The SNEWSÂ® team of editors powered by imported dark chocolate and numerous espresso shots (not necessarily in that order), zigged and zagged around the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market floor 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, our brains were either too frozen from our early morning runs to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking espresso shots too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for climbing/mountaineering, including shoes, tents, stoves, hardware, accessories and more:
Winter shows are usually fairly quiet in the climbing world and this year was no exception. Still, there were enough new products to keep most climbing buyers from falