Before any epic alpine rock route, redpoint burn, or warm-up boulder, there sits the climber: slipping on, lacing up, or strapping down a pair of rock shoes. We know the bond between a climber and sticky rubber is nothing to make light of, so we called in 12 pairs of brand-new kicks for this fall to find the top models for every kind of adventure.
Bouldering and Training Gear
Every season, the latest gear promises more breathability or warmth or weather protection. But which pieces work so well you can forget they’re there? And which should just be forgotten? From crystal-clear days on cracks at Lumpy Ridge to hail and heart-stopping thunder in the Black Canyon, we reviewed more than 100 articles of clothing to bring you the best of the bunch.
This 65/35 cotton-poly blend offers the comfort of cotton with the wicking properties of a syntheticperfect for climbing in the arid mountain West. “This simple T-shirt is great for roadtripping, too,” said one tester. “You always look somewhat classy even when you’ve been climbing without showering for a week.” Credit simple colors and a stain-release and anti-odor treatment.
Three testers raved about this midweight fleece after using it across the world, from bouldering in Hueco Tanks, Texas, to climbing alpine routes in Patagonia. “It was the most efficient midlayer I’ve ever worn: It warms without overheating, and it breathes in all the right places,” one tester said. The Pontetorto Technostretch fleece provided plenty of insulation in the torso and arms, while a lighter version of that fabric allowed more airflow under the arms and around the hips.
“Forget every other down puffy you’ve ever worn—this will beat them all,” one tester declared. The 750-fill down kept us warm in single-digit temps throughout the West. “Belay puffy, around town, skiing… I wore this every day this winter,” another tester said. The superior warmth and airy feel of this 23-oz. jacket (men’s M) was the foundation of our testers’ obsessions, but it was the climber-centric features that sealed the deal.
“You will see me in these at least five days a week in the winter,” one female tester said. “Thanks to the merino wool, they’re warm enough to wear outside, but they breathe so you can rock them for hours in a muggy gym without fear of sweat stains.”
Light, thin, and stretchy enough without fitting like yoga pants, these 94 percent nylon/6 percent spandex technical pants were perfect for a month of December bouldering in Hueco Tanks, Texas. “Kneebars, falls, rock and cactus scrapes, leg scumming… Nothing could put a hole in these,” our tester said.
“I’ve worn these bouldering at Horsetooth Reservoir in Colorado, in the gym, flying across the country, and out to dinner,” our tester said. These climbing jeans are at home in any situation. A fully gusseted inseam (from crotch to ankle) provides “the mobility of synthetic pants with a fabric like durable denim.”
Labeled as a “do-everything hoody for the do-everything athlete,” this full-zip midlayer really does all mountain sports well. Our testers took it (and the women’s version, the Avail Hoody) from boulderfields in northern California to the long multi-pitches of Red Rock to ski slopes in Colorado.
“I could churn out hot water at a fast clip, but dial the heat back to simmer sauce,” said our resident camp chef. A standard screw-on canister attaches to the stove via a flexible hose, so the squat, 7-inch-diameter burner sits only two inches off the ground, making it stable on uneven surfaces and under fat pots.
“These will become the only approach shoe you’ll ever wear,” one tester said after a few weeks of use at NorCal bouldering areas and around the Front Range of Colorado. Thanks to the shoes’ airy comfort right out of the box, all other testers agreed. Designed as a follow-up to the lightweight Vertical K trail runner, the Helios is a bit burlier with a thicker midsole and a slightly beefier upper for added foot support for long distances, weighing in at 8.9 oz. per men’s 10.5 shoe.
We gave these to a Tennessee tester, and the lightweight, stretchy, DWR-treated fabric proved extremely breathable day in and day out. “These shorts gave me excellent freedom of movement with just the right amount of stretch without being too baggy,” he said.