I’m up early but it looks like my guiding day might get rained out so I decided to scour the web for some of the better deals on outdoor gear and clothing as most companies end their Labor Day sales today. Below is a curated list of what is not only on sale but something I have personally owned and tested or is on my wish list!
REI is running some sweet deals like 20% off Thule and Yakima racks and roof boxes! 25-30% off most REI, Big Agnes, and Nemo tents and sleeping pads! They also made it easy to find the items that are actually 50% off by grouping them under their “Peak Deals“. Expect limited quantity and sizes in there!
Eastern Mountain Sports is going big with quite a bit of inventory 70% off! 20% off all Black Diamond, 20% off La Sportiva Footwear, and a current coupon for an extra 20% off a full or sale priced item! COUPON CODE: “LABORDAY19“. There is a fairly long list of excluded brands though… you can see the list here. Finally they have summer clearance items listed at 70% here!
Patagonia is running some great web specials like 40% off the Micro Puff and Nano Puff jackets and hoodies visible here.
Just about every retailer is running sales today and since it looks like a wash-out here in the Northeast I think I’ll spend some time today organizing my gear closet and seeing if I’m all set for the rapidly approaching Fall!
Coming soon… I’ve got reviews in the works for the new Wild Country Revo Belay Device. The “Take20Summer” coupon code does work on this item by the way! I also finally got my hands on both the Mammut Smart 2.0 and the Mammut Alpine Smart and testing has begun! Expecting to have reviews on all of these done in time for Rocktober!
Climbing trip to Camden ME in two weeks! I’ve been to Camden twice for some family camping but this trip it’s just me and my buddy Bob heading out to sample the climbing there. Have you been? Must do routes? Let me know in the comments below!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
P.S. The above links are affiliate links. Making a purchase through one of them sends a small commission my way which helps keep content coming. Thank you!
The Black Diamond Vapor Helmet is the lightest and most breathable helmet in Black Diamond’s line and is only an ounce heavier than the Petzl Sirocco that I reviewed here. A sheet of Kevlar and a series of carbon rods in between co-molded EPS foam provides the bulk of impact protection along with a thin but full polycarbonate shell. I’ve been testing this helmet out while climbing and guiding for the last three months and I’m ready to share my opinions on it! As normal I’ll start with the most noticeable features and work towards the minutiae.
Black Diamond lists the weight of the M/L size at 199 grams, or 7 ounces. My home scale measured 206 grams, or 7 3/8 ounces. For comparison my size 2 Sirocco weighed in on the same scale at 174 grams, or 6 1/8 ounces. While the listed weight seemed a slight bit low it truly weighs only an ounce more than the bar-setting Petzl Sirocco. This ultra-light weight is a boon for long approaches and descents and increases long-term comfort. You truly can forget you have your helmet on when wearing lids like this!
Twenty one geometric and well placed holes offer excellent airflow through the helmet making this one of the best hot weather options out there. Furthermore I tested the “Blizzard” color which is basically white and reflective and I found the helmet to be as cool as is possible even on sweltering August days.
The M/L size is listed to fit a head circumference of 58-63 cm (23-25 in). My head measures about 60 cm (23.5 inches). That said I found the helmet to run a little small. It fit my shaved head well but was almost maxed out (I do have a large head). I have just enough room for a thin hat liner for cold weather climbing. Removable and breathable helmet pads are soft on the skin and can be removed for washing. The Y-harness strap is not adjustable but fell perfectly around my ears. The feather like weight and high degree of breath-ability really do make this one of the most comfortable helmets I have ever tested.
Other than the weight and breath-ability the only other feature to talk about is the headlamp clips, which oddly are removable. Black Diamond suggests that removing them may make the helmet less likely to get snagged on slings, etc. but I’d suggest just leaving them on. They didn’t get caught on anything while I was testing. The helmet also has a nice low profile while providing great coverage on the back and sides.
It’s hard to accurately rate long term durability after just three months. I have friends who have climbed regularly in theirs for over a year. The thin polycarbonate shell does not resist small dents and dings with regular use. Black Diamond advises against packing this helmet inside your pack. I packed mine in the top of my pack like I usually do if I don’t have a full load and had no issues (but I remember it is in there and don’t sit on my pack when it is in there). If you strap it on the outside of your pack I would suggest you don’t just drop your pack on the ground when you reach the crag. I wouldn’t say you need to “baby” this helmet but if you want something that can take more abuse check out the Black Diamond Half Dome or Petzl Boreo that I reviewed here.
