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As editors of a climbing magazine, part of our job description includes traveling to cool climbing areas with the latest and greatest gear and putting it through its paces—all in the name of “testing.” Yeah, we’re pretty lucky. Of course, it’s not all peaches and cream. We eventually have to decide which products are worthy of a mention, and which are better left on the shelf. Every year there are several items that shine brightest, proving themselves to be absolutely must-have pieces of gear. We bestow those top picks with the gear world’s premier prize: Editors’ Choice. This year, we winnowed a field of hundreds of products to select these 15 coolest, best-performing, and most drool-worthy gear picks.
Patagonia Nano-Air$249-299; patagonia.com
Breathable insulation you’ll never take off
Problem: Puffy jackets, whether down or synthetic, provide warmth but don’t breathe well, so you have to take them off and then throw them back on to regulate your temperature. Solution: A new category of insulation that combines heat and breathability in one form, and Patagonia’s Nano-Air is at the cutting edge. Their proprietary FullRange insulation was the first that actually had testers sweating less and wearing the jacket more. “It thrives in the alpine where you’re working hard to get to a route, then climbing and creating extra heat, followed by being still at belays in cold temps,” said one tester who rocked it for a few months in the high mountains above Chamonix, France, as well as Rocky Mountain National Park and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. “It’s not warmer than other jackets, but it is definitely more breathable, which means less adjusting on long approaches and long climbs.” Another kick-ass feature of the jacket was its incredible level of stretch, which is a result of the mechanical properties of the weave of a 20-denier nylon outer that includes a DWR finish. It’s a trim fit, but testers could reach up, out, backward, and every way around without the jacket shifting or raising up, increasing protection from the elements. Two hand-warmer pockets are higher and accessible when wearing a harness, a chest pocket holds sundries, and longer sleeves make it climber-worthy. But beware of offwidths, chimneys, or the errant ice axe. The material isn’t designed to withstand assaults from sharps or high abrasion.
Grivel Tech Machine$250; libertymountain.comSmart design for expert-level ice climbing When testing this tool side by side with other high-end ice models at the 2014 Bozeman Ice Festival, one tester noticed the brilliant design immediately when the Tech Machine stuck faster and removed easier than any other tool. “I could always rely on this for a sturdy placement, and I never had to struggle to remove it, even with wonderfully deep sticks,” she said. That’s thanks to a thoughtful structure that combines a flatter (read: less curved) pick head with a curved shaft and the real kicker: a handle that’s angled farther backward, meaning the wrist is naturally cocked back when holding the tool. What this does is put more leverage into every swing and into every time you lift the tool up to remove it. The less aggressive pick shape also helped to make extracting the ice tool faster and easier. “Putting the increased angle in the handle itself and not the shaft or pick is brilliant, as you get more leverage and swinging action with every move in or out of the ice.” Chromolly steel throughout the tool means it’s strong and durable, and a pointer finger rest provided a lot more precision for finding existing pick holes on delicate ice. The slight curve in the handle also made it more ergonomic and comfortable to hold.
Bäm! Board$149; bamclimbing.com
A compact training tool that progresses with you
There’s a trade-off with the size of a hangboard: A small size usually means fewer holds and less training variety, while a large size has hold diversity but limits your options of where to hang it. The bäm board solves both problems with a super-small size (at 2’ x 5”, it’s one of the smallest boards available) but a huge range of training options and levels. This is thanks to the variable edge and pocket depth and the customizable angle. Individual holds can be made shallower or deeper by a simple adjustment of some screws on the bottom of the board, while the entire unit has four different angle options, ranging from 0° to 30°. Adjusted with a simple peg on each side, this feature is especially great when it comes to training slopers; with two different sloper holds and four angles, you basically get eight sloper holds. “This hangboard progresses with me; the more I train on it, the harder I can make it,” one tester said of the high level of customization. “Plus, it’s stealthy and inconspicuous in my tiny apartment.” Serious hangboarders also loved the wood material, which made long sessions not only bearable but comfortable: “I can train on this way longer, thus getting way stronger, than plastic training tools.”
