Gear Guide 2014: Editors' Choice Awards

Innovative, smart, lust-worthy, and just plain cool: 10 new must-have products that topped our testers’ lists

Editors' Choice 2014

Edelrid Mega JulEdelrid Mega Jul
$35; scarpa.com/edelrid

Do-it-all belay device

Once we finally got our hands on one of these nifty little tube-style belay devices, our testers were over the moon for its unbeatable versatility and additional stopping power. It’s light (2.3 oz.), and the smartly designed shape makes it bite down on the rope during a fall—just like an assisted-braking belay device (think Grigri or Cinch). You get all the features of an auto-blocking tube (two-rope rappels, guide mode for following, belaying) with the increased safety of those other mechanical devices. “When my partner took the big ride off his project in Clear Creek Canyon, it caught the rope just as well as my Grigri, but when we went to hop on the four-pitch Playin’ Hooky, I could still use it to belay him in auto-block mode from the top, as well as do the four rappels,” one Colorado tester said. The Mega Jul is made of stainless steel, which is more durable than other tube devices that utilize aluminum. (Take a look at your aluminum tube-style device right now. Chances are that there are some sharp grooves forming on the brake side.) Plus, it offers two rappel modes: one that works like normal when your weight and gravity move the rope through the device and one that utilizes the assisted-braking feature. This rappel mode locks the rope off and keeps you from moving down unless you put the nose of a carabiner in a specialized hole, and then use the biner as a handle to lever the device, which allows the rope to move through and you to move down. The one teeny-tiny nitpick is that it’s best to have someone show you how to use the device since it’s so unique—or watch a video: climbing.com/megajul.

 

Rakkup iPhone AppRakkup iPhone App
Free, but guidebook prices vary; rakkup.com

GPS-based crag guides

You know that moment when you get to the crag, and you know you’re in the right vicinity but you just can’t seem to find the route you hiked in two hours for? We’ve all been there, and so have the guys over at rakkup, which is what inspired them to create this intensely detailed smartphone app that utilizes GPS tracking, turn-by-turn directions, and photos to get you directly to the base of the route—even if that includes fourth- or fifth-class scrambling. A compass with a direction-of-travel arrow and a map that moves with you keep your group heading in the right direction so you can avoid wasted time and energy. Wall and route descriptions include nearly all the beta you’d ever need, with zoomable topos, rack info, descent info, and individual pitch descriptions. It’s similar to our other favorite app, Mountain Project, but instead of relying on user-generated content, rakkup uses professionals and guidebook authors to write descriptions and gather info. Game changer: “Belay View” photos that show you exactly what the route looks like from the bottom belay stance, as opposed to that far-away and unhelpful view of the whole wall. “The breadth of information and utility is amazing,” said one tester of the Red Rock guide. “I can’t wait until they launch more areas.” That’s the only downside: Rakkup currently only offers downloads for Red Rock, Rifle, Smith Rock, and Exit 32. But more areas are in the pipes. Interesting bonus: If you know a crag better than anyone, rakkup will even work with you to develop a digital guide and share the profits.

 

La Sportiva Women's SolutionLa Sportiva Women’s Solution
$175; sportiva.com

Sticky-rubber Cinderella slippers

Although many lady climbers have rocked the men’s Solution from La Sportiva since it came out in 2006, this year the Italian company made a few tweaks to make it just right for the feminine persuasion. Designers changed the shape of the last to better mimic a woman’s more slender foot, and they tapered the Achilles. The result? The shoes won’t shift around when your feet are in intensely delicate positions. Other than those small changes, this new iteration keeps all the great features of the classic Solution: sticky Vibram XS Grip rubber, aggressive downturn, stiff sole, a wrap-around sock for comfort, and the fast hook-and-loop closure system. “I didn’t think there could be a better shoe for me than the men’s Solution, until I tried the ladies’ version,” one 5.12 climber chick said. “It noticeably fits my narrow, low-volume foot better, and it feels more secure on heel and toe hooks.” Lady boulderers at Guanella Pass, Mt. Evans, and Rocky Mountain National Park, all in Colorado, universally agreed that the women’s version of this ultra-classic was an upgrade in all departments. Not to mention the fresh new magenta color differentiates it from the boy’s without being too girly.

