OR Summer Market '04 Trends -- Climbing

The SNEWS® team -- which included eight editors -- spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene from the paddle tank to the climbing wall and even around the dusty and quiet corners of private rooms and hidden booths. Each week, through September, we'll be publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. From insane-looking drytools to a Renaissance for cams, the climbing world had the following to buzz about at Summer Market.
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The SNEWS® team -- which included eight editors -- spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene from the paddle tank to the climbing wall and even around the dusty and quiet corners of private rooms and hidden booths. Each week, through September, we'll be publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us and was ready for prime time, so if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, you were showing the product behind closed curtains which implied you didn't want us to talk about it, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one.

With the above in mind, from insane-looking drytools to a Renaissance for cams, the climbing world had the following to buzz about at Summer Market:

Climbing Hardgoods

Black Diamond -- Certainly the big news at Black Diamond was the new Camalot C4, which significantly updated its popular cams. Of course, SNEWS® has already posted a complete review here (click here for review). But there are other new goodies coming next spring, as well.

The entire harness line has been spiced up with new colors, greater comfort and reduced weight. Acknowledging that style is as important as price, the new harnesses cost a few dollars more but look mahvalous -- it's great to see more alternatives to boring black. The waist belts have been reshaped with molded foam and some now have lumbar support to give a better hang.

Also new will be two keylock locking carabiners: the Mini Pearbiner ($12) and the Rocklock ($10 screwgate, $17 twistlock). Since these will be essentially the same prices as the current models, it's a good deal for consumers who get a carabiner with snag-free nose.

CAMP -- One of the most commonly encountered questions about climbing gear is "when should I retire X." Next season, CAMP draws the line on many new products -- beyond this point, there is no warranty. Ice picks and crampon points will be scribed to tell climbers when to stop filing. And harnesses in the CC4U program will have stitched indicators to warn of substantial forces that indicate retirement. SNEWS® applauds this move and believes other manufacturers should follow.

The new Air-Cams and Jet-Cams ($43 to $65) are upgraded versions of the previous clones (Flex and Spider) that are lighter and have better handling. Unfortunately, to reduce weight, the underside of the cams now have nasty hooks that snag on everything. (Wild Country made this mistake when it re-designed Friends and later had to retool to get rid of the hooks.)

As we predicted last winter, a women's-specific ice tool has appeared on the market: the Divax. Alas, the company didn't heed our advice, so it has boring graphics and a weak story. This one may die on the vine but the concept of high-end women's ice tools is still valid and needs to be explored.

Cassin -- To be polite, the Cassin ice tools for the past couple seasons (Mirage and X-Files) were big yawns that are best avoided. This winter, the new Cassin X tools will be worth seeking out at demos.

The X-Dry ($220) is a leashless design with two shelves for matching hands. The X-Ice ($200) has a more conventional grip and leash but the same high-clearance shaft with more sophisticated curves than its predecessors. The X-Alp ($170) uses the same interchangeable heads but has a less radical shaft for alpine climbs.

These new tools, along with the C-14 and C-12 crampons introduced last season, put Cassin back in contention with the other high-end brands.

DMM -- Since DMM camming units already share the exact sizes as Wild Country Friends, it only makes sense that they use the same color-coding. Prices are going up, though: in the 4 Cams, the #.5 to #1.5 will be $2 more ($50 retail) and #2 to #4 will be $7 extra; and the 3 Cams will be $4 more ($46). Even so, the DMM cams are still a good value for a quality product.

Grivel -- If you know Gioachinno and Betta Gobbi, then the outrageous design of the new Monster Tools makes perfect sense; it's fun yet serious, modern yet retro. Easily the most eye-catching climbing products at Summer Market (patterns include: leopard, snake, paisley, '60s mod and American flags), these beyond-radical technical tools for mixed climbing will certainly shake things up, which is part of the intent.

The Monsters feature a forged pick/head designed specifically for drytooling. This bolts to a shaft made of flat aluminum cut from sheet metal into a sophisticated dual grip design. The primary lower grip has a contoured handle that offers a very natural swing. This unique construction is not PPE certified (whether the Monster can be sold in Europe remains to be seen), but allows a spectacular price of $125 retail, so a pair is about the price of most leashless tools such as the new Taa-k-oon ($240) and Racing Wing ($275).

At the opposite end of the ice tool world, Grivel has made a subtle yet significant change to the new Nepal SA general mountaineering axe ($80). The SA stands for Self Arrest and refers to a gentle curve in the shaft that allows pressure from the chest when stopping a fall. The curve also aids ascending and descending snow slopes compared to a straight shaft.

The line of ice screws now includes the Helix (15 cm, $47), Americana (15 cm and 20 cm, $56) and 360° (12 cm, 17 cm and 22 cm, $62). They all have the same shaft but the length and handle varies.

