My Current Backcountry Ski Kit

(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!)

DPS Wailer 99 Ski, Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings
Finding the line in flat light- photo by Brent Doscher

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!

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

Let’s start with the boards!

The DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1

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

The Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings Review
Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

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

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

IMG_6394
Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

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

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

backcountry skiing in Iceland

G3 Alpinist LT Skins

G3 Alpinist LT Skins Review
G3 Alpinist LT Skins

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

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Dynafit Ski Crampons
Dynafit Ski Crampons

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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

Gear Review- Arc’teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots (updated 10/2018)

Likely one of the most important choices a climber makes involves their footwear. Happy feet are so crucial for happy climbing and my feet have been quite happy the last few winters while I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Before I break into the details here is how they have been tested:

Mountaineering: (paired with Petzl Vasak Leverlock crampons)

Two full winters guiding in the Northeast with 4 winter ascents of Mount Washington with the lowest ambient air temperature around -20f and wind-chills around -50f. Some alpine climbing in the Cascades with ascents of Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Rainier.

Arcteryx Acrux AR Boots Review
The author on the summit of Mt. Rainier- Photo by @cfphotography

Waterfall Ice Climbing: (paired with Petzl Vasak Crampons, Black Diamond Cyborg’s, and CAMP/Cassin Blade Runner’s)

30+ pitches of waterfall ice climbing including Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), The Black Dike (WI4+) Drool of the Beast (WI5-) and Repentance (WI5).

ArcTeryx Acux AR Review
The author on Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), photo by Brent Doscher
ArcTeryx Acux AR Mountaineering Boots Review
The author on Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher
Arcteryx Acrux AR Boots Review
The author enjoying some late season ice last March
Arcteryx Acrux AR Boots Review
Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

I mention specifically what crampons I tested these with as this is a very important consideration when selecting a climbing boot, especially in this case and I will get into that further in the review. But first lets take a look at some of the details of this design.

I’ll start with some preliminary info from when I first received these boots back in October 2016.

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boot Review

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

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

La Sportiva Spantik (88.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva Baruntse (82.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva G2 SM (72.22 oz/pair)

Scarpa Phantom 6000 (70 oz/pair)

Arc’teryx Acrux AR (69.1 oz/pair)

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


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

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT

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

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


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

Arcteryx AR Mountaineering Boots Preview

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


Now that I have had sufficient time in the field to test them let’s get into the question on everyone’s mind. How do these perform?

On the approach

Honestly these have been the most comfortable mountaineering boots I have yet to wear. They feel like they were custom made for my feet. For reference I am a US men’s size 9, EUR 42, medium width forefoot with a slight Morton’s toe. Unlike my previous double boots (Koflach Degre, Vertical, and Arctis Expe) it is easier to put this boot on by first putting the slim fitting liner on then sliding into the outer boot. When the liner is already in the boot it is a little more tricky to slide on but not impossible.

The lacing system is probably the only thing I could imagine being improved upon. There is no traction/tension grabber that is becoming common in a lot of boots in this category. For a boot at the high end of the category I would LOVE to see Arcteryx take it a step further and add a ratcheting lacing system like Boa.

As it stands I’ve adapted my lacing strategy. For general mountaineering and easy ice climbing I lace them at home and leave them all day. For harder ice climbing (WI4 and up) I’ll lace them at home, approach, then take the time at the base of the route to snug them up for better performance on the vertical. It doesn’t take long and leaving them loosely laced on steep ice can lead to some insecurity.

For comfort on the approach and descent these score very high. They are super light and warm enough for my feet in all the conditions I’ve tested them in. I do have “warm” feet though so if you suffer from cold feet I would suggest some solid test runs before going to significant altitude. The long term comfort is so significant that I’ve returned home after 14 hour days and left them on while stocking the wood stove and cooking dinner. No joke I have not felt the need to pull my feet out of these as soon as I get home even after significant slogs.

One of the reasons they might be so comfortable on the approach and descent is the small amount of flexibility within the shank/out-sole, a trait some who have tried them are concerned about, but one that I feel is easily remedied. I will elaborate more on that in the next section.

On the climb

The slim looking low profile Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots are the Lamborghini of the climbing boot world. Ok, that might be going a bit overboard but seriously I find these perform extremely well on steep water ice when paired with the right crampon. Why is the crampon pairing so important? Two reasons.

