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Gear Guide 2014: Sport Climbing

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Tenaya Oasi $165;

Tenaya Oasi

Max versatility, max performance

“They’re stiff yet supple, and that perfect combination gives them a better feel and more uses than all the other high-performance rock shoes out there. Plus, the brilliant lacing system fits a wider variety of feet.” Read the full review in our Editors’ Choice Awards.

BlueWater Wave 9.3 $183 (60m); $165;

BlueWater Wave 9.3

Skinny size, fat function

If you’re looking to slim down in rope size but have been hesitant because of durability concerns, look no further. By upping the amount of sheath on the rope with a super-tight braided structure, you get more stiffness, less flop, and ultimately a longer lifespan. While the core still provides the strength of your cord, a denser sheath will add rigidity so it has a thicker feel without added width or weight. It also means more material standing between the core and agents of abrasion. Thanks to that tight outer material, “This rope slid through gear like water through a sieve, so it was great for long routes where rope drag would otherwise be an issue,” one tester said. Despite the thin diameter, which usually means more dynamic elongation, the stretch on this was minimal when one tester took about seven falls at the crux of Horizontal Mambo (5.13a), Potash Road, Utah. “I would deem the slogan of this rope, ‘Worry less, climb more!’” he said. Feel free to take this on long slogs to the crag, too, as it’s 56 g/m, so the 60-meter version weighs in at a mere 7.4 pounds. Bonus: It’s rated as a half rope, too.

Mountain Hardwear Hueco 35$130;

Mountain Hardwear Hueco 35

Sturdy all-purpose pack

“This little hauler was excellent for everything I threw in it,” our main tester said of this midsize pack. With 35 liters of space, it was the perfect fit for moderate-weather days of sport, trad, and even ice. He threw it around at sandstone crags in Utah and at New Hampshire destinations with their trademark unforgiving schist, and he was consistently impressed with how the 840-denier ballistic nylon stood up to all kinds of abuse. “I was surprised how much I used the outer handle on the back; it was perfect for the grab-and-go movement from route to route,” he said. The beefy but ventilated CoolWave suspension mimics that of a much higher-volume pack, so our tester was still smiling under loads up to 35 pounds. A few of the extras were unique and useful, too: A separate lid that unzips to accommodate a rope or a helmet, including a special V-shaped strap to hold either in place. Ice tool loops on the bottom increased the versatility, and two water bottle pockets on the outside left more room inside for necessary gear—and made it easy to hydrate on long approaches.

DMM Aero Quickdraw $21 (12cm), $22 (18cm);

DMM Aero Quickdraw

Easy clipping

“Watch your friends around these because they will get ‘permanently borrowed,’” one tester warned after a few weekends sport climbing in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. “These are all about clippability.” With a unique bent-gate bottom biner, the bend is more dramatic and lower on the gate, so it receives the rope smoothly and naturally; one tester felt like she fumbled way less with these quickdraws. Both the straight- and bent-gate biners are sturdy keylocks, with a smooth profile on the noise that prevented snagging when removing from bolts. Plus, grooves on the gate itself provided extra grip for thumbs and other fingers when clipping and unclipping. We loved these draws as our everyday set, with enough thickness and burl in the dogbone that you could grab them when necessary and confidently climb on them regularly, but they’re not so heavy at 3.9 ounces for the 12cm version that you’re adding lots of weight to your setup. Also available in 18cm.

Edelrid HMS Strike Safelock $22;

Edelrid HMS Strike Safelock

Twice the safety

This belay biner earned unanimous praise from our test team. With Edelrid’s unique slide-gate locking mechanism, the biner automatically locks itself when closed, and you can unlock it with a simple flick of your thumb—no twisting, screwing, or secret-switch locating. That leaves your other fingers to lift the inner anti-cross-loading gate that runs across the bottom. Not only does this inside bar keep the belay biner from cross-loading (a dangerous situation where the biner is sideways—hence, less safe—on the belay loop), but it also provides a second locking mechanism for the carabiner by propping the gate closed. “This anti-cross-loading double locker is as safe as it gets,” one tester said. One gripe is that it took a few times to get used to having to lift the inner gate just to open the biner, but it quickly became second nature. And, as Edelrid describes it, the opening procedure is “deliberately complex,” so it won’t accidentally open in any situation.

