I’ve now had a couple months to test the new Salewa Ortles Guide 35 Backpack and I’m ready to publish my review!
TLDR Version: The Salewa Ortles Guide 35 Backpack is a rugged lightweight technical backpack that is an excellent pick for general mountaineering, waterfall ice climbing, and ski mountaineering.
How I Tested:
I’ve taken this pack on a half dozen trips so far. Two general winter mountaineering trips up Mount Washington, a few waterfall ice climbing trips, and on one ski mountaineering objective.
What I Really Liked:
Hard to pick my favorite feature as there are a few of them. Let’s start with the roll top closure and removable “brain”. Around the rim of the roll top Salewa added a stiffener that reminds me of those wrist snap bracelets from yonder years. This stiffener creates a great seal that makes rolling the top of the pack down easy and makes a great seal to keep snow out of the pack in inclement weather. A magnetic “over the roll” strap helps secure climbing ropes and slim the profile of the pack if I’ve decided to remove the “brain” for a more streamlined climbing pack.
Both of the two external zippers on the pack are the high end waterproof zippers I prefer, the Salewa does not claim the pack to be waterproof I found it to be one of the more “snowing hard out”-proof bags I’ve tested. The horizontal zipper near the top accesses a pocket that was big enough to carry my avalanche shovel and probe on a recent ski mountaineering mission. The diagonal side zipper gives the user another access point to reach their water bottle without having to go through the roll-top access point.
The backpack features reinforced side carry loops for A-framing your skis. The upper compression straps have a nice “separator” straps for securing any type of ice axe from mixed climbing tools to general mountaineering axes.
The “Dry-Back” back panel and molded shoulder straps felt awesome for both carrying heavier loads while ski mountaineering or while climbing vertical frozen waterfalls.
I found the 35 liters to be generous and was easily able to pack my for guide kit for a technical day of ski mountaineering (post coming soon to show that gear list).
Salewa is definitely a safety orientated company at the sternum strap whistle is the best quality I have seen for a sternum strap whistle. Beneath the removable lip is also information relating to the “Alpine Emergency Signal” which includes a diagram showing how to put an injured person into the “recovery position” and the numbers for contact emergency services in Europe and US & Canada, along with SOS morse code instructions.
Finally, I love the color. I’m a huge fan of bright colors in backpacks from both a Search & Rescue perspective and a general preference.
What Could Be Improved:
There is not too much here I would change but a few things did come to mind while testing the pack. Probably the biggest is the reinforced lower compression straps do not have releasable buckles. So if carrying a rope coiled in a single strand butterfly coil (quite common these days) you’ll need to “tuck” the rope into the ski carry loops if you want the rope fastened securely. A minor issue for sure but I do like packs where all four side compression straps can be opened.
While this pack was designed and marketed toward “ski mountaineering” vs. backcountry touring the avalanche tool pocket could use one small drain hole towards the bottom. It was also a bit tight for my super light carbon avalanche probe and shovel (what I carry on more technical tours vs. general backcountry skiing. My larger shovel and probe may not have fit in this pocket.
Summary/Who Is This For?
In summary this is a very well designed backpack made by a great company. I had way more great things to say about the pack then the couple of small nitpicks I mentioned. Who should consider purchasing this backpack? This backpack is best designed for an ice climber who occasionally goes touring or a winter above tree-line type hiker. I did not rig snowshoes to the outside of the pack but it shouldn’t be hard with a couple straps to easily fasten them to the outside. So if you are into ice climbing, winter hiking, and maybe do a little backcountry touring on the side, maybe this could be the backpack for you! You can find it in the US at these retailers:
I’ve had a few months to demo and review the Italian made AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots and I’m ready to share my opinion on them! Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first. I first heard of this company through a social media ad and I purchased a pair of the AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes because I have a thing for approach shoes! The shoes performed so well I published this review and later reached out to see if I could get a media sample of the AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots to review. AKU supplied me with a pair to check out but this has in no way effected my opinion of the boots. Read on to see how they were tested and how they performed!
How they were tested:
Test period: December – March
Use: Winter hiking, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Approx. 20 days of use, 100+ miles, over 40,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.
Bottom Line (TL;DR version)
These are a solid choice for the winter hiker/climber who spends equal time between general winter mountaineering (snow climbing) and more technical waterfall ice climbing that won’t break the bank!
I went with a UK 8, EUR 42, USA M 8.5 and the fit was perfect for my medium width foot with a regular arch and a slight Morton’s toe. The lacing system has a great pulley system at the lower top of the foot, 6 “mini” pulley’s to be exact then a self-locking ratchet mechanism. This system makes securing the foot in the boot super quick and efficient. The result is zero toe-bashing while kicking up waterfall ice while wearing crampons or while descending of any steep hiking trail. I never felt a need to “snug up” my laces for the descent with these boots feeling comfortable and secure all day long!
