Month in and month out, we field test dozens of new products, from jackets and base layers to rock shoes and harnesses, so you know what flashy new equipment is worth dropping your hardearned coin on. For a full year, our testers ran gear through the proverbial wringer while climbing hundreds of pitches of rock and ice and gaining tens of thousands of vertical feet in more than 15 states and several countries. Then came the weeks of lively discussion about what really kicks ass—in other words, what is the best of the best of the best? To figure that out, we took all our favorite products to Shelf Road, Colorado, for a long weekend of winter camping, climbing, and debating. (Our job rocks.) You’ll find our suggestions for the best products of the year in the following pages: These ten instant-classic items have earned our torture-tested seal of approval.
See video reviews of the following products at climbing.com/ec2013.
BioLite CampStove $130; biolitestove.com
Technology to cook dinner, roast s'mores, and charge your gadgets
At first, we weren’t sure about this caveman-meets-nerd device. Cook over a fire? Charge our tech? We’ll stick with our canister gas and be Angry Birds–free for a few hours, thanks. But after six months of continuous use, we’re sold. There’s nothing else out there that can warm your hands, fry your bacon, and squeeze more juice into your iPhone at the same time. The BioLite CampStove is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
We tested the portable wood-fired cooking idea in temps from high teens to low 60s, and this cooker worked flawlessly to brown meat, boil water, and warm our frozen fingers. Using kindling to cook meals might be old-fashioned, but the BioLite’s technology certainly is not. The heat from the flame goes to a thermoelectric generator, which powers a small fan that keeps your fire roaring efficiently. The leftover electricity from the generator can be used to charge small electronics through a USB port. On average, we got almost a 15 percent boost after a half hour—enough to find new routes on Mountain Project. Two handfuls of pencil-sized wood are enough to get a small flame going; keep adding twigs as it cooks. Boil times aren’t super fast (6.5 to 14 minutes for one liter, depending on outside temperature), but for car camping where you may have a free and unlimited fuel supply, it’s pretty damn cool.
Mammut Rock Rider $80; mammut.ch
The most comfortable all-purpose helmet we’ve ever used
At a glance, the Rock Rider doesn’t appear extraordinary. But this featherweight lid (which weighs less than a quarterfull Nalgene) is “the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn,” said our lead tester, who used it for rock, ice, and alpine routes throughout the Colorado winter. The helmet floats over your noggin without annoying rocking; a simple but highly effective harness (nothing groundbreaking— it just works really well) adjusts so you can get the exact fit you want, even with gloves. Plus, it doesn’t tangle with sunglasses, and it tucks neatly away for packing. Interior padding in perfect spots, plus 16 vents, kept it cool when slogging up a long snowfield.
The Rock Rider’s inmold construction bonds a thin layer of plastic to the expanded polystyrene foam core while it’s still in the mold (instead of laminating them together later), yielding a lighter and more durable helmet. The shell is only 1mm thick, compared to 3mm or more of the same plastic on other Mammut helmets, but because of the tighter bond between plastic and foam, it’s stronger and doesn’t get those small nicks and dings that other lids get. That means it looks almost new after a season of hard use. It’s ultralight at 8.8 oz., trimming about 30 percent of the weight of other workhorse helmets on the market, but it still offers full protection for rock, ice, and alpine climbing.
Salewa Wildfire GTX $159; salewa.com
Tackle any terrain in a well-designed and great-fitting approach shoe
Not even the perfection of Cinderella’s slipper is a match for the Salewa Wildfire GTX. Two editors (one male, one female) chose these kicks over a dozen other tester models for trips to the Swiss Alps, Yosemite National Park, Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, and daily jaunts in Colorado’s Front Range. “They feel like my old running shoes, protect like my mountaineering boots, and stick like my climbing shoes,” one said. “The holy trinity of approach shoes.” Add reliable waterproofing thanks to a tried-and-true Gore-Tex membrane; an anatomical fit that wraps around the shape of your foot (which provides a climbing-shoe feel for secure performance on the ups and the downs); and a new climbing-focused Vibram EVO outsole with dot rubber for rock slabs, lugs for the trail, and a flat edging zone up front; and you’ve got what one tester called “the best approach shoe I’ve ever worn.” All of this in a lightweight (1 lb., 8 oz. per pair, men’s size 9) and good-looking package, with a money-back, blister-free guarantee? That’s a major win.
