This past summer I’ve worn the Kailas 9A Classic Pants more than any other pant in my wardrobe. This Asian brand is not that well known in North America so I’ve had numerous climbing partners ask me about the pants I’ve been wearing. They have a similar style and quality to more common US brands like Prana, Mountain Hardwear, and Patagonia. “9A” by the way refers to the French difficulty rating system and is roughly equal to 5.14d on the Yosemite Decimal System. While these pants didn’t help me send any routes anywhere near that level of difficulty after almost 50 days of rock climbing and hiking in them I’m ready to share my opinions!
These pants are extremely comfortable in a wide range of conditions. Made of quick-drying 4-way stretch Nylon/Spandex blend I found the fabric to be very soft against bare skin. The material is lightweight and very breathable so I wore these without concern on some of the hottest days of the summer. Sizing is Asian so most Americans will want to order up one size. My US pant size is 32/32 and the XL in these fit me perfectly. Follow the size chart and you should do well!
Articulated knees and crotch offer full range of motion and flexibility. The inch and a half wide elastic band around the back really helps the pants stay put under my harness. I have not needed to wear a belt with these as they sit perfectly over the hips with just the button and Velcro front closure. The back belt loop is designed to accommodate a chalk bag for bouldering.
Two front hand pockets add some everyday convenience though there is no back pocket. One of my favorite features of these is the embedded button fasteners for rolling the bottoms up when climbing. No need to do a tight calf roll with these!
Relatively elaborate embroidery gives these a stand-out appearance that has definitely caused people to ask who makes these pants. Durability wise after a full climbing season they show almost no wear and have held up well to the typical rigors of rock climbing.
Quality craftsmanship, good fit, practical features, comfort, and nice style. There really isn’t anything missing from the Kailas 9A Classic Pants. They come in a ton of different colors! Check them out on Amazon here or from the new Canadian retailer Verti Call.
Last year Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) released their first entry into the high end ultra-light outerwear market with the intrepidly named brow-raising jacket, “The Shell“. Already well known for their ultralight backpacks and shelters made from expensive but high performance fabrics this level of design in a piece of clothing was sure to turn heads and I was quite excited to find out I would receive a demo model to review.
How I Tested
I started testing in February while in the middle of my winter guiding season. This allowed me about 25 days of back-country skiing, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing to get acquainted. I only parted with my test model for a week to allow a fellow guide a chance to bring it on a South America climbing trip and was happy to get it back in time for a week long trip back-country skiing in Iceland. All in all this demo model saw 35+ days of combined multi-sport use from New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains, to 17,000 feet on Ishinca in the Andes, to the Trollaski Penisula in northern Iceland. The results are in!
Generally I like to start a gear review focused on the single most positive aspect of the item I’m reviewing and work down from there. With the HMG “The Shell” there was a four-way tie between Durability, Weight, and Pack-ability, and Performance. But durability ultimately wins out as this is the one feature I feel justifies the sticker shock when one first sees the price. This jacket is made from DCF-WPB fabric with Dyneema.
Dyneema is stronger than steel for its weight and has excellent fatigue resistance (cyclic bending) and UV, chemical and abrasion resistance. This durability is brazenly referred to from HMG as “tough as f*#k”. Although the jacket has only been out for less than a year I’d say it is safe to assume this material and construction will last 3-4 times longer than pieces that try to achieve what this jacket achieves with so little weight. A more conservative statement would be “This jacket will easily have triple the lifespan of non-Dyneema jackets.” So if this jacket can easily outlast models that cost half as much while offering the benefits I will get into below that sticker shock might start to subside.
If you get a chance to take one of these off the rack at a gear show you are going to be surprised at the weight, or lack of. You’ll need to look twice to make sure you really are holding it. A technical specification of 5.8 ounces does not do it justice, you need to hold this in your hand to get a sense of what “feather weight” really feels like. The only other shell I have tested that can come close to this ultra-light feel is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket (2 ounces heavier). An amazing jacket at a more affordable price, but not 100% water-proof or nearly as indestructible as The Shell.
The Shell has one small zippered pocket on the front right that can be turned inside out and used as a storage sack complete with a small sewn carabiner loop for attaching to the back of your harness. The stuffed size is about the size of a softball with about a 4 inch diameter. This pack-ability will let you stuff this into the smallest of CamelBaks, running packs, and waist packs for go anywhere mobility.
