Black Diamond has released their most advanced approach shoes yet this past Spring, the Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes. I’ve been testing a pair for the last few weeks and am ready to share my take on their comfort and performance. First lets look at the manufacturer claims and specifications.
Engineered for days when the word “approach” actually involves full-on climbing, the Fuel is our most technical performance shoe. The Fuel’s upper combines breathable EnduroKnit, a durable stretch woven lateral panel, and welded TPU film overlays for maximum durability and precision fit. The internally overlapping tongue allows for fewer seams and a sleek comfortable fit with minimal bulk, while the lace-to-toe construction features webbing and scalloped eyelets for variable, adjustable fit and tensioning to suit different conditions. A climbing-specific forefoot construction allows for exceptional edge control and our BlackLabel Mountain rubber is ultra-sticky for superior grip on rock. Finally, a tag-loop on the heel and tongue gives you the option to clip the Fuels to your harness once you rope up.
Capable of easy 5th class climbing with confidence and comfort.
Upper construction of Black Diamond developed knit and woven textiles with welded TPU film overlays for adaptable fit and maximum durability
Low profile molded collar padding and lining
Protected lateral laces and smooth upper construction
Overlap tongue means fewer internal seams for precision fit
Lace to toe with webbing and scalloped eyelets for adjustable fit and tension depending on conditions Functional climbing forefoot construction for edging control and durability
Tuned dual density EVA midsole with stiffness and comfort
Black Diamond BlackLabel Mountain is a high performance sticky rubber
Rubber toe protection
Multiple webbing loops for tagging options
MaterialsPolyester Enduro Knit, EVA Midsole, BD BlackLabel-Mountain Rubber
Size RangeM’s US 6-14 1/2 sizes
WeightEACH: 312 g (11 oz)
Out of the box the first thing I noticed was the lightweight feel. My US Size 9 pair weighs 1 pound 5 ounces (600 grams) which is slightly lighter than the manufacturer claimed weight an about an ounce heavier than my LaSportiva TX 2’s. A fair comparison in terms of weight and support would be closer made to the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes.
The second most notable feature was the welded “TPU film overlays” especially on the upper around the heel. I’ve seen this technology used in high end waterproof jackets and using it on an approach shoe not only gives the shoe a very high tech look but also inspires confidence in the long term durability of the shoe.
I went with a US Men’s size 9, EUR 42, and the fit was pretty spot on for my medium width regular arch foot. I probably could have sized down a half size but with a full length lacing system I was able to snug these up sufficiently for low 5th class climbing. I did notice some heel lift while wearing them around the house on Day one of testing but interestingly when hiking around Rumney NH I didn’t notice the heel lift. The heel cup could definitely be a little deeper. The wrap style tongue and padding was quite comfortable while testing with and without socks… something to consider in hot weather these actually felt pretty comfortable without socks. The EVA midsole provided plenty of under foot support and had noticeably more cushioning in the heel than other approach shoes in this category.
In class 2, 3, and 4 terrain these perform well as approach shoes. They definitely had adequate grip and comfort over 4-5 mile trips in New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains. To test them in fifth class terrain I climbed a half dozen routes at Rumney, NH ranging from 5.3 to 5.7. They felt more secure while edging vs. smearing which I think may be in part to the rubber used in the outsole. The “BlackLabel Mountain rubber” feels a little stiffer than the compounds used in competing brands which makes these feel like the soles will have longevity with a small reduction in the coefficient of friction. As I’ve found with most approach shoes I’ve tested the friction can improve as the soles break in a bit. I usually have maximum confidence in my smear-ability once the “dots” on the soles have been worn down and the bottom of the approach shoe looks more like the bottom of a climbing shoe. Perhaps after a full season of use I’ll feel these smear a bit better.
It’s not easy to speak to much on durability when my testing window is only a few weeks long. That said a close look at the construction of these inspires confidence you will not wear through a pair of these in a couple seasons. They would certainly outlast some similar models with the futuristic welded seams and significant toe rand.
The Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes are a welcome addition to the growing list of approach shoes. The price and features puts them up against shoes like the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes and they certainly can compete. A slightly deeper heel cup would be nice and a softening and smoothing of the outsole over time will likely increase the security while heading up slabby terrain. I also think it is great that Black Diamond is producing a women’s version since options for women’s approach shoes haven’t always been there. If you are in need of some new approach shoes this is a model to consider, especially if you’ve worn Black Diamond climbing shoes before and know their sizing fits your feet!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. Thank you.
