Climbing, some would say, epitomizes the beauty of dueling forces and the graceful, yet tenuous, balance between them. Vertical and horizontal. Brute force and ballerina finesse. Fear and exhilaration. Taken to the limits … life and death.
Climbing companies exhibiting at this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market personified that yin-yang harmony found in the sport. On the one hand, many showcased products built specifically for the aggressive climber living the all-encompassing lifestyle and traditional climbers tackling multi-pitch routes. On the other hand, others -- as well as some of the same companies -- launched product aimed at beginners in the sport -- those toiling on easier walls for only a few hours at a time.
"The low price-point shoe market is flooded and the next logical step for a lot of companies is the performance category," said Jonathan Lantz, president of La Sportiva. "It is great for image and there is a solid market out there that demands to be catered to."
That's not to say that companies must choose between the hardcore target and the entry-level climber. Lantz added: "You do not have to be an 'elite' climber to reap the benefits of a shoe with excellent performance."
Much of the season's hottest, hardcore-oriented product revolves around footwear -- more specifically, more aggressive shoes built to tackle highly difficult routes requiring hours and hours of intensity.
But, really, how big is this market and is there a large need for such shoes? One wonders, but that doesn't appear to stop companies from pulling out all the design stops. And one obvious trend is providing comfort and durability for those spending days if not weeks in the same footwear.
La Sportiva presented the TC Pro Climbing Shoe. Designed in conjunction with ace climber Tommy Caldwell (hence "TC" -- although that may also stand for "The Captain" or "The Chief"), the TC Pro (MSRP $170) is built with the singular goal of delivering comfort as elite climbers tackle 5.14 routes all day long. A Wraparound "x" cradles the foot, integrating the rand into the shoe's structure, and a sunken-in, hybrid-lacing system means fewer laces are exposed to the rock. La Sportiva also showcased its approach shoe wizardry with the Gandalf -- built for the guy spending 300-plus days in the mountains a year. The upper is salt/corrosion/dry rot-resistant and the shoe itself is designed to be re-soled many times over. At a retail price of $225, it's built to last 10 years -- or one trek from Mordor to the Shire -- whichever comes first. www.lasportivausa.com
Boreal created buzz amongst the alpinists at Summer Market with a serious mountaineering boot, the Boreal G1 Lite. This is a synthetic, cold-weather boot with a removable liner -- perfect for staying warm and comfortable between acclimatizing hikes. Crampon compatible, relatively lightweight (77 ounces), waterproof and abrasion resistant, the G1 Lite retails for $569. www.boreal-club.com
Mammut, too, has brought an impressive mountaineering boot to market that also generated serious buzz. The Mamook is its lightest-weight mountaineering model to date. Built in conjunction with Raichle (although that brand name is disappearing from the market -- click here to read that SNEWS® story), it features waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex in a svelte design (54 ounces) that is most conducive to ice cragging. The Mamook (MSRP $385) won the OutDoor Industry Award for Innovation at the recent show in Friedrichshafen, Germany -- click here to read story. www.mammutusa.com
Five Ten touted the Project, a climbing shoe (MSRP $145) that will specialize on overhanging, steep, sport routes. It has applied the company's highest-friction rubber and subsequently the sole is allowed to be thinner, allowing for a soft feel. Also, for thin cracks, Five Ten ushers in the Copperhead climbing shoe. An innovative design on a moccasin last, the Copperhead (MSRP $125) is a very specific fit for traditional crackers that migrate to Indian Creek every season. www.fiveten.com
Evolv presented the Optimus and Optimus Prime climbing shoes (MSRP $125 and $109, respectively). The Optimus Prime features a down-camber profile, a stretchy upper, and a wider toe for climbers chasing advanced traditional routes. www.evolvesports.com
Scarpa brought the Feroce (MSRP $155) to market. This specialized shoe designed to deliver ultimate performance during frontpointing features all the bells and whistles, including a design to last many seasons. Also, the company's m.o. has been to make its climbing shoes comfortable -- assuming the shoes deliver high-level performance, that's something that hardcores and newbies alike will appreciate. Witness the Force (MSRP $120), which features V Tension, a feature that grabs the forefoot and delivers spring-like action across the midfoot. The claim is that the shoe will not collapse, even after a month. Aero-mesh, plus a suede footbed and a cushioned tongue, make this shoe simply plush. www.scarpa.com
Entry-level climbing shoes
Climbing companies have a great stake in product made for beginners as well. This is how the sport will grow -- by delivering product that is comfortable, affordable and still delivers enough high performance so that the learning curve is as short as possible. This is equivalent to the boom represented by parabolic skis that put beginning skiers on intermediate runs in record time. That is the holy grail of climbing companies making beginner-level shoes -- to invent the parabolic ski of the climbing shoe world.
