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

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.

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.

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: Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie

Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie Review

The Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie is a versatile mid-layer that can function as a stand-alone outer layer during high output activities during dry conditions. I’ve been testing on all Fall and I’m ready to share my opinions on the piece. First, the description from the Sierra Designs and the manufacturer specs:

The Cold Canyon Hoodie gives you stretch grid fleece that moves with you and vents heat with ease. Thumb loops allow for easy layering as a mid-layer, while a nylon wind breaker front sustains heat when moving quickly, allowing flow everywhere else.

Features

  • Heavy weight stretch grid fleece provides breathability and warmth
  • Thumb loops for easy layering
  • Nylon windbreak on chest cuts wind while moving and still vents throughout
  • Fitted hood
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets

Materials

  • Shell: Stretch Grid Fleece
  • Lining: Nylon

Tech Specs – Size M

  • Center Back Length: 28.5 in / 72.4 cm
  • Sleeve Length: 36.87 in / 93.66 cm
  • Weight: 18.75 oz / 531.55 g

Performance

I tested this jacket in the White Mountains from September to December while hiking a few of the 4,000 footers and rock climbing at Rumney, Cathedral, and in Huntington Ravine. All told I put about a dozen days into getting a feel for this jacket. The grid-fleece is a pretty great fabric. It is soft and brushed on the inside with a denser weave on the outside. The result is it traps a decent amount of heat for such a thin fabric and the outer weave seems to block a little bit of wind without sacrificing any breathability. When the winds do pick up the nylon chest panels provide even more protection. For a fleece mid-layer it seems pretty technical, with thumb loops ,a well sized hood, and a large sized zippered chest pocket.

Fit

I found this jacket to run pretty big. I went for a size large for my 5′ 9″, 180lb build and I think a medium would have been a better fit for me, especially in the sleeves which feel a bit too long, so consider sizing down if you want it to be a less casual fit. If you have particularly long arms you might stick with your regular size.

Summary

The Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie is definitely a nice addition to an active outdoor wardrobe. Other than running a bit big and weighing a bit more than a less technical fleece there isn’t much to complain about here. The MRSP is right around what I would have guessed in terms of value, and if you can catch it on sale this would be a great choice for a versatile mid-layer. In fact Sierra Designs is running a one-day “flash” sale for the non-hooded version of this jacket, so if you don’t need a hood and are just looking for a solid fleece mid-layer check out the Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Fleece Jacket, which is 40% off today only!

Purchase

Women’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Fleece <- 40% off today only

Men’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Fleece <- 40% off today only

Woman’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie

Men’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created at this blog and when you make a purchase through them the author receives a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you.

Gear Review: Epic Water Filters Outdoor Nalgene Bottle

Over the last few months I’ve been using the Epic Water Filters Outdoor OG Woodsman water bottle and I’m ready to share my thoughts on it. Basically this is a traditional 32 ounce Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle with a super convenient and effective internal water filter.

This system could not be any easier to use. Simply remove the lid with the attached tube and filter, fill the bottle with water whether from faucet or stream, put the lid back on, flip up the mouthpiece, and drink! The water flows through the filter and tube with little effort on the part of the drinker.

The lid attachment point is robust, far stronger than the flimsy attachments that often break on traditional Nalgene bottles. The included Nite Ize steel carabiner allows easy attaching to the outside of the backpack if you prefer that style of carry.

Here’s a short YouTube video I made about this bottle:

Summary/Who is this for?

Who doesn’t need a water-bottle and safe drinking water? This is a much more environmentally friendly and cheaper option than buying bottled water. Perfect as a daily use bottle for work and the gym I also consider it part of our emergency preparedness kit. Hiking, back-packing, rafting, hunting and fishing are all sports where a water-bottle and ability to treat water is a must. This bottle combines the two in a simple and effective way and has now become a part of my everyday kit. This would also make a great gift for any outdoorsy person in your life and has therefore earned a spot in my upcoming Holiday Gift Guide!

For a complete list of everything the included Outdoor Filter removes you can review this PDF.

Purchase direct from Epic Water Filters

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review- Patagonia DAS Light Hoody

This year Patagonia has released a lighter version of their iconic DAS “Dead Air Space” synthetic parka and after a month of testing the Patagonia DAS Light Hoody I can honestly say it’s a amazing piece! Without a doubt you won’t find a warmer and more bomb-proof synthetic belay jacket under 12 ounces.

Patagonia DAS Light Hoody Review

For insulation Patagonia used 65 grams of down-like “PlumaFill”. This 100% recycled insulation truly feels as warm as high quality down yet has the advantage of still retaining heat should it get wet. You’ll have to go out of your way to get it wet though thanks to the almost seamless Pertex® Quantum Pro fabric with both a PU dry coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. That’s about as close to waterproof as you can get while still having functional breath-ability and makes this jacket stand above the Micro and Nano Puff jackets with their sewn through quilted patterns.

