Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '05 Trends: Climbing shoes, hardware, ropes and accessories

The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer (not necessarily in that order), ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. Here's our take on trends and new products for climbing shoes, hardware, helmets, packs, ropes, harnesses, and accessories:
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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer (not necessarily in that order), ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. 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, so if you're not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking beer too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for climbing shoes, hardware, helmets, packs, ropes, harnesses, and accessories:

The bigger picture
Cams: The big question of the show we heard from many retailers in the climbing zone was, “when will we get all the new cams we ordered?” All three of the mega-range cams from Metolius, Omega Pacific, and Trango have seen major production delays for one reason or another. While sizes are starting to trickle out, we were told at Summer Market that stores could expect deliveries of full size runs "within the next few weeks."

Rock Shoes: While two smaller players (Bufo and Saltic) in the rock shoe market have left the building, and another (EB) fades away, the big surprise was a major company (Merrell) getting back into the ball game. There are certainly no signs of this segment mellowing, though the predictable backlash against cheap shoes is ongoing as climbers discover that there are indeed tradeoffs.

Naturally, if it's summer, it must be time for another round of Rubber Wars 9: The Phantom Menace. There is no debate that a grippier rock shoe rubber that also edges well and lasts longer is certainly a good thing. However, the levels of unsubstantiated hype and accompanying hyperbole are becoming deafening. Enough already. It would be really nice if all the claims could be backed up with substantiated testing, and not some backroom lab located in a closet of the factory making the same rubber. Or are we asking too much?

Cords: Just as an increasing number of climbers have begun to question the safety of cordelettes when used with trad protection, there is a trend towards using dynamic 7mm rope instead of the static ropes. There is no doubt that cordelettes made with Spectra/Dyneema are well-suited to bolted anchors but the same materials may very well be dangerous when connecting cams and wedges that are placed in cracks. Several brands now offer “dynamic Prusik” cord on spools, though retailers should be careful to separate this from the normal stock.

Harnesses: At least six harness brands—Black Diamond, CAMP, Mammut, Mad Rock, Petzl, and Singing Rock—will now offer buckles that do not have to be double backed (Troll first offered this concept over two decades ago). These are all easier to loosen and cinch than conventional buckles and there's no chance of forgetting the critical last step. It's about time these caught on!

And now to our peek at new products that stood out, company by company:

Acopa – The brand that Bachar built gets two new models next year. The Spectre ($119) has many of the features found on the high-end Sidewinder in a less-radical design that should appeal to a broader market. The Lowrider ($89) looks like a rock shoe, but it's built like a cushy street shoe; the funky style and ability to climb may just well fit in with the whole lifestyle apparel fashion trend. While Acopa isn't as well known as other manufacturers, it's proved it has staying power and good products.

Asolo – Asolo has gotten serious about its fabric/leather mountaineering boot selection – even though it is standing pat on plastic boots which have not seen changes since the Ice Ages. The new Cholatse is a heavy-duty, yet relatively light, single boot with full rubber rands and a cuff gaiter that will be available with either a Gore-Tex or a Thinsulate lining. The Manaslu GV resembles the other double boots with integrated gaiters but it uses a breathable inner boot insulated with PrimaLoft instead of closed cell foam; the gaiter is overbuilt in our opinion, but it's a very nice high altitude boot nonetheless.

Beal – Digital ropes? Not quite but close. Next year, Beal ropes will have an ID number on the end marking label. Customers enter this number on the web site and they will get an email after 3 years to say the warrantee is up, after 10 years to say the rope shouldn't be used anymore, and after 15 years to say that a stored rope is no longer safe. The system is most valuable for rescue teams, schools, and others that manage large inventories since an RFID chip can be inserted in the rope end and some Beal harnesses will have RFID tags sewn in place. A scanner can then input data to provide traceability for equipment.

Black Diamond – The long-awaited Camalot C3's made their debut to broad acclaim. There will be five sizes of these 3-cam units ($70) that offer a narrow profile, nice trigger, and impressive construction. These should compete well with Aliens and Zeros for microcracks assuming they prove durable. Also new is a 0.3 Camalot C4 ($60) so there will be two sizes in the sets that overlap.