For general winter hiking and mountaineering these performed quite well! AKU doesn’t list how much Primaloft insulation is in the liner but there is enough to keep my feet toasty down to 10 degrees below Fahrenheit with wind chills around -20 to -30 above tree-line. My feet stayed warm throughout each trip (wearing my Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks)! For general winter hiking and mountaineering I paired them with my Petzl Vasak 12-Point Mountaineering Crampons and they worked great together!
For ice climbing I was quite impressed with their performance, especially at the price point! The lasting board, which gives the sole its stiffness, is made out of “6-4 MM Nylon & Die Cut EVA for Rock Protection & Stability”. More important to me is the welt is fully compatible with my technical ice climbing crampons with a solid front and back lip on the welt. My Petzl Dart Crampons fit perfectly on the welt and felt secure on many pitches of Grade 3 waterfall ice.
The AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots are a great winter “all-a-rounder” that will basically perform well in pretty much any snowy situation below 8000 feet. This makes them an excellent choice for winter hikers working on their “Winter 48” 4000 footer list, and for winter hikers who are considering breaking into the waterfall ice climbing sport. They are technical enough to handle waterfall ice and mixed climbing at almost half the price of most technical ice climbing specific boots. The fact that they are made in Italy is apparent in their craftsmanship and I have no doubt these boots can survive a decade of winter exploration. If you’re in the market for a great pair of winter hiking boots you should give these a try!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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In almost every avalanche course I teach we have a discussion about the use of avalanche airbags. My opinions on this matter have changed over time in light of new information and advancements in technology. Earlier in my avalanche education days I would cite statistics such as 75% of avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington were caused by trauma, not asphyxiation, the mechanism of death that an avalanche air bag is supposed to reduce the chance of in certain situations. Therefore I would conclude, perhaps wrongly, that avalanche airbags did not seem as valuable in our unforgiving terrain. In this article I will present a new argument for the use of avalanche airbags in the East, specifically for the backcountry touring community. First, a bit of background information that may be useful to the uninitiated.
How They Work
Simply put an avalanche airbag backpack has a handle or “trigger” that gets pulled by the wearer when caught in an avalanche which then causes a deployment system, either compressed air or electronic, rapidly fill a large rugged “ballon” that was stored inside the backpack. This “ballon” basically works to keep the wearer closer to the surface of the snow in a moving avalanche via “granular convection“, often referred to as the “Brazilian nut effect”. This video shows the effectiveness quite well.
Here are a few other things I will note that are relevant to this video. First, backcountry snowboarders and split-boards should see the value in an avalanche airbag perhaps at a higher level than skiers. The reason for that is these travelers do not have release-able bindings and therefore are more likely to be pulled under the snow during the type of avalanche motion seen in this video, referred to as “wet flowing” in the snow science community. Second, this avalanche path is a good example of a path with a safe runout. An avalanche airbag deployment is less likely to result in a positive outcome if you have terrain traps below you i.e. rocks, trees, cliffs, gullies, crevasses, creeks, etc.
A Change in Demographic
Before 2019 the main demographic for avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington were either ice climbers or winter hikers (11) and only three skiers. There has been an obvious shift in how people are recreating in the terrain with a noticeable explosion of the backcountry touring population (AT skiers, Split-boarders, Tele). This change in usage increases the chance of a survivable avalanche in a few ways.
First, getting caught in an avalanche while on foot or while skinning low in an avalanche path is often more serious than triggering something from the top. While there’s obviously a fair amount of luck surviving any avalanche the first avalanche involvement of our season resulted in no injuries for the person who triggered the avalanche and was carried the full slide length while the victim who was hit mid-path suffered serious trauma. In January of 2016 while teaching an avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine I watched 4 people get caught and carried in an avalanche right next to our class. The avalanche also hit a 5th person in the runout resulting in the most serious injuries of the incident. Last year’s well reported Wilson Glade quadruple fatality (Utah) also showed how getting caught in the up track while ascending can have more dire outcomes.
Second, while it is suggested that anyone recreating in avalanche terrain carry the appropriate safety gear (transceiver, probe, shovel, and perhaps an avalanche airbag) this author believes these items are still less likely to be carried by the eastern ice climber or mountaineer. The merits and justifications of this choice are for another topic but I will suggest the fact that the majority of backcountry touring parties are carrying basic avalanche safety gear this user group is more likely to survive an encounter with an avalanche than a group without these items.
