Gear

The Top 7 Climbing-Gear Innovations of 2021

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2021 was an “interesting” year in terms of climbing gear. Because the pandemic put so much of life on pause, items that had been slated to be released in 2020 or early 2021 were held up by supply-chain issues, stoppages at manufacturing facilities, and other related delays, leading to a glut of cool stuff hitting the market in the middle of 2021—good timing, it turns out, as by then most of us were back to climbing, plus the gyms and crags had reopened. (You can’t test gear if you can’t go climbing!) We thus saw a whole host of new items, things that had been underway for some time.

In no particular order, here are the top 7 most innovative pieces of equipment we tested in 2021. None represent genres of gear the world has never seen before—like, when Friends were introduced to the market in the late 1970s. But all of them offer some new or improved functionality or tweak on the manufacturing process that made them stand out in terms of creativity and innovation.

Life-Saving Rope Innovation: Trango Agility 9.1

The Agility presents a life-saving idea that, really, all ropes should use: a dye—“Red Flag” contrast dye, which stands out starkly against the rope’s silky, bright-yellow 1×1 Spyder Weave— for its final five meters, to warn about the inbound rope end. The Agility also has a mid marker, but the red ends were the big selling point, not only for safety while lowering or rapping, but also for easily finding the rope ends in the rope bag. The 70m I tested had Duo Dry treatment, and held whippers and fed like a dream; it weighs 56 g/m and also comes in an 80m length. —Matt Samet

Communication Innovation: Rocky Talkies

These CBs are made for us multi-pitch climbers who’ve grown tired of yelling “Off belay?!” They’re compact at 16.2 x 5.9 x 2.7cm (think old flip phone), with a shatterproof screen and thermoplastic covering making them tough enough to clip anywhere during your next chimney grovel. The 121 channels reach 1–5 miles in the backcountry, which I found to be true while new-routing in Kolob Canyons. And the batteries didn’t even need a recharge after three days’ straight use. —Dakota Walz

Anchor-Safety Innovation: Metolius Climbing Anchor ‘Draw

Metolius has come up with a commercial “Daddy Draw”—a quickdraw usually used for toproping or for first bolts with crux sequences—that puts lockers on both sides of a 7” dogbone in a smart, well-designed way. The Anchor ’Draw’s smart comes from the “captured-eye carabiners,” screwgates with a threading eye that keeps the lockers oriented vertically—with the load along their major axis. I quickly made them my go-to anchor draws for sport climbing and bolting. Meanwhile, the well-designed comes from the lockers’ (and draws’) sleek, low-profile feel. These are not your clunky, improvised daddy draws, but are instead the size of your standard draw, and at a relatively light 3.8 ounces (compared, say, to the 2.9 ounces for Metolius’s Inferno II draw), they’re easy to rack and carry.  —MS

Sustainability Innovation: Black Diamond Eco Gold Loose Chalk

Eco Gold Loose Chalk marks an interesting new direction in chalk—pure magnesium carbonate harvested as a byproduct of desalination instead of being mined. (See “The Hidden Environmental Cost of Climbing Chalk” on Climbing.com for a look at the effect magnesite mining and the processing of magnesium carbonate—chalk—have on surrounding areas.) Before you crush it, Eco Gold looks almost like kibble or popcorn, with an interesting, dry, styrofoam-peanut feel that at first had me wondering how it would feel on the hands. Once pulverized into finer chunks or powder, however, this stuff performs—it’s high-octane, high-test chalk, and because of its thick consistency lasted a long time on my hands, with only a light application/coating. I’ve been testing for months now, on slippery gym volumes, crimpy granite, and sharp sandstone. Across the board, I’ve noted killer adhesion and minimal dry-firing. The stripped-down packaging—essentially a paper bag—scores high eco marks for not creating plastic waste, too. —MS

Green-Manufacturing Innovation: Edelrid Neo 3R 9.8 mm

Edelrid’s Neo 3R is likely the greenest rope out there—it’s made 50 percent from recycled pre-consumer rope materials. How Edelrid derives the material is a complex story (visit edelrid.de/en/microsite/neo-3r.php). Essentially, they take leftover cuttings/yarns from the manufacture of other ropes, blend these polyamide materials into a fluffy grist, and then further process that grist into regranulate pellet form. Finally, the regranulate is extruded into yarns woven into the final rope. I tested extensively both locally and in Ten Sleep. The Neo 3R is rated to five UIAA falls, weighs 61 g/m, and has a dynamic elongation of 37 percent, a static elongation of 8.3 percent, and an impact force of 8.6 kN—pretty standard rope specs. Even new, the rope had a remarkably soft, broken-in hand that made for easy handling and soft catches. At 9.8 mm, it was a reliable, versatile cragging cord—thick enough for working burns and toproping but not cumbersome on redpoints. The Neo is also bluesign certified, a certification for textiles that ensures ecological rigor with sourcing and production. —MS

High-Alpine Foot-Warmth Innovation: Asolo Manaslu 8000 GV 

Long ago, fresh out of high school and short on cash, I tried to convince my mother to buy me a pair of plastic double boots for a winter trip to the Canadian Rockies. “If I don’t have double boots, I’ll get frostbite and lose my toes,” I whined. “You won’t lose your toes if you don’t go,” she countered. Sage advice. But if you do end up going, consider trying the new Asolo Manaslu 8000 GV, a lightweight (44 ounces per boot, men’s size 9) and solidly built double boot designed for the extreme cold and for high-altitude expedition climbing.

Asolo isn’t as well-known in the United Sates for their winter boots, but their new lineup—the Eiger GTX, the Mont Blanc, and the Mansalu—is more than worthy of attention. Mountain boots over the past decade have grown a lot more expensive, more complicated, and less robust, and with the amount of brain freeze I get in the winter, I don’t want to be fiddling with complicated lacing systems or seam-gripping a delaminating outer shell in basecamp. I dug the Manaslu 8000 because it is simple and durable. Asolo didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but rather created a rugged, dependable boot that has proven well-made and warm. 

Constrained by the pandemic, I tested the Manaslu in my home mountains of New Hampshire in conditions up to -20° F, stumbling around on rescues and guiding overnights. The Manaslu has a toasty-warm inner liner with plenty of substance—I was able to sneak a custom insole in it for my high arches—and a simple lace-and-toggle system that even the most altitude-addled brain can decipher. Moreover, I found I could easily adjust the inner boot to my foot’s width. 

The outer boot has a stiff sole, thanks to the carbon-fiber lasting board (the boot is lighter than the previous model) and a dialed-in fit thanks to the double boa lacing system. The T-Zip zipper slides easily, and the outer gaiter has Cordura on the inner ankle to ward off crampon scuffs, a common failure point for mountaineering boots. The material and feel of the boot are rugged: The outer didn’t fray or abrade or wear quickly like other ultralight boots I’ve destroyed in the past few years. 

I found the Manaslu 8000 to be exceptionally warm—even when sitting in a vestibule melting snow on frigid evenings—and comfortable once I’d dialed in the fit. The back heel of the outer boot has a Velcro “hatch” that makes it easy to slide the inner boot in, even when you’re crouched in a tent. I could loosen the Velcro for walking when I wanted more ankle flex, and tighten it for steeper front-pointing and French technique. All told, the Manaslu 8000 is a rugged contender for high-altitude peaks and extreme cold. —Michael Wejchert

Trail-Running/Scrambling Innovation: Scarpa Rapid (Redesign)

Find a full review here.

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