistance is thanks rugged shell fabric and fully taped seams.

Weight/Packability

Manufacturer listed weight is 610 grams, 1 pound and 5.5 ounces. My home scale weighed my size large sample with the storage sack at 680 grams, 1 pound and eight ounces. The jacket easily stuffed into the included stuff sack with measures about 10 x 6 x 6 inches and could be compressed further.

Sizing/Fit

Despite my measurements being a little closer to a medium I went with the large size so it would easily fit over my other layers including a light weight puffy. The sleeve length was perfect and I choose to wear this over my harness at belays. To be honest I don’t know how Will Gadd was leading steep ice while wearing this jacket… it’s too warm! The hood is generously sized enough to easily fit over my helmet.

Features

There are a lot of small design features I liked in this jacket. The elasticized cuffs easily kept snow out and warmth in. The large internal drop pocket kept my water warm and handy while hanging around ice cragging. The stiffened visor kept freezing rain off my face while explaining the Alpha angle to students in an avalanche class in Tuckerman Ravine. The “almost” waterproof chest pocket kept my iPhone protected during moderate rain over the Christmas vacation week. The hood easily fits comfortably over my climbing helmet.

Improvements

There isn’t much I would change with this piece. A softer piece of material in the “chin” area might be nice but most the time I was wearing this jacket with a buff on anyways. The shell and internal fabric is a bit on the “noisy” side, but that’s such a minor observation I don’t think anyone would notice unless you were trying to stalk a deer or something. And as mentioned, I’d like this more in the Magma color as I prefer high visibility colors for winter mountaineering and ice climbing!

Summary

The Arc’teryx IS Jacket is basically the brand’s highest end synthetic belay parka and hard shell jacket in one piece. With a high level of heat retention and protection from wind and rain this really is designed for harsh conditions. I would be hard pressed to find a synthetic puffy and hardshell combo and stay this far under two pounds! Granted the jacket commands I high retail price, but when you consider the price of a separate belay parka and hardshell of this quality I can start to see why it comes in where it does. If you climb in warmer, less harsh, conditions than our local Mount Washington, you might prefer to keep the “puffy” and hard shell as two separate pieces for more versatility, but if you are looking to simplify your clothing system for extreme cold or wet conditions this would be a piece worth looking at!

Arc'teryx IS Jacket Review
Arc’teryx IS Jacket Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support this blog at no cost to you.

Gear Review: Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack

This season I’ve been backcountry skiing with the updated Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack and I’ve put in enough miles in the skin track to now share some opinions on the pack. Bottom line is this is an excellent pack for extended days in the backcountry with innovative organizational features, plenty of room for a full guiding kit, and a comfortable carry system.

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Organization/Accessibility

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

The best feature of this pack is the level of organization you can achieve. It starts with a well sized snow safety avalanche tool pocket with dedicated sleeves for my Ortovox Alu 240 PFA probe, shovel shaft, and Primo snow saw. It also easily accommodates the shovel blade of my Ortovox Beast Shovel or my Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel (pictured). The outside flap of the avalanche tool pocket has both an internal and external zippered pocket, the latter of which keeps my AIARE field book, snow crystal card, snow thermometer, Rutschblock cord, and Suunto MC-2 compass handy. I use the internal zippered pocket to keep my Adventure Medical First Aid Kit easily accessible. A hip pocket on the waist belt keeps my compact binoculars handy for scouting lines and getting a better look at that crown line. A fleece lined top pocket keeps my Revo goggles accessible and scratch free. I was also impressed with a zippered internal mesh climbing skin pocket sized well for keeping my G3 Minimist Universal climbing skins organized after transitioning for descent. I slide my SAM Splint and SWAT-T Tourniquet into the hydration system ready sleeve inside the back panel.

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Capacity/Ski-Carry

With 34 liters of standard internal space this already is a roomy bag for a day tour. This newest incarnation of this pack now has a roll-top closure that can give you another 10 liters of storage which helps this pack cross over into a multi-day adventure or a semi-technical tour where you might need to carry a harness, a few screws, a rope, etc. When the skin track ends and the boot ladder begins you can carry via A-Frame or Diagonal (I tend to always opt for A-Frame). The system will also carry a snowboard or snowshoes, and includes an external helmet carry option as well. There’s an easy ice axe attachment for my Black Diamond Raven Ultra Axe when I’m heading into steep terrain. Here’s a look at what I can easily pack in this bag:

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Comfort

The pack fits my 5′ 9″ 17 inch torso frame quite well. Snow resistant fabric in the back panel and closed cell foam padding on the shoulder straps and waist belt don’t hold snow which keeps me dryer during a long tour. The sternum strap height can be optimally adjusted. I found the pack carried my full 25 pound kit quite well on both the skin up and the ride down, with my only issue being remembering to re-buckle the “load lifting” straps which must be un-buckled when getting full access through the back panel. My other full back panel access touring pack doesn’t require that step, and if I forgot to re-attach one of the straps I would quickly notice the load shifting around when I started skiing. Not a big issue, just a small step I need to pay attention to.

Summary

This is a fantastic touring pack built by a well known company with a lot of thought put into the design. Despite an impressive amount of organizational capability it doesn’t feel like a pack that has “too many bells & whistles”. It rides and carries well and feels like it will handle hundreds of days in the backcountry with ease. If you are shopping for your first dedicated backcountry touring backpack or looking to upgrade your existing pack this would be a great model to consider!

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review
The author out on a short tour in Crawford Notch State Park while teaching an AIARE 1 Avalanche Course

Purchase

You can find both men’s and women’s versions of this pack here on Backcountry.com in a few different capacity options. Moosejaw, for the most part, only has stock of the women’s models viewable here. REI does have the 20L and 30L versions found here.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Prepping Ice Screws for Easy Cleaning

A little pre-season maintenance can make cleaning the ice out of your ice screws a breeze. This is particularly handy for ultralight aluminum ice screws that are more prone to having tough to clean ice cores but is also useful with stainless steel ice screws.

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Links to the products below:

Hoppe’s #9 Silicone Gun & Reel Cloth

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screws

Black Diamond Express Ice Screws

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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