There’s manufacturer claims and real life performance. Let’s look at each.
Claim: Waterproof Ratting: 10,000mm– This means the jacket should handle moderate to heavy rain.
Real-life: Unfortunate for our snow-pack but fortunate for my testing this past winter was plagued by multiple mid-winter rain events that allowed some serious testing of the waterproof claim from HMG. I wore this on at least three rainy adventures and my experience was that this jacket truly is waterproof. At first I was concerned about the front zipper as it did not look like the polyurethane waterproof thin zippers I was expecting (the small pocket on the jacket uses that style). Turns out HMG went with a longer lasting VISLON® Aquaguard® Zipper for the main zipper and I found it to be impenetrable even in the 40-50 mph raining-sideways-summit-day I had on Mount Washington. The slight stiffener in the visor on the hood was just enough to help keep the heaviest of downpours of the face.
Claim: Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr– This is an incredibly high rating of breathablity for a fabric that also can claim true waterproofness!
Real-life: I’ll be honest and state that I was concerned about the breathability of a waterproof jacket with no pit zips or side ventilation. My concerns were first alleviated during an avalanche course I was teaching when I skinned from the trail-head to Hermit Lake, (2.3 miles, 1,870 elevation) in 1 hour 20 minutes on a 28°F (-2°C) day. It was one of the few times I’d ever left a shell jacket on while skinning in such fair weather all the way to Hermit Lake. Having easily logged another 20,000 feet of uphill travel in the back-country while wearing The Shell I can whole-heartedly attest to an accurate breathability rating! The only other pieces I could compare this level of breathability to is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket or the Patagonia Houdini (not as indestructible as The Shell, or considered waterproof).
The only media sample I could get was a size medium so the fit was a touch snug for my 180 lb 5’9″ build with a 42 inch chest. HMG’s sizing chart would put me into a size large which I think probably would have been perfect. It is important to recognize that Dyneema fabrics have almost no stretch to them which means clothing must be quite quite close to your body’s own specifications or quickly be to tight or to baggy. That said I was able to wear this as a “second skin” right over my Ortovox Merino wool T-shirts. In cold conditions I’d layer my mid-weight puffy jacket’s, my full belay jackets, or my heavy ski jackets over it. If I wanted to wear more insulation under it I would have to get into my appropriate size, which would have been a large. Bottom line is following the sizing info on the HMG website and it should fit you well!
You can read the manufacturer specifications and right of HMG’s website here so I’m not going to cut & paste them here (unless you find that more convenient)? I am going to share the quick promotional video they produced as I think it shows the hood fit and other features quite well:
“The Shell”. Such a simple and confident name for a garment. It makes me think of the LOTR “one ring to rule them all” line for some reason. Is this the one shell you’ll ever need? Probably not. It is a niche type item. It is the epitome of minimalist functional artisan design. I love how it performed. I love the weight and pack-ability of it. I love that it is made in Maine!
Who is this for? This is an obvious winner for the ultra-light crowd, whether you’re a climber, skier, long distance trail runner, or sea kayak-er I can see this becoming a new favorite. The simple expected lifespan of this piece (Dyneema does not degrade naturally as fast as nylon) means this could be one of the best value pieces out there for its intended purpose. Hyperlite Mountain Gear has entered the outerwear business with The Shell, and I’m really glad they did!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with this media sample. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.
Spring in the White Mountains is here! After a long snowy winter many climbers and hikers are chomping at the chance to get on some dry rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. Unfortunately in a couple more weeks many insects will be chomping at the chance to chomp on us! Get your bug defense program up and running before “Black Fly Season” gets underway!
In this post I’d like to share some time tested strategies to keep the dreaded “bug season” from keeping you from enjoying what it is you do in the mountains. To combat these little buggers we will use a four-pronged approach! Clothing, Repellent, Timing, Location.
The first line of defense should be clothing. Everyone knows long-sleeves and pants are preferable for bug protection but they seem so hot when the temperature and humidity is high right? Some long-sleeve options actually feel cooler than going shirtless! Here’s my current favorite tops when dealing with an onslaught of bloodthirsty insects and warm temps!
These two pieces are super breathable and basically come with me on every adventure from April to September! For some lightweight breathable hiking and climbing pants check out the ExOfficio BugsAway Sol Cool Ampario Pants.