  1. These are super light boots. For hard ice climbs a heavier crampon might actually reduce your energy expenditure by giving your boot/crampon a better balance for efficient kicks. Before you call me crazy consider this is the same theory that explains the practice of adding pick weights to your ice axes. I find the heavier Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners to add a nice amount of weight allowing me to “kick lighter” and let the boot/crampon do the work. So super light boots are a plus for the approach and descent, but it’s nice to add a little mass for the kicking portion of your climb!
  2. These boots have some flex. That small amount of forefoot flex feels great on that 8 mile approach, but when you are front-pointing on near vertical ice having a secure platform takes precedence. I noticed the flex first when leading a 3+ route wearing my well worn Petzl Vasak Crampons. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was noticeable. I’ve since lead multiple grade 5 ice routes using the Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners and in all cases the inclusion of the stiff heavier crampon virtually eliminated all noticeable flexibility while front-pointing on both steep rock and ice.
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review
Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Summary

Five months of some of the best Northeastern ice climbing I’ve had in years have left me with a super positive impression of the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Slipper like comfort, 3-season like weight (yet still plenty warm for my feet), and high end performance when it matters most all add up to a fantastic new edition to the growing assortment of lightweight double boots. You should try a pair on!

UPDATE (10/22/2018)

Two years later and I’m still in love with these boots! I climbed Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Rainier in them the following summer! You can see those trip reports here.

Buy on Backcountry

Thanks for reading! Take it one step further and comment below! Have you tried them? What did you think? What’s your current boot crampon/setup?

Disclaimer: Arc’Teyrx provided a pair of these boots for the purposes of review but all opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review: Dakine Fall Line Ski Roller Bag

Dakine Fall Line Ski Roller Bag ReviewI bought my Dakine Fall Line Ski Roller Bag around 2008 for a trip to Silverton, CO for some touring and an avalanche instructor course. In the last 10 years it has gone across the country with me a half dozen times to ski in the Rockies, the Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada. I’ve loaned it to multiple friends for their own trips (and been grateful every time it came back to me unharmed). The last two years it has come with me to ski in Iceland. It is the only real piece of “luggage” that I own, and I couldn’t be happier with it, so it was time to write a quick review about it!


Buy on Backcountry


From the manufacturer:

DAKINE FALL LINE SKI ROLLER BAG

Our most popular ski roller bag, the Fall Line is the perfect jack-of-all trades ski bag. Well-featured and lightweight with all the features you’d need for a daytrip to the mountain or a week-long vacation hunting pow. With room for two pairs of skis, a set of poles and a removable boot bag, it’s a great solution for every kind of ski trip. The tow handle pairs with a rolling luggage bag, for one-handed navigation through an airport or hotel lobby, and the zippered external pocket keeps gloves, hats, travel papers and magazines easily accessible.


DETAILS

  • Limited Lifetime Warranty
  • Holds 2pr skis and 1pr boots, poles and outerwear
  • 360° padded ski protection
  • End handle pairs with rolling luggage for one-handed operation
  • Removable boot bag
  • #10 YKK lockable main zipper
  • Durable, over-sized 9cm urethane wheels
  • Exterior zippered pocket
  • Packs down tight for easy storage

DIMENSIONS

  • 175cm model
  • 12 x 8 x 74″ [ 30 x 20 x 188cm ]
  • Fits max. 175cm skis
  • 190cm model
  • 12 x 8 x 80″ [ 30 x 20 x 203cm ]
  • Fits max. 190cm skis
  • 6.2 lbs. [ 2.8 kg ]

My Opinion

While I considered buying a “single pair of ski” size bag I went for one that was big enough for two pairs of skis and I am so grateful I did! I’ve never put two pairs of skis in it, preferring to pack the majority of my ski clothes, avalanche gear, camp gear, etc into the ski bag. Clothing, ice axe, ropes, crampons, etc. this bag swallows everything I need for ski touring and the clothing helps protect the most important cargo… my skis!

Most airlines allow up to 50 or sometimes 70 pounds for a ski bag so depending on what airline I’m flying I check the maximum weight allowed for a ski bag and then pack it to within a pound or two of that limit. That lets me travel with just my ski pack as my carry-on with essentials for the flight.