This is a specialist helmet. It’s a bit pricey, but the weight savings and breath-ability can easily justify the price. I’ve heard that cycling helmets made with a similar construction can go for 2 to 3 times more! The best uses for this helmet would be alpine climbing and long multi-pitch trad climbing. I’d chose something longer lasting for sport climbing where a couple ounces more can buy you a lot more durability. If weight and long term comfort in warm weather are a priority the Black Diamond Vapor is a great pick!
The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is an impressive addition to the growing number of “brake assisting” belay devices on the market.
What it is
From Black Diamond:
The lightweight Black Diamond ATC Pilot represents an advance in technology for the world of assisted braking devices. Providing an added level of security to your belay, the ATC Pilot threads similarly to other tubular belay devices and accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5mm. The durable steel braking surface has no moving parts, and the smooth and secure control allows for gradual lowering. With an easy rope payout, the ATC Pilot makes single-pitch projecting burns less tiring for the belayer and more secure for the climber.
Accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5
Provides an added level of security to single pitch belays
Smooth rope payout
Ergonomic, non-slip surface
Single rope use
How we tested
Over the course of two months I carried the Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device for almost two dozen days of climbing between Rumney Rocks and crags all over Mount Washington Valley along with a couple trips to the Salt Pump Climbing Gym. We used a Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner (our favorite belay carabiner). More significantly I handed it to my clients and regular climbing partners every chance I could to get their opinions as well as determine really how intuitive this device would be in the hands of both longtime veteran climbers and first-day-ever climbers. Over the test period I had at least 10 different people belay me while lead climbing and top-roping, some as young as 10 years old!
We found the Black Diamond ATC Pilot to be incredibly intuitive with a quick learning curve to become proficient in both lead and top-rope belaying. Experienced climbers felt that using it felt very similar to operating a regular Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Verso. Clear images on the device and a lack of moving parts helped even the newest, and youngest, of our testers properly install the device on the rope.
Top-roping Belaying and Lowering
Belaying on a top-rope system is quite simple with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot. Using the universal belay technique belayers had no problem removing slack from the system. When it came time to lower minimal coaching was required to have the belayer lower the climber. The biggest advantage during the lower is the lack of moving parts or levers make this device feel less likely to have an inexperienced belayer defeat the camming mechanism causing an uncontrolled fall and possible injury.
Belaying a lead climber with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is quite simple and we found that newer belayers could “keep up” with the lead climber’s progress easier than other brake-assisting devices on the market. With just slight upward pressure on the thumb lever (while keeping the brake hand around the brake strand) slack could be payed out as easily as any tube style belay device and at least one tester felt it could be payed out even smoother than a Petzl Gri Gri+ in experienced hands. In the event of a fall it is highly unlikely for a belayer to keep upward pressure on this lever and intuitive to slide the brake hand back down the strand for a secure catch.
The amount of braking will vary based on rope diameter and age, along with the amount of friction already in the system (top-rope vs lead catch). We found skinny new single ropes like our Sterling Fushion Nano IX 9 mm would slowly slip in a top-rope system (but were easily locked off with proper brake hand position). The slightly thicker Black Diamond 9.4 mm used in the video below would hold fast. Regardless the device must not be treated as “auto-locking”. A brake hand is required 100% of the time.
While the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is not designed for rappelling it can safely be used to descend a single strand rappel. Care must be taken as without gloves on your hand will come in contact with the carabiner which will create some heat on a long or fast rappel. We would likely still carry a traditional belay device like the Black Diamond ATC Belay Device if we were planning on doing a lot of rappelling.
The Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a great addition to the growing amount of assisted braking devices on the market. While it’s obvious this would be a good tool for gym and sport climbers we believe it could also earn a place with climbing guides and instructors. It’s an excellent choice for a new belayer due to its intuitive use and extra layer of security it provides while maintaining a simple design. The symmetrical design also makes this device equally effective for those who are right or left handed, something that many similar devices do not do. We also find the light weight and competitive price of this device to be a compelling reason to add it to your kit. You can check it out from the following retailers:
Disclaimer: The author bought this item with his own money. All opinions are his own. Affiliate links above help create reviews at Northeast Alpine Start like this at no additional cost to you! Thanks for reading!