I’m really into lightweight climbing gear so when I saw the new Wild Country Mosquito Harness only weighed 220g I had to try it out. After a few months of use I’m ready to share and compare it with some of my other favorite lightweight climbing harnesses. First let’s get the manufacture description and tech specs out of the way:
This is the lightest harness Wild Country has ever made. Engineered specifically for sport climbing, its precise fit delivers super-lightweight comfort, agility and freedom of movement. The advanced yet lightweight, laminated waistbelt construction features internal load-bearing webbing that distributes the load evenly across the entire harness structure. Combined with super-light mesh padding and a robust, fast-drying and abrasion-resistant covering with seamless edges, this harness is soft and smooth next to the skin. The Mosquito harness was built specifically with freedom of movement in mind. Its sleek, stripped-down construction adapts to your body for full, unhindered, flexibility as you climb. An important stand-out safety feature is the wear indicator on the reinforced lower tie-in point – a feature that has been used by Wild Country since the ’90s. The wear indicator clearly indicates when it is time to retire the harness, which is when its red threads become visible after excessive wear and abrasion.
The Mosquito is equipped with lightweight gear loops: two rigid front loops and two softer back loops, to prevent pressure points when climbing with a pack. All gear loops are designed specifically to hold your gear and draws away from the harness for smoother retrieval. There is also a decent-sized rear haul loop that also doubles as a chalk bag attachment point.
With a self-locking, aluminum slide block buckle on the waist belt to ensure a secure and comfortable fit plus lightweight, supportive leg loops with elasticated risers. The Mosquito packs down small and comes in a stylish, two-tone black and white design with a classic Wild Country tangerine orange buckle.
So for my size harness in all three models the Wild Country Mosquito Harness comes in right in the middle of a almost 40 gram spread with the Black Diamond Airnet Harness being the lightest of the three by 18 grams and the Petzl Sitta Harness being the heaviest by 20 grams. It’s important to note that all three come in under 11 ounces which is probably a few ounces lighter than what most climbers are used to.
As far as ultralight harnesses go the Wild County Mosquito Harness is just as comfortable as the very similar styled Black Diamond AirNet Harness. While testing I hung in a no stance position during some rescue training for almost thirty minutes without much discomfort. To be honest though these are not rescue or aid-climbing harnesses… they are plenty comfortable for semi-hanging belays but don’t expect more comfort than is reasonable when considering ultralight harness. The exception I will say, is the Petzl Sitta Harness, which I find incredibly comfortable for the category (but with double the retail cost).
Features wise the Wild County Mosquito Harness looks and feels very similar to the Black Diamond AirNet Harness. The rigid front gear loops are about a half inch bigger than the gear looks on the Black Diamond AirNet Harness. The soft rear gear loops are almost an inch bigger than the Black Diamond AirNet Harness, so this harness can probably handle oversized racks a bit better. I usually only climb with a regular rack without many doubles so this distinction isn’t as important to me as it might be for someone who is always wishing for more room on their gear loops.
The “floss” style butt straps that I’ve become a fan of are a bit more re-enforced on the Black Diamond AirNet Harness at their connection points leading me to think the Black Diamond AirNet Harness might resist wear/abrasion at the point longer, but that is conjecture as I’ve only been testing it for about 3 months now and they appear to be holding up fine. For context I had this point wear prematurely on an early model of the Petzl Sitta Harness which is now be more re-enforced at this potential wear point (Petzl replaced the harness at no cost).
While we are talking about wear I should point out one of the cooler features of the harness is the “wear down” indicator inside the belay loop. Inside the belay loop are red threads… when they become visible the belay loop has experienced enough wear and the harness should be retired. Since many climbers might not keep strict records of how old their harness is this is a nice safety addition in my opinion.
The Wild County Mosquito Harness enters the realm of ultra-light packable harnesses at a very competitive price point. Half the price of a Petzl Sitta Harness (my gold standard for a year round harnesses), $60 cheaper than the Black Diamond AirNet Harness, and able to hold its own in most comparisons. This harness is marketed for sport climbing, but I tested it for both sport and traditional climbing about 50/50 and I think it’s a great traditional harness as well as suited for sport climbing. This harness is not equipped for ice climbing just like the Black Diamond AirNet Harness (no slots for ice clippers), so if you’re looking for a year round harness that can handle ice climbing as well I’d point you back to the Petzl Sitta Harness. If you are looking for an affordable ultralight breathable sport and traditional climbing harness that packs up small and performs great, this would be a solid model to try!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog.
