The new Petzl Nomic has been refined in a way that makes it one of the most versatile ice axes available. I had only climbed a dozen or so days on the older version of the Nomic preferring the greater flexibility of the Petzl Quarks for my first ten years of ice climbing but the thoughtful changes in design have changed that and I’ve reached for the new Petzl Nomics more than any other tool this winter. Before I get into the details let’s look at how we tested them.
The east coast ice climbing season started early this year and I started climbing on these in November at Frankenstein Cliffs. My first test runs were up Standard Route and Dracula. I loaned them to some friends to solicit their opinions and they took a multi-sport trip up the alpine classic Pinnacle Gully. By December I had them back in my hands for no less than three trips up an excellent early season Black Dike. A few more days of guiding ice on Mount Willard and Cathedral Ledge and I’m finally ready to share my review!
Want to see them in action? Check out this amazing footage capture by my friend Dave Dillon!
Also some more amateur GoPro footage of some testing produced myself:
The first thing that stands out to me with these tools is how incredibly well balanced they are. The addition of removable tapered pick weights, a “hydro-formed” shaft, and adjustable handles all work together to help this tool swing with amazing precision and efficiency. I chose to leave the pick weights on as I primarily climb pure ice routes and the added head weight assists with placement allowing me to save energy while swinging the tool and getting more one-swing-sticks. The taper of the weights is also designed to facilitate dry tooling in cracks.
While it might seem odd to describe an ice tool as “comfortable” it is an accurate description on these tools. By using a three size adjustable lower handle and over-molded and bi-material upper handle these tools can be adjusted to fit anyone’s hands. I found the medium setting on the lower handle to be perfect for my medium sized hands. An allen wrench is required for adjusting the GRIPREST handle.
The upper handle is rubberized so there is no need to add grip tape to the tools to increase security when switching hands or “choking up” on a placement. I also found the tools swing with great precision and security when held like this:
The shape of the hydro-formed shaft makes holding these anywhere along the shaft or “high-dagger” position comfortable.
There is a lot of customization possible with these tools! For starters you can choose from four different picks!
The tools come with the PUR’ICE picks. They taper to 3mm and offer excellent penetration and easy removal in most placements. The top is serrated to offer some stability when holding the tool upside down through I did not find this to be an issue as these tools now have a real spike on the bottom to allow proper piolet canne when topping out a climb. They can suffer if you misfire and find some early season rock to impact as I did manage to bend a pick on the Black Dike when I unintentionally struck some rock. I swung by International Mountain Equipment and replaced the bent pick with the ICE pick which I was happy to be able to compare! The ICE pick tapers from 4mm to 3.3mm at the tip and carries a CE UIAA Technical Rating (the PUR’ICE pick does not meet the Technical Rating standards). I’ve since climbed a dozen routes with both picks and have not noticed much of a difference in ease of placement and cleaning so I’ll likely replace the PUR’ICE pick with the more durable ICE pick once it is time for a new pick. For those who will do some steep dry-tooling with these tools you can pick from both the DRY and the PUR’DRY picks.
The removable MARTEAU modular hammer is included with the tools. This can be stripped off (along with the pick weights) to minimize weight for dry-tooling or left in place so you can test and reset pitons. You can also chose to replace it with the PANNE if you want an adze on a tool. Finally the serrated stainless steel spike on the bottom of the GRIPREST handle has a connection point that is compatible with the V-LINK tether system.
All of this adds up to one of the best choices for a technical climbing tool on the market! While you will notice how nice they feel in hand at your local gear shop you truly will be impressed the first time you take these out on real ice. These are a perfect choice for the ice climber who only occasionally (or never) climbs hard mixed routes. They excel on WI3+ routes. I would still reach for the Petzl Quarks for WI2 or more alpine type objectives but for ice cragging at Frankenstein, Ouray, or any WI4 and up these are the bees knees. I hope you get a chance to climb with them!
Over the last few years I’ve realized how important being able to quickly and clearly communicate with my partners in the mountains is. So much so that I’ve added a pair of hand-held radios to my “essentials” list. I started using BCA Link Radios while working on Mount Washington to stay in touch with other guides who worked for the same outfitter I did. After missing this reliable way to communicate on a recreational ski tour I started taking them with me on every ski trip. I also find them well suited to alpine and ice climbing gullies with long technical pitches that end at anchors out of sight (Pinnacle Gully and Black Dike are perfect examples).
The ease of being able to clearly communicate without yelling over the roar of the wind or interpret “rope tugs” adds greatly to your risk management strategies. Other benefits include being able to monitor National Weather Service current conditions and forecasts for your regions, summon outside help outside of cell phone coverage, and even tune into local FM stations on some models. I’ll share a few models worth looking at if you need to pick up a set of radios to improve your capabilities in the mountains.
We had a fleet of these at the guide service I first worked with. They are simple to use, rugged, and convenient. The “Smart Mic” allows you to access all the controls you need without having to take the radio out of your pack. Equipped with 22 FRS and GMRS channels and 121 sub-channels it is compatible with all standard FRS/GMRS radios.