A two way zipper for easy access to your belay loop, size-able chest pocket, helmet friendly hood, and two handwarmer pockets round out the features. The cut of the jacket is roomy, closer to a true belay jacket than a typical “light puffy”. I went with a size large for my 5′ 9″ 180lb frame and there was plenty of room to layer under it but it didn’t feel to baggy. My only suggestion is the left hand pocket that can be turned inside out to stuff the jacket needs to be a little bigger, it’s a bit of a challenge trying to get the jacket to stuff into that pocket.

Here’s a quick video review I did on the jacket:

Summary/Who is this for?

The Patagonia DAS Light Hoody is a pretty versatile piece. It’s an excellent choice for a fast & light ice climber/alpinist belay jacket if conditions are typical. It’s a great insurance piece for the back-country skier or rider who doesn’t plan to stop moving but wants to be prepared for any contingency and winter hikers will find it an excellent addition to their gear closet. If you’re looking for some cold weather protection this is a jacket you should be looking at!

Purchase from Backcountry <- 20% off coupon applies! Link below!

Purchase from Patagonia

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Gear Review- Rocky Talkies

Communication is crucial to safe backcountry travel, and nothing helps improve communication than a quality set of radios. This past summer I received a new pair of Rocky Talkies to review and after 6 months of hard use I’m ready to share my thoughts on them!

Durable

Right out of the box I could feel how durable these radios are. First there is the shatterproof front screen that is transparent for the LED display. Then there is the removable rubberized case for all-around drop protection. The case fits so snugly I didn’t even realize it was removable until I really started to dig into the radio after months of use. There isn’t much reason to remove the case unless you’re carrying spare batteries (more on battery life later).

Rocky Talkie Review

In addition to having all this drop protection the radio comes with one of the most robust tether systems I’ve ever seen on a radio. A full strength Mammut Wall Light carabiner attaches the radio to my shoulder strap (or on my harness gear loop when not wearing a pack), and a metal snap-link auto retracting tether acts as a solid back-up and allows the radio to easily stay in reach.

Rocky Talkie Review
Photo by Kirsten Gehl

For water resistance the radios carry an IP56 rating, meaning they are splash-proof and snow-proof but should not be fully submerged. I’ve noticed no effect after having my pair routinely exposed to heavy rain or waterfall spray while guiding waterfall rappelling trips all summer so I have a fair amount of confidence in this level of resistance.

Clarity

The second feature that caught my attention was during my very first test run. I was standing at the top of a 200 foot waterfall and my co-guide was at the bottom as we prepared to send our guests down the rappel we had set up. I called him to make sure we were good-to-go and his response came back clearer than any radio, including some of the expensive and bigger radios I have been issued for search & rescue. The audio quality of these little hand-held radios far exceeds any of the other radios I have tested. It almost doesn’t sound like a radio, and sounds more like a 5 bar LTE connection with a modern smartphone!

Rocky Talkies Review

Simplicity

There are only five buttons, which makes this radio incredibly easy to use right out of the box. No need for programming, though you can use advanced features to add privacy codes. A power button, channel flipper, push-to-talk, and volume up and down. So simple! With these buttons you are able to scan all channels, lock and un-lock the radio, change between high and low power, change channel, change privacy codes (CT, DCS), and check battery life.

Range

This was one of the hardest features for me to truly test as I am almost never that far from my clients or partners. Alpine rock climbing in Huntington Ravine we are always within 60 meters of each other. This winter back-country skiing that distance can increase to a maximum of a half mile… still way within the suggested range. So I’ll share the claims and some of the great info Rocky Talkie has released to help address this popular question.

This is a 2-watt radio… the strongest watt option available that doesn’t require a license to transmit on. The antennae is fixed, which is something I like as other radio models I’ve used have removable antennas that often have been loose (and once almost lost).

Rocky Talkies Review
Image from rockytalkie.com

Rocky Talkie makes these range claims:

Line-of-sight: 25+ miles
Mountains: 1 to 5 miles
Forest/Hills: 0.5 to 3 miles
City: Up to 1 mile

Rocky Talkies Review
Image from rockytalkies.com

To further illustrate how the range of these radios, and many radios in general, are effected by the terrain they are being used in they published this excellent blog post addressing this topic.

Battery Life

I found the battery life to be substantial, especially for such a small radio. My informal testing showed the battery would last for over 12 days of use while guiding both waterfall rappelling and rock climbing trips. These were 5 to 8 hour long trips were radio use was light. Based on that I would expect I could easily get 3-5 cold backcountry ski tours in before needing to charge. It charges with a USB-C to USB-a cable (included).