Mad Rock -- Just as it did with rock shoes, Mad Rock is entering the harness market with good-looking products at exceptional prices. Four variations run from a no-frills $30 to a fully adjustable $40 harness that rivals those costing 50 percent more. This may well be cause for other companies to take a look at their pricing structures.

Mammut -- While the new Tabu rock shoe is certainly eye-catching for what is not there -- most of the upper -- and the shoes are certainly well-ventilated, we're left wondering if they're best-suited for wearing indoors, where there is little risk of sand and grit getting inside the shoes. Either way, the shoes will pop on a retailer shelf just because they are different. As for whether they will sell, well that is another question.

The new Manu harness is one of the lightest padded harnesses on the market, weighing in at just 10 ounces. But as with other ultralight harnesses, and even with the padding Mammut offers, retailers need to be sure to let climbers know that the three or four ounces of weight being saved may not be nearly as noticeable as the decrease in comfort.

Metolius -- Well, the company only had a pre-production version of the largest size available to show, but the new Metolius Supercam certainly created a buzz. Just three sizes cover cracks between 1.6- and 4.2-inches wide; a range previously not quite covered by four cams. To achieve this extra range, the inner two cams loop completely around the axle when the trigger is pulled.

The small Supercam ($63) overlaps with the #7 and #8 Power Cams ($60 each) and should be about the same weight. The medium Supercam ($68) replaces the #9 Power Cam and the large Supercam ($73) replaces the #10 Power Cam. All the Supercams feature the Range Finder system of colored dots to help climbers evaluate their placements.

Of all the hang boards on the market for strengthening climber's arms, the new Metolius Wood Grips Training Board is easily the nicest. The smooth texture and rounded holds feel great and the grain of the Alder wood is visually appealing (unlike most synthetic hang boards). The Wood Grip ($89) costs a bit more than its popular CNC boards ($50 to $75) but it's sure to be popular.

Metolius is finally getting around to color-coding the aluminum heads of the Curve Nut, but it'll cost climbers an extra $1 per nut for the convenience. So far, Curve Hexes have not received the anodizing, but it seems a likely next step.

Misty Mountain -- The new Transformer bouldering pad ($325) is a hinged pad that can split into two sections and be used as a 4-foot by 5-foot square for highballs or made into an 8-foot by 2.5-foot rectangle for traverses.

As a strong incentive for placing preseasons, Misty is offering massively discounted shipping on its bouldering pads. This can reduce dealer costs by $30 per pad for a 15 percent savings.

Omega Pacific -- The Link Cam has evolved a great deal since the prototypes were shown last winter. Just two Link Cams cover cracks from 1.0- to 2.2-inches wide, something that requires three Camalot C4s (#.75, #1, #2). All that extra range comes at the price of more weight, complexity and expense.

Those two Link Cams will cost $182 and weigh 13.5 ounces, while the three C4s will run $185 and weigh 14.4 ounces. Each Link Cam has eight extra joints, which of course raises eyebrows. But the construction of the pre-production samples appears superb, so durability and performance should be good; we'll let you know.

Rock Empire -- What these Czech-made cams lack in originality, they make up for in price ($33 to $36 retail). The new Pulsar series are U-stem models that are a tad nicer than the Robots, but the big news is the two large sizes. The #6 and #7 ($36 each) fit 3.0- to 5.0-inch cracks; a range where climbers typically have to pay $70 to $100 for protection.

Sterling -- Two preseason packages may entice dealers. The first is a non-dry 9.8 mm, 60-meter rope combined with a rope tarp for $147 retail (a 50 meter is also available). The other is "Sterling's new 10.2 mm design (without DryCore) with Dry Treatment. (Ergo the name D = Dry, X = 10, 2)." Our head still hurts. We think that means you get a rope that sorta doesn't get wet but it's a decent value: $160 retail for a 60 meter, 10.2 kind-a-dry.

Terra Firma -- White chalk marks on rock have been eyesores left by climbers since John Gill first introduced it almost a half century ago. From time to time, somebody has attempted to market colored chalk as an environmentally-friendly alternative. But it was typically expensive and rather slippery or greasy. The new Terra Firma Rock Chalk retails for only $2.40 and comes in four colors (colored block chalk is on the way) and promises to overcome the previous attempts -- you probably missed its booth hidden in the dungeon (aka Ballroom). Considering all the access issues climbers are facing, this would be a good thing if it delivers. (www.rockchalk.net)

Trango -- The new Cinch belay device ($60), which appears to be the first auto lock that will challenge the Petzl Gri-Gri ($75), is now shipping. As well as more affordable, it is about one-third smaller and lighter and seems just as easy to use.

It almost seems too obvious but, until this season, nobody had put sticky rubber on the grips of leashless ice tools. The new Trango modular tools now have a grip that's noticeably easier to hold onto and still very durable.