Group Communication System with Smart Mic and base unit
Water- and dust-resistant to IP56 standards
Compatible with all standard FRS/GMRS radios
2.5-mile line-of-sight range ensures adequate coverage
140 hour maximum battery life keeps unit running all day (3.7 Volt Lithium Ion)
Temperature operating range between -4F to 158F
Smart Mic is compatible with 3.5mm TS or TRS earphone plug
Battery charger included
Pros: Super user friendly to first time radio owners. No licenses needed to operate. Rugged and Water Resistant (IP56). Convenient Smart Mic. Can program local NWS channel for weather updates. Integrates well with BCA line of Airbags and Stash backpacks. Removable battery means you can bring extra batteries on a trip.
Cons: A little pricey but discounted now that there is a new version out! Can not program channels that would require a license to use outside of emergencies.
The new version boosts some significant improvements over the time tested original. More power means greater range, with the 2.0 offering up to 6 miles (line of sight), more than double the range of the original. A stronger battery (2300mAh lithium ion) also gives you more time between recharging (400 hours vs 140 hours in the original). A redesigned Smart Mic claims to better shed snow when you’re riding in face shot territory.
Two-way radio built for backcountry touring
Smart Mic offers glove-friendly handling
Rechargeable battery offers 400 hours of standby power
Recommended line-of-sight usable range of 6 miles; max of approximately 40-miles
Pros: Super user friendly to first time radio owners. No licenses needed to operate. Rugged and Water Resistant (IP56). Convenient Smart Mic. Can program local NWS channel for weather updates. Integrates well with BCA line of Airbags and Stash backpacks.
Cons: Pretty expensive, but this is a high-end choice in the realm of FRS/GRMS radios. Can not program channels that would require a license to use outside of emergencies. Battery is no longer removable so you can’t bring extra batteries (but you can charge with a standard charger or USB)
The last few years I’ve been using the BaoFeng BF-F8HP and have been quite happy with them. With up to 8 watts of output they have great range. They can be programmed for FRS/GRMS. They can also be programmed to monitor and broadcast on licensed channels so care must be given you do not break FCC rules. You can listen to FM radio while the radio still monitors the channel your group is using, so if a communication is received the radio automatically mutes the FM radio station you were rocking out to while skinning up that non-consequential slope. You can also monitor National Weather Service regional weather.
Pros: Affordable. Dual band (monitor two channels at same time). Listen to local FM radio while hanging around camp or moving through no risk terrain. Can program local State and Federal frequencies to be used in case of emergency*
Cons: Not as water/weather resistant as the BCA Link Radios. I’ve ruined two in accidental immersion incidents (waterfall rappelling). In heavy rain I would want to keep this in the pack, maybe in a dry sack. “Boom mic” is not included and not as glove-friendly as BC Link Radios. I keep this radio out on my shoulder strap. Care must be given that you do not broadcast on frequencies that require licensing. If you need a fleet of them it’s good to have someone with a data cable and the PC software “Chirp” to program them.
What is legal?
Navigating what frequencies don’t require a license can be tricky. The BC Link Radios are quite powerful FRS/GRMS radios that keep it simple. The BaoFeng can land you a $15,000 fine if you are caught using licensed channels. Because of this I’ve decided to pursue an Technician license. An even easier to get license is the “Amateur” license and would probably make these issues even clearer.
You are allowed to monitor (listen) to channels that require a license to transmit on. You are also allowed to transmit on these channels without a license in the case of a real emergency. From the FCC:
Part 97.403: Safety of life and protection of property.
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radio communication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.
All that said I’m looking forward to pursing a license so I can better answer these questions.
While some of the details of licensing can be unclear (without proper education) one thing that is clear is that handheld radios like these help us travel more safely and efficiently in the mountains. Here is an example of a conversation that could not happen with out radios from the top of a backcountry ski run:
“Dropping in 3” – alerts group I’m starting the first pitch of my ski run.
“Clear”- let’s group know next person can follow, I’ve stopped at a safer spot.
Even outside of avalanche terrain radios can assist with conveying hazards as they are discovered.
“Stay hard right at first corner to avoid a water bar”
In an alpine climbing scenario easily talking with your belayer when 50 meters apart and out of sight is comforting. None of the “Did he say off belay or OK?”. Was that three tugs or does she just need more slack?
Having both NWS weather updates and FM stations (BaoFeng) on long trips can help keep you informed and improve morale if stuck in your tent for an extra day waiting for good weather.
All of these reasons are why radios have become a part of my “essentials” every time I go into the mountains. Once you start using them you’ll wonder why you haven’t been using them all along!
Disclaimer: I do not have any level of radio license and information provided above may be incorrect. I will update this post after I have acquired a license but would love any comments from current licensed operators below and will make suggested edits where appropriate!
Last winter I got to demo the space age looking Kailas Entheos II Ice Axes. Without a doubt these tools turn heads as this is a somewhat lesser known company just starting to break into the US market. Before I share my opinions on them and how they were tested I’ll share the manufacturer description and specifications:
WINNER OF GERMANY ISPO AWARD 2014
WINNER OF ASIA OUTDOOR INDUSTRY AWARD 2011
WINNER OF OUTSIDE GEAR OF THE YEAR ,OUTDOOR CHINA 2012
“ENTHEOS” is the unique hybrid climbing technique ice axe in the world that using the CNC unibody fabrication . It takes its original performance to a higher level and we are proud to present our new product of unmatched quality, handling experience, and stability. It copes perfectly with steep, demanding terrains characterized by freezing ice surface and ice rocks. It is your best choice for overcoming climbing difficulties.
