Most of the excitement in the climbing world comes at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. Nonetheless, there was still plenty of activity to keep our team of reporters busy at this year's Winter Market in Salt Lake City.
While there are some noticeable exceptions -- from DMM, in particular -- alpine and ice climbing gear sees little change for next season. Leashless ice tools continue to grow in popularity as more "average" climbers have a chance to try them out at festivals or borrow them from friends.
Black Diamond -- The Viper, BD's popular mid-range leashed ice tool, already has a spike attachment (the Fang) that converts it into a quasi-leashless tool. Next season, BD finishes the job by offering the Strike, which is a mid-shaft shelf that increases functionality for leashless climbing. A Viper equipped with a Fang and Strike ($260 total) still won't be the equal of a purpose-designed leashless tool (such as its Fusion, $270) but it will be a lot closer and far more versatile.
The new Venom ice axe ($125) is a remarkable value for a serious technical alpine tool. The aluminum shaft is curved near the head for better clearance, yet is straight enough for easy plunging, and it has a dual-density rubber grip. The head features a replaceable curved pick with a tip designed for climbing. And it comes with the Lockdown Leash (a $16 bonus).
DMM -- It's extremely rare for SNEWSÂ® to come out of a booth thinking, "Wow, seriously cool new stuff!" The proof is in the testing, but the new DMM alpine gear looks impressive.
The Anarchist ($270) and Rebel ($230) ice tools share the same upper shaft -- a beautifully sculpted, one piece, hot forged, double I-beam, curved aluminum shaft and modular head. Built into the shaft is a wire-gate carabiner that can be used with a leash or clipped with a 9 mm rope.
The Anarchist features a leashless grip similar to a Petzl Quark Ergo ($295) and BD Fusion ($270). The handle has an easily adjustable finger notch which gives better grip and more control (a la Grivel).
The Rebel has a more conventional straight grip with a small lip at the bottom; similar to the Quark M ($245) and Viper ($230). This too has an adjustable trigger-finger and an extra ledge for stacking hands. The Rebel can be used with or without a leash and the trigger can be removed for alpine climbs.
Snow anchors have gone high tech with the new DMM carbon-fiber Deadman ($65) and Picket ($50). Its aluminum Deadman ($35) with wire cable weighs 13.5 ounces (380 grams), while the carbon version with Dyneema sling weighs 7.0 ounces (201 grams). The carbon snow picket is also about half the weight and twice the cost of an aluminum model. While spendy, a set could easily save 2 pounds -- these will be popular with serious alpine climbers (and rich wannabes).
Five Ten -- After hinting about a new rubber even better than its industry standard C4, Five Ten has finally settled on a name and begun to deliver. Supposedly 10-pound batches are cooked up personally by owner Charles Cole in a climate-controlled room. The secret sauce was called Stealth FX last summer but is now reaching stores as Stealth Onyx. Originally, the new rubber was intended for seven high-end shoes, but the supply is so limited that only the new Galileo ($125) features Onyx, which is claimed to be both stickier and more durable than C4 or any other rubber. Our initial testing confirms it works well but the jury is still out; stay tuned.
Serious crack and trad climbers have bemoaned the complete disappearance from the market of over-the-ankle climbing shoes. Once a mainstay of all the players, their extinction has led to bloodied ankles and fashion faux pas (high socks in low-cut shoes). But tradsters can rejoice now that the Altia ($129) has returned. It's an old name with updated technology (C4, cushioned heels, modern fit) that even keeps dirt out of the shoes on descents.
One model from the price-point line-up of rock shoes, the X-Ray, has been discontinued though both versions of the Coyote ($75) remain.
The hinged prototype appeared too sketchy durability-wise last summer so the new Stonehenge ($55) has done away with the hinged feature. What remains is an ultralight approach shoe that folds flat and has elastic straps to hold the pair together. The Stonehenge will be superb for clipping on the back of a harness for long descents.
Filling in between the serious approach shoes and its trail runners is a series of three "multisport" shoes. Featuring both Stealth C4 and S1 rubber on the outsole, these offer better climbing performance than typical hiking shoes. The Prodigy ($90) and Insight ($95) both have leather uppers, while the Savant ($125) has a synthetic upper XCR sock for wet conditions.
