Gear Review- Petzl GRIGRI+

Can the new version of the iconic Petzl GriGri really be the belay device for “all climbers”? What makes it different from the current GriGri 2? After a few weeks of testing it turns out the differences may very well make this the one belay to device to rule them all. I’ll start with a three minute video highlighting some of the biggest changes then get into the details below.


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Belay Selection Knob

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Petzl GriGri 2 next to Petzl GriGri+ with lockable belay mode selector knob- Petzl GriGri+ Review

Probably the most talked about feature of the new Petzl GriGri+ is the belay mode selection. A knob can be twisted to adjust the tension on the cam to be more suitable for either top-rope belaying or lead belaying. A seemingly slight adjustment in the tension of the internal cam spring here makes a very noticeable amount of belay ease and comfort. New climbers sometimes struggle with belaying a leader with a GriGri 2 or older model because the cam would engage while trying to quickly pay out slack for either clipping or a fast moving leader. When set to “lead belay mode” the cam spring is “stiffer” which allows you to feed rope out quickly and with less effort than previous models. This is easy to see if you skip to 1:30 on the above YouTube video.

This feature makes me feel much more comfortable having a less experienced climber lead belay me with the GriGri+.

Additionally the option exists to “lock” the selected belay mode. This feature is handy for using this in climbing gyms and outdoor group top-rope sessions further increasing the versatility of the device.


Anti-Panic Handle

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Petzl GriGri+ Anti-Panic Handle- photo by @alexandraroberts

The second most talked about feature of the Petzl GriGri+ is the anti-panic handle. We’ve all heard stories of climbers being dropped in the gym and while sport climbing when a new belayer clamps down hard on the handle preventing the device from camming and letting a climber deck. Petzl has engineered a solution. If a belayer pulls too hard on the handle the cam will re-engage! It was a little un-nerving to test this but I wanted to feel how it worked so out came the GoPro and down I went, check it out here:

video being edited, will upload soon

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Smooth lowering and a fail-safe anti-panic handle make the Petzl GriGri+ great for many different types of climbing- photo by @alexandraroberts

This anti-panic handle adds a lot of safety in quite a few scenarios. First, while being lowered off a top-rope or from a high piece, if a new belayer pulls too hard on the handle and the climber starts to fall the cam will automatically re-engage. Second, while rappelling a single rope if you crank to hard on the handle and are going to fast the cam will re-engage preventing a fall. Once re-engaged you can either apply considerably more pressure to start descending again or “re-set” the anti-panic handle as I demonstrate in the video.

Durability

Less talked about than the above two features is the overall durability of this device. Petzl has fortified it in so many ways! First they added material in high wear areas and strengthened the design. They’ve closed off the non-handle side opening around the cam pivot which helps keep dirt and grime from gunking up the inside of the device. Let’s take a close comparison look between the Petzl GriGri 2 and the new GriGri+ below.

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Reinforced- Petzl GriGri 2 next to Petzl GriGri+

Petzl also included stainless steel plating in high wear areas.

FullSizeRender (1)

They’ve added a stainless steel stopper that prevents the rare rope snag sometimes experienced in previous models.

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Reinforced- Petzl GriGri 2 next to Petzl GriGri+

This reinforcement comes at the price of weight and bulk, but only about one ounce (30 grams). As far as “bulk” I’d estimate it feels only about 5-10% larger than a GriGri 2.

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Petzl GriGri+ enclosed casing helps keep the inside cleaner when climbing in manky conditions and on soft desert rock- photo by @alexandraroberts

Versatility

One of the last things I want to mention that makes the Petzl GriGri+ suitable for such a wide range of climbers is its ability to work with any single rated rope on the market! That’s right, this device can go all the way down to a 8.5 mm rope! It is “optimized” for ropes between 8.9 mm and 10.5 mm but can actually handle 8.5 mm up to 11 mm. For reference the GriGri 2 could only go down to a 8.9 mm and was optimized for 9.4 mm to 10.3 mm. This is kind of a big deal considering many of us, especially climbing guides, are climbing on skinnier and skinnier single ropes. Being able to use this with absolutely any single rated rope is just more icing on the cake!