• Made of super high intensity and tenacity special steel .
• Integrated head structure allows a hammer head to be fixed to place rock pitons.
• All-terrain pick design made the tool sharp enough to pierce through hard ice. The toothed pick can hold onto ice surface with ease while the sharp end
on the axe head can be applied in pulling-back technology.
• There are removable extra weights attached on the axe head designed to provide extra power when striking into ice. Once they are removed,
the axe will be more handy and portable. (Stainless steel, 55g)
• CNC technology ensures high intensity and light weight.
• Ergonomicallly designed handle bar, excellent shock absorber.
• The shaft of our axe supplies a user with different ways to handle it and avoids unnecessary movement of axe between changes of hands.
It can be used in distinct terrains, bringing incomparable climbing efficiency.
• CNC technology makes accurate cutting possible, contributing to the delicate structure of this gear and excellent distribution of gravity center.
• Hollow shaft can absorb the rebound force when the user applies the axe on the ice surface, achieving smooth and clean entries into the ice.
• Made of 7075-T651 high intensity aluminum.
I climbed with these for 2-3 months leading and following on waterfall ice routes between Grade 3 and 5- in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In total they saw about 20 pitches of ice.
At first glance they do look similar to the new Petzl Nomics but with a few distinct differences. Most noticeable they are about 2.5 cm (1 inch) shorter than the Nomics. Not a big deviation but I did notice it before I took the time to measure the tools. This slight reduction in overall length is due to a slightly more aggressive bend in the Entheos. The other big difference is the entire shaft is a single piece of high-strength aluminum which gives these tools quite the futuristic and eye-catching look.
My home scale puts the Entheos II at 6 grams under the new Petzl Nomics. The handle is essentially the same width, likely will be most comfortable for medium-smaller hands. The shaft is slightly thinner than the new Nomics. The pic comes with removable head weights.
The Entheos swing quite well. They are balanced and designed well for steep ice. The slightly shorter profile suggests these should stick to hard steep ice or mixed climbing. They are not a tool for someone who spends the majority of their time on sub-Grade 4 ice and likely excel best at overhanging mixed climbing. The stock pick cleaned from placements easily. The small handle was a comfy grip for my medium sized hands. I didn’t take them out on super cold days but I imagine a pure aluminum shaft will feel colder on arctic days when climbing with thinner style gloves.
The Kailas Entheos II Ice Axes are a somewhat exotic option in the technical steep ice & mixed tool market. They are undoubtedly built to survive a lifetime of love (and abuse) in the mountains. If you can get by the sticker shock (or grab them when the Verticall Store has them discounted) you will probably be quite pleased.
Disclaimer: This media sample was provided for purpose of review and has been returned to the manufacturer. All opinions expressed above are my own.
Ultra light crampon with LEVERLOCK FIL binding, for ski touring and snow travel
Extremely light due to their aluminum construction, LEOPARD LLF crampons are perfect for ski touring and snow travel. The CORD-TEC flexible linking system minimizes bulk for ease of carrying.
– crampons made entirely of aluminum, optimized for snow travel
– very lightweight (only 330 grams per pair)
– CORD-TEC flexible linking system optimizes volume of crampons when packed in their bag (included)
– tool-free length adjustment
Binding system especially adapted to the usage of these crampons:
– self-adjusting elastic strap around the ankle
– strap for good handling and easy removal
– compact heel lever facilitates crampon installation/removal
Alright, that’s out of the way so let’s breakdown the good & bad starting with…
This was the biggest reason I chose these for my ski mountaineering kit. When your crampons only weigh 11 ounces it is hard to justify not packing them “just in case”. The CORD-TEC adjustment system lets them pack up into the smallest stuff sack I’ve ever used for crampons measuring about 7 by 4 inches.
First make sure you select the right model! For ski boots you want the “LeverLock Universal” (LLF). The regular “FlexLock” (FL) model is suitable for hiking boots with or with out front and toe welts.
I’ll admit I was skeptical about sizing a crampon that joins the heel piece to the front piece with string! Ok, maybe “string” is not the right word. The “CORD-TEC” is actually a woven 100% Dyneema cord. I measure it just shy of 5 mm (3/16 inches). That would give it a breaking strength around 6000 pounds… so not “string”. Dyneema is also highly resistant to abrasion.
Petzl does sell a replacement for it if you ever wear it out somehow. I have a hard time imagining how much use it would take to requirement, but the option is there.
I found the CORD-TEC system to be very easy to adjust for both of my ski boots. No tools required an quite intuitive. Do not be intimidated by the instructions, once in hand you could pretty much size them without looking at the instructions, but if you are having any issues give them a look!
These have been tested over a few thousand feet of snow climbing in on neve, spring corn, and classic NH “windboard”. For an ultra-light aluminum crampon they perform great! They have not, and will not, be tested on waterfall ice or mixed rock routes. They are not designed for that and I’m sure such uses will shorten their life-span. So far they have only been in contact with snow but I’m not too worried about walking over short sections of granite to get to the next patch of snow this Spring. It’s gear. It should get beat on from time to time! These will be my choice model for my next trip to climb in the Cascades.
