Climbing Gear Reviews


In my 20 years of climbing, I have bought and used a lot of climbing gear. These reviews represent my experience as a regular climber - not a professional - who is not sponsored and has always paid for all my gear with a few exceptions that are noted. Please see my gear list for all my current gear.

DISCUSSION FOR 2014
2014 brings my continuing search for the perfect alpine boot and lightweight summit/day pack. In late 2013, I upgraded almost all my outer layers with lightweight pieces from Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear for my Manaslu climb. It cut over a pound from my list, gave me increased flexibility and improved my rain and wind protection.

Alan's Gear Rules (under continuous development)

1. Layer next to skin must be merino wool - breathes, wicks and doesn't stink plus feels good.
2. Tops must have zips and collars - manage core temperature via venting or pull up to protect neck from sun and/or cold
3. Jacket must have hood - integral part of core warmth system also serves as a stuff bag
4. Shell leg layer must have full length zips - must to get over boots and/or crampons in a hurry in bad weather
5. Keep Neutrogena's Spectrum Plus Sunblock and Lip baum in outside pockets for easy access and frequent use
6. Always have snack in pocket for easy access. If it is a hassle to reach, you will not use it.
Same goes for camera.
7. Use stuff sacks for small items and hoods for jackets or just stuff them into the open space in your pack.
8. Always keep a 'biner or two on the outside of your pack, handy for securing loose items and emergencies.

Summit Socks (and boots)

REI Merino Wool Expedition SocksAs I packed my gear for Manaslu, I looked at my pile of socks.

Summit socks, I need summit socks. Wait you say, are summit socks different than climbing or trekking or any other kind of socks? Glad you asked.

By the time you are ready to go for the summit of a big cold mountain like Aconcagua, Denali, Manaslu or Everest, your body is pretty beat up. The training, trekking and acclimatization has taken a toll, especially on your feet.

There is not much you can do about it at this point other than putting on a good pair of NEW, dry, clean socks.

The key word is new. Each time we wear socks during a climb, they absorb moisture, grit and loose a bit of their padding and bounce. In the end, they don't quite do the job you need at 8000 meters with crampons attached to your boots in cold snow at 40 below zero in ... well you get the idea.

I have used socks from a lot of different companies, all claiming to be the best. They promote their mixture of wool, nylon, elastic with extra padding here or there. Some come with individual toes, some come without toes at all. And they all come at a big price, $20 or more for a pair of socks.

Sock Strategy

Socks are actually a bit complicated. I call it my sock strategy. Two thick pairs, two medium pairs, maybe a liner and a thick sock, maybe just one thick? A lot depends on your boot and also how warm or cold your feet get. I think this is highly individual and deserves a lot of experimenting - before you leave home!

I have tried all the aforementioned strategies and have settled on using one thick pair. As for my summit socks, I use the same style and thickness so after staring at my Manaslu gear for too long, I rallied and went down to REI for a new pair of summit socks - their merino wool expedition socks for $16.50.

Now, sitting in my tent at 7400 meters on Manaslu, I reached into my pack and pulled out my NEW, dry, clean socks. Gently I teased them on - a moment of comfort in a harsh world up high. As I pulled on my 8000 meter boot liners, I could feel the wool against my soles. Once I put the outer boots on and stood up, I could hear my toes laugh out loud in glee. OK, I know this is a bit too much; but seriously they were comfortable and made all the difference in the world and for my mental state.

As I climbed that day, my feet felt good - warm and comfy.

My conclusion: buy a new pair of good socks and only wear them one time - on the summit push! You'll never regret it.

Foot Warmers

One more comment on protecting your toes. I used the Hotronic foot warmer on Everest and Manaslu with mixed results. The good news was when they worked, they were fantastic. The bad news, on both climbs, I had battery issues. Even after leaving home with a full charge, it is difficult to keep the rechargeable batteries topped off during a long expedition and my battery packs ran out after a short time on both climbs.

On Everest, we made a sudden departure from Base Camp and I never had the opportunity to top them off. They lasted a few hours on the medium setting. On Manaslu, one battery pack was inadvertently turned on in my pack and was dead when I tried to use it. The other lasted all day at the lowest setting. If you, unlike me, can manage the battery issues properly, I highly recommend them.

Boots

While we are talking about feet, lets quickly cover boots, a subject I detest. People always ask me what boots should I buy for Aconcagua, Rainier, Everest. My answer - I don't know!

I have owned more pair of boots than socks - and that is a lot. And I have never been totally happy. I hear fellow climbers sing the praises of their boots - "best ever; my feet never get cold/wet; you HAVE to buy these: and on and on. Well, I'm happy that you are so happy - NOT!

I struggle with boots. They are too narrow, too wide, too short. I get black toenails, blisters. My feet get hot, my feet get cold. My shins are worn bare. All that said, I do survive.

I have used the older models of Millet, La Sportiva and currently Kayland on my 8000m, Vinson and Denali climbs. I have short, wide feet - like a duck - and wear a 8.5 street shoe and a 9 for climbing boots. I have never had frostbite or suffered too much so these three brands have served me well.

On 8000 meter mountains the standard design are double boots with an integrated knee high gator. In my observation two brands dominate the scene: Millet and La Sportiva. But there are many out there that work just as well.

One of the biggest challenges in finding a pair of 8000 meter boots is that feet swell at altitude. So if they fit in the store, they might not fit on the summit. The best advice I can give is to go to a store and try them on with your summit socks :). The rule of thumb is to buy at least one size larger than your street shoe size. But widths vary greatly so buy the pair that fits the best from that store.

You can buy the online and save money but if they don't fit, there is the hassle of returning them. Pay the extra, get expert advice and support your local store. If your local store does not carry these, select your online store carefully.

Just like socks, wear them on a few long days at home to make sure there will be no surprises on the mountain. And, make sure your crampons fit, especially the strap since these boots are big.

This is a quick survey of some of the 8000 meter boots available. Many of these boots have been updated for 2013 or 2014 with better fit and lighter weights (mainly through a new sole) so beware of online stores selling the brand at low prices.

8000 Meter Boots
EVEREST SUMMIT GORE-TEX scarpa_phantom_8000 Lowa Expedition 8000 RD GTX
Millet Everest Summit Gore-Tex La Sportiva Olympus Mons Evo Scarpa Phantom 8000 Lowa Expedition 8000 Rd GTX
1330g/2.93 lbs each 1413g/3.11 lbs each 1330/2.93 lbs each 1274/2.81 lbs each
$999 $990 $899 $995
updated updated
Asolo Manaslu GV

kayland 8001

Asolo Manaslu GV
Kayland 8001
1531g/3.37lbs 1580g/3.48 lbs each
$1050 $800
updated

Alternatives

Many of these same manufactures offer a 6000 meter version by making the inner boots non-removable. This saves weight but still keeps the boot warm. Obviously, many of these boots would be great on Denali, Vinson or for any extreme cold weather climb.

As for alternatives on lower climbs, I am still partial to the Koflach Arctis Expe, a proven double plastic design. When combined with an overboot like the 40 Below Everest Overboots, and/or the Intuition Liner you have a flexible combination that could take some climbers to the summit of any mountain. I have used the Kolfach/overboot combo on Aconcagua and Denali several times.

If you are looking for the latest however, investigate the La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX and the very popular Nepal EVO GTX

My Patagonia Layer System - October 2013

As I planned my September 2013 climb of the world's 8th highest mountain, Manaslu (26,759 feet 8156 meters), I looked at my gear carefully. It had worked well on Everest and the 7 Summits plus countless other climbs but I wanted to reduce weight and frankly some of it was worn out with rips and thin spots. So I focused on upgrading my upper body layers.

With that in mind, I went to the Patagonia website for some ideas and ended up replacing my warmth and wind layers. I am extremely pleased with the results. I have always been a big fan of Patagonia and have a lot of their kit which I usually buy on sale. With these new purchases, I am a devote' for life.

Patagonia Ultralight Down JacketI had used the Patagonia Micropuff Hooded jacket for years. It was my go-to warmth layer and was almost always in my pack from Vinson to Everest. It was the only top layer I wore on many of the 7 Summits. But I had ripped it and it did not pack very small but still met my needs. However, it was time to replace it. I liked the primaloft fill since it didn't degrade when wet but I loved the idea of a new generation of lightweight down jackets as demonstrated by Mountain Hardwear's Ghost Whisperer and Patagonia's Ultralight Down Jacket with Hood.

I bought the Ghost Whisperer but returned it after mistakenly ordering the hyperblue color - it was shinny and a bit too "blue" for me. Plus I was nervous about how fragile it appeared in spite of talking to people who had used it with success for a year. Given all this, I then ordered the Patagonia Ultralight. I have not looked backed.

The jacket is unbelievably light coming in at 9 ounces. It packs to the size of an overgrown grapefruit and is warm, warm, warm. At times, I forgot I was wearing it on Manaslu. The fabric is tough and rejected my clumsy moves against sharp rock, ice and pro. And I love the hood. Regular readers will note my affection for hoods and all my jackets have one. This one adds at least 10 degrees to the warmth value for me. I took my heavy and bulky but trusted Feather Friends Volant 800 fill down jacket and never took it out of the stuff sack.

Bottom line: a great jacket that is so light you might not notice.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 9.3 oz
  • Shell and lining: 0.8-oz 10-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a Deluge® DWR (durable water repellent) finish.
  • Insulation: 800-fill-power premium European goose down
  • Full hood
  • $350 from Patagonia
  • Warm
  • Sheds moderate snow or light rain
  • Collapsible
  • Excellent hood
  • Layers well
  • slim fit

 

  • Expensive
  • Susceptible to very sharp objects
  • Down not waterproof
  • Does not pack into pocket

Patagonia TroposphereThe second jacket I needed was a replacement for all my wind/rain/snow shells. I have quite a collection now ranging from heavy Gortex versions to light wind layers. But I wanted something that would repel a heavy rain or wet snow plus give me protection in a gale. This selection was more difficult than the down jacket.

Gear manufacturers have gone nuts in this category in my view offering so many choices that I just gave up many times as I shopped. I wanted something light, it had to be wind and waterproof plus breathed (as much as anything waterproof breathes). It had to have a hood and I didn't want to spend $500.

The Patagonia Troposphere shell came into focus. It met my needs and was affordable. When I opened the packaging at home, I was a bit disappointed with the feel as it felt a bit plastic, more like a raincoat. But I gave it a go. And in my opinion, another winner. The material did "soften" a bit over time but more importantly it met my needs of rain and wind protection. In fact it also is pretty warm given the proper base layers underneath.