 

The North Face Cinder 40The North Face Cinder 40
$129;  thenorthface.com

Smart, burly, simple

Traddies and sportsters alike will fall in love with this burly daypack, just like our testers who dragged it from Yosemite, California, to the towers of Utah, to the Shawangunks in New York. Don’t be fooled by this hauler’s simplistic look; it’s the usefulness of the included features and the über-comfy carry that make it a winner. “I can’t believe how good the minimalist suspension felt on two-hour, straight-uphill slogs,” one user said of the thick, sturdy padded foam back panel. With a flat bottom and a roll-top closure similar to a dry bag, the Cinder sits up on its own with a top that opens extra-wide, making it very easy to load and unload the pack and to dig around inside. Testers found  the roll-top closure quicker to open and close than many standard top-loaders, so despite not having exterior pockets, you can still access your gear at lightning speed. With practically nothing on the outside except a few load-bearing haul loops, a removable hipbelt, and ultra-durable 840-denier polyurethane-coated nylon, this sack can also be used as a haulbag. More than six months of weekly use has it no worse for the wear. Compression straps on the outside make it cinchable for smaller loads, like our tester experienced at Shelf Road, Colorado: “We walked in under sunny skies, so all my layers were in the pack. When we trudged out in hail and snow later that day, the pack was significantly less full but didn’t feel clumsy or uncomfortable.” Favorite feature: one-of-a-kind hipbelt buckle that took a minute to figure out but was easier to adjust than anything else we’ve ever used.

 

Petzl Tikka RXPPetzl Tikka RXP
$90;petzl.com

Perfect light every time

If you live with a headlamp on your dome, from alpine starts to sautéing fajita meat, check out this addition to the Tikka line with Petzl’s Reactive Lighting technology—it automatically adjusts the intensity and beam pattern for optimal illumination. “It’s totally hands-free,” said one tester. “Peer into the darkness to find your tent, and the beam narrows and brightens. Look down at the topo in your notebook, and the beam dims and softens.” The secret? A light sensor reads the amount of ambient light and calibrates output accordingly. For steady output, use the lockout feature to dial in desired brightness. The RXP model (pictured) boasts a 215-lumen max and a stronger beam for distance, while the R+ ($75) packs up to 170 lumens. With nightly use in camp, our testers were able to use the torch for five days with no output concerns, and then charge it with solar panels. Going long with no mode of recharge? Petzl sells a battery adapter separately. Oops: The on/off button is small and hard to find with gloves on.

 

Tenaya OasiTenaya Oasi
$165; trango.com

Do-it-all high performance

Typically high-end rock shoes fall in one of two camps: total flexibility for sensitivity and precision, relying on the strength of your foot to perform, or an aggressively downturned and stiff sole that directs power into your toes. No longer will you have to subscribe to the extremes thanks to the Tenaya Oasi. This downturned kick keeps a stiff forefoot (funneling power to the front) but a highly pliable midfoot (creating twisting functionality) for ideal performance on everything from steep to slabby. “I needed some smedging-specific power and precision for a micro-nub on Horse Pens 40’s Slush Puppy (V4), and my ultra-stiffies kept slipping off. The Oasis made me feel like I was standing on a ledge,” one tester said. “Their ideal balance of stiff and flex nailed it. Then I carried them to Yellow Bluff, Alabama, for some steep sport climbing, and on to Yosemite for jamming on long routes. There’s nothing the Oasi can’t do.” With a cotton-lined synthetic upper, the shoes are easy to wear for two-hour gym sessions, and they won’t stretch out—one tester is going on six months with no loss of performance or deformation.

 

Sierra Designs Backcountry BedSierra Designs Backcountry Bed
600-fill: $250 (30°F), $300 (15°F); 800-fill: $350 (30°F), $400 (15°F); sierradesigns.com

Sweetest dreams

Every climber worth his salt has at least one epic bivy tale. But if we had to use a frozen rope for a pillow, eat dry ramen, and spoon with our stinky partner every night to avoid dying, well, we’d consider taking up surfing full time. Enter the Backcountry Bed, the first sleeping bag we’ve used that didn’t leave us dreaming about our cushy digs back in the van. It’s also the first zipperless bag that couples the thermal efficiency of a mummy bag with the comfort of a mattress-and-quilt scenario. Instead of a side zipper, the bag has a large oval opening that runs from your waist to the top of your head, and a 43-inch-long trapezoidal down blanket attached on the inside at the bottom of that slit. The blanket is oversized and meant to tuck in around you on your sides and up to (or over, if you prefer) your head. Get in, use the large hand pockets on the corners of the blanket to tuck it into the slots near your head, and get comfortable. “To say the least, I was skeptical that a bag with a gaping hole down to my waist would keep me warm!” said one tester. “But after thriving through a week of sub-freezing desert nights, I have to say it’s more than legit. I’ve never slept better.” Thrashers and side sleepers loved the increased freedom of movement: “I didn’t feel like I was suffocating on down and nylon when I slept on my side,” one tester said. “I had some room to roll and move within the protective cocoon that this blanket creates.” Tuck the blanket to stay warm in temps down to the low 20s, or untuck it in muggier climates for more breathability and comfort. And the best part? “No more fiddling with stubborn zippers in the middle of the night when nature is urgently calling!”