Black Diamond Camalot X4$70 each; blackdiamondequipment.com
Meet the next generation of camming devices
No brainer here: Black Diamond has created cams that offer a wider expansion range, more versatile placements, and increased durability. The stackedaxle design on the three smallest sizes puts the two pivot points in line with each other through the cam—one in front and one in back—which creates the wider expansion range of a two-axle design with the compactness of a single-axle design. (The three largest sizes still have two axles horizontally next to each other.) What most impressed our testers, though, was the super-narrow head width, which slotted into a greater variety of placements than other four-lobed units on climbs throughout Colorado. (Getting four lobes where you previously could only get three is a better placement because of the increased rock contact.) The X4s got this narrower head width (thinner than the C4s by the width of one lobe) by embedding the springs in the lobes. The six sizes (color-coded the same as the C4s and C3s) range from .33 inches to 1.62 inches, about .3 inches wider than comparable models. Metal beads cover the flexible stem for increased durability with the same amount of flexibility.
Eddie Bauer First Ascent Accelerant Jacket $179; eddiebauer.com
Don’t leave home without this light and versatile jacket
On a summer climb of Colorado’s Longs Peak, one tester experienced 40-degree temperature swings and 50-mph winds on his rock-snow-ice-rock ascent. “And I was surprisingly comfortable through it all,” he said. “It’s like the Accelerant becomes whatever you need it to be—it’s the closest thing to a perfect all-season layer I’ve ever used.” Two other testers wore it ice climbing near Breckenridge, Colorado; rock climbing throughout the Front Range; Nordic skiing in Vermont; and adventuring in notoriously weather-beaten Tasmania. “I grabbed this jacket more than any other,” said another tester after six months of use. “I use it as a shell on crisp days while going hard, or layer it under a shell or puffy on more full-condition days.” The nylon shell’s DWR finish sheds light precipitation, while key zones of PrimaLoft insulate your core. Stretchy breathable fleece makes up the hood, sides, and underarms, providing much-needed ventilation. While not a groundbreaking feature, the thumbholes work better than on any other layer in testing, thanks to long, stretchy inner cuffs that extend to your knuckles and retract when not in use.
Five Ten Stonelands Lace-up $135; fiveten.com
No sacrifices: Comfort and performance in equal parts
“These are a true quiver-of-one rock shoe that delivers excellent performance in an easy-to-wear package,” one tester raved. “For anything but the hardest of routes, these shoes will shine.” Four testers wore the Stonelands on everything from granite cracks to limestone pockets, and from slabs to just more than vertical in California and Colorado, and they all gave high scores for the comfort-performance ratio. “This shoe would be my go-to for long routes of any grade, and as an ‘I only have room for one pair’ option,” said a tester who wore them for 10 days in Joshua Tree. Comfort is derived from a flat, moderately stiff sole, broad toe box with added vertical space for bent toe knuckles (if that’s what you prefer), and a supple synthetic upper—even the plump laces are easy on sore fingers. On the performance side, a tensioned heel rand delivers power to the toe, which has a chiseled asymmetric shape for solid edging and slipping into tight cracks. And the heel cup fit perfectly on all four testers’ feet—no baggy hollows. With practically no wear after three months of use, our conclusion is: “One of the best all-around shoes—ever.”
Mad Rock Shark $119; madrockclimbing.com
Get premium performance at a bargain price
The price of perfect heel-hooks, a vacuum fit, and unparalleled precision creeps ever closer to $200—until now. The Mad Rock Shark provides the highest level of performance at an entry-level price. Testers were impressed with how this shoe fit like a second skin, saying, “I’ve never had a shoe feel so glued to my foot; heel-popping wasn’t an issue with a single heelhook, even on smeary, glassy limestone.”