The pockets are well placed and generous and the hood is the right size - not too big or small. I wore it often on Manaslu and on some training climbs here in Colorado. It shed water like a duck and kept out the wind like a wall.

Bottom line: Keeps you warm and dry. What else do you need?

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 17.4 oz
  • H2No® Performance Standard 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable nylon stretch shell
  • Full hood
  • $300 from Patagonia
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Excellent Hood
  • Breaths well
  • Excellent pockets
  • Good neck protection
  • Layers well

 

  • Expensive
  • Fabric feels a bit plastic

Patagonia HoudiniFinally, I needed a new wind shirt. My Marmot Ion Wind Shirt had served me well for literally years but was developing holes and was not water resistant at all. Once again, this category is blessed with choices. But since I was on the Patagonia site, I looked at their Houdini wind shirt. It was priced right and offered what I wanted - small, lightweight, compressible and water repellent.

I found myself wearing this on the trek and climb almost as a base layer. If the wind picked up, it was the first layer I put on. If it drizzled, the Houdini came out. The hood was perfect, once again adding warmth to the equation.

Bottom line: Don't leave home without it

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 4 oz
  • Nylon ripstop with a Deluge® DWR (durable water repellent) finish
  • Full hood
  • $100 from Patagonia
  • Tiny
  • Light
  • Windproof
  • Good water repellent
  • packs in own pocket
  • Excellent for layering
  • Excellent hood

 

  • Pricey
  • Susceptible to very sharp objects

As always, my base layer was merino wool. I had a top and bottom from Icebreaker and am very pleased with them but most base layers made from this incredible sheep will work. I found myself climbing through 7000 meters often with the baselayer then one of the afore mentioned layers feeling warm, or cool, in spite of hot sun, harsh winds, snow squalls or anything else this 8000m mountain threw at me.

2012 Holiday Gifts

Looking for that perfect gift for your climber (or yourself) ? Hopefully this post will give you some ideas.

You don't have to spend a lot to make your climber happy! These are some ideas based on my own personal experiences.

If you have time and want the absolute lowest price, use the website Spadout. Do a search for your product and register to be notified for a lower price or the price you want to pay and be notified by email if one of their partners meets your needs. No tricks, just a great service! I have no connection to Spadout.

Other places to shop on-line but Spadout searches most of these include:

  • Sierra Trading Post - lowest prices on first, seconds and closeouts
  • Steep and Cheap - Incredible deals that last only a few minutes
  • REI Outlet - best deals on already great prices
  • Backcountry - full line on-line retailer with good review feature
  • Moosejaw - full line on-line retailer and this site has a real attitude
  • Campmor - full line on-line retailer for new gear at a discount
  • OMC Gear - full line on-line retailer with good phone service
  • TravelCountry - end of season deal specialists

Books for Inspiration

Annapurna

7 Summits Book The_time_Has_Come
The Ledge: A story of resilience and courage by my friend Jim Davidson. Trapped on Rainier in a crevasse, his partner dying ... the story reveals what humans can do. Annapurna: Maurice Herzog told the story of this moment in mountaineering history first person from his hospital bed. The first summit in 1950 of arguably the world's most dangerous mountain is a must for every climbing library. 7 Summits: A reference book for climbing the 7 Summits by a world authority. Mike Hamill has climbed the 7 over four times and some as many as 20. This book provides all the information you need to start your planning - even if you don't have a plan yet.

The Time Has Come: Ger McDonald made history being the first Irish to summit K2 but it cost him his life. This biography tells us about his remarkable life and the drama of that day in August 2008.

DVDs, Ebooks for that cold winter night

Everest High Expectations
Touching the Void: Probably the best climbing movie ever. The story of Joe Simpson's amazing survival after falling into a crevasse when partner Simon Yates cut his rope. Everest IMAX: The historic story of the 1996 disaster where 8 people died on a single day. The DVD tells the story from climber and filmmaker David Breashears viewpoint along with legend Ed Viesturs. This is the most popular IMAX film in history.

Everest-High Expectations

The story of two Canadian climbers trying put a new route up the world’s highest peak, the West Ridge from Tibet to the Hornbein Couloir. Told by summiteers Pat Morrow (1982) and Sharon Wood (1986), this is a unique way of story telling using the ebook format with 150 color photos, maps, archival video and audio recordings.

Organizations that are deserving of your gift of a membership or a donation

American Alpine Club: The premier US climbing organization where your membership also buys you an insurance policy while supporting the climber community. Nature Conservancy: Protecting ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. British Mountaineering Council: The largest climbing organization in the UK. Big City Mountaineers: Bring the gift of the outdoors to urban youth

Safety for your loved one


SPOT: let your family know you are safe when away from cell coverage. Also send an SOS. $120 Avalung: Allows an avalanche victim to breathe fresh air directly from the snowpack $130 Bivy: Emergency shelter when you need it $160

Stocking Suffers are everyone favorite!

Kahtoola: When traction is needed for hiking or running but crampons are overkill $60 Feathered Friends Booties: Solves the cold feet plus camp life problem with one warm slip on. $90 Honey Stinger: Natural honey based gel, waffles and chews that give you a boost naturally. I love the strawberry gel and the orange chews. $1.35 each

Inexpensive Gear at a low price, and great quality

Kinco Gloves: an incredible value for climbers, skiers or anyone who needs hand protection from harsh conditions. $19 Black Diamond Equipment Cosmo LED Headlamp: A must have in your pack for those emergences. Lightweight but big light in a small package. Buy at a great price at Sierra trading Post $21 REI Socks: Durable, comfortable socks at a reasonable price $11

Going Big with a Big Price, and Top Quality

The First Ascent Katabatic tent is the latest generation of serous expedition shelter. A three person, four-season expedition tent that took several years to design and prove is now available. Perfect for an expedition base camp $600 Mountain Hardwear has broken the mold with this 850 down filled jacket, the Ghost Whisperer™ Hooded Down Jacket that only weighs 7 ounces! Almost too light to be noticed, until you need it. $300 The Black Diamond Cobras ice axes have an intently loyal following for a reason. Perfect weight, lightweight yet rock solid construction and style to boot. what's not to love! $680 pair

For your Children

Alan holding a picture of Ida Arnette on the summit of Mt. Elbrus

Make a contribution to Alzheimer's. This is a devastating disease with no cure with caregivers being the silent victims. Make a difference this holiday season by learning the 10 warning signs and making a donation

Please Donate for Alzheimers Today

7 Summits Gear7 Summits Gear Review - December 2011

Climbing 8 big mountains in 11 months required many things but proper gear was a must. In this post, I will review what I used, what worked, what didn’t; taking it a layer at a time. To review, I did 8 climbs with 7 summits in 11 months. They were: Vinson (Antarctica), Aconcagua (South America), Everest (Asia), Denali to 17K when stopped by weather (North America), Elbrus-North (Europe), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania), Kosciuszko (Oceania). I will refer to the mountains as coldest: (Vinson, Denali and Everest) and warmest (Kilimanjaro, Carstensz and Kosciuszko) with Aconcagua and Elbrus in the middle. I am not a sponsored climber by an outdoor company and bought the majority of my gear with my own money with a few exceptions I note.  

CLOTHING

Base Layer - body and feet

I love merino wool and this year validated my confidence. I wore the same First Ascent (FA) top and bottom base layer on every climb - one pair without change. Even after 6 weeks up and down Everest, it never stank, felt clean and did what a base layer should do. While FA worked well (just learned they are discontinuing them), any merino wool base layer is a good buy (look at Icebreaker). I did use Patagonia polyester/spandex blend briefs while trekking and low on climbs and switched on summit pushes to a heavier Cloudveil wool/spandex brief for extra warmth. As for socks, I bought the cheapest pair of merino wool socks from REI. I used the same four pairs for all eight climbs. I always kept a pair in reserve for my summit night. Also I used a pair of somewhat thick merino socks for lounging in the tent and especially cold nights in my sleeping bag. They never went into a boot. As much I love my merino wool, I have a absolute favorite I have worn for years, the Mountain Hardwear Power stretch suit.  It is warm, protects from wind pushing through layers and very comfortable as a one piece suit. A life saver on the extreme days. I wore it on all the 'cold' climbs for summit night and above C2 on Everest.

Head, Hands and Eyes

First on the head covering, it is critical to note that every, and I mean every, jacket I own has a hood. It is a critical part of my overall system so when it gets windy or cold, I pull it up. I also wore a wool knit cap I bought 10 years ago as my primary skull hat. It is simple and effective. I took a ball cap for full sun days but only occasionally used it. I carried a full balaclava but again almost never used it, even on the Everest summit push. I used a thin Buff and it was a critical item keeping my neck and face warm but allowing easy ventilation. A must have on every climb. I wore several thin pairs of running gloves that wore through on every climb but protected my hands from excessive sun on the treks to base camp. My go-to gloves were from Mountain Hardwear (MH), where I had a pro deal. I used their Torsion gloves as my primary, mild weather layer and on Carstensz where the rock was razor sharp. As I gained altitude or the weather closed in I used the MH Medusa full gauntlet gloves with an incredible removable fleece liner. I user the liner more often than any other glove. But when it got cold, I pulled the Medusa’s on and was never cold. On Everest I used my Black Diamond (BD) Mercury Mitts with the MH liner. I could hold my ascender and clip in and out of the fixed ropes just fine. And my hands never got cold even in -20F temps at 40 mph winds. I did use chemical hand warmers from Grabber on Vinson, Denali and Everest - they worked well but not as long as advertised. Eye protection was simple, I used a pair supplied to me from Julbo, the Explorers. They were comfortable, and protected my eyes in all conditions from blizzards to bright sunny day. I liked the integrated strap for a tight fit in windy conditions. While I wore goggles on Everest, I could have used the Explorers from base camp to summit and back. The lenses did fog and freeze up on Vinson. I used the fashionable Beko nose guard on Denali.

Outer Layers

Bottoms

For the treks, including in and out on Everest and the warm climbs, I used the MH Matterhorn, zip-off thin nylon pants. On occasion I wore my base layer bottoms under these on chilly days. High on all the mountains, including Everest, I wore my Patagonia Guide Pants. They are lined and have a wind proof outer shell (polyester/spandex). My legs were never cold even in Antarctica when the temps were -30F at times. I appreciated the suspenders as I lost weight. Extremely satisfied with these pants. I almost always carried my emergency layer of the Arcteryx full Gortex Bibs on the coldest climbs. They serve as my bomber layer in extreme conditions - wind and water proof. I never used them on any climb, except Aconcagua, but they have saved my bacon several times in harsh conditions. I only experienced rain twice: Kili and Carstensz. Both times the Patagonia Rain Shadow jacket and pant were perfect - breathed well and kept me dry. I packed the MH Chugach pant for the coldest weather climbs (Vinson, Denali, Everest) and use them as a base camp lounging layer. They were warm and comfortable and added another layer if I ever got cold in my sleeping bag.

Tops and Shells

I always started with a merino wool (Ibex) as my shirt. If it was cold, I started with the wool base layer (FA). If I was a bit chilly due to wind, I wore my Marmot Wind Shirt. It weighs nothing and is always in my pack - and of course it has a hood! On this mid layer, I also used the Patagonia R1 Hoody. Very warm when used with layers and comfortable to boot. If it was raining like on Kilimanjaro or in wet snow on Everest in the Western CWM, I wore my Patagonia Rain Shadow. In windy conditions, I only used my Patagonia Jetstream jacket. Both accommodated my climbing helmet. I almost always had my Feather Friends Volent Jacket with me. This is an 800 fill down jacket (with hood) that I wore high on Everest and on breaks (Denali, Vinson) and when the winds and temps were extreme. Of note, many gear lists ask for heavier jackets but I have always been happy with this level. This was my warmest layer not counting my The North Face down suit that I used only on Everest.

Feet (boots)

Maybe the most critical item on my list, and the one I had the most difficulty with. I had two categories: trek and climb. Kayland had provided me with several boots and mostly they performed well. The key characteristic required for the 7 Summits was durability. I wore the Kayland Vertigo High for most of the treks and they worked well but failed me high on Kilimanjaro when I sprained my ankle. I used the Montrail Feather Peak with good results trekking on Kosciuszko and rock climbing on Carstensz Pyramid. On Aconcagua, Elbrus and Denali I used the Kayland 6001 mid weight boot. My feet got a little chilly and sometimes felt damp but otherwise they worked well and were lighter than a heavier double plastic boot. I did wear my 40 Below overboots with them on Denali and loved the overboots. On Everest used the Kayland 8001 boot with integrated gator similar to LaSportiva and Koflach. My feet stayed warm and I was pleased with the boot until the zipper failed. Thankfully it was after my summit but I was still on the South Col. I used string and duck tape to keep them together until I got down. Of note, this is not uncommon on many of these 8000m high gator boots so it is good to be prepared. I used the Hotronics footbed warmer on Everest but they gave out after 3 hours into my 12 hours day. While the batteries were going, they did add a bit of warmth to my feet. On Denali I used my trusted Atlas 12 Series snowshoes.

Sleeping

I used three different sleeping bags. For the coldest climbs, I used a MH down filled -20F Wraith bag and absolutely loved it. No need for the heavy and expensive -40 bag. The MH down filled 0F Phantom worked very well at base camp on the coldest and as my primary bag on the warmest. I did use a +20F synthetic bag on Carstensz where it was extremely wet. For pads, my primary pad for all climbs was the Exped Downmat - very comfortable and warm. On the coldest climbs I added the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite pad. For creature comfort, I always used a cotton pillow case (airplane sized) stuffed with my down jacket as a pillow, wore a pair of thick merino wool socks when extra cold and lounged in a fantastic pair of down booties from Sierra Design. On Denali, with the 24 hour sun, I used a pair of eye shades. Finally, I always slept in my wool knit skull cap. I used a Naglene collapsible canteen as a pee bottle.

Technical Equipment

My only harness throughout the climbs was the Black Diamond (BD) Chaos. Easy to get on and off with adjustable leg straps and double back belt. Also easy to attach or detach a variety of ‘biners as needed. Not as complicated as the often recommended BD Alpine Bod which requires ‘biners to complete the belt. My crampons were the BD Sabertooth Pro. I used the BD Raven Pro 75cm Ice Axe and my old Petzel Ecrin Roc Helmet. I bought a new BD Tracer but it was crushed in my duffel bag during transit. I mostly used BD carabineers and preferred the Nitron which has a smooth nose for easy on and off to fixed lines. My lockers were BD and jumar was my old trusted Petzel. The rappel device was the big BD Super 8 model to accommodate frozen ropes. I mostly used a headlamp from Princeton, the Quad BL and carried as a backup, the BD Ion. I only used lithium batteries. I took a pair of the BD Trail Shock pole and used only one most of the time and sometimes not at all.

Packs

I used the 85L Osprey for Vinson, Aconcagua, Denali and Elbrus where I carried large loads but preferred the Mountain Hardwear 70L South Face for smaller loads on Everest, Kili, and Carstensz. I would replace the Osprey with the MH BMG pack for my next big load trip. I used my very old BD 45L Shadow pack as my main trekking pack I packed everything into two Gregory XL duffel bags. Both have held up well for years. I never used my trusted MSR Dromedary hydration system but deferred to the old reliable Nalgene bottles for liquid.

Tents

My tents were supplied as part of the group gear. I ended up sleeping in Mountain Hardware Trango 3 or 4 person tents or the Eureka version. Both performed very well.

Stoves

The MSR Dragon Fly or XGK-EX is the favorite around the world.

Electronics

I used satellite phones to update this blog from across the globe. Thuraya was the phone on Everest but Iridium for all the other climbs, which was a mistake. I had continuous issues with Iridium not keeping a connection thus limiting my upload of pictures with my text dispatches. it was very frustrating and expensive. I recommend Thuraya when you can but they do not have coverage for Aconcagua, Vinson and Denali. I used the SPOT GPS tracker successfully. It allowed my family and friends to see where I was every step of the way all the way to the summits! Highly recommended. I took my Apple MacBook Air on all the climbs and to Everest Base Camp. it worked extremely well as did my iPods. My trekking camera was my old standby, a Nikon D50 and for climbing I took my Canon G7 but it failed on Everest so I switched to a Canon SD870 IS which worked very well.

Food and Snacks

Honey Stinger was my primary snack food. They gave me a nice discount and I found the honey was more digestible for me than other 'energy bars" but everyone is different in this area. I liked the CamelBak electrolyte tablets for my water - added flavor without being overbearing and made a difference in how I felt.

Summary

I have used most of this same gear for many years and it works for me. That said, there is a lot of good choices in the gear market today. The biggest mistake I saw was that many of my teammates brought too much gear - too many jackets especially. I used the same core set of gear for every climb thus reducing my weight plus simplifying the process when I needed to grab a piece quickly. And as always, mountaineering gear is all about layers - having the right ones on at the right time - not too cold, not too hot. Most of the gear I used and list on my site have newer versions but rarely offer a significant improvement so look for the features as you shop. As always, I recommend using the website Spadout (no affiliation whatsoever) to shop for the absolute lowest prices on gear. I rarely have paid full retail for any of mine.

Standouts/Must Have by Mountain:

Vinson

Eye care: Julbo Explorer warm sleeping system: MH Wraith -40F plus Exped Downmat

Aconcagua

Sturdy hiking shoes

Everest

Eye care: Julbo Explorer Shell Pants: Patagonia Guide pants Warm sleeping system: MH Wraith -20F plus Exped Downmat Warm summit system: down suit, 8000m boot

Denali

Eye care: Julbo Explorer Shell Pants: Patagonia Guide pant Warm sleeping system: MH Wraith -20F plus Exped Downmat Versatile Jacket system: FF Volent, Patagonia Hoody, MH Jetstream

Elbrus (north)

Warm summit layers: Patagonia MicroPuff, Patagonia Hoody

Kilimanjaro

Rain gear: Patagonia Rain Shadow jacket and pant Sturdy hiking shoes

Carstensz Pyramid

Sturdy gloves: MH Torsion Durable sleeping bag: MH +20F synthetic

7 Summits Standout Gear

  1. First Ascent Merino wool top and bottom base layer (UPDATE: First Ascent discontinued these at the end of 2011. I would suggest the Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 legging w/Fly.)
  2. Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Suit
  3. Patagonia Guide Pants
  4. Patagonia Micropuff Jacket
  5. Patagonia R1 Hoody
  6. Buff
  7. Julbo Explorer Sunglasses
  8. Mountain Hardware -20F Wraith Sleeping Bag
  9. ExPed Downmat
  10. Mountain Hardwear South Face pack
  11. Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro Crampons
  12. Sierra Design Down Booties
  13. Black Diamond Mercury Mitts
You can see my complete list here.

Patagonia R1 Hoody- February 2011

Patagonia R1 HoodyLayers are the key to staying warm, and sometimes alive, on almost any climb. Over the years, my layering system has become more refined as companies improve their clothing. Today, I am surprised at how light my system has become and also how few items I use on climbs from a Colorado 14er to Antarctica to Everest.

Patagonia has made significant contributions to my system and my latest addition, the R1 Hoody is a winner.

When I first saw other climbers, many professional guides, wearing it; I as struck by the - for lack of a better term - messy appearance the Hoody presented. They looked a bit disheveled with the hood skewed to one side. But in conversations, everyone talked about this top as a lifesaver and a miracle product.

So, while in the market to update my mid layer warmth top, I registered on Spadeout for a better price than the retail list of $150 and soon received an email saying it was on sale the day after Christmas for about $120. I immediately bought it and my lime green Hoody showed up in the mail a few days later

I must admit, I was not excited about the color (or the strange messy fit) but soon joined the ranks of believers. In a word, this top works. Today it is always in my pack and my primary warmth mid layer in cool, cold or even the harshest weather conditions. Here's why:

Patagonia has taken what they simply call fleece or really traditional Polartec material and made the inside a basket weave so that it creates an air layer on top of your base layer. This equals warmth and easy movement. They incorporated Capliene 4 stretch panels under the arms, cuffs and hem to increase flexibility but also to reduce bulk - especially useful when wearing a harness. It is extra long thus creating a nice tuck into my pants further creating that warmth layer. The sleeves have thumb holes which I really appreciate when adding or subtracting other layers. The cut is slim, some would call tight, but again reduces bulk so you never feel like you have an extra layer under a shell.

In my experience, the Hoody performs incredibly well. It breathes and wicks well yet maintains warmth. And I love the hood. The full length zipper allows for excellent venting or can be zipped up to almost serve as a balaclava just below my nose. The hood is generous enough to allow for a helmet. The mesh chest pocket is perfect for lighter items such as snacks, sunscreen or lip baum without being obtrusive. Finally, I can pack it into it's own hood creating a small lightweight bundle that nests in my pack.

The only drawback is that it does retain strong odors.