Wild Country -- After more than two decades, the original curved nuts, Rocks, are finally getting a makeover. The aluminum heads will have thinner sidewalls and a side taper on the small side. And all Rocks will come anodized in one of eight colors, which increases the price by 50 cents to $1.45, that correspond to the equivalent Friend sizes. Plus, four new large sizes (#11 to #14) are being added to the range -- a good addition for lightweight alpine racks.

Also new are six sizes of Superlight Rocks ($12.50 each) which use a single strand of cable like the old Forrest nuts. This reduces weight by 42 percent for a savings of 2.5 ounces. Nice, but a set will cost 63 percent more than regular Rocks.

The high-end Matrix Ziplock harness has spawned the Matrix Lite (one buckle instead of two, $64) and Matrix Supalite (one buckle and fixed leg loops, $60). And the women's Helix Ziplock harness will also be available in a version with adjustable leg loops ($60), which should be a great all-around harness.

Rock Shoes

Acopa -- Under the guidance of John Bachar and Steve West, Acopa is now a company that deserves attention. At the high end of the line is the Sidewinder ($129), a radical shoe design that Bachar could never convince Boreal to build; it contours around the foot to increase holding power. A little more conventional is the B3 ($115), though it borrows some of the same features. Likely to be the most popular model is the mid-range Chameleon ($98), a versatile Velcro rock shoe.

CaVa -- Why do these rock shoes exist? They are basically Chinese-made Five Ten shoes using old designs. If they were really cheap, that would be one thing. But retail on the six models is $70 to $110 so they don't even have a price advantage. Or brand recognition. And there's no rep force or promotional campaign supporting them. At least the colors are different and they probably climb OK.

Five Ten -- The new Coyote is Five Ten's reply to all the price point shoes on the market. Both the lace and Velcro models will retail for $75 with a 45-percent margin, and have unlined leather uppers with C4 rubber. Most of the other models in the line have dropped between $4 and $10 while offering at least 43-percent margins.

The new Galileo ($125) is a performance shoe with a very stiff sole, something that's disappeared in many rock shoes in the past few years here but remains popular in Europe. The new Prima Lace-up ($99) brings the women's line up to four models; the biggest selection in the industry.

La Sportiva -- The new Ventor ($110) appears to be sweet luxury for outdoor climbing on hot days. Mesh uppers breath well, Velcro closures allow quick relief at belays, and a padded heel with traction sole give walking comfort and performance.

Equally unique is the Splitter ($115) which is built with Indian Creek and Yosemite cracks in mind. The sticky rubber wraps up the foot for friction when jamming, very thin foam offers padding, and lacing is offset out of the way -- these could be the ultimate crack shoes.

The Trad Master ($110) shows Sportiva's first use of molded rubber teeth on the heel cups as Mad Rock has done. This also has an Xstatic lining and a light color to reflect heat.

As we announced last winter, all La Sportiva rock shoes offer a 45-percent margin which certainly puts pressure on other companies that mostly offer 40 percent.

Lowa -- The new Ice Comp GTX ($375) is the latest entry in the bolt-on crampon category. It's essentially a tricked out, insulated version of the Triolet climbing boot with Black Diamond monopoint Bionics. This is certainly a showcase boot -- it was in a glass box in the center of the booth at the show. Also new is the Ice Expert GTX ($300), in men's and women's sizing, with a removable liner; a better choice for most ice climbers.

Mad Rock -- Rock gyms need cheap shoes that climb reasonably well and are easy to maintain for rental programs -- leather and fabrics tend to hold grungy stuff from previous climbers. By molding a rubber upper with the sole, the Mad Rock Asylum ($60) offers a unique solution that can be tossed in a washing machine and be dry overnight.

Other notable entries include a $40 Velcro kids' shoe, the Mad Monkey; a $60 slipper for adults, the Maniac; and its first women's shoe, the Hottie ($80). Several original models are getting makeovers, as well.

Montrail -- Still wet behind the ears after jumping into the rough waters of rock shoes, Montrail is taking it slow and steady by filling in the line and holding a 45-percent margin. Both the all-around Splitter ($100) and kids' Grommet ($40) will come in stylish female versions. The Method is a performance slipper for only $75 that should prove popular. And at the low end of the scale is the flashy Gymbo for $60 that should compete well in the rental market.

Red Chili -- A padded heel for softer landings and more comfort when walking is the "in" thing now. Red Chili has added its unique cushioning system to two models of its popular Spirit all-around shoe ($79). The Spirit Velcro ImpactZone ($89) will be a performance slipper, while the Spirit ImpactZone ($95) is a high-end lace-up shoe. This appears to be a great upgrade in comfort for a reasonable price.

Saltic -- This brand has shown it has staying power. Once known for cheap shoes from the Czech Republic, it now has a reputation for good performance and value. The new Bongo and Vampir (both $105) are its latest high-end models.

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