Gear Guide 2014: Alpine

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Petzl Laser Speed$60 (Laser Speed), $55 (Laser);

Petzl Laser Speed

Crankin’ is easier than ever

“Hands down, the easiest screw I have ever used for starting in hard ice,” said one ecstatic tester after deploying Petzl’s new screws on water ice all over Colorado. Petzl optimized the aggressive steel teeth on the Laser series by lengthening them, and it shows with the increased ease of placement. “I rarely failed to start the screw with just one jab, which is a real blessing when you’re pumped,” another tester said. Laser Speed screws (four sizes, 10 to 21cm) have a fold-up crank that nestles nicely against the hanger when racked on your harness, and the Laser screws (three sizes, 13 to 21cm) are crankless to save weight. Color-coded handles on the Laser Speeds delineate length so you can grab the right one at a glance. Testers loved these screws, so look out for summer 2014’s newest iteration, an even lighter version: the Laser Speed Lite, with an aluminum shaft and hanger and inset steel tip with the same quick-biting teeth. Our testers are already fighting over samples.

Black Diamond Speed 55$190;

Black Diamond Speed 55

Active suspension, comfy carrying

By allowing your lower and upper body to move independently of each another, Black Diamond’s active-suspension systems have found a home with alpine climbers. Testers were still smiling when carrying the Speed loaded with almost 40 pounds of rope, full rack, layers, food, water, stove/fuel for hot drinks, and all the other high-country necessities. “This pack makes the approach and descent much more enjoyable,” one petite tester said of the reACTIV suspension system and the plentiful padding in the lumbar, shoulder straps, and hipbelt. Credit a cable that runs from one shoulder strap through the lower back panel to the other shoulder strap for increased lateral movement. This rucksack gives climbers the option to remove a plastic framesheet, hipbelt, and the lid to go super light and (hopefully) fast. Bells and whistles include ice tool attachment points, crampon patch, and hydration compatibility. Bonus: friendly price.

Asolo Alta Via GV$425;

Asolo Alta Via GV

Comfortable all-mountain boots 

“Twelve hours of moving—with and without crampons—and my feet could have easily handled 12 more,” said one tester after long days of ice climbing in Montana’s Hyalite Canyon. The Alta Via are light (4 pounds per pair) but proved plenty warm. Our tester was toasty belaying even in 10°F midday highs. The warm and cushy secret? A last made of 30 percent fiberglass, which both insulates and supports without a weight penalty, and a heel-locking system that wraps up and around the top of the heel to keep the back of your foot down when frontpointing so your calves don’t pump out. They had an ideal amount of stiffness for vertical ice and mixed climbing, but they had enough flex in the upper to stride much like standard hiking boots on the approaches and descents. “Pure comfort and performance right out of the box.”

Five Ten Anasazi Guide$145;

Five Ten Anasazi Guide

All-terrain workhorse

Thick-soled and stiff, these rock shoes wear almost like boots—and for day-long routes in the alpine, that’s a good thing. “I’m not going to work my project in these,” said one tester, “but that’s not what they’re for. These are my top choice for long trad lines.” Credit a flat last for all-day comfort, the burly leather upper for enduring the rigors of a season of scuffs and cracks, and the Stealth C4 rubber for sticking to the tiniest of nubbins. “On routes that pack a little bit of everything—stretches of crack climbing, then slab, then a chimney, like some of my favorite routes in the Wind Rivers, these are the shoes to have.” The rigid midsole and flat toe are great for confident edging and toe jams. Downside: Break-in time is longer than average.

Beal Unicore Gully 7.3$180 (50m), $210 (60m), $250 (70m);

Beal Unicore Gully 7.3

Crazy-light half rope

Light is right in the high country, and the Gully 7.3mm half ropes have the lowest weight of any other rope on the market at 36 g/m. Yep, that’s right, less than 5 pounds for 60 meters. Since it’s rated as a twin rope as well, testers took it on ice in New Hampshire and wandery routes in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, and loved the stiff and durable feel. “Even though it’s the thinnest rope I’ve ever climbed on, it still felt substantial in my hands and running through the belay device,” one tester said of the tight sheath weave and Golden Dry treatment. Plus, the Unicore technology gave users extra peace of mind in sketchy terrain. Unicore is a thin filament between the sheath and the core that bonds the two together so if the rope gets chopped, the sheath won’t slide down and expose more of the strength-giving core. The Gully’s Golden Dry treatment, Beal’s proprietary process, repelled water from drippy ice and when left in the snow during belays.

Patagonia Ascensionist 45$179 (45L), $149 (35L), $99 (25L);

Patagonia Ascensionist 45

Comfortable-carrying minimalist

For years, our alpine testers and guide friends have eschewed the lid on alpine packs (or packed it inside the main pack body). “You end up wasting precious time fiddling with buckles—no fun in cold temps, if not impossible with bulky gloves on,” said one tester. “It’s quicker and easier just to use the cinch-top closure.” Patagonia designers must agree (see interview). There’s no traditional lid, rather a super-sized asymmetrical storm collar that cinches over the top of the pack like a hood. A removable aluminum and mesh framesheet provides support for overloads. After weighty approaches to remote trad and mixed routes, one tester deemed this the most comfortable pack for the weight he’d used this year. “A stiffened, pre-curved waistbelt puts weight right on your hips, and the ergonomic shoulder straps balanced the load with zero pain,” he said. Testers also used the Ascensionist 25, praising it as a light, stable summit pack.