Lowa Red Eagle $165;

Lowa Red Eagle

Stiff sole, sharp toe

“I love these, I love these, I love these!” one overly caffeinated 5.13 climber said after climbing multiple hard routes in Colorado. “Their edging ability is unbeatable,” he said after redpointing Anarchitect (5.12d) in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado, which requires a balancey crux on the tiniest of footholds. Credit the moderate downturn supported by a super-stiff midsole—much more rigid than other kicks in the top-notch league. The aggressively pointed toe and vacuum fit gave power and precision to the entire foot, making them ideal for vertical and slightly overhanging routes. “And they’re easy enough to wear for a few back-to-back routes in the gym.” Tried-and-true Vibram XS Grip rubber lines the sole for excellent purchase on all types of rock, and after 100+ pitches it’s still going strong. An anti-bacterial Bio-Active lining combined with perforations in the upper enhance breathability while also regulating odor and keeping the Red Eagles from getting that nauseating rock shoe stench. Despite being a very stiff shoe, they were comfortable with no break-in period, but keep in mind that rigidity does limit sensitivity.

Mammut Infinity Classic 9.5 $150 (60m);

Mammut Infinity Classic 9.5

Bargain skinny rope

When a respected rope manufacturer sets out to make an all-around cord that is friendly to every type of budget, this is what we call a win-win-win situation. The 9.5mm diameter is ideal for toproping and projecting when it will experience substantial abrasion and abuse, but it’s light enough at 57 g/m that on a 30-meter pitch, you’ll only be dragging about 3.7 pounds behind you at the very top. Testers thought this rope felt and handled like a skinnier cord, too: “It was easy to clip, even in my teeny-tiny ultra-light biners,” one tester said. Because of the Infinity Classic’s excellent all-around performance and bargain-basement price, this rope is ideal for those looking to make the leap into sub-10mm ropes. Mammut saved cost by skipping the dry treatment, which is a pricey process that makes ropes suitable for ice and snow but can be unnecessary for people in drier climates who stick to only rock. “For handling, durability, and overall feel, this rope competes with the best of the best, and it’s unheard of to offer such a quality line at such a low price,” said another trad and sport climbing user.

Petzl Kab$50;

Petzl Kab

New take on a classic design

At first glance this pack looks just like a bike messenger bag, but pull back the large top flap on it to reveal a spacious 55” x 55” rope tarp and a voluminous bucket for gear. Petzl says it holds up to 110 meters of rope, and since none of our testers carry that much cord (we tested with 70m cords), they filled the rest of the space with sport rack, shoes, and water; and inner and outer sundries pockets were great for keys and phone. It was just enough to hold all the day’s necessities for a warm day of climbing. Sport climbers appreciated the urban style of the Kab combined with the technical functionality of other tube-style rope bags on the market. With a hipbelt strap usually reserved for actual bike messengers, the Kab stays in place if you are on uneven terrain (or on a bike). Although the padding on the single shoulder strap did carry comfortably for short jaunts, we wouldn’t recommend it for long slogs where you’ll probably want a larger pack anyway.

Evolv Nexxo$145;

Evolv Nexxo

Sharma’s new shoe

“They’re soft, aggressive, and fit like a customized glove,” one tester said who loved the Nexxo’s overall feel and response after taking them to pocket paradise Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The Nexxo shined on the slabby then super-steep Aunt Jemima’s Bisquick Thunderdome (5.12+), requiring both delicate edging and powerful pulling. After experiencing their “breakout performance,” our testers were not surprised to learn that Chris Sharma is the man behind this sport-specific slipper hybrid. (Evolv calls it a hybrid because although it is constructed like a slipper, the Velcro strap offers more security and a vacuum fit.) The Nexxo has some of the same features as the Shaman (the first shoe from Sharma), which made it a favorite high-performance shoe, including the Love Bump that pushes toes into an arched and precision-improving position, and the Knuckle Box that makes this position fairly comfortable (and not torturous). These shoes started out stiff and difficult to put on, but after a few wears, they began to flex and provide increased sensitivity more on par with other slippers. Credit Evolv’s new Power System (EPow) that provides tension and support while maintaining some malleability, especially in the toe and forefoot.

Mammut Realization Pant $230;

Mammut Realization Pant

The perfect climbing pant

Nothing’s perfect, you say? Try these on. For starters, there’s a harness built directly into these bottoms. The Realization Short came out last year, and we loved that iteration for their gym and warm-weather-cragging appeal, but for those who prefer climbing outside when temps plummet, the pant version was a top pick for our testers. “I was worried I would feel like I was wearing an adult diaper, but the integrated harness feels and moves seamlessly,” one lady tester said. With a baggy fit on both men’s and women’s models, they offered unbeatable range of movement for flagging, hooking, and step-throughs at Shelf Road, Colorado. The harness’ waistbelt and leg loops are connected by a mesh liner, so the entire rig maintains its shape and each component stays where it’s supposed to be; leg loops won’t ride up into your nether regions. The inside of the contact points with the harness are a soft microfleece, and our testers found they were “an absolute pleasure to wear and beyond convenient.” Same caveat with the pants as the shorts, though: You’re wearing your harness all the time, no matter what, so to take off your harness, you gotta take off your pants.

