The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers - Climbing Magazine

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers


The outdoor industry outdoes itself with the sheer number of products it rolls out every trade show. With each new piece, old gear is launched into oblivion. Eventually, many products end up forgotten or even mocked for their irrelevance or terrible performance compared with the latest and greatest. Out with the old, in with the new.

However, some gear is just so good that it stays in production year after year, despite the latest, much-hyped “groundbreaking innovations.” Climbing has been testing gear for nearly 30 years, and to mark our 300th issue, we polled past and present editors and testers (along with our gear-loving colleagues at Backpacker) to choose 17 well-seasoned items that we still love and use. Best of all, each is still available, so you can get them for yourself.

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Metolius Safe Tech Harness INTRODUCED: 2003

Although there are harnesses that are slimmer, sexier, and lighter, the Safe Tech’s foolproof design secured its place in our hall of fame. Jeff Achey,


features editor, says, “Knowing I could clip anything to any point on that harness and it would hold no matter what—that’s peace of mind.” The idiot- and bomb-proof construction on this harness make it a solid choice for beginners as well as bolters, big-wallers, and people who are generally hard on their gear. Metolius designed the Safe Tech because of mistakes climbers make due to fatigue, going too fast, and even ignorance (including a climber who clipped only his rear leg loop elastics to the anchor while belaying on a multi-pitch and then had the second climber fall and pull them both to the ground). It’s still the only harness with an adjustable rise in the front, and it’s got four gear loops, a rear haul loop, and two full-strength belay loops (all-around version; comp version has one).

• $79—$109 • • Four versions: all-around, deluxe men’s and women’s, comp, and big wall (Waldo) • Five sizes in all-around

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Five Ten Guide Tennies INTRODUCED: 1996

A resounding favorite among all our constituents, Guide Tennies elicit a feeling of confidence on varied terrain, including approaches, descents, scrambles, and climbs up to about 5.8. The iconic Stealth C4 dotted tread pattern was unique to the Guide Tennie when it was introduced, and to-the-toe lacing, leather, and a remarkably light weight (about 14 oz.) make them a standout choice today. (The latest version added some rocker to the sole for more comfortable walking.) They also excel for big-wall climbs: comfortable for standing in aiders, yet confidence-inspiring when you have to bust out a free move. Tester Shannon Davis climbed Granite Peak in Montana as well as the


(5.6) in Boulder with the Guide Tennies and says, “Hiking to some moderates? This has been the best shoe for that for, like, 15 years.” Next spring, Five Ten is releasing a canvas version, which promises to be more breathable and stand up to water better than the classic leather model.

• $109.95 (both models) • • Breathable canvas version coming soon • Stealth C4 sticky rubber

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Patagonia Regulator Series INTRODUCED: 2000

When Patagonia’s Regulator line of synthetic fleece was introduced 11 years ago, it won


Editors’ Choice Award, and the magazine’s editor in chief, who still uses his original pieces from 2000, says, “They’re the layers I reach for when I’m not testing other things.” Patagonia and Polartec collaborated to create this synthetic layering system, which is available in four weights: R1 as a close-to-skin layer in changing temps; R2 for a bit more warmth as a midlayer; R3 as a midlayer in colder temps; and R4 for windproofing and the coldest situations. Across countless miles, vertical feet, peaks, and countries, our testers and editors lauded the R series for its combination of light weight, insulation, breathability, and durability.

• $119—$249 • • Warm and breathable • Can last 10+ years

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Black Diamond Express Ice Screw INTRODUCED: 1998

No other screw combines light weight (3.2 oz. to 5.9 oz.), compactness, and easy placements like the Express. By adding a fold-away turning handle to its already excellent screws, Black Diamond opened the eyes of climbers to how easy it should be to put in an ice screw. Pete Takeda’s original review in


181 (December 1998) exclaimed, “One tester placed a 17cm screw in five seconds after the initial bite.” In the years since their introduction, Black Diamond has continued to refi ne the tube geometry, clip-in points, and handle shape, keeping these screws at the top of the heap.

