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

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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!


Other Media

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Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start
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Gear Review: Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack

This past September I was excited to receive the new Cassin Eghen 22 backpack to review. This alpine style pack had won “Editor’s Choice 2017” from Climbing Magazine who called it a “super tech summit pack”. Indeed this relatively small pack has a long list of features designed with both practicality and convenience in mind.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Huntington Ravine Trail, Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

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How I tested

Over the Fall I took this pack rock climbing in both crag settings and alpine. I was able to get over 30 pitches of climbing in with it before switching gears to ice climbing and have since tested this pack in Huntington Ravine (Pinnacle Gully), Mount Willard, and Cannon (Black Dike). I’ll share the manufacture specs and description then get into my personal test results.


Specifications

  • 22-liter technical pack for rock, ice and mixed mountain ascents
  • Very strong fabric with reinforced Cordura bottom
  • Technical ice axe holders with a head-locker system on the bottom and Velcro straps on top
  • External helmet carrying system can be stowed away when not in use
  • Frameless back is lined with a removable 6 mm rigid pad that can be used as an emergency bivy pad
  • Connection points for the bottoms of the shoulder straps is higher for better weight distribution while climbing
  • External rope carrying system
  • Innovative new fast pull cord closure system has been optimized for use with gloves
  • External waterproof pocket for maps, phones and other essentials
  • Zippered inner pocket for valuables
  • Inner gear loop for organizing
  • Fixed daisy chains with compression straps for securing gear to the outside of the pack
  • Buckles are optimized for use with gloves
  • Removable waist belt with two adjustment points
  • Removable chest strap is height adjustable
  • Burly handle on top for hauling and clipping
  • Hydration compatible
  • WEIGHT

    915 g, 32.3 oz

    SPECS

    ID: 2446
    Volume: 22 L

    Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
    Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine Mount Washington, New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Description

Pizzo d’Eghen is the wildest and most remote mountain in the Grigne group in the Central Alps above the town of Lecco, the home of Riccardo Cassin. In 1932, Cassin first climbed one of his great routes on the Pizzo d’Eghen, ascending the huge chimney in the middle of the wall. The Eghen 22 is a tribute to this historic climb, the very kind of adventures it has been designed for. Elite alpinists and multi-pitch climbers have long been asking us for a purpose-built pack with the Cassin touch. It is here with the Eghen 22. The Eghen 22 is designed for fast and light missions on multi-pitch rock and ice routes. The bottom is constructed from super strong Cordura 500D and the side walls are constructed from strong, lightweight PU coated 210D HD Ripstop nylon. Maxed out, the Eghen 22 has 22 liters of capacity. When not full, the pack is designed to be compressed so it maintains a trim profile. The frameless back gets some rigidity from the removable 6mm rigid foam pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad. Other cold weather features include a new fast pull cord closure system and new buckles all designed for ffective use with gloves, and streamlined technical ice tool holders that can be stowed away when not in use. Essential multi-pitch climbing features include a removable waist belt, external waterproof pockets for the route map, an external rope carrying system that allows the rope to be carried on the top or bottom of the lid and an external helmet carrying system that stows away when not in use.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Fairy Tale Traverse, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle , Huntington Ravine Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Review

Durability: While difficult to gauge long-term durability when I’ve only put about 20 field days on the pack I can attest that some of those days were quite rugged with tight chimney squeezes and others had plenty of exposure to sharp pointy things (ice axes, screws, crampons). As mentioned in the description the bottom is built from a strong Cordura but not called out is the added durability gained from the innovative external waterproof pocket on the top “lid” of the pack. This favorite feature of mine makes the top of the pack feel as durable as the bottom and gives me a bit of confidence if I need to haul this pack up through a tight chimney. At the end of the test period the pack still looks great with no punctures, abrasions, lose seams, etc.

Comfort: For a 2 pound summit tech pack this one rides really well. That’s due in part to the nicely contoured gel-like shoulder straps and the 6 mm removable foam back pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad (or a great splinting aid). Since this is a frame-less pack I wouldn’t chose to remove the back pad for any reason other than a first aid/bivy need as you would feel and rigid objects quite acutely. The thin waist belt (also removable) helps keep the pack centered when rock hopping the shifting talus field below Cannon cliff, and the sternum strap fully stabilizes the load.

Features: For a pack this size the list of features is incredibly long. I won’t relist everything already mentioned in the specifications and description but want to draw attention to both my favorite features, and what I feel might be missing or need improvement.

