Gear Review- Arc’teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots (updated 10/2018)

Likely one of the most important choices a climber makes involves their footwear. Happy feet are so crucial for happy climbing and my feet have been quite happy the last few winters while I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Before I break into the details here is how they have been tested:

Mountaineering: (paired with Petzl Vasak Leverlock crampons)

Two full winters guiding in the Northeast with 4 winter ascents of Mount Washington with the lowest ambient air temperature around -20f and wind-chills around -50f. Some alpine climbing in the Cascades with ascents of Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Rainier.

Arcteryx Acrux AR Boots Review
The author on the summit of Mt. Rainier- Photo by @cfphotography

Waterfall Ice Climbing: (paired with Petzl Vasak Crampons, Black Diamond Cyborg’s, and CAMP/Cassin Blade Runner’s)

30+ pitches of waterfall ice climbing including Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), The Black Dike (WI4+) Drool of the Beast (WI5-) and Repentance (WI5).

ArcTeryx Acux AR Review
The author on Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), photo by Brent Doscher
ArcTeryx Acux AR Mountaineering Boots Review
The author on Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher
Arcteryx Acrux AR Boots Review
The author enjoying some late season ice last March
Arcteryx Acrux AR Boots Review
Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

I mention specifically what crampons I tested these with as this is a very important consideration when selecting a climbing boot, especially in this case and I will get into that further in the review. But first lets take a look at some of the details of this design.

I’ll start with some preliminary info from when I first received these boots back in October 2016.

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boot Review

“A pinnacle of design for mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing, the Acrux AR is the lightest, most durable, and lowest profile insulated double boot available.”- Arcteryx.com

That is a strong statement, and it happens to be true. Let’s compare some of the other lightweight double boots on the market:

La Sportiva Spantik (88.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva Baruntse (82.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva G2 SM (72.22 oz/pair)

Scarpa Phantom 6000 (70 oz/pair)

Arc’teryx Acrux AR (69.1 oz/pair)

This is actually less than an ounce difference than my La Sportiva Batura 2.0’s that I reviewed last winter here.


The obvious difference between these and my Batura’s is that these have a removable liner.

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT

These liners “feel high-tech” in hand. I wore them around the house and they feel like a comfy slipper designed for astronauts. From arcteryx.com:

“Arc’teryx Adaptive Fit technology uses a removable bootie that employs stretch textiles and minimal seams to create an instant custom fit with no pressure. With protection extended beyond the cuff of the boot and the highest level of breathability in this category, the bootie’s GORE-TEX® membrane optimizes climate control and waterproof benefit. The perforated PE foam’s quick dry properties improve comfort, and a rubberized sole allows the bootie to be used as a camp shoe.”


Arc’teryx partnered with Vibram®  and created the AR outsole using Vibram® Mont rubber which keeps its frictional properties in sub-zero temps.

Arcteryx AR Mountaineering Boots Preview

“The specially developed Vibram® AR outsole is designed for support and sure footedness. The tread and construction feature a semi-blocked toe, with anti-slip grooves, a medial climbing support zone, and heel created to provide braking on steep descents. The Vibram® Mont rubber compound maintains its performance in sub-zero conditions.”


Now that I have had sufficient time in the field to test them let’s get into the question on everyone’s mind. How do these perform?

On the approach

Honestly these have been the most comfortable mountaineering boots I have yet to wear. They feel like they were custom made for my feet. For reference I am a US men’s size 9, EUR 42, medium width forefoot with a slight Morton’s toe. Unlike my previous double boots (Koflach Degre, Vertical, and Arctis Expe) it is easier to put this boot on by first putting the slim fitting liner on then sliding into the outer boot. When the liner is already in the boot it is a little more tricky to slide on but not impossible.

The lacing system is probably the only thing I could imagine being improved upon. There is no traction/tension grabber that is becoming common in a lot of boots in this category. For a boot at the high end of the category I would LOVE to see Arcteryx take it a step further and add a ratcheting lacing system like Boa.