We will look at two layers of repellant. One for your clothing/gear and one for your skin. Without question the most effective insect repellent is permethrin.
Between wearing the proper clothing and treating it with Permethrin I rarely need to apply DEET to stay bite free but I do carry it as insurance during the worst feeding frenzies. A small application behind the ears and back of the neck can make leading a rock climb much more bare-able when those alpine gnats come out. Since I use it sparingly I tend to only pack the smallest of bottles like this great .5 ounce one from Sawyer. There are lots of size options for both spray and time-released lotions on Amazon.
Finally timing and location can help avoid the little nasties. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk so you could plan to be inside during those times. If you only have time to climb around dusk you could pick crags with consistent breezes. Some of my favorite destinations during the peak feeding season are Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch, Profile Cliff in Franconia Notch, Table Mountain off of Bear Notch Rd., and higher elevation stuff like Huntington Ravine (beware of those alpine gnats though). Avoid the low lying swampy areas during peak feeding times.
Pawtuckaway State Park, Stonehouse Pond, Longstack, lower Shell Pond, and even the North End of Cathedral Ledge can all be particularly nasty just before dusk during the peak feeding season. If you are walking through fields or tall grass on your hike out just assume you’ll pick up a few ticks and do a quick check at the car. I once skipped a tick check before driving home from a hike in Madison, NH and discovered 7 ticks crawling up my bare legs while driving (I wasn’t wearing my treated hiking shoes that day or wearing any repellent).
You can pick up most of the DEET and Permethrin products I suggested and support local businesses while in the White Mountains at these great shops!
Southern New England is already seeing the tick and mosquitoes appear which means we only have a week or two in the White Mountains before bug biting season starts for us. Now is the time to shore up your insect defense plan! To get your started you can enter to win a 3 oz bottle of Sawyer Premium Maxi DEET Insect Repellant. You can enter multiple ways through this link below!
I’ve had three full winter seasons testing the lofty Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka and it has been a consistent performer in the category of down belay jackets. Let’s take an in-depth look at the good and the bad and determine if this is the right choice for you!
It is important when comparing down jackets that you consider both the fill power of the down (generally 700+ is used in higher end pieces), and the actual amount of down used (generally varies from 2-8 ounces). The Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka is stuffed with 6.4 ounces of ethically sourced 800 fill goose down. This is a very generous amount of the heat-retaining-super-lightweight-and-compressible natural insulator! Similar priced models from other manufacturers often have 4-5 ounces of down (if you can even find out from them).
What this means is this “puffy” really is “puffy”. It feels like a big down sleeping bag that fits over all of my other layers (including soft-shell or hard-shell jackets). Baffled construction on the core and quilted construction on the arms keep this quality down where it is needed and eliminates “cold spots”.
But is it warm?
I’ve worn this now in ambient air temps down to -16°F (-26°C) with wind-chills between -30°F to -40°F below zero (-34°C to -40°C)! When worn over my typical winter mountaineering layers I’ve stayed toasty teaching avalanche courses, camping at 11,000 feet in the Cascades, and belaying partners on long pitches of technical ice climbing. It is without a doubt a toasty pound and a half part of my clothing system!
At only one pound six ounces (about 620 grams) this is the lightest full winter belay jacket I’ve tested! It also packs down into a very small stuff sack to maximize the available space in your smaller ice & alpine climbing packs. I lost the original stuff sack that came with the jacket but upgraded (and downsized from the original) to this amazing Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack!
Patagonia uses a really silky and thin Pertex Quantum® fabric with DWR (durable water repellent) finish to fend off moisture. This is a positive for making this puffy extremely light-weight, pack-able, and breath-able. However it also makes this piece most suitable for extreme cold conditions when liquid precipitation is pretty much out of the question. If the forecast calls for “mixed” or freezing rain I’d suggest reaching for a heavier less pack-able synthetic belay jacket (like the recently reviewed Outdoor Research Perch).
Basically don’t expect this shell material to resist much liquid water. I managed to soak mine in a dripping ice cave while ice climbing on an unseasonably warm day and it was clear this piece is better designed for arctic cold dry days and not warm/damp days. It did however regain full loft when dried that evening!
I went with a size large for my 180 pounds, 5′ 9″, 42 inch chest, 34 inch waist build and it fits great over my typical winter ice climbing/mountaineering/back-country ski clothing kits. The hood is the perfect size for fitting over my climbing/mountaineering helmet and a drawcord on the back pulls the sides back so you don’t feel like you are wearing horse blinders.
The elastic wrists have the right amount of tension, hand-warming pockets are properly sized and positioned a little higher to be harness friendly. A bottom hem draw-cord helps keep heat from escaping out below and the front zipper runs high enough into the collar/hood area that I can go into “full turtle mode” when it is really too cold to be outside.
Rounding out the features a small chest pocket keeps my phone & lip balm handy and a large stretchy internal pocket on the right side will keep your gloves or mittens warm and dry (and prevent them from blowing away) while you attend to what ever fine dexterity task crops up.
This is one of the best down belay jackets out there at a fair price, especially when considering the amount and quality of the down Patagonia used. While there are some durability concerns with a piece made with such silky then fabrics (especially considering all the sharp stuff ice climbers carry) my parka only has two pea sized holes in it after 2 seasons which were easily patched with my favorite field repair stuff, Tenacious Tape. If you are in the market for a lofty warm down belay jacket this one should be on your radar!
You can also save some money buying one of these now as most retailers have them on sale as we quickly approach Spring however inventory is really low! Check out the lowest prices at the links below! I will re-post this next Fall when the new colors & inventory hits the market!
The Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka is a weather bomb-proof choice in the growing field of belay jackets. I’ve been testing this jacket heavily since mid-last-winter and when there is any chance of freezing rain or -30 wind chills I’m likely selecting this piece out of my quiver of belay jackets for a warm piece of mind. Let’s take a look at what Outdoor Research put into this portable oven!
Not all synthetic insulation is created equal. In the case of well known Primaloft did you know it comes in three different qualities? Black, Silver, and Gold? For this high-end piece Outdoor Research used the highest level of Primaloft Gold, which is the most thermally efficient and compressible insulation that Primaloft makes.
Not only did Outdoor Research select arguably the best synthetic insulation available they distributed it intelligently through the parka but using 200 grams/m2 in the torso and 160 grams/m2 in the lower body and lower sleeves. This maximizes thermal efficiency without having a parka that won’t fit in your sleek ice climbing pack.
Following the trend of using the best possible synthetic insulation Outdoor Research went with the well known Pertex brand of shell fabric for the shell material. Like Primaloft there are options here and they selected the Pertex “Endurance” material which incorporates an ultra-thin air permeable coating that is both highly breathable, water and wind resistant. This layer protects the insulation material from the elements to maintain loft and retain warmth.
Composition – 100% Polyamide (Nylon)
Weight – < 35g / m2
Air permeability – 1.0cc (max)
Optimum strength to weight ratio
At 30 ounces this jacket comes in a little heavier than my other synthetic belay jackets and obviously a down jacket would be an unfair side to side comparison in the weight department but what you gain with those extra 8-10 ounces is security in the harshest and sometimes wet environments. While I love down belay jackets for real cold & dry conditions the truth is, especially this winter, that we often see rain, freezing rain, mixed precipitation, followed by some insane cold snap. In these turbulent weather patterns a synthetic belay parka is a safer choice, and I don’t mind the extra weight. Surprisingly despite the “sleeping bag” feel of this parka it manages to pack down to a very reasonable size. One of my favorite features is it stuffs into a velcro compartment that is part of the jacket! No random included stuff sack that I am sure to mis-place!
You will also notice in the upper photo that there are two large oversized internal mesh pockets that easily fit a water bottle or your bulkier climbing gloves while you are adjusting crampons or performing other dexterity requiring tasks (no need to leave those damp gloves on the freezing ground right?)
Rounding out the feature set here is an properly sized hood that easily fits over my climbing helmet but also has chin draw-cords and a goggle draw-cord on the back to help the hood move with your head when looking around. Speaking of the hood there is a semi-stiff visor that has been very welcome when dealing with any type of heavy precipitation. It’s the first belay parka I’ve seen this feature on and it definitely makes a difference when climbing out of that dripping ice cave! Two hand-warmer pockets, a standard zippered chest pocket, and velcro cuff’s top off the small details.