Metolius Alpine PAS$25;

Metolius Alpine PAS

Ultra-light anchor

Metolius created the PAS (personal anchor system) six years ago, as a safer alternative to the common practice of using a daisy chain, which can fail under static loads, to clip into anchors. The PAS, a series of connected, strength-rated slings, could also be used to equalize an anchor. It’s so handy, it’s become ubiquitous. The Alpine PAS is identical in construction but 40 percent lighter. Credit the diminutive 11mm Dyneema Monster Sling Webbing. At only 1.7 ounces, “It’s virtually unnoticeable on my harness,” said one tester after multi-pitch forays into Colorado’s Boulder Canyon. “You could use a long sling or a few quickdraws to secure yourself to an anchor, but I like having a dedicated tool for that and only that. Plus, it racks very compactly.” Note: Unlike the PAS 22, the Alpine PAS is not UIAA-certified and should be used only as a personal tether.

Grivel 360 Ice Screw$70;

Grivel 360 Ice Screw

Updated ice protection

With their lengthy, coffee grinder–like handles, Grivel’s 360 screws have long been a go-to for easier cranking in bulletproof ice. They’re also fantastic for maneuvering into tight placements or around large, funky features, but the chief complaint was they got tangled when racked. Now, Grivel has modified the hanger and crank so testers found they nested better when racking multiple screws on an ice clipper on your harness. The new hanger is also considerably easier to clip (though you no longer have the option of clipping it in two orientations). The teeth were also revamped. “Compared with the older Grivels, I was a lot more likely to get first-time, stab-and-go placements,” said one tester. (The new tooth design is also found on Grivel’s Helix screws.) Available in three sizes (12 to 20cm).

Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45L$239;

Arc'Teryx Alpha FL 45L

Bare-bones hauler

Weighing in at a super-ultra-mega-über-light 1 pound, 7 ounces, this airy rig has the stability of a pack five times its weight. “It’s surprisingly comfortable for being, essentially, just a bucket with straps,” one tester said after taking it on two-hour slogs in the Rockies and the Utah desert. “Even when loaded down with 30-plus pounds, it carries like a dream.” A webbing waistbelt transfers just enough weight to the hips that the wide, canted, thinly padded shoulder straps can balance the slender load without fatigue. Simple, climber-centric features abound. Drape a rope over the lidless top and keep it in place with a simple strap and buckle. Secure ice tools with the bungee at the top and metal toggles through the eyelets on your picks at the bottom, while crampons nest between the tools in a bungee web. The pack fabric is Arc’s proprietary, super-bomber N400-AC2. It’s designated as “highly weather resistant,” but our testers found it effectively waterproof. The main pack body holds 32 liters, but an inner roll-top sleeve extends for a total capacity of 45 liters. Tip: Pack dense items low. The pack’s tall, narrow silhouette makes it easy to get off balance if not packed well.

Black Diamond Magnetron VaporLock$28;

Black Diamond Magnetron Vaporlock

Tech upgrade for a classic biner

“It’s like mixing peanut butter and chocolate,” one hungry tester said. “Combine two wonderfully amazing things, and you get something better than the sum of its parts.” Black Diamond added their signature Magnetron technology to a favorite all-around biner to make it even easier to use. Magnetron employs two arms on the gate to keep it from opening, and these arms are magnetically attracted to a steel insert in the nose of the biner. Simply press the arms to open the gate. No twisting or two-hands-required maneuvers. Testers universally loved the Magnetron when it arrived on the scene a few years ago, saying it was a “super-easy locking mechanism that’s quicker and more straightforward than technologies past.” The same praise holds true.

Lowa Falco Laces$140;

Lowa Falco Laces

Alpine comfort, sporty performance

A darkhorse of our shoe testing, this lace-up got tons of high-country use from Wyoming’s Wind Rivers to Colorado’s Front Range. Two testers also rocked these for 5.10 crack climbs in Indian Creek, In Search of Suds (5.10+) on Washer Woman Tower, Utah, and the Kor-Ingalls Route (5.9+) on Castleton Tower, near Moab, Utah, and both were impressed by the level of performance they got out of this slightly downturned stiffie. “The last pitch on Washer Woman is a balancing, edging, smearing scarefest, but I felt confident with my Falcos on,” one of them said. Lowa is using a proprietary rubber called LC SuperGrip that fared just as well on limestone, sandstone, and granite as other compounds. The interior boasts an anti-bacterial lining to mitigate stench. Consensus? Minimal odor after five months of use. Both testers were able to crank the laces all the way down for jamming at the Optimator Wall in the Creek, but loosen the shoes enough to wear with thin socks when temps dipped into the 30s. Extra rubber up and over the toe was ideal for stuffing feet into hand cracks, too. Durability ding: Stitching on one tester’s shoe started coming undone, but it was after six months of use.

Salewa Firetail Evo GTX$149;

Salewa Firetail Evo GTX

Approach shoe king

When European boot maker Salewa hit the American market four years ago with their blister-free guarantee, we were skeptical. Now, after testing no fewer than nine different models, from mountaineering boots to casual kicks, without so much as a hot spot, we are major fans. “The Evo has enough support to hike comfortably to backcountry basecamps with 45-pound loads and enough grip and agility to scamper up talus and slabs to access routes,” said one tester. The secret sauce? A “multi-fit footbed” insole option enables you to dial in a custom fit—use both insoles, one, or none to find just the right volume. An EVA midsole combined with a PU heel wedge provided the “just-right” balance of cushioning and support. To-the-toe lacing means you can lock down your toes for more technical terrain. And the Vibram outsole latches to trail features and bare rock with ease. Bonus: At 1 pound, 8 ounces per pair (men’s 9), they’re light enough to rack on your harness for descents. The Firetail Evo GTX is another hit single on Salewa’s increasingly classic album.