Holiday Gift Guide 2018

This time of year my inbox gets flooded with “gift guides” from various retailers and manufacturers that I follow. Part of me winces at the commercialism that overruns this time of year but I also recognize that over the next month we really do spend the most money on “stuff”. So I am going to share some ideas with my readers who might be looking for that unique gift for the guy or gal in there life that is into the same type of stuff I’m into. So with that disclaimer here is yet another gift guide to hit your inbox, but know that each suggestion is truly a hand picked thought. Maybe you’ll find something you didn’t know you are looking for.


Mountains For Breakfast $15-$25

Product Collage-01

I’m going to start with some local artists who make hand crafted art with a strong mountain vibe and sense of community because they have a strong mountain vibe and sense of community! Seriously these two friends live enriched lives out of their Tacoma’s and converted vans while building their brands and chasing adventures all over the country. You can support them while giving something that is truly hand-made and inspired. Check out Brittni’s line of drink sweaters, hand poured candles, and stylish Trucker hats here!


Stay Wild Never Mild $2.50-$23

Stay Wild Never Mild

What can I say about my friend Erik, aka @smellybagofdirt? I met him last winter after noticing his somewhat noticeable van all over the valley (or indisposed) then got to know him as an avalanche course student and soon to be bunk-mate and ski partner in Iceland… Talk to him for 10 minutes and you’ll see he’s on his way to making his mark in the world. He just launched his website and is offering some original stickers, posters, and t-shirts. If you have an adrenaline junkie in on your holiday shopping list you’ll find a unique gift from Erik for sure!


Wilderness First Aid Course $195

Wilderness First Aid Course

Anyone who plays in the mountains, and I mean anyone, should take a basic Wilderness First Aid Course. It’s a 16 hour commitment. It could save you or your partners lives. The courses are offered all over the country. There is absolutely no reason not to have a basic first aid course under your belt if you want to play in the mountains. Yet we resist signing up for one. Make it easy for your loved ones by signing them up and paying for it!


Avalanche Course

Ortovox Avalanche Shovel Comparison

This is for the loved ones who like to play on steep snowy slopes! Everyone who knows me knows avalanche education is a huge part of my life. My first brush with this hazard was a life changing event and I can’t advocate enough for getting this education before you wished you had it! If you have someone in your life who has back-country skiing, ice climbing, or winter mountaineering on their short list of things to do help prep them for success by signing them up for an avalanche course!


Hydro Flask ($25-$40)

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hydro-flask-options

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! Check out their Holiday Gift guide here.

 25% off Site Wide + Free Shipping! Use offer code UNDERTREE in cart. Offer ends soon! Coupon Code: UNDERTREE


Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer ($11)

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

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! 7 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.


Darn Tough Socks ($15-$27)

Darn Tough Socks
Darn Tough Socks

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!


Men’s Holiday Gift Guides At DarnTough.com – Buy 2+ Pair & Receive Free Shipping


MaxxDry Heavy Duty Boot and Glove Dryer ($55)

MaxxDry Boot and Glove Dryer
MaxxDry Boot and Glove Dryer

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.


A high end headlamp!

ONECOL

The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work. I admittedly don’t own one yet but it is high on my wish list!


Shop Local!

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!

                           Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway, NH

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway, NH

Ragged Mountain Equipment, Intervale, NH

Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT

Summary

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 flush out your buying needs this season. The last thing I’ll mention is this blog is only sustainable by the small amount of affiliate and donation income it receives… so I only include this info in this post for the remainder of the 2018 year:

If you are going to shop online at any of the below retailers this holiday season (or anytime) please consider doing so through this web page (book mark it if you like!).

Making a purchase through one of the below links sends this blog a small percentage of the purchase at no additional cost to you!

Adidas Outdoor (Five Ten)

Amazon

Backcountry

Bentgate Mountaineering

Cabela’s

Darn Tough Socks

Hitcase

REI

Patagonia

Eastern Mountain Sports

Hyperlight Mountain Gear

Hydroflask

Kuhl

Moosejaw

Mountain Gear

Mountain House

Mystery Ranch Backpacks

Rokform

VSSL Flashlights/Survival Gear

 You can also donate directly via PayPal if you like! 100% of donations go directly to supporting the content created on Northeast Alpine Start.


Donate Button

Thank you! See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Gear Review- Black Diamond Vapor Climbing Helmet

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

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.


