Gear Review: Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe

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?

Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe Review
The author on Black Pudding Gully, WI 4+, photo by Brent Doscher

If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…

versatile

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!

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The Handle

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.

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Ergonomic handle allows for relaxed grip in steep terrain- photo by Brent Doscher

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.

Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe Review
Original X-Dream Grip (included) next to X-Dream Alpine Grip, sold separately $79.95 ea.

The Picks

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).

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Author samples the sweets on Black Pudding Gully- photo by Brent Doscher

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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!


The Shaft

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.

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Balanced natural swings- photo by Brent Doscher

Summary

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.

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CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Author on Drool of the Beast, Grade 5- photo by Brent Doscher

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

This product was provided for the purpose of review. All opinions are that of the author. Affiliate links support this blog.

Gear Review- Petzl 2017 Sirocco Climbing Helmet

The arrival of the updated ground breaking Petzl Sirocco this summer may be my most anticipated piece of gear news this year! I enjoyed hundreds of days climbing rock and ice along with a decent amount of ski mountaineering in my original Sirocco that I reviewed back in 2013 here. Needless to say I was pretty stoked to get my hands on a media sample of the 2017 model earlier this Spring and have since enjoyed over 30 days of both cragging and alpine climbing in this new model and I can say with complete conviction that Petzl has taken something great and made it even better!

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review

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Earlier this Spring I explained some of the basic differences between the outgoing model, the new 2017 Sirocco, and the current Petzl Meteor III helmet in this video:



Now I would like to dive into some of the details that make this the ultimate climbing helmet in my opinion, starting with the most obvious specification…

Weight

Anyone that reads my gear reviews knows I can obsess a little about weight. I love counting ounces and trimming weight in every category I can. The original Petzl Sirocco was indeed a game changer weighing in at only 6 ounces (170 grams) for my M/L size. My home scale shows the new model weights 6.125 ounces (172 grams). The closest competitor in regards to weight is likely the Black Diamond Vapor Helmet which comes in at 7 ounces (199 grams). But weight should really be secondary to…

Protection

This was actually what sold me on the first incarnation of the Petzl Sirocco, the fact that it exceeds EN-12492 certification and meets UIAA-106 standards! In fact Petzl helmets were the first climbing helmets that meet this higher standard!

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review

Whoa… wait a minute… what the heck does all that mean?

Let me break it down.

Simply put, Expanded Polypropylene (EPP), the main material used in the construction of both the outgoing and the new 2017 Petzl Sirocco helmet has an excellent “energy absorbing” quality to it along with being quite rugged and durable. Essentially the difference is this helmet will transfer less energy to your melon (and neck) in the case of a hard hit.

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The EN certification most helmets meet puts that amount of force at 10 kN but the Petzl Sirocco is tested to only transfer 8 kN. This is roughly 450 pounds less in force. This could mean the difference between suffering a more serious injury in a hard hit than when wearing a helmet that might “feel” more durable but transfer more force to the climbers head and neck. Skip to 1:20 in the below video to see this stress testing in action. (video is of 2013 model but physics point are the same)


 


In addition to the reduced impact force Petzl helmets are tested for “side impact” as well… something not yet required to pass a more general CE standard. As a climber, Wilderness First Responder, and Mountain Rescue Service member, I have seen a fair share of head injuries, some minor, some quite major, I can say that the entire head deserves protection… not just the top!

Finally in terms of “protection” one should note that the new design covers 2-3 cm lower on the back of the head… a common spot of injury in both ground falls and “rope behind the leg” leader falls.

Bottom line is the new 2017 Sirocco offers greater protection to your head than the previous model without gaining a single ounce!

So what about the next important consideration in a climbing helmet?…

Durability

Originally essentially a “one material” build Petzl has made to significant structural changes to the Sirocco design. The first is found inside and is an crown injected with expanded polystyrene (EPS).

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Injected Polystyrene Liner

This material adds some ruggedness and durability to what at times could feel like a fragile construction material (the expanded polypropylene that some folks assumed was “Styrofoam”). While expanded polypropylene has excellent protective qualities it could show wear after a few seasons of hard use. My 2013 model has quite a few dings from random ice hits and possibly packing it in my pack a little too close to sharp crampons. Despite the dings I never felt the performance of the helmet was compromised, but the addition of a denser material under the crown makes it feel like this construction will have a longer life than the original Sirocco. Further research actually indicates that EPS actually has even higher energy absorption properties than EPP and is less durable than EPP, which is probably why Petzl added…

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
The author at work in his office

Durability x 2!

Petzl also added a poly-carbonate crown on the top of the helmet, the same great material that covers the whole shell of the popular Petzl Meteor III helmet. This hard yet light plastic will certainly fend off small hits of ice and rock and increase the service life of the helmet.

