Which Belay Device For Which Use?

What belay device should I use?

“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.

Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide
Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide
DMM Pivot Belay Device
DMM Pivot Belay Device

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!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Improved Belay Check
Petzl Grigri+ – photo by Alexandra Roberts
Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

You can see my full review of the Petzl Grigri+ HERE!

You can see my full review of the Black Diamond ATC Pilot HERE!

Double Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This covers some more niche options like the Edelrid Mega Jul,  Mega Jul Sport, and Mammut Smart Alpine Belay Device. These have the added benefit of brake assistance when lead belaying but can still allow for smooth double rope rappels. These are not as ideal for direct belaying off a top anchor like in a multi-pitch setting so I do reach for this option very often preferring my DMM Pivot or the standard Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4.

Lowest Friction Plates

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.

Kong Gi-Gi Belay Device

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:

Gym/Top-Rope Only

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.

Outdoor Sport/Single Pitch Climbing

At this point I think owning two devices makes sense. The Black Diamond ATC XP or Petzl Verso plus a a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo will make weekend trips to Rumney or your local sport crag quite enjoyable!

Multi-pitch Trad

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+.

Multi-pitch Ice

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.

Combos

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:

Multi-pitch rock with one guest

Petzl GriGri + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Petzl GriGri + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Group Top-Roping

Wild Country Revo, Petzl GriGri (or Petzl GriGri+), Black Diamond Pilot, or the new Wild Country Revo

Guiding Multi-pitch Ice

Kong Gi-Gi + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Kong Gi-Gi + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Summary

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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Cascades Climbing Trip Gear List (updated 2019)

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:

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

(Note: Originally posted from summer 2017 trip I am currently updating some links to newer or more preferred models)

Packing for Cascades Climbing Trip
Packing for Cascades Climbing Trip

Having over 20 years in outdoor retail I love chatting about gear so if you have any questions about any of my recommendations, or suggestions for better products, please comment below!


Cascades Gear List


Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

At just over 2 pounds this pack has enough space for 3-4 day alpine endeavor’s, rides comfortably, and is made of materials that will last for over a decade of adventure! Also made in Maine!

Buy from Hyperlite Mountain Gear


Black Diamond FirstLight Tent

First Light Tent.jpg

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!

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Western Mountaineering TerraLite 25 Degree Sleeping Bag

Western Mountaineering TerraLite 25 Degree Sleeping Bag

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!

Buy on Backcountry          Buy on Amazon


Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

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!

Buy on Backcountry         Buy on Amazon


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress

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!

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite Mattress

Therm-a-Rest RidgeREst SOLite Mattress

Affordable added warmth and comfort, I used a full length model to pair with the short model mentioned above for a very comfortable and adaptable combo.

Buy on Backcountry         Buy on Amazon


MSR WindBoiler 1.0 L Stove System

MSR WindBoiler 1.0 L Stove System

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.

Buy on Amazon       Buy on Backcountry


Food

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!


Sea To Summit Delta Spork With Knife

Sea to Summit Delta Spork

Simple lightweight option to make meal time easy!

Buy on Backcountry        Buy on Amazon


Arcteryx Acrux Mountaineering Boots

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots

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!

Buy Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon

Buy Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Petzl Vasak Leverlock Crampons

Petzl Vasak Crampons

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!

Buy Petzl Vasak Crampons on Backcountry          On Amazon

Buy Petzl Leopard on Backcountry        On Amazon


Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles

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.

Buy on Backcountry        Buy on Amazon


Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability.

Buy on Backcounty       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Finally got the latest version of this iconic helmet and went into a ton of detail in a long form review last month here!

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Sitta Harness

I brought this harness for the more technical climbing on Shuksan and Forbidden and my full review of it is here.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Altitude Harness

Petzl Altitude Harness

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.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl CORDEX Lightweight Belay Gloves

Petzl CORDEX Lightweight Belay Gloves

If ropes are involved these come with me. They were perfect for the warmer daytime glacier temps and offer great protection for rappelling, short-roping, etc.

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Sterling Evolution Duetto Dry Rope, 30m 8.4mm

Sterling Rope Evolution Duetto Dry Rope

A solid choice for glacier and ski mountaineering trips.

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


MSR Snow Picket 60 cm

MSR Snow Picket

Two per rope team is ideal! I also pre-rigged this with a double length Dyneema sling and Petzl Ange S carabiner.

Buy on Amazon


AMK .7 First Aid Kit

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Buy on Backountry      Buy on Amazon


Suunto MC-2 Compass

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Buy on Amazon


Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

Nalgene Tritan 32oz Wide Mouth Bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure, I carry two of these for my hydration needs!

Buy on Backcountry    Buy on Amazon


SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Buy on Amazon


Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Buy on Amazon


SPOT Satelite GPS Messenger

SPOT 3 Satelitte GPS Messenger

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.

Buy on Amazon


Petzl Reactik+ Headlamp

Reactik+.jpg

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!

Buy on Backcountry


Petzl Zipka Headlamp

Petzl Zipka Headlamp

I always carry a spare headlamp on multi-day adventures and this is my choice back-up model. It’s small enough to fit in my first aid kit but still bright enough to function as a real headlamp.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Quality Survival Lighter

UST Floating Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value!

Buy on Amazon


Garmin Fenix 5X GPS watch

Garmin Fenix 3 HR Watch

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!)