Waterproof Pocket

High on my list of favorites is the waterproof pocket. Interestingly Cassin calls this “external” but it is only accessible through the top draw-cord closure system so I think it should be considered “internal”. Regardless I don’t always carry my iPhone in a waterproof case and having this pocket that easily fits my phone, field book, headlamp, and lighter, has provided a nice bit of assurance that stuff that shouldn’t get wet won’t. If they made it accessible from the outside it would be even better and could actually be called “external”.

Helmet/Ice Tools Lashing

With multiple options for strapping on this equipment it took me a couple trips with my Cassin X Dream ice axes to figure out how to properly use the bottom straps. If you don’t run the straps through the “eye” on the head of the ice axe they can feel a little awkward when attached. However the redundancy of both a Velcro and a shock cord fastener for my ice axes assures even if I don’t use the bottom attachment correctly I am unlikely to lose my axe while glissading down off a climb. The shock cord fasteners also make a quick helmet attachment as the stoppers easily fit through the ventilation holes on my Petzl Sirocco helmet for quick securing.

Pack Closing System/Access

There is only one entry point to this pack and that is through the top via a type of “fold over” lid that covers a draw-cord “tube” style entrance. The draw-cord closure works well with gloves on both while opening and closing. Where I could see improvement would be the fastening strap that secures the “fold over” type lid. It’s upper attachment is at the bottom of this lid so if you strap a rope under this lid it carries pretty far away from you. If this strap was attached closer to the back panel I could carry the rope closer to my body, where I prefer.

UPDATE: Soon after posting a reader clued me in to the fact that the internal strap that I hadn’t found a use for could be threaded through the hydration port hole and provide an excellent way to keep the rope closer to the back, and directly over the waterproof pocket. I can now see this works great and wish there was more instruction either included with the product or available online!

Compression/Bells & Whistles

The pack comes with two compression straps and a helmet strap not installed and the literature with the pack provided no instructions on how to install these straps so they have sat unused in my gear room. None of the manufacture photos show these straps in use and I could not find any direction on their website, so that could be addressed! And while I don’t like “bells” on my backpacks I certainly like having a sternum strap whistle on all my technical backpacks. It’s come in handy to often to not always look for it!

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Summary

The Cassin Eghen 22 is a remarkable backpack. It’s not a true “bullet” pack and is more featured than your typical minimalist “summit” pack making it quite versatile. Designed for “alpinism, rock climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and ice climbing” this pack certainly performed well when tested during all these endeavors. If you are in the market for an advanced technical climbing pack take a close look at this one!

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See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review- LaSportiva Boulder X Approach Shoes (and Giveaway!)

The LaSportiva Boulder X approach shoes are a rugged and supportive trail shoe best suited for rough trails and heavy loads. This past summer I received a pair to review and have since put about 80 miles on them and am ready to share my opinion on them.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
LaSportiva Boulder X Review

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Weight

Right out the box I noticed they are significantly heavier than most of my other approach shoes weighing in at 2 pounds 2 ounces (968 grams) for my size 42’s. It is easy to feel the weight difference when compared to the super light LaSportiva TX 2’s that I reviewed here, which only weigh 1 pound 5 ounces (592 grams), however these two shoes perform differently based on the design choices and task at hand. Let’s look at some of the details.


Fit/Comfort

For reference I am a US Men’s size 9 (European 42) with a medium forefoot width, medium heel width, and slight Morton’s toe. I received a size 42 in these and they felt slightly snug in the forefoot but the relatively thick padded tongue and all leather upper packed out and broke in nicely after about a dozen miles. The removable LaSportiva “Fit-thotic) insole has a nice amount of cushioning and is more than just a flimsy insole. Under the removable insole is a 2 mm polypropylene insole, then a Micropore EVA mid-sole, and finally a Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear™ with Impact Brake System™ out-sole. This is a ton of support underfoot that translates to less foot fatigue after grueling days on rugged terrain but also has some negative effect on climbing performance that we will get to below.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
LaSportiva Boulder X Review

 Hiking Performance

The LaSportiva Boulder X’s are great on rocky terrain and rough trails. The Vibram® out-sole offered plenty of traction in dirt, mud, and scree. After a short break-in period I could hike for 8+ hours in these and my feet would not be sore at the end of the day. This is because of the stiffer than most sole. You won’t feel every little pebble or protrusion under foot as you move through the mountains. They are also heavier than most so you might feel a little more leg fatigue after a long trail run. Because of this added weight and stiffness these would make a great early Spring/Summer alpine approach shoe if you need to occasionally cross snowfields. They will be able to edge in Spring snow better than lighter weight models and would match well with some Kahtoola Microspikes when added traction is needed.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author heading off on an alpine adventure while testing the LaSportiva Boulder X approach shoes- photo by Matt Baldelli