Weight

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

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!


Breath-ability

IMG_9585

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.


Fit/Comfort

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

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.


Features

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
The author wearing the Black Diamond Vapor while topping out the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Mount Washington. Photo by Brent Doscher

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.


Durability

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
Alex rocking the Black Diamond Vapor helmet during an early morning climb at Otter Cliffs- Photo by Brent Doscher

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.


Summary

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!

Buy on Backcountry

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Buy from EMS

Buy from Moosejaw

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Buy from Mountain Gear

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Buy from REI

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Gear for Top Rope Climbing

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Alexandra Roberts

After teaching an anchor building clinic last week my guest started an email chain with me looking for some specific recommendations on improving his top-rope “kit”. After making a few suggestions I realized I get these questions a few times a year and there are probably others out wondering what an optimized top-rope kit looks like.  So here I share what I think are the best of the best from ropes to carabiners, belay devices to harnesses and helmets, these are my “first picks”.


Climbing Rope

Sterling Marathon Pro Dry Single Rope

Sterling Marathon Pro Climbing Rope
Sterling Marathon Pro Climbing Rope

I would recommend this 10.1 mm rope in the 60 meter length. With a higher ratio of sheath-to-core this rope will hold up to hard use for many years. It comes equipped with a middle mark, which is a feature I insist on for any of my ropes if it’s not a bi-pattern rope. Some might question the added expense of getting a dry treated rope for top-roping. In addition to not taking on 5 pounds of water when you get caught in the rain dry treatments also help resist dirt and friction which adds both life and smoother handling. I pretty much only shop “dry” ropes these days despite the added cost.


Rope Bag

Arc’teryx Haku Rope Bag

Gear for Top Roping

Protect your investment in your climbing rope with the Cadillac of rope bags. This model has an integrated ground tarp and can compress the rope into a pack-able size when carrying a larger backpack to the crag.

Gear for Top Roping
Photo by Corey McMullen



Static Rope

1st Choice Sterling 7/16 in. WorkPro Static Rope 61m

Gear for Top Roping

2nd Choice Mammut Performance Static Rope 50m

If you will be top-roping anywhere that anchors are located a bit far back from the cliff edge you will need a static rope for extending your master-point out of the edge. Examples where static rope is helpful, if not necessary; Square Ledge, Pawtuckaway, Stonehouse Pond, Otter Cliffs, etc. Tubular and flat webbing IS NOT a substitute for static line as they both have enough stretch in them that they will quickly fray where they run over the cliff edge during repeated climbing cycles.


Cordelettes

Sterling PowerCord Cordelettes

Gear for Top Rope Climbing

I recommend 2 in the 5.5 meter (18 foot) length. I use the Flat Overhand Bend as my joining knot on these instead of the more traditional Double Fisherman so that they are easy to untie for more anchoring options. Most often they are deployed in a Quad construction, around a large tree, or in a pre-equalized 3 piece gear anchor.

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Corey McMullen


Slings

Black Diamond Nylon Slings

Gear for Top Rope Climbing

I’d recommend two 120 cm nylon slings and one 60 cm sling. The longer slings are most often deployed around medium size tree anchors, used in a pre-equalized fashion on two bolts, or as part of a larger more complex gear anchor, and will have two dedicated carabiners (see section below). The 60 cm sling is most often used in a “sliding-X” configuration.


Belay Devices

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Alexandra Roberts

Petzl Grigri+                   Black Diamond ATC Pilot                  Petzl Verso

The Petzl Grigri+ is a top-tier choice that comes with a bit of sticker shock. That said it is an incredibly well designed piece of gear. Check out my 1000+ word review of it here and decide for yourself! The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a much more affordable option that has a simple design and still includes a “brake enhancing” feature. My detailed review of that device is here. These two devices only accept one strand of rope so the classic Petzl Verso is carried for rappelling. Each of these will have a dedicated locking carabiner that works well with the device.


Carabiners

            Petzl Attache          Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner     Petzl William Ball-Lock

I put more thought into what carabiners I use and where than most. There are some designs out there that make more sense in certain places of your rope safety system. I carry 4 Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners , one Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner Screwgate, and one Petzl William Ball-Lock Carabiner.

