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Gear Tested: A Rope, A Rack, A Jacket For Your Back, And More

Our field test results for the new Wild Country Zero Offset Cams, Sterling's dry Aero 9.2 rope, the Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket, Valandre's Bloody Mary 5° F sleeping bag, the Metolius System Climbing Holds, Outdoor Research Direct Route II gloves, Black Diamond's Super Chute Rope Bag, and Patagonia's DAS Light Pants.

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Wild Country Zero Offset Friends

$79.95 or $389.95 (set of 5),

I was never an offset-cam guy, figuring it was the brainchild of a coffeed-up engineer: “Do I want No. 1, a No. 2, or … ? Hey, I know!” However, I was wrong, much like when I resisted curved nuts in the 1980s. After testing a five-pack of Wild Country Zero Offset Friends, I was gobsmacked to learn that they’re as useful, if not more so, than conventional cams. But first a disclaimer: I’d still use standard cams at places like Canyonlands where cracks are uniform.

Offsets make apt, more-reliable use of geologic and manmade funk like pin scars, flares, pods, and grooves where a standard cam would either have two lobes crammed or two umbrellaed. On Looking Glass’s trademark granite “eyebrows” (flaring, outward-sloping demons that spit out conventional cams), the more rock-ergonomic offsets rested easy, with all four lobes gripping in a life-or-death tug of war. The Zero Offsets also have a narrow head width—the narrowest I’ve used—and a spring-wrapped stem that’s rigid when you retract the cams, yet supple to absorb rope movement, minimizing walking. Action is mouse-trap snappy, and the units smartly use bi-color coding: the sling matches the smaller lobes, while the trigger color matches the larger lobes. As final flourishes, the slings extend and the cam faces have traction grooves. — Duane Raleigh

Sterling Aero 9.2

$299.99 (60m),

Last year, Sterling introduced a new dry treatment: Xeros, which starts with dry-treated filaments and then weaves these into the yarns. I.e., the rope is 100 percent dry-treated, both core and sheath. Per Sterling’s literature, this approach reduces waste, energy use, and labor. Myself and an editor tested the Aero 9.2, which uses the Xeros tech. It’s rated for seven UIAA falls, and has an impact force of 8.8 kN, a weight of 56 grams/meter, dynamic elongation of 30.2 percent, and a static elongation of 7.5 percent—it’s a cragging and ice workhorse. I’ve always loved how Sterling ropes feel: stiff but not too stiff, easy to feed but not slippery. They inspire confidence and last forever. The Aero has been no exception, and has fed smoothly over our months of testing.

As for the dry treatment, on a snowy day in the Flatirons, moisture got on the Aero, but it shed nicely and barely gummed up. Our other tester, an alpinist, concurred: “The rope felt watertight at the start of the winter.” He did notice, though, that after months of hard mixed/alpine use in the Rockies, the sheathe fuzzed up and was no longer as impermeable. But still, he noted, this happens eventually to all dry ropes, and likely took longer than usual with the Aero. Sold in 40, 60, 70, and 80m. 

—Matt Samet

Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket


After two decades of climbing and over a decade in the outdoor industry, to me, jackets are like the heads of the Hydra: Get rid of one and two more take its place. I’ve seen them all, from the so-called “game-changing innovations,” to the classic mainstays, and when something is subpar, I rarely pack it a second time.

That’s why the greatest compliment I can give the Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket is that it was in my pack all fall and winter. From mild, shady cragging days at Staunton State Park (elevation: 9,000 feet) and the Flatirons, Colorado, to chilly days on long routes in Red Rock and Yosemite, the Xenair has been a welcome outer-layer companion. It has an ideal amount of Primaloft insulation for a midweight piece (10.3 ounces, men’s M) to keep you warm at belays, while being svelte enough to tuck under your harness without annoying bulk. The Pertex outer fabric has held up to Indian Creek thrutching and Valley granite without a single scuff so far, and the elastic cuffs kept my hands and wrists trim for maneuverability. Perhaps most appreciated was the zippered stuff-sack pocket, which doesn’t require three hands to effect, and lets you clip the compressed jacket nicely to your harness. While I haven’t had the chance to take it on proper winter objectives, I can foresee it being a great active midlayer on colder days with a full-weight puffy in the backpack.

The one caveat is the hood: only fitting under a helmet and at the upper end of snug for full head mobility—such as when craning your neck to belay. But this is a small price to pay for an otherwise well-thought-out jacket that will keep you comfy without weighing you down.—Maury Birdwell

Valandre Bloody Mary 5° F sleeping bag


The engineers at Valandre must surely be fans of Socrates. “Better do a little well, than a great deal badly,” he said, and so has Valandre done for the last 40-odd years, as they’ve focused on producing some of the best down jackets and sleeping bags around. Their Bloody Mary sleeping bag is no exception. As a three-season bag, the Bloody Mary quickly became my go-to, keeping me comfortable and dry on spring campouts in the snow, crisp autumn nights, and one unfortunate, blizzarding weekend that left me tent-bound lamenting: Rock season can’t be over yet .…