As it stands I’ve adapted my lacing strategy. For general mountaineering and easy ice climbing I lace them at home and leave them all day. For harder ice climbing (WI4 and up) I’ll lace them at home, approach, then take the time at the base of the route to snug them up for better performance on the vertical. It doesn’t take long and leaving them loosely laced on steep ice can lead to some insecurity.

For comfort on the approach and descent these score very high. They are super light and warm enough for my feet in all the conditions I’ve tested them in. I do have “warm” feet though so if you suffer from cold feet I would suggest some solid test runs before going to significant altitude. The long term comfort is so significant that I’ve returned home after 14 hour days and left them on while stocking the wood stove and cooking dinner. No joke I have not felt the need to pull my feet out of these as soon as I get home even after significant slogs.

One of the reasons they might be so comfortable on the approach and descent is the small amount of flexibility within the shank/out-sole, a trait some who have tried them are concerned about, but one that I feel is easily remedied. I will elaborate more on that in the next section.

On the climb

The slim looking low profile Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots are the Lamborghini of the climbing boot world. Ok, that might be going a bit overboard but seriously I find these perform extremely well on steep water ice when paired with the right crampon. Why is the crampon pairing so important? Two reasons.

  1. These are super light boots. For hard ice climbs a heavier crampon might actually reduce your energy expenditure by giving your boot/crampon a better balance for efficient kicks. Before you call me crazy consider this is the same theory that explains the practice of adding pick weights to your ice axes. I find the heavier Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners to add a nice amount of weight allowing me to “kick lighter” and let the boot/crampon do the work. So super light boots are a plus for the approach and descent, but it’s nice to add a little mass for the kicking portion of your climb!
  2. These boots have some flex. That small amount of forefoot flex feels great on that 8 mile approach, but when you are front-pointing on near vertical ice having a secure platform takes precedence. I noticed the flex first when leading a 3+ route wearing my well worn Petzl Vasak Crampons. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was noticeable. I’ve since lead multiple grade 5 ice routes using the Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners and in all cases the inclusion of the stiff heavier crampon virtually eliminated all noticeable flexibility while front-pointing on both steep rock and ice.
ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review
Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Summary

Five months of some of the best Northeastern ice climbing I’ve had in years have left me with a super positive impression of the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Slipper like comfort, 3-season like weight (yet still plenty warm for my feet), and high end performance when it matters most all add up to a fantastic new edition to the growing assortment of lightweight double boots. You should try a pair on!

UPDATE (10/22/2018)

Two years later and I’m still in love with these boots! I climbed Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Rainier in them the following summer! You can see those trip reports here.

Buy on Backcountry

Thanks for reading! Take it one step further and comment below! Have you tried them? What did you think? What’s your current boot crampon/setup?

Disclaimer: Arc’Teyrx provided a pair of these boots for the purposes of review but all opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review- Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka

I’ve had three full winter seasons testing the lofty Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka and it has been a consistent performer in the category of down belay jackets. Let’s take an in-depth look at the good and the bad and determine if this is the right choice for you!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
The author on the summit of Mt. Rainier- Photo by @cfphotography

Buy at Backcountry


Insulation/Warmth

It is important when comparing down jackets that you consider both the fill power of the down (generally 700+ is used in higher end pieces), and the actual amount of down used (generally varies from 2-8 ounces). The Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka is stuffed with 6.4 ounces of ethically sourced 800 fill goose down. This is a very generous amount of the heat-retaining-super-lightweight-and-compressible natural insulator! Similar priced models from other manufacturers often have 4-5 ounces of down (if you can even find out from them).

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Lounging out at 9,000 feet on Mt. Rainier- photo by Alexandra Roberts

What this means is this “puffy” really is “puffy”. It feels like a big down sleeping bag that fits over all of my other layers (including soft-shell or hard-shell jackets). Baffled construction on the core and quilted construction on the arms keep this quality down where it is needed and eliminates “cold spots”.


But is it warm?