So back to that look - get over it! This top is one of the best ever and will grow in reputation over the years.

Bottom line: A must have for anyone needing an extra layer in the mountains ... or at camp

February 2013 Status Update: Still love it, still stinks! Would buy again.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 11.5 oz
  • Patagonia patented Regulator Insulation using recycled polyester (Polartec fleece with Capliene panels)
  • Full hood
  • $150 from Patagonia
  • Warm
  • Collapsible
  • Vents and wicks well
  • Excellent full chest zipper
  • Chest pocket
  • Thumb holes

 

  • Expensive
  • Look can be a bit messy
  • Retains odors

Kahtoola MICROspikes- February 2011

Kahtoola MICROspikesOver the years, I have found myself needing a little extra traction during my training climbs and hikes on snow covered trails. Normally I have used my crampons but this meant using heavier boots - a slippery slope of weight and necessary gear. I had read, seen and heard about microspikes for a while and finally got a pair. What was I waiting for?

Several different variations on this theme are available from different companies but Kahtoola's MICROspikes seemed to offer everything I needed. That said, they are a bit heavier and more expensive than the popular alternative from Yaktrax.

Weighing a little under 1 pound, there are eight metal spikes linked via chain link. This is attached to a strong, stretchable rubber frame that attaches around a shoe or boot. Advertised as a traction device that can fit in a purse or small bag, it is a compact package that fits, more appropriately for this review, in a day pack.

I have been using a pair this winter and am very pleased. They slip on very easily over regular trekking shoes, climbing boots or even my huge 8000 meter boots. They have a thin wire toe bail that fits neatly onto the front of a crampon compatible boot making a secure connection. However, if the boot does not have this, no worries since the frame fits snugly over any boot toe.

Unlike 12 point crampons, the MICROspikes feel smooth underfoot when on snow but not quite as secure. On rocks, they feel the same as crampons - rough and edgy. But in all cases, they provided that extra traction I needed. Clearly, these are not designed for true climbing, ice climbing or on any extremely steep technical terrain.

I did find the toe frame slipped upon aggressive moves so clearly they are not crampon replacements. Also snow clumping is inevitable and requires the random whack to keep the soles clean.

I like the Kahtoola's. I feel secure without overdoing it for a hike on snow. While I am not a runner, many love them and use them with normal running shoes.

Bottom line: An excellent traction solution when crampons are overkill

February 2013 Status Update: Had the links break on one pair but still use them often. Would buy again.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 14 oz
  • Stainless steel chain and 3/8 inch spikes
  • Rubber, stretched elastomer shoe frame
  • Available in small, medium and large sizes
  • $50 from Kahtoola
  • Fits almost any shoe or boot
  • Easy on/off with secure fit
  • Excellent, unobtrusive traction
  • Light and easy to tuck away in pack

 

  • Attachment to shoe can slip off on aggressive moves

SteriPEN Adventurer- September 2010 -updated

SteriPENStaying hydrated is one of the basic tenets of climbing. As the saying goes you can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without waters, 3 minutes without oxygen. I have traditionally used a filtration pump or, worse, iodine tablets to rid my water of giardia or other pesky bacterium or viruses. But the filters are bulky, weigh a bit and take up a lot of space in a tight pack. Iodine is, well iodine but is light and works well. So when a new technology from SteriPEN came onto the market, I was interested.

With my REI dividend, I bought one early in 2010 just before a trip to California's Mt. Whitney and a full summer of Colorado 14ers planned. Given how popular these areas have become, it is almost a requirement to filter water regardless of the source, however some would disagree with my view.

SteriPEN offers several models and I choose the Adventurer. This second generation model is in the middle of the line and is smaller, faster and cheaper than previous versions. I avoided the top of line Journey with some advanced features due to poor reviews I had read but I have no personal experience with it.

The Adventurer is simple to use, once you understand the blinking lights. A simple push of a button starts the cycle, wait for 3 flashes of a tiny green LED and you are ready to go. Simply immerse into a Nalgene type bottle and the white ultraviolet light illuminates. Stir gently and wait for the lamp to go off and your water if ready. Pretty simple.

SteriPEN uses ultraviolet light to clean the water. Their marketing material makes this claim:

Extensive microbiological and structural testing by independent laboratories across the U.S. and Canada has proven SteriPEN to be safe and effective, confirming the fact that SteriPEN’s UV light technology eliminates over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause water-borne illness. As a result, SteriPEN has earned the Water Quality Association’s Gold Seal, certifying that SteriPEN purifies water safely and effectively.

As for performance, they state:

SteriPEN purifies 16oz. (0.5L) in just 48 seconds; 32oz. (1.0L) in just 90 seconds. All without any pumping, timekeeping, or any added aftertaste or chemical odor.

I have now used the Adventurer for 5 months in a variety of conditions and have not changed the batteries. Overall I am pleased.

In real world use, I found a couple of tricks. First, I only use clear water bottles, not the colored ones since it makes seeing if the light is on or off much easier. Second, on multi-day trips, I always carry a wide mouth Nalgene with me even if my primary water storage is a bladder since it is virtually impossible to use the SteriPEN in a MSR Dromedary or Camelbak style water bladder.

One major benefit of using the SteriPEN is that since it is so light (3.6 ounces) you can always have it with you thus reducing the need for carrying 2 or 3 liters on a long day. Of course, this assumes you are in an area with available water. In addition to backcountry use, I know many people who use it regularly in third word countries on treks and treat all their water even in remote restaurants.

You do have to be careful to use somewhat clear water and if it is muddy, pre-filter the larger sediments with a bandanna before using the SteriPEN.

I do on occasion become confused with the blinking lights. A flashing red LED means the system is not ready or somehow failed to complete the cycle; I have had this happen from time to time. Also when it does not start up as expected, it introduces doubt in my mind the water has been really treated. But usually I wait a moment and start over and everything works as advertised. For these reason pus the unknown of battery life, I always carry iodine tablets (and extra batteries) with me as the ultimate backup but have never used them since owning a SteriPEN.

They have recently introduced a battery free model called the Sidewinder. This operates on the same technology but uses a hand crank to supply power. It screws onto a standard Nalgene style 1L bottle and has the same performance.

I have had excellent experience with the Adventurer in high mountain conditions, however it is not designed to work below freezing and REI does post this comment on their site:

On occasion, SteriPEN users have reported issues when using their device in water with a very low electrical conductivity, such as water from melted snow or ice. Since late 2008, all SteriPEN models have had their water sensors enhanced by doubling the sensor electrode voltage, thereby increasing electrical current flow in water with low conductivity to allow proper function in snowmelt and even mineral-free distilled water

update: I broke my own rule and forgot to take iodine as a back up on Aconcagua. The SteriPen failed to operate just presenting a confusing array of blinking lights. I was able to borrow pills from other members but felt let down. It is now relegated to my luxury list and something I will never count on again.

Bottom Line: I like the SteriPEN but cannot count on it. I view it as a luxury item. It is small, simple and fast. I like knowing my water is treated without chemicals and appreciate the maintenance free aspect of the technology - when it works.

February 2013 Status Update: Stop using after it let me down. Use iodine now. Not recommended if you are far from home. Consider the Sawyer Squeeze Filter

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 3.6 oz; 6.1"
  • Carrying Case
  • Two CR123 batteries
  • 100 treatments for 16 oz's/.5 L per battery
  • UV Lamp Life: 8000 treatments
  • $100 from REI
  • Effective
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Can carry less water and treat on the go

 

  • Cannot depend on it
  • LED's can be confusing
  • Depends 100% on batteries

Black Diamond Trail Shock Trekking Poles - July 2010

Black Diamond Trail Shock PolesTrekking poles have become as common as, well, boots for serious hikers and many climbers. The obvious benefit is to minimize the wear and tear on your knees, especially when descending a rough trail.

Studies have shown there is a measurable reduction on the joint load when using poles and this matches my personal experience. Also, I like having them for additional balance when crossing streams or traversing narrow logs.

I reviewed my long time favorite poles from Leki in May 2009 (see below) and made this comment:

The length adjustment seems to be the weak part of all trekking poles. A plastic compression joint expands and contracts when twisted thus allowing the two parts of the pole to be adjusted to the correct height - which is to have your forearm parallel to the ground when holding the grip. I have had mixed results with the reliability of this joint but Leki provides a repair kit when the plastic pieces fail. However it is frustrating when you apply pressure at a critical part of a move and the pole collapses into itself.

True to form, the joint finally failed, my fourth pair to do this so when I saw the Black Diamond pair on sale at Steep and Cheap, I decided to try them out. The primary difference from the Leki is that BD uses a snap lock system to adjust pole length. This is a simple plastic compression squeeze mechanism that you open and close with a firm thumb push.

I have used them extensively for the past several months on climbs of my Colorado 14ers. Overall I am quite pleased. They are stable, stay locked in place and are comfortable in the hand. I like the snap lock feature in that it is easy to operate, even with gloves, and provides a secure feeling that the adjustment will hold under stress. The handles is comfortable, again even with gloves.

While heavier than the Leki, the Black Diamond feel more secure to me. And that is critical when moving fast over rough terrain where loosing your balance may mean losing the day. My only complaint thus far is the fabric on the wrist strap is already tearing so check back in a year to see how they hold up but so far, so good.

It seems all pole designs have a weak spot but these BD look solid thus far. This is one time when I will trade a bit of weight for reliable performance.

Bottom line: A required accessory for anyone looking to save their knees.

February 2013 Status Update: Had both poles bend when I put them under stress. The snaps weakened and started to fail. Not very durable but still would recommend them if you can buy on sale.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 1 lb 4 oz; 27-55in
  • Dual-density grip, 360-degree padded webbing strap and a foam extension
  • Control Shock Technology
  • Double FlickLocks
  • Long Flex Tips
  • $110 from Black Diamond
  • Snap Lock stay locked
  • Collapse into small length (26")
  • Reduce load on knees
  • Comfortable grip
  • Easy to adjust to your height

 

  • Leash fabric wears easily
  • A bit heavy

Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 - July 2010

Big Agness Seedhouse 2OK, I have OCD when it comes to weight. At my age, every ounce counts. So when it came time to replace my backpacking tent, I looked long and hard for a lightweight 3 season tent that could hold me and potentially my pack in a heavy Rocky Mountain downpour. Also it had to pack small plus set up fast and easy. Finally, I wanted money left over to buy gas to get to the trailhead!

I looked at many brands and stumbled upon Big Agnes based in Steamboat Springs Colorado. They offer a full line of tents and the Seedhouse Series stood out to me. I bought the Seedhouse 2 a couple of years ago and have used it extensively for my climbing trips in the Colorado Rockies.

