The leaves are starting to turn high in our notches so I find myself starting to anticipate another great ice climbing season in the Northeast. Last season I had the opportunity to demo the CAMP/Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and while I shared my positive impressions of them with dozens of climbing partners I never got around to a full detailed review. With the ice climbing season quickly approaching what better time than now?
If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…
There is more custom-ability in this model then any other ice axe I have ever used! Let’s start with my favorite feature of the Cassin X-Dream’s!
By simply loosening one bolt you can pivot the handle into a “dry-tooling” setting appropriate for high level mixed climbing and competitions. This setting will align the handle/pick in a configuration quite similar to the Petzl Ergo Ice Axe. I don’t personally climb in competitions or send overhanging mixed sport routes in the winter so I only tested these in the “ice” setting which was the perfect angle for comfortable swings on steep grade 4 and grade 5 waterfall ice routes, and is quite similar to the alignment of the Petzl Nomic. If you’ve never demo’d a tool with a handle angled like this it’s hard to explain how much of a difference it makes on steep ice allowing your wrist to stay in a much more natural position and facilitating the relaxed grip that is so crucial on grade 4+ ice.
Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges can be adjusted in multiple ways. With a small phillips head screw driver you can swap the main trigger finger ledge from the included “X-finger small” with an “X-finger large, sold separately, $6”. My medium sized hands preferred the smaller less obtrusive setting.
For those with very small hands you can snap in the X-Rest handle height insert (sold separately, $8) which raises the height of the handle interior by about 3 mm.
The X-Trigger pommel (included) attaches to the shaft for an optional third ledge and can be slid up or down to your preferred spot. I liked mine just above the X-Grip 2 friction tape that is also included on the shaft.
Finally the entire handle can be swapped out with the recently released X-Dream Alpine Grip, a feature that greatly improves security when topping out an ice route and switching back to piolet canne.
There are three picks designed for the Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and they come stock with the “Mixte” pick which I found worked as well as any ice pick I’ve used across the major manufacture brands. All three are T-rated which adds confidence when torquing or utilizing The Stein Pull. I plan on buying a set of the ice picks this season as I think the addition of the small hammer will add a nice touch of head weight and help this tool step even closer into the alpine environment (occasional testing of pitons, tool tapping to gently set a pick on thin ice, etc).
UPDATE: Soon after posting this review CAMP USA let me know that they just released two more compatible accessories that further add to the versatility of this tool. A new “Total Dry” pick designed for over-hanging hooking and competition. This brings the pick options on this axe to four! Also, and more exciting in my opinion is the new available head weights. I will be trying these out with a new set of ice picks this winter!
Cassin combines a T-rated aluminum shaft with a chromoly steel head that passes both CE and UIAA certification. Total weight is 1 lb 5 oz, 610 grams and the swing feels very natural and balanced. I did not find any need to adapt my swing to these like I have with some comparable models from other companies. With the included X-Grip friction tape and “third ledge” pommel I’ve found no need to supplement the rest of the shaft with after market grip tape. During placement the shaft dampens nicely without noticeable vibration and provides reliable feedback with each stick.
With a high degree of customization and optimization for steep ice, mixed routes, and competition climbing this Italian made ice axe should become a common sight on the steep ice drips around the world. If you lead or follow grade 4 and up waterfall ice you should try to demo a pair of these! While outfitting them with the new X-Dream Alpine Grip puts them in the running for the most expensive set of tools when it comes to waterfall ice axes sometimes you get what you pay for.
Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. Since I have two more trip reports for the Cascades coming soon I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip report.
Having over 20 years in outdoor retail I love chatting about gear so if you have any questions about any of my recommendations, or suggestions for better products, please comment below!
A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!
This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!
I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!
This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.
For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!
My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!
Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!
The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.
I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.
Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.
I recently upgraded from my older Petzl Myo model and this new model is awesome! Up to 260 hours of burn time and able to through light 90 meters! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans.
I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!
This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope
Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below and stay tuned for next week’s trip report of The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak!
The arrival of the updated ground breaking Petzl Sirocco this summer may be my most anticipated piece of gear news this year! I enjoyed hundreds of days climbing rock and ice along with a decent amount of ski mountaineering in my original Sirocco that I reviewed back in 2013 here. Needless to say I was pretty stoked to get my hands on a media sample of the 2017 model earlier this Spring and have since enjoyed over 30 days of both cragging and alpine climbing in this new model and I can say with complete conviction that Petzl has taken something great and made it even better!
Earlier this Spring I explained some of the basic differences between the outgoing model, the new 2017 Sirocco, and the current Petzl Meteor III helmet in this video:
Now I would like to dive into some of the details that make this the ultimate climbing helmet in my opinion, starting with the most obvious specification…
Anyone that reads my gear reviews knows I can obsess a little about weight. I love counting ounces and trimming weight in every category I can. The original Petzl Sirocco was indeed a game changer weighing in at only 6 ounces (170 grams) for my M/L size. My home scale shows the new model weights 6.125 ounces (172 grams). The closest competitor in regards to weight is likely the Black Diamond Vapor Helmet which comes in at 7 ounces (199 grams). But weight should really be secondary to…
This was actually what sold me on the first incarnation of the Petzl Sirocco, the fact that it exceeds EN-12492 certification and meets UIAA-106 standards! In fact Petzl helmets were the first climbing helmets that meet this higher standard!
Whoa… wait a minute… what the heck does all that mean?
Let me break it down.
Simply put, Expanded Polypropylene (EPP), the main material used in the construction of both the outgoing and the new 2017 Petzl Sirocco helmet has an excellent “energy absorbing” quality to it along with being quite rugged and durable. Essentially the difference is this helmet will transfer less energy to your melon (and neck) in the case of a hard hit.