I’ve worn this now in ambient air temps down to -16°F (-26°C) with wind-chills between -30°F to -40°F below zero (-34°C to -40°C)! When worn over my typical winter mountaineering layers I’ve stayed toasty teaching avalanche courses, camping at 11,000 feet in the Cascades, and belaying partners on long pitches of technical ice climbing. It is without a doubt a toasty pound and a half part of my clothing system!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
The author spends a lot of time standing in the snow teaching avalanche courses! Photo by Matt Baldelli

Weight/Compress-ability

At only one pound six ounces (about 620 grams) this is the lightest full winter belay jacket I’ve tested! It also packs down into a very small stuff sack to maximize the available space in your smaller ice & alpine climbing packs. I lost the original stuff sack that came with the jacket but upgraded (and downsized from the original) to this amazing Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Hyperlight Mountain Gear MEDIUM DCF8 STUFF SACK – 9” X 12”

Shell Fabric/Performance

Patagonia uses a really silky and thin Pertex Quantum® fabric with DWR (durable water repellent) finish to fend off moisture. This is a positive for making this puffy extremely light-weight, pack-able, and breath-able. However it also makes this piece most suitable for extreme cold conditions when liquid precipitation is pretty much out of the question. If the forecast calls for “mixed” or freezing rain I’d suggest reaching for a heavier less pack-able synthetic belay jacket (like the recently reviewed Outdoor Research Perch).

Basically don’t expect this shell material to resist much liquid water. I managed to soak mine in a dripping ice cave while ice climbing on an unseasonably warm day and it was clear this piece is better designed for arctic cold dry days and not warm/damp days. It did however regain full loft when dried that evening!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Another cold day on Mount Washington with the Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka keeping me happy & warm!

Fit/Comfort/Features

I went with a size large for my 180 pounds, 5′ 9″, 42 inch chest, 34 inch waist build and it fits great over my typical winter ice climbing/mountaineering/back-country ski clothing kits. The hood is the perfect size for fitting over my climbing/mountaineering helmet and a drawcord on the back pulls the sides back so you don’t feel like you are wearing horse blinders.

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Making breakfast high on Rainier as the sun rises- photo by Alexandra Roberts

The elastic wrists have the right amount of tension, hand-warming pockets are properly sized and positioned a little higher to be harness friendly. A bottom hem draw-cord helps keep heat from escaping out below and the front zipper runs high enough into the collar/hood area that I can go into “full turtle mode” when it is really too cold to be outside.

Rounding out the features a small chest pocket keeps my phone & lip balm handy and a large stretchy internal pocket on the right side will keep your gloves or mittens warm and dry (and prevent them from blowing away) while you attend to what ever fine dexterity task crops up.


Summary

This is one of the best down belay jackets out there at a fair price, especially when considering the amount and quality of the down Patagonia used. While there are some durability concerns with a piece made with such silky then fabrics (especially considering all the sharp stuff ice climbers carry) my parka only has two pea sized holes in it after 2 seasons which were easily patched with my favorite field repair stuff, Tenacious Tape. If you are in the market for a lofty warm down belay jacket this one should be on your radar!


Shopping

You can also save some money buying one of these now as most retailers have them on sale as we quickly approach Spring however inventory is really low! Check out the lowest prices at the links below! I will re-post this next Fall when the new colors & inventory hits the market!

New colors and inventory have arrived!

Buy at Backcountry

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review

The author reaching the summit of Rainier (14,410 elevation)- photo by Cait Bougault

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Gear Review: Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe

The leaves are starting to turn high in our notches so I find myself starting to anticipate another great ice climbing season in the Northeast. Last season I had the opportunity to demo the CAMP/Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and while I shared my positive impressions of them with dozens of climbing partners I never got around to a full detailed review. With the ice climbing season quickly approaching what better time than now?

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

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

versatile

There is more custom-ability in this model then any other ice axe I have ever used! Let’s start with my favorite feature of the Cassin X-Dream’s!

Buy at REI              Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


The Handle

By simply loosening one bolt you can pivot the handle into a “dry-tooling” setting appropriate for high level mixed climbing and competitions. This setting will align the handle/pick in a configuration quite similar to the Petzl Ergo Ice Axe. I don’t personally climb in competitions or send overhanging mixed sport routes in the winter so I only tested these in the “ice” setting which was the perfect angle for comfortable swings on steep grade 4 and grade 5 waterfall ice routes, and is quite similar to the alignment of the Petzl Nomic. If you’ve never demo’d a tool with a handle angled like this it’s hard to explain how much of a difference it makes on steep ice allowing your wrist to stay in a much more natural position and facilitating the relaxed grip that is so crucial on grade 4+ ice.

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

Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges can be adjusted in multiple ways. With a small phillips head screw driver you can swap the main trigger finger ledge from the included “X-finger small” with an “X-finger large, sold separately, $6”. My medium sized hands preferred the smaller less obtrusive setting.

For those with very small hands you can snap in the X-Rest handle height insert (sold separately, $8) which raises the height of the handle interior by about 3 mm.

The X-Trigger pommel (included) attaches to the shaft for an optional third ledge and can be slid up or down to your preferred spot. I liked mine just above the X-Grip 2 friction tape that is also included on the shaft.

Finally the entire handle can be swapped out with the recently released X-Dream Alpine Grip, a feature that greatly improves security when topping out an ice route and switching back to piolet canne.

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

The Picks

There are three picks designed for the Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and they come stock with the “Mixte” pick which I found worked as well as any ice pick I’ve used across the major manufacture brands. All three are T-rated which adds confidence when torquing or utilizing The Stein Pull. I plan on buying a set of the ice picks this season as I think the addition of the small hammer will add a nice touch of head weight and help this tool step even closer into the alpine environment (occasional testing of pitons, tool tapping to gently set a pick on thin ice, etc).

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

Buy at REI                    Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


UPDATE: Soon after posting this review CAMP USA let me know that they just released two more compatible accessories that further add to the versatility of this tool. A new “Total Dry” pick designed for over-hanging hooking and competition. This brings the pick options on this axe to four! Also, and more exciting in my opinion is the new available head weights. I will be trying these out with a new set of ice picks this winter!


The Shaft

Cassin combines a T-rated aluminum shaft with a chromoly steel head that passes both CE and UIAA certification. Total weight is 1 lb 5 oz, 610 grams and the swing feels very natural and balanced. I did not find any need to adapt my swing to these like I have with some comparable models from other companies. With the included X-Grip friction tape and “third ledge” pommel I’ve found no need to supplement the rest of the shaft with after market grip tape. During placement the shaft dampens nicely without noticeable vibration and provides reliable feedback with each stick.

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

Summary

With a high degree of customization and optimization for steep ice, mixed routes, and competition climbing this Italian made ice axe should become a common sight on the steep ice drips around the world. If you lead or follow grade 4 and up waterfall ice you should try to demo a pair of these! While outfitting them with the new X-Dream Alpine Grip puts them in the running for the most expensive set of tools when it comes to waterfall ice axes sometimes you get what you pay for.

Buy at REI              Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry

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

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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

Gear Review- Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Jacket

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is a bombproof technical super light three layer hard shell suitable for everything from hard ice climbing to alpine touring and Skimo.


DEAL ALERT! Currently 40% off on Backcountry here!


Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review
Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Over the last 3 months I have tested this jacket climbing above tree-line on Mount Washington, leading Grade 5 waterfall ice, and taking laps on the Sherburne ski trail. Its versatility and durability combined with its extreme pack-ability make this a solid contender in best hard-shells of 2016/17.

Durability

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review
Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket uses GORE-TEX® 3L, 30d nylon plain-weave face with nylon C-Knit™ backer and DWR (95 gsm, 100% nylon). The nylon C-Knit™ backer supposedly creates a “quieter construction”. While it may feel a little softer than an old stiff style GORE-TEX® jacket it definitely does not feel like a soft-shell jacket, but that is a sacrifice one makes when they want 100% water and wind proof protection. After a few thousand feet of back-country skiing, a half dozen or more ice pitches, and 2-3 days above tree-line on Washington the jacket is showing virtually no signs of wear.