 

La Sportiva MountainwareLa Sportiva Mountainware
Prices vary; sportiva.com

Perfect crag apparel

Picture your home crag on a beautiful weekend afternoon. If it’s anything like our haunts near Boulder, Colorado, it’s full of climbers wearing jeans and T-shirts. What rock climbers really wear for a day of cragging focuses acutely on comfort and durability. That, and the fact that the best rock climbing days are sunny and dry, is why we’re clad in so much cotton. If you’re not duking it out on a multi-day climb in the alpine, there’s no reason to get Everest-ready. This is why we took so quickly to La Sportiva’s Mountainware, a collection of tanks, T’s, shorts, pants, and hoodies designed with cragging as the focus. In many cases, they’ve taken blended fabrics to add just the right amount of stretch or quick-drying capabilities, like our editor’s new favorite jeans, the Kendo, made from cotton, Cordura, and a touch of Lycra. Testers loved so many pieces that we couldn’t narrow it down to just one or two (or even three), so we awarded the whole line. However, there were a few standouts. The women’s Oliana Short had a great mid-thigh length, which laid nicely under a harness, and was modest enough not to give a show. Other favorites were the Chaxi Pant, Kalymnos Pant, Bishop Hoody, and the Astroman Tank that was just old school enough to be cool. From single-pitch days in Yosemite to bouldering in Little Rock City, Tennessee, our testers chose Mountainware more than any other apparel.

 

The North Face ThermoBallThe North Face ThermoBall
$199; thenorthface.com

Best of both worlds

You hear it all the time: Down is light, toasty, and fluffy but as useless as a chocolate teapot when it gets wet. Synthetic insulations, meanwhile, are bulkier, not as warm for the weight, but still insulate you during soak-outs. Forget all of it. With the ThermoBall line, The North Face has created a jacket that looks, feels, and heats like down but dries quickly and stays warm when wet. A true game-changer in puffy jackets. This new synthetic insulation from PrimaLoft mimics the shape of down clusters—ultra-fine fibers are teased into lofty, cotton ball–like forms and contained in small baffles to keep them from shifting. “The heat is so instant that I actually thought this was down,” said one tester. “Until it got wet when I was ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon and it didn’t lose all of its insulating value.” Then the light bulbs went off: “Finally! A puffy jacket I don’t have to baby or use only in the right conditions. I packed it for a soggy trip to the Pacific Northwest and an arid adventure scumming up towers in Utah.” A trim fit was ideal for layering on top and wearing while climbing, but it wasn’t so tight that you couldn’t easily get a fleece midlayer underneath, and 15-denier nylon stood up to puppy claws and light rock abrasion.

 

Millet Opposite TRX 9/10Millet Opposite TRX 9/10
$300; milletusa.com

Two for one!

The rope you bring to the sport crag depends on what phase of the redpointing process you’re in: Toproping and working a project requires a nice fat cord while send attempts are much better with a pleasantly skinny cord. Instead of lugging—and buying—two separate lines, take the Opposite TRX 9/10, which is an 80-meter cord with two different diameters. One end is 50 meters of 9mm thickness, and the other is 30 meters of 10mm thickness, so you can carry one cord for two vastly different purposes. Not only did our testers think this was a genius idea, but they loved the performance of the rope, from toproping in Rumney, New Hampshire, to taking 15-foot falls on Sonic Youth (5.13a) in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado. Millet’s Triaxiale braided core has been proven in past years as a strong and long-lasting design, and that was no different with the Opposite. Six months and two road-tripping sendbots couldn’t get the rope to reveal any durability flaws, and it ran through a variety of belay devices (both tube style and assisted braking) smoothly. Even the changeover point where it goes from 9mm to 10mm was seamless when moving through belay devices and gear. It only comes in an 80-meter version, and at an average of 63 g/m, it weighs in at just over 11 pounds.

 


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