A Increase in Acceptable Risk
In a recent survey of backcountry touring groups who travel in avalanche terrain I asked two questions. The first:
While not unexpected the majority responded they would consider touring in avalanche terrain under a “Moderate” danger level. The North American Avalanche Danger Scale describes the likelihood of a human triggered avalanche as “possible” under a Moderate level, and “likely”, under a Considerable level. Almost one in three respondents would consider traveling in avalanche terrain when both natural avalanches are “possible” and human triggered are “likely”.
While some research has shown that the most avalanche fatalities occur during a “Considerable” danger level:
Other research shows that “Moderate” is actually the danger level where most fatalities occur:
Since these stats can be adjusted based on what data sets you are looking at I will just look at the fatalities and involvements I have personal experience with.
At least four of the last 6 fatalities on Mount Washington occurred under a “Moderate” danger level. The majority of reported “near misses” and involvements occur under a “Moderate” danger level. As a region we also see a fair share of incidents when under a “General Advisory” early in the season before the Mount Washington Avalanche Center starts issued daily forecasts.
The second question I asked in the recent survey was:
These results confirmed my suspicion that avalanche airbag usage in the East is still an exception and not common place. Based on the change in demographics, risk acceptance, and improvements in technology I believe we should see this change.
Improvements in Technology
Probably the biggest change an avalanche airbag technology is the growing availability, lower costs, and convenience of electronic airbag systems. Traditionally canister style avalanche airbags were the most common. Having to maintain a canister type system is likely a deterrent for many who might otherwise benefit from owning an avalanche airbag. Air travel with canister systems can be difficult, requiring you to discharge the system and find someplace at your destination that can refill your canister. You’d be less likely to practice deploying your airbag if the system only allowed one deployment. Now there are multiple electronic models that allow for multiple deployments, are easy to fly with, and can be charged anywhere you have an electric outlet. Some notable electronic models now available:
The real reason for my change in opinion on the validity of avalanche airbags in the East is a bit personal. When looking at the last two avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington the case for more common airbag usage is clear to me. There is a very important similarity between the tragic deaths of Nicholas Benedix in 2019 and Ian Forgays in 2021. Both of these backcountry riders were caught and carried in their avalanches, likely with the “wet flowing” motion shown in the previous video, and both ended up buried under the snow without suffering any trauma. Certainly a nearby partner who was not caught in the avalanche and had the right rescue gear and training may have been able to make the “save”, but unfortunately both were alone and unwitnessed avalanches. Take home point for me here is riders who occasionally travel solo in avalanche terrain should certainly consider the added layer of protection an avalanche airbag might provide. On the same day as Nicholas’s avalanche I myself triggered a large avalanche a few drainages away and was lucky to only be buried up to my waist. One of my only thoughts as I saw the snow coming down from above me was I was not wearing my avalanche airbag. Even more recently was a miraculous save in the Adirondacks just a week ago after two skiers were caught, one fully buried and the other just enough to still get out and save his partner. They were the only two in the area and if but a few more inches of snow this would have been a double fatality.
Research shows avalanche airbags save lives, suggesting a deployed avalanche airbag will reduce mortality by 50% . While they should not be considered 100% protection against getting hurt or killed in an avalanche wearing one in avalanche terrain adds another layer of protection from the hazard. While the increase in backcountry travelers wearing avalanche transceivers has noticeably increased in the last 10 years I expect to see an increase in avalanche airbag use in the east over the next ten years, and for good reason. We just recently had our first avalanche transceiver full burial save in the eastern US, and I believe the first avalanche airbag save might not be that far in the future.
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This past Saturday around 1 pm history was being made on Angel Slides in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. Two skiers triggered a large avalanche that partially buried one and completely buried the other. As luck would have it one of the skiers was able to free himself from the snow in about 5 minutes. Using their avalanche transceiver they located their partner, buried nearby under 4 to 5 feet of snow. Unconscious and faintly breathing he regained consciousness while his rescuer continued to extract him from the snow. Ultimately they were both uninjured and they made their way back to the trailhead under their own power and reported the incident to a park employee.
And with that the first ever avalanche accident “save” was made in the Eastern US.
I use the word “save” to describe an incident where an avalanche victim is completly buried by an avalanche and recovered alive (and survives). This has never happened in the East, but I knew it was coming. Before 2019 I would often point out to my avalanche course students the interesting fact that no one had ever been buried in an avalanche in the East while wearing an avalanche transceiver. I would suggest that trend would change as more backcountry travelers were carrying the right equipment and it would only be some time before one of us found ourselves in the dark under the snow. Would we have a partner nearby who would be able to get to us in time?