Buy on Backcountry


GoPro Hero 7 Silver

GoProHero7.jpg

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)

Buy on Backcountry


Anker PowerCore 10000 Charger for iPhone, GoPro, etc

Anker PowerCore 10000

This thing was great! About the size of a deck of cards it packs 10,000mAh which easily provided 4 full re-charges for my iPhone 6s and still have 50% juice left!

Buy on Amazon

Clothing


Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

I absolutely love this piece and went into great detail about it in an in-depth review here.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Black Diamond Alpine Light Pant

BD Alpine Light Pant.jpg

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!

Buy on Backcountry     Buy on Amazon


Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hooded Shirt

Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hooded Shirt

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?

Buy on Backcountry


Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

PatagoniaMicroPuff.jpg

Feather-weight feels like down but isn’t down ultimate “Light Puffy” choice.


 Clothing to be linked soon:

Patagonia Fitz Roy Belay Parka

EMS Powerstretch Climb Hoodie

EMS Powerstretch Long Underwear Pants

One synthetic T-shirt

One Ortovox Rock & Roll Boxers

One pair midweight socks

One pair heavyweight socks

One pair lightweight glove liners

One pair midweight Outdoor Research Project Gloves

Outdoor research sun ball cap

iPhone 6s+ with headphones & charger


Crevasse Rescue Kit- Petzl Micro Traxion, SL OK, Tibloc, Sm’D, Oscilla
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!

All trip reports done!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier



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Gear Review- Salewa Wildfire Edge Approach Shoes (and Giveaway)

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The new Salewa Wildfire Edge approach shoes arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve since logged a dozen or so days hiking and climbing in them. The obvious feature that intrigued me is the so called “Switchfit” system that promises a select-able performance orientated “climbing mode” and a comfortable casual “hiking mode”. I’ll go into how this “tech” lives up in reality but first let’s cover some of the less “edgy” features of this higher end approach shoe.


Fit/Comfort

Out of the box these felt great. I went with a US men’s size 8 after Salewa recommended downsizing a bit. In a US Men’s Shoe I typically bounce between a 8.5-9 and since I wanted to be able to take full advantage of the “climbing mode” downsizing felt appropriate. The size 8 was the right call and the width was perfect for my medium width feet. The toe box is sufficiently snug without being too snug. This might not be the right choice if you have a very wide forefoot. The heel cup is also the right proportion for my foot and feels quite secure without having to lace them up excessively tight. An interesting feature of the removable foot bed is that they can be customized to adapt to different volume feet. I left them assembled for a “medium” fit and they feel great!

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- Options for a narrow or medium volume foot.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The outsole and midsole offer a fair amount of torsional rigidity and underfoot support. Forefoot flex is on the stiffer side for approach shoes which is advantageous for reduced foot fatigue on long rocky treks, security while edging in technical terrain, and a bit negative for smearing on slab.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Well sized heel cup
Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- ample room in toe box

Traction

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Salewa uses a Pomoca sole which has one of the nicest tread patterns I’ve seen on a trail shoe. I found traction to be excellent in dirt, mud, and forest duff. The diamond shaped lugs are about 3 mm raised in the forefoot which make for great traction while fast-hiking up dirt trails during our “mud season”. On the heel 5 mm raised lugs made descending dirt/mud trails feel quite secure if I needed to pump the brakes.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Under the big toe the lugs have been suppressed to create a climbing zone, or “EdgePlate” which is becoming popular in this specialized shoe category. The idea here is to provide more surface area for technical rock climbing. These felt somewhat secure on dry 5th class rock that was edgy. They were definitely adequate for 5.5 featured face climbing, but 5.6 slab quickly felt in-secure. The rubber compound used is noticeably denser than something like 5.10 Stealth rubber. The advantage is I feel this sole will easily outlast a softer higher friction sole, at the cost of friction on slabby dry rock. On one test hike I encountered a very low angle wet section of granite bed-rock where I found the soles to really struggle with decent traction. This was a very un-traveled spot and my suspicion is I was walking on some Spring thin lichen that will pretty much make any shoe slip but friends who had joined my fared a bit better on this short section with their softer sole compounds.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

For the most part these shoes provided excellent traction for what we encounter hiking and scrambling in the White Mountains, handled featured low fifth class rock well as long as it wasn’t too slabby, crushed muddy steep trail runs both up and down, and only came up short on wet “licheny” slab.


SwitchFit

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Left shoe is laced tightly to engage “climbing mode” which forces the foot forward in the shoe. Right shoe is left laced casually for “hiking mode”.

Time to talk about the elephant in the room! What is SwitchFit? Salewa says these shoes have a “hiking mode” and a “climbing mode”. At first look it might appear that the difference between these two “modes” is simply lacing the shoes tighter to activate “climbing mode”, and that’s not too far off from reality. However it you look a little closer there is some actual effective design in this system that changes how these shoes feel when you crank them tight. The last eyelet the laces run through functions like a 2:1 pulley attached to a Spectra type cord that runs around the heel. When you snug up the laces for technical climbing and pull the laces forward the snugger heel pushes your foot forward in the shoe. In this mode my foot felt completely stable while edging on 5.5-5.6 face climbs. To switch to “hiking mode” you simply loosen the lacing which opens the toe box up and makes for more comfortable hiking. It’s a pretty simple system but it does what it claims to do!