The new Petzl Boreo helmet is a super protective rugged great value choice that replaces the long loved Petzl Elios helmet in Petzl’s award winning helmet line.
How we tested
We tested this media sample while sport climbing at Rumney, NH, cragging at various cliffs in Mount Washington Valley, and multi-pitch climbing on Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledge along with some alpine climbing in Huntington Ravine. I shared this sample with some of my co-workers, climbing partners, and guests and solicited their opinions. After 3 months of testing I’m ready to share my opinions on this model to help you decide if this is the right helmet for you. As usual we will start with the most positive stand-out features and work our way down the list after covering the manufacturer info.
Durable and very versatile, the BOREO helmet is suitable for climbing, mountaineering, caving, via ferrata, canyoning… Thanks to its hybrid construction, the helmet is both compact and head-covering. Protection against lateral, front and rear impact is reinforced. Optimized volume on the head and wide ventilation holes make it a comfortable helmet for all activities.
– hard outer shell is impact and scratch resistant for optimal durability
– hybrid construction with thick ABS shell, an EPP foam liner and an EPS foam liner makes it compact on the head
– soft headband conforms perfectly to the shape of the head and folds into the shell for storage and transportation
Head-covering design for optimal protection against lateral, front and rear impact:
– carries Petzl’s TOP AND SIDE PROTECTION product label
– head-covering shape, lower in the rear, offers reinforced protection
Versatile, for a variety of activities:
– suitable for climbing, mountaineering, caving, via ferrata, canyoning…
– four clips for headlamp attachment
– compatible with the VIZION eye shield
Petzl uses three main materials in the construction of the Boreo. The outer shell is a hard plastic ABS shell which both protects the energy absorbing liners and helps dissipate force in a hit. An expanded polypropylene (EPP) liner makes up the bulk of protection around the entire helmet except for the crown (the very top of the helmet) which uses an expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner for added impact protection from a direct top hit. For comparison this EPS liner is about 25% smaller in size than the EPS liner in the award winning Sirocco 2017 model (my review of that model is here).
All this adds up to a helmet that is super durable and long lasting. It should survive many years of small knocks and hits from falling ice, occasional rocks, etc. As with any helmet a major hit whether from a fall or object might require retiring it, but this is a helmet I could cram into an overloaded haul bag and not get too nervous when I forget it’s in there before sitting on my pack at a trail break (I’ve broken ultralight climbing helmets in this manner before). This helmet definitely stands out in terms of long term durability!
The next most significant feature of the Petzl Boreo is how much protection it provides. There are a lot of things that determine how protective a lid will be so let’s start with the material. The ABS/EPP/EPS combo is un-matched for being able to absorb and dissipate energy in a hit and is likely the most durable construction out there (at the cost of some weight). While carrying certifications from both CE and UIAA Petzl has gone further and created there own internal tests for gauging side and rear impact protection. CE and UIAA tests focus on top protection but for a helmet to truly protect the wearer from a bad fall the sides and rear of the helmet need to be tested as well as they are certainly prone to impact. This may be the most protective (and durable) climbing helmet on the market.
There are very few models that can offer the protection, durability, and design Petzl achieves at this price point. This makes the Boreo a great choice for institutions, climbing camps, guide services, and climbers who appreciate durability over saving a few ounces or grams.
I found the Petzl Boreo to be relatively comfortable for a helmet in this weight category. It definitely feels heavier than the ultralight Petzl Sirocco and on long climbing days I rarely would forget I have it on. The removable foam pads are comfortable directly on the skin and can easily be washed after they’ve seen a few weeks of sunblock greasy climbing. Ventilation is much better than the Petzl Elios it replaces but not as airy as the super breathable Petzl Sirocco.
The Petzl Boreo comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L. S/M is for a head circumference of 48 to 58 cm and the M/L is for a head circumference of 53 to 61 cm. My head measures in at 59 cm so the M/L fits me well with no hat and I can where a thin winter hat liner with the helmet adjusted to its largest setting. If your head is 60 cm or larger you might find this helmet a bit to snug to wear with a winter hat. While the side yoke straps are not adjustable they did fall perfectly around the ears. My only small gripe about the adjustable mechanism is when the helmet is packed it tends to adjust itself to a smaller size requiring the need to re-size the helmet almost every time I take it out. This only takes a second or two but it is worth noting.
