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Gear Guide 2014: Bouldering

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La Sportiva Women's Solution

La Sportiva Women’s Solution$175;

Favorite shoe gets a feminine update

“A tapered heel and a new last shape fit narrow and low-volume lady feet much better, and the aggressive downturn, excellent rubber, and world-class design of the original Solution make this a top performer for anything steep. The Women’s Solution is the climber girl’s version of a sticky-rubber Cinderella slipper.” Read the full review in our Editors’ Choice Awards.

Evolv Iceman$135;

Evolv Iceman

Thoughtfully featured midsize pad 

By thinking outside the box, designers built a crashpad that ignores “standard” closure systems (flap or metal buckle and strap) and instead employs a completely simple but effective setup. Two-inch-wide Velcro straps on the top, bottom, and side slide through large, rectangular loops, and then fold back to attach directly to itself—almost identical to the hook-and-loop closures of most Velcro shoes. “The one thing I hate about bouldering is constantly opening and closing your pad to move from one spot to another, but the Iceman was way faster and easier to use than every other pad in my quiver,” one diehard boulderer said after taking it to pebble-wrestling hotspots in Colorado, Utah, and California. Other pads with strap systems force you to hook the buckle, and then tighten, which is sometimes difficult with a too-small and slippery webbing strap that gets stiff when dirty. The Iceman’s genius straps close and tighten in the same movement. At just under 7.5 pounds and with a 32” x 42” coverage area, the Iceman is excellent for after-work sessions or as a fill-in pad.

Arm Relief Massager$65;

Arm Relief Massager

Forearm therapy

No one knows muscle pump, fatigue, and the resulting frustrations like climbers do, and now there’s a portable solution that offers relief through self-massage. The A.R.M. is a 26-ounce contraption that looks like a piece of “As Seen on TV” exercise equipment gone wrong. But it’s actually very simple and effective: Sit down and put your leg through the large hole at the bottom. Use the Velcro strap to adjust how much pressure you want, stick your arm through, and move the device back and forth along your forearm. Whether you do it before, during, or after climbing hard, this nifty setup improves circulation (which de-pumps you), loosens overtrained muscles, and helps eliminate trigger points (small knots of muscle tissue, common in climbers’ forearms where all these tiny muscles are needed for the infinite ways we use our hands). One tester carted the A.R.M. to Bishop, California, and Horse Pens 40, Alabama, saying, “When I feel the pump coming on—whether it’s after my first problem or my tenth—I do about two to three minutes of gentle rolling, and after that I feel loose and ready to crush.”

Transgression Board$265;

Transgression Board

High-level hangboarding

A lot of thought went into this board. In fact, a Spanish climbing coach with a master’s degree in sports science created it to accompany a training program she devised for intermediate to advanced climbers. It has an overhanging design with eight edges that vary in depth from 6mm (trust us, that’s small) to 18mm, plus a large, comfortable jug at the top. With more than 10 years of research, including endorsements from Europe’s top climbers, backing creator Eva Lopez’ product, the theory is that you should train just under maximum effort so you can see gains without getting injured. One tester loved the uniform style of hanging on smaller and smaller rungs, “I could actually feel improvement week after week and was able to mark my progress solidly because I could hang on ever-smaller edges.” The polyurethane is comfortable to train on, and if the edges are too sharp for your liking, the board is designed so you can file them down to your own personal ergonomic taste.

Metolius Session Pad$149;

Metolius Session Pad

Workhorse mat

“Eight months of weekly testing throughout the West has put this pad to the top of my gear pile,” one tester said of the Session. “It’s the one mat I take every time.” From filling in uneven landings in Hueco Tanks, Texas, to being a stand-alone landing zone for the flat ground of Guanella Pass, Colorado, this pad proved its worth through versatility. The 45-degree-angle hinge offered extra protection and prevented the ankle-twisting dead zone in the middle that some bi-fold pads have. Burly nylon outer fabric has stood the test of time and maximum abuse, with no tears or pulls despite the harsh treatment of being trundled down talus fields, raked across sandstone slabs, and dragged through mud and snow. Testers lauded the small carpet in the middle of the pad, which was “just enough to wipe my feet but not so much that the entire top of my pad collects dirt and grime.” The flap closure system kept everything packed inside secure; plus, a small stash pocket on the flap was perfect for keys, phone, and wallet. With a nine-pound weight and a comfy hipbelt/shoulder strap system, you’ll barely feel it on your back, even for long hauls up to alpine blocks.

Rock Prodigy Elite Package$179 (Elite Package), $120 (hangboard), $37 (pulley system), $29 (book);

Rock Prodigy Elite Package

Comprehensive training tools for the everyman

Stop whatever cobbled-together exercise regimen you’ve concocted and check out brothers Mike and Mark Anderson’s thorough and extensive training system, ideal for the busy weekend warrior who needs efficient exercises. This package includes a hangboard, The Rock Climber’s Training Manual, and a pulley system, a unique part of the Andersons’ routine. The Rock Prodigy Training Center hangboard is designed for very precise and specific movements, to be used in conjunction with the pulley system so you dial in the exact right amount of body weight for each grip position. “The two-piece structure of the hangboard is perfect because it allowed me to custom fit it to my own 6-foot-2-inch wingspan,” one tester said. Another customizable feature are the variable-depth rails that are shallow on one end and deep on the other; not only does this mimic real rock, but it allows you to vary the difficulty level as you improve. Pure brilliance: By positioning the pinch grips so they point straight down (back of your hands up), you train only forearm strength and not compression muscles (e.g., your chest) like with other hangboards that force a sideways grip (back of hands out to the sides). One tester said she felt twice as strong on pinches (her former weakness) after training with the Rock Prodigy for three weeks. The hangboard comes with workout guidelines, but to maximize training, the book is a must-have accessory. It covers every aspect of climbing, from footwork to mental strategies, and one gym-fanatic tester deemed it “the most comprehensive training book I’ve ever seen.”

Scarpa Stix$149;

Scarpa Stix

Powerful performance

Slippers are usually reserved for crack and slab climbing, when you want the flexibility of a sock and the sensitivity of an almost-bare foot, but that doesn’t really lend itself to the power needed for bouldering and steep sport climbing. Leave it to genius rock shoe designer Heinz Mariacher to change the game by creating a stiff and über-downturned Velcro- and lace-free shoe aimed at high-end climbers. “As a boulderer, I’ve always scoffed at slippers, but the Stix easily competed with my favorite top-notch rock shoes,” one Colorado tester said after carrying them to Yosemite, Joe’s Valley, Utah, and Little Rock City, Tennessee. A stiff forefoot and X-tension randing system transfer energy into the pointed toe for grabbing and pushing off pockets and nubs. And don’t worry about the Stix for intense heel and toe hooks: “This is the only true slipper I’ve used where popping off or shifting when I tenuously hung on my heel was a non-issue,” one tester said. The secret is in the elastic band that runs over the top of the foot and keeps the shoe incredibly snug. Smart addition: It’s reinforced with thermoplastic strips that add stability and durability. That combined with the synthetic-leather upper mean the shoe will keep its shape over the lifespan. One tester has climbed dozens of boulder problems and 40+ pitches with no deformation and no stretching out.

Five Ten Team VXi$170;

Five Ten Team XVi

Sensei of sensitivity

Swoon alert! The Team line from Five Ten has always boasted maximum flexibility, but this iteration takes it to a whole new level. Plus, the Stealth Mi6 rubber was the stickiest in comparison to other kicks right out of the box. While these puppies are ideal for strong-footed climbers on steep routes and roof boulder problems, they also stood out on slabs, like the runout section on J Crack (5.9) in Lumpy Ridge, Colorado, and the numerous less-than-vertical granite faces Yosemite. “Paste your foot anywhere—absolutely anywhere—and it will stick,” one smitten user said. Zero stiffness throughout means you can get maximum contact between rock and rubber. Our testers sized down as much as two full sizes from their street shoes; the pliability of these Teams make them easy to put on and wear. Most testers found the best fit one size down. One tester even called them the most comfortable high-performance rock shoes he’d ever worn. Note: You will have to learn how to curl your toes and use the strength of your foot initially if you’re accustomed to stiffer shoes. Achilles heel? While the rubber was among the stickiest we’d ever used at first, after a few weeks, it was similar to other high-end rubber compounds.

Lapis Wood Boar’s Hair Brush$10;

Lapis Wood Boar's Hair Brush

Updated classic

Lapis boar’s hair brushes have long been the premium tool to remove chalk and other gunk from holds, but we’ve seen countless broken half-brushes discarded in gyms and at the bases of boulders. (What happened to leave no trace, people?) Bristles intact, these leftover pieces are forgotten and useless because the plastic handles have snapped off from aggressive brushing by boulderers who don’t know their own strength, getting stepped on, or even just being dropped and forgotten. The new wood version not only cleans holds that left other brushes looking as weak as a feather duster, but it has also withstood outing after outing, crammed into packs and crashpads. And the bristles? Still good as new after nearly six months of use.

Salewa Capsico$109;

Salewa Capsico

Approach shoe turned slip-on

The sideways glances our testers shot each other said it all: They were skeptical. “Is this an approach shoe or a Croc?” said one. The beauty behind this kick, though, is that it’s both. You get a supportive shoe for the hike in and something that’s easy on–easy off for the two dozen times you’re squeezing into and out of your rock shoes. The Capsico offers a sturdy, sticky rubber–soled approach shoe that turns into a comfy clog with the flick of a wide rubber band. On crumbling, rocky approaches in Joe’s Valley, Utah, and Red Rock, Nevada, testers positioned the band in the back and tightened the cinchable laces for reliable scrambling, but once at the crag, they could put the band in the front and fold down the back of the shoe for a cozy slip-on. “This is two shoes in one, meaning I can pack less stuff,” one tester said. “Plus, the Capsico is more like foot therapy than my usual go-to, flimsy flip-flops.” That’s thanks to the wide forefoot, which gave cramped toes room to spread out and breathe, and a rubber toe bumper kept them stub-free. While a touch loose for steep sidehilling, they are worthy hikers—one tester carried a 20-pound pack on long approaches in Indian Creek and Castle Valley, Utah. Olfactory alert: Too much barefoot use may result in earlier-than-anticipated funk, as one tester reported. Socks recommended, especially for the hike in and out.