Summary

I’m a bit of a skeptic of the “latest and greatest” gadgets in climbing but the Petzl GriGri+ has surpassed the GriGri 2 in so many ways. There is definitely a small weight/bulk penalty but the added durability will be a boon when this device is well suited for so many types of climbing. I would consider it a great choice for gym and sport climbing, traditional climbing, guiding, big walls (especially in the desert where aluminum wears quickly), camp and school groups, and for my growing list of adventure photographer friends!

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Disclaimer: Petzl provided a demo unit for the purpose of this review but all opinions expressed are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog. Climbing is DANGEROUS! Attempting anything in this review requires training and experience. Seek qualified instruction and climb at your own risk!

Please carefully review Petzl’s technical documentation and instruction here before attempting to use this device!

Gear Preview- New Touring Set-up!

A new pair of skis arrived on Friday just in time for the last avalanche course of the season! I wanted to put together a setup that would crush uphill performance (be insanely light) but also give me enough control for decent downhill performance. While I’ve only had one tour on this kit it was a good one, up Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, summit Mt. Monroe, and down Monroe Brook, I want to share some first impressions. A detailed review will follow once I put some more field time on them in Iceland in two weeks!

DPS Tour 1 Skis Arcteryx Procline Boots Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings
Built for uphill performance!

Let’s start with the boards!

The DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1

A proven shape (125/99/111, Radius: 16-19m) with the Tour 1 construction makes this an uphill skinning beast. Seriously each ski only weighs about 3 pounds! The feather-lite weight is achieved by using a balsa wood core but dampening and downhill performance is obtained due to the carbon/glass laminate and on both sides of the core. The top of the ski is protected with a Prepreg carbon fiber laminate and the bases are hard World Cup race bases. The combination of these material ends up with a ski that is surprising torsion-ally rigid and responsive despite belonging to the “ultralight” class. For comparison my Dynafit Denali skis feel a little softer than these at a comparable weight. I’ll wait to comment on the amount of “chatter” until I get a chance to bring them up to speed but typically that is an issue when rocking an ultralight ski.

The Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings Review
Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

I’ve always liked my Dynafit Tech Bindings and this is the lightest binding I have ever committed to.  Weighing only 13 ounces and carrying up to a 10 DIN rating and two level quick step climbing bars along with being compatible with my ski crampons it seemed like a perfect match for this ski (and this boot I’m about to explode about). For those who are curious I set my DIN to 8 (180 lbs, Type 3) and had no accidental releases on my tour this past weekend. I haven’t crashed with them yet and it might be awhile before I truly test the release as I tend to ski a little on the conservative side when on lightweight back-country gear.

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

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Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

This really is the game changer in my opinion! A boot that feels like it can ice climb Grade 3 water ice in absolute comfort, skin for thousands of vertical feet, and perform on the downhill in steep terrain with good conditions and in lower angle terrain in more challenging conditions. It’s literally the first ski boot I ever felt I could drive my car in. In touring mode it feels as comfortable as a Scarpa Inverno or Koflach Degree mountaineering boot. In ski mode it gave me enough confidence to link turns in variable snow conditions while descending Monroe Brook (max pitch 42 degrees). I felt one pressure point on the inside of my ankle bone during our descent when I was “cranked tight” that I plan on addressing by molding the liners. I’ll get more into the fit in my full depth review next month after many more days of touring but for now the size 27 fit my US size 9 feet like a comfy pair of slippers (except for that one pressure point I’ll be working on).

G3 Alpinist LT Skins

G3 Alpinist LT Skins Review
G3 Alpinist LT Skins

I have tested these extensively all winter long and have experienced overall positive results. They’ve gripped well in a myriad of conditions that I will spell out in more detail in my in-depth review next month. I absolutely loved how well they fit out of the box and the G3 trimming tool (included) made cutting them to size a snap. My only minor gripe is the heel clip rarely stays attached on the rounded rocker shape of DPS tails. Not a big deal considering they work fine even when that comes un-clipped.