Durability

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge performing well on a 5.6 face climb at Square Ledge, New Hampshire

While I’ve only put a month or two of mileage on them I’m confident they will be be one of the longest lasting approach shoes I’ve tested. I base this on the thickness and relatively denser POMOCO outsole and the way Salewa wraps a substantial rubber rand up and over the big toe on the toe box. Close inspection of seams and eyelets reveals every point of potential stress has been appropriately re-enforced.


Summary

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The Salewa Wildfire Edge is a well built durable approach shoe suitable for rugged trail runs, 4th and low-5th class scrambling, and fast & light backpacking. While the “SwitchFit” system might seem a bit gimmicky at the end of the day it does exactly what it claims. Durable and comfortable this is one of the best approach shoes I’ve tested. Nice work Salewa!


Purchase

Buy on Backcountry.com <- 20% off with coupon “TAKE20MAY”

Buy on Moosejaw.com <- 20% off with coupon “FLIPFLOP”

Buy from REI.com

Buy on Amazon


Other media


Friendly Foot Giveaway!

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer
Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

Every footwear review I run this summer will be an opportunity to win some of the best damn foot deodorizer ever! I’m been a die-hard fan of this stuff for at least 5 years now. My wife takes notice if my stock is getting low as it is the only thing that works on my funky feet! Climbing shoes, ski boots, approach shoes… it doesn’t matter! A sprinkle of this in my socks and my feet smell great after any full day adventure. Enter for a chance to win a bottle by clicking the Rafflecopter link below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Other big deals right now!

EMS “Upgrade Your Gear Sale” ends today!

REI “Anniversary Sale” ends today!



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Gear Review- BightGear Caldera Down Parka

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
BightGear Caldera Parka Review- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

I’m fortunate to be able to review about a half-dozen of the industry’s best belay jackets each winter. Chances are from December to April I’m spending 5-6 days a week climbing frozen waterfalls or teaching avalanche courses up on notoriously cold Mount Washington. This gives me a lot of field time to put these jackets through the ringer and form some opinions which I am happy to share with you to help you navigate the myriad of choices out there!

A month or so ago a fellow guide introduced me to BightGear, a new brand born under the prestigious umbrella of Cascades based Whittaker Mountaineering. At its core this brand is an authentic “Guide Designed & Tested” label. Before a product is even released it must be tested for over 100k of vertical climbing.

Some impressive numbers from BightGear that speak to this process:

WEAR TESTING BY THE NUMBERS

  • 2016 – Over 1.2 Million vertical feet of wear testing by our guide team of primary fabrics used in 76 sample prototypes to build 19 different styles.
  • 2017 – Reached over 48 million vertical feet of wear testing and use of 143 prototypes by our team of 60+ guides, and thousands of RMI climbers on Mt. Rainier.
  • 2018 – On target to reach over 100 million vertical feet of testing with the launch of the Bight Test program on mountains and outdoor playgrounds around the world.
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Guide designed and tested on the slopes of Mt. Rainier- photo courtesy of RMI/NEM Guide Jordan Cargill

Pretty cool right? Having learned all this I was more than happy to receive the BightGear Caldera Down Parka for a demo. After a month of testing in a variety of conditions I feel I can fairly share my opinion on this piece. In the realm of down insulated belay parkas the Caldera easily competes with the best in class options out there! Let’s start with the most noticeable then finish with the minutiae.


How Warm Is It?

BightGear stuffed this parka with over 6 ounces of 850 fill power HyperDRY™ Goose Down. That’s a lot of high loft quality down, and the result is a parka that feels like a nice sleeping bag for your torso. By using more I-beam baffles in the construction of the parka (vs sewn through) BightGear completely eliminates cold-spots. The arms and hood feel just as lofty as the torso which I prefer in this “over all” type parka. I’ve worn this over my other layers down to -16 Fahrenheit while demoing snow pits at 4,400 feet on Mount Washington. Even after an hour of standing relatively still while teaching the basics of snow-pack evaluation I was kept toasty.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Using the volcanic capabilities of the Caldera to dry out after attempting to climb a full shower Black Pudding Gully- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

How Dry Is It?

The BightGear Caldera uses a silky 20D nylon rip-stop with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. Most of the days I tested the parka were in temperatures well below those where I would encounter any liquid precipitation. I did expose it to a rather drippy ice climb a couple weeks ago and noticed water beads off as expected with a DWR finish. I also wore it over a soaked soft-shell jacket following a deluge of an ice climb and it dried me out quite quickly without feeling like it absorbed to much of the moisture. I’ve become a huge fan of the DWR treated down used in this parka as I believe regular down would quickly become a wet lump of non-insulating feathers under similar conditions.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Legit testing by one of the most renowned guide companies out there! Photo courtesy of Jordan Cargill

How Light and Pack-able Is It?