Boreal's response to the need for more beginner-friendly product is the Silex. This is a wear-it-all-day, highly comfortable climbing shoe. www.boreal-club.com
Acopa told us at Summer Market, "Beginner climbers need good shoes, too." So it's introduced the Legend climbing shoe (MSRP $160), a canvas-lined, traditional climbing shoe with extra, durable padding around the heel cuffs. www.acopausa.com
Although it's not strictly focused on beginner climbers, Mad Rock is perhaps best known for its entry-level shoes. At Summer Market, it unleashed its Con Series (MSRP $100), complete with its signature concave profile. The front forefoot bows so that the climber's foot stays comfortably in an optimal smearing position. This also prevents the shoe from bowing out, the company told us. A reliable Velcro-lace hybrid system creates a secure, out-of-the-way fit and an articulate, armadillo-style heel is ideal for hooking. www.madrockclimbing.com
Newbie climbers will find comfort in the new Five Ten Prism (MSRP $150), which utilizes new-faceted edge technology to create pointed toes that dig more easily into smaller edges. The perforated upper is 16-percent cooler -- and more comfortable -- in testing. Five Ten has used its highest-friction rubber on this one, so it's thinner than normal, allowing a better feel for the rock. www.fiveten.com
Ropes and other gear
Two major climbing rope-related trends were reflected at this summer's show:
First, hardcores and beginners alike have been flocking to climbing gyms. Hearing that call, New England Ropes recognized the need for a better climbing gym rope -- one that can more reliably endure the day-to-day beating of constant use. The 10.8 mm "Chalk Line" Gym rope ($1.22/foot) is a kern mantle construction that counters the effects of sheath slippage, a problem caused when a rope's core and shell separate. The Chalk Line's trademarked Str8 Jacket Core works like a Chinese Finger Trap in that the shell and core are better intertwined and less prone to slipping. www.neropes.com
Secondly, ropes continue the trend we called out last year of getting leaner, skinnier and more lightweight. This causes a conundrum in that most belay devices are made for a thicker width. Enter Mammut and the Smart belay device (MSRP $22). Positioned at the forefront of this trend, the Smart functions likes an auto-locking device -- although it is lighter weight and less expensive. www.mammut.com
Also useful at the gym -- or at the boulders -- is the Metolius "Colossus" Training Mat (MSRP $289). This 4x6 tri-fold mat utilizes angled hinges to eliminate a gutter and deliver greater stability. www.metoliusclimbing.com
While not as visible as climbing shoes or ropes, carabiners and cams are undeniably a vital component of every climber's tackle. Omega Pacific unveiled an extended-range cam. Two new sizes (.5 and .75) follow the trend toward lighter and smaller carabiners. Details and accents stay true to another trend -- the "sexing up" of climbing tools to appeal to a younger audience. www.omegapac.com
Speaking of 'biners, Black Diamond Equipment's summer show touted some ground-breaking techniques that are making more innovative, detailed and, dare we say, "flashy" designs possible. Thanks to hot-forged design, Black Diamond presented its new Dynotron and LiveWire carabiners (MSRP $10.05- $11.95).
Also from the Black Diamond folks -- and true to the industry's goal of making the sport more accessible to the entry-level athlete -- came the Iron Cruiser Set for "Via Ferrata" use. Via Ferrata, with its roots in Europe, is a way for novices to get the full feel for climbing technical mountaineering routes by safely clipping in and out of pre-existing anchors. The Iron Cruiser Set features two slide-down locking carabiners, the company's Energy Absorption Systems (EAS) to minimize shock loading, and extendable bungee-style lanyards. The hot-forged Iron Cruiser carabiners have a wide gate clearance for ease of use. Webbing loops attach directly to the harness, and the clean EAS systems limit load impact in the unlikely event of a fall. BD also rolled out its Easy Rider set for heavier-duty Via Ferrata use (MSRP $79 and $99). www.bdel.com
Petzl, not surprisingly, unveiled some hardware that will make the ups and downs of climbing safer and less cumbersome. The Attache 3D (MSRP $20) will instantly make its mark as one of the lightest locking carabiners on the market. It weighs in at 50 grams, but still manages to pack a punch. The Ascension ascender (MSRP $70) has been updated and improved for greater efficiency and ease-of-use, with a sticky grip akin to bike handlebars. www.petzl.com
Harnesses have made great strides in the direction of increased comfort and lighter weight. Two standout examples came from C.A.M.P. USA and Mad Rock.
C.A.M.P.'s Alp 95 Harness (named for its weight, in grams, which C.A.M.P. claims is "the lightest harness in the world") is a featherweight on the scale only. It utilizes a single tie-in point and a quick-adjust waist buckle. A C.A.M.P. representative told SNEWS, "The Alp 95 is destroying lingering misapprehensions about taking a lightweight harness to the summit's of the world's highest peaks." www.camp-usa.com
Not to be outdone, Mad Rock inaugurated two new lightweight harnesses at Outdoor Retailer: the Alpha and the Beta. Both feature wider webbing on the waistbelt that narrows in the front. The end result is greater comfort, fewer pressure points and less digging into the stomach. The Alpha (MSRP $60) has fixed leg loops, while the Beta (MSRP $70) has adjustable loops. www.madrockclimbing.com
Finally, Black Diamond Equipment continued to build upon its rich heritage of harness construction with the Ozone harness (MSRP $100), a sleek, minimalist rig for the serious sport climber. Despite its light weight (320 grams), this harness is the whole enchilada, showcasing the company's hallmark traits such as a bullhorn-shaped waistbelt, Kinetic Core Construction, a breathable wicking liner, and a pre-threaded Speed Adjust buckle and two pressure-molded gear loops. www.bdel.com
The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.