The new Tracer helmet ($90) is made with in-mold construction (like most bike and ski helmets) and will only weigh 235 grams (size medium), making it one of the lightest on the market.

Several models of harnesses (Focus, Momentum, Vario, and Wiz Kid) will be available with a “Speed” buckle. A women's version of the standard Focus, called, the Iris ($55), rounds out the line.

Given the popularity of autoblock-style belay devices such as the B-52 and Reverso, it's no surprise to see the new ATC Guide ($25). These belay a leader and rappel normally but allow the leader to bring up one or two climbers on a top-rope belay that locks on its own if someone falls. Special training is required to learn how to unlock the devices should the fallen climber end up hanging free of the rock so these are not for beginners.

Alpinists will appreciate the new Venom Hammer ($125) that compliments the ice axe. Both have a slight bend in the upper shaft for clearance, replaceable picks, and a nice swing. Black Diamond will also offer its first aluminum crampons called the Neve ($130 - $140), which as the name implies is only for snow climbs. The Neve will be save about 5 ounces per foot over the steel version

Instead of one-size-fits-all, the Shadow and Speed alpine packs will now come in two torso lengths. Two new packs, the Predator and Jackal, are classic top-loaders with burly construction for rock abuse.

At last, Franklin has been retired as a brand name for bouldering products meaning BD has embraced its inner self and the crash pads now sport the BD logo. In the process, three of the crash pads received minor tweaks and a new model, the Butler, brings back the old Spot design with some nice upgrades.

Boreal –Despite the lack of a distributor in the U.S., Boreal scored prime floor space at the show. The company faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding trust of dealers (hard to build trust when a dealer can't count on deliveries and a consistent distributor), and recapturing the awareness of climbers who now have many more choices than in the days when Boreal was a king. At present, Boreal is offering to ship to stores directly from Spain though this really isn't a viable alternative for retailers that will need fill-ins. Worse, there is no rep force currently promoting the products. SNEWS® has learned that Boreal is negotiating with another potential distributor, but it will take a sea of change for the brand to regain even a portion of its former glory.

CAMP – After hearing numerous grizzled climbers complain about the new Dyneema Tri-Cams (bare aluminum/color-coded nylon slings were replaced by color-coded anodized aluminum/grey Dyneema/nylon slings), CAMP will now use colored sling for faster identification on lead; this should have been a no-brainer folks. Now that they got it right, it's a nice upgrade to the four most popular sizes.

Much of the harness line has been revamped with new features such as speed buckles that fully open instead of just slide (similar to the original Troll) and a belay loop with an elastic keeper for the carabiner to prevent cross-loading (a brilliant idea). Two models, the men's Quartz and women's Jade ($65), have unique leg loops that loosens when climbing and snugs when weighted. Also the spaghetti strap XLH 130 has been made even lighter yet much more comfortable with the new XLH 95 ($40), which uses wider mesh instead of webbing; only a third the weight of normal “lightweight” harnesses, this is ideal for ski mountaineering and adventure racing.

While CAMP USA is bringing in the XLP 330, a trick randonnee racing pack, and a couple other models, they are not planning to import some of the other cool new alpine packs such as the X3 600, X3 Evo, M3 Evo, or Squad. Pity, these are some of the nicest packs in their categories on the market that we've seen.

Edelweiss – Stealing a bit of Mammut's thunder, Edelweiss will be offering slings made of 7mm Dyneema webbing next season. The famous Stratos ropes, which featured a nylon filament (like fishing line) in the sheath, have at last been replaced by the Sharp (8.5mm and 10.5mm) ropes. These retain their sharp edge resistance—remember, there is no UIAA certification for this at present—but have much better handling. The Sharp ropes came out last year but the Stratos has still been distributed int eh US until recently. A new model for next year is the 8.2 mm Oxygen half rope, a lighter alternative to their 8.5mm Calanque.