Weight/Pack-ability

Black Diamond Helio Shell Review
Hard shell protection at less than a pound!

Definitely one of the key features of this streamlined jacket is how light and small it packs. Black Diamond lists 370 grams for a size medium. My size large was 386 grams, or 13 5/8 ounces. I could crush the piece down to about a 6 inch by 6 inch by 3 inch package, easily small enough to forget about it in your pack until that snow switches over to freezing rain or the next pitch climbs out a drippy shower-fest.

Comfort/Sizing

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review
Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is designed to be worn with a harness and omits hand pockets to save weight and increase pack-ability. While Black Diamonds size charts put me in a size large I would definitely prefer a size medium in this piece. For reference I am 5′ 9″ 180 pounds with a 42 inch chest. The large has a lot of space in the chest and I feel it would better fit a 44+ inch chest or someone closer to 200 pounds. Sleeve length was slightly long on the large but could be shortened with the Velcro wrist straps. Length was perfect for tucking into my harness and the hood easily fit over my ski helmet. Plenty of room in the shoulders for long reaches over the head. A medium would be perfect for me.

Features

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket sports a streamlined minimalist design to keep the weight down and the pack-ability up. Full length pit zips, two large chest pockets, velcro cuffs, and an innovative and effective “Coheasive” single pull draw-cord system at both the hem and the hood leave little to talk about here, and that’s ok. The alpinist or skimo customer this jacket is designed for is not looking for a ton of bells and whistles. This shell has what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.

Summary

I’ll admit I am often reluctant to pack a hard shell jacket on most my adventures. I prefer the superior breath-ability of soft shell jackets for the high output sports I pursue. However having the hard-shell packed away as a piece of insurance is a wise move when conditions change and things become a bit wetter or windier than you were expecting.

The extreme pack-ability and less than a pound specifications of a true hard-shell make the Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell a solid piece of insurance to carry on just about any mountain adventure.


DEAL ALERT! Currently 40% off on Backcountry here!


 

Disclaimer: Black Diamond provided the sample for the purpose of review. The opinions above are solely mine. Affiliate links above help support this blog. 

 

Ice Screw Comparison Review (and giveaway)

I like to crunch numbers sometimes. It’s fun to engage the left-brain and get a little meticulous from time to time. I recently acquired some of Petzl’s newest Laser Speed Light ice screws and could certainly feel the overall weight difference of my ice rack in-hand but figured I would play around with the numbers a little bit and determine what my weight savings actually were.

It can be tough to make an an objective comparison when individual ice racks can vary in make up from climber to climber and region to region (and season to season and condition to condition) so for the sake of simplicity we are going to have to settle on a base line for comparison. I have settled on this as my base ice rack in New England and will make some changes based on route conditions and what not, but this is to me a “baseline” 10 screw ice rack:

1 22cm

8 13cm

1 10cm

Now before you ask why no 17’s, 19’s, etc let me explain…

First, testing shows screw holding power is all from the threads; in good ice a 13 cm screw is as strong as a 19 cm screw. I can chop through rotten ice to find the good stuff.

Second, falling while leading pure ice routes up to grade 5 in difficulty is, and should always be, quite rare. We climb in control with all these sharp things attached to us least we end up with expensive hospital bills.

Third, anchor stances are usually adequate enough that I can clear rotten ice to get full strength 13 cm screws. If it is particularly crappy ice or warm/sunny hanging belay I’ll use my 22 cm in the anchor, but the 22’s main purpose is my v-thread building screw.

Finally, if I am heading to someplace steep with hanging belays (Willoughby) I will add about four 19 cm screws to mix in with anchors and pre-crux placements bringing my screw total to 14. If I need more than 14 screws it is probably above my pay grade.

And one last note, I’m only looking at screws with fold-able speed knobs. If you want to save an extra 20% in cost you could go for “non-speed knob” screws but the extra savings are not worth it in my personal opinion.

Ok, enough on that. Let’s get to the comparison. I want to compare a pure Black Diamond rack, a pure Petzl Laser Speed rack, and a Petzl Laser Speed Light rack side by side. We will first look at the weight differences between each choice then other pro’s and con’s.