Climbing Performance

The stiffness that helps prevent foot fatigue and provides so much support has positive and negative effects on the LaSportiva Boulder X’s climbing performance. The stiffer sole makes edging feel more secure but this also compromises the shoe’s ability to smear. It’s a trade off that can not be avoided. These felt great in all 4th class and low 5th class terrain but the author would swap into dedicated climbing shoes for 5.5 and above.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author on in alpine climb in Huntington Ravine- photo by Matt Baldelli 

Durability

These are definitely one of the more rugged models of approach shoes I have tested in recent years. This comes with having a full leather upper and a full circumference sticky rubber rand in addition to the relatively thick Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear out-sole. After 80+ miles and thousands of feet of scrambling and climbing the shoes are still in great condition. I’d expect the soles of these to provide 500-1000 miles of rugged trail use before needing a re-sole.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear™ with Impact Brake System™- LaSportiva Boulder X Review

Pack-ability

When thought of as a hiking or trekking shoe this category wouldn’t matter that much, but as an approach shoe we must consider how pack-able the shoes are when it’s time to don more technical rock climbing shoes and in this case these shoes are quite heavy and bulky. While that extra weight equals more support and durability there is a definite trade off if you need to clip these to the back of your harness or stuff them into a small climbing pack.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author belaying his partner on Cloud Walkers, Huntington Ravine, New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Summary/Best Use

The LaSportiva Boulder X is a durable and supportive hiking/trekking shoe that can cross over to approach shoe realm by climbing technical routes better than most trail shoes but not as well as lighter approach shoes more dedicated to that cause. The stiffer soles are great for people who find their feet sore after a rugged hike and also make this a great choice for aid climbers who spend time standing in aiders. If support and durability are high on your list of priorities you should take a close look at these. If lightweight, pack-ability, and climbing ability is more prudent than take a look at my review of the LaSportiva TX 2’s!

(available in Men’s and Women’s)

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LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author about to hike down the famous Huntington Ravine Trail while testing the LaSportiva Boulder X approach shoes- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

Contest & Giveaway:

The good folks at Friendly Foot have supplied me with a steady flow of the best damn foot-powder in the whole world. Every footwear review will offer a chance to win a bottle of this awesome sauce. Contest ends 10/31/17 12:00 am EST. To enter just click the link below!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review- Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants

I’ve been wearing the Black Diamond Alpine Softshell pants almost daily for the last 5 months and have been really happy with their performance. A true three season pant I’ve worn them on sunny low 70’s days rock climbing on Whitehorse Ledge, blustery Mount Washington ascents (including my two hour car to car of Pinnacle), late season ice climbing, and summer alpine climbing in the Cascades. These were the only pant I wore for successful summits of Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Mount Rainier. All told they have seen over 200 miles of hiking and 30,000 feet of climbing and still look and perform great! Let’s take a look at why these are suitable for such a wide variety of adventures!

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review

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Comfort- Temperature Range

Probably the best feature of these pants is how they have a very large range of temperature comfort. This is primarily achieved by Black Diamond’s proprietary four-way stretch fabric (88% nylon, 12% elastane) with a DWR finish. The material is soft enough on the inside that it feels great on bare legs and so breath-able that I could wear them on high humidity warm days during bug season without any discomfort. I actually found myself not climbing in shorts this season because I liked the added protection of a full pant like this pretty much every time I headed into the woods. Despite being so comfortable in warm and humid conditions the DWR treatment and weight of the material offered enough protection for them to be perfect in blustery alpine climbing conditions. I wore them exclusively for all three summits mentioned above and they were perfect even for our 1 AM below freezing alpine starts. A lightweight or mid-weight long underwear pant can easily expand the cold weather capabilities of these though I would pack a hard-shell to zip on over them in extreme cold/windchill/wet conditions.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Author wearing the pants at 11,000 feet on the Ingraham Glacier during crevasse rescue practice- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Comfort- Sizing/Fit

