They say the best offense is a good defense, and the same goes for shielding your most valuable tool: your hands. These belay and rappel gloves protected testers’ mitts from rope burns, cold weather, and other abuse during cragging from Ten Sleep, Wyoming, to Eldorado Canyon, Colorado.
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.
What makes a pant superior isn’t just about what it does do, but also about what it doesn’t do. It shouldn’t hinder upward progress; be too tight or too baggy; make you sweat or itch; look unstylish; have too many or too few pockets; or interact poorly with your harness and other gear. From the Alps of Switzerland to Boulder Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park of Colorado, the Miage didn’t do any of those things, acting as a perfect all-around pant.
With around 30 backcountry testing days, from climbing Utah ice to teaching avalanche courses and skiing in the Pacific Northwest, the Helix proved its worth as a perfect “quiver of one” waterproof/breathable shell. Polartec NeoShell’s updated membrane is more permeable than the previous version, allowing air to pull moisture away from the skin at the first sign of sweat, rather than building up moisture before it’s released (which causes that clammy feeling).
“Although I was skeptical at first, this piece has revamped my layering system,” said a tester who took it ice climbing for 14 consecutive days in Utah. It was so windproof and breathable, one tester wondered, “How do they do it?” Eight-hundred-fill down on the front and back torso insulated key body parts, and FlashDry Pertex Quantum GL nylon on the sleeves and sides blocked the wind while wicking and drying sweat.
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.”
“That was fun!” said one tester after designing his own jacket from colors to materials to fill. “And the jacket has proven to be a bombproof performer, too.” Wild Things lets you select from a range of features and fabrics at a competitive price, with a 14-day delivery turnaround.
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.
A simple polyester shell with elastic cuffs and a drawstring hem houses a brushed interior of 200g Polartec fleece. Sounds uncomplicated until you look at the inside of this jacket: The fleece—lining the chest and back—is pocked with dozens of dime- to quarter-sized holes that trap heat when you need it and ventilate when you don’t.