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Poly-carbonate protective “crown”

Having considered the most important considerations like weight and durability it’s time to look at some other performance characteristics… like…

Breath-ability

The 2013 Petzl Sirocco was the most ventilated helmet I’ve ever owned, and the new 2017 model is no different. The design of the ventilation holes have drastically changed but by my estimate the ratio of material to “open space” is roughly the same. The 2013 model had 24 ventilation holes and the new model also has 24. As you can see from the comparison photo the older model had longer thinner vents and the newer model has wider more square like vents. If one was to measuring the difference in actual performance between the too I imagine it would be a pretty close tie. This brings us to some more “stylistic” changes…

Profile/Color

The 2013 Petzl Sirocco had a noticeable “dome” shape. That combined with the (offensive to some) orange color probably steered quite a few potential Sirocco wearers from donning this lid. Petzl has managed to drop the “peak” of this lid by one full centimeter. They’ve also changed the design to have a nice taper and removed the “dome” aspect all together.

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Shape matters
Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Petzl 2013/2017 Sirocco Helmet Shape Comparison

We also now have the option of two colors, white and black! My sources say the white color will not be readily available until late Fall but that black model is available on Backcountry and Amazon along with our local climbing shop International Mountain Equipment!

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To be honest I never minded the 2013 shape or color… but I do like the look of the new model more! There is just a couple other things to mention before we wrap this up…

Minutiae

Worthy of mention is the wider helmet/goggle strap. The 2013 model could easily accommodate ski goggle straps up to about 2 inches in thickness. The new headlamp/goggle strap can accommodate a 3 inch goggle strap.

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Headlamp/Goggle strap can accommodate

Not a big deal in my opinion because none of the goggles I have ever owned have a strap wider than 2 inches but maybe some out there have goggles with really wide straps? More noticeable is the orientation of the helmet strap is now reversed with the elastic cord latching towards the bottom vs the top like on the 2013 model. This is a small but welcome improvement as I often fumbled with fixing a headlamp or ski goggles on the helmet while I was wearing it, to the point where I usually resorted to just taking my helmet off (adding risk) to attach my goggles or headlamp… this change for the 2017 Petzl Sirocco model allows me to easily add a headlamp or ski goggles without removing my helmet… this is actually important minutiae!

A small update has been made to the innovative magnetic chin strap clip… the magnet can be removed for those who climb in areas with high iron contents. Care needs to be taken that the magnet does not attract too much “magnetized dust” as if it get’s gunked up it can impede its function… With the magnet removed the chin strap functions like a traditional clip.

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
2013 Petzl Sirocco Chin Strap Buckle vs the 2017 model

The thin harness straps are still super adjustable and allow the helmet to fit just about any head shape out there. The small mesh/foam pads inside are still removable for occasional washing… I tend to throw them in the wash once or twice a year to get some of my “grime” out of them…

Summary

I’m not sure what more I can say here… I love this helmet. Seriously my only complaint is that Petzl decided to keep the same name. The 2013 Sirocco was great. The 2017 Sirocco is even better and pretty drastically different. Constructed of three materials instead of just one, totally different profile/shape, different ventilation scheme… it just seems like this re-design would have been worthy of a new name, or at-least a (Plus or Two) added to the name similar to the GriGri legacy… which by the way I reviewed in detail the newest Petzl GriGri+ here if you are interested.

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review

If you are in need of a new climbing helmet or looking to upgrade, might I highly endorse this helmet for you? You can purchase it from the retailers below and doing so will help support my efforts at provided detailed reviews like this for years to come!

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See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Petzl 2017 Sirocco Helmet Review
Author having a great day in the mountains… photo by @alexanderroberts



This item was provided at no cost but the opinions expressed above have not been influenced in any way. Affiliate links help support this blog

Review: Petzl Sitta Harness

Reblogging this review from last Fall after noticing it on a strong sale price online! If you’re looking to upgrade your harness this rock season you should take a look!

Northeast Alpine Start

The Petzl Sitta (pronounced SEE-Tah) is a stand-out harness in the very small and exclusive class of high-end technical harnesses. I bought my first top-of-the-line harness back in 1995 when I realized I was addicted to climbing. The Petzl Guru was a stand out at that time both for its notice-able rescue orange color and its high price point (it was double what most harnesses cost in the 90’s).

Petzl Sitta Review Petzl Sitta Review

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Despite the price tag I never regretted the purchase as it was really comfortable for the era and served me well for the start of my climbing career from Red Rocks to the Rockies and back East. Since I retired it around 2000 I’ve gone through a steady stream of harnesses, almost always Petzl; Adajama, Corax, Calidris, Sama, another Adajama, then a Hirundos (review), and now the Petzl Sitta.