The second best feature of these pants is how well they fit. For reference I am 5′ 9″, 180 pounds, with a 34 inch waist and 32 inch inseam. I went with a size medium and they fit me quite well. They may be an inch long in the inseam but that is only noticeable if I am wearing flip-flops. Once I have trail shoes or boots on they do not feel too long at all and the stretchy material makes rolling them up around the calves for rock climbing super easy. The stretchy material also stays in place around the calf while I am climbing while other pants sometimes un-roll on me mid-pitch if I don’t fuss with a good “tight-roll”. There is also a hem-cord at the ankles that can help keep them tight around your boot or calf with just one pull.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Sizing Info from Black Diamond

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Protection

These offer protection in quite a few ways. They are light enough to serve as bug/poison ivy/pricker protection in warm weather. They are durable enough to protect bare legs from rock abrasion while scrambling and climbing. They are virtually wind proof to guard from wind-chill (though I would add a hard-shell pant to my pack if looking at a wind chill advisory). They are water-resistant enough thanks to the DWR coating to deal with light precipitation and when they do get wet they are super quick drying. If glissading on Spring snow is on the agenda I would also add a hard-shell to the kit.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
My everyday work pant- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Features

I really like the integrated adjustable web belt and have not had any need to wear an additional belt but low profile belt loops are included anyways. The pant fits great underneath the two harnesses I used with it, the Petzl Sitta (reviewed here) and the Petzl Altitude (review coming). Two zippered hand pockets are perfectly positioned and a zippered right thigh pocket is large enough for my iPhone 6s Plus in its Hitcase Shield waterproof case <- great iPhone case by the way! There is also a zippered right rear pocket to round out the features of this pant.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Summit of Mount Rainier, July 27th, 2017- photo by @cfphotography
Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
The author on some late season ice last March begins testing the Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants- photo by @cfphotography

Summary

While I wore these for almost 5 months it was the two weeks that I lived in them in the Cascades that really won me over. Light enough to sleep in yet rugged enough to handle thousands of feet of alpine scrambling. I will likely be wearing these regularly for the rest of the New England Fall climbing season and they will probably go out on some fair weather ice climbing days this winter, though I have a couple heavier soft-shell pants that need to be reviewed this season as well. If you are in need of a versatile climbing pant backed by a great company this model deserves a very close look!

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Disclaimer: This product was provided to the reviewer for purpose of review and all opinions expressed are genuine. All product links above are affiliate links. Using those links to make a purchase supports Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you.

Cascades Climbing Trip Gear List

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. Since I have two more trip reports for the Cascades coming soon 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 report.

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 HiLight Tent

Black Diamond HiLite Tent

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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sterling Evolution Duetto Dry Rope, 30m 8.4mm

Sterling Rope Evolution Duetto Dry Rope

A solid choice for glacier and ski mountaineering trips.

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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.

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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!

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Suunto MC-2 Compass

Suunto MC-2 Compass

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

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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!

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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!

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Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

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

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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.

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Petzl Actik Headlamp

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

I recently upgraded from my older Petzl Myo model and this new model is awesome! Up to 260 hours of burn time and able to through light 90 meters! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!

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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.

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Quality Survival Lighter

UST Floating Lighter

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

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Garmin Fenix 3 HR 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.

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GoPro Hero 5 Session

GoPro Hero5 Session

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!

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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!

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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.

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Black Diamond Alpine Pant

Black Diamond Alpine Pants

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!

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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?

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 Clothing to be linked soon:

Arcteryx Mid-weight Synthetic Insulated Hoody

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 and stay tuned for next week’s trip report of The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

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Review: Petzl Sitta Harness

Reblogging this review from last Fall after noticing it on a strong sale price online! If you’re looking to upgrade your harness this rock season you should take a look!

Northeast Alpine Start

The Petzl Sitta (pronounced SEE-Tah) is a stand-out harness in the very small and exclusive class of high-end technical harnesses. I bought my first top-of-the-line harness back in 1995 when I realized I was addicted to climbing. The Petzl Guru was a stand out at that time both for its notice-able rescue orange color and its high price point (it was double what most harnesses cost in the 90’s).

Petzl Sitta Review Petzl Sitta Review

Buy on Backcountry.com 25% off right now!

Despite the price tag I never regretted the purchase as it was really comfortable for the era and served me well for the start of my climbing career from Red Rocks to the Rockies and back East. Since I retired it around 2000 I’ve gone through a steady stream of harnesses, almost always Petzl; Adajama, Corax, Calidris, Sama, another Adajama, then a Hirundos (review), and now the Petzl Sitta.

Let’s…

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