Having a wheeled ski bag is a game changer for moving around airports. I wouldn’t consider a non-wheeled model for whenever this one wears out (after ten years it still looks great so I’m not too worried but I’m sure someday it will meet a luggage handler who is having a bad day).

Dakine has made one significant change to this model since I bought mine and that is making the “boot bag” big enough for two pairs of boots and making it removable. That’s a nice touch! My older version has two separate boot compartments on each end that fit one boot each. I don’t mind it, but since I only use one travel zipper lock I worry a bit about my ski boots falling out during transit. The new model removable boot compartment is inside the main compartment so one travel lock is all you need!

 


Summary

Easily one of my best outdoor gear purchases in the last 20 years. I will gladly upgrade to the current model if my current bag ever wears out, but it may be a while! If you are in need of a ski bag this one is most worthy of your consideration!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Buy on Backcountry


Disclaimer: This item was purchased by the author and all opinions are his alone. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review- NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody

Last Spring I was invited by NW Alpine, an Oregon based company, to demo a couple of their technical pieces. Right before I left for a back-country ski trip to Iceland the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody arrived.


NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review- photo from NWAlpine.com

From NWAlpine.com

Outside Magazine included our Black Spider Hoody in their list of “The Only Winter Clothes You Need.”

The quintessential layer for all high output aerobic activity, the Black Spider Hoody is crafted from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric for superior performance. Functional in a wide variety of conditions, this piece will keep you warm during spring and fall rock climbing sessions and will quickly become a key piece of your system during fast and light winter excursions. For the many who run too hot to wear heavy layers when active, the Black Spider Hoody is the solution to this problem.

Featuring majority flat seams this layer can be comfortably worn against the skin or, depending on conditions, can be worn over a light shirt. A balaclava style under helmet hood, thumb holes on the cuffs and a zippered chest pocket round out the features on this minimalist layer.

Awards:

Climbing Magazine, May 2018https://www.climbing.com/gear/review-nw-alpine-black-spider-hoody/

Outside Magazine, December 2016https://www.outsideonline.com/2140321/only-winter-clothes-you-need


How we Tested

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Sizing Contour climbing skins the night before our first touring day: photo by Brent Doscher

Other than wearing this for the commute from NH to Iceland my personal testing would be delayed as my friend Erik’s bag was lost by the airline and I loaned him this piece along with a few other items so he wouldn’t miss a day of touring. We then spent 5 days touring in Northern Iceland.

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Skinning up some wind effected hard pack on Karlsarfjall mountain: photo by Brent Doscher

Made from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric this hoody is an excellent skin layer or can be worn comfortably over a snug fitting synthetic or Merino wool t-shirt. It is definitely thin enough for high aerobic activity.

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody
Striking my “what do I do with my hands” pose while Erik and Jerry are all GQ: photo by Brent Doscher

Sizing

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review

I went with a size large which was an athletic but not too snug fit for my 5’9″ 180 lb 42 inch chest. It was a more casual but functional fit for Erik who is 5’8″, 160 lb. To select the right fit just use the size chart above and the best measurement to refer to would be chest size.

Durability

After the Iceland ski trip I wore this for a dozen or more days while rock climbing back East in early Spring conditions. It’s come back out with me this Fall for more climbing and shows no signs of wear.


Performance

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Great uphill travel piece: photo by Cait Bourgault

Breathable, not “too” warm, quick-drying. Everything you want from a performance minimalist piece. This type of Polartec fabric was new to me and it is really comfortable worn directly over skin. The thumb loops are welcome when slipping my wind shell on and the hood has a nice snug fit that works great under both my ski and climbing helmets. The zippered chest pocket was a great size for my iPhone (and convenient to keep it close and warm).


Summary

This is a nice addition to the wardrobe. Normally I would resist Anorak styles but this one has become a favorite. It fits a nice niche between a super thin “Sun Hoody” like the Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody and a thicker warmer hoody like the Arc’teryx Elgin Pullover Hoodie. You can pick one up directly from the Made in the USA manufacturer at this link:

Buy at NW Alpine

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: This item was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. All opinions are that of the author.