Christmas might have come a little early for me this year when about a month ago a package arrived with the all new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Alpine Climbing Kit. It’s no secret I’m a fan of HMG products after reviewing the HMG 3400 Ice Pack back in February 2016. You can find that review here. After three years of hard use I’m happy to report that pack is still 100% service-able and I still use it for hauling heavy loads while running waterfall rappelling trips (think 500+ feet of wet static ropes).
The HMG line of Ice Packs is pretty well known by northeastern climbers by now. I’d wager over a third of the packs I’ve seen so far this season have been HMG ice packs. Just two days ago on Mount Willard another climber remarked that 3/4 of us in the area actually had the new Prism Pack, and the 4th had an HMG Ice Pack… so word is already out these packs are awesome!
I’ll explain what sets the Prism apart from the Ice Pack’s, as there are some definite design changes you may or not be looking for. At the end of the day though, the Prism pack, and basically the whole Prism “Kit” is incredibly well designed and should earn some “Gear of the Year” awards from major outdoor gear publications. Alright let’s get into the details!
Charge headlong into the spectrum of winter’s white light with the pack built for alpine adventure. The Prism beckons ice climbers, mountaineers, alpinists, and backcountry skiers to think big and go deep. Designed to meet at the intersection of speed, weight, security, and comfort, this top-loading pack features an extendable drawstring closure and an adjustable, removable low-profile lid. The hip belt provides two gear racks and two ice clipper slots, but is removable when not required for the task at hand, or when wearing a climbing harness. Highly adjustable compression straps secure crucial equipment while keeping the pack close to the body for free and unrestricted movement.
Climbers can store a rope under the lid, glacier adventurers can store their wands in the side pockets, and backcountry skiers can depend on the A-frame carry when they’re on foot marching up the steep stuff. Alpinists of all types can round out the pack with the Prism Crampon Bag and Prism Ice Screw Case for an even more dialed setup. However you move when the cold comes calling, the Prism brings your pursuits into focus.
1.82 lbs | 29.1 oz | 827g Weight does not include hip belt and may vary slightly by torso size.
Main pack body is built with Dyneema® Composite Fabrics DCH150
Side panels, bottom, and lumbar are 375-Denier DCHW for the ultimate abrasion protection from the environment, ski edges, and sharp tools
Removable, Hardline with Dyneema® hip belt with 1/8” closed cell rigid foam and 1/4” closed cell foam padding and spacer mesh features (2) gear loops, (2) ice clipper slots, and an offset buckle to reduce tie-in clutter
Extendable collar and floating lid allow for pack expansion
Diamond pocket locks tool heads in place without additional buckles
Reflective bungees with quick-release pull tabs secure axe handles
External crampon pouch with easy-cinch closure keep crampons secure and within reach during the approach
Multi-purpose compression straps allow you to draw in your pack or attach additional items like snowboards and sleeping pads
Top overload strap secures gear stored under the lid and brings the load closer to your center of gravity
Exterior daisy chains provide multiple lashing points for other gear
Axe loop for non-technical mountaineering axes
Low profile side sleeve pockets with drainage holes hold mountaineering wands/pickets, or trekking/tent pole tips
Hardline with Dyneema® shoulder strap construction with 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
Adjustable sternum strap with self-tensioning elastic and whistle
One removable, contoured aluminum stay, and an integrated 1/4″ foam back panel pad and plastic stiffener provide shoulder and spine support for a comfortable and secure carry
Proprietary seam sealing on all side seams and behind all sewn-on pack features
Bar tacked reinforcements on all stress points provide enhanced strength and durability
Made in Biddeford, Maine, USA
REMOVABLE LID FEATURES
Adjustable and removable lid means you can overstuff your pack using the extendable drawstring collar and still have weather protection, or remove it completely to save weight on clear days
Waterproof, zippered pocket on the lid provides convenient storage for snacks, gloves, phone, map, or anything you want within easy reach
Elastic sides provide a snug fit to keep weather out, while helping secure a rope underneath
Lightweight, aluminum G-hooks attach the lid securely to daisy chains in the front and rear and are easy to use with gloves on
Now for some opinions!