Scarpa Furia$179; scarpa.com
Soft, sensitive, best-of-the-best rock shoe
“World-class, mega-dank! Thanks to perfectly soft edges, Ryan Gosling in ‘The Notebook’ sensitivity, and a delightfully comfortable fit,” one tester said. So comfortable that he wore them on the 13-pitch Yankee Clipper (5.10b) in El Potrero Chico, Mexico, and was still grinning and singing after a full day of edging on micro-nubs. The same tester onsighted three 5.12s in the Furia at crags around Chattanooga, Tennessee, choosing them because of their versatility and performance on verticals, steeps, pockets, smedging, edges, slopers, and everything in between. The baby-fuzz softness comes from having no midsole, which famed shoe designer Heinz Mariacher removed to increase sensitivity and that supple feel. The midsole is also responsible for helping keep the aggressively downturned shape of a shoe, so instead Mariacher used a piece of tensioned rubber that runs from the ball of the foot to the front of the heel, called the PCB-Tension System (Power Connection Band). This piece of tensioned rubber (it’s stretched before being applied to the shoe) helps you transfer power directly into the toe. This means that your entire foot is working to help you edge on a dime, instead of just your toes. As the softest shoe in Scarpa’s line, the Furia is a versatile and surprisingly comfortable high-end rock shoe.
Black Diamond Pack Line$55-$190; blackdiamondequipment.com
The 5 best climbing-specific gear haulers for every discipline
This year we tested every new climbing pack that Black Diamond makes, and we loved them all. Each serves a specific purpose or perfectly suits a style of climbing. They’re all well-built with thoughtful features, durable materials, and a comfortable carry. The Stone Duffel 42 is the classic duffel-style crag pack, with a top-to-bottom zipper on the outside for easy access, multiple drag and carry handles, and no external pockets for simplicity. Built for hauling serious loads, the aptly named Creek 50 carries a triple rack, rope, and tons of other gear with ease, thanks to a super-beefy padded suspension system and multiple organization features, including top and side access. With a completely unique design, the Pipe Dream 45 is constructed with a thin layer of foam throughout the pack so you can unfold it and use it as a sit pad when resting between burns or as a padded landing zone when working your way to the first bolt. A removable top lid holds sundries without getting dirty from the ground. The Stone 45 is more of a standard pack, with full suspension, top-loading access, a lid, compression straps, and one important addition—a full-length side-access zipper that makes loading rack, helmet, harness, shoes, etc. much easier. Rounding out the line is the Bullet 16, the leader sack that more or less gave the category of “bullet packs” its name. The beauty comes in its simplicity: 16 liters of storage, two smaller pockets, thin but padded shoulder straps, and a webbing-only waistbelt and sternum strap.
La Sportiva Helios SR$125; sportiva.com
Quiver-of-one approach shoe
The Helios has been our go-to approach shoe since it came out two years ago, because it’s light, cushy, nimble, and easy to take on and off between burns. Now, with the addition of sticky rubber to the sole, “It’s my perfect all-purpose approach shoe. As a climber, the only other thing I could have wanted on the original Helios would have been sticky rubber, so this is kind of a dream come true,” one tester said. For the last few years, our testers have donned these super-light kicks for everything from five-mile slogs in Rocky Mountain National Park to bushwhacking in the Cascades to short jaunts to bouldering areas in the Southeast. “For couple-minute to couple-hour approaches, these are my favorite approach shoes—ever,” one seasoned tester said. “When I’m leaving on a road trip and I’m forced to pick one pair out of my arsenal of dozens, I always reach for the Helios.” With their proven performance, the Frixion rubber added to the sole only upped its applications: Testers romped on technical slabs in the Wind River Range, riverside boulders in Boulder Canyon, and root-laden trails in the South. They barely register on the scale at 16 oz. per pair, the mostly mesh upper is incredibly breathable, and the MorphoDynamic midsole offers plenty of support without compromising sensitivity, meaning you can still navigate technical terrain over long distances with no foot fatigue. Plus one: great for cross-training runs, too.
Petzl Hirundos$100; Petzl.comAwesome overhaul to super-airy harness This lightweight harness has been a top pick for serious sport climbers for the last few years, and the complete overhaul for 2015 boosted its versatility and comfort. “I opted for the Hirundos on everything from hangdogging my projects to all-day, dozen-pitch routes,” one tester said. This version gets extra cush and maintains a low weight and slim profile because of Petzl’s proprietary Fuseframe technology. Most harnesses have a webbing skeleton to provide strength with foam padding placed on top of that for comfort, but Fuseframe first shapes the foam to have special channels where the webbing will be placed. This means the webbing nests into the foam, keeping it slender and lightweight but still easy to wear all day. This technology also fuses the outer fabric with the foam to better distribute pressure and eliminate hot spots, which no testers experienced, even on 13-pitch days with 10 rappels. Designers also upped durability and cut ounces by using Dyneema (synthetic material that’s lighter and stronger than nylon) in the tie-in points and the belay loop. One obsessed-over feature was the drop-leg with extra-large, easy-to-operate plastic buckles, meaning testers (especially ladies!) had delightfully fast access when nature called. Tester note: Sizing ran small, so opt for one size up when ordering.