First the pros. It is incredibly easy to set up, even in windy conditions. The extremely lightweight aluminum poles snap together with an integrated zip cord and 3-way connectors that eliminates mistakes when assembling in rain or dark conditions. Tight plastic snaps attach the tent to the poles, again easy, secure and mistake proof. The rain fly is just as easy to add making a cozy home in a matter of minutes.

It is a free standing tent which means stakes are optional and I only use them if I think it will be windy not wanting to return from the summit and look for my tent down slope! The rain fly also creates a roomy vestibule that I use for storing gear or as an early morning kitchen while staying warm in my bag. Also, there are two small mesh floor pockets near the door on both sides for headlamps or midnight snacks. The headroom is excellent for such a small footprint.

Being a 3- season tent, the body of the tent is a fine nylon mesh to reduce weight. Of course this prevents it from being warm thus the 3-season specification. However, a heavier nylon rip-stop fly provides the real weather proofing. It is waterproof and ties nicely into the tent itself. I have successfully staked out my Seedhouse in harsh winter-type conditions with snow, heavy rain and winds plus temps below freezing. While not as warm as a double walled tent, it was manageable for a night or two.

OK, now the downsides. in very windy conditions, this design style allows dust to enter the tent as well as, umm, wind. So it is critical to stake the fly very close to the tent wall if you are expecting harsh conditions. But the biggest downside is that with lightweight comes a somewhat fragile product. My tent has developed a rip along the door seam. This is disappointing since the tent is solid otherwise especially the strong nylon floor.

The Big Agnes is a solid tent that meets 90% of my needs throughout the year. While not designed as a true winter tent, it can be used in some harsh conditions when properly setup. A nice tent for one but a push for two that would exclude any gear inside.

Bottom line: A good value for 3 season backpacking trips

February 2013 Status Update: Had mesh rip at zipper seam through normal use. Still use but might look at lighter, alternative tents.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • Packed weight: 4lb 3oz
  • 28 sq ft, 38" head room, 84"x 52"
  • Lightweight aluminum poles with press fit connectors
  • Fly is lightweight silicone treated nylon rip-stop with 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • Durable nylon floor with 1500mm waterproof polyurethane coating
  • All seams taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane (No PVC or VOC's) tape
  • $220 from Big Agnes
  • Excellent, simple design
  • Easy integrated pole assembly
  • Fast and easy setup
  • Roomy for one, tight for two
  • Nice ventilation on hot nights
  • Packs into small bag

 

  • Mesh tent wall has ripped for me
  • Can be drafty and cold in extreme conditions
  • A bit heavier than some current models

REI Flash18 Pack- July 2010

REI Summit PackSo you pack in your big backpack with 50lbs of gear for a couple of backcountry summits. After a 4:00 AM cup of coffee, you unload that big pack, reload with the 10 essentials; hoist the heavy yet now almost empty pack and head for the summit. What is wrong with this picture? In my obsession to minimize weight, I have never considered taking an extra pack just for the summit due to adding an extra pound or two to my load. Well that has changed.

On a recent visit to my local REI, I strolled through the pack department and saw what for lack of a better description was a stuff sack with mesh shoulder straps. They call it the Flash Pack.

It is a deceptively simple design. Basically a ripstop nylon sack with minimal shoulder straps. It closes tightly with a clever drawstring system and small flap to keep everything inside. It also features a hydration sleeve plus two small inside mesh pockets for sunscreen or a wallet.

I first used it as a stuff sack for my sleeping bag and it worked well enough until on one summit, I was hit by a torrential rain. My little REI pack was thoroughly drenched, and so was I. Almost everything inside my little pack was drenched as well. So when it came time to pack out, I had lost my dry stuff sack. So now I put a small plastic trash bag inside the pack to keep my essential contents dry. Also, my sleeping bag is back to it's own stuff sack. Kind of defeats the simplicity angle, I know. It might work as a tent stuff sack since the tent might be wet already however.

I do use the inside hydration sleeve for my MSR Dromedary 3 liter water bladder. A tiny thru hole allows easy access for the tube plus small elastic bands on the shoulder straps keep the tube near my chest. I also strap my camera to the other shoulder strap for easy access. I am impressed that such tiny straps support all this extra load. I also appreciate the daisy chain on the outside of the pack. While I would never use it for heavy tools such as crampons or an ice axe, I do attach my SPOT locater to them via a small carabineer.

The sternum strap is effective as is a tiny waste strap. However, I never carry more than 10 pounds with most of that being water that is drawn down as the day progresses. There is an emergency whistle built into the sternum buckle but I think it is not loud enough to replace a real one.

So this guy is now on my 10 essentials list for every trip, big and small. It is a great way to carry a few items for a quick stroll or a day long hike is good conditions. A nice design by the REI team with no fluff.

Bottom line: An inexpensive day pack perfect if only carrying the 10 essentials for a quick summit run or airline flight

February 2013 Status Update: Use occasionally. Found it to be a bit uncomfortable. Also, not waterproof so big problem if it rains. Use rarely these days.:

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 1100 cu in, 18 liters
  • 10 oz
  • Ripstop nylon
  • 10 x 9.5 x 8 inches
  • Inner hydration compartment
  • 2 small mesh internal pockets
  • $30 from REI
  • Lightweight
  • Holds 10 lbs well
  • Rides well
  • Daisy chain and gear loop
  • Internal storage
  • Can be used as stuff sack

 

  • Not waterproof
  • Shoulder straps can be fussy
  • Drawstring closure can be awkward at times

Black Diamond Cobra Ice Tools - February 2010

Black Diamond Cobra Ice ToolsIn ice climbing, tools make all the difference. Even though, I am not an expert on ice and climb less than ten times a year, I have been in the market for something new to replace my very dated Charlet Moser's. Recently, I had the opportunity to use a pair of Black Diamond Cobra's. While they have been on the market for a few years, BD continues to improve this model and did the unheard-of by putting them on sale at 20% off through their website. I jumped on it given I had a trip to Ouray in the next week.

The Cobras are a work of art, and engineering. With the shaft made from carbon fiber, it is lightweight and solid. Most of the weight is in the steel head thus making each swing feel easy and natural - just a flick of the wrist was often all it took to place a good pick.

The curved shaft provides excellent clearance over bulges, offered excellent reach and I never smashed my knuckles. There is virtually no vibration.

I appreciated the rubber grip fabricated into the lower part of the shaft. Some complain that the grip is too fat for small hands, which I have, but that was a not a problem for me. I wore my Hestra Alpine Pro leather gloves. The fang on the bottom supported my hand well and when I did need to move up to the strike to pull out of a tight pick, it worked well but was tad tight with heavy gloves.

They do not come with a leash and this was my first time climbing extensively leashless. I liked the freedom to switch hands, shake out instantly and the lack of clutter. However it was sometimes unsettling on WI4+ half way up a 150 ft climb, but I got more and more comfortable with not having them.

So why would someone like me buy such an expensive tool? Simply put, I focus on the long term and quality knowing I will not replace these for years and always have a great tool supporting my life.

Bottom line: An expensive tool that makes ice all the more enjoyable and helps you go beyond what you thought.

February 2013 Status Update: Love, love, love em. Did buy leashes for Alpamayo climb when if I dropped one, it was life and death. Highly recommended.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 50cm; 1 lb 6 oz/617 grams (Adze)
  • Stainless steel head
  • Chromoly steel pick
  • Carbon fiber shaft
  • co-molded rubber grip
  • $335 each from Black Diamond
  • Lightweight
  • Solid construction
  • Well balanced
  • Excellent clearance
  • makes other climbers jealous

 

  • Expensive
  • Grip might be fat for small hands
  • Leash not included

First Ascent Merino Wool Base Layer- February 2010

First Ascent Base LayerUPDATE: First Ascent discontinued these at the end of 2011. I would suggest the Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 legging w/Fly.

If you are a regular visitor to my website, you know I love sheep! OK, not actually sheep but their wool and specifically wool from merino sheep. It is the only layer that goes next to my skin these days on short winter day climbs or multi- expeditions.

Basically, it is soft, comfortable and does not stink up the tent after a long day (or month). There are many companies that sell merino wool base layers and, honestly, there is not a lot of difference. My old bottoms from Arc'Teryx had some holes in the ankles from my own clumsiness so I want to buy a new pair and this time looked to try out Eddie Bayer's First Ascent line.

I ordered a top and bottom online and used them for several days while ice climbing in Ouray and then in a bone chilling -13F climb of a Colorado 14er, Quandary Peak. I was pleased.

The fabric was soft and met my expectations of New Zealand merino wool. The First Ascent layers were well made with flat seams and nothing poking into my skin in "awkward" places. It wicked well and was dry at the end of some extensive ice climbs as the sun bore down. I liked the top's features of thumb holes and the solid zipper for ventilation and the high neck for cold breezes.

In the freezer on Quandary, I felt warm with only one additional layer on my legs and torso - Patagonia Guide Pants and Patagonia Micropuff Jacket. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it kept my own warmth.

Bottom line: Well made base layers at market prices for merino wool.

February 2013 Status Update: I still use this same pair. Shame on FA for discontinuing them. Recently bought Icebreaker and really like their quality.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • Merino Wool
  • thumb loops for top
  • Top -$69, Bottom-$69 from First Ascent
  • Excellent construction
  • soft, comfortable
  • wicks well
  • dry's quickly
  • managed odor well

 

  • Merino wool is expensive
  • Only available in black

Hestra Alpine Pro Gloves - February 2010

Hestra Alpine Pro GloveGlove systems can be difficult. You want a system that keeps your hands warm but not hot, dry but still breathes and is durable without giving up dexterity. Oh and you don't want to spend more on your gloves than on your plane ticket. With all this in mind, my search for the perfect system has taken me to the renowned Hestra product line.

The Swedish company has a stellar reputation for quality gloves used by athletes in multiple sports. I received their Army Gauntlet Glove as a Christmas gift and have been using it on a few climbs including ice climbing in Ouray and a couple of winter climbs on my Colorado 14ers in extremely harsh conditions where I saw temps below zero and winds over 40 m.p.h.

My first comment is that these are beautifully made - the craftsmanship is excellent and I think they will last for years.

They come with a wool pile liner that is a bit weak. It is attached with Velcro at the entrance to the glove but I kept finding that the fingers got out of alignment and I had difficultly getting my little fingers to align with the outer glove - a real hassle to correct since you have to remove the liner and reassemble everything. On the positive side, they were warm enough during ice climbing and being removable, I could dry them out at night from perspiration.