Black Diamond Turbo Express Rack

img_4854
Black Diamond Turbo Express Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 47.06 ounces (just shy of 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Time tested design with a hanger with dual carabiner holes for versatility. Durable finish. Long re-sharp-ability period.

Cons: Larger hanger requires more “clear space” for placements. Threads are more prone to damage then Petzl design.

Petzl Laser Speed Rack

fullsizerender-2
Petzl Laser Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 48.63 ounces (just over 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength.

Cons: Slightly heavier than Black Diamond Turbo Express. Some reports of finish wearing off quicker than Black Diamond screws (I have not noticed after 2 seasons of use).

Petzl Laser Speed Light Rack

Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws
Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 35.52 ounces (2.22 pounds) MRSP $734.50*

Pros: Lightest option available, save almost a pound on your ice rack. Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength. Limited re-sharp-ability.

Cons: Most expensive option. Least durable option (it is aluminum vs. steel). UPDATE 1/20/17: I have started to experience the sticky placement issues that Jacon mentions in a comments below. So far it has been in very dense ice or wet ice and I have managed with solid stances to crank hard enough to overcome the resistance, but I could definitely see this being an issue on a climb where firing in a screw easily is clutch. This is definitely a con, and one I plan on exploring more this season (and will update accordingly).

Summary

So what should you get? This is a personal choice. What do you value most? Lightest weight? Durability? Ease of placement? If you count ounces like I do you might justify the added expense and lower durability of the Petzl Laser Speed Light screws. If you only replace your one 22 cm ice screw (the one you carry to make v-threads) with a Petzl Laser Speed Light you save a full 2 ounces. Replacing half your running protection screws with Petzl Laser Speed Light screws will probably save you a half a pound. Replacing all will save you close to a pound with a sacrifice to durability (less of a concern for those who pro-deal or shop the best sale times, or have the disposable income).

ice climbing screw review
The author places a screw on the classic grade 5 backcountry ice climb, Drool of The Beast- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The real bottom line is all three of these options are great. Meticulously thought-out designs made out of the best material that could be sourced. I hope this info helps you round out your ice rack the way you want it. Please let me know in the comments below your opinions on this topic!

Shout out!

A big thanks to my good friend, fellow mountain guide, former jeweler, and current magician at making dull things sharp again, Jason Hurwitz of A Nice Screw dot Com. Jason can sharpen ice screws, crampons, and ice axes to better than factory condition. Please check out his website out for details!

Contest

I have a brand new 22 cm Omega Pacific ice screw with speed knob for this giveaway. Omega Pacific was excluded from this comparison review because they did stop making ice screws a few years ago, however this is the perfect “v-thread” maker or anchor screw. Estimated retail value $49.95. Click this link for up to three ways to enter!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

*total weight assumed 9 Petzl Laser Speed Light screws and one BD Turbo Express 10 cm screw since Petzl does not make the Laser Speed Light in 10 cm.

Disclaimer: I purchased all the items referred to in this comparison with my own money. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

Ice Screw Comparison Review

I like to crunch numbers sometimes. It’s fun to engage the left-brain and get a little meticulous from time to time. I recently acquired some of Petzl’s newest Laser Speed Light ice screws and could certainly feel the overall weight difference of my ice rack in-hand but figured I would play around with the numbers a little bit and determine what my weight savings actually were.

It can be tough to make an an objective comparison when individual ice racks can vary in make up from climber to climber and region to region (and season to season and condition to condition) so for the sake of simplicity we are going to have to settle on a base line for comparison. I have settled on this as my base ice rack in New England and will make some changes based on route conditions and what not, but this is to me a “baseline” 10 screw ice rack:

1 22cm

8 13cm

1 10cm

Now before you ask why no 17’s, 19’s, etc let me explain…

First, testing shows screw holding power is all from the threads; in good ice a 13 cm screw is as strong as a 19 cm screw. I can chop through rotten ice to find the good stuff.