• $58.95–$59.95 • • Five lengths: 10cm, 13cm, 16cm, 19cm, 22cm • Color-coded for quick placements

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

The North Face VE-25 Tent INTRODUCED: 1975

The bright yellow dome of the VE-25 has dotted base camps from Argentina to the Karakoram for decades, and for good reason. This three-man shelter is roomy, comfortable, and bombproof. On an Olympic Peninsula trip with four tents, including one VE-25, remnants of a typhoon hammered the area with 50mph winds that splintered huge tree limbs in the forest. By the end of the night, the non-VE-25 campers crowded into the still-standing VE-25, escaping broken poles, ripped flies, and one full collapse. All the guylines on the North Face dome hadn’t even been deployed. This tent is on the heavy side (packed weight is 9 lbs., 12 oz.), but for expeditions where it’s windy and cold (think Everest base camp), the VE-25 has you covered.

• $569 • • 48 square feet of room • Kevlar guylines include easy camming adjusters

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers


If it weren’t for spring-loaded camming units, these babies would still be on every trad climber’s rack, but you’ll still see them anywhere horizontal cracks abound, such as the Gunks in New York. Greg Lowe designed these curved nuts in 1973, but Tri-Cams did not hit the market until 1981—absolutely terrible timing. Spring-loaded protection was the hot new thing, and climbers were saving their dollars to buy their first set of Friends. To the untrained eye, Tri-cams seemed like just another nut, but the Tri-Cam design “creates a stable tripod with the two parallel camming rails flat against one side of the crack and the fulcrum point contacting the opposite side,” according to an ad in


72 (May/June 1982). Now made by CAMP in Italy, Tri- Cams still have many fans because they are much lighter than spring-loaded cams and can protect pockets, flares, and horizontal fissures that no other cam can touch.

• $22.95–$66.95 • • Available in 13 sizes, from 0.125 to 7 • Available with nylon or Dyneema sling

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Petzl Grigri INTRODUCED: 1991

In our survey of editors and testers, this innovative belay device showed up on literally everyone’s list—usually right near the top. This despite an initial review in


126 (June/July 1991) that suggested it might not be worth the then-price of $79.90 (shame on us!). The Grigri’s assisted braking system immediately made this the device of choice for sport climbers, as well as aid climbers who needed a free hand while belaying or a backup while ascending fixed ropes. It’s not idiot-proof (one well-known editor nearly killed his ex-wife with one), but when used properly, it provides an extra margin of safety and comfort for hard-working belayers. New this year, the Grigri 2 boasts a wider rope range (8.9–11mm), a 25 percent size decrease, and a weight loss of 1.5 oz. Despite a hiccup when some units of the Grigri 2 were recalled because of a potential braking problem, the solid updates to the second-generation model guarantee it will be hanging from harnesses for years to come. Plus, Petzl kept the old price—unfortunately not the same price as in 1991!

• $94.95 • • Grigri 2 is 25% smaller, 20% lighter • Wider rope range at 8.9mm–11mm

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Black Diamond Cobra INTRODUCED: 1998

In today’s world of specificity, it’s rare to find a product that excels at all bandwidths, but, as one tester puts it, “The Cobra does everything well, period.” Another states, “I’d use this tool for mixed Himalayan faces, on Canadian multi-pitch water ice, and up to about M8 at the sport-mixed crags. I’d give it to a rank beginner, too.” What makes the Cobra so special? Part of the appeal is reliability. A stainless-steel head is mated to a chromoly-steel pick with custom steel bolts. The spike offers a sound clip-in point, while the hammer can be used to pound pins on alpine mixed routes. Despite all this burl, the Cobra weighs a relatively light 1 lb., 5 oz. per tool. And with its carbon-fiber shaft and sophisticated weight distribution, the Cobra is reassuringly predictable. “With some of the weight in the head, the tool almost plants itself, and I felt zero vibration upon impact,” says a tester. Redesigned in 2007 to incorporate improvements in carbon technology, these are still go-to tools for ice and alpine climbers across North America.