The first person to be fully buried in the East with a transceiver on was Nicholas Benedix on April 11th, 2019. Nicholas survived for over two hours buried in Raymond Cataract on Mount Washington, but ultimately succumbed to hypothermia, a tragic and unique part of the history of avalanche accidents in the East. It would take less than two years before we would have a second person fully buried in an avalanche with a transceiver on. On February 1st, 2021 Ian Forgays was buried by a wind slab he triggered in Ammonoosuc Ravine, also on Mount Washington. Neither of these victims suffered trauma in their avalanches, but like Nicholas, Ian was traveling alone and therefore had no one near him to make the “save”.
With these two recent full burial accidents I’ve been suggesting to my students it is only a matter of time before we have a save. I would have put my money on the first East Coast save occurring on Mount Washington given the terrain and amount of visitation, but this moment in avalanche education goes to Wright Peak, in the Adirondacks.
Angel Slides, Wright Peak, Adirondack Mountains, New York
The Angel Slides are a series of three slides on the eastern flanks of Wright Peak, elevation 4,587 feet. According to The Adirondack Slide Guide: An Aerial View of The High Peaks Region, 2nd Edition by Drew Hass, Tropical Storm Irene (2011) created the far looker’s right slide path which was the path triggered during this accident. According to CalTopo.com the path is about 1,100 feet long, 170 wide, drops 608 feet with an average angle of 31 degrees and a max angle of 43 degrees, and is a North East aspect.
It should be noted that the only avalanche fatality known in the Adirondacks occurred on these slides, specifically the widest of the three, during February 2000, when Toma Vracarich and three friends were caught and carried. According to the Adirondack Almanac, all three of his friends were injured in the slide. He died beneath the snow and the slides were subsequently named the “Angel” slides. He was 27 years old.
Unlike the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire the High Peaks of the Adirondacks do not have an avalanche forecasting center. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation sometimes issues an early season “avalanche warning” but it is basically just an awareness statement with some links to learning about avalanches. Occasionally the National Weather Service issues an avalanche warning for the White Mountains Region. These warnings usually occur during obvious signs of danger like huge storms that dump two to three feet of snow in a short period of time but I haven’t heard if the NWS has ever done that for the Adirondack Region. Regardless these warnings don’t take the place of mid-season monitoring of the snowpack that occurs in a forecasted area like the one covered by the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.
To help with this information gap a couple community minded backcountry enthusiast’s have created the Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations website where backcountry travelers can submit observations made while out recreating. This is a great resource for the Adirondack community and it was just started about a month ago!
Another contributing factor to this accident is the type of avalanche they were dealing with. The followup investigation conducted by members of the Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations Team indicate that this was a Persistent Slab avalanche problem. This type of avalanche problem is not as common in our Maritime climate as it is in our Transitional (Utah) or Continental (Colorado) climates. When you have early season snow that is exposed to prolonged cold temperatures it can become very loose, “faceted”, and basically weak in structure. Then, as winter really arrives and subsequent snow storms bury that “rotten” layer of snow it can lie in waiting for weeks, sometimes months, for a trigger (us) to come and collapse that weak layer. We’ve been hearing this happen in this season’s snowpack in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. It’s the awe inspiring “whumpf” heard when the layer collapses. In a flat field it’s a cool part of snow science to observe. On a slope approaching 30 degrees in steepness it’s a dreaded warning, like the shrill rattle produced by a threatened rattlesnake, it is the mountain telling us it’s about to bite.
History has been made in the East in regards to avalanche incidents. With no one else in the area two skiers survived a near death experience. The second hand account I received of the first skier, Bryan, regaining consciousness while choking on snow and partially, or fully buried just under the surface of the snow, conjured up an image in my head of an angel reaching down and brushing just enough snow away from his face for him to regain awareness, rescue himself, and then go on to rescue his partner. Remarkably and with out injury, these two survived an experience that could have easily gone south. Angel Slides was given its name after the passing of Toma Vracarich there in 2000. Maybe Toma was the one who brushed the snow away from Bryan and gave him a second chance? Or maybe it was just luck. Either way this is a story that could not have had a better ending, and I’m grateful it’s being told.
Disclaimer: All information above was gathered from reports the victims submitted themselves and the report linked below. I have not spoken with either of the victims so there could be errors in my reporting. If I’m able to talk with with them I will update this post with more information.
Today Ortovox officially added two new avalanche transceivers to the market, the Diract and the Diract Voice. While a few preproduction samples have been checked out by other avalanche professionals I received a post production model about a week ago and want to share some preliminary opinions and thoughts at this revolutionary avalanche transceiver. A more in-depth review will be published after I’ve had some considerable real world field time with this model. I know a lot of people may be looking for a new avalanche transceiver before the snow really starts to fly and I hope this “first look” report will help you decide if you should consider the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice avalanche transceiver!