BightGear lists the weight of a size large at 646 grams (22.8 ounces). My home scale weighed my large in at 640 grams (22.6 ounces). This is within an ounce of other similar style/priced options. It easily stuffs into my Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack and if packing space is at a real premium I can use my extra small compression stuff sack to get this down to the size of a 32 ounce water bottle!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Easily stuffs into my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultralight Stuff Sack
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Gets even smaller in my XS compression stuff sack

Minutiae

BightGear included a lot design choices to further make the Caldera one of the best down parkas I’ve ever tested. The hood fits perfectly over my climbing helmet and is well stuffed with down making it a comfortable place to retreat in the harshest conditions. The brushed tricot lining on the inside collar is super cozy when in “full turtle” mode. This same lining is in the well positioned hand warming front pockets. Articulated elbows make this jacket fit great over my other layers and the PowerStretch cuffs seal out cold and snow while playing in deep snow. There are also two stretchy inside stash pockets that can hold gloves or a water bottle.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Be warm and toasty hood easily fits over my climbing helmet

Summary

It is clear that the BightGear Caldera Parka was designed by working mountain guides. It has everything you want in a big down “puffy” and nothing you don’t want. Of all the down parkas I have tested this one stands out as a top-pick for many reasons, not the least of which is the “half-sleeping bag” type feeling you get when you slip this on over your other layers. If you are looking to upgrade your belay jacket this one would be an excellent choice!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Essentially a nice puffy down “sleeping bag for your torso”… with the right layers and a bivy sack this is a great option for a bivy sleep system.

Exclusive 30% Off Discount!

I am super excited to be able to offer my readers a 30% off discount on ANY thing from BightGear’s Website! While I can not post the code publicly here all you need to do is shoot me a DM through Instagram, a PM through Facebook, or go old school and shoot me an email at nealpinestart@gmail.com! This discount is only good until April 1st, 2019 so don’t delay!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. 

 

Gear Review: Petzl Leopard LLF Crampons

I picked up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons towards the end of last winter for a back-country ski trip to Iceland. While I had been happy with my Petzl Vasak’s I wanted to shed some weight from my back-country touring kit and the Leopards do just that! I pair them with the Arcteryx Procline Boots which happen to be 45% off right now (just sayin’) Let’s take a closer look at these crampons to see if they are right for you! First the manufacturer’s deets!


Manufacturer Description

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

Ultra light crampon with LEVERLOCK FIL binding, for ski touring and snow travel

Extremely light due to their aluminum construction, LEOPARD LLF crampons are perfect for ski touring and snow travel. The CORD-TEC flexible linking system minimizes bulk for ease of carrying.

Description

  • Very lightweight:
    – crampons made entirely of aluminum, optimized for snow travel
    – very lightweight (only 330 grams per pair)
  • Very compact:
    – CORD-TEC flexible linking system optimizes volume of crampons when packed in their bag (included)
    – tool-free length adjustment
  • Binding system especially adapted to the usage of these crampons:
    – self-adjusting elastic strap around the ankle
    – strap for good handling and easy removal
    – compact heel lever facilitates crampon installation/removal

Specifications

  • Number of points: 10
  • Boot sizes: 36-46
  • Certification(s): CE EN 893, UIAA
  • Material(s): aluminum, stainless steel, nylon, Dyneema®
  • Crampons come with protective carry bag

Alright, that’s out of the way so let’s breakdown the good & bad starting with…

Weight/Pack-ability

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

This was the biggest reason I chose these for my ski mountaineering kit. When your crampons only weigh 11 ounces it is hard to justify not packing them “just in case”. The CORD-TEC adjustment system lets them pack up into the smallest stuff sack I’ve ever used for crampons measuring about 7 by 4 inches.

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review


Sizing/Fit

First make sure you select the right model! For ski boots you want the “LeverLock Universal” (LLF). The regular “FlexLock” (FL) model is suitable for hiking boots with or with out front and toe welts.

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

I’ll admit I was skeptical about sizing a crampon that joins the heel piece to the front piece with string! Ok, maybe “string” is not the right word. The “CORD-TEC” is actually a woven 100% Dyneema cord. I measure it just shy of 5 mm (3/16 inches). That would give it a breaking strength around 6000 pounds… so not “string”. Dyneema is also highly resistant to abrasion.

http://phillystran.com/product-catalog/12-Strand-Braids-Spectra-Dyneema
3/16 Woven Dyneema CORD-TEC
Petzl Leopard Crampon Review
Joined with bar-tacking, this cord is replaceable but unlikely to need replacing

Petzl does sell a replacement for it if you ever wear it out somehow. I have a hard time imagining how much use it would take to requirement, but the option is there.


Adjust-ability

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Toe piece fits my Dynafit boots perfectly
Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Slight gap between the heel level and boot but they haven’t come off yet!
Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Perfect balance of security and comfortable walking!

I found the CORD-TEC system to be very easy to adjust for both of my ski boots. No tools required an quite intuitive. Do not be intimidated by the instructions, once in hand you could pretty much size them without looking at the instructions, but if you are having any issues give them a look!

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Solid fit on my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots

DEAL ALERT!

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

Backcountry has almost a full size run of the Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots at 45% off right now!

Buy on Backcountry

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Syncs really well with my Arcteryx Procline Boots!

Ok, sorry about that, back to the crampons!

Performance

These have been tested over a few thousand feet of snow climbing in on neve, spring corn, and classic NH “windboard”. For an ultra-light aluminum crampon they perform great! They have not, and will not, be tested on waterfall ice or mixed rock routes. They are not designed for that and I’m sure such uses will shorten their life-span. So far they have only been in contact with snow but I’m not too worried about walking over short sections of granite to get to the next patch of snow this Spring. It’s gear. It should get beat on from time to time! These will be my choice model for my next trip to climb in the Cascades.