Edelrid Cyrus$115;

Edelrid Cyrus

Streamlined comfort

Minimalist-harness fans are going to wonder why they spent so many years cutting off circulation to their legs by hanging in rigs that skimped on material to cut weight. Edelrid took a different approach by using textiles that were inherently lighter so a larger amount could be included without weighing the whole thing down. They call it 3D-Vent technology, but it’s more or less a layer of thin foam wrapped in mesh, with supportive, stiff webbing strips that wrap around your torso and legs, adding some rigidity and only a little bit of weight. Both the hipbelt and the leg loops are ultra-wide to maximize the contact zone, which prevents pressure points, but the mesh and perforations in the foam keep the harness extremely light and breathable. “It feels more like sitting in a padded chair instead of a complicated pattern of webbing, like other harnesses,” one tester said. Another factor that contributes to comfort is the ergonomic shape of the hipbelt and leg loops: They taper out slightly at the top and the bottom, so they wrap around your flesh when the harness is weighted, instead of digging in. Four stiff, plastic gear loops are suitable for racking whatever your route requires, and a zippy single buckle closes and opens fast.

Trango React Draw$19 (12cm), $19.50 (17cm);

Trango React Draw

Durable project quickdraw

Replacing our old favorite Trango Smooth draw, the React has a similar build with reliable keylock carabiners, bent gate on the rope end, and a thick dogbone for easy grabbing when you need to do a quick clip or are looking at a sketchy fall. The React has two notable updates over the Smooth, though: a rubber carabiner keeper on the bottom that prevents it from flipping over when trying to clip the rope, and more notably, bar-tacking on the whole bone that stiffens the draw significantly for hard-to-reach clips. “The 17cm version of this draw is a godsend for us shorter folks,” one 5’ tester said after reaching for high clips at Shelf Road, Colorado. “Instead of using my ghetto-rigged homemade stiffie, all of these draws have built-in rigidity. They gave me a bit more peace of mind for trying hard routes with difficult clipping stances.” The price of each draw is about $4 less than similar models, too.

Metolius Grip Glove $30;

Metolius Grip Glove

Airy belay gloves

One great way to be a better belayer instantly? Get a pair of gloves. You’ll increase your stopping power, which is ever more important as ropes get skinnier and skinnier. Plus, you’ll have increased protection from sharps your rope might have attracted (like goat heads or cactus spines) on its way to your hands. Gloves do have a small downside, though, particularly in summer months: It can get hot in there. And swampy! The answer? The Grip Glove. The huge swath of stretch nylon across the back makes these among the most breathable we’ve used. “After a summer of chasing shade in Boulder Canyon, chasing sun in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a fall that included sun-drenched trips to the Utah desert, I got everything I want from a belay glove without any drawbacks,” praised one tester. The main body is made of supple goatskin, while a split cowhide reinforces key wear spots on the palm and thumb. After five months of use, our tester reports no uncommon wear. Bonus: nice price.

Arc’teryx Aperture $29 (small), $35 (large);

Arc'teryx Aperture

No-spill chalkbag

You could take an old jeans pocket and a length of twine and make a passable chalkbag. That’s why we review so few of them—it’s usually just a matter of splitting hairs about fabrics. Not so with the downright revolutionary Aperture. “It’s the only chalkbag I’ve ever used where chalk blowout is not a concern,” said one tester. “Just twist the top of the bag a turn and a half and snap it shut. Chalk stays put, even when shoved in a pack.” The sub-three-ounce bag is made from a burly nylon on the base and a thin ripstop polyester on the twistable portion. A stiffened rim keeps the bag wide open, and a plastic belt attachment is shaped to double as a beer opener. Ding: After seven months of use, our tester reported wear and tear (literally) along the rim of the opening and on the twistable portion. But it’s still his favorite chalkbag.

Millet Opposite TRX 9/10 $300;

Millet Opposite TRX 9/10

One rope pulls double duty

“With 30 meters of 10mm rope on one end and 50 meters of 9mm cord on the other, you’re getting two different ropes that any committed sport climber needs: his trusted fatty for taking tons of falls and a lighter, skinnier rope for send attempts.” Read the full review in our Editors’ Choice Awards.

Scarpa Vitamin$199;

Scarpa Vitamin

Light but burly approach shoes

One tester described these as a paradox, “They wear like running shoes, but they’ve been sturdy, stable, and durable throughout my testing.” A polyurethane midsole was dense enough to provide all-day support and shock-absorbing comfort when our tester took them to Venezuela for a boulder-finding mission. “They were my go-to shoe because of their technical climbing abilities, stability to prevent foot fatigue, and ultimate comfort at the end of a long day,” he said. A huge climbing zone of flat, non-lugged rubber on the front toe and inside forefoot made these shoes feel “reliable and agile” on anything between fourth class and 5.5, and large lugs in the heel provided excellent purchase on loose descents. Despite several long days in the Vitamin, a lining with 37.5 technology (formerly Cocona) wicked sweat from the foot and thus prevented odor buildup. These shoes fit wide-footed testers slightly better, but with the suede upper that molds to your foot and lacing down to the toe, you can dial in a perfect fit by cranking on the laces. Wear them all day, and then rock them at basecamp; this is your quiver-of-one approach shoe.

Trango Antidote Rope Bag$34;

Trango Antidote Rope Bag

Compact package, big ol’ tarp

Holy rope tarp! At first glance the Antidote looks like a standard tube-style rope bag, but undo the straps to find a cavernous opening and a massive rope tarp. At 4’ x 5’ the rectangular rope protector can easily house 80 meters of cord and then some. Testers actually had no problems belaying two neighboring routes with two 60-meter ropes with room to spare. Other tube-style rope bags have a mouth that’s so narrow “it’s like wrestling a ferret trying to get the rope in the bag. But not the Antidote,” one tester said. “The design that’s wider at the top than the bottom made rolling the rope in the tarp and then directly into the bag an absolute breeze.” Two closure options at the top—a cinchable drawstring and two metal hooks and webbing straps—made it so testers could secure the rope quickly when hustling between routes at Smith Rock, Oregon. It was easy to throw around without a care thanks to one drag handle on the side and a burly nylon outer, and two removable shoulder straps had some nice padding to carry it like a backpack or a messenger bag.

La Sportiva OxyGym$99;

La Sportiva Oxygym

Machine-washable rock shoe

Pay attention, gym rats! The days of sour, funky, repugnant climbing shoes are over. Not only are these mid-performance shoes machine-washable (throw ‘em in with regular detergent and then air dry, they won’t shrink, stretch, or change shape), but they’re also designed with sweaty, stinky feet in mind. The upper is three layers: a perforated outer for breathability, microfiber in the middle for structure, and a wicking fabric that’s lined with silver to prevent smell and keep you dry. These shoes were also easy to wear for entire two-hour gym sessions, thanks to a flat (read: very little downturn) design, a stiff, supportive 1.8mm midsole, 5 millimeters of rubber on the sole, and a slightly asymmetric toe. If you do want to take these on and off constantly, two hook-and-loop Velcro closures made them easy on–easy off, and it was quick and simple to dial in the fit every time. Also available in a women’s-specific version.

Omega Pacific Dura Draw $19;

Omega Pacific Dura Draw

Timestamped perma-draw

After dozens of scary tales of hardware failing around the world, permanent protection has come under scrutiny at crags from New Hampshire to Thailand. While perma-draws are not appropriate for many sport climbing areas, Omega Pacific wanted to up the safety ante by including a small label on the draw that allows the equipper to write the installation date on the draw itself. (Use permanent pen and throw a strip of clear tape on top so it won’t fade.) Age isn’t the only factor you should consider when deciding if hardware is safe or not (one route might see 10 ascents in a year while another route might see 1,000), but it’s helpful information to have when deciding if you should trust your life to a small piece of metal or not. The Dura draw is made for maximum durability (hence the name), with an all-steel construction: a bent-wire gate on one end, quicklink on the other, and a swaged, galvanized cable in the middle. Black tubing covers the cable to protect from UV rays and abrasion, and a small crossbar inside the biner keeps it from flipping over and making the rope hard to clip.

Mammut Neon Crag 28 $100;

Mammut Neon Crag 28

Urban woodsman’s crag pack

If you believe function and style go hand in hand, you’ll love the Neon Crag. While it looks like a basic daypack, flip back the lid to discover a gaping opening. It makes stuffing and locating crucial gear a cinch, and two large racking loops on the inside offer just enough organization for quickdraws, belay device, and personal tether. A zippered guidebook pocket on the outside makes on-the-fly beta-checks easy, like when one tester consulted the guidebook a half-dozen times on the way to French Cattle Ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Everyone who used it touted the clean and low-profile design that tapered at the bottom, so when compared to other packs, it “felt like a sports car instead of a sport utility vehicle.” Plus, contoured shoulder straps and hipbelt hugged the body for seamless carrying. The outer canvas fabric has a sleek, non-technical look with a natural wax-based DWR treatment that offered improved durability and function. One thoughtful design feature was the pack’s pleated side panels. This enabled the pack to compress or expand for different loads; it looks and carries exactly the same when it’s filled to the brim and when it’s only half-full. “This is my ideal sport climbing hauler because it has everything I need and nothing I don’t,” one tester said. Doesn’t hurt that it’s only 100 clams, either.