Franklin -- Oooh, this is getting so confusing. Scott Franklin is now a shoe designer for Montrail but started a climbing hold company in 1995 that he sold to Black Diamond a few years later. Last fall, BD decided to get out of the climbing hold market and sold that portion of the business to Eldorado Wall Company.
Yet BD continues to maintain a line of bouldering products (pads, chalk bags, beanies and T-shirts) under the Franklin Climbing Equipment name (http://www.franklinclimbing.com/). And EWC now has 1,040 holds that it produces in Boulder, also under the Franklin Handholds name (http://www.eldowalls.com/franklin/index.htm). To make it worse, both brands use the same T-nut logo. And Scott Franklin has nothing to do with either company that bears his name. We're sure there's some logic somewhere in all this.
Grivel -- While not a new product for this show, the Grivel Monster still generated controversy. When Monsters were introduced last summer, skeptics dismissed these radical-looking dry tools ($125) as cheap ice tools. Now that they've been CEN approved and climbers have had a chance to use them, it's clear that Monsters have broken new ground by opening up mixed climbing to a larger audience.
Although it may be the best boot/binding system yet for attaching crampons, the GSb is still off to a slow start in part due to rival Black Diamond's reluctance to distribute the compatible Scarpa boots in the United States. To be fair, BD's crampons do not offer the GSb tooth so it has little incentive at this point (a GSb boot still accepts all other crampons). Unlike the Montrail crampon system, the GSb boots have no metal cleats on the bottom to potentially trip a climber.
On display in the Grivel booth was its $7,000 ice screw sharpening machine. Certainly this is too expensive for nearly any store to install, compounded by the fact that it cannot be converted to 110v. But, for those stores that do find a way to work past the cost and voltage issues, it does offer customers the ability to get their Grivel ice screws factory-reconditioned at a reasonable cost. The alternative is a Dremel tool, which is time consuming and can spark a temper tantrum if not careful.
La Sportiva -- The Nepal Extreme has been the industry standard for an insulated single mountaineering boot since 1998. Next season, it receives some minor tweaks to become the Nepal Extreme Evo. The only difference is a new integrated cuff gaiter and an improved outsole with a fancy name (Impact Brake System) that has slightly better downhill traction.
Mad Rock -- It's readily apparent that the folks at Mad Rock enjoy shaking up the climbing industry. When it entered the market in the summer of 2002 with good-quality, low-priced rock shoes, it created ripples in the pond that affected everyone.
Similarly, last summer's introduction of climbing harnesses that retail for $35 and under has created a dilemma for other brands. Particularly irked is Petzl which thought it had a lock on auto-locking buckles. However, Mad Rock appears to have successfully avoided infringement while offering a reasonable buckle design. (Singing Rock also got around the Petzl patent, but its buckle design, with an open side that hooks into the harness webbing isn't exactly one we would say inspires complete confidence at first glance, though we're sure it has been very thoroughly tested -- SNEWSÂ® will be testing the buckle design ourselves in the weeks to come and will let you know our thoughts.)
Next up for a possible rude awakening from the Chinese labor force is the mountaineering boot world. The last bastion of high-end boot manufacturing in Europe will soon be competing with two models from Mad Rock. The prototypes shown to SNEWSÂ® appear to be well designed with Kevlar fabric uppers (likely to change) and good design. With estimated retail of around $250, these may compete with boots in the $350 to $400 range.
Mammut -- Add one more to the list of companies offering "fruit boots," the ultralight climbing shoes with bolt-on crampons designed for difficult mixed climbing. Even though this is a tiny niche category where few products are sold at full retail (roughly $500), the perception is that a company isn't serious about climbing unless it offers a crampon boot. With the new Iceclimbing boot joining in, the list now includes: Kayland (the first), La Sportiva, Salomon, Lowa and Raichle. It's reminiscent of the time when softgood companies thought they had to offer one-piece mountaineering suits to appear hardcore, never mind that they were impractical and absurdly expensive.