Summary

These are for ski mountaineers, back-country skiers, and riders who have found themselves on a steep slope wishing they hadn’t left their crampons in the car. These could also be a nice step up for many winter hikers who sometimes rely on Kahtoola MICROspikes in terrain where more aggressive traction would be more appropriate. Just make sure you get the Flexlock model.  Skiers should get the LevelLock model. Finally these are for anyone who is looking to shave ounces off their total kit while still having the tools they need to reach the places they want to play. If that’s you then you should consider checking these out!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

These crampons were purchased with my own money. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. 

My Current Backcountry Ski Kit

(UPDATE 2018/19- Originally previewed in this post I’ve now had two full seasons on this setup and am excited to start my third season on them this winter! Both Iceland trips were amazing BTW!)

DPS Wailer 99 Ski, Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings
Finding the line in flat light- photo by Brent Doscher

A new pair of skis arrived on Friday (two years ago) just in time for the last avalanche course of the season! I wanted to put together a setup that would crush uphill performance (be insanely light) but also give me enough control for decent downhill performance. While I’ve only had one tour on this kit it was a good one, up Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, summit Mt. Monroe, and down Monroe Brook, I want to share some first impressions. A detailed review will follow once I put some more field time on them in Iceland in two weeks!

DPS Tour 1 Skis Arcteryx Procline Boots Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings
Built for uphill performance!

Let’s start with the boards!

The DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1

A proven shape (125/99/111, Radius: 16-19m) with the Tour 1 construction makes this an uphill skinning beast. Seriously each ski only weighs about 3 pounds! The feather-lite weight is achieved by using a balsa wood core but dampening and downhill performance is obtained due to the carbon/glass laminate and on both sides of the core. The top of the ski is protected with a Prepreg carbon fiber laminate and the bases are hard World Cup race bases. The combination of these material ends up with a ski that is surprising torsion-ally rigid and responsive despite belonging to the “ultralight” class. For comparison my Dynafit Denali skis feel a little softer than these at a comparable weight. I’ll wait to comment on the amount of “chatter” until I get a chance to bring them up to speed but typically that is an issue when rocking an ultralight ski.

The Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings Review
Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

I’ve always liked my Dynafit Tech Bindings and this is the lightest binding I have ever committed to.  Weighing only 13 ounces and carrying up to a 10 DIN rating and two level quick step climbing bars along with being compatible with my ski crampons it seemed like a perfect match for this ski (and this boot I’m about to explode about). For those who are curious I set my DIN to 8 (180 lbs, Type 3) and had no accidental releases on my tour this past weekend. I haven’t crashed with them yet and it might be awhile before I truly test the release as I tend to ski a little on the conservative side when on lightweight back-country gear.

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

IMG_6394
Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

This really is the game changer in my opinion! A boot that feels like it can ice climb Grade 3 water ice in absolute comfort, skin for thousands of vertical feet, and perform on the downhill in steep terrain with good conditions and in lower angle terrain in more challenging conditions. It’s literally the first ski boot I ever felt I could drive my car in. In touring mode it feels as comfortable as a Scarpa Inverno or Koflach Degree mountaineering boot. In ski mode it gave me enough confidence to link turns in variable snow conditions while descending Monroe Brook (max pitch 42 degrees). I felt one pressure point on the inside of my ankle bone during our descent when I was “cranked tight” that I plan on addressing by molding the liners. I’ll get more into the fit in my full depth review next month after many more days of touring but for now the size 27 fit my US size 9 feet like a comfy pair of slippers (except for that one pressure point I’ll be working on).

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

backcountry skiing in Iceland

G3 Alpinist LT Skins

G3 Alpinist LT Skins Review
G3 Alpinist LT Skins

I have tested these extensively all winter long and have experienced overall positive results. They’ve gripped well in a myriad of conditions that I will spell out in more detail in my in-depth review next month. I absolutely loved how well they fit out of the box and the G3 trimming tool (included) made cutting them to size a snap. My only minor gripe is the heel clip rarely stays attached on the rounded rocker shape of DPS tails. Not a big deal considering they work fine even when that comes un-clipped.

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Dynafit Ski Crampons
Dynafit Ski Crampons

My first ski crampons and they definitely made a difference on the steeper bits of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. Almost everyone in our course who didn’t have them opted to toss the skis on the back and boot up the steeper half mile to treeline. With the included stuff sack this extra 8 ounces adds a lot of security when the skinning gets steep & icy!

This entire setup up; skis, boots, bindings, skins, and crampons only weighs 14 pounds and 12 ounces!

Hey you’ve read this far so here’s a video of our tour last weekend on the west side of Mount Washington!

Summary

I’m watching the weather in Iceland almost daily. Assuming Spring skiing conditions this will be my kit for that trip where we have a solid 3-4 days of touring planned. My ski season used to end when I couldn’t ski right to the parking lot at Pinkham but with this ultra-light setup I plan on making quite a few more forays up the hill and stretch my ski season out to May this year. When gear is this light and comfy I don’t think I’ll mind much tossing it on the back for a mile or two. If you are looking to lighten your load take a look at the links above. I think this is a pretty well optimized corn snow and soft snow setup when you spend a fair about of time earning your turns, and I really can’t wait to get these boots up an alpine gully this Spring (My Petzl Vasak crampons fit perfectly!)

Thanks for reading! A lot more reviews coming an quite a few gear give-aways planned for next month so if you haven’t already please follow this blog at the top right! You can also follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: The boots and skins listed above were provided for purposes of review. The skis and bindings were purchased with my own money. All opinions above are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog.