The Bloody Mary is one of the most versatile sleeping bags I’ve owned, thanks to its three draft-collar options, full-length zipper, and adjustable mummy hood. If, like me, you tend to adjust and readjust throughout the night, you’ve surely felt hard-won warmth escape through your bag’s collar as you flip over yet again to block out your partner’s chainsaw snores. In the winter, this means trouble. In the Bloody Mary, Valandre’s “Marie Antoinette collar” zips into the back of the bag at neck height and sticks to Velcro on the front, providing a comfortable, insulating, neck-wrapping down tube. When paired with the DAS Light Pants and Hoody (see review, p. 80), this configuration enabled me to use the Bloody Mary in colder conditions than advertised, down to about -8° F. For warmer nights, you can swap in a half collar—or, in summer, go with no collar at all. Speaking of which, a head-to-toe zipper provides ventilation for warm-weather bivvies, yet can be quickly zipped up (read: it’s snag-free) and is lined with a generous draft tube once the night wears on, clear and cold. These added zippers, Velcro, and fabric mean there’s a slight size penalty when stuffing it into your pack, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker—the Bloody Mary still only weighs 2.6 pounds and packs down to 8” x 10”. Just something to consider for fast-and-light alpine outings, where you’re going minimalist.

An important, final feature to note is the quality of Valandre’s insulation itself. The 850-fill down is sourced from the famously durable French grey geese—the ones who, twice each year, fly as high as 24,000 feet with temperatures as low as -60° F, and who prepare for their migration by eating and storing energy in their fat, liver, and feathers. It’s during this stage that the down is harvested, ensuring maximum warmth. I certainly can’t operate at 24,000 feet as well as a grey goose can, nor do I have any desire to visit -60° F, but the Bloody Mary brings out the best in me. A good night’s sleep can do that to a grump.  —Anthony Walsh

Metolius System Climbing Holds


Metolius’s new System Climbing Holds come in the form of edges, pinches, pockets, and slopers, each available in a range of depths and angles; they’re the comfiest damn grips I’ve used—smooth, ergonomic, and skin friendly. You can pick your own, or Metolius can help you pick based on your wall space/angle and desired grade range. For example, crimps are available in 20, 25, and 30 mm depths at 0 degrees (in which case they’re flat), 15 degrees (slightly incut), or 30 degrees (more incut). On a 40-degree wall, I used 70 mm slopers at 30 degrees; 60 mm pinches incut; 25 mm crimps at 30 degrees; and 30 mm pockets at 30 degrees. The holds come in packs of six. Arranging them in a symmetrical layout at Beast Fingers Climbing, in Denver, Colorado, I created boulders and circuits, focusing either on power or power-endurance. Over my months of testing, I’ve found them to be incredibly skin friendly and (despite being wooden) fairly grippy. They’ve also proven durable, notwithstanding my setting ineptitude. The wood, according to Metolius, comes from a range of conifer trees—spruce, pine, and fir—offering ideal strength and texture.  —Delaney Miller

Outdoor Research Direct Route II


Belay gloves are a Goldilocks thing: Some are thin and supple, but wear out way too quickly; others are thick, beefy, and last forever, but make rope/gear handling butterfingers-clumsy. I found my Goldilocks pair in the Direct Route II, a hybrid leather/polyester/Spandex/knit glove that has taken up long-term residence in my crag pack. What I dug: 1) Good padding thanks to the goat-leather palms, with a cow split-suede overlay on the upper palm and base of the fingers—right where the rope runs—providing extra insulation and longevity (still going strong after months, thanks also to the Kevlar stitching). 2) The knit/Spandex backing, adding stretch and dexterity. 3) The big hook-and-loop closure wrist straps, which were easy to use and adjust. You can really feel and grip the rope while belaying, and they’ve proven invaluable for rapping and hauling, too. The gloves weigh 3 ounces, and come in sizes XS–XL.  —Matt Samet

Black Diamond Super Chute Rope Bag

$49.95 (60m),

Rope bags are crucial gear, but rarely sexy. BD’s Super Chute spices things up with a unique funnel shape to its 4’ x 5’ tarp (broadest at its far end) that adds time-saving functionality: You simply slide the rope in and out of the hood in funnel mode, or, if you aren’t in a hurry, roll it up the usual way. The Super Chute also offers a supersized rope-flaking zone that had extra space to stand and clean my shoes before a lead, a nice touch at a dusty volcanic crag in southern Colorado I frequented this winter. It’s just a nice, big rope bag, which made life hassle-free when either funneling or furling/unfurling; there was always more than enough nylon to encapsulate the rope. Two tie-off points (red and green), beefy buckles, and an adjustable shoulder strap made for nice extras. Accommodates cords up to 80 meters. 

—Matt Samet

Patagonia DAS Light Pants


Patagonia took two things I love—lightweight synthetic insulation and puffy pants—and produced the pants version of its stalwart DAS Light Hoody. The result is a featherweight (11 ounces), versatile pairing to take you from summer’s open bivvies and belay duty to light-and-fast cold-weather routes. The insulation (65 grams of PlumaFill), also used in the Hoody, is IMO the gold standard for synthetic insulation right now, and is incredibly warm for its negligible weight. On days of long belays and little climbing—like an attempt on the notoriously poorly protected Cool Spring (WI 5)—I happily stood in the shade for hours while my partner hooked and scratched up the overhanging ice. On more active days, I appreciated the pants’ durable water repellent coating on their recycled Pertex Quantum Pro shell, as well as articulated knees and elasticized, boot-hugging cuffs that enabled a terrific range of motion. I have no durability complaints yet either: The pants have held up admirably against rough rock, steep ice, and several hours of crag naps.—Anthony Walsh