Evolv – It seems Evolv has taken a page from the Charles Cole playbook by coming to the show with a variety of rock shoes that lack names, may change, and may not even go into production. The line appears to have plugged every possible hole in the rock market with somewhere around a dozen models. Perhaps the most interesting new additions are some retro-looking clogs and casual shoes.

Fader – Another Spanish company without a distributor that is hoping to sell direct to stores. The most interesting new product is the SUM auto belay device that can handle ropes from 10.5 mm down to 9.1mm. By contrast, the Petzl Grigri is intended for ropes from 11mm to 9.7mm and the Trango Cinch will work with ropes down to 9.4mm. On the other hand, the SUM weighs 260 grams, while the Grigri is 225 gm and the Cinch is 170 gm. There are also some nice carabineers in the Fader line but no styles that domestic sources can't provide with much less hassle.

Five Ten –We usually see a bevy of new rock shoes from Five Ten at Summer Market but this year nearly the entire line remains unchanged; do we hear a collective sigh of relief? Why mess around with something that is working so well. The only new models are the Siren, a performance shoe for women, and the Piton, a comfort shoe for cracks and big walls; both of which feature the Onyx uber-rubber.

The company has been busy with its trail running and water shoes though; completely re-doing the lines. And the new Yosemite Loafer is one of the coolest looking casual shoes they've ever made – but we'll leave our glowing and details of these for our footwear trends report, OK?

Grivel – When the Monster—a high tech, low price tool for dry-tooling—came out last year, it caught many by surprise since it was an entirely new category of product and type of construction. Over the winter, some people used the Monster on ice and found it lacking; duh, it wasn't made for that. But the new X Monster is a real ice tool that still retails for just $125. Using the same flexible steel shaft/bolted forged head construction, this version has a thinner pick for brittle ice, a more sophisticated grip, a hole for an optional leash, and a head shaped liked a curved nut for camming in cracks.

After a few years away, Grivel is back in the helmet market again with three models. The Salamander ($75) is a conventional dual-layer design that comes in any color you want as long as it's bright yellow. For ice climbers who want face protection but dislike the clear visors that fog up, the aptly-named Gladiator ($125) adds a steel wire cage. The new Gecko ($135) is a high-end helmet that is certified in Europe for climbing, biking, and skiing (legally, it can't be sold as a bike helmet in the US).

While Arc'Teryx created a lot of hoopla over their welded packs, Grivel also introduced the technology in a daypack, called the Seamless 1 ($130) that is well-suited to ski mountaineering races. In case you missed them last winter, Grivel also offers one of the best self-arrest ski pole grips on the market, the Condor ($57 - $92).

HB Climbing — On July 1st, this venerable climbing company went into liquidation. The owner, Hugh Banner, lost a leg in a nasty motorcycle accident a few years ago and had been looking to sell the company but found no takers. All of the carabineers, cams, nuts, helmets, rope devices, or ice tools are out of production. Apparently Troll and Mountain Technology will continue in some fashion, distributed by Point 5 Trading, a new company made up of former employees. While HB gear isn't irreplaceable, it is nonetheless a loss to the climbing market.

Kahtoola – What is arguably the best approach and running crampon on the market will get a beefier brother next season; both are manufactured by SMC. The original Kahtoolas ($129) are made from thick aluminum and securely fit everything from rock shoes to running shoes to hiking boots. These are more compact than normal crampons and the shorter points help when there is no ankle support.

For those who don't mind an extra 2 ounces per shoe, the new KTS-Steel (also $129) is both more rugged and has more aggressive front points; it is CE certified and can be sold in Europe. Retailers will also appreciate the new box for easier shelving but consumers no longer get the nice stuff sack included. Anti-balling plates are still extra.

Kahtoola has a patent (#6,742,286) on dual-layer spring steel connecting bars for crampons that both Grivel and Black Diamond have recently infringed, according to Danny Giovale. The Gobbi's at Grivel, makers of crampons since the dawn of alpinism, were hesitant at first but quickly decided to make changes versus fight an upstart little guy with a cool fringe product. It remains to be seen how Black Diamond will respond.

