Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Bit About Ropes

Having a productive blogging day today it seems. Some of you millions of followers may be looking at getting a new rope / first rope, and you might be a little confused by all the options. So here's a little opinion on ropes and what to look at.

"Should I drop the big bucks on a sweet dry-treated rope?" 

ah the grand myth of the dry-treatment!

the big question is this: will you be ice-climbing with this rope?
or similarly: is the area where you climb known for it's insane wetness?

if you are not going to be climbing on a wet rope on a regular basis, you do not need the try treatment and are just spending unnecessary money.

focus on the dynamic and static elongation, and the impact force (this will give you an idea of the durability but also the comfort of the rope for climbing - stretchier tends to be more comfortable but a little less durable, high impact forces = harsh on the body/gear)

"OK but what about the fall rating for the rope?"

UIAA falls are generally a useless measurement so pay no heed. You will never take repeated falls over factor 1 in such quick succession as to test this capability of your rope.

"What about diameter?"

Unless you are leading backcountry 5.12, don't look at anything thinner than a 9.8. if you're only gym/sport climbing, go for a 10.1 - you'll get way more life out of your rope. Thinner ropes are always less durable, and do you REALLY need those weight savings if you're only lugging the thing a couple hundred metres from the parking lot?

"So how do I distinguish between all the offerings?"

go to a store and feel the ropes - is there a significant disconnect between the core and the sheath? i.e. can you compress the rope in a big way and really easily feel the core? if you can, that rope will generally be more likely to get core slippage later in life.

in north america, this is what i generally find:

- New England Ropes/Maxim: low core slippage, higher impact force, good durability. advantage: very inexpensive for a good rope.

- Beal: too spongy feeling for me, lots of space between core and sheath (except in the new glued unicore ropes). I have heard, though, lots of good things about Beal - especially for ice climbing.

- Edelrid: great bang-for-your-buck, very stretchy, durability so-so. good hand but not as smooth as others when belaying.

- Mammut: pricey but amazing, great balance of stretch and durability, hard to find a not-dry rope though.

- Sterling: amazing ropes, durability is great, great balance between stretch and durability. something for everyone.

- Petzl: they seem to have solved their durability problems, a little softer in the hand, quite stretchy, overall pretty good value.

My recommendation is Sterling....but I am probably biased.

Core training

Unless you are crushing V7+ roofs, your weakest muscles are most likely your core.

As a climber this is ironic because climbing involves so much core strength, but I would argue your core is one of the hardest things to improve upon through everyday climbing (unless you do nothing but roofs). To this point, I would like to introduce you to a great exercise that should help to rock that core into shape, which should in turn greatly improve your climbing.

Remember that your core is essentially all the muscles in your trunk excluding the arms and legs - we're talking back, chest, lower back, abs, glutes, groin - all of 'em.

The best whole-core exercises that I've come across was recommended by Will Gadd - he called them "knee-to-elbows". They go a little something like this:

- Find something to grab (ideally a chinup bar, could be rock rings, a hangboard, just give yourself room in all directions) and dead-hang in pullup position (palms facing forward), shoulder-width apart.

- Now pull up until your elbow is somewhere between 160-degrees and 140-degrees (i.e. want the muscles engaged).

- Curl your knees and stomach slowly upwards to touch your elbows in a nice smooth arc, and back down again. Make sure both stages are fully controlled. This is the primary component of the exercise.

- Ensure that as you do these you are taking care to not swing, and keep your arms as stable as possible. essentially your goal is to keep your shoulders as still as possible and rotate around that axis.

- You should feel this everywhere, but especially your mid/lower back (generally the weakest part of your core)...if you don't feel it, either you have the core of a V7+ roof climber, or your technique is a little off.

- Don't be surprised if you cannot do very many of these before failure when you first start, but stick with it and you will find improvement very quickly. For the sake of training, I would say find your 1-set failure limit and back the reps off by 1/2 to pack more sets in, or else do pyramids up to your limit. Gadd defines a "strong" core as being able to do 15 in a row, so consider working towards that.

Supplementary reading: Core strength stuff from Will Gadd

Friday, August 31, 2012

Your new climbing helmet

Even if you aren't in the market for a new climbing helmet, in the interest of noggin joy I urge you to go buy the Edelrid Shield II. This helmet is, above and beyond, the most comfortable thing I have ever put on my head. More comfortable than your favourite snap-back, more comfortable than grandma's knitted touque...(okay maybe that's pushing it a little)


I have a BD half-dome and a Petzl Elios, and I've tried the Petzl Meteor III, Grivel Salamander, and the new BD Vector. I also own a nice expensive bicycle helmet (Selev Matrix) that is beyond comfy in its own rights. But hot damn, the Shield II just hugs so good.

So if you're just getting into outdoor climbing, or you need to replace your old, tired helmet, you must get a Shield II. There's really no other option - it's just that good. The suspension system hugs perfectly around your head and is snug enough to stay on without the straps done up, but will never cause you aches and pains.

Seriously don't take my word for it - go try one on in your local MEC. It'll cost you $81.36 CAD after taxes. For our friends in the USA, I do believe your only option to get the best fitting helmet on the market would be an adventure up into the Great White North - so come say hi!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Industry rumblings, what can we look forward to? Part 1

For many of us, summer is a great time of year to get outside and actually DO those things we love so much. For the Outdoor Industry and those of us obsessed with the outdoor industry,'s just another season at the office!

OutDoor Friedrichshafen 2012 just wrapped up, and as usual some very cool stuff came from some of the big players.

North America's favorite luxury brand has updated their pack line with notable changes coming to the Altra series and Miura series.

Interestingly it appears as thought the new Miura series will no longer have a roll-top closure, with what seems to be a full wrap-around zipper instead. Time will tell how much this affects the durability of the pack.  Thankfully though the full-opening nature of the pack should be maintained.

Black Diamond Equipment
Last year we saw the Magnetron technology (coming to retail in September) make waves in the locking carabiner market. This year we see BD producing a direct competitor to the Metolius Master Cam and the new Fixe Aliens - the X4.

These small, super-flexible cams share design cues from both predecessors but with a key difference - they are double-axle designs (according to BD, with something BD calls "stacked-axle technology") as opposed to single-axle. The X4s occupy the same sizes currently filled by the C3. It will be interesting to see how these stack up against the current offerings, especially given the claim that double-axle designs are inferior due to their tendency to walk in placements.

Cascade Designs
Not too much new and exciting from Cascade Designs to be honest - an updated gravity filter from Platypus is one thing we can expect. The primary summer rumblings seem to be in the form of a new range of sleeping bags from Thermarest. Low-fill bottoms and straps to connect them securely to sleeping pads seem to be the primary selling points.

Sub-900g for a -7 mummy bag is a pretty good weight for sure - and for those alpinists looking for every gram of weight savings, there will be a hoodless shorter-cut bag that has been designed around pairing with a down jacket. Very cool to see these kind of generally underground/custom designs making more headway in the mainstream market.

Gregory Packs
I am a huge Gregory fan - I own the Palisade 80 for my expedition pack and it is a fantastic design - so I was admittedly a little worried when the company was grabbed by Black Diamond a couple years ago.  Thankfully though the union has not resulted in a dilution of design for Gregory and they continue to release fantastic designs.

One of the designs I am excited to take a closer look at when it is released is the Contour series with their brand new packing system which Gregory has called "TrailSmart". Promising here is the idea that they have separated the pack into three separate packing zones - trail gear is separate from camp gear and gear that might be needed on a regular basis is on-hand and easy to access. Sounds interesting for sure and I'm excited to check it out in-person.

Mammut Sports Group
Mammut is easily one of my favourite gear companies - their designs are slick and great looking, and they're always doing something a little different. This year is no different, with Mammut introducing new Active Shell jackets and updating their softshell repertoire as well. Although we don't get their sleeping bags in N.A., I had the opportunity to take a look at them in Europe and they're great designs - a pedigree that no doubt will continue with a brand new high-alpine -30 down bag, the AltitudeEXP 5-season.

What I found most intriguing, though, is the RescYou. Designed for use when crevasse falls are a significant danger, the device can be used for both self-rescue and rescuing a partner. Essentially it is two ascenders connected by a 6-fold pulley system. It's pretty hard to see how it works without trying it, but it looks like the lower ascender (rope clamp) is connected to the belay loop, and then the climber pulls themselves up the rope through the pulleys (significantly reducing the difficulty of ascention, although moving a shorter distance with every pull). Similar operation of the device would facilitate rescuing a partner.

