After months of testing on hundreds of routes, we offer up our picks for the most innovative, useful, and just damn good gear of the year.
SINGING ROCK CRUX
Simplicity is the focus of the Singing Rock Crux. This lightweight rig was praised for its comfortable fit on both men and women. At 10.6 oz., the Crux is lined with 5mm perforated EVA foam for slightly cushier hangdogs (for both the projecter and belayer) than the most stripped-down ultralight harnesses. One tester said it “was a pleasure to fall in.” The waist belt is more rigid than on the other harnesses we tested, providing more support when hanging. And “the fixed leg loops don’t twist easily, so you just step through and zip the buckle,” one tester reported. Singing Rock’s Rock&Lock auto-doubled-back buckle makes waist-belt adjustments quick and easy. The four gear loops aren’t encased in plastic, but they’re stiff enough for clipping and unclipping draws easily. For several climbers, the fixed leg loops tended to ride up, causing a little groin discomfort for male belayers. Nonetheless, at less than $50, this is the best-fitting bargain you’ll find.
MAMMUT SMART ALPINE
For all that this belay device does, Mammut should charge twice as much. For a start, the Smart Alpine can handle double-rope rappels and auto-block mode to belay one or two seconds; it’s equally at home on single-pitch and multi-pitch routes, unlike most assistedbraking devices. It feeds slack smoothly (once you get the knack), and locks up quick and tight under load. This device is half the price of most assisted brakers, and it weighs less than 5 oz. The Smart Alpine comes in two sizes, one for 8.9mm to 10.5mm ropes, and a leaner version for 7.5mm to 9.5mm ice climbing and alpine cords. Lowering and rappelling were a bit jerky, but not unreasonably so. In field tests, it didn’t lock up quite as automatically as the Grigri 2 or similar devices, but this is a plus for trad and ice, where it’s important to give softer catches. As we said in our full review in the March issue (No. 293), “at a modest price, and with all its benefits, this is an amazing tool.”
BLACK DIAMOND GRIDLOCK SCREWGATE
How many times have you looked down while belaying and noticed your locking biner has slipped sideways, so that either the belay loop or the belay device is smack up against the carabiner gate? Once a day? Every two minutes? This is cross-loading, and it’s dangerous—a locking carabiner is only about one-third as strong across its width as along its full length. Various solutions to this problem have been proposed, but most have been too heavy or futzy to catch on. Enter the Gridlock Screwgate, a cross-loading solution so simple and elegant that BD deserves to sell a million of them. The Gridlock’s gate has a short prong that extends into the narrow end of the biner. Open the gate, and the prong rotates out of the way so you can slip the biner over your belay loop; close the gate again, and the prong seals the gap, effectively locking the biner into the correct position for belaying. Once you get the feel of it, placing and removing this biner is as simple as it is with any locker. And by hot-forging these biners, Black Diamond was able to shave metal from the I-beam spine—the biner is a reasonably svelte 2.7 oz.—while leaving smooth, rounded surfaces at the rope-bearing ends. At
office, our test sample kept mysteriously disappearing as editors insisted it needed just one more day of testing. You’ll want to label your Gridlock.
ARC’TERYX SQUAMISH HOODY
$150, 5.25 oz.
The most full-featured jacket reviewed, the Squamish Hoody lived up to its billing: a lightweight, highly waterrepellent, versatile jacket. The key to this jacket’s success is Arcteryx’s proprietary Gossamera fabric. A polyurethane-coated, stretchable ripstop nylon with a soft feel, it appears at first blush to offer no real difference from other jacket fabrics. A closer look reveals a micro-windowpane weave, with triple ripstop threads crossing a slightly brushed underlayer fabric. The result? It fared exceptionally well during rain testing in a sudden squall in the Northwest, as well as in abrasion testing on coarse desert granite. The Squamish Hoody’s cut also won praise, accommodating a wide range of testers without seeming baggy on the average human, nor restrictively tight on larger folks. Girth adjustment at the hem comes from twin cord-locks positioned slightly forward of the hip. (One tester complained that the cord-locks aren’t one-handed.) The jacket’s hood worked well with a helmet, yet wasn’t too baggy with just a beanie. The laminated brim showed its worth during persistent light rain, yet needed to be repositioned regularly without a helmet to hold it in place. The hood adjustment is onehanded, but buried so deep that the cord ends were hard to find, especially with gloves on or with wet fingers. Sleeve cuffs adjust via laminated hook-and-loop panels. A good-sized chest pocket holds small items, and uses a sewnin cord loop and reversible zipper to swallow the jacket swiftly for harness-hanging. On the whole, we found the Squamish jacket to be surprisingly durable and weather-resistant for its weight.
THE NORTH FACE VERTO 26
$69, 13.3 oz.