The Petzl Boreo is compatible with the Petzl Vizion Face Shield and that combo would offer the most about of protection possible for ice climbing. The helmet includes four clips for mounting a headlamp and my Petzl Actik Headlamp attached quickly and securely. As already mentioned the removable and washable foam pads are really comfortable on direct skin and clean up easily when they get that mid-season funk.
The Petzl Boreo is the most durable and protective climbing helmet I have reviewed to date. The focus on increased side and rear impact protection is proof of Petzl’s forward thinking design and desire to not only meet existing standards but go beyond. The Petzl Boreo is a great choice for not only rock and ice climbing but for ski mountaineering pursuits. While ounce counters might not like the relatively high weight those looking for value in a long lasting highly protective helmet wouldn’t find many options as appealing as this one. I think this is an excellent choice as a “first” helmet and its durability will likely keep it in your kit for certain missions throughout your climbing career.
You can pick this helmet up at the following local retailers in Mount Washington Valley:
Petzl is a well known industry leader in climbing gear and safety. When I first started climbing over 20 years ago I looked forward to each annual Petzl catalog for the wealth of technical information they would include, along with some of the most stunning and inspirational photos! I probably learned as much about climbing from these catalogs back in the day as I learned from that timeless classic Freedom of the Hills!
Now Petzl has just launched a new series of downloadable “ACCESS BOOKS”, basically a collection of technical tips centered around one particular aspect of climbing. In their first PDF “booklet” Petzl focuses on indoor climbing.
As always the illustrations are clear and to the point. The techniques described are considered “best practices” throughout the industry. Whether you are a new climber or a salty veteran a little review of the basics never hurts!
This simple yet well designed backpack easily crosses over from an everyday gym bag to a ultra-light multi-pitch rock climbing pack. I received a media sample to demo this past summer and ended up quite impressed with a pack in this easily affordable price range. Let’s take a close look at this model and see if it would be a good addition to your pack fleet!
At 18 liter (1,100 cubic inches) this pack is 2 liters larger than the popular Black Diamond Bullet and the same volume of the Petzl Bug (my review). The Diadema is a few inches longer than all three of those models which allows internal packing of many styles of trekking poles like Montem’s own award winning line of ultra-light trekking poles. Where this model really stands out in the field of “bullet” packs is in its weight. The Montem Diadema 18L only weighs 4 ounces! This is 14 ounces less than both the Black Diamond Bullet and the Petzl Bug and 7 ounces less than the Mountain Tools Slipstream that I reviewed here. This weight combined with being able to compress into the size of a grapefruit makes this a great choice for stuffing into a larger multi-day backpack during expeditions or in luggage for international travel.
Montem uses a high denier supple waterproof ripstop nylon in the Diadema’s construction. The material feels very soft in hand which helps the pack compress when storing inside a larger pack. Being made of a waterproof fabric is a nice boon with a pack so moderately priced however the seams are not taped or sealed in anyway so I would not consider the pack to be completely waterproof, but highly water-resistent. After a couple weeks of cragging, trips to the gym, and 20+ pitches of alpine climbing the pack has not incurred any noticeable wear or damage. I would assume that over a few years of hard use packs made with heavier fabrics might outlive the Diadema but some sacrifices could probably be made when choosing a pack that only weighs 4 ounces!
This is where we have a bit of a double edged sword. The contoured mesh shoulder straps are super breathable and distribute the weight well. A height adjustable sternum strap helps keep the load centered and thin waist belt secures the pack to the body for better balance while rock hopping and climbing. The actual “comfort” level of the pack varies with how, and what, is packed inside. There is no foam back panel or padding so if you pack your #2 Black Diamond Camalot right up against your back you are going to feel its edge digging into your pack on the approach. The solution here is to pack wisely. I stuff my extra layer, a light puffy jacket, in first and flatten it out along the back to serve as padding before stuffing my hard wear into the pack. With a little bit of thought you can certainly carry a full pack, first aid kit, puffy, headlamp, etc. and everything should carry well over a long approach. Once you’ve racked up and started climbing you will quickly forget that you are even wearing this pack!
Rounding out the features of this pack the author appreciated the single external zippered pocket that easily fit my snacks and lunch or my first aid kit, headlamp, and other “essentials”. The internal hydration sleeve can hold bladders from 1.5 – 3 liters in comfort and a hydration port allows the hydration tube to exit easily. The minimalist drawcord closing system obviously saves a lot of weight and bulk over zippered closing systems and the inclusion of a whistle on the sternum buckle always gets a “tip of the hat” from me!