The HMG Prism is 40 liters (2400 cubic inches), and the removable top lid adds another 3 liters (214 cubic inches). I find this to be the perfect day-size for technical ice climbing and mountaineering. I can easily fit my entire guiding kit including bivy sack and ultralight sleeping bag without any hassle. Lashing a rope under the top lid is super secure thanks to the top buckle, the lid itself, and the 4 compression straps that all have quick release buckles.
The 1/4″ foam back panel is given some rigidity with a single removable aluminum stay and plastic stiffener. I left the aluminum stay in place as the contoured shape of the back panel fit my back like it was custom made to my own specifications. While the waist belt is removable I chose to keep it attached to the back. On approaches it helps stabilize heavier loads and after racking up and starting the lead I’ll clip the hip belt behind the pack. This pack rides incredibly well. I did try removing the top pocket and stuffing it in the bag but discovered for some reason the frame would hit my helmet when I looked up on a steeper ice climb. The top pocket when in use actually can make the top of the pack have a lower profile and prevent any helmet contact.
This pack is loaded with some solid features, first of all is the welcome addition of a top pocket. Many of us have gotten use to the simple roll-top designs of the HMG Ice Packs and have learned to live without a top-pocket. Now that I have a top-pocket again I realize it is really helpful for storing snacks, maps, my cell phone, etc. Bonus this top pocket is totally waterproof, so if you have anything that must stay dry while climbing that drippy waterfall you basically have a built in dry pouch.
The second most noticeable feature while comparing to the HMG Ice Packs is the addition of a sewn external crampon pouch. This is definitely faster and more secure than the bungee attachments on other models. In fact while descending the Mount Willard trail two days ago my client who had secured his crampons with the bungee on an older model pack discovered the risk when halfway down the trail I heard an odd jingle sound and stopped to see if his crampons were still on his pack. They were not… luckily they were just 10 feet back up the trail having slipped out there bungee attachment.
I chose to pack my crampons inside the pack in the slick new Prism Crampon Case (more on that later) when I head out for the day but at the end of the day when I’m de-racking and dumping gear into the pack for the hike back to the car I might opt to just drop my iced up wet crampons into the external pocket.
The next thing I noticed about the pack was the ice axe attachments. This was definitely a new design as there were no buckles for securing the head of the ice axes. Instead HMG designed a “diamond pocket” pouch that the head of the tools simply rest in while the handles are secured with the typical bungee/cord-lock girth-hitch method. I was slightly concerned this might not be secure enough to keep from losing a tool while glissading but have found it to work really well. I tested with both the Petzl Nomics and the CAMP Cassin X-Dreams and the system really holds the tools in place during all manner of descents. For added security I like to capture the upper grip rest of whatever leash-less tool with the girt-hitch bungee attachment.
Another strong feature of this new pack is it’s ability to adapt. The fancy ice axe pouch works for technical tools, but what about a standard mountaineering axe? A single traditional ice axe loop is just below the pouch so you’re covered there! Ski mission? Quick release side compression straps allow for a solid A-frame carry. Glacier travel, or flagging a route in white out conditions on Mount Washington? At the bottom of both sides of the pack are sewn pouches so you could secure route wands, tent poles, trekking poles, camera trips-pods, etc.
HMG designed two accessories to flush out the awesomeness of this kit. The Prism Crampon Bag and the Prism Ice Screw Case. Good ice screw cases can be hard to come by and my old Outdoor Research one was nearing the end of its life. This one is designed to fit perfectly at the bottom of the pack which helps with efficient packing. I also like to keep my two Allen wrenches for field tightening of lose ice axe bolts and a few heavy-duty zip-ties in the small zippered pocket. The Crampon Bag has the right balance of padding and and light weight and since my current two crampons (Petzl Dart and CAMP Alpinist Tech) are SUPER sharp I’m enjoying not worrying about punching holes in some of the super nice puffy belay jackets I’m testing this winter. It’s also sized perfectly to slide down into the external crampon pouch if internal space is at a premium.
I’m also happy to report HMG is making this pack in 4 different sizes! Everyone should be able to find the perfect size! With Small, Medium, Large, and Tall being offered everyone should be able to find the perfect size. I went with a size medium as I have a 19 inch torso, and while the official recommendation was to go for a large I prefer the waist belt ride a little high on me incase I was to secure it while wearing a harness. Bottom line though stick to the size chart on the website and you should be good to go!