La Sportiva – Showing you can't keep a good name down, the Viper ($100) is back again; it's still a nice slipper that isn't too radical. We are also pleased to inform our readers that the shoe that has remained purple since the Pleistocene, the Mythos, will now be available in brown too. Try to appear too shocked.

A new approach shoe, the B5 ($95), is essentially a cushy, leather upper rock shoe with a high-tech outsole. The old Boulder got a minor style/color change and was renamed the Cirque Pro ($90); it still has the same fast-wearing dot outsole. And a few of the canyoneers in the company obviously pushed for the Exum River ($100), a trail running shoe turned into a canyoneering shoe.

Joining the fray of climbing companies offering lifestyle shoes with more than a passing resemblance to Vans, La Sportiva brings forth the Chaos and Martini ($90). Similarly, the vegan-friendly Mandala ($80) features hemp fabric in the urban uppers.

While their conventional double (Nuptse, $525) and high altitude boot (Olympus Mons Evo, $825) are rather ordinary and heavy, the new Spantik double boot ($650) breaks new ground. This starts with an inner boot that is breathable and thermo-moldable (the two usually don't go together). The outer boot uses a Salomon-like lacing system with a thin Kevlar cord for fast donning and to reduce weight. The Spantik appears to be the new industry leader for cold-weather mountaineering.

Macpac – There are a lot of companies who claim to make an alpine climbing pack but few that actually deliver a worthy product. The Macpac Pursuit 40 ($220) is a well-detailed pack with an innovative suspension system that is lightweight (3 lbs. 3 oz.) and retractable (wait for a review for more details). The Pursuit 40 comes in two sizes for men and one for women; a larger Pursuit 50 is available for longer trips.

Mad Rock – Much to the chagrin of the climbing wall cartel (we're kidding, so lighten up), Mad Rock and Grivel teamed up to provide their own wall with “rock” on one side and “ice” on the other. This did seem to reduce the crowds that routinely block aisle traffic when there was only one wall. It is our hope that two walls will be the new norm and thank you to Mad Rock and Grivel for stepping up.

The launch of the Mad Rock harness program was hampered by production delays. But the next wave of “affordable” climbing product to hit the market should be in stores this fall. With pricing about a third less than similar harnesses from other brands, these are likely to shake up the market.

Likewise the new mountaineering boots are looking much more refined than what we saw at the Winter Market. These appear to be excellent values but this is a more technical product than harnesses, crash pads, and even rock shoes so it remains to be seen how they actually fit and perform.

There has been some malicious gossip running around about the relationship between Kong and Mad Rock. A quick fact check reveals that the Mad Rock distributors in Austria and Korea are both intimately associated with Kong and that all is happy in the family.

Mammut – At last, the 9mm barrier has been broken for a single rope. Several companies have been flirting with these super-narrow ropes for a while but the new Serenity 8.9mm ($230, 60 m) is the first to get there. However, the mass is only one gram/meter less than the Beal 9.1 and just 3 gm/m lighter than a Mammut 9.2mm or Bluewater 9.4 (about 6 ounces for the whole rope).

When Mammut introduced 8mm Dyneema slings a few seasons ago, they wowed a lot of climbers. Now they are going a step further by offering 6mm slings as well; these are just a strong (22 kN) but reduce bulk even further, particularly when doubled or tripled for racking.

The new Lotus ($45) is a women's version of the existing New Wave harness. And the Mirage ($50) is a New Wave with adjustable leg loops. All of these feature fast buckles and a unique shield at the rope path to increase durability at the primary wear point.

The Mammut rock shoe program gets a real boost with the introduction of three high-end sport models. The Goblin ($99) and Shogun ($109) are essentially the same but the former uses Velcro and the latter laces. The hot looking Karma ($89) is a slipper made on a similar last. All three have synthetic leather uppers with a cotton lining but the shoes use Vibram XSV and the slipper uses a proprietary rubber. Compared to previous offerings, these make Mammut a real contender in the U.S. climbing shoe market.