Gear Review- Black Diamond Vapor Climbing Helmet

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

The Black Diamond Vapor Helmet is the lightest and most breathable helmet in Black Diamond’s line and is only an ounce heavier than the Petzl Sirocco that I reviewed here. A sheet of Kevlar and a series of carbon rods in between co-molded EPS foam provides the bulk of impact protection along with a thin but full polycarbonate shell. I’ve been testing this helmet out while climbing and guiding for the last three months and I’m ready to share my opinions on it! As normal I’ll start with the most noticeable features and work towards the minutiae.


Weight

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

Black Diamond lists the weight of the M/L size at 199 grams, or 7 ounces. My home scale measured 206 grams, or 7 3/8 ounces. For comparison my size 2 Sirocco weighed in on the same scale at 174 grams, or 6 1/8 ounces. While the listed weight seemed a slight bit low it truly weighs only an ounce more than the bar-setting Petzl Sirocco. This ultra-light weight is a boon for long approaches and descents and increases long-term comfort. You truly can forget you have your helmet on when wearing lids like this!


Breath-ability

IMG_9585

Twenty one geometric and well placed holes offer excellent airflow through the helmet making this one of the best hot weather options out there. Furthermore I tested the “Blizzard” color which is basically white and reflective and I found the helmet to be as cool as is possible even on sweltering August days.


Fit/Comfort

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

The M/L size is listed to fit a head circumference of 58-63 cm (23-25 in). My head measures about 60 cm (23.5 inches). That said I found the helmet to run a little small. It fit my shaved head well but was almost maxed out (I do have a large head). I have just enough room for a thin hat liner for cold weather climbing. Removable and breathable helmet pads are soft on the skin and can be removed for washing. The Y-harness strap is not adjustable but fell perfectly around my ears. The feather like weight and high degree  of breath-ability really do make this one of the most comfortable helmets I have ever tested.


Features

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

Other than the weight and breath-ability the only other feature to talk about is the headlamp clips, which oddly are removable. Black Diamond suggests that removing them may make the helmet less likely to get snagged on slings, etc. but I’d suggest just leaving them on. They didn’t get caught on anything while I was testing. The helmet also has a nice low profile while providing great coverage on the back and sides.


Durability

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

It’s hard to accurately rate long term durability after just three months. I have friends who have climbed regularly in theirs for over a year. The thin polycarbonate shell does not resist small dents and dings with regular use. Black Diamond advises against packing this helmet inside your pack. I packed mine in the top of my pack like I usually do if I don’t have a full load and had no issues (but I remember it is in there and don’t sit on my pack when it is in there). If you strap it on the outside of your pack I would suggest you don’t just drop your pack on the ground when you reach the crag. I wouldn’t say you need to “baby” this helmet but if you want something that can take more abuse check out the Black Diamond Half Dome or Petzl Boreo that I reviewed here.


Summary

This is a specialist helmet. It’s a bit pricey, but the weight savings and breath-ability can easily justify the price. I’ve heard that cycling helmets made with a similar construction can go for 2 to 3 times more! The best uses for this helmet would be alpine climbing and long multi-pitch trad climbing. I’d chose something longer lasting for sport climbing where a couple ounces more can buy you a lot more durability. If weight and long term comfort in warm weather are a priority the Black Diamond Vapor is a great pick!

Buy on Backcountry

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from EMS

Buy from Moosejaw

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Buy from Mountain Gear

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from REI

sale price vapor.PNG

Gear Review- Hyperlite Mountain Gear “The Shell” Jacket

Last year Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) released their first entry into the high end ultra-light outerwear market with the intrepidly named brow-raising jacket, “The Shell“. Already well known for their ultralight backpacks and shelters made from expensive but high performance fabrics this level of design in a piece of clothing was sure to turn heads and I was quite excited to find out I would receive a demo model to review.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
The author testing Hyperlight Mountain Gear’s “The Shell” while skiing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

How I Tested

I started testing in February while in the middle of my winter guiding season. This allowed me about 25 days of back-country skiing, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing to get acquainted. I only parted with my test model for a week to allow a fellow guide a chance to bring it on a South America climbing trip and was happy to get it back in time for a week long trip back-country skiing in Iceland. All in all this demo model saw 35+ days of combined multi-sport use from New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains, to 17,000 feet on Ishinca in the Andes, to the Trollaski Penisula in northern Iceland. The results are in!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Fellow guide Corey Fitzgerald testing the jacket on an acclimatization hike to Laguna Churup, Peru- photo by @cfphotography

Durability

Generally I like to start a gear review focused on the single most positive aspect of the item I’m reviewing and work down from there. With the HMG “The Shell” there was a four-way tie between Durability, Weight, and Pack-ability, and Performance. But durability ultimately wins out as this is the one feature I feel justifies the sticker shock when one first sees the price. This jacket is made from DCF-WPB fabric with Dyneema.