I appreciated the elastic wrist strap that attaches to the glove allowing me to remove the glove and not loose them. However, you can take the wrist band off if it gets in your way, which it never did for me. The gauntlet sleeve kept snow from getting into my gloves thus adding another layer of protection for my hands. A strap with a velcro closure provide additional protection to close off the gauntlet. While the leather is a bit thick, I still found it supple enough to easily manipulate carabineers or belay devices.

My only concern is that I found my finger tips getting very cold so found myself using my Black Diamond liner and abandoning the one that came with glove.

I am excited to use this glove in more conditions and have gotten over my fear of roughing it up and tearing the leather. A new generation of gloves are just coming on the market from Mountain Hardwear and Arc'Teryx but for now, I think my Hestra will do the job - provided I get new liners.

Bottom Line: Incredibly well made glove but very expensive and not warm without additional protection in super harsh conditions.

February 2013 Status Update: Use occasionally, but my hands still get cold in sub freezing conditions. Would not recommend them for the price.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • Goat leather/Aniline cowhide exterior
  • Removable wool/terry cloth liners
  • Gauntlet strap with Velcro closure
  • Removable elastic wrist band as keepers
  • $160
  • Durable leather exterior
  • Removable lining
  • wrist straps and velcro closures

 

  • Expensive
  • Standard liner gets out of line in the fingers
  • Not warm for extreme conditions without improved liner
  • Leather needs ongoing baum treatment
  • No snot wipe area

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger Test Drive - December 2009

I received an early present from my Christmas wish list; the latest GPS Personal locator beacon from SPOT otherwise known as the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. I took it out for a test drive on an easy hike to Bison Peak in the Lost Creek Wilderness of central Colorado. The SPOT performed well.

I wanted SPOT primarily to keep my wife informed of where I was when I was out of cell phone range, which happens often with my iPhone/ATT in the Colorado back country. Also, I thought it would be nice to see my tracks when I got back home. Finally, it might be fun to share some of my climbs while they are happening in addition to posting trip reports after they are over. Has climbing become a spectator sport?

I unpacked the box and read the directions, something I don't often do with new gear! However since the SPOT connects directly to a dispatch center, I didn't want to hit the wrong button and read in my local newspaper about "that idiot who asked for help and really didn't need it. He just hit the wrong button on a new toy"

With an eye for the detail, I went to the SPOT website where I went through a simple process of registering my device with a unique serial number and identifier. Next I entered my emergency contact's names, emails and numbers and finally programmed the custom messages I wanted sent; this was the hard part. The latest version of SPOT has two custom message buttons: Check-in/OK and a custom message in addition to an SOS and personal help buttons. These last two require you to snap off a cover to prevent unintended messages.

Cathy, my wife, and I discussed several scenarios where I would use each button. I think this is crucial to using any emergency device, set expectations and have a common and clear understanding of intentions.

We settled on a simple "all is fine" for the OK button and a "I am OK but running late. Will call when able" for the personal message. And for the non-life threatening personal help button; "If you don't hear from me live in 4 hours, send help". The last button, SOS, directly connects directly to an emergency notification dispatch center and is to be used in life threatening situations.

Next I needed to establish a SPOT Adventures account which was linked to my SPOT account. This is a site that shows my location on a Google map in real time. Again, this was an easy process albeit with an array of confusing menus and options. But once done, I took my new SPOT out for a walk in front of the house.

I pushed the simple on/off button. The green GPS light soon lit up and I hit the Check-in/OK button and came back inside. I heard my computer beep that I had a new email and my wife's cell phone's pong that she had a new message. It was that simple.

Another button is Tracks that I was eager to try out in a hilly terrain. With Tracks activated, SPOT sends your location every 10 minutes to your account and can be displayed on a Google map.

SPOT on my PackSo off to the hills! At the trailhead, I turned SPOT on and hit the OK button and the Tracks button and took off. I attached the unit to the top hand strap on my day pack so the top of the unit would have a clear view of the sky and not be in my way. Soon I forgot it was there an enjoyed my day. During a break I did hit the OK button and once again when I returned to the trailhead.

Once I had a cell phone signal, I called my wife and she answered with "I followed you all day!" When I returned home I looked at the SPOT Adventures website and saw my tracks on the topo map. SPOT worked as advertised. It was easy and reliable in a relatively open area at 9,000 to 12,000 feet. I actually forgot about it once I got going. Cathy liked knowing where I was and following my progress and she appreciated getting the quick OK message on her cell phone when she was out of the house.

I must admit that when I did think about the fact I had posted the link to my real-time track map on my Facebook page, I realized that my day hike may have become a spectator sport for some. Nothing wrong with this if anyone is interested, which I doubt! However, it could encourage some to keep going when they should turn back. But that is another subject entirely.

For me and my family using SPOT is a good addition to my collection of electronics. We are all safer and more informed. I just hope I never have to hit that SOS button!

February 2013 Status Update. Used throughout my 7 Summits climb with good success. Annual subscription price is too high so a luxury item for many.


Dear Santa - November 2009

I am pretty happy with all my gear these days but being a guy, of course, I want more! And I have given some of my pieces away to Sherpas on climbs so before I venture in to the lower atmosphere again ... here is my Christmas list for 2009 (I will be updating this throughout the season!):

  • SPOT SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger $350: one can never have too many gadgets but this one would help my wife know my location during expeditions and for me to review my progress when I got back home. Plus I think it would be fun to post my position on the website during the 7 Summits.

 

 

 

 

  • BinersBiners $50 - not that exciting but I need to replace my snaps, lockers and wires. I love Black Diamond and will get a few of each from them

 

 

  • Hilleberg Akto 4 Season Tent $420 -Hilleberg Akto I really don't need this - just want it! My 3 Season Big Agnes is nice and light but not very good during a windy, snowy night. The Hilleberg Akto is bomber, light and time tested but also looking at the Black Diamond Bibler I-Tent

 

 

  • Millet Everest-GTX BootMillet Everest-GTX Expedition Boots $800 - I have owned La Sportiva Olympus Mons Evo (gave to my Sherpa) and Millet Everest One Sport (destroyed by United Airlines) but need to have a new pair for Vinson and Everest. I will probably get the MIllet since they fit me better and I liked the zipper design better.

 

 

  • HP MiniHP Mini Netbook $400 - These PCs are getting so light that I won't take a full size PC plus a PDA on my next climb. The Netbook at 2.5 lbs will do it all from email to video editing to posting dispatches. Will configure with solid state disc - no moving parts to fail at altitude!

 

 

  • First Ascent Guide GloveHestra Alpine Pro Gloves $160- I am looking forward to these leather gloves for this winter. I am tired of my nylon and cloth gloves developing holes open the finger tips after a few weeks of use. Hestra makes excellent gloves.

 

 

 

  • Magazines - I stopped all magazine subscriptions a few years ago to save some trees but I miss seeing great climbing pictures in full color on glossy paper! Also, it is nice to throw one in the pack for those "tent days". So here is my wish list: Alpinist, Outside, Rock & Ice, Climbing, NatGeo Adventure.
    Alpinist Outside Rock and Ice Climbing National Geographic Adventure

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger - October 2009

Keeping up with friends and family on a far-away mountain expedition has always been challenging. Some teams post dispatches every few days to a website, other climbers just use sat phones to call in. Now a new trend has emerged using a satellite transmitter to "beam" your position every few minutes enabling your location to be shown on a map. Also you can alert Search and Rescue with a touch of a button in an emergency. The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger has emerged as the leader in this category.

SPOT

There are some variations on this theme but SPOT has made it very simple - perhaps too simple. Their 2nd generation unit has just been released and is smaller, lighter with improved performance. To get everything needed - unit and tracking service - it costs over $350.00 with an annual renewal for the services. You can read all the details on their website.

I recently used one on a climb of a Colorado 14er with my climbing partner John Little. We started at 9,400' in a sharp valley and climbed to an open area around 11,400' - the unit only transmitted our position reliably once we got above tree line and out of the valley. However it was accurate enough that my wife, back at home, was able to track our progress on a Google Map and calculate our rate of ascent and predict our summit time to within 2 minutes!

I was not surprised that all the signals did not get through since the system needs line of sight to connect with the satellites. In a heavily wooded area or one with high mountain walls, the signal might not go through - same as with a satellite phone or GPS unit. And for best results, it must face upward toward the satellite so having a rough idea of where it is is useful, especially on international trips. For example, in Nepal the satellite is over Japan so the unit should face east as often as possible.

The unit only has few button but a couple are critical - a "SOS" for a life threatening emergency and an "OK" button are the most useful. These, plus 2 other buttons, can only be preprogrammed on the SPOT Website and then messages sent to multiple email addresses of your choosing.

There are some concerns on how the SOS button is used, the overall reliability and then simply how to best use the system. All this and more has been discussed on various climbing forums such as these threads on 14ers.com and SummitPost. However most users seem to be satisfied.

The SPOT system is owned by Globalstar and utilizes their satellite system. They cover most of the globe with the exception of Africa below the equator and both poles. So it would work on 5 of the 7 Summits (Kilimanjaro and Vinson not being covered). Interestingly, the unit is only rated to work up to an altitude of 21,320' however, I assume it will operate higher than that since it is all solid state with no moving parts similar to a satellite phone which work from the summit of Everest.

As you would expect, several sites are now taking advantage of this system with Arktisma showing nice leadership. They offer the ability to link your SPOT with Twitter so everyone will be continuously alerted to your location. Is this good? :) Another nice integration site is SpotAdventures with EveryTrail.

But as the saying goes - a fool with a tool is still as fool as shown by this story:

At 1:30 a.m. on the morning of September 2nd, the GEOS Emergency Response Center in Houston notified dispatch of a SPOT personal satellite tracker 911 activation that had been received from the park. The location coordinates placed the device along the Tanner Trail, approximately three miles from the trailhead. An investigation revealed that the registered owner was associated with a backcountry permit holder who had extensive hiking experience in the park. A trail response was begun at first light, just prior to the launch of the NPS helicopter with additional personnel. A ranger arrived on scene to find three people asleep in their tents and in no need of assistance.