For the master-point (where your climbing rope will be running). I use two dedicated Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners. Along with the red “unlocked” indicator these carabiners have a feature many people don’t realize. When used at the master point with gates reversed and opposed the grooves on the screw-gate are designed to lock into the ridges of the opposed carabiner when under even just a light load. This prevents them from vibrating into an unlocked state even during the longest top-rope session. Even curious hands (I take a lot of young kids climbing) wouldn’t be able to unlock these with the tension of the rope on the carabiners. These are “dedicated” to this purpose so they wear evenly and I’ll replace them once they show a few mm of wear.

I also use one of the Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners for my Petzl Grigri+. Call me OCD but I like the Petzl/Petzl match up here. Likewise I match my Black Diamond ATC Pilot with a Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner Screwgate… it fits perfectly. For my Petzl Verso I use the Petzl William Ball-Lock Carabiner. The wider rope end of a larger pear shaped carabiner allows smoother and less “kinking” rappels. I also like the auto-locking mechanism of the “Ball-Lock”, a much more secure design than some “2-action” auto-locking carabiners.


Helmet

         Petzl Boreo Helmet                                          Black Diamond Half Dome

Yes, I recommend a helmet for top rope climbing (despite using some images in this post of helmet-less heads). I won’t say I wear mine 100% of the time, but I always have it with me. If I am climbing or belaying it is on. If I’m hanging around directly under climbers I have it on. The two models I endorse as excellent all around lids are the new Petzl Boreo (full review here) and the iconic Black Diamond Half Dome.

Photo by Corey McMullen
Photo by Corey McMullen


Summary

Gear for Top Rope Climbing
Photo by Alexandra Roberts

As I mentioned to start these are my top-tier choices. You can definitely save a bit of money by sacrificing some of the features I like, from dry treatment to middle marks, “brake enhancing” to unlock indicators. These are simply what I think are some of the best options in this category currently being offered. Please comment below with your own recommendations, ask me to clarify any of my choices, or just say hello!

In the coming months I hope to have a clearer picture of what you, my reader/follower, would like from Northeast Alpine Start. A recent Instagram poll revealed Tech Tips are more desired than Gear Reviews so I’m already working to add more skills to my growing list of Tech Tips. Feel free to comment or drop me a message on what you would like to see more of here!

 

Northeast Alpine Start receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

Gear Review: Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

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
  • Controlled lowering
  • Steel construction
  • 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!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review


The results

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.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review


Lead Belaying

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.


Assisted Braking

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.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review


Rappelling

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.


Video


Summary

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:

Shop Local!

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway NH

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway NH

Shop Online!

Backcountry <- currently 25% off and adding our favorite Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner to go with it gets you to free two-day shipping!

Bentgate

EMS

Mountain Gear <- currently 24% off

REI


Technical Instructions from Black Diamond

Special thanks to AJ at Mountain Life International and Jeremy Ray for their assistance in making the above video.

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!

 

How To: “Belaying in the Gym” by PETZL

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!

Petzl Gear Review
The author on the summit of Forbidden Peak, North Cascades, wearing the Petzl Sirocco Helmet and Petzl Sitta Harness

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.

Petzl Access Books
Petzl Access Books- Download your own copy here.

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!

Download your own copy here

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Speaking of Petzl here are some recent reviews I’ve posted of some of my favorite Petzl gear!

Petzl Sirocco Helmet (2017 model)

Petzl GriGri+

Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Hirundos Harness

Petzl Ice Screws (comparison review)

Petzl Bug Backpack

All links are affiliate links and making a purchase through one of them supports Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review- Montem Diadema 18L Backpack (and contest)

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!

Montem Diadema 18L Backpack Review
Hard to believe this pack only weighs 4 ounces! The author at the top of Whitehorse Ledge, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Buy on Amazon


Capacity/Weight

Montem Diadema 18L Backpack Review
This was the gear stuffed into the Montem Diadema 18L backpack for a trip up a 9 pitch route on Whitehorse Ledge this Fall.

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.


Durability

Montem Diadema 18L Backpack Review
Lightweight but durable fabrics help this pack cross over from “gym bag” to multi-pitch trad pack!

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!


Comfort

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!


Features

Montem Diadema 18L Backpack Review
Features that are at home at the climbing gym, crag, or big wall!

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!


Summary

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!

Buy on Amazon

Contest

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!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Montem Diadema 18L Review
Friendly Foot 6 oz Bottle, the best damn foot/shoe deodorizer ever made!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

This product was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created on this blog at no additional cost to you.

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!

Buy at REI              Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


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

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