After unboxing the initial set up was straight forward. As soon as you open the box instruction on the lid include a QR code directing you to download the Ortovox app for either iOS or Android. I selected English from the nine available languages and register the device through the app while synced to my smartphone via Bluetooth. Registration is a great idea since not only will up be sure to receive any important software update notifications it automatically extends the two year warranty by an additional 3 years giving you 5 years of total protection on your investment! More information and links to the apps along with some video tutorials can be found here: https://ortovox.com/us-en/service/information-user-manuals/avalanche-transceivers/diract-start
After registering the device I was instructed to calibrate the internal electronic compass used to ensure the device is held level in SEARCH mode and to analyze orientation when buried for the “Smart Antenna” technology (more on that later). I chose to do this outside in the yard away from the house and my cell phone to ensure no interference.
Let’s start with the obvious biggest feature of the Ortovox Diract Voice. This is the first ever avalanche transceiver that gives the user verbal feedback during the stressful times of an avalanche rescue. Like others, I wasn’t exactly sure about the name Ortovox chose for this new model, but a quick Google Translation search revealed that “diract” is the Hindi word for “direct”. And that is what this avalanche transceiver attempts to do… direct your actions during the course of an avalanche rescue with important voice prompts. I demonstrate this in this video with some initial hands on practice in a nearby field:
POST PRODUCTION NOTES:
While filming the first couple test runs with my iPhone in AIRPLANE mode the transceiver experienced electronic interference which caused a false signal while outside the range of the transmitting transceiver and caused the transceiver to instruct me to start a fine search while still 18 meters from a second transceiver. Both of these errors were user-error, not software error! Any electronic with a GPS chip, Bluetooth, WiFi, radio transmitter, or microchip, should be more than half a meter away from a transceiver in search mode, or better yet powered off completely! I’ve left these first test runs in the final video as they demonstrate how the voice commands work and I believe that is useful. Twelve more test runs were conducted (6 filmed by the drone) and no other errors were observed.
My overall impression of this novel idea is positive. As an avalanche course instructor with over 100 avalanche courses taught I really do believe voice prompts can help rescuers react appropriately. Reminders like the initial “Run in 50 meter search strips and look out” encourage both urgency and situational awareness. Directional corrections like “run to the left/right” can help keep the searcher on the “flux line” while they are constantly conducting a quality visual search (often a part of rescue new rescuers struggle with). Getting outside of the fine search area the transceiver clearly tells you “You were closer!” When I publish my updated full review (ETA mid-winter) I will cover every voice command that’s possible and how best it fits into the rescue strategy.
There is one voice command I would have liked to have seen integrated. If the transceiver registers a number less than 1 meter during the search I would have loved for it to tell me to “Start probing here!” I have observed for years students will spend too much time on the fine search trying to get the lowest possible number when in reality if they are actually searching for a human sized target (and not a small stuff sack) and have a number under 1 meter they should halt the fine search and start probing. A probe strike is imminent. In that same line of thought it would be great if the transceiver could tell a quality fine search was carried out and if 1.6 meters in the lowest number after the fine search it could also direct the user to start probing.
That said a practiced rescuer should be able to make these transitions without the voice command, so the omission of this one command is no deal breaker!
Internal Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery
The next biggest innovation in both the Diract and Diract Voice is the use of an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery. I think this is a great choice from a design point and I’m confident other manufacturers may follow suit as there are few disadvantages and many advantages. First of all having an internal rechargeable battery means no more pulling half used alkaline batteries out when they reach 60% and adding them to the draw of “not full batteries” I have in my gear room. This is better for the environment. The next advantage is you do not need to remember to remove your batteries at the end of the winter season. I’ve seen quite a few transceivers ruined with corroded batteries when owners left their batteries in them over the course of a humid summer. With this style battery it is best to not constantly “short charge” they battery, i.e. plugging it in every night to get it back to 100%. The user manual states to not charge until under 80%, and even states “once the battery charge falls below 40%, the device should be charged as soon as possible”.
The technical specifications claim that a full battery will provide a minimum of 200 hours in SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH. I will do some extensive testing of this battery over the next month and update this post accordingly by for now I’ll say I’m quite confident in this performance. After 2 hours of SEND and about 30 minutes of SEARCH my battery is still reporting 100%. Depending on how often you tour I imagine you’ll only need to recharge once or twice a season. I will be teaching rescue skills weekly from December through March and will report back detailed battery performance.
As for concerns about not being able to access or self-replace the lithium-ion battery Ortovox has had a third-party verify that this battery is good for at least 450 “cycles” and will still produce enough power to meet the 200 hours of SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH performance. A “cycle” is basically each time you charge the battery, which is why “short charging” is discouraged. Ortovox is working on a consumer focused solution for when it does become time to replace the battery, which based on my estimates of heavy use, won’t be needed for 5-7 years, if even then. The truth is with these numbers and proper charging habits the battery may last as long as the widely recommended “upgrade/replace your transceiver” suggestion of ten years. If that holds true that equals about 30-60 AA alkaline batteries from my own use staying out of a landfill!