It would be interesting to see the weight of this device compared to other rescue setups because it looks like a great idea.

Schoeller Textil
Though not gear companies themselves, textile manufacturers like schoeller have a profound impact on the industry through their technologies. At OutDoor 2012, schoeller has seemed to put more focus in their softshell technologies - unfortunately the fabrics are not scheduled for release until 2014!

Schoeller is using the inspiration from natural cork to apparently deliver thin, flexible softshells with significantly greater insulating properties than current offerings - this tech will supplement their existing WB-400 softshell series. Very interesting I'm excited to see what comes of this.

I can only assume that this is based around ceramic particles. It's a 3D coating that is slated to not only vastly improve abrasion resistance, but maintains flexibility of the softshell and looks damn slick as well. That's pretty neat.

Hopefully more neat things to come this summer! OR Summer Market in Utah is coming up in August - very exciting!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shoe demons...solved?!

I think I've finally found a good fix for out-of-control climbing shoe stank...and I shall be sharing it with you this evening!

The main difference I found with this fix is that it didn't just surface-treat the offending nasties, it got down and dirty with them, cage-match style. It resulted in the shoes being odour-free and taking a while to re-ordourise - not as long as a new pair of shoes, but much longer than any of the other treatments that I've tried.

Exciting stuff, stay tuned!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 Gear Stoke!

So I've been trolling the internet trade show infos...and I'd like to share a few tidbits I've come across!

In no particular order...

MSR is updating the crampon on their Lightning Ascent snowshoes, the "Torsion2" crampon points are now detached and can flex independently...supposedly offering better traction and stability on uneven ground.

My favourite tent company, NEMO Equipment, is introducing a really awesome pressurized camp shower this year called the "Helio". It's like your standard camping shower but with pressure so you don't need a place to hang it for it to work! And as seems to be par-for-the-course from NEMO, it's well-made and just  bloody awesome.

Outdoor Research has a pretty interesting new jacket called the "Lodestar" coming out, playing with their so-far successful hybid styling (I use their Alibi jacket for ice climbing, a hybrid of 2 softshell weights and a hardshell...and it rocks) and using a crazy looking quilted high-loft Polartec Power Shield  for insulation combined with Power Shield Pro for weatherproofing. Excited to check this one out!

As you may expect from the dead bird, some gorgeous works of art are coming to us in 2012. The Quintic (28 and 38) are a pair of new ski touring packs. from Arc'teryx:
"Specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding, the Quintic Pack has a suspension system that controls aggressive side-to-side motion and separate narrow compartments to keep gear sorted, easy to access and well-balanced during travel. The external strap configuration fits A-frame, diagonal carry of skis or split; horizontal and vertical carry for a snowboard. In the spirit of alpine needs for efficient ascents and secure downhill action, the true benefit of this design is load stability and access."
They've also changed the Alpha SV - a burlier but quieter and lighter face fabric (jacket loses 50g) and interestingly will be smaller around the chest, reportedly for "efficient arm motion".

Deuter is giving us a new alpine/ice pack called the "Guide Light" which looks to be loaded with great features - pretty stoked to see some nice product from Deuter. It'll also be available in a women-specific version which is a great idea.

Despite getting back into the Gore family, Patagonia is still pumping out new h2No designs and they'll be introducing a new 3-layer ("Exosphere") and a new 2.5-layer ("Trophosphere") in 2012. They also have an interesting new softshell addition to their Guide series called the Mixed Guide (below) - hardshell shoulders/upper chest and softshell everywhere else. Interesting!
They're also changing their Capilene 4 baselayer lineup to utilise a better breathing/more compressible Polartec Power Dry High Efficiency fabric (it's grid-fleece-esque and appears to be already available in the MEC T2 series of long underwear) AND great news, they *finally* are giving men a Cap 4 hoodie too!

That's all for now...2012 is shaping up to be a pretty sweet year in gear!

[1] to [3]:
[4] to [7]: ISPO Munich,