Credit the new Arch Flex system that wraps an extra piece of three-pointed 1.8mm R2 rubber around the underside of the midfoot. It not only adds extra support, but it also stretches around the foot and locks it into place, while still allowing lateral flex for more precise movement. During a three-month testing period of daily use in the gym as well as weekend trips to Horsetooth Reservoir, Colorado, and Joe’s Valley, Utah, the shoes showed no wear in the synthetic upper, nor any stretch. Although they were difficult to put on, and too tight for wearing longer than a few redpoint burns, this shoe is a dirtbagging boulderer’s dream: low cost and super-high performance.
Arc’teryx Miura 45 $229; arcteryx.com
Find utility and comfort in this tank of a cragging pack
“A crag pack takes more abuse than almost anything else,” said one of our longtime testers. Weighted with hardware and rope, tossed from truck beds to trailheads, dragged from route to route, trampled on, and hastily stuffed until the seams bulge for the trip back to town, it’s a wonder they last more than one season. Durability is paramount, but it can’t come at the cost of comfort or utility. After five months of testing, the Miura proved to be a top performer in all three categories. Burly 840-denier nylon is woven in a smooth “basket-weave” pattern (rather than the more-standard crosshatch) resulting in fewer rough edges to catch on rock and debris, even on the cheese-grater granite at Lumpy Ridge. The wide, EV50-padded shoulder straps (similar to but softer than the EVA used in many boot and trail runner midsoles) rode comfortably on testers of all sizes, while a minimal hipbelt supported the weight—one bad-back tester reported no pain, after cragging all over Colorado. An ultrafat zipper snakes around both sides and the top, to allow access from any side, and there are grab handles on three sides (great when using the pack as a rope bucket) for easy toting. Stiffened sides make loading and unloading a breeze. Three external pockets, one interior pocket, a hydration sleeve, and internal gear loop round out this no-nonsense pack.
Mammut Sensor 10 $280 (60m), $300 (70m); mammut.ch
Get a workhorse rope with innovative safety features
In the past, adding safety features to a rope meant tying knots in the ends or marking the middle, but Mammut has changed what we can expect with the new BiCo Sense technology, which weaves thicker and differently colored threads into a few meters in the Sensor’s middle and at both ends. This creates bumps that you and your partner can see and feel as you reach the rope’s middle or either end. After four single-rope rappels in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, one tester described them as “speed bumps or a rumble strip for your hands.” She said, “With the middle of the rope in the anchors above, I knew I was close to the end when I felt the ridges running through my hand, which was subtle and effective in letting me know I should slow down.” This innovation can’t prevent user error, but it is a welcome safety feature that could potentially prevent the unfortunately common accident of rappelling or being lowered off the end. Plus, this rope stands out even without the new technology, thanks to the durable 10mm diameter (great for toprope, sport, and trad), and a superDRY finish that repels water and increases resistance to abrasion and dirt.
Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody $99; patagonia.com
No season, climate, or activity is a match for this pullover
One tester summed it up pretty well: “This is the best damn insulating layer out there. Period.” Patagonia categorizes the updated Capilene 4 as an expedition baselayer, but our testers who put the body-hugging garment to use expeditioning in Patagonia, bouldering in Utah, ice climbing in Montana, and rock climbing in Colorado for the past 10 months liked it best as a midlayer worn over a wicking T-shirt (consider sizing up if skintight isn’t your thing). The key is Polartec’s High Efficiency Power Dry, a grid-patterned fleece, similar to what’s used in Patagonia’s Hall of Fame–worthy R1 layer, but 30 percent lighter and more compressible— and way more versatile. Wide air channels between square tufts of fleece move moisture and heat while you’re on the move, and the fleece retains warmth while you’re stationary. “I used this shirt in every season, and it’s become my most valued layering piece,” said one tester. On thousands of vertical feet and hundreds of miles from Chile to Vermont, our testers never sweated out. A quarterlength zipper seals up to the nose for wind protection, and a snug, scuba-style hood sits comfortably beneath a helmet or outer shell. Bonus: It’s made of 30-percent recycled polyester.