Merrell – When others in the climbing business that we encountered in recent months were told of the climbing shoe launch, a common reply was: “They're doing rock shoes again? What are they nuts?!” It's been well over a decade since Merrell flirted with this market and the competition is certainly more intense now. Surprise aside, it appears Merrell might have it right this time around.

The Talon ($89) is a single model of an all-around rock shoe in four colors for men and two for women. It's made in a factory in Italy that does production for other major brands and features the latest Vibram XC rubber. While serious climbing shops likely won't be overly impressed, large Merrell dealers now have a decent rock shoe with fashionable colors.

The Rock Collection also includes an approach shoe that is available with either a leather upper (Edge; 3 colors men, 4 colors women) or fabric upper (Solo; 2 men, 2 women). The collection also features a new Vibram sticky rubber molded outsole, good basic design, and a bit of style.

These all compliment the new Race Collection that includes an adventure racing and two mountain bike shoes. Already the Expedition ($250) gives a lot of value for a summer mountaineering boot. And the classic Wilderness is still in the line, long may it live.

Metolius – Less is more, especially when it comes to fighting gravity. The next generation of Metolius cams went on a diet and each one lost about two-thirds of an ounce; they are now the lightest cams on the market. This means that a rack with ten new cams is about 7 ounces lighter than the current versions. Also the narrower Dyneema webbing reduces a bit of bulk. The price of Power Cams and Fat Cams remains the same while TCUs actually decreased slightly; sizes are the same but the #9 Fat Cam is discontinued.

As the price war in bouldering crash pads heats up, Metolius fires back with the new Cheap Bastard which gives a lot of bang for the $125 and appears to be aimed at the Mad Rock Mad Pad. The slightly more upscale Fat Bastard ($169) offers amenities such as a 45-degree overlapping hinge to prevent a dead spot (also on the Cheap Bastard), carpet cover backs with waterproof fabric to keep the foam dry, and a flap for carrying gear.

Marking ropes has long been a headache: dye markers eventually wear off, tape slips, and whipping causes belay devices to jerk and jam. Metolius and Lanex may have found a good solution by inserting a loose colored thread at the middle and about twenty feet from either end. This is easy to spot and should stay in place, though it might alarm first time belayers who don't know about the purpose. It's a small, but nice improvement for the Monster Ropes.

Misty Mountain – Congrats on a 20th anniversary! The folks in North Carolina have been making great product all along but rarely receive the accolades. Their harnesses and bouldering pads are top notch, featuring good design and burly construction. Unfortunately, the influx of cheap offshore product is likely to hit this homegrown company harder than the more diversified bigger brands. Making it to the silver anniversary may be a real challenge for Misty, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for them.

Montrail – The first generation of Montrail rock shoes was so understated they could put you to sleep; they climbed great but had no pizzazz. The new third generation line-up certainly rectifies that with four models that offer style and performance.

The lace-up Magnet ($100) and Velcro-closure Wasabi ($95) are performance shoes that feature a new stickier rubber. What really sets them apart is the heat-moldable foam – an industry exclusive – above and below the toes as well as in the heel for a true custom fit and minimal break-in. The new Orbit ($85) and Index ($80) are more conventional all-around designs with standard rubber for greater durability.

Following the recall of their integrated crampons, the mountaineering boot program is still in limbo. The boots work fine with regular crampons, but there's no point in a metal cleat under the arch that just trips you up on rocks. Perhaps the best solution would be to license the Grivel/Scarpa crampon system which is arguably the best option on the market these days.

Mountain Hardwear – While the Exodus packs received much of the attention at the show, climbers will take note of the more practical and streamlined Objective series. The Trance ($169, three sizes) is a 55 liter alpine pack that is fairly conventional, but thoughtfully executed. Similarly the Phenom ($119, three sizes) is a nice crag pack, and the Scrambler ($49) is a typical summit pack. We just wish the packs would come in brighter colors for visibility.