The software is designed to self test the battery at every start up and will display a percentage, along with a alert if 30% or less, or “empty”. It also checks the health of the battery so if you ever do reach the end of the life of the battery it will display “Battery service necessary” and direct you to the Ortovox website for service/repair.
Finally it should be noted that you can not charge the battery when it is under 0 degrees Celsius. This may concern some users but I feel with proper planning this should never be an issue. My plan is to let my battery deplete for during day trips to within 40-50% capacity then recharge to full (one cycle). If I am heading out on a week long trip somewhere (Iceland this April?) I’ll recharge it to 100% for the trip. If you are spending two months on some amazing expedition I’m sure you can get the transceiver above 0 degrees Celsius in your sleeping bag if you need to recharge it.
Standby Mode and Auto-Revert
The next unique feature of the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the addition of a “Standby” mode. Typically avalanche transceivers have only two modes, SEND/TRANSMIT or SEARCH. In a rescue scenario we teach everyone in the group not caught in the avalanche to switch their transceivers to SEARCH so that rescuers don’t waste time by “finding” people who are not buried in the snow. The issue is in a group rescue scenario you often do not need 5 people searching for a signal on a debris pile. For example if one person is missing and there are 5 rescuers you might only have 1 or 2 people actually searching with their transceivers while the rest of the group spots from a safe location and starts assembling probes and shovels to be ready for the extraction part of the rescue. These rescuers can utilize the standby mode to get their transceiver to stop transmitting, and, especially in the case of the Diract Voice, quiet the scene. We don’t need all the beeping and voice commands confusing the overall scenario. While in Standby mode the transceiver does have a motion sensor that is monitoring your movement. If no movement is detected in 90 seconds a loud alarm and display warning will indicate the unit will revert back to SEND in 30 seconds if 1) no movement is detected (i.e. you were caught and buried by a secondary avalanche), or 2) You press the FLAG button to cancel the revert.
The next thing I’d like to talk about is the shape and layout of the unit. Applicable to both models these transceivers are a slim design that fits comfortably in my hand and in my dedicated transceiver pocket on my ski pants. While I traditionally prefer to pocket carry my transceiver I believe I’ll start using the harness carry more often due to some innovative choices by Ortovox. The first is the decision to move the Recco technology from the transceiver to the carrying system. The second is the harness pocket holds the transceiver perfectly and adjusts with ease.
The layout of the controls is simple but well thought out. I am able to operate all functions on the transceiver with one hand regardless.of using my dominant (right) hand or not. With only two buttons and the SEND/SEARCH switch operation is really intuitive. To test the intuitiveness for a non-trained user I asked my 10 year old son to turn the transceiver on, put the unit into SEARCH mode, return to SEND mode, and power off the device. He accomplished all four tasks in less than two minutes with no further instruction.
Smart Antenna Technology
A feature of all Ortovox transceivers I have long been a fan of is the patented “SMART-ANTENNA-TECHNOLOGY ™. This basically makes locating your signal faster regardless of what orientation the transceiver is buried in by using intelligent position recognition and automatically switching to the best transmission antenna. Ortovox transceivers are the only transceivers that use this technology and I believe it’s an excellent feature.
The LCD display is quite visible in bright daylight and the brightness is adjustable via the free Ortovox app. I’ll be leaving it on the brightest setting while testing the battery performance this winter. The screen has a smart light sensor so when the transceiver is stowed in either a pocket or the carrying case it will shut off. After removing it from the harness a quick press of either of the two buttons will waken it.
Range and “smart” Search Strip Width while in SEARCH
I tested the Ortovox Diract Voice in an open field with a measured distance with the following results. I will update these this winter with other models buried 1.5 meters down in the snowpack. While in SEARCH for an Ortovox 3+ transceiver a signal was always acquired around on average between 30-40 meters with on result of 28 meters when the transmitting transceiver was in a poor coupling orientation. These results support Ortovox’s suggestion of a 50 meter search strip width in this open terrain with no interference. Yet another innovation feature of both the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the unit somehow analyses the surrounding area for interference and adjusts the recommended Search Strip Width to be optimized. For example, in the open field (and even with my cell phone interference) the Search Strip Width was displayed as 50 meters. In my house while testing the Auto Revert function and surrounded by Wifi, electronics, etc the displayed Search Strip Width was reduced to 20 meters.
The Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice transceivers have an intuitive system for helping the user manage the incredibly complex scenario of a multiple burial. The first is the display with indicate multiple signals with little “person” icons on the bottom of the display (up to three). This is another moment where I would have loved if the voice command could have verbally alerted me with something like “Multiple signals detected”. This addition would really help a searcher understand the bigger picture faster and manage their resources appropriately. Once you have finished your fine search and achieved a positive probe strike you can press and hold the flag button to have that signal suppressed, at which time the transceiver will direct you to the next closest burial. From my limited testing and reading of the manual there is not an option to “un-flag” a flagged victim. Should that be needed (and it shouldn’t if you use this feature with the caution taught in rescue courses) you will need to place the transceiver back into SEND then revert to SEARCH to remove all “flagged” targets. <insert info on any verbal instructions during FLAGGING>
This is a big moment in the history of avalanche transceivers. While there are a few great transceiver manufacturers out there I’m not surprised that Ortovox was the first to produce a transceiver that is so different from everything else out there. The benefits of a talking transceiver might vary by the user. Those who consider themselves “experts” in avalanche rescue will likely feel the effects of the voice commands less important as they are used to “listening” to the visual and audio clues of the various transceivers they have used over the years. In my opinion those advanced users might decide to upgrade to the Ortovox Diract (without voice) simply for the solid performance and benefit of the internal battery over transceivers that burn through alkaline batteries. Those who are new to avalanche rescue, or (gasp) rusty on their rescue skills (take an Avalanche Rescue course!), will likely find the voice commands from the Ortovox Diract Voice to be quite beneficial at guiding actions during the stressful moments of an avalanche rescue.
As mentioned this is an initial “first look” type review as I’ve only had this transceiver in my hands for about a week. I will test it throughly this winter while instructing over a dozen avalanche courses and will update my findings and opinions likely by late January. If you were planning on upgrading or buying you first avalanche transceiver this Fall in preparation of the winter I hope this information has helped you decide if the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice is the right transceiver for you, and if it is you can purchase one from these online retailers:
At the end of the day as an avalanche educator I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this review with the classic avalanche educator’s disclaimer. The BEST transceiver in the world is the one you practice with most! When was the last time you practiced avalanche rescue? How about taken an avalanche rescue course? Make avalanche rescue practice part of your seasonal preparation! There are SO many courses out there, if you are looking for one here’s some links to get you started:
Yet another way you could up your Avy Savvy brain is taking IMFGA Guide Mark Smiley’s newest online course “Beyond Level One*”. This is a massive online course designed to be taken over the course of a whole season with 120 episodes and contributions from some of the best avalanche professionals in the industry! I have taken other online courses from Mark and the quality is top-notch! I will be enrolling in this course myself to see what Mark has created and am especially excited about how much of the content I will be able to absorb à la podcast style!
Disclaimer: Traveling in avalanche terrain is dangerous and nothing in this review is intended to be “instruction” or assumed to be accurate. The author is a member of the Ortovox Athlete Team and received this transceiver at no cost as part of that partnership.
*Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Purchasing a transceiver or online course through those links earn the author a commission. Thank you.
September is National Prepardness Month so it was well-timed that I received a handful of SOL products from Adventure Ready Brands. The company was founded in 1973 in Littleton, NH and manufactures the world-famous insect bite treatment, After Bite®, a full line of well-known insect repellents such as Ben’s® and Natrapel®, first-aid such as Adventure Medical Kits® and Easy Care First Aid™ kits, survival products with Survive Outdoors Longer®, and burn remedy products such as AfterBurn®.
In the following video I show the features of the products I received and share some opinions on them. Adventure Ready Brands does not sell direct to customer so I tracked down some outdoor retailers that have these items in stock and provide direct links to the products at these retailers below. These are affiliate links, so if you do end up buying something after using the link I will see a small commission at no additional cost to you. Hey, thank you! Thank really helps keep this blog going!
I’ve partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club for years to teach my own custom 8 hour Wilderness Navigation course and one of the three scheduled courses are sold out but there are some spots available for the June 19th and Sept 25th courses. You can see more details and reserve you spot at one of these two links:
I also can travel outside my local area to offer this curriculum to high school and college outing clubs. Just send me an inquiry at nealpinestart at gmail dot com (or use the contact form on my “about page”) for details.
This winter I have been testing the Arc’teryx IS Jacket and I’ll sum up my experience with two words. Bombproof Furnace! In the category of synthetic belay jackets this one is a beast. Let’s look at the manufacturer description and specs then I’ll jump into some of the finer details and my opinion on the model!