The EN certification most helmets meet puts that amount of force at 10 kN but the Petzl Sirocco is tested to only transfer 8 kN. This is roughly 450 pounds less in force. This could mean the difference between suffering a more serious injury in a hard hit than when wearing a helmet that might “feel” more durable but transfer more force to the climbers head and neck. Skip to 1:20 in the below video to see this stress testing in action. (video is of 2013 model but physics point are the same)
In addition to the reduced impact force Petzl helmets are tested for “side impact” as well… something not yet required to pass a more general CE standard. As a climber, Wilderness First Responder, and Mountain Rescue Service member, I have seen a fair share of head injuries, some minor, some quite major, I can say that the entire head deserves protection… not just the top!
Finally in terms of “protection” one should note that the new design covers 2-3 cm lower on the back of the head… a common spot of injury in both ground falls and “rope behind the leg” leader falls.
Bottom line is the new 2017 Sirocco offers greater protection to your head than the previous model without gaining a single ounce!
So what about the next important consideration in a climbing helmet?…
Originally essentially a “one material” build Petzl has made to significant structural changes to the Sirocco design. The first is found inside and is an crown injected with expanded polystyrene (EPS).
This material adds some ruggedness and durability to what at times could feel like a fragile construction material (the expanded polypropylene that some folks assumed was “Styrofoam”). While expanded polypropylene has excellent protective qualities it could show wear after a few seasons of hard use. My 2013 model has quite a few dings from random ice hits and possibly packing it in my pack a little too close to sharp crampons. Despite the dings I never felt the performance of the helmet was compromised, but the addition of a denser material under the crown makes it feel like this construction will have a longer life than the original Sirocco. Further research actually indicates that EPS actually has even higher energy absorption properties than EPP and is less durable than EPP, which is probably why Petzl added…
Durability x 2!
Petzl also added a poly-carbonate crown on the top of the helmet, the same great material that covers the whole shell of the popular Petzl Meteor III helmet. This hard yet light plastic will certainly fend off small hits of ice and rock and increase the service life of the helmet.
Having considered the most important considerations like weight and durability it’s time to look at some other performance characteristics… like…
The 2013 Petzl Sirocco was the most ventilated helmet I’ve ever owned, and the new 2017 model is no different. The design of the ventilation holes have drastically changed but by my estimate the ratio of material to “open space” is roughly the same. The 2013 model had 24 ventilation holes and the new model also has 24. As you can see from the comparison photo the older model had longer thinner vents and the newer model has wider more square like vents. If one was to measuring the difference in actual performance between the too I imagine it would be a pretty close tie. This brings us to some more “stylistic” changes…
The 2013 Petzl Sirocco had a noticeable “dome” shape. That combined with the (offensive to some) orange color probably steered quite a few potential Sirocco wearers from donning this lid. Petzl has managed to drop the “peak” of this lid by one full centimeter. They’ve also changed the design to have a nice taper and removed the “dome” aspect all together.
We also now have the option of two colors, white and black! My sources say the white color will not be readily available until late Fall but that black model is available on Backcountry and Amazon along with our local climbing shop International Mountain Equipment!
To be honest I never minded the 2013 shape or color… but I do like the look of the new model more! There is just a couple other things to mention before we wrap this up…
Worthy of mention is the wider helmet/goggle strap. The 2013 model could easily accommodate ski goggle straps up to about 2 inches in thickness. The new headlamp/goggle strap can accommodate a 3 inch goggle strap.
Not a big deal in my opinion because none of the goggles I have ever owned have a strap wider than 2 inches but maybe some out there have goggles with really wide straps? More noticeable is the orientation of the helmet strap is now reversed with the elastic cord latching towards the bottom vs the top like on the 2013 model. This is a small but welcome improvement as I often fumbled with fixing a headlamp or ski goggles on the helmet while I was wearing it, to the point where I usually resorted to just taking my helmet off (adding risk) to attach my goggles or headlamp… this change for the 2017 Petzl Sirocco model allows me to easily add a headlamp or ski goggles without removing my helmet… this is actually important minutiae!
A small update has been made to the innovative magnetic chin strap clip… the magnet can be removed for those who climb in areas with high iron contents. Care needs to be taken that the magnet does not attract too much “magnetized dust” as if it get’s gunked up it can impede its function… With the magnet removed the chin strap functions like a traditional clip.
The thin harness straps are still super adjustable and allow the helmet to fit just about any head shape out there. The small mesh/foam pads inside are still removable for occasional washing… I tend to throw them in the wash once or twice a year to get some of my “grime” out of them…
I’m not sure what more I can say here… I love this helmet. Seriously my only complaint is that Petzl decided to keep the same name. The 2013 Sirocco was great. The 2017 Sirocco is even better and pretty drastically different. Constructed of three materials instead of just one, totally different profile/shape, different ventilation scheme… it just seems like this re-design would have been worthy of a new name, or at-least a (Plus or Two) added to the name similar to the GriGri legacy… which by the way I reviewed in detail the newest Petzl GriGri+ here if you are interested.
If you are in need of a new climbing helmet or looking to upgrade, might I highly endorse this helmet for you? You can purchase it from the retailers below and doing so will help support my efforts at provided detailed reviews like this for years to come!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 also included stainless steel plating in high wear areas.
They’ve added a stainless steel stopper that prevents the rare rope snag sometimes experienced in previous models.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
Non-slip step grooves
Sharp, protected edge
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.
An important consideration of everything I take into the back-country, let’s start by comparing the weights within my current fleet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.