This relatively new entry into the field of steam-lined “bullet” packs has a lot going for it. The most impressive features are its insane lightweight and packability. The inclusion of waterproof fabrics and adjustable carry system make it more than a simple gym/tote bag. With careful packing it is excellent for approaches and feels non-existent when technically climbing with your hard-wear out and on your harness. The style and design also lend it well to less extreme uses like travel and a gym/yoga pack. If it sound like a good addition to your gear room check it out at the link below!
Long time readers (and my wife) know I need a steady supply of the best foot deodorizer on the planet, Friendly Foot. The folks at Friendly Foot have re-stocked my supply and I’ll be raffling up a bottle of this on most of my gear reviews this Fall. You can earn multiple entries and discover how well this stuff works by clicking the Rafflecopter link below! Good luck!
The leaves are starting to turn high in our notches so I find myself starting to anticipate another great ice climbing season in the Northeast. Last season I had the opportunity to demo the CAMP/Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and while I shared my positive impressions of them with dozens of climbing partners I never got around to a full detailed review. With the ice climbing season quickly approaching what better time than now?
If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…
There is more custom-ability in this model then any other ice axe I have ever used! Let’s start with my favorite feature of the Cassin X-Dream’s!
By simply loosening one bolt you can pivot the handle into a “dry-tooling” setting appropriate for high level mixed climbing and competitions. This setting will align the handle/pick in a configuration quite similar to the Petzl Ergo Ice Axe. I don’t personally climb in competitions or send overhanging mixed sport routes in the winter so I only tested these in the “ice” setting which was the perfect angle for comfortable swings on steep grade 4 and grade 5 waterfall ice routes, and is quite similar to the alignment of the Petzl Nomic. If you’ve never demo’d a tool with a handle angled like this it’s hard to explain how much of a difference it makes on steep ice allowing your wrist to stay in a much more natural position and facilitating the relaxed grip that is so crucial on grade 4+ ice.
Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges can be adjusted in multiple ways. With a small phillips head screw driver you can swap the main trigger finger ledge from the included “X-finger small” with an “X-finger large, sold separately, $6”. My medium sized hands preferred the smaller less obtrusive setting.
For those with very small hands you can snap in the X-Rest handle height insert (sold separately, $8) which raises the height of the handle interior by about 3 mm.
The X-Trigger pommel (included) attaches to the shaft for an optional third ledge and can be slid up or down to your preferred spot. I liked mine just above the X-Grip 2 friction tape that is also included on the shaft.
Finally the entire handle can be swapped out with the recently released X-Dream Alpine Grip, a feature that greatly improves security when topping out an ice route and switching back to piolet canne.
There are three picks designed for the Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and they come stock with the “Mixte” pick which I found worked as well as any ice pick I’ve used across the major manufacture brands. All three are T-rated which adds confidence when torquing or utilizing The Stein Pull. I plan on buying a set of the ice picks this season as I think the addition of the small hammer will add a nice touch of head weight and help this tool step even closer into the alpine environment (occasional testing of pitons, tool tapping to gently set a pick on thin ice, etc).
UPDATE: Soon after posting this review CAMP USA let me know that they just released two more compatible accessories that further add to the versatility of this tool. A new “Total Dry” pick designed for over-hanging hooking and competition. This brings the pick options on this axe to four! Also, and more exciting in my opinion is the new available head weights. I will be trying these out with a new set of ice picks this winter!
Cassin combines a T-rated aluminum shaft with a chromoly steel head that passes both CE and UIAA certification. Total weight is 1 lb 5 oz, 610 grams and the swing feels very natural and balanced. I did not find any need to adapt my swing to these like I have with some comparable models from other companies. With the included X-Grip friction tape and “third ledge” pommel I’ve found no need to supplement the rest of the shaft with after market grip tape. During placement the shaft dampens nicely without noticeable vibration and provides reliable feedback with each stick.
With a high degree of customization and optimization for steep ice, mixed routes, and competition climbing this Italian made ice axe should become a common sight on the steep ice drips around the world. If you lead or follow grade 4 and up waterfall ice you should try to demo a pair of these! While outfitting them with the new X-Dream Alpine Grip puts them in the running for the most expensive set of tools when it comes to waterfall ice axes sometimes you get what you pay for.