Dyneema is stronger than steel for its weight and has excellent fatigue resistance (cyclic bending) and UV, chemical and abrasion resistance. This durability is brazenly referred to from HMG as “tough as f*#k”. Although the jacket has only been out for less than a year I’d say it is safe to assume this material and construction will last 3-4 times longer than pieces that try to achieve what this jacket achieves with so little weight. A more conservative statement would be “This jacket will easily have triple the lifespan of non-Dyneema jackets.” So if this jacket can easily outlast models that cost half as much while offering the benefits I will get into below that sticker shock might start to subside.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
The author getting ready for a 4000 foot skin up a northern Iceland peak while testing the Hyperlight Mountain Gear “The Shell” Jacket- photo by Cait

Weight

If you get a chance to take one of these off the rack at a gear show you are going to be surprised at the weight, or lack of. You’ll need to look twice to make sure you really are holding it. A technical specification of 5.8 ounces does not do it justice, you need to hold this in your hand to get a sense of what “feather weight” really feels like. The only other shell I have tested that can come close to this ultra-light feel is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket (2 ounces heavier). An amazing jacket at a more affordable price, but not 100% water-proof or nearly as indestructible as The Shell.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Fellow Northeast Mountaineering Guide Matt Bowman gearing up for some WI4 at Frankenstein Cliffs, Crawford Notch, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Pack-Ability

The Shell has one small zippered pocket on the front right that can be turned inside out and used as a storage sack complete with a small sewn carabiner loop for attaching to the back of your harness. The stuffed size is about the size of a softball with about a 4 inch diameter. This pack-ability will let you stuff this into the smallest of CamelBaks, running packs, and waist packs for go anywhere mobility.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Softball sized pack-ability

Performance

There’s manufacturer claims and real life performance. Let’s look at each.

Claim: Waterproof Ratting: 10,000mm– This means the jacket should handle moderate to heavy rain.

Real-life: Unfortunate for our snow-pack but fortunate for my testing this past winter was plagued by multiple mid-winter rain events that allowed some serious testing of the waterproof claim from HMG. I wore this on at least three rainy adventures and my experience was that this jacket truly is waterproof. At first I was concerned about the front zipper as it did not look like the polyurethane waterproof thin zippers I was expecting (the small pocket on the jacket uses that style). Turns out HMG went with a longer lasting VISLON® Aquaguard® Zipper for the main zipper and I found it to be impenetrable even in the 40-50 mph raining-sideways-summit-day I had on Mount Washington. The slight stiffener in the visor on the hood was just enough to help keep the heaviest of downpours of the face.

Claim: Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr– This is an incredibly high rating of breathablity for a fabric that also can claim true waterproofness!

Real-life: I’ll be honest and state that I was concerned about the breathability of a waterproof jacket with no pit zips or side ventilation. My concerns were first alleviated during an avalanche course I was teaching when I skinned from the trail-head to Hermit Lake, (2.3 miles, 1,870 elevation) in 1 hour 20 minutes on a 28°F (-2°C) day. It was one of the few times I’d ever left a shell jacket on while skinning in such fair weather all the way to Hermit Lake. Having easily logged another 20,000 feet of uphill travel in the back-country while wearing The Shell I can whole-heartedly attest to an accurate breathability rating! The only other pieces I could compare this level of breathability to is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket or the Patagonia Houdini (not as indestructible as The Shell, or considered waterproof).

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Light, technical, and durable- photo by Peter Brandon

Sizing/Fit

The only media sample I could get was a size medium so the fit was a touch snug for my 180 lb 5’9″ build with a 42 inch chest. HMG’s sizing chart would put me into a size large which I think probably would have been perfect. It is important to recognize that Dyneema fabrics have almost no stretch to them which means clothing must be quite quite close to your body’s own specifications or quickly be to tight or to baggy. That said I was able to wear this as a “second skin” right over my Ortovox Merino wool T-shirts. In cold conditions I’d layer my mid-weight puffy jacket’s, my full belay jackets, or my heavy ski jackets over it. If I wanted to wear more insulation under it I would have to get into my appropriate size, which would have been a large. Bottom line is following the sizing info on the HMG website and it should fit you well!

Other Media

You can read the manufacturer specifications and right of HMG’s website here so I’m not going to cut & paste them here (unless you find that more convenient)? I am going to share the quick promotional video they produced as I think it shows the hood fit and other features quite well:

 

Summary

“The Shell”. Such a simple and confident name for a garment. It makes me think of the LOTR “one ring to rule them all” line for some reason. Is this the one shell you’ll ever need? Probably not. It is a niche type item. It is the epitome of minimalist functional artisan design. I love how it performed. I love the weight and pack-ability of it. I love that it is made in Maine!

Who is this for? This is an obvious winner for the ultra-light crowd, whether you’re a climber, skier, long distance trail runner, or sea kayak-er I can see this becoming a new favorite. The simple expected lifespan of this piece (Dyneema does not degrade naturally as fast as nylon) means this could be one of the best value pieces out there for its intended purpose. Hyperlite Mountain Gear has entered the outerwear business with The Shell, and I’m really glad they did!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Disclaimer: Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with this media sample. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.

Gear Review- Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack

The Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack is designed for back-country skiing and ski mountaineering. This streamlined model also comes in smaller 35 and 30 liter options. I started testing this pack while teaching avalanche courses last winter and after a couple more trips this season I’m ready to share my opinions on this model.


Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review
Skiing “the Sherbi” with the Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Buy on Backcountry


Capacity

Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review
Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review

At 45 liters (2746 cubic inches) this is one of the largest ski packs I’ve tested. It can definitely handle carrying my full avy kit along with my technical gear on ski mountaineering trips. If just sticking to skiing it can easily accommodate my sleeping bag and ultra-light tent for lightweight overnight missions. There is an external helmet carry system that frees up space inside the pack. The dedicated internal avalanche gear pocket is quite large easily accepting my avalanche shovel in my fleet along with my avalanche probe and snow saw. Four side compression straps and the top strap help the pack compress down to bullet size when going on less gear intensive outings.



Fit/Comfort

Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review
Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review

The Black Diamond Cirque 45’s carrying system is simple, well designed, and snow friendly. The back panel has a gel-like foam (not a removable pad unfortunately) and perfectly contoured shoulder straps along with a well fitting thin foam waist belt. It comes in a “S/M” for torsos from 16-19 inches and a “M/L” for torsos 18.5 to 21.5 inches. I went with the “M/L” for my 19 inch torso 5’9″ build and it fit great. The pack rides well both when climbing (plenty of clearance for helmet) and while skiing (hugs body nicely).


Durability

After a dozen or so ski tours the pack is holding up great. The main pack material (Dynex (210 denier) feels soft to the touch and bottom is heavily reinforced (with PE 200 denier). I’ve packed ice screws, mountaineering crampons, and strapped my skis diagonally and “A-frame” and there is not a single noticeable wear point anywhere.


Features

Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review
Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Helmet Carrying System

There’s some things I really like about this pack and some areas that could use some improving. Let’s start with the good!

  • Stretch woven hip pocket (only on 35 and 45 liter models). I’m always looking for the best place to put my sunglasses when it is time to switch over to goggles and this pocket fits them perfectly! I’m not sure that Black Diamond intended for this waist belt pocket to hold sunglasses but it is the perfect shape and has a little rigidness to it that makes them feel quite protected even when not in a dedicated case.
    Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review
    Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Stretch Hip Pocket
  • Stow-able Helmet Carry (also only on 35 and 45 liter models). On less gear intense missions I like to carry my helmet inside the main compartment but when I have more stuff to carry this helmet carry system is quickly deploy-able freeing up lots of internal space.
    Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Review
    Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack Helmet Carrying System
  • Compatible with the AvaLung Element for additional protection in avalanche terrain.
  • Side zipper access! Not mentioned in the description or in any other reviews I’ve seen for this pack is the side zipper access. I love being able to pack top-loading packs like this to the brim yet still dig out my water bottle or first aid kit without dumping the whole pack. Side zipper access rules!

Improvements

I really only have one small gripe about the design of this pack, and it’s related to the avalanche gear pocket. Accessing it requires opening the top main compartment, then unbuckling the internal pocket. This isn’t a huge deal breaker but I really prefer avalanche gear pockets to be accessible without entering the main pack. External avalanche gear pockets are much more convenient if you access these tools throughout your tour when making observations (it’s not just about rescue speed). Other than that this is a really well put together ski touring/mountaineering backpack and one worth a close look!


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Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start
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Gear Review- Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

Last year I got to review the iconic Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody, undeniably one of the “best in class” pieces of outdoor clothing on the market. This year Patagonia has taken this iconic piece and optimized it with a new “PlumaFill” synthetic insulation that really gives natural down insulated pieces a run for the money. Instead of lamenting over every minutia detail I’m going to call attention to the differences in this new option over the tried-and-true Nano-Puff Hoody that many of us are familiar with (especially if you read my aforementioned review).

Patagonia Micro Puff Review
Patagonia Micro Puff Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Insulation

“PlumaFill”… what is it? Google searches will lead you to other positive reviews of this jacket but for the sake of time I will tell you it is the closest insulation I have experienced to good ole’ goose down with the added benefit of still “working” when it gets wet. I’ve asked a few experienced outdoor retail friends to guess the insulation by “feel” and they all thought this was a down piece. Its perceived “warmth” is definitely competitive with any down option at this weight on the market!


Weight/Compress-ability

My size large weights 9.5 ounces. It’s almost laughable that something that can retain this much heat can weigh that little. Seriously? I can pack this into a 22 ounce water bottle! While it is with out a doubt ultra-light weight and compressible I would still caution that this is a “light puffy”. Don’t expect it to be your sole belay jacket on Cannon Cliff or Lake Willoughby…but… at the weight & low packing space this is a piece that could live in your pack for all those “I wish I had a little more warmth” moments.


Shell Fabric

The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody used a 1.4-oz 22-denier that felt like silk. The new Mirco Puff uses  a .7-oz 10-denier 100% nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum® with the same  DWR (durable waterproof repellent) finish. What does that mean? Well silky got silkier and the shell fabric is basically half as thick as the iconic Nano Puff. We are probably giving up some durability here at the benefit of weight/pack-ability… but for many of us that is a welcome trade.


Summary

The new Micro Puff Hoody saves you about 3 ounces for an equal amount of environmental cold protection. That’s a $50 price increase for 3 ounces and maybe 20 cubic inches of packing space (they both back into smaller than a water bottle packages). “PlumaFill” seems to be the closest anyone has been able to get to the weight vs. warmth of natural down, but the PrimaLoft Gold used in the original Nano Puff Hoody is still a strong contender in the arena. I guess the bottom line is both of these are pretty darn amazing options and it’s up to you if the 3 ounce savings is worth the extra moo-laa. I hope this brief review helps you decide!

Buy Micro Puff from Patagonia

Buy Nano Puff from Patagonia

Buy Micro/Nano Puff from Backcountry

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start