Second, falling while leading pure ice routes up to grade 5 in difficulty is, and should always be, quite rare. We climb in control with all these sharp things attached to us least we end up with expensive hospital bills.

Third, anchor stances are usually adequate enough that I can clear rotten ice to get full strength 13 cm screws. If it is particularly crappy ice or warm/sunny hanging belay I’ll use my 22 cm in the anchor, but the 22’s main purpose is my v-thread building screw.

Finally, if I am heading to someplace steep with hanging belays (Willoughby) I will add about four 19 cm screws to mix in with anchors and pre-crux placements bringing my screw total to 14. If I need more than 14 screws it is probably above my pay grade.

And one last note, I’m only looking at screws with fold-able speed knobs. If you want to save an extra 20% in cost you could go for “non-speed knob” screws but the extra savings are not worth it in my personal opinion.

Ok, enough on that. Let’s get to the comparison. I want to compare a Black Diamond Express rack, a pure Petzl Laser Speed rack, and a Petzl Laser Speed Light rack side by side. We will first look at the weight differences between each choice then other pro’s and con’s.

Black Diamond Express Rack

img_4854
Black Diamond Express Screws (the 22 cm is the older Turbo Express model)

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 47.06 ounces (just shy of 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Time tested design with a hanger with dual carabiner holes for versatility. Durable finish. Long re-sharp-ability period.

Cons: Larger hanger requires more “clear space” for placements. Threads are more prone to damage then Petzl design.

Petzl Laser Speed Rack

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Petzl Laser Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 48.63 ounces (just over 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength.

Cons: Slightly heavier than Black Diamond Express. Some reports of finish wearing off quicker than Black Diamond screws (I have not noticed after 2 seasons of use).

Petzl Laser Speed Light Rack

Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws
Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 35.52 ounces (2.22 pounds) MRSP $734.50*

Pros: Lightest option available, save almost a pound on your ice rack. Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength. Limited re-sharp-ability.

Cons: Most expensive option. Least durable option (it is aluminum vs. steel). UPDATE 1/20/17: I have started to experience the sticky placement issues that Jacon mentions in a comments below. So far it has been in very dense ice or wet ice and I have managed with solid stances to crank hard enough to overcome the resistance, but I could definitely see this being an issue on a climb where firing in a screw easily is clutch. This is definitely a con, and one I plan on exploring more this season (and will update accordingly).

Summary

So what should you get? This is a personal choice. What do you value most? Lightest weight? Durability? Ease of placement? If you count ounces like I do you might justify the added expense and lower durability of the Petzl Laser Speed Light screws. If you only replace your one 22 cm ice screw (the one you carry to make v-threads) with a Petzl Laser Speed Light you save a full 2 ounces. Replacing half your running protection screws with Petzl Laser Speed Light screws will probably save you a half a pound. Replacing all will save you close to a pound with a sacrifice to durability (less of a concern for those who pro-deal or shop the best sale times).

ice climbing screw review
The author places a screw on the classic grade 5 backcountry ice climb, Drool of The Beast- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The real bottom line is all three of these options are great. Meticulously thought-out designs made out of the best material that could be sourced. I hope this info helps you round out your ice rack the way you want it. Please let me know in the comments below your opinions on this topic!

Best Prices on Ice Screws!

From Backcountry

From Bentgate

From EMS

From Moosejaw

From Mountain Gear

From REI

Shout out!

A big thanks to my good friend, fellow mountain guide, former jeweler, and current magician at making dull things sharp again, Jason Hurwitz of A Nice Screw dot Com. Jason can sharpen ice screws, crampons, and ice axes to better than factory condition. Please check out his website out for details!

*total weight assumed 9 Petzl Laser Speed Light screws and one BD Turbo Express 10 cm screw since Petzl does not make the Laser Speed Light in 10 cm.

Disclaimer: I purchased all the items referred to in this comparison with my own money. Affiliate links above help support this blog.