On the more practical side, the new All-degree EXP is a high-tech, insulated single boot with a low integrated zipper covering the lacing. This appears to be a versatile lightweight boot for ice and alpine climbing. For climbers heading to Alaska or 8,000-meter peaks, the new Expedition is a full-blown double boot with a knee-high gaiter.
Metolius -- From the perspective of a climbing hold manufacturer, one of the obstacles to increasing sales is the difficulty of building a home wall. A new solution from Metolius is steel panels with pre-installed nuts for holds. The colored 2-foot x 3-foot panels can be shipped affordably and are easy to install.
In the portable couch department, the new Waldo harness ($130) is intended for serious aid climbers who want the ultimate in luxury. Based on its Safe Tech Deluxe, the waist band is 6 inches wide and the leg loops are 5 inches wide and it has two belay loops. This will also be popular with photographers and riggers who spend a lot of time hanging in midair. Or anyone fed up with the painfully skimpy harnesses that are all too common these days.
Montrail -- The Method slipper ($75), introduced last summer, is getting a makeover even before it reaches the stores. This will be the first rock shoe to offer thermo-molding for a fast, custom fit. Used underneath the toes (where they grab) and around the heel, the shoes are gently heated to soften the foam and the foot is inserted. Perhaps this is not on the same level as customization of ski boots but it is a nice feature that appears ideally suited for reducing dead spots and maximizing performance.
New England Ropes -- The climbing ropes formerly known as Maxim will now be under the parent company's label. Although the Maxim name has been around for over a decade, it hasn't received high recognition in the climbing world; fine ropes, just little panache. Whether the whale logo will offend vegans remains to be seen.
Outdoor Research -- It was hard to miss the new Alibi Glove ($60) in its prominent display at the front of the booth. A racy design from a normally rather conservative brand, the Alibi is intended for ice climbers using leashless tools. The snug-fitting glove features very sticky palm material for a secure grip even when wet, a stiffened cuff that doesn't interfere with wrist movement, and gel padding in selective areas.
Already renowned for some of the best gaiters available, the new Exos Gaiter goes above and beyond, including the price ($120). Beyond all the market blather, that includes terms such as Elastaium, we say for that kind of money, we want gaiters that will make our coffee too.
Simond -- After several years off the market, the venerable Naja ice tool is back next season. Known as one of the lighter tools around with a fairly thin hand grip, this was popular with women. The new version is similar in most respects but has the "Carving Concept" shaft, a unique crimping of the aluminum that is claimed to reduce vibration.
The new Tornado ice screw features a hanger with a flip-away, coffee-grinder handle. This should be competitive with offerings from BD and Grivel.
Sterling -- If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sterling should feel gratified by the latest Beal ads (and cool 3-D video, http://www.dry-cover.info) touting its new "Golden Dry" ropes, which feature a dry treatment on both the core and the sheath -- a feature Sterling has offered for ages. (No, Sterling did not bring this to our attention.)
Two new bicolor half ropes will appeal to alpine and trad climbers. The rugged Biathalon Half and the lighter Evolution BiPolar are available in either 100- or 120-meter lengths with a color change in the middle to help rig rappels. It's a small niche in the rope market, but those in the know will dig these ropes.
Trango -- Now that legal disputes with a competitor are behind it, and on the strength of a Climbing magazine editor's award (we learned of this right after Winter Market), Trango is focused on getting the new MaxCams onto retailers' shelves in the next couple of months. With strong interest and reasonable prices ($60 to $80), the six sizes should be in high demand this spring.
A delay in production of the innovative new leashless grip on the Mantis kept the tool off the market most of this season. Currently priced at $220, the Mantis will be going up to $260 next fall; still below most of the competition. The leashless version of the Madame Hook gets a modest $10 price hike.
Yates -- Dang, it's cool when technology and simplicity combine. The new SpeedDraws (a mere $3.50) are basically just sewn slings with a small loop at the end to hold a carabiner for clipping. But these are made with 11 mm webbing that is 55 percent Dyneema and 45 percent nylon, which is less prone to fuzzing than some narrower webbings. The 12-inch SpeedDraw quickly converts between a short runner and a 3-inch quickdraw -- it's a slick system.