Right now there is a small discount available through HMG. The first option is to buy the whole kit. Full retail for the three items would be $525 if bought separately. Buying the kit at $475 saves you $50, then you can use promo code “PRISM” for another $25 off, bringing the final price down to $450 for the entire kit. That promotion runs through 12/15, so you have a little time to think about it! Of course if you already have a crampon bag and ice screw case you could just score the pack for $395!
You can buy this pack directly from the manufacturer here!
I said at the beginning I’m partial to HMG packs… they make amazing stuff. I have yet to go visit their manufacturing plant in Biddeford, ME but that is high on my bucket list. It’s awesome knowing these world class packs are made right across state-lines in Maine! If you haven’t purchased a HMG (or any “Dyneema Composite Fabric” pack) yet you might be in for a little bit of sticker shock when you compare them to packs made from regular ole’ nylon and Cordura. Before you balk at the cost be clear these materials are waterproof and stronger than steel. The abrasion resistance is quite impressive, they are are very UV resistant, and insanely light weight! These packs can easily handle a decade of hard use, and a weekend warrior might get a full career of climbing out of one of these packs. Just saying, sometimes you do get what you pay for!
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. All opinions are that of the author. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.
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.
This summer I received the Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 backpack to review and I’ve since logged about 25 days of multi-pitch rock climbing and guiding and a half dozen hikes with it. Weighing less than a pound but able to carry my full summer guiding kit I found this to be a great multi-pitch climbing pack and only have a couple small tweaks I’d love to see Black Diamond make.
UPDATE: Contest over! Congrats to Chris B. and Forrest for identifying the climbs!
Let’s start with the manufacturer description:
A worthy addition to any multi-pitch kit, the Rock Blitz 15 is designed to move with you pitch after pitch, carrying all the essentials to the summit. Featuring our signature Blitz-style main opening and a side zip pocket for quick on-route access to a phone, topo, or camera, this pack also has a stripped-down profile for moving fast on big lines. The top closure strap doubles as a rope carry once you summit, and external H2O hose routing gives you the option of staying hydrated on the send. The pack’s EVA padded shoulder straps and back panel make for all-day comfort, while the sternum strap and waist belt are fully removable to save weight on fast and light pushes.
Blitz-style main opening for ease of access while on route
External side zip pocket for quick access to guide book / phone / camera
Stripped down pack silhouette for moving fast on multi-pitch missions
Top strap also doubles as rope carry
External H2O hose routing
EVA Padded shoulder straps and back panel
Height adjustable waist belt for better fit above a climbing harness
Fully removable sternum strap and waist belt to shave weight when necessary
Volume : 15 L (915.4 cu in)
Average Stock Weight : 403 g (14.2 oz)
Materials : 840 D Nylon
The Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 only comes in one size. Like most climbing packs designed to be worn while leading multiple-pitch rock it rides high on my 5’9″ build, 16 inch torso. The thin waist belt easily rides above my harness and helps secure the pack from swinging around when moving over terrain. The contoured EVA foam shoulder straps easily distribute the weight of a full kit. My only wish is the sternum strap used a more traditional slide adjust system vs the girth-hitched attachment points it currently uses and that the sternum strap buckle had the built in whistle that most climbing packs use these days.
For a simple pack there is some definite stand out features that made me really enjoy this pack. First off is the 15 liter volume. With careful packing I could fit a full guiding kit in here. For reference this is what I fit inside the pack:
This much gear was a snug fit and I’d either carry or just wear my Black Diamond Vapor helmet to the wall. The 840 denier ballistic nylon held up great to a full season of guiding. While I never hauled the bag up a pitch I did wear it through multiple squeeze chimney’s and the pack still looks quite new. The external side zip pocket is advertised to carry your phone, guidebook, or topo. I actually fit my first aid kit and my phone in it for easy access!
Here’s a quick look at the pack after finishing a day of climbing at Cathedral Ledge.
Black Diamond also produced a sweet little video showcasing this pack and a couple other products. I especially liked how they used the “guidebook/phone” pocket… skip to 1:58 to see the 11th “essential”…
This is a great little rugged multi-pitch backpack! Not a lot of thrills but simple and effective for what it was designed for! While it’s main end-use is multi-pitch trad climbing I found it great for quick trail hikes around the White Mountains and along the Maine seacoast. It was also quite useful on a family vacation when were walking around multiple seacoast towns. If you’re in the market for such a pack take a good look at this one!
For those who want a little extra room (and the option to carry ice axes) Black Diamond makes a 20 liter and 28 liter version!