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Dynafit Ski Crampons
Dynafit Ski Crampons

My first ski crampons and they definitely made a difference on the steeper bits of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. Almost everyone in our course who didn’t have them opted to toss the skis on the back and boot up the steeper half mile to treeline. With the included stuff sack this extra 8 ounces adds a lot of security when the skinning gets steep & icy!

This entire setup up; skis, boots, bindings, skins, and crampons only weighs 14 pounds and 12 ounces!

Hey you’ve read this far so here’s a video of our tour last weekend on the west side of Mount Washington!

Summary

I’m watching the weather in Iceland almost daily. Assuming Spring skiing conditions this will be my kit for that trip where we have a solid 3-4 days of touring planned. My ski season used to end when I couldn’t ski right to the parking lot at Pinkham but with this ultra-light setup I plan on making quite a few more forays up the hill and stretch my ski season out to May this year. When gear is this light and comfy I don’t think I’ll mind much tossing it on the back for a mile or two. If you are looking to lighten your load take a look at the links above. I think this is a pretty well optimized corn snow and soft snow setup when you spend a fair about of time earning your turns, and I really can’t wait to get these boots up an alpine gully this Spring (My Petzl Vasak crampons fit perfectly!)

Thanks for reading! A lot more reviews coming an quite a few gear give-aways planned for next month so if you haven’t already please follow this blog at the top right! You can also follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: The boots and skins listed above were provided for purposes of review. The skis and bindings were purchased with my own money. All opinions above are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog.

Gear Review- Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel + Pocket Spike

I carry an avalanche shovel about 3-4 days a week all winter long. For a piece of gear I rely on almost daily throughout the winter I am a bit picky when it comes to what model shovel I will carry. This winter I have been thoroughly testing the latest version of an Ortovox classic, the “Pro Alu III“, and I’ve been quite happy with its performance. Here’s a quick 60 second video review followed by a long detailed review below!

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review
Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel- photo from Ortovox.com

Let’s start with a quick look at the manufacturer’s description and specifications then I will get into my personal review of the product.


The best PRO ALU of all time. In this latest iteration of an ORTOVOX classic we’ve used the most innovative materials available and cutting edge production methods to achieve the best weight-to-rigidity ratio possible. Stabilization ribs and high sidewalls give the anodized blade rigidity, while the integrated shaft socket makes it easy to pack. With the new quick-lock, the blade and the fluted telescoping shaft can be put together in one motion. The new T-Grip Pro is revolutionary. It can be inserted for both right and left-handers – and also facilitates economical clearing. One hand grasps the long grip side, which serves as an ergonomic lever, while the other hand has maximum hold on the shaft’s rubber-coated grip zone.

  • Rubberized grip zone

  • T-grip pro with flexible left and right-handed function

  • Rapid locking without pressing a button

  • Oval handle cross section

  • Telescoping handle

  • Non-slip step grooves

  • Sharp, protected edge

  • Pack-friendly

  • 90° clearing function PRO ALU III

  • Rescue sled function

  • Compatible with Pocket Spike

  • Groove-shaped handle cross section


After extensive testing while instructing avalanche safety courses almost every weekend of the winter I’ve formed some opinions on the design of this tool. Here’s my $.02.

Weight

An important consideration of everything I take into the back-country, let’s start by comparing the weights within my current fleet.

Black Diamond Deploy 3 Shovel: 565 grams (1 lb 4 oz)

Ortovox Beast 3.1: 782 grams (1 lb 12 oz)

Ortovox Pro Alu III: 806 grams (1 lb 12.5 oz)

So the Pro Alu is the heaviest shovel in my assortment.While it might weigh 8 ounces more than the Black Diamond Deploy 3 it gains a ton of functionality that I will go into greater detail but for now basically: much better handle, almost a foot in telescoping shaft length, slightly larger and more technical blade, ice axe compatibility.