• $336 • • Two grip positions • Available with full-size hammer or adze heads

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Metolius Haul Bags INTRODUCED: 1996

Straightforward design and 100 percent bombproof construction wins these pigs maximum plaudits. After using his Metolius Half Dome haul bag on at least half a dozen wall routes in Yosemite and Zion national parks, our editor in chief’s bag still looks practically new. (The testing included throwing the loaded bag off a 300-foot cliff while descending from a new route on Toothrock in Arizona. No harm done.) The breakthrough with these haul bags was their urethane fabric (which Metolius called Durathane), said to be 10 times tougher than the vinyl-coated nylons that other bags were using. The carrying system (shoulder straps and hip belt) is about the best you can expect from a haul bag: burly and easily stowable for hauling, if not exactly comfy during approaches and descents. An internal pocket and clip-in loops complete the package.

• $149–$219 • • Four sizes: 46L, 69L, 125L, and 157L • Durable urethane fabric

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Petzl Meteor Helmet INTRODUCED: 1997

This is the helmet that converted


editor in chief, Dougald MacDonald, to a full-time helmet wearer—it’s so light, comfortable, and well-ventilated that he says there’s no excuse not to wear it. An Editors’ Pick in


1999 Gear Guide, the Meteor changed expectations about how helmets should fit and feel. Like all foam-style helmets, the Meteor isn’t as burly as suspension-style helmets, and you have to be careful with them in your pack and in use. (Don’t shoot your friend in the head with a BB gun while he’s wearing one as one editor did for fun after a little too much Jim Beam—luckily, the helmet and friend were uninjured.) With care, the Meteor will last years, and so will your head.

• $99.95 • • Meteor III+ is certified in Europe for bike and whitewater use. • 8.3 oz.

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

MSR Whisperlite Stove INTRODUCED: 1984


gear editor Kristin Hostetter calls this “the gold standard of liquid-fuel stoves,” and with more than 17 years of testing experience, she has tested a lot of stoves. This is the classic mountaineers’ snow melter and Ramen boiler, and generations of guides have taken it from Patagonia to Denali high camp. Though furnace-hot cartridge-fuel models like the Jetboil and MSR’s own Reactor have become the stoves of choice for light-and-fast ascents, the Whisperlite remains a reliable standby because of its cold-weather performance, simmering capability, and ability to handle a wide range of pot sizes. One tester who used it recently on the Sulphide Glacier below Mt. Shuksan in the North Cascades never had an issue with the cold and wind affecting the Whisperlite, and says, “This stove always kicks ass in all types of weather and elevations. I wish I could say the same about me.”

• $79.95–$89.95 • • Multi-fuel compatibility with Internationale version • Great for high altitude, low temps

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Petzl Tikka Headlamp INTRODUCED: 2000

Other headlamps now compete well with Petzl’s lights, but the Tikka gets a special merit award for changing the game. With the Tikka, Petzl switched to LED bulbs instead of battery-gobbling, cold-dimming incandescents. The result was incredible battery life and a bright beam at all temperatures. Now, as features editor Jeff Achey says, “An LED made anything else seem like a POS.” The Tikka family has grown to the Tikka 2, Tikkina 2, Tikka Plus 2, and the Tikka XP 2, as well as Petzl’s Core rechargeable battery system. Our testers love the high-output XP 2, which has a nifty flip-up wide-angle lens so you can “wake up, fl ip the diffuser to make alpine-start coffee, head out, and flick back the diffuser to have a beam that lights up your climb from 100 feet back,” as one enthusiast says. With up to 160 hours of battery life and five lighting modes (including red for night vision), the Tikka XP 2 is a proud descendant of the original.