Could you figure out what climbs the two “anchor” pics were? The first who answers either one correctly win a Black Diamond Pearbiner Screwgate Locking Carabiner. If the first person gets both right first they win both carabiners! Bonus cool points if you can also name what pitch I was on!
UPDATE: Contest over! Congrats to Chris B. and Forrest for identifying the climbs!
See you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. When you shop through these link a small commission is earned. Northeast Alpine Start is an Amazon Associate. Thank you.
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!
“What belay device is that?” was the question that popped up from my friend @sammyspindel on a short Instagram story clip of my anchor while belaying a client up the last pitch of Upper Refuse on Cathedral Ledge a few days ago. The question generated some great back and forth conversation and ultimately provided the motivation for this post, so thank you for the question Sammy!
What belay device I use is largely determined on what type of climbing I am doing. In this post I’m going to explain the advantages, disadvantages, and helpful strategies of some of the most popular options out there. I will attempt to break it down based on type and style of climbing (gym, sport, trad, alpine, ice, top-rope, multi-pitch, party of 2, party of 3). My hope is you’re able to make some informed choices over what belay device(s) you decide to use. I’ll try to work through these options from simplest to most complex.
Here we go…
The Munter Hitch
Every climber should learn how to use a Munter Hitch. This incredible hitch has served climbers well for over a hundred years. This skill can save the day when your partner drops their shiny new flavor of the day belay device off the top of the 3rd pitch of a 7 pitch climb or when your ropes are two icy from a dripping ice pillar in below freezing temps and you can’t get them bent through your tube-style device. All you need is a pear shaped locking carabiner. I prefer the Petzl Attache or Petzl William Locking Screwgate. Avoid auto-locking carabiners to facilitate tying the hitch onto the carabiner, something I demonstrate in this first video. The second video shows how this can be converted into an auto-locking Munter!
Practice this skill at home. Practice while watching the news. Learn to tie it with your eyes closed. Learn to tie it with one hand. Learn to tie it onto the belay carabiner on the anchor with one hand. Advanced users/aspiring guides: Learn to tie it on to a carabiner so it is already in the “belay” orientation. Learn to it on a carabiner so it is already in the “lower” orientation. Then learn to tie it in both those orientations when the carabiner is on your belay loop (I still struggle with mastering this last step as looking down at the carabiner turns my head upside down).
Some key points about the Munter Hitch…. IT DOES NOT “TWIST” THE ROPE! Improper use of the hitch will introduce serious “twists” and kinks into your rope. The solution? Always keep the brake strand parallel with the load strand. In that orientation you can watch the way the rope moves through the hitch without creating twists. If you hold the brake strand anywhere but parallel you will introduce twists. This is quite un-intuitive when using this hitch to rappel as our muscle memory wants us to pull back or down with the brake hand while rappelling. The proper hand position (and maximum braking power) is obtained by holding the brake strand straight up and parallel with the loaded rope. I know, crazy right? Moving on…
Standard Tube-Style Belay Devices
Almost every climber everywhere has owned and used a classic “tube-style” belay device. It’s as standard as needing a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag. There are more options in this category then ever before. While there are subtle differences in weight and design they all function relatively the same. While a summer camp or outdoor club might opt for the cheapest option I’d suggest for the majority of recreational climbers to go for one of the most popular models in use that includes a “higher friction” side to assist with braking and rappelling. The two models I see the most of are the Black Diamond ATC-XP and the Petzl Verso.
Some notes on this style device. I no longer carry one opting instead for the more versatile models that can be used in “plaquette” mode (more on that in a minute). That said for top-rope and lead, single pitch, gym, sport, and trad climbing there is nothing inherently “wrong” about choosing one of these simple devices.
Tube Style Devices with “Plaquette” Mode
For little additional cost and weight you can carry a tube style belay device that can also serve in “plaquette” mode. This is ideal for lead climbers who wish to belay their partner directly off the anchor after leading a pitch. This European style of belaying has become much more prevalent in American climbing in the last few decades for good reason. At its core it is more comfortable for the belayer and much simpler should the second climber need assistance to pass a crux. The time tested choices here are the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4. Newer options that are gaining solid following’s are the DMM Pivot which makes direct lowered off the anchor while in “guide mode” easier and the Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide that is optimized for working with skinny twin ropes.
Single Strand Brake Assisting Devices
This category covers devices like the Petzl GriGri, Petzl GriGri+, Black Diamond Pilot, and the new to the scene Wild Country Revo. While noticeably heavier (and pricier, except for the BD Pilot) than simpler tube style device than these devices have more applications then I think most people realize. Devices like the Petzl GriGri are just at home in the climbing gym as they are on large sandstone big walls (especially given the additional durability of the GriGri+). Some climbers may avoid using one of these devices due to needing to carry a second belay device for rappelling. Well, two things… first you can rappel with these (blocked-rappel options), but more importantly and something I will get into towards the end, what’s wrong with carrying two devices? It opens up a lot of options and solutions to potential climbing issues!
You can see my full review of the Petzl Grigri+ HERE!
You can see my full review of the Black Diamond ATC Pilot HERE!
Now we get to the device that sparked this whole post. My Kong Gi-Gi. This device’s most notable quality is that when used in plaquette mode it takes the least amount of force to belay two single rated ropes at the same time. I’ve found no device that comes close to the ease of belaying two single ropes when climbing with two seconds and using “parallel” technique, a common guiding tactic to belay two seconds at the same time.
While belaying directly off the anchor shouldn’t seem tiring I’ve known many guides who developed elbow tendinitis from the repetition of pulling two ropes through plaquettes up thousands of feet of moderate climbing over a decade or so of guiding. It can serve as a rappel device if needed, though that requires an extra locking carabiner and is a relatively low-friction rappel device (third hand back-up strongly recommended).
So what should you carry?
I guess it makes sense to break this down by end-use… there are so many tools available to us these days but here’s my take on optimizing your belay device load out:
If you’re really not sure you even like climbing but want your own belay device you can keep it simple an pick up a simple tube style belay device like the Black Diamond ATC-XP or Petzl Verso. I think the higher friction side is worth the extra cost. If you are addicted to climbing you might as well invest in a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo.
If you’re going more than one pitch off the deck a plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 is an easy pick. I’ve started carrying my Petzl GriGri on multi-pitch trad routes for a multitude of reasons since it greatly simplifies rope ascension in a rescue scenario but also works great for hauling bags on big wall. “Lifer’s” with big wall aspirations should seriously consider the added durability of the Petzl GriGri+.
Here I’d go with the standard plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 and the knowledge of the Munter Hitch mentioned at the beginning to help deal with icy ropes. I leave single strand brake-assisting devices home when ice climbing as they tend to not work as well on ice ropes and weight is a premium. If you climb on really skinny floss like 7.7mm twin ropes you should look at the new Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide!
Climbing in a party of 3 (Guiding-Style)
Parties of three typically climb in either “Caterpillar” or “Parallel” style. Basically “Caterpillar” is the leader climbs, then belays the first second, after the second arrives with the 2nd rope belays the 3rd climber. It’s slower but a better choice for harder routes and newer climbers as the other option “Parallel” means the leader takes both ropes and belays both seconds simultaneously. A lot of issues can crop up to make this a mini-epic. However for skilled leaders and guides this is often a method that can see a three person party move as fast as a two person party.
As I mentioned earlier carrying two belay devices can make sense in a lot of situations. These are the combos I find myself using most as a climbing guide:
At the end of the day there are an amazing array of belay devices to chose from. The above suggestions are just my personal experience with what has worked well for me. When I started this post I thought I would cover every device out there but there are just way to many options! Hopefully the suggestions and comments I’ve made help you pick a system that works for you! Let me know in the comments if I left out your favorite belay device or if you found any of this useful and…
See you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
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Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip reports located at these links:
A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!
This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!
I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!
This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.
For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!
My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!
Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!
The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.
I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.
Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.
The new Reactik+ is awesome! Up to 15 hours of burn time from an easy to recharge via USB battery with 300 lumens and able to throw light 360 feet! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans. (Updated this to the newest model which is high on my wish list!)
A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. You can see some of the footage about a minute into my Forbidden Peak video! (updated 2019 link to the amazing new GoPro 7 for the great onboard stabilization! <- currently reviewing)
I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!
This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope
Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below!
I’ve been a huge fan of Arc’teryx for quite a few years now and Backcountry is running an awesome sale on all Arc’teryx including footwear and gear! Below you’ll find my top ten picks from the sale, some of which I have linked to my in-depth reviews.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!
Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.
The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work. I admittedly don’t own one yet but it is high on my wish list!
While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!
Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you 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!