Some more info on battery life from the manufacturer:

The Rocky Talkie has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 1550 mAhrs. Battery life is dependent on how frequently the radios send and receive signals. With normal usage, the battery can be expected to last 3-5 days (assuming the radio is used 8hrs/day). The battery will last over 120 hrs when in standby mode (the radio is on but not transmitting or receiving signals). The battery life was tested in high power mode (2 Watts), so you can expect a slightly longer battery life on low power mode (.5 Watt).

Dedication to Rescue Teams

Rocky Talkie has pledged to donate $2 of every radio sold to search and rescue teams. They are giving $10,000 every year through an annual award and through a grant program. That kind of support from a manufacturer is really appreciated!

Summary

Rocky Talkies Review

For under 5 ounces this might be one of the best things you could add to your outdoor kit when it comes to overall team safety. The rugged feel of these radios inspire confidence in their longevity. The crystal clear audio instills confidence that the message I am sending or receiving will be understood. While there are a lot of handhelds on the market these days, you’d be hard pressed to find many other options that were obviously designed for with the climber and skier in mind!

Video

Purchase

As I finish this review I see that they are currently sold out… not surprised as I’ve watched outfitters and rescue teams across the country snap these up. The guide service I work for, Northeast Mountaineering, has purchased a fleet of 10 for our guides to use this winter! They should be back in-stock by early November, so you can subscribe to their email for notification of the restock here.

10/15/20 UPDATE! They are back in stock!

Purchase Here

DISCOUNT!

Use “AlpineStart10” when checking out to get 10% off!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Media samples were provided for purpose of review.

Gear Review: Black Diamond AirNet Harness Review

Black Diamond AirNet Review


I like light pack-able gear so when I saw the new Black Diamond AirNet Harness I had to get my hands on one for a test drive. While this harness was designed and marketed towards high end sport and competition climbing (actually designed in collaboration with Adam Ondra for the Olympics) I’m willing to give up a few things for ultra-lightweight pack-ability. I now have three months of guiding with this harness and am ready to share what I think! Let’s start with the most noticeable features and then break down the minutia!


Weight

IMG_4872

Without a doubt you’ll think they forgot to put the harness in the package when it arrives at your door. Manufacturer listed weight is 8.3 ounces (235 grams). On my home scale my size large weighed 9 3/8 ounces (264 grams). This is about an ounce (40 grams) lighter than the Petzl Sitta. This harness is truly featherlight!

Pack-ability

Black Diamond AirNet Review

The construction and materials used in this harness allow it to easily fit into the included storage sack when folded up with room to spare. The measurements of the stuff sack when are about 6 x 3 x 3.5 inches, so this harness only takes up about 60 cubic inches in your pack. It is super pack-able!

Comfort

I went with a size large for my 34 inch waist. The patented “AirNet” technology definitely allows the full width of the waist belt (measured about 2 3/4 inches at widest) to distribute force during a leader fall or while hanging from a belay stance. Adjustable (via elastic) buckle-less leg loops (also measured about 2 3/4 inches at widest) distribute force when loaded but seem non-existent when just wearing the harness. In fact the harness is almost not noticeable when worn. I hiked many miles while wearing this harness and you can definitely forget you have it on.

Features I Liked

Other than the three things I mentioned above I liked the two pressure molded front gear loops, the auto adjusting butt straps (more like string), the great breathability of the material, and the unique “Infinity Belay Loop” which I’ve never seen before. Essentially it is low profile belay loop that is continuous and doesn’t have the traditional bar-tacking that can get caught when rotating it through the harness tie-in points. I also believe the Dynemma/Spectra type material the harness is constructed out of will lead to great than average life expectancy when compared to similar Nylon style harness!

Things I Would Have Liked

I wasn’t crazy about the super skinny low profile webbing used for the two rear gear loops. I understand this was a request from Adam who would cut his rear gear loops off to save weight (that’s dedication!). They worked for storing my “non-pro” things like cordelette, belay device, prussics, belay gloves, etc but they weren’t very easy to clip things to since they were so skinny and soft. And while this harness was not designed for ice climbing I would have loved two slits that I could add ice clippers to so I could carry this over to ice season.

Other Media

Summary/Who is this for?

Black Diamond AirNet Review

This is definitely a niche harness. Black Diamond states that this is the “ultimate competition and sport harness on the market” and it’s definitely a tough contender for that title! I also think those, like myself, who prioritize low weight and excellent pack-ability might be able to cross over into some traditional/alpine climbing use. I was able to comfortably carry my full rack up to a Black Diamond #3 Camelot with 10 alpine draws and my regular non-pro kit. If you’re carrying a double rack you’ll likely need to use a shoulder gear sling. If you need a more full featured harness for year round climbing check out my review of the Petzl Sitta.

If you’re looking to pickup an ultralight harness for non-winter use and don’t need enough space to carry a double rack you should check out the Black Diamond AirNet Harness!

Buy from Backcountry

Buy from REI

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purposes of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog and the author receives a small commission when you make a purchase through them. Thank you!