Gear Review- LaSportiva Castle Pant

While I was searching for a new soft-shell pant for ice climbing this season I came across the LaSportiva Castle Pant. While billed as a ski pant this lightweight soft-shell slim fitting tech pant is a great choice for waterfall ice climbing and lightweight mountaineering which is how I primarily tested it over the last two months. The fact that it can serve double duty as a light back-country ski tour pant is definitely a bonus.

La Sportiva Castle Pants Review
La Sportiva Castle Pants Review

Let’s start with a look at the manufacturer description and specifications:

“The Castle Pant is a stylish and comfortable soft-shell ski pant made with technical, performance-focused features to give you everything you need to move confidently around the mountains.”

• 5 pockets <- manufacturer typo? Model has 4 pockets total, 2 front hand warmer pockets, one right rear pocket, and one right thigh pocket large enough for an iPhone 6s Plus

• Adjustable inner gaiter

• Reinforced bottom hem

• Front fly

• Reflective safety details

• Pre-shaped knees

• Suspender attachment

• Flat pocket construction

ITEM NUMBER: B74
SIZES: Men’s S – XL
WEIGHT: 20.56 oz (583g)
FABRIC: Main – Ectoshield™ (90% Nylon, 10% Spandex) • Bottom hem insert – Superfabric® • Inner gaiter – 100% Nylon
FIT: Regular

Not a ton of info from the manufacturer so I’ll break into some real life impressions starting with the choice of fabric.

Materials

La Sportiva uses a proprietary “Ectoshield™” material which is a 90/10 Nylon/Spandex blend. In hand it feels like a durable unlined soft shell very similar to Schoeller™ products I have used before. It is noticeably stretchy and feels quite abrasion resistant. The waist belt has a soft micro fleece lining on the band. There’s an adjustable nylon inner gaiter along with a heavier re-enforced crampon patch on the inner leg and adjustable outer cuff.

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La Sportiva Castle Pant Review
La Sportiva Castle Pant Review
Zippered lower leg with adjustable cuff

This adjustable cuff is a nice feature as I can snap then tighter when wearing ice climbing boots or have a bit more room for my ski touring boots. Since I rarely wear gaiters while ice climbing the option to snug them up is quite nice!

It is highly likely there is a DWR treatment applied despite no mention of it on the manufacturer’s website. I climbed in them through very drippy conditions and they definitely resisted getting damp.

Fit

They fit great under my harness and are quite comfortable on the approach. As a 180 pound 5’9″ 34 inch waist I went with the USA Medium size (Euro L/50). I found the sizing to be perfect for me. Check the size chart if in doubt:

EU S/46 M/48 L/50 XL/52 XXL/54
USA XS S M L XL
TOTAL HEIGHT 5’6″ – 5’8″ 5’8″ – 5’9″ 5’9″ – 5’10” 5’11” – 6”0″ 6’1″+
SLEEVE 31 – 32 32 – 33 33 – 34 43 – 35 35 – 36
INSEAM 31 32 32 33 33
NECK 14.5 15 16 17 18
CHEST 36 38 40 42 44
WAIST (CLIMBING/CASUAL PANTS) 30 – 31 32 – 33 33 – 34 34 – 35 36 – 37
WAIST (OUTERWEAR PANTS) 32 33 – 34 35 – 36 37 – 38 39 – 40

Performance

After a half dozen climbing days in these I’m thinking these may be my go-to ice pants this season. The 10% spandex material gives complete freedom of movement, and they feel like they can take a bit of climbing abuse from time to time. While they fit my body quite well there are both belt loops and suspender attachment points to facilitate every body shape.

La Sportiva Castle Pant Review
Setting up some top-ropes at the North End of Cathedral while guiding

Summary

This is an excellent option for a dedicated ice climbing pant that can serve double duty as a lightweight back-country ski touring pant, something that many New England climbers, back-country skiers, and skimo folks might be looking for. Here’s a short vid of me rocking these pants a few days ago at Frankenstein in Crawford Notch:

If you’d like to pick up a pair you can find them on Backcountry.com here and Amazon here.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

While I received this item from La Sportiva for the purposes of this review the opinions above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.