Pat’s Backcountry Beverages$50 (starter kit with carbonator bottle, activator packets, and 5 soda flavors), $10 (4-pack of beer); patsbcb.com
Turn water into beer
This sweet little setup is a specialized water bottle that lets you use any drinkable water you have on hand and turn it into beer—no more lugging 12 extra pounds to the crag or enduring that long car ride from the base to the brewery. Add water, throw in the carbonator tablet and flavor concentrate, shake it side to side, let it sit for a few minutes, and then drink up! “The Pail Rail competes with all of my favorite pale ales,” one beer snob tester said. “I can’t believe this came out of an energy gel–size packet!” Pat’s uses a special hybrid brewing process that creates a beer with very little liquid content, so the beer “gel” in the packet acts as a concentrate that, once mixed, delivers higher alcohol content and smoother, more beer-like taste than previous dehydrated iterations of portable suds. Dark beer fans will flip over the Black Hops, and mixed drink–loving testers dug this setup to make classic soda cocktails.
La Sportiva Genius$190; sportiva.comBest of both worlds with a top-tier rock shoe Building off the success of the Futura’s No-Edge technology, La Sportiva decided to put that rounded toe on a lace-up shoe with a heel similar to the time-tested Testarossa to create the aptly named Genius. “A perfect example of the final product being more than the sum of its parts, the Genius is just that: snug but comfortable, an aggressive downturn, and incredible performance on anything from vert to super-steep,” said one tester who took them for single-pitch trad at Tennessee Wall and sculpted sandstone boulders at Little Rock City, both near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The idea behind No-Edge is that climbing shoes that are at their broken-in sweet spot are actually blunt at the toe, instead of having a sharp, precise edge. This design skips the breaking-in period so you get a brand-new shoe that is ready to crush. The Genius has the same cushy mesh sock as the Solution, which lets you really crank on the laces to get a “freaking perfect fit,” and testers lauded the offset laces and extra rubber wrapped up over the front of the shoe to make the Genius really ideal for toe hooking and even foot jamming. The outside rubber also extends pretty far back, making back-stepping and drop-knees even easier. Ding: The high price, but this is definitely one of the best high-performance rock shoes on the market. Petzl Cirro$399; petzl.comSmart, versatile crashpad It’s not often that a new crashpad comes along and makes our diehard bouldering testers stop obsessing over their skin and say “Wow,” but the Cirro did just that. “The unique design of this mat put all others to shame,” one photographer-climber said after carrying upwards of 35 pounds at a time in the pad. The taco-style, hingeless setup (single fold with one section of foam) meant there were no dead spots in the middle, eliminating the fear of bottoming out and creating a uniform amount of support across the large surface area of the pad (58” x 46.5”). Designers also achieved a superb balance of rigidity and cush in the landing with their three-layer foam system that places two layers of closed-cell foam with different densities on top of the softer open-cell foam. This distributes the impact of landing and offers the right amount of squish. Across the board, testers loved the full suspension system, with beefy, padded shoulder straps and waistbelt. The cherry on top was the foldover flap that closes the pad and prevents even the smallest brush from falling out, and then flips over when the pad is open to protect the carry system from getting muddy and gross. An additional single shoulder strap for short jaunts upped versatility.
Belaggles Belay Glasses$90; belaggles.com
Prevent belayer’s neck
The idea of specialized glasses designed for belaying has been around for a while, but none of the previous iterations are as comfortable, durable, and well-designed as the Belaggles specs. They work pretty simply: A prism in the place of a normal lens bends the light so you look straight ahead with your head and neck in a neutral position, but you can actually see what’s above you. These glasses allow you to safely watch your climber while belaying, without wrenching your neck backward for long periods. “It’s that cranked-up position that leads to belayer’s neck, as well as aches and pains in daily life,” one climbing-focused chiropractor points out, “so eliminating that position from your daily climbing repertoire lowers the probability that you’ll have problems with your neck.” Belaggles come with a nylon frame that’s durable enough to stand a beating at the crag, and they’re built so that if you do drop them, the frame or nose cap will hit first, not the prism. The rubber nose cap also meant testers could wear them for prolonged sessions without discomfort. Bonus: Each pair comes with a protective storage case, microfiber cloth for cleaning, and an eyewear retainer string. Here’s a hint: Buy a pair to share with your climbing partner so he’ll never have an excuse not to belay you again! //