• $54.95 (XP 2) • • Compatible with Core technology • Tikka XP 2 lights up to 60 meters

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

La Sportiva Miura INTRODUCED: 1997

A hands-down favorite in the office, the Miura beat out another Sportiva shoe, the Mythos, as our top choice for a classic but still much-loved rock shoe. The key to their popularity? Versatility. Though not a true edging shoe, the Miuras excel at “smedging” (smearing/edging), they have a fairly pointed toe for thin cracks and pockets, and the asymmetric last and slight downturn help them grab holds on overhanging routes. In


original review (No. 168, May/June 1997), tester Dave Pegg said, “Just drooling over this lightweight lace-up, with its generous heel cup, snappy slingshot, and asymmetrical last, made me want to start training.” Moreover, the shoes are comfy enough (on many climbers’ feet) to be worn on long routes, and they hold up well to resoles, making them a solid value. (One editor has resoled a pair four times, despite having new shoes thrown at him all year for testing.) One tester swears her footwork improves tenfold as soon as she tightens the straps on the Velcro version. (Both men’s and women’s models are available with laces or Velcro.) The Miuras are versatile, high performance, and durable—what more could you need?

• $140 • • Asymmetric last • Vibram XS Grip 4mm sticky rubber

The Best of Gear: Hall of Famers

Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket INTRODUCED: 1998

As one tester puts it, this jacket is “pictured next to the word ‘bomber’ in the climber’s dictionary. I’d take it if I were going to spend a year in the Alaskan wilds and needed fullfeatured storm protection and reliability.” The first shell to boast waterproof zippers, the Alpha SV is now made with Gore-Tex Pro Shell. It weighs in at around 19 oz. and offers complete element protection. In a review back in


182 (February 1999), former editor Duane Raleigh said, “The jacket’s pit zips open with a flick of the wrist (kiss bumbly fumbling goodbye) and stay open, ushering in a refreshing blast of winter air.” High chest pockets mean everything is accessible even with a harness on, and the fit is trim and athletic. It’s extremely pricey at almost $600—Raleigh’s original review said of the price (then $450), “My first car cost less”—but many climbers and ski mountaineers consider an Alpha SV a lifetime investment.

• $599 • • Now made with Gore- Tex Pro Shell • Durable, durable, durable

Wild Country Friends INTRODUCED: 1978

“Because of their ingenious design and principle, the placement of a Friend takes much less time and effort than does the placement of a traditional chock,” Steve Levin said in


51 (November/December 1978). Today this seems obvious, but when these spring-loaded, fourcam units hit store shelves in the late 1970s, they were revolutionary. Invented by Ray Jardine several years earlier, Friends were the first camming devices that were both stable and user-friendly. The fuss-and-fiddle days with parallel-sided cracks gave way to plug and chug. In 2011, Wild Country unveiled the third major redesign of these units in 33 years: The Helium Friend cut weight and added range, a big thumb loop, smoother trigger action, and a 2.5- to 3-inch longer stem. $65 to $75;

Freedom of the Hills INTRODUCED: 1960

Simply put: the mountaineer’s bible. One editor who shall remain nameless says, “It’s on my desk right next to the dictionary, and I use

Freedom of the Hills

more.” Now in its eighth edition, this climbing primer is essential for anyone who goes off trail and up. Packed with how-to information on everything involving the mountains, from anchors to acclimatization, this book helped many flatlanders “learn to climb” before even touching real rock. Now with 170 more pages than the original. $29.95;

Colorado Custom Hardware/ Fixe Climbing Aliens INTRODUCED: 1986

“Aid climbing without Aliens is like free climbing without chalk,” says Jeff Achey. Originally released by Colorado Custom Hardware, the beloved Alien cams soon will be available again, thanks to the Spanish outfit Fixe Climbing, which bought the rights to produce the units when CCH folded. Original tester Will Gadd said in


169 (June/August 1997), “The narrow head, combined with a very flexible stem, lets the units work in flaring cracks, pin scars, pockets, and other tight spots where no other cam will go.” Twenty-five years later, that’s still true. One tester says he still loves them despite one hitting him between the eyes after it popped when he took a big whipper. New price not yet available;