Pack-ability

Another concern when touring with only a 30 liter pack is how well your avalanche shovel will pack. I’ve been testing the Ortovox Tour Rider 30 (review coming) for most of my day tours this season and the slim design leaves little imagination for where you store your avalanche tools. The blade of the Ortovox Pro Alu III fits snugly in the outer pocket as if they designed the pocket for the exact dimensions of the blade.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review
Perfect fit for the shovel blade

The shaft and handle fit easily enough in the dedicated shaft slot on the inside of the pack and the handle is less obtrusive than the larger D shaped handle on my Ortovox Beast making it easier to fishing around for my water bottle or some grub.

Durability

The blade is made of a very rugged feeling anodized aluminum. Ribs and raised side walls add overall strength to the material. I’ve probably moved close to 50,000 pounds of plowed up refrozen snow while demonstrating shoveling and rescue techniques during this winter’s avalanche courses and the blade is still looking great.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review
Just a few small scrapes. Considering the amount of crud I dig through on a regular basis this blade and anodized coating is holding up very well!

Comfort and Convenience

Like most Ortovox shovels a rubberized grip low down on the shaft improves grip as well as provide a little bit of insulation.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review
Good grip and warmer during extended digging in cold weather!

This second opinion isn’t mentioned anywhere from Ortovox but having dug about a dozen snow-pit demonstrations this season, often in arctic temperatures, I do think that little bit of rubber there feels warmer than grasping straight metal.

The “T-Grip Pro” handle is reinforced with metal for durability but encased in a dense plastic. Having been use to a D-shaped handle for so long I was hesitant to how this style would perform. During my first couple test runs something felt off. I then discovered that the handle could be set for either left hander’s or right hander’s! Once I reset it to the right dominant hand the grip felt much more natural in my hand.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review
Remove the inner shaft and reinsert based on hand dominance

Quickly assembling an avalanche shovel in an emergency is a skill we encourage students to practice. Ortovox makes it a little bit easier by using “self-feeding” slots that depress and guide the locking button into place. No need to try to push a small button while assembling the shovel. Just line up the grooves and firmly push the shaft into the blade and you are ready to start digging. A tapered and plugged shaft end aid quick assembly and prevent snow from getting jammed up into the shaft.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review
Well crafted thoughtful design

Bonus Versatility!

Ok so let’s get to the coolest thing about this shovel! Like a Transformer there is more than meets the eye here! With the addition of the Ortovox Pocket Spike you can convert this shovel into a substantial mountaineering axe!

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review
Ortovox Pocket Spike

Let’s take a quick look at the manufacturer description:


Our new POCKET SPIKE is simply ingenious! Although usually tucked away in your backpack or pants pocket (hence the name), the POCKET SPIKE can quickly be retrieved in tense situations, for instance, when you’ve only got a few feet to the summit or if you have to cross a steep slope. In two steps, you can mount it on to the PRO ALU III shovel handle for added protection. The POCKET SPIKE has two parts: the tough axe blade made from AL 7075 T6 and the spike, which is attached in place of the shovel blade. The two parts snap together to form a single piece with no sharp edges and weighing just 95 grams. This tool is perfect for tours where you are happy about some additional support when you’ve only got a few feet left to the summit.


Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review
Carrying case included

THIS is what I’m talking about! I can think of far to many times I’ve been kicking steps up steep terrain in Tuckerman Ravine wondering why I didn’t bring an ice axe that day.

“Conditions will soften up early”

“There will probably be a well established boot ladder”

You’ve been there too perhaps and justified leaving the mountaineering axe at home to save a pound or two. Well this thing only weighs 95 grams (or 4 ounces with the included carrying case). Combined with this shovel it feels like a super solid self arrest tool. The T-shaped handle makes it feel like you could easily bear down and slow or halt a slide before things got ugly. The over all ruggedness of the whole design inspires more confidence to me then a Black Diamond Whippet. I still think the Whippet is a great”better than nothing” option but this Pocket Spike option is as solid feeling as a real mountaineering axe.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review
Solid protection in steep terrain!