Tech Tip: Tying Off Your Belay Device

You are four pitches up a moderate multi-pitch climb. Your partner just crushed the crux moves and is about 140 feet above you when you hear the yell. The rope comes tight on your belay device. He is out of view and there is no response to your calls. What now?

In today’s Tech Tip we’re going to cover what is often the first step in a rescue scenario, tying off your belay device. This skill, at the very least, will allow you to go “hand’s free” so you can perhaps get your cell phone out of your pack and call for help. Even better if you have the right skills you might end up transferring the climber’s weight to the anchor and ascending the rope to them to provide potentially life-saving first aid, then build a system that will help you bring them back down to the ground.

But it all starts with being able to tie-off your belay device.



“Self-Rescue” skills are something every climber should acquire and practice even if you don’t intend to lead climb. The systems can seem complex, and sometimes they are, but they are not that complex. You can learn them. Accidents will happen. The longer you climb the more likely you will need them. I recommend you try to get them before you wish you had them.

Self Rescue Skills Course

If you would like to brush up on your self-rescue skills with me send me an email at nealpinestart at gmail and we can find a date that works for you. This course is best done with one of your regular partners so you can be prepared to rescue each other should an accident occur.

Cost

1 person: $250 per person
2 people: $150 per person
3 people: $130 per person
4 people: $120 per person

 Course will be booked through Northeast Mountaineering once we have picked a date.



Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous and attempting anything described in this post can lead to serious injury or death. You are solely responsible for your safety. 

How to Choose the Best Locking Carabiners (and Giveaway)

 

How to Choose the Best Locking Carabiner

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

Petzl Attache 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.

Petzl OK Locking Carabiner and Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley
Petzl OK Locking Carabiner and Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley

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.

Petzl William Locking Carabiner
The Petzl William Locking Carabiner easily organizes 6 quick-draws, 4 alpine draws, and my two “mini-quads“.

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

Petzl OK Triact with Petzl GriGri2
Petzl OK Triact with Petzl GriGri2

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:

Petzl William Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl Am’D Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl Sm’D Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl OK Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock


Let’s look at the main difference between Petzl’s two Triple Action options. The following is from Petzl.com:

BALL-LOCK

Petzl Ball-Lock Carabiners
Petzl Ball-Lock Carabiners

ERGONOMICS

Advantages:

• Rapid auto-locking

• Visual locking indicator

Disadvantages:

• 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

SAFETY

Advantages: 

• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)

• Rapid auto-locking

Risks:

• 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

TRIACT-LOCK

Petzl Triact Locking Carabiners
Petzl Triact Locking Carabiners

ERGONOMICS

Advantages:

• Rapid auto-locking.

Disadvantages:

• 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

SAFETY

Advantages:

• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)

• Rapid auto-locking

Risks:

• 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).


Some other Triple Action options

DMM Big Boa HMS Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

DMM Aero HMS Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

DMM Rhino Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

Mad Rock Hulk HMS Carabiner: Available in “Triple Lock”

CAMP USA Guide XL Carabiner: Available in “3Lock”


Magnetic Auto-Locking Carabiners

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner

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.

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner
Black Diamond VaporLock and RockLock Magnetron Carabiners with the Kong GiGi

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.


Maintenance

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.


My Kit

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:

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner paired with my Petzl Reverso 4

Black Diamond VaporLock and RockLock paired with my Kong GiGi

Petzl Attache dedicated to being my anchor carabiner, doubles as my third-hand back-up during rappels

Petzl William Locking Carabiner for racking my draws, munter-hitches, master-points

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.


Related

Tying a Clove-Hitch on the Carabiner

Tying a Munter-Hitch on the Carabiner

Gear for Top-Roping

Improved Belay Checks


Summary/Giveaway

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



Links above are affiliate links. By making a purchase you support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review: KAILAS Men’s 9A Classic Pant

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review

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!


Comfort/Fit

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review

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!

KAILAS 9A Classic Pant Review

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.

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review

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!

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review
Convenient fastening for rolling them up when it’s time to send

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.


Summary

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review
The author getting ready for a pre-dawn alpine rock climb while wearing the Kailas 9A Climbing Pants in Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington- photo by Brent Doscher

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.

Buy on Amazon

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links help support this blog.