These are for ski mountaineers, back-country skiers, and riders who have found themselves on a steep slope wishing they hadn’t left their crampons in the car. These could also be a nice step up for many winter hikers who sometimes rely on Kahtoola MICROspikes in terrain where more aggressive traction would be more appropriate. Just make sure you get the Flexlock model. Skiers should get the LevelLock model. Finally these are for anyone who is looking to shave ounces off their total kit while still having the tools they need to reach the places they want to play. If that’s you then you should consider checking these out!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
These crampons were purchased with my own money. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.
(UPDATE 2018/19- Originally previewed in this post I’ve now had two full seasons on this setup and am excited to start my third season on them this winter! Both Iceland trips were amazing BTW!)
A new pair of skis arrived on Friday (two years ago) 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.
Locking carabiners are an integral part of the climbers kit. In this post we are going to take a close look at the notable differences in styles, shapes, and mechanisms along with making suggestions as to where in the climbing system certain models are best suited for both convenience and greater security.
Screwgate Locking Carabiners
The most common style of locking carabiner is the traditional screwgate. This style has a “sleeve” on the gate that can be twisted until the sleeve is over a potion of the carabiner reducing the chance of the gate opening in any situation. A common error for beginning climbers is to screw this sleeve to tightly when locking the carabiner and finding it difficult to unscrew after the carabiner has seen load. Best practice is to simply screw the sleeve to where it stops easily turning then stop. Do not give it that “extra” turn. Then perform a quick “squeeze” test to verify the carabiner is locked. These carabiners are suitable for any use in the climbing system from belaying and anchoring to creating a top-rope master point. I prefer a screwgate as my personal anchor carabiner while multi-pitch climbing since auto-locking styles do not facilitate tying a clove-hitch on to the carabiner as smoothly as a screwgate that you can leave unlocked until you want to lock it. You can see that process in this quick video:
I also think a pair of the Petzl Attaches is the best choice for a top-rope master point and I carry two dedicated to this use. The reason these excel at this use is Petzl designed some grooves in the sleeve that interlock with the forged ribs of a reverse and opposed Petzl Attache. When used in this configuration the slightest of load basically eliminates the ability for these carabiners to unlock by vibration or even intentional hands. If you’ve ever arrived at a top-rope anchor to discover a locking carabiner has become unlocked during your session you’ll appreciate this added security feature in addition to the more well known “unlocked” red indicator, a nice visual clue that the carabiner is not locked.
Another screw gate carabiner I carry is the Petzl OK Locking Carabiner. This carabiner is in a symmetrical oval shape which makes it ideal for use in both aid climbing and big wall climbing with the Petzl Ascension Handled Ascender. For improvised rescue (both multi-pitch trad and glacier travel) it pairs perfectly with the Petzl Tibloc. For use in a self-belay top-rope system (or a more robust rescue system) it pairs perfectly with the Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley pictured above.
I do carry one larger Petzl William Locking Carabiner shown above which has a few advantages over the smaller locking carabiners I have already mentioned. If I need to lower someone with a Munter-Hitch the wider “rope end” shape of the carabiner offers smoother lowering even when using thicker ropes. There are also some situations where a large locking carabiner can make a convenient easy-to-use “master-point” at the anchor when climbing in parties of 3 or more. I also find this carabiner to be a convenient way of keeping my quick-draws and alpine draws organized before or after the climb.
One final thought on screwgate carabiners… it has been noted that these mechanisms can be less prone to “gunking up” in dirty environments. For ice climbing I have not found them to be less prone to getting iced up then any other style of carabiner. See the maintenance section near the end of this post for tips on prevention.
Twist Lock Carabiners
The next style we are going to look at is a locking mechanism that requires some care to be safely used. Twist Lock carabiners have a spring loaded sleeve that self-rotates into the locked position when the gate is closed. The advantage is the carabiner locks itself quickly. Popular models in this category are the Black Diamond Twistlock Carabiner, the Petzl Am’D Locking Carabiner and the Petzl Sm’D Locking Carabiner (both available in other locking styles). There is potentially less security in this style in the event of moving rope or a wrongly clipped belay loop that could press across the locked gate unlocking and opening it in an alarming fashion. This is best shown in a quick video clip:
While there are not many documented cases of this style failing there are a few incidents where this style might have contributed to a climber becoming disconnected from their rope system. Details are sparse enough that it could be fairly considered rumor. Regardless these carabiners are best used within the climbing system where there will not be moving rope going through them and their position can be monitored to ensure no unintended “unlocks”.
Some examples of where I would discourage their use:
Rappelling with a tube style (Black Diamond ATC/Petzl Verso) device. It is conceivable that the carabiner could rotate into a position where either the climbing rope or the belay loop of the harness could press against the spring loaded sleeve in a manner that could cause it to open like demonstrated in the video above.
Anchoring in on multi-pitch climbs, especially if in a larger climbing party. For starters it is a little less smooth tying a clove-hitch on to the carabiner when the carabiner looks itself when ever the gate closes. Also any moving rope, cordage, or slings above your anchor carabiner run a risk, however small, of passing over the gate in a potential fashion to open the gate.
Some examples of where they would be appropriate:
Rappelling with a figure-8 style device. While not very common in rock climbing circles these devices are still preferred for caving, spelunking, canyoneering, and rescue. The difference between this and a plate style device is the moving rope does not pass through the carabiner greatly reducing the chance of it coming into any contact with the gate. Care should still be used when loading the system that the belay loop is not twisted and the carabiner is in position to be loaded properly along its main axis.