If you have ever been cold while waiting for your partner to finish a lead, standing around top-roping at the local crag, transitioning to crampons and mountaineering axe at the base of the steeps, or just eating an apple during a quick snack break mid-trip, you should have a look at this belay jacket. This caliber of jacket is part of my “unexpected bivy” gear list, meaning I think about it as a sleeping bag for my torso. Combined with a bivy sack and proper insulated pants I’d be confident spending the night out in some pretty horrid conditions (though I’d prefer a warm bed).
Last year I got to review the iconic Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody, undeniably one of the “best in class” pieces of outdoor clothing on the market. This year Patagonia has taken this iconic piece and optimized it with a new “PlumaFill” synthetic insulation that really gives natural down insulated pieces a run for the money. Instead of lamenting over every minutia detail I’m going to call attention to the differences in this new option over the tried-and-true Nano-Puff Hoody that many of us are familiar with (especially if you read my aforementioned review).
“PlumaFill”… what is it? Google searches will lead you to other positive reviews of this jacket but for the sake of time I will tell you it is the closest insulation I have experienced to good ole’ goose down with the added benefit of still “working” when it gets wet. I’ve asked a few experienced outdoor retail friends to guess the insulation by “feel” and they all thought this was a down piece. Its perceived “warmth” is definitely competitive with any down option at this weight on the market!
My size large weights 9.5 ounces. It’s almost laughable that something that can retain this much heat can weigh that little. Seriously? I can pack this into a 22 ounce water bottle! While it is with out a doubt ultra-light weight and compressible I would still caution that this is a “light puffy”. Don’t expect it to be your sole belay jacket on Cannon Cliff or Lake Willoughby…but… at the weight & low packing space this is a piece that could live in your pack for all those “I wish I had a little more warmth” moments.
The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody used a 1.4-oz 22-denier that felt like silk. The new Mirco Puff uses a .7-oz 10-denier 100% nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum® with the same DWR (durable waterproof repellent) finish. What does that mean? Well silky got silkier and the shell fabric is basically half as thick as the iconic Nano Puff. We are probably giving up some durability here at the benefit of weight/pack-ability… but for many of us that is a welcome trade.
The new Micro Puff Hoody saves you about 3 ounces for an equal amount of environmental cold protection. That’s a $50 price increase for 3 ounces and maybe 20 cubic inches of packing space (they both back into smaller than a water bottle packages). “PlumaFill” seems to be the closest anyone has been able to get to the weight vs. warmth of natural down, but the PrimaLoft Gold used in the original Nano Puff Hoody is still a strong contender in the arena. I guess the bottom line is both of these are pretty darn amazing options and it’s up to you if the 3 ounce savings is worth the extra moo-laa. I hope this brief review helps you decide!
As the year draws to an end I’m looking back at the plethora of amazing advancements in the field of climbing gear and clothing this past season and calling out some of the best stuff I got to review this year that has become a permanent addition to my kit. Check them out below!
Petzl Sirocco Climbing Helmet
A fantastic update to what was already one of the most competitive climbing helmets on the market I went into great detail of the changes in my review here.
Arcteryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots
Without a doubt the most sleek and comfortable ice climbing boots I have ever worn. From Mount Rainier to Grade 5 waterfall ice in New England these have been a serious joy to wear. See my detailed review here.
Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants
From Spring rock climbing in New England, Summer alpine climbing in the Cascades, to warmer winter ice climbing, these pants came in clutch this past year. Check out my full review here.
Petzl GriGri+ Belay Device
There’s a lot to love about the safety improvements to the iconic GriGri with the new “+” version. My favorite feature is definitely the fact that this device is engineered to work with any single rated rope on the market so I don’t need to think about whether my ropes are too skinny to use with this device. See my long review on this advancement here.
Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes
While these amazing ice tools have been around for awhile Cassin just released some more customization options including an alpine handle and two new pick options! Details in my review here.
Petzl Laser Ice Screws
I ran some numbers and did some comparing against other popular models of this screw here. While I deal with the “sticky screw” placement from time to time these still make up the bulk of my ice rack!
A lot of great skins hit the market late last winter and I got to test three of the top models! Check out the results here!
This set up absolutely slays the uphill skinning yet performs quite impressively on the descent. I logged over 50,000 feet of skiing this rig last season and I couldn’t have been happier. Bonus that the Arcteryx Procline Carbon Ski Boots could also climb technical ice!
Well there you have it, 8 of my favorite climbing (and skiing) pieces of gear and clothing from the past year. I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!
What was your favorite piece of new gear from last season? Let me know in the comments below!