Created for alpine, ice and expedition climbing, the Alpha IS is the single-layer solution for severe alpine environments. The GORE-TEX outer delivers durable waterproof, windproof, breathable protection. Thermatek™, a DWR treated continuous filament synthetic, insulates without absorbing moisture. The combination results in a jacket providing comprehensive weather and thermal protection at a weight 18% lighter than the equivalent midlayer and hardshell system.
I used this jacket for about a dozen day trips this winter including summiting Mount Washington with wind chills around -30f to -40f, alpine ice climbing on Mount Willard with ambient air temps around 10f, top-rope guiding at Cathedral Ledge, and while standing in snow pits teaching avalanche courses in Tuckerman Ravine during mixed precipitation weather.
As I mentioned in the introduction the Arc’teryx IS Jacket is a FURNACE! This is thanks to the exclusive “Thermatek” syntheric insulation which has amazing heat retention properties while being so light and packable. From Acr’teryx:
Exclusive to Arc’teryx, ThermaTek™ is a continuous filament, synthetic insulation that is treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to make it highly hydrophobic, which means that it repels moisture very efficiently. The lofty insulation is then laminated to a backing fabric to ensure an even distribution and insulation.
Arc’teryx’s most efficient insulation when used in humid and wet conditions
Very resilient and durable
The fastest drying fill insulation in our collection
While I am not a fan of this color (it is also available in a much more visible “Magma” color), I found the black color to be even warmer if the belay stance was in the sun.
I also said this jacket is BOMBPROOF, both against all forms of precipitation and winds but also against abrasion. The weather protection comes from the N40p-X 2L GORE-TEX membrane. water-tight zippers, and DWR treatment. The abrasion resistance is thanks rugged shell fabric and fully taped seams.
Manufacturer listed weight is 610 grams, 1 pound and 5.5 ounces. My home scale weighed my size large sample with the storage sack at 680 grams, 1 pound and eight ounces. The jacket easily stuffed into the included stuff sack with measures about 10 x 6 x 6 inches and could be compressed further.
Despite my measurements being a little closer to a medium I went with the large size so it would easily fit over my other layers including a light weight puffy. The sleeve length was perfect and I choose to wear this over my harness at belays. To be honest I don’t know how Will Gadd was leading steep ice while wearing this jacket… it’s too warm! The hood is generously sized enough to easily fit over my helmet.
There are a lot of small design features I liked in this jacket. The elasticized cuffs easily kept snow out and warmth in. The large internal drop pocket kept my water warm and handy while hanging around ice cragging. The stiffened visor kept freezing rain off my face while explaining the Alpha angle to students in an avalanche class in Tuckerman Ravine. The “almost” waterproof chest pocket kept my iPhone protected during moderate rain over the Christmas vacation week. The hood easily fits comfortably over my climbing helmet.
There isn’t much I would change with this piece. A softer piece of material in the “chin” area might be nice but most the time I was wearing this jacket with a buff on anyways. The shell and internal fabric is a bit on the “noisy” side, but that’s such a minor observation I don’t think anyone would notice unless you were trying to stalk a deer or something. And as mentioned, I’d like this more in the Magma color as I prefer high visibility colors for winter mountaineering and ice climbing!
The Arc’teryx IS Jacket is basically the brand’s highest end synthetic belay parka and hard shell jacket in one piece. With a high level of heat retention and protection from wind and rain this really is designed for harsh conditions. I would be hard pressed to find a synthetic puffy and hardshell combo and stay this far under two pounds! Granted the jacket commands I high retail price, but when you consider the price of a separate belay parka and hardshell of this quality I can start to see why it comes in where it does. If you climb in warmer, less harsh, conditions than our local Mount Washington, you might prefer to keep the “puffy” and hard shell as two separate pieces for more versatility, but if you are looking to simplify your clothing system for extreme cold or wet conditions this would be a piece worth looking at!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support this blog at no cost to you.
A little pre-season maintenance can make cleaning the ice out of your ice screws a breeze. This is particularly handy for ultralight aluminum ice screws that are more prone to having tough to clean ice cores but is also useful with stainless steel ice screws.
It’s that time of year again when your mailbox gets flooded by gift guides from various companies. The last few years I’ve shared a selection of hand-picked curated gifts for the outdoor person in your life. Check out my 2020 best gifts for outdoor folks below!
Like water bottles everyone needs a first aid kit. MyMedic has an impressive line of kits to choose from starting with the basic version of “The Solo” for $35 all the way up to more expensive kits designed for working EMTs/Paramedics.
An incredible rugged and easy to use pair of hand held radios can greatly improve safety while enjoying mountain sports. You can read my full review of these here and get 10% off with promo code “AlpineStart10”.
These are 40% off through tomorrow with promo code “THANKFUL”! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.
This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone!
I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 10 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.
Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!
Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.
The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work!
While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!
Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you find something for the outdoor person(s) in your life!