Belaying with a brake assisting device like the Petzl GriGri2 or GriGri+. Since the climbing rope does not go through the carabiner with these devices the risk of unintended opening is almost nil. Care should still be used when loading the system that the belay loop is not twisted and the carabiner is in position to be loaded properly along its main axis.
Added security at static points in a climbing system. For example to secure one leg of a multi-leg static top-rope anchor. Once the system is set up and loaded there is virtually no risk of anything coming in contact with the sleeve. Essentially Twist Lock carabiners are best used in places where they will not be exposed to much moving material.
Triple Action Locking Carabiners
This category offers a fair amount of extra security over Twist Lock carabiners. While there are some variations within this category essentially a Triple Action carabiner requires three “actions” to unlock and open. In comparison it could be argued a Twist Lock under the right (or wrong) circumstances only requires one action to unlock and open (see video above). Popular styles include:
Let’s look at the main difference between Petzl’s two Triple Action options. The following is from Petzl.com:
• Rapid auto-locking
• Visual locking indicator
• Sleeve must be unlocked each time the carabiner is opened
• Tricky sleeve operation, especially with gloves, requires practice. System is less “ambidextrous” than the others
• Two hands needed to insert a device into the carabiner
• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)
• Rapid auto-locking
• Chance of improper locking when the carabiner closes (e.g. sling caught between the nose and the gate). The user must verify that the carabiner is properly closed and locked, even when using an auto-locking system
• Rapid auto-locking.
• Sleeve must be unlocked each time the carabiner is opened
• Tricky sleeve operation, requires practice
• Two hands needed to insert a device into the carabiner
• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)
• Rapid auto-locking
• Chance of improper locking when the carabiner closes (e.g. sling caught between the nose and the gate). The user must verify that the carabiner is properly closed and locked, even when using an auto-locking system
• Sensitivity to mud or other foreign objects that can impede auto-locking
This style of carabiner is an excellent choice for dedicated belay/rappel carabiners, plate style belay devices, and brake assisting devices like the Petzl GriGri2 and GriGri+ (review here).
While a small category in the industry this is my most favored style of auto-locking carabiner. Namely the Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner. This innovative style uses a magnetic system to lock the carabiner the moment the gate shuts. To unlock the carabiner one must pinch both sides of the gate. This motion is quickly mastered with either hand making this a very easy style to operate (yet next to impossible to create a scenario where the rope or a belay loop could mimic this pinch). After three winters of use I’ve had no issues with the mechanism getting iced up. Essentially I find these to be the fastest and most secure option in two places in my climbing system. First I use one for my main belay/rappel carabiner. Zero chance of forgetting to lock this important attachment and while it seems trivial the few seconds saved at every transition can add up. Second I use two on my plaquette style belay device.
Pictured here is my KONG GiGi but the popular Petzl Reverso 4 and Black Diamond ATC Guide would be a common substitute. Since some may ask about the GiGi I’ll add here that I typically am guiding with two clients so often I belay two ropes simultaneously. This can trash a guide’s elbows and shoulders over decades of yarding up rope and the Kong GiGi helps by having less resistance when pulling slack. I do also carry a Petzl Reverso 4 for rappels and as a “back-up” should anyone drop their belay device on a multi-pitch climb.
Depending on the environment you climb in you may need to do some light maintenance to keep your locking carabiners functioning properly. In the Northeast I don’t find my locking carabiners needing much attention and probably give them a tune up every 3-5 years if they haven’t incurred enough wear to be retired. Climbing in soft dusty deserts might require a more regular maintenance cycle. Luckily it isn’t that hard. If a gate or sleeve is sticking or feels “gritty” wash the carabiner in a warm soapy wash. An old toothbrush can help if they are really gunked up. Rinse well. Apply a quality lube like Metolius Cam Lube. I’ve also had great results with Teflon based bike lubricants. DO NOT use WD-40 as this spray really attracts dust and dirt and you’ll find yourself back in the kitchen sink pretty quickly.
After reading all this you might be wondering how many locking carabiners I carry. I see quite a few newer climber carrying an excess of locking carabiners on their harnesses. If you think carefully about your climbing system you can streamline it which will help make you a more efficient all-around climber. Here’s exactly what I carry for multi-pitch traditional or alpine climbing:
If we will be top-roping I add two Petzl Attaches per top-rope system I’m setting up.
So that’s only 5 locking carabiners with specific jobs for multi-pitch climbing and another 2 for top-roping. As always if you find yourself short a locking carabiner somewhere you feel you need one you can use two non-locking carabiners with gates reversed and opposed.
Hopefully this post has been informative and will help you optimize the amount and style of locking carabiners you spend your money on. There are so many options out there these days and it is helpful to recognize where one style may more more convenient, or even more secure, than another style. Drop a comment below on anything related to this post and your name will be entered into a drawing for a brand new Petzl Am’D BallLock Carabiner! Drawing will be held on October 31st at 12 PM EST and winner announce here and contacted via email.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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The Black Diamond Vapor Helmet is the lightest and most breathable helmet in Black Diamond’s line and is only an ounce heavier than the Petzl Sirocco that I reviewed here. A sheet of Kevlar and a series of carbon rods in between co-molded EPS foam provides the bulk of impact protection along with a thin but full polycarbonate shell. I’ve been testing this helmet out while climbing and guiding for the last three months and I’m ready to share my opinions on it! As normal I’ll start with the most noticeable features and work towards the minutiae.