This can be used as a short axe at about 48 cms or fully extended to 68 cms! Here it is next to my 70 cm Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe at both lengths for comparison.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review
Crushing Mode
Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review
Cruising Mode

Summary

Ortovox is an industry leader when it comes to innovative snow safety products. This fully functional avalanche shovel that transforms into a solid alpine axe is a great example of careful design and thought. Taken on its own the Ortovox Pro Alu III is an excellent if somewhat heavier avalanche shovel choice. When you consider the increased efficiency and functionality from a telescoping shaft, trenching mode, and the ability to quickly convert it to an effective self arrest tool it is a phenomenal choice for those who spend a lot of time in steep snowy places.

Like the review? Have a favorite avy shovel? Please leave a comment below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimers: Climbing and skiing in the back-country is inherently dangerous. Seek qualified instruction from certified guides and instructors in the use of the above tools. Attempting to use anything described in this review in any situation could result in injury or death. Recreate in the mountains at your own risk. I received this product from Ortovox as part of their Ambassador program but the opinions I’ve stated here were not influenced in any way. Affiliate links help support this blog. 

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

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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

fullsizerender-2
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). UPDATE 1/20/17: I have started to experience the sticky placement issues that Jacon mentions in a comments below. So far it has been in very dense ice or wet ice and I have managed with solid stances to crank hard enough to overcome the resistance, but I could definitely see this being an issue on a climb where firing in a screw easily is clutch. This is definitely a con, and one I plan on exploring more this season (and will update accordingly).

Summary

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!

Contest

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.

Product Preview- Arc’teryx AR Mountaineering Boots and Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

While I am excited about all the products I’ll be testing this winter I am perhaps most stoked to put this duo together and get on some early season ice as soon as possible! I’m hoping I’ll get enough field days in to have a full review post for each by early-mid January. I realize though by then a lot of ice climbers may have already geared up and wanted to share my first impressions on these before the season arrives.

Let’s start with a preliminary look at the new Acr’teryx AR Mountaineering Boots.

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boot Review
Arc’teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots

“A pinnacle of design for mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing, the Acrux AR is the lightest, most durable, and lowest profile insulated double boot available.”- Arcteryx.com

That is a strong statement, and it happens to be true. Let’s compare some of the other lightweight double boots on the market:

La Sportiva Spantik (88.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva Baruntse (82.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva G2 SM (72.22 oz/pair)

Scarpa Phantom 6000 (70 oz/pair)

Arc’teryx Acrux AR (69.1 oz/pair)

This is actually less than an ounce difference than my La Sportiva Batura 2.0’s that I reviewed last winter here.

LaSportiva Batura 2.0 Review
LaSportiva Batura 2.0 Review

The obvious difference here between these and my Batura’s is that these have a removable liner.

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT PREVIEW
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT removable liner

These liners “feel high-tech” in hand. I wore them around the house and they feel like a comfy slipper designed for astronauts. From arcteryx.com:

“Arc’teryx Adaptive Fit technology uses a removable bootie that employs stretch textiles and minimal seams to create an instant custom fit with no pressure. With protection extended beyond the cuff of the boot and the highest level of breathability in this category, the bootie’s GORE-TEX® membrane optimizes climate control and waterproof benefit. The perforated PE foam’s quick dry properties improve comfort, and a rubberized sole allows the bootie to be used as a camp shoe.”


Arc’teryx partnered with Vibram®  and created the AR outsole using Vibram® Mont rubber which keeps its frictional properties in sub-zero temps.

Arcteryx AR Mountaineering Boots Preview
The Vibram® AR outersole uses Vibram® Mont rubber to perform well even in extreme cold

“The specially developed Vibram® AR outsole is designed for support and sure footedness. The tread and construction feature a semi-blocked toe, with anti-slip grooves, a medial climbing support zone, and heel created to provide braking on steep descents. The Vibram® Mont rubber compound maintains its performance in sub-zero conditions.”


I’ll share a promotional video on the boots and move onto the crampons I’ll be pairing with them this winter!