The 26-liter Verto wowed testers with its versatility and climbing prowess. An internal, hanging essentials pocket acts as a stuff pouch with clip-in loop; the stuffed pack hangs vertically and unobtrusively once on the harness. Under this pocket, a hydration bladder clip helps keep your water stable. Though some bladders were incompatible, carrying a bladder does add structure to the pack. On the outside, a series of reflective webbing loops runs the length of the front of the pack. Used with the included reflective cord and barrel locks, these provide both compression and external gear lashing options for large items such as a foam pad or pickets. Two ice axe loops, combined with the removable Velcro shaft straps, function equally well for technical tools or a mountain axe. On the back panel, twin webbing straps run the length of the pack, adjustable via a ladderlock buckle and hidden behind a layer of nylon at the contact point with the wearer’s back. This allows you to use the pack as a compression stuff sack for your sleeping bag during approaches, and it found favor among testers for size and load customization—key for a pack of this size. A zippered lid pocket with an integrated key clip keeps snacks handy. The Verto’s simple, 5/8-inch-webbing waistbelt is removable—the only pack in the review with this feature. Shoulder straps consist of thinly padded nylon, adequate but not overly supportive. Still, with its funnel-shaped design and thoughtful feature set, this pack won confi dence among the stuffable category for use during both approaches and descents, as well as climbing on rock or mountain routes. As with other packs in the review, durability testing revealed weaknesses—do not haul this pack.
FIVE TEN ARROWHEAD
As one tester put it, this shoe “crushes every angle of rock.” The Arrowhead is a moderately downturned version of the best-selling Anasazi VCS—stiff enough for extreme edging, yet sensitive enough to grab holds on steeper rock. The tensioned heel is rubber-coated, and a high rand of Stealth Mystique rubber surrounds the shoe, offering superior hooking and scumming. The arch is higher than in previous Anasazi models, which eliminates bagginess underfoot. Two hook-and-loop closures secure its vacuum fit. Testers called the 3.5mm Stealth Onyxx rubber on the sole “durable and very sticky.” The synthetic upper, lined with a brushed microfiber, will limit stretch and dry quickly, while a split, padded tongue adds a final touch of comfort. We climbed extensively in more than a dozen new shoes for this issue’s reviews, and the Arrowhead hit the bull’s eye.
PETZL GRIGRI 2
Not to beat a dead horse (see
293), but damn, the Grigri 2 sure is nice. Everything is better than the original Grigri, which was good enough that it dominated the assisted-braking market for nearly two decades. The new Grigri is 25 percent lighter and smaller than the original, a boon for small-handed belayers especially. One tester claimed it “doesn’t get jerky like the original Grigri can.” The Grigri 2 also can handle a larger range of ropes, from 8.9mm to 11mm, which makes a big difference in an era of single lead ropes down to 8.9mm. (From our tests, the Grigri 2 handled ropes in the 9.4mm to 9.8mm range best.) Smaller, lighter, and easier to use—Version 2.0 is a great device for beginning sport climbers and seasoned pros alike. Be sure to watch the how-to-use-it video at Petzl’s website.
to see many more in-depth belay device reviews.
SALEWA RAPACE GTX
$259, 3 lbs. 11 oz.
One tester’s comments sum it up: “This is the lightest, most comfortable crampon-compatible boot I’ve ever worn.” That’s because it combines the comfort of a hiker with the technical features of a mountaineer. The supple Nubuck and Cordura upper is reinforced with a burly rubber rand, protecting it from abuse even when testers toe-jammed in wide cracks. To-the-toe lacing has an ankle lock that, combined with Salewa’s Y-shaped arch-to-heel wire system on the boot’s exterior, eliminated pressure points and break-in, and kept testers’ heels firmly grounded. A mid-stiff nylon layer above the midsole provided protection from pokey rocks, and the triple-density rubber midsole didn’t break down even after months of use. The boots’ Vibram Mulaz soles have a smooth-toe climbing zone that was sticky and edged well on technical scrambles. “The Rapace excelled for glacier travel and soft snow crossings,” said one tester. “It had impressive grip even walking downhill with a 50-pound pack, but it’s too flexible for vertical ice.” Gore-Tex makes the Rapace waterproof, and the heel welt accepts semi-automatic crampons. Bonuses: a removable second insole lets you tweak fit toward performance or comfort, and Salewa offers a blister-free guarantee.
BEAL JOKER 9.1
One of our most experienced testers called this rope “one of my all-time favorites, especially for onsight and redpoint attempts.” It rated the highest possible scores for ease of clipping and ease of knotting/untying. Of course, 9.1mm is on the far skinny end of skinny single ropes, and not for beginners or toproping—rope stretch was noticeably long. But for experienced sport climbers looking to redpoint difficult projects, this rope was the ticket. Durability wasn’t possible to test in our short winter season, but Beal has a good track record of quality ropes.