Black Diamond lists the weight of the M/L size at 199 grams, or 7 ounces. My home scale measured 206 grams, or 7 3/8 ounces. For comparison my size 2 Sirocco weighed in on the same scale at 174 grams, or 6 1/8 ounces. While the listed weight seemed a slight bit low it truly weighs only an ounce more than the bar-setting Petzl Sirocco. This ultra-light weight is a boon for long approaches and descents and increases long-term comfort. You truly can forget you have your helmet on when wearing lids like this!
Twenty one geometric and well placed holes offer excellent airflow through the helmet making this one of the best hot weather options out there. Furthermore I tested the “Blizzard” color which is basically white and reflective and I found the helmet to be as cool as is possible even on sweltering August days.
The M/L size is listed to fit a head circumference of 58-63 cm (23-25 in). My head measures about 60 cm (23.5 inches). That said I found the helmet to run a little small. It fit my shaved head well but was almost maxed out (I do have a large head). I have just enough room for a thin hat liner for cold weather climbing. Removable and breathable helmet pads are soft on the skin and can be removed for washing. The Y-harness strap is not adjustable but fell perfectly around my ears. The feather like weight and high degree of breath-ability really do make this one of the most comfortable helmets I have ever tested.
Other than the weight and breath-ability the only other feature to talk about is the headlamp clips, which oddly are removable. Black Diamond suggests that removing them may make the helmet less likely to get snagged on slings, etc. but I’d suggest just leaving them on. They didn’t get caught on anything while I was testing. The helmet also has a nice low profile while providing great coverage on the back and sides.
It’s hard to accurately rate long term durability after just three months. I have friends who have climbed regularly in theirs for over a year. The thin polycarbonate shell does not resist small dents and dings with regular use. Black Diamond advises against packing this helmet inside your pack. I packed mine in the top of my pack like I usually do if I don’t have a full load and had no issues (but I remember it is in there and don’t sit on my pack when it is in there). If you strap it on the outside of your pack I would suggest you don’t just drop your pack on the ground when you reach the crag. I wouldn’t say you need to “baby” this helmet but if you want something that can take more abuse check out the Black Diamond Half Dome or Petzl Boreo that I reviewed here.
This is a specialist helmet. It’s a bit pricey, but the weight savings and breath-ability can easily justify the price. I’ve heard that cycling helmets made with a similar construction can go for 2 to 3 times more! The best uses for this helmet would be alpine climbing and long multi-pitch trad climbing. I’d chose something longer lasting for sport climbing where a couple ounces more can buy you a lot more durability. If weight and long term comfort in warm weather are a priority the Black Diamond Vapor is a great pick!
After teaching an anchor building clinic last week my guest started an email chain with me looking for some specific recommendations on improving his top-rope “kit”. After making a few suggestions I realized I get these questions a few times a year and there are probably others out wondering what an optimized top-rope kit looks like. So here I share what I think are the best of the best from ropes to carabiners, belay devices to harnesses and helmets, these are my “first picks”.
I would recommend this 10.1 mm rope in the 60 meter length. With a higher ratio of sheath-to-core this rope will hold up to hard use for many years. It comes equipped with a middle mark, which is a feature I insist on for any of my ropes if it’s not a bi-pattern rope. Some might question the added expense of getting a dry treated rope for top-roping. In addition to not taking on 5 pounds of water when you get caught in the rain dry treatments also help resist dirt and friction which adds both life and smoother handling. I pretty much only shop “dry” ropes these days despite the added cost.
Protect your investment in your climbing rope with the Cadillac of rope bags. This model has an integrated ground tarp and can compress the rope into a pack-able size when carrying a larger backpack to the crag.
If you will be top-roping anywhere that anchors are located a bit far back from the cliff edge you will need a static rope for extending your master-point out of the edge. Examples where static rope is helpful, if not necessary; Square Ledge, Pawtuckaway, Stonehouse Pond, Otter Cliffs, etc. Tubular and flat webbing IS NOT a substitute for static line as they both have enough stretch in them that they will quickly fray where they run over the cliff edge during repeated climbing cycles.
I recommend 2 in the 5.5 meter (18 foot) length. I use the Flat Overhand Bend as my joining knot on these instead of the more traditional Double Fisherman so that they are easy to untie for more anchoring options. Most often they are deployed in a Quad construction, around a large tree, or in a pre-equalized 3 piece gear anchor.
I’d recommend two 120 cm nylon slings and one 60 cm sling. The longer slings are most often deployed around medium size tree anchors, used in a pre-equalized fashion on two bolts, or as part of a larger more complex gear anchor, and will have two dedicated carabiners (see section below). The 60 cm sling is most often used in a “sliding-X” configuration.
The Petzl Grigri+ is a top-tier choice that comes with a bit of sticker shock. That said it is an incredibly well designed piece of gear. Check out my 1000+ word review of it here and decide for yourself! The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a much more affordable option that has a simple design and still includes a “brake enhancing” feature. My detailed review of that device is here. These two devices only accept one strand of rope so the classic Petzl Verso is carried for rappelling. Each of these will have a dedicated locking carabiner that works well with the device.