CASSIN Blade Runner Crampons

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

These are the most aggressive fully adaptable to any situation crampons I have seen. I used to love my older Petzl M10 crampons because I could swap out the front points for either dual, mono, or mono-offset. The Blade Runner’s do all that but CAMP also makes optional “snow points” so you can turn your vertical ice crampon into a multiple purpose mountaineering crampon. It really does make these incredibly versatile! My demo pair arrived set for offset mono and I plan to test them that way first with our thin early season ice conditions. Included with the crampons were two more vertical front points and semi-automatic toe bails allow for use on boots without rigid toe lugs.

CAMP Blade Runner Crampons
Included extra parts

Fit

How well a crampon can attach to your boot is paramount. You want them to feel like they were designed for each other and no one else. Right out of the box the fit on the Acrteryx AR was quite good. There is plenty of adjust-ability to make it “perfect” starting with three possible toe bail positions, two possible heel lever bar positions, full vertical adjustment on the heel lever itself, and, something I haven’t seen before, the asymmetric bottom that more closely follows the contours of the boot outer-sole.

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons- a snug fit
CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
Vertical heel lever adjustment

Obviously we can’t talk much about performance just yet but they are definitely a very aggressive crampon! One could argue this is a 19 point crampon (20 if set up in dual front-point mode). The design looks like it will excel on steep & cauliflower ice.

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
Cassin Blade Runner Crampons- aggressive, included anti-balling plates

The front points are made from Chromoly Steel and taper from 5mm down to 3mm. A “wear indicator” of sorts lets you know when it’s time to swap in new front points.

CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons
CAMP Cassin Blade Runner Crampons

Well that’s it for my first impressions. I absolutely can not wait to start putting these to use this winter. I’m also reviewing the Camp Cassin X-All Mountain Ice Tools and the Camp Cassin X-Dream Ice Tools.

CAMP USA Cassin Ice Tools/Crampons
Things with sharp points

Think the Arcteryx Acrux AR boots might be good for you?

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Stay tuned this winter for lots of gear reviews and giveaways! I’ll be raffling off brand new climbing harnesses, ice screws, carabiners, and more. Don’t miss a review or giveaway! Subscribe/Follow this blog at the top right so you get all the details!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Review: Petzl Sitta Harness

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

Petzl Sitta Review
Petzl Sitta Review

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

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

Petzl Sitta Review
10.5 ounces (294 grams)

Weight:

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

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

Pack-ability:

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

Petzl Sitta Review
Petzl Hirundos stored in Petzl Sirocco Helmet

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

Petzl Sitta Review
About 6in x 4in x 4in

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

Petzl Sitta Review
Just the essentials

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

Petzl Sitta Review
Secure hang-ability

Comfort:

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

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

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

Waist-belt:

Petzl Sitta Review
WIREFRAME Construction
Petzl Sitta Review
Waist belt tapers from 3 inches to 2 1/4 inches in the back

Elasticized fixed leg loops:

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

Petzl Sitta Review
Auto Adjustable Buckle-less Leg Loops – My favorite!
Petzl Sitta Review
Leg loops 2 1/2 inches at widest

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Durability:

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

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

Rack-ability:

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

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

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

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

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

Fit:

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

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

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

Small is for 26-30 inch waist.

Medium is for 29-33 inch waist.

Large is for 32-36 inch waist.

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

Petzl Sitta Review
Fit

Usage:

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

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

Summary:

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

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

Buy on Backcountry.com 25% off right now!

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

Petzl Sitta Review
The Petzl Sitta Review

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

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Suunto MC-2 Compass Review (and Giveaway)

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

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

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

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

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

Sighting Mirror

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

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

Extended Baseplate

fullsizerender-2
Suunto MC-2 Review

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

Large clear dial

img_1701

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

Clinometer

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

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

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

Adjustable Declination

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

Magnifying glass

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

1:24k and 1:62500 scales

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

In case you want some manufacture specifications here they are:

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Update 9/30/16: CONTEST OVER! Congrats to Charles D.!

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

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

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

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start