Omega Pacific – It's been a challenging year for OP, largely because they were forced to move production out of a prison and set up shop all over again; a lose-lose situation for the company, the prisoners, and the state. Now the company has a new factory and replaced the entire workforce (in just three weeks) and is up to speed again getting carabineers out the door. The Link Cams received their final tweaks and are starting to ship; the production versions look better than ever. The rather silly Tri-Nuts and Scallop Nuts have fortunately been discontinued, with a more conventional Wedgie replacing the latter. Also, contrary to one report, the line of ice tools is still available, but will be seeing major changes in the near future.

Patagonia – As you'd expect, the new Patagonia pack line (four models) has clean lines and some very nice detailing such as a reflective liner and shoulder straps that house a hydration hose (a la Backcountry Access packs). The Gritty Pack ($170, large) is the only real climbing model in the line, but it has some oddities that stood out to us, such as a top lid that doesn't fully open with tools attached, and low-visibility colors. In our opinion, this is really more of a burly crag pack than an alpine model.

Petzl – After nearly a decade, the Meteor helmet is getting a makeover and looks great. The new Meteor III ($89) does away with the uncomfortable dials, comes in one size instead of two, is lighter (235 gm), accepts headlamps (the old one was poor for this), and offers better ventilation with a lower profile shape.

While the Quark Ergo was one of the first tools for competitions and dry-tooling on the market, it never made much sense to have a hammerhead. The new Nomic ($269) joins the other headless, leashless tools (BD, Lucky, Simond, Trango) for “sport ice climbing.” It has more curvature in the upper shaft, is significantly lighter (575 vs. 665 gm), and has a nicer handle that now adjusts for different sized hands. Also new is a rubberized grip tape ($8) that can be used on any ice tool.

Scarpa – Now that the Italian company is going it alone (sans Black Diamond) in the U.S, Scarpa is free to tout its very extensive line of boots and shoes. And without a distributor, the company should be able to get more aggressive on its pricing. We'll have to wait until the transition is complete to see the outcome and certainly other boot companies are hoping to capture some market share in the meantime.

One category that likely will get more attention is the mountaineering boots that use the Grivel/Scarpa binding (GSB) system. Black Diamond never imported the GSB-compatible boots – likely because BD's own crampons were not compatible. However, the simple and functional system makes a lot of sense: easier and faster to put on and more compact when carried.

Simond – The Toucan ($30) is an interesting new belay device that is lightweight, feeds rope quickly and works on all diameter ropes. Unfortunately, the Tornado ice screws (with coffee-grinder handle) are not being offered in the US but the Alpine Screws ($40-$45) with a standard handle will be available. An easily overlooked gadget that works well is the Abalahook ($13), which is the best tool for making V-threads in ice. With the Naja priced at $179 and the Anaconda (same but nicer grip) at $219, Simond is certainly going to be competitive in the ice tool market this season.

Trango – Obviously the main push has been getting much-in-demand MaxCams out the door. Trango still isn't shipping the big and small sizes yet, but the middle ones are out now and they expect to be caught up soon.

How much are ounces worth to you? The new Titanium Cinch auto-belay device ($130) weighs in at 4 ounces while the regular steel/aluminum Cinch only weighs 6 ounces and costs just $60. Both models have a bigger handle so performance is not the issue – only weight. Is $35 per ounce worth it?

Vaude/Lucky – Now that Liberty is distributing Vaude in the U.S., retailers will have access to that extensive German line; this includes the Spanish-made Lucky climbing gear (Vaude bought Lucky in 1999). The new Lucky Action Direct Comp is a substantial upgrade to the previous version and now appears to be a worthy leashless tool.

Wild Country/DMM – Okay, they technically aren't the same company but they share the same distributor and are so crossbred that the nuts and cams all use the same color-coding (hooray!). The WC Zeroes, among the nicest microcams around, will get a nicer trigger and slightly longer stem next season. DMM is getting closer to production on their new I-beam ice tools (Anarchist and Rebel) but there are still a lot of details to iron out. We believe that the tools will create a stir once they finally hit the stores.

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