For the master-point (where your climbing rope will be running). I use two dedicated Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners. Along with the red “unlocked” indicator these carabiners have a feature many people don’t realize. When used at the master point with gates reversed and opposed the grooves on the screw-gate are designed to lock into the ridges of the opposed carabiner when under even just a light load. This prevents them from vibrating into an unlocked state even during the longest top-rope session. Even curious hands (I take a lot of young kids climbing) wouldn’t be able to unlock these with the tension of the rope on the carabiners. These are “dedicated” to this purpose so they wear evenly and I’ll replace them once they show a few mm of wear.
Yes, I recommend a helmet for top rope climbing (despite using some images in this post of helmet-less heads). I won’t say I wear mine 100% of the time, but I always have it with me. If I am climbing or belaying it is on. If I’m hanging around directly under climbers I have it on. The two models I endorse as excellent all around lids are the new Petzl Boreo (full review here) and the iconic Black Diamond Half Dome.
As I mentioned to start these are my top-tier choices. You can definitely save a bit of money by sacrificing some of the features I like, from dry treatment to middle marks, “brake enhancing” to unlock indicators. These are simply what I think are some of the best options in this category currently being offered. Please comment below with your own recommendations, ask me to clarify any of my choices, or just say hello!
In the coming months I hope to have a clearer picture of what you, my reader/follower, would like from Northeast Alpine Start. A recent Instagram poll revealed Tech Tips are more desired than Gear Reviews so I’m already working to add more skills to my growing list of Tech Tips. Feel free to comment or drop me a message on what you would like to see more of here!
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The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is an impressive addition to the growing number of “brake assisting” belay devices on the market.
What it is
From Black Diamond:
The lightweight Black Diamond ATC Pilot represents an advance in technology for the world of assisted braking devices. Providing an added level of security to your belay, the ATC Pilot threads similarly to other tubular belay devices and accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5mm. The durable steel braking surface has no moving parts, and the smooth and secure control allows for gradual lowering. With an easy rope payout, the ATC Pilot makes single-pitch projecting burns less tiring for the belayer and more secure for the climber.
Accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5
Provides an added level of security to single pitch belays
Smooth rope payout
Ergonomic, non-slip surface
Single rope use
How we tested
Over the course of two months I carried the Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device for almost two dozen days of climbing between Rumney Rocks and crags all over Mount Washington Valley along with a couple trips to the Salt Pump Climbing Gym. We used a Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner (our favorite belay carabiner). More significantly I handed it to my clients and regular climbing partners every chance I could to get their opinions as well as determine really how intuitive this device would be in the hands of both longtime veteran climbers and first-day-ever climbers. Over the test period I had at least 10 different people belay me while lead climbing and top-roping, some as young as 10 years old!
We found the Black Diamond ATC Pilot to be incredibly intuitive with a quick learning curve to become proficient in both lead and top-rope belaying. Experienced climbers felt that using it felt very similar to operating a regular Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Verso. Clear images on the device and a lack of moving parts helped even the newest, and youngest, of our testers properly install the device on the rope.
Top-roping Belaying and Lowering
Belaying on a top-rope system is quite simple with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot. Using the universal belay technique belayers had no problem removing slack from the system. When it came time to lower minimal coaching was required to have the belayer lower the climber. The biggest advantage during the lower is the lack of moving parts or levers make this device feel less likely to have an inexperienced belayer defeat the camming mechanism causing an uncontrolled fall and possible injury.
Belaying a lead climber with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is quite simple and we found that newer belayers could “keep up” with the lead climber’s progress easier than other brake-assisting devices on the market. With just slight upward pressure on the thumb lever (while keeping the brake hand around the brake strand) slack could be payed out as easily as any tube style belay device and at least one tester felt it could be payed out even smoother than a Petzl Gri Gri+ in experienced hands. In the event of a fall it is highly unlikely for a belayer to keep upward pressure on this lever and intuitive to slide the brake hand back down the strand for a secure catch.
The amount of braking will vary based on rope diameter and age, along with the amount of friction already in the system (top-rope vs lead catch). We found skinny new single ropes like our Sterling Fushion Nano IX 9 mm would slowly slip in a top-rope system (but were easily locked off with proper brake hand position). The slightly thicker Black Diamond 9.4 mm used in the video below would hold fast. Regardless the device must not be treated as “auto-locking”. A brake hand is required 100% of the time.
While the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is not designed for rappelling it can safely be used to descend a single strand rappel. Care must be taken as without gloves on your hand will come in contact with the carabiner which will create some heat on a long or fast rappel. We would likely still carry a traditional belay device like the Black Diamond ATC Belay Device if we were planning on doing a lot of rappelling.
The Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a great addition to the growing amount of assisted braking devices on the market. While it’s obvious this would be a good tool for gym and sport climbers we believe it could also earn a place with climbing guides and instructors. It’s an excellent choice for a new belayer due to its intuitive use and extra layer of security it provides while maintaining a simple design. The symmetrical design also makes this device equally effective for those who are right or left handed, something that many similar devices do not do. We also find the light weight and competitive price of this device to be a compelling reason to add it to your kit. You can check it out from the following retailers:
Disclaimer: The author bought this item with his own money. All opinions are his own. Affiliate links above help create reviews at Northeast Alpine Start like this at no additional cost to you! Thanks for reading!