Let’s…

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Gear Review- Petzl GRIGRI+

Can the new version of the iconic Petzl GriGri really be the belay device for “all climbers”? What makes it different from the current GriGri 2? After a few weeks of testing it turns out the differences may very well make this the one belay to device to rule them all. I’ll start with a three minute video highlighting some of the biggest changes then get into the details below.


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Belay Selection Knob

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Petzl GriGri 2 next to Petzl GriGri+ with lockable belay mode selector knob- Petzl GriGri+ Review

Probably the most talked about feature of the new Petzl GriGri+ is the belay mode selection. A knob can be twisted to adjust the tension on the cam to be more suitable for either top-rope belaying or lead belaying. A seemingly slight adjustment in the tension of the internal cam spring here makes a very noticeable amount of belay ease and comfort. New climbers sometimes struggle with belaying a leader with a GriGri 2 or older model because the cam would engage while trying to quickly pay out slack for either clipping or a fast moving leader. When set to “lead belay mode” the cam spring is “stiffer” which allows you to feed rope out quickly and with less effort than previous models. This is easy to see if you skip to 1:30 on the above YouTube video.

This feature makes me feel much more comfortable having a less experienced climber lead belay me with the GriGri+.

Additionally the option exists to “lock” the selected belay mode. This feature is handy for using this in climbing gyms and outdoor group top-rope sessions further increasing the versatility of the device.


Anti-Panic Handle

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Petzl GriGri+ Anti-Panic Handle- photo by @alexandraroberts

The second most talked about feature of the Petzl GriGri+ is the anti-panic handle. We’ve all heard stories of climbers being dropped in the gym and while sport climbing when a new belayer clamps down hard on the handle preventing the device from camming and letting a climber deck. Petzl has engineered a solution. If a belayer pulls too hard on the handle the cam will re-engage! It was a little un-nerving to test this but I wanted to feel how it worked so out came the GoPro and down I went, check it out here:

video being edited, will upload soon

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Smooth lowering and a fail-safe anti-panic handle make the Petzl GriGri+ great for many different types of climbing- photo by @alexandraroberts

This anti-panic handle adds a lot of safety in quite a few scenarios. First, while being lowered off a top-rope or from a high piece, if a new belayer pulls too hard on the handle and the climber starts to fall the cam will automatically re-engage. Second, while rappelling a single rope if you crank to hard on the handle and are going to fast the cam will re-engage preventing a fall. Once re-engaged you can either apply considerably more pressure to start descending again or “re-set” the anti-panic handle as I demonstrate in the video.

Durability

Less talked about than the above two features is the overall durability of this device. Petzl has fortified it in so many ways! First they added material in high wear areas and strengthened the design. They’ve closed off the non-handle side opening around the cam pivot which helps keep dirt and grime from gunking up the inside of the device. Let’s take a close comparison look between the Petzl GriGri 2 and the new GriGri+ below.

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Reinforced- Petzl GriGri 2 next to Petzl GriGri+

Petzl also included stainless steel plating in high wear areas.

FullSizeRender (1)

They’ve added a stainless steel stopper that prevents the rare rope snag sometimes experienced in previous models.

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Reinforced- Petzl GriGri 2 next to Petzl GriGri+

This reinforcement comes at the price of weight and bulk, but only about one ounce (30 grams). As far as “bulk” I’d estimate it feels only about 5-10% larger than a GriGri 2.

Petzl GriGri+ Review
Petzl GriGri+ enclosed casing helps keep the inside cleaner when climbing in manky conditions and on soft desert rock- photo by @alexandraroberts

Versatility

One of the last things I want to mention that makes the Petzl GriGri+ suitable for such a wide range of climbers is its ability to work with any single rated rope on the market! That’s right, this device can go all the way down to a 8.5 mm rope! It is “optimized” for ropes between 8.9 mm and 10.5 mm but can actually handle 8.5 mm up to 11 mm. For reference the GriGri 2 could only go down to a 8.9 mm and was optimized for 9.4 mm to 10.3 mm. This is kind of a big deal considering many of us, especially climbing guides, are climbing on skinnier and skinnier single ropes. Being able to use this with absolutely any single rated rope is just more icing on the cake!

Summary

I’m a bit of a skeptic of the “latest and greatest” gadgets in climbing but the Petzl GriGri+ has surpassed the GriGri 2 in so many ways. There is definitely a small weight/bulk penalty but the added durability will be a boon when this device is well suited for so many types of climbing. I would consider it a great choice for gym and sport climbing, traditional climbing, guiding, big walls (especially in the desert where aluminum wears quickly), camp and school groups, and for my growing list of adventure photographer friends!

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Disclaimer: Petzl provided a demo unit for the purpose of this review but all opinions expressed are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog. Climbing is DANGEROUS! Attempting anything in this review requires training and experience. Seek qualified instruction and climb at your own risk!

Please carefully review Petzl’s technical documentation and instruction here before attempting to use this device!