One of the hikers, who was on her first hike into Grand Canyon, claimed to have become alarmed during the night when her group ran out of water and she subsequently heard “odd” respiratory noises emanating from the leader of the group as he slept. At this point, the hiker decided that the group was in trouble, activated her SPOT messenger device, then promptly went back to sleep without making any contact with her hiking companions. The group ultimately abandoned further plans for their hike and returned to the rim. The Tanner Trail is exposed, with little shade and no water for the entire nine miles of the hike to the Colorado River. Following subsequent interviews with the involved hikers, the park decided not to take further action. [Submitted by Ken Phillips, Chief, Emergency Services]

SPOT has been used quite extensively around the world proving to be quite useful. Several climbers used it on Everest this past spring including Astronaut Scott Paraszynski.

And you can track an expedition currently on Pumori using SPOT - Tim Ripple's Peak Freaks team are planning on using it all the way to the summit and even on the flight to Lukla!

I expect all commercial teams to begin carrying their own SPOT unit and integrating it into their website's soon. I will probably get one of these for my own use before I leave for Aconcagua. It is less expensive than sat phone time, easier to use but is not as good as hearing a live voice after you have been away from home for weeks. So another electronic gadget in my pack - at least the battery lasts for a long time and it weighs less than a large Mars bar!

Bottom Line: An expensive tool to stay in touch but what is the price of worry?

February 2013 Status Update. Used throughout my 7 Summits climb with good success. Annual subscription price is too high so a luxury item for many.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • 3.7x2.6x1"; 5.2oz
  • 94.7 days in standby, 2.8 SOS, 4.3 track mode
  • Base unit price $149 at REI
  • Subscription service $99 annually
  • Maps, tracing, replacement services separate
  • Easy to use
  • Rugged construction
  • Rescue alert device
  • Family communication device

 

  • Needs line of sight so may not be as effective in canyons and mountains
  • Expensive yearly fees to use most valuable features

Hanesbrand Enters the HA Clothing Market- September 2009

When you think about the gear required to climb Mt. Everest, a litany of well-known brands come to mind: Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, The North Face – companies, brands and products that have been around for decades in some cases.

And, sadly, their commercial success seems to be marginal at best. In spite of having great products used from professionals to amateurs; the climbing market is simply too small to support the massive R&D, advertising and distribution investment requirements.

Thus many sell out to larger conglomerates. VF, the largest apparel company in the world bought North Face; Mountain Hardwear is now owned by Columbia and Arc’Teryx is owned by Adidas-Solomon. Or they leverage their high-end brand into the mass market to increase volume, sometimes at the expense of high-end quality. And of course, some companies survive and flourish. However a new trend is underway with established consumer brands expanding to the high-end.

So with this as background, Eddie Bauer introduced an entirely new line of climbing gear this spring with their First Ascent line. Amazing, Eddie Bauer declared bankruptcy just a few months later (but managed a stable recovery and are still successfully in business). They used a high profile Everest expedition including America’s leading mountaineer, Ed Vesture, to introduce the line with good success. The expedition coverage and brand introduction was a showcase of web and media technology that goes on to this day.

Today, another line of clothing attached to an Everest expedition was announced. Hanesbrand and their Champion and Duofold brands introduced a line of clothing that Canadian climber Jamie Clarke, will use on Everest next spring.

The new products included a 4 layer system: base, insulation, soft and hard shell and will follow with a full suit later this year. The suit will have a “down buster” material that they said is an improvement on down. By the way, this claim has been the holy grail for gear companies forever.

After listening carefully during their press conference this morning, it was difficult to understand why this line is dramatically different from the other well established brands. For example, they discussed a seamless system, new material combinations of wool and polyester, coordinated pocket access across layers and improved wicking capability. The new technologies they discussed included a magical antibacterial material that “helps the body heal itself”. Also they mentioned an intriguing material/system that “returns energy back to the body”. They declined to explain how this works.

Jamie will be doing a test run on Pumori in a few weeks before taking the entire ensemble to Everest next spring. I have met Jamie and he is a humble guy with a huge heart. I wish him and his team safe climbing. As is the case with most introductions these days, a flashy website is available to follow their progress and introduce the brand.

I have no doubt the clothing will be fine – Hanesbrand is a huge company steeped in history of socks, underwear, uniforms and base layers for athletes. I think the real question is their commitment to mountaineering gear. At 44 minutes into the press conference, they suggested that the technology in this new line of clothing will transfer into high performance base layers with lower weight and improved insulating performance. This could be a great for cyclists, runners and the causal outdoors person.

There is nothing wrong with this strategy but will they expand the line and meet the high quality and performance bar that companies like Patagonia have established?

As is the case with many companies – whether it is cars, organic food stores or high performance clothing – the expensive product makes the news but the mass market makes the money. I wish Hanesbrand the best as they embark in this new market.

February 2013 Status Update: This was a big publicity stunt with Hanesbrand not entering the high altitude clothing market.


Base Layers - July 2009

Merino SheepAs I started to write a review of base layers, I looked at my own collection and found socks, tops, bottoms and full suits from Arc'Teryx, Icebreaker, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, The North Face and Smartwool in various materials ranging from power-stretch to polyester to polypropylene to wool.

So then I thought - what is always in my pack and better yet, what do I always wear? After all, that is the true test of a piece of gear - not if you own it but do you use it.

Well by this criteria, I had a clear favorite - anything made from Merino wool. My favorite base layer bottom is a pair of Merino wool bottoms, the tops go to Icebreaker Merino wool zip ups. And Smartwool gets the socks category. I have used this combination year after year from a short day hike in the Rocky Mountains to a 2 month expedition in the Karakorum and always on my Everest climbs. There are solid reasons for my selection.

First, I like how the soft fabric feels next to my skin - there are too many pains on my butt during a long expedition without adding to it with a harsh and chafing layer. Second, the stuff doesn't seem to smell - well not that bad anyway. Yes after multiple weeks of using the same bottom there is an odiferous zone but it goes away with a quick wash. Third, I never seem to get too hot or cold in spite of wide ranging temperature changes.

However, moisture control is the characteristic that always brings me back to Merino wool. I never feel like I am trapped in a sweatshop. It has a magic property of wicking away the moisture before it begins to build. By the way, that is the secret to the no-smell zone. Those stinky bacteria never get a chance to settle in. Finally the lightweight material is easy to cram in my pack. I usually have an extra top stowed away somewhere.

The fact that the individual strands of wool absorb water vapor before it condenses makes it an ideal wicking layer. According to a New Zealand industry group, Merino can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture before it starts to feel damp. Its regain factor (the amount of water in the fiber expressed as a percentage of its dry weight) is 17 percent under standard conditions, compared to between 1-4 % for synthetic fibers.

So what is it with this Merino wool and where does it come from?

Merino is a breed of sheep primarily raised in New Zealand and Australia. Selling the wool has tuned into a huge industry. A quick review of the major gear companies that sell Merino wool based products find quick agreement on a few basics: the wool is some of the best quality in the world, it does not irritate the skin like traditional wool, it is renewable and easy on the environment and the wicking ability keeps the skin drier.

Merino used to be expensive and not used widely for sports base layers but with competition the price has dropped. Today New Zealand and Australian sheep farmers dominate the market. And quality clothing are available from many of the major brands. In fact Icebreaker has a complete layering system made of 100% Merino wool - very nice.

The only real controversy seems to be around how the wool is prepared after sheering. Patagonia explains that each strand of wool contains barb scales that must be removed to prevent skin irritation. Some processes use chlorine to remove the barbs and smooth the material but Patagonia uses a chlorine-free process. Other manufacturers also take environmental friendly manufacturing approaches such as the New Zealand MAPP Tech supplier.

When I think about those poor boogers in the days of Mallory and Irvine climbing in harsh and heavy wool layers my admiration for them goes even higher. But I know one thing, they had to be quite warm and probably wasted a lot of energy scratching. If only they had been wearing Merino, I bet they could have told us if they summited or not!

Bottom Line: The only material that should ever touch your skin.yesyes

February 2013 Status Update. Still love Merino wool and the only material that touches my skin as a baselayer.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • Soft next to skin
  • Regulates body temp
  • Naturally moves moisture away from skin
  • Stays warm while wet
  • Manages odor well
  • Machine washable
  • Few are allergic to Merino wool

 

  • Does not dry as fast as polyester
  • Poor wind resistance in light weights
  • Can be expensive

Action Wipes - June 2009

Action WipesStaying clean is a priority on my climbs and expeditions. After a long day, the last thing you want to do is to get into the tent and wonder if THAT smell is you or your tent mate. On one of my Everest climbs, I remember crawling into my sleeping bag on a particularly cold night and when trying to stay warm then regretting pulling the bag over my nose - let's just say it was time for a change ... if you know what I mean.

The French invented perfume as a way to mask body odor but actually removing the source seems like a much healthier idea. I usually take a box of baby wipes along for extended expeditions and use them daily to clean all the nooks and crannies. I also use them for toilet paper. A box of 500 only cost a few dollars so it is cheap and effective. But there are drawbacks. First, they freeze - try cleaning up with an ice cube :) Second, they are small and rip easily - a real issue when the tear happens at an inopportune moment. Also they come in a shoe box size container and rarely make it above base camp. Finally, it creates quite a pile of trash over time.

So an alternative making it's way onto the market is from the small company - Life Elements and their flagship product Action Wipes. Basically an Action Wipes is an individually wrapped strong toilette that is coated with a small amount of sudsing agent and tea tree & eucalyptus oils. The end result is a very strong, almost wash cloth like, towel that easily removes dirt, salt, sweat and odors from all those surfaces, creases and cracks. And it is strong enough that you can reuse it several times or wash it repeatedly.

I recently got a chance to use them on a short weekend climb. It was one of those long days with frequent temperature changes as the sun came out then the snow picked up. We climbed a steep snow couloir in a blizzard but returned to camp in the heat of the day. I was covered in salty sweat and felt the effects of wind and sun on my face. Back at camp, I used just one Action Wipes and took care of all my hot spots - if you know what I mean. Anyway, I was pleased at how clean I felt. There was no sticky residues and the eucalyptus scent, while a bit too strong for me, was a welcome new smell. The towel was strong enough to scrub some dirty spots as well as wash away the sunscreen.

Thinking about my next long expedition, I will definitely take some Action Wipes along but will probably still bring the baby wipes. I think there is a place for both over a multi week climb. The Action Wipes are not inexpensive at $1 each in quantity but very effective.

Bottom Line: A must have hygiene product to keep you yourself and your friends happy.yesyes

February 2013 Status Update: Stopped using them due to price. But well worth it if you can afford them.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory
  • 9"x10" size
  • $1 in packs of 24 on the Action Wipes website
  • strong
  • cleans well
  • convenient packaging

 

  • expensive
  • scent can be strong
  • moisture could last a bit longer

Leki Trekking Pole - May 2009

Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch SuitWhile living in Europe in the 1990's I first saw people walking with ski poles in the summer. To be honest they looked kind of silly to this American. They seemed cumbersome and awkward and just something else to hang onto when balance was not really an issue. But the more I talked to people the more I knew I was the one missing out. These days I never go on any trek or climb without a pair.

The primary reason I use trekking poles are to reduce the wear on my knees. Studies have shown there is a measurable reduction on the joint load when using poles and this matches my personal experience. Also, I like having them for additional balance when crossing streams or traversing narrow logs.

There are many models available from many retailers but over the years I seem to buy from Leki. I like their quality, the weight, style and durability. It seems that many people agree with me since I have had two pair stolen!

The choices revolve around the suspension of the pole, the ability to adjust height and the grip. Some gear list recommend against getting any kind of flexible bottom - a kind of built in shock absorber that flexes when you push down on the pole - but I like this feature since I think it helps reduce the load on my knees.

The length adjustment seems to be the weak part of all trekking poles. A plastic compression joint expands and contracts when twisted thus allowing the two parts of the pole to be adjusted to the correct height - which is to have your forearm parallel to the ground when holding the grip. I have had mixed results with the reliability of this joint but Leki provides a repair kit when the plastic pieces fail. However it is frustrating when you apply pressure at a critical part of a move and the pole collapses into itself.

FInally the grip is critically important. They come in all shapes, angles and material but I like the simple slightly bent cork version of the Leki Makalu model. It is comfortable and is secure to grip even with heavy gloves.

As for the negatives, I rarely use the strap as designed. In other words tighten it to make for a secure grip. I use it all the time but just as around my wrist and leveraged with my thumb to secure the strap. I find the strap does not adjust easily, gets stuck and is not worth the time and effort to adjust to my glove size at the moment. Also I rarely use the basket system depending on deep snow conditions. The standard one is fine. Finally these poles are expensive, especially when they get stolen! Leki has models from under $100 to almost $200 a pair. REI sell models at $50 but without a few of the features.

I have used my Lekis on simple hikes to 14ers to Everest with no complaints.

Bottom line: an expensive accessory but a knee saving, must have piece for all trekkers and climbers.

February 2013 Status Update. Still use the old pair I bought years ago.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • Positive Angle COR-TEC Grip
  • Automatic Comfort Strap
  • Super Lock System
  • Soft Antichock System Lite
  • Interchangeable Basket System
  • $139 at Moosejaw.com
  • light weight
  • Reduce load on knees
  • Comfortable grip
  • Easy to adjust to your height
  • Lekis are expensive
  • Length locking element is not 100% reliable

Osprey Aether 85 Pack - April 2009

Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch SuitOf all the gear I have bought over the years, packs seem to be the most difficult - I have a pile of them. I have owned Gregory, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardwear, CamelBak and even an expensive McHale custom model. But I think I finally found a pack and a brand that meets all my needs without breaking the bank. I have used my Osprey on Aconcagua, Denali, Orizaba, Shishapangma and Everest carrying loads to 70lbs.

It packs easily with a nice wide top. Interior compression straps help secure the load. The brain is large and flexible. It detaches for a nice fanny pack but I seldom use this feature. The hipbelt and snaps are solid as are the chest and shoulder straps and pads. The suspension distributes the load evenly making even heavy loads ride comfortably. It feels pliable and light yet is one tough pack. Yeah, I like it.

On Denali, I loaded it up with my max of about 70lbs. That included sleeping bag, mat, clothes, tent parts, food and water. Even with pulling a sled weighing in at 50lbs, I felt fine - and I am not that strong of a climber (or puller). The Osprey rode well and accommodated my stuffing and cramming to get everything inside except the mat which was strapped to the outside bottom.

But it is not perfect. For example, the light almost mesh like fabric used for the outer front pocket is somewhat fragile and is really only good for cramming a small glove or cap inside. I am always afraid to put my crampons in this pouch without the hassle of a carrying case. There are extra straps for securing this compartment that make the pack look and feel messy if not secured. The tool straps are fine at the bottom but you have to tilt a 70cm axe back towards your head to retain them at the top of the pack - not very good in case of a fall.

After over two years of tough use on serious expeditions plus some multi day climbs on my local 14ers, the pack show no serious signs of wear and still feels great.

Bottom line: a well built pack suitable for reasonably heavy loads that rides comfortably at a fair price.

February 2013 Status Update. Used on many of my 7 Summits. My goto "big pack".

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • AirScape suspension
  • IsoForm Harness
  • hipbelt
  • 4 lb 2oz
  • $289 on Moosejaw
  • carries heavy loads comfortably
  • expandable
  • well made
  • excellent value
  • outer pocket not very useful
  • tool attachment kind of awkward

Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Suit - February 2009

Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch SuitAn old joke - "What are you eating under there? Under where? You are eating underwear?" Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Well times have changed for edible underwear.

I used to wear a North Face synthetic single piece suit. It was lightweight, wicked well and was a nice base layer. But I had to add a second layer of expedition weight tops and bottoms to keep me warm when it really turned cold and windy. Times have changed.

Today, I wear my Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch suit all the time. It is a Polartec fleece single piece sleeveless suit. The design allows for full movement with it's articulated knees. A generous rainbow zipper in the back allows for quick emergency action and a full length zipper up front provides the rest. The fleece is soft on the inside and a spandura overlay on the knees and seat give some decent moisture and abrasion protection.

I have worn my suit for years on my Colorado 14ers in the winter and on Everest summit bids. It often serves as my only bottom base layer except for a pair of underpants. OK, more than you wanted to know. I do add a Merino wool top over the Power Stretch since it is sleeveless. I have used it without any additional outer layers since it gives good wind protection on reasonable temperature days. It was my only bottom layer up and down the Khumbu Icefall.

Bottom line: a versatile base layer than be used alone or as part of a system in harsh conditions.

February 2013 Status Update. Used throughout my 7 Summits climb with good success. Highly recommended still.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • warm
  • wicks well
  • use as base or alone
  • easy access
  • can be a little bulky

Polar Buff - February 2009

BuffI love my Buff! I am using the same one I bought in Chamonix in 1996.

The history of this simple piece is instructive for all entrepreneurs. Joan Rojas worked in the textile industry and was an avid biker in northern Spain. But on cold days he would wear military underwear (!) around his neck to stay warm. To quote Juan "I got the idea to improve them because they were itchy and looked pretty ugly" No shit, Juan! He worked on a design and launched it commercially in 1992. And the rest is history!

As many of you already know, the Buff is a versatile, single piece of seamless headwear that can be used as a cap, neck muffler, face guard and a thousand more variations depending on your imagination. It is made from Polartec (polyester micro fiber), is lightweight, washable and can be crammed into any nook or cranny of your pack.

Take a look at the video on the Buff website for an entertaining demonstration of how to twist, twirl, fold and gyrate this simple piece.

I always have it in my pack - summer, winter, spring and fall. It has saved me when I failed to bring a warm jacket. While it can be a cap, I usually use it to cover my nose and mouth to warm cold air before while breathing and to control air flow entering my torso as well as regulating heat escaping from my neck.

Buff makes many variations on the original theme and can customize it with your logo or design plus makes versions for kids.

Bottom Line: a must have piece no matter the weather or terrain. yesyes

February 2013 Status Update. Still a favorite, always in my pack

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • versatile
  • warm
  • inexpensive

 

  • takes some practice to use all variations

Patagonia’s MicroPuff Hooded Jacket - Patagonia MicroPuff Hodded JacketJanuary 2009

I am always looking for a good jacket for wind protection and warmth. However it has to be lightweight, pack small and not be bulky. At my age, I can't take the huge loads!

After a lot of jackets, I think I have finally found it – Patagonia’s MicroPuff Hooded jacket.

I think what makes this piece work is the hood, an effective shell and a next generation installation material called Climashield.

In my experience, I like the way this jacket works. The hood is oversized and fits snugly over my climbing helmet but also has a pull string to tighten the fit when used alone. The shell material use a ripstop polyester coated with Patagonia's DWR which stand for durable water repellent. It held up well in an afternoon shower or a wet show shower. It is tough but I am careful not to brush it against anything too rough since it feels very thin. The outside hands pockets have zippers as does the small chest pocket for lip balm. The cut is generous and I can easily wear it over two more layers without feeling bulked up.

It is filled with Climashield filament polyester which by some measures is an incredibly efficient insulation material - better than primaloft. If you want to dive into the math of insulation, this link takes you to a deep discussion. The fact that it is woven into a continuous strand, it should not separate, matte or clump thus eliminating cold spots. It is made from reclaimed materials - a plus for the environment and what we have come to expect from Patagonia. This is a new material to me even though it has been produced since 2005. You can read more at the Climashield site. But all I know is that in all but extreme (-50 wind chill) conditions, I have been as warm with the MicroPuff as I have with an 850 down fill jacket. Also, unlike down, it will maintain it's warmth capability when wet.

I use it often on my winter climbs. It kept me very comfy in late December on Longs Peak in tough conditions: 10F air temp with a 50 m.p.h. wind.

Mountain Hardwear ChugachI used to favor my Mountain Hardwear Chugach jacket – it was my primary belay jacket for many years, but something was never quite right about it. First there was no hood but also it always seemed to be a bit heavy, did not pack very small and it did not breath as well as I would have liked.

Mountain Hardwear Fleece

Many climbers swear by their fleece jacket and I used to love my North Face Denali Fleece Jacket. But while warm, it was a little heavy at 25 ounces and was not particularly useful in windy conditions but my main complaint was the bulk. The warmth and wind protection is just not there (for me) with fleece considering the weight and bulk. I still use a fleece around camp but now it is a lighter Mountain Hardwear model.

None of these jackets serve as my extreme cold or 8000m jacket. But that is for another review.

Bottom line: The Patagonia MicroPuff Hooded jacket packs light and keeps me warm in the worst conditions. yesyes

February 2013 Status Update. Still a favorite, but replaced with latest down jacket fro Mountain Hardwear, Ghost Whisperer which is lighter, smaller and warmer.

Specs
Pros
Cons
  • Polyester double ripstop shell
  • DWR (durable water repellent) finish
  • 3-oz Climashield filament polyester fill
  • 21.1 oz (598 g)
  • $225 on Patagonia website
  • bomber quality
  • lightweight
  • extremely warm with very good wind protection
  • great hood
  • compresses very small
  • fit is tight for some people
  • shell can be fragile
  • wish pockets were lined