The new Petzl Boreo helmet is a super protective rugged great value choice that replaces the long loved Petzl Elios helmet in Petzl’s award winning helmet line.
How we tested
We tested this media sample while sport climbing at Rumney, NH, cragging at various cliffs in Mount Washington Valley, and multi-pitch climbing on Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledge along with some alpine climbing in Huntington Ravine. I shared this sample with some of my co-workers, climbing partners, and guests and solicited their opinions. After 3 months of testing I’m ready to share my opinions on this model to help you decide if this is the right helmet for you. As usual we will start with the most positive stand-out features and work our way down the list after covering the manufacturer info.
Durable and very versatile, the BOREO helmet is suitable for climbing, mountaineering, caving, via ferrata, canyoning… Thanks to its hybrid construction, the helmet is both compact and head-covering. Protection against lateral, front and rear impact is reinforced. Optimized volume on the head and wide ventilation holes make it a comfortable helmet for all activities.
– hard outer shell is impact and scratch resistant for optimal durability
– hybrid construction with thick ABS shell, an EPP foam liner and an EPS foam liner makes it compact on the head
– soft headband conforms perfectly to the shape of the head and folds into the shell for storage and transportation
Head-covering design for optimal protection against lateral, front and rear impact:
– carries Petzl’s TOP AND SIDE PROTECTION product label
– head-covering shape, lower in the rear, offers reinforced protection
Versatile, for a variety of activities:
– suitable for climbing, mountaineering, caving, via ferrata, canyoning…
– four clips for headlamp attachment
– compatible with the VIZION eye shield
Petzl uses three main materials in the construction of the Boreo. The outer shell is a hard plastic ABS shell which both protects the energy absorbing liners and helps dissipate force in a hit. An expanded polypropylene (EPP) liner makes up the bulk of protection around the entire helmet except for the crown (the very top of the helmet) which uses an expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner for added impact protection from a direct top hit. For comparison this EPS liner is about 25% smaller in size than the EPS liner in the award winning Sirocco 2017 model (my review of that model is here).
All this adds up to a helmet that is super durable and long lasting. It should survive many years of small knocks and hits from falling ice, occasional rocks, etc. As with any helmet a major hit whether from a fall or object might require retiring it, but this is a helmet I could cram into an overloaded haul bag and not get too nervous when I forget it’s in there before sitting on my pack at a trail break (I’ve broken ultralight climbing helmets in this manner before). This helmet definitely stands out in terms of long term durability!
The next most significant feature of the Petzl Boreo is how much protection it provides. There are a lot of things that determine how protective a lid will be so let’s start with the material. The ABS/EPP/EPS combo is un-matched for being able to absorb and dissipate energy in a hit and is likely the most durable construction out there (at the cost of some weight). While carrying certifications from both CE and UIAA Petzl has gone further and created there own internal tests for gauging side and rear impact protection. CE and UIAA tests focus on top protection but for a helmet to truly protect the wearer from a bad fall the sides and rear of the helmet need to be tested as well as they are certainly prone to impact. This may be the most protective (and durable) climbing helmet on the market.
There are very few models that can offer the protection, durability, and design Petzl achieves at this price point. This makes the Boreo a great choice for institutions, climbing camps, guide services, and climbers who appreciate durability over saving a few ounces or grams.
I found the Petzl Boreo to be relatively comfortable for a helmet in this weight category. It definitely feels heavier than the ultralight Petzl Sirocco and on long climbing days I rarely would forget I have it on. The removable foam pads are comfortable directly on the skin and can easily be washed after they’ve seen a few weeks of sunblock greasy climbing. Ventilation is much better than the Petzl Elios it replaces but not as airy as the super breathable Petzl Sirocco.
The Petzl Boreo comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L. S/M is for a head circumference of 48 to 58 cm and the M/L is for a head circumference of 53 to 61 cm. My head measures in at 59 cm so the M/L fits me well with no hat and I can where a thin winter hat liner with the helmet adjusted to its largest setting. If your head is 60 cm or larger you might find this helmet a bit to snug to wear with a winter hat. While the side yoke straps are not adjustable they did fall perfectly around the ears. My only small gripe about the adjustable mechanism is when the helmet is packed it tends to adjust itself to a smaller size requiring the need to re-size the helmet almost every time I take it out. This only takes a second or two but it is worth noting.
The Petzl Boreo is compatible with the Petzl Vizion Face Shield and that combo would offer the most about of protection possible for ice climbing. The helmet includes four clips for mounting a headlamp and my Petzl Actik Headlamp attached quickly and securely. As already mentioned the removable and washable foam pads are really comfortable on direct skin and clean up easily when they get that mid-season funk.
The Petzl Boreo is the most durable and protective climbing helmet I have reviewed to date. The focus on increased side and rear impact protection is proof of Petzl’s forward thinking design and desire to not only meet existing standards but go beyond. The Petzl Boreo is a great choice for not only rock and ice climbing but for ski mountaineering pursuits. While ounce counters might not like the relatively high weight those looking for value in a long lasting highly protective helmet wouldn’t find many options as appealing as this one. I think this is an excellent choice as a “first” helmet and its durability will likely keep it in your kit for certain missions throughout your climbing career.
You can pick this helmet up at the following local retailers in Mount Washington Valley: