I’ve now had a couple months to test the new Salewa Ortles Guide 35 Backpack and I’m ready to publish my review!
TLDR Version: The Salewa Ortles Guide 35 Backpack is a rugged lightweight technical backpack that is an excellent pick for general mountaineering, waterfall ice climbing, and ski mountaineering.
How I Tested:
I’ve taken this pack on a half dozen trips so far. Two general winter mountaineering trips up Mount Washington, a few waterfall ice climbing trips, and on one ski mountaineering objective.
What I Really Liked:
Hard to pick my favorite feature as there are a few of them. Let’s start with the roll top closure and removable “brain”. Around the rim of the roll top Salewa added a stiffener that reminds me of those wrist snap bracelets from yonder years. This stiffener creates a great seal that makes rolling the top of the pack down easy and makes a great seal to keep snow out of the pack in inclement weather. A magnetic “over the roll” strap helps secure climbing ropes and slim the profile of the pack if I’ve decided to remove the “brain” for a more streamlined climbing pack.
Both of the two external zippers on the pack are the high end waterproof zippers I prefer, the Salewa does not claim the pack to be waterproof I found it to be one of the more “snowing hard out”-proof bags I’ve tested. The horizontal zipper near the top accesses a pocket that was big enough to carry my avalanche shovel and probe on a recent ski mountaineering mission. The diagonal side zipper gives the user another access point to reach their water bottle without having to go through the roll-top access point.
The backpack features reinforced side carry loops for A-framing your skis. The upper compression straps have a nice “separator” straps for securing any type of ice axe from mixed climbing tools to general mountaineering axes.
The “Dry-Back” back panel and molded shoulder straps felt awesome for both carrying heavier loads while ski mountaineering or while climbing vertical frozen waterfalls.
I found the 35 liters to be generous and was easily able to pack my for guide kit for a technical day of ski mountaineering (post coming soon to show that gear list).
Salewa is definitely a safety orientated company at the sternum strap whistle is the best quality I have seen for a sternum strap whistle. Beneath the removable lip is also information relating to the “Alpine Emergency Signal” which includes a diagram showing how to put an injured person into the “recovery position” and the numbers for contact emergency services in Europe and US & Canada, along with SOS morse code instructions.
Finally, I love the color. I’m a huge fan of bright colors in backpacks from both a Search & Rescue perspective and a general preference.
What Could Be Improved:
There is not too much here I would change but a few things did come to mind while testing the pack. Probably the biggest is the reinforced lower compression straps do not have releasable buckles. So if carrying a rope coiled in a single strand butterfly coil (quite common these days) you’ll need to “tuck” the rope into the ski carry loops if you want the rope fastened securely. A minor issue for sure but I do like packs where all four side compression straps can be opened.
While this pack was designed and marketed toward “ski mountaineering” vs. backcountry touring the avalanche tool pocket could use one small drain hole towards the bottom. It was also a bit tight for my super light carbon avalanche probe and shovel (what I carry on more technical tours vs. general backcountry skiing. My larger shovel and probe may not have fit in this pocket.
Summary/Who Is This For?
In summary this is a very well designed backpack made by a great company. I had way more great things to say about the pack then the couple of small nitpicks I mentioned. Who should consider purchasing this backpack? This backpack is best designed for an ice climber who occasionally goes touring or a winter above tree-line type hiker. I did not rig snowshoes to the outside of the pack but it shouldn’t be hard with a couple straps to easily fasten them to the outside. So if you are into ice climbing, winter hiking, and maybe do a little backcountry touring on the side, maybe this could be the backpack for you! You can find it in the US at these retailers:
Salewa has released the Salewa Wildfire 2 Approach Shoes. I reviewed the original Salewa Wildfire Edge back in 2019 and liked them so much I reached out right away for a media sample when I saw this newer version was out. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to try them I’m ready to share my thoughts. Let’s start with who these are best suited for.
Like its predecessor the Salewa Wildfire 2 is a high end supportive approach shoe. It has the lateral torsional rigidity to keep your feet comfortable over many miles of rough uneven terrain yet enough medial flex to feel sensitive enough on technical scrambles. These qualities make these a great choice for a technical approach shoe for climbers, and durable choice for White Mountain hikers and 4k chasers, as well as long distant trail hikers. All of these groups, and possibly the latter the most, will appreciate the breathability of the recycled mesh upper.
Interestingly I had to go up a full size in these compared to when I reviewed the Wildfire Edge back in 2019 (US Men’s Size 8). To get a proper fit in these I needed to go into a US Men’s Size 9 (EU 42). Once I did that though they fit amazing, and like before I felt no need to adjust the adjustable footbeds that come with these shoes. The midsole and insole provide plenty of cushion and having feet that “run hot” I was a huge fan of the breathable mesh uppers.
I’ve developed quite a bit of faith in the POMOCO sole over the last few years. While I had some concerns with the soles in my 2019 review either the formula has changed a bit or my technique has improved (maybe both)? These soles are some of the grippiest soles I have ever tested. It is hard to quantitively compare the true friction performance of the different sole compounds I can state that these feel almost as grippy as Stealth C4, but definitely more durable and long lasting. Laced snugly I felt plenty secure in 4th and easy fifth class terrain (up to 5.6). I also appreciated the soft internal gaiter which helped keep debris out while out on more than one bushwhacking adventure.
The Salewa Wildfire 2 Approach Shoes have a solid standing in my personal “Top Three Approach Shoes” category. If you are currently in the market for some approach shoes see if your local outdoor shop carries these. If they don’t you might try a pair from one of these online retailers, most who accept free returns/exchanges if you don’t get the size just right.
Men’s and Women’s models available, along with a Goretex model for those who prefer waterproof models.
I’ve had a few months to demo and review the Italian made AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots and I’m ready to share my opinion on them! Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first. I first heard of this company through a social media ad and I purchased a pair of the AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes because I have a thing for approach shoes! The shoes performed so well I published this review and later reached out to see if I could get a media sample of the AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots to review. AKU supplied me with a pair to check out but this has in no way effected my opinion of the boots. Read on to see how they were tested and how they performed!
How they were tested:
Test period: December – March
Use: Winter hiking, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Approx. 20 days of use, 100+ miles, over 40,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.
Bottom Line (TL;DR version)
These are a solid choice for the winter hiker/climber who spends equal time between general winter mountaineering (snow climbing) and more technical waterfall ice climbing that won’t break the bank!
I went with a UK 8, EUR 42, USA M 8.5 and the fit was perfect for my medium width foot with a regular arch and a slight Morton’s toe. The lacing system has a great pulley system at the lower top of the foot, 6 “mini” pulley’s to be exact then a self-locking ratchet mechanism. This system makes securing the foot in the boot super quick and efficient. The result is zero toe-bashing while kicking up waterfall ice while wearing crampons or while descending of any steep hiking trail. I never felt a need to “snug up” my laces for the descent with these boots feeling comfortable and secure all day long!
For general winter hiking and mountaineering these performed quite well! AKU doesn’t list how much Primaloft insulation is in the liner but there is enough to keep my feet toasty down to 10 degrees below Fahrenheit with wind chills around -20 to -30 above tree-line. My feet stayed warm throughout each trip (wearing my Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks)! For general winter hiking and mountaineering I paired them with my Petzl Vasak 12-Point Mountaineering Crampons and they worked great together!
For ice climbing I was quite impressed with their performance, especially at the price point! The lasting board, which gives the sole its stiffness, is made out of “6-4 MM Nylon & Die Cut EVA for Rock Protection & Stability”. More important to me is the welt is fully compatible with my technical ice climbing crampons with a solid front and back lip on the welt. My Petzl Dart Crampons fit perfectly on the welt and felt secure on many pitches of Grade 3 waterfall ice.
The AKU Hayatsuki Mountaineering Boots are a great winter “all-a-rounder” that will basically perform well in pretty much any snowy situation below 8000 feet. This makes them an excellent choice for winter hikers working on their “Winter 48” 4000 footer list, and for winter hikers who are considering breaking into the waterfall ice climbing sport. They are technical enough to handle waterfall ice and mixed climbing at almost half the price of most technical ice climbing specific boots. The fact that they are made in Italy is apparent in their craftsmanship and I have no doubt these boots can survive a decade of winter exploration. If you’re in the market for a great pair of winter hiking boots you should give these a try!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support this blog. Thank you.
Every holiday season I hand pick just 10 items I think would be an excellent gift for the hiker, climber, back-country rider, in your life. These are items I either already own and love or items that are at the top of my own wish list for Santa. I hope this list helps you find the special gift for someone you are shopping for this holiday season!
Definitely the greatest hand grinder for serious coffee lovers ever designed! We use ours daily to perfectly grind 20 grams local coffee. And speaking of quality coffee if you are local to Mount Washington Valley you know there are only two places to shop for coffee! If you are not local both of these small amazing coffee shops ship so order up some great coffee today from Frontside Coffee Roasters and Ski The Whites Coffee Company!
I am a diehard fan of the Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker for our caffeine needs both at home and on the trail! It is simply the fast way to brew an amazing cup of Joe and clean up is so much easier than a messy French Press!
I bought the DJI Mini 2 Drone Fly More Combo last Spring and have been having a lot of fun making amateur video clips with it. I did quite a bit of research before I bought it and I think this is one of the best values for a quality starter drone! There’s a few examples on my YouTube channel of what kinds of clips you can create… here’s a short clip I made last month:
An incredible rugged and easy to use pair of hand held radios can greatly improve safety while enjoying mountain sports. You can read my full review of these here and get 10% off with promo code “AlpineStart10”.
Only until tomorrow MPOWERD is offering BOGO on the Luci Pro Series! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.
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!
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! 10 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!
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 find something for the outdoor person(s) in your life!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Affiliate links above support this blog. Thank you!
All new for 2020! The pinnacle series from Deuter has been completely redesigned and overhauled – resulting in a new, minimalistic Guide Lite 30. Balanced load distribution and stability are results of a flexible, tensioned Delrin U-frame. Its ultra-lightweight. uncluttered design includes quick, one-handed, access via a draw cord closure. Mountaineers and alpinists will love the lightweight nature and minimalistic feature set of the Guide Lite 24. Our newly innovated ice axe attachment has 3 points of contact, yet still allows users to remove the ice axe nimbly, and without taking off the pack.
Manufacturer Website Listed Weight: 1.43 lbs
I did find some weight discrepancies when using my home electric cooking scale. Normally packs are an ounce or two off but in this case the complete pack was a half-pound heavier than claimed. I took the removable components off the pack and weighed everything separately and together to get a better idea of the true weight based on each configuration.
The complete pack weighed 2 lbs, 1 ounce (938 grams). The top lid weighed 3.5 ounces (94 grams). The waist belt weight 5.5 ounces (160 grams). So the claimed pack weight looks to match the completely stripped down version of the pack at 1 lb, 8 ounces (684 grams).
For a pack of this volume I do feel this is slightly on the heavier side when compared to similar packs in the class. This extra weight probably comes from the more robust internal frame and thicker closed cell foam shoulder and back pads then similar models.
Deuter lists the “length” as 22 inches. I wasn’t sure what this was referring too. User torso length? That would be a giant (or at least MLB player). I broke out my tape measure and it appears that the length of the pack when flattened from bottom to the top (not including extendable collar) is about 22 inches, so I’m thinking that’s what they are listing in the specs. More importantly though is what size torso will this pack fit, and for that I took some more measurements. This pack only comes in one size (though there is a woman’s version and a larger capacity version). Measuring from the top of the shoulder straps to the middle of the waist belt is about 17 inches. This would be the closest measurement to torso length (if you don’t know your torso length it’s easy to measure with a tape measure, YouTube it!).
I have a 19 inch torso (5’9″ tall but torso length is more accurate when fitting packs). That means this pack rides a bit high on me when it comes to the waist belt. This worked fine for me as I often was wearing this pack over my harness, and I preferred to leave the waist belt on and clip it above my harness. Combined with the sternum strap this helped the back hug my back closely while climbing.
With 24 liters (1,465 cubic inches) I could easily carry my full rock guiding kit or my 4000 footer packing list while I work on the 48’s with my son this summer. The extendable collar adds another 600 or so cubic inches. An external helmet carry system frees up even more pack space, and a climbing rope can easily be secured over the top of the pack thanks to long enough top-side compression straps with fast release buckles.
This pack definitely carries well. The internal frame feels like a thin plastic sheet reinforced with two stiffer stays running down the sides. This made awkward loads (like a full trad-rack) carry with no pressure points. The waist belt is quite wide (4.5 inches at widest) and wraps perfectly around the body. In my case this was a bit over the hip bone but a shorter user would find it quite comfy. The height adjustable sternum strap (with whistle) did a great job of keeping the pack centered. I would suggest they remove the “load lifting” straps and buckles as they really don’t serve a function since they are attached at the top of back panel. Overall this was a very comfy pack for day-hiking and rock climbing multi-pitch routes.
Quite a few features on this pack that some may really like and others may find a little bit excessive for an alpine pack. Things I really liked was the well sized removable top pocket with both external and internal compartments. It also has a great “alpine emergency” info graphic under the lid that lists emergency numbers for different countries, universal SOS signals, and more. The pack is hydration system compatible through I did not use a system with the pack. I also didn’t test this pack in winter so I have not used the ice axe carry system but playing with it at home it’s pretty slick. While seemingly cosmetic I’m a huge fan of the high visibility orange color that this pack is available in.
The new Deuter Guide Lite 30+ Backpack is a solid choice for a technical backpack that also has the carrying comfort and features one might look for in a more general day hiking backpack. Dual ice axe and rope carrying capability let it cross over to both winter mountaineering and ice climbing applications. This is a pack worth looking at if you’d like a well made pack that can serve you well whether hiking 4000 footers or getting in some multi-pitch climbing.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support 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.
Hoka One One (pronounced Hoka oh-nay oh-nay) released their new multi-use hiking shoe, the Sky Arkali, back in March of 2019. Over the last few months I’ve hiked a few dozen miles in the White Mountains with them and I’m ready to share the results!
First here is the manufacturer’s description of the shoe:
The Arkali continues to challenge what’s possible in a hiking shoe. There’s off-road, offtrail and then there’s off the map. HOKA ONE ONE® has just gone vertical with the Arkali. A combination of running shoe innovation (light and comfortable), climbing shoe technology (exceptional grip and traction) and hiking boot engineering (rugged and protective), the Arkali looks ready for anything. And with a MATRYX® upper, high-abrasion toe cap and adjustable heel and ankle straps, it is. It features a PROFLY™ midsole, which has a softer heel and more responsive toe-off, plus 5mm multidirectional Vibram® Megagrip rubber lugs. The Arkali is waiting to take you to the top of the world.
MATRYX® upper featuring high-tensile synthetic fiber strands across the midfoot for unparalleled strength and durability at minimal weight
High-abrasion rubber toe cap extends to the midfoot for increased protection
Ankle and heel straps offer structural and proprioceptive support on uneventerrain
PROFLY™ midsole for a cushioned landing and propulsive toe-off
EVA top midsole for running shoe cushion at an incredibly light weight
Rangi™ bottom foam offers durable cushioning and a responsive feel
Vibram® Megagrip hi-traction outsole with 5mm lugs
Multidirectional lugs for supreme grip
Now let’s get into how they performed!
Out of the box the first thing I noticed was these are much more of a shoe then the ultra-light approach type shoes I typically review. I had heard a lot about the comfort of Hoka One One shoes and was looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about. The most obvious characteristic of the brand is the noticeable amount of “cushion” these shoes employ. From out-sole to insole I measure a full 1.75 inches of cushion. This is easily double the amount of cushioning in all other brands of hiking and approach shoes I have reviewed and a brand trait that has made Hoka One One quite popular in the running world.
Despite the bulk of the shoe I was impressed to see that Hoka was able to keep the weight down to just shy of a pound per shoe. I will mention that Hoka does not specify on their website that they are not listing the “per pair” weight, but actually listing “per shoe” weight. That’s a little odd in my opinion as almost all shoe manufacturers list weight “per pair”. Regardless, the shoe is noticeably lighter than many hiking boots on the market especially when considering the amount of comfort and support I will get into in more detail below. But first let’s go over fit and sizing…
Fit and Sizing
I wear between a US men’s size 8.5 and size 9 depending on the brand and for these I went with the 8.5. I have a medium width foot with a slight Morton’s tow and average arch. These fit my feet quite well with plenty of width if my foot was a little on the wider side. The approach shoe style lacing made it easy to snug them up for a semi-technical descent and I had plenty of wiggle room on the spacious toe box. The lacing and Velcro system easily held my feet in place while descending so I had no issue with “toe bang” while moving fast downhill. To help with sizing Hoka has collected this feedback from purchaser’s:
While the fit was great the true test came on a rugged and heavily rooted trail on Mount Chocorua. After each mile I became aware of how well the extra padding in these shoes was keeping the bottom of my feet for getting the least bit tender. When I test thinner approach style shoes I often search for smoother surfaces while hiking to avoid late day foot soreness but these hiking shoes are so protective under foot that I stopped looking for the ideal foot placements and just cruised along.
They are not waterproof, which doesn’t bother me at all as I prefer breath-ability over waterproof for all my non-winter adventuring. That said they did feel a little on the warm side, which was perfect for the crisp Fall hikes I’ve been using them on but they did feel like they might be a little warm for hot weather trips.
The Hoka One One Sky Arkali boosts one of the most aggressive soles I’ve tested in this category. 5mm Vibram® Megagrip rubber lugs tore up and down multiple wooded trails and performed well on low angle wet and dry slab. I would not push these into low 5th class terrain like some truly dedicated approach shoes as the amount of space between your foot and the footholds, along with the style of out-sole, do not inspire confidence in technical terrain. For 95% off the White Mountain trail system these have more than enough traction!
My first test run of a Hoka One One shoe went quite well. I can see how adding a bit more cushioning might remove some of the sensitivity of the shoe but it goes a long way at keeping your feet happy after pounding down a dozen miles of rough trail. So who are these for? They are a bit bulky for rock climbers to use as an approach shoe. I think these are a great choice for day hiking, fast hiking, and trail running if your prefer more padding over saving a few ounces. Long distance ultra-light backpackers will find this a solid choice as well. Ultimately anyone who has ever had sore feet after a long hike might benefit from trying the Hoka One One brand, and the Sky Arkali is a great place to start!
Thanks to my friends at Friendly Foot every footwear review I do this year will include a chance to win a two bottles of the best damn foot deodorizer on the planet! I seriously use this stuff daily and my wife reminds me if I forget (my feet used to stink really bad). There are multiple ways to earn entries so just click the Rafflecopter link below and good luck!
A few months ago I received a pair of Mammut Saentis Low Hiking Shoes to review. I’ve since logged over 100 miles of White Mountain mileage in them and am ready to share my thoughts in a review. Let’s start with the manufacture claims then get into how they faired on the trail!
Extremely light and flexible: the Saentis Low Men is a reliable multipurpose shoe for a range of applications. It performs excellently on fast-paced narrow forest trails but will also be an essential favorite lightweight shoe for the mountains. Its Michelin® sole gives it excellent grip and an optimum sure-footed step on uneven terrain. The outer material impresses with an extremely breathable mesh as well as robust properties for pleasant comfort and durability. From ascent to descent – the Saentis Low Men will take every situation in its stride and prove its great versatility.
Last index: mtrTech
Flex index: A4
Hybrid Shell: Blend of supple inner and tough outer materials for enhanced comfort and good adaptability.
Pre-shaped tongue construction
TPU toe cap
Cushioning Strobel construction
Michelin® rubber compound
Weight (UK 8.5) [g]340 <- my home scale put a pair of size UK 8 at 694 grams
I went with a men’s US 9, EUR 42, UK 8. This size fit my feet perfectly with more room in the toe box than I am accustomed to since I most often wear more technical approach shoes. The heel cup and forefoot width felt perfect with plenty of stretch to accommodate a wider foot. These might not be ideal for someone with a very narrow foot.
Breathability– The feature I most noticed during testing was the extreme breathability of these shoes. I wore them on multiple hot and humid hikes through July and August and my typically hot feet stayed much cooler than some other shoes I’ve tested in this category recently. While the vent mesh is super breathable this is not a water resistant shoe so you should hop over those puddles rather than plow through! If you do get them wet they dry quite quickly!
Traction– The Michelin® sole on these performed extremely well on dirt, mud, sand, and typical forest duff. On wet rock traction performance was a bit diminished over some softer approach shoe soles but still better than the types of soles found on most hiking boots.
Comfort– As I mentioned earlier these fit my feet quite perfectly. The stretch mesh lining would easily accommodate a wider foot but my medium width feet stayed secure while traversing low angle slopes and the lacing system was very sufficient at keeping my feet from sliding forward during descents. The midsoles have plenty of cushioning for long days on the trail and the excellent breath-ability made wearing them a pleasure on multiple warm/hot hikes!
Durability– While I can’t comment too much on durability after just 100 or so miles I can attest that the appear to be holding up quite well. Close inspection of the stitching and junctions of the outer materials reveals these are crafted with the attention to detail Mammut is well known for! I have no doubt these could last for 800-1000 miles!
These are a great choice for trail running, hiking, and ultra-light backpacking. At $129 MRSP they offer an excellent value in a high quality hiking shoe. If you put a high priority on breath-ability, low weight, and comfort you should take a look at these!
Thanks to my friends at Friendly Foot I’ll be giving away two bottles of the best foot deodorizer ever made! I’m not kidding my wife notices right away if I haven’t been using my Friendly Foot powder! See for yourself how you and your loved ones need not suffer smelly feet by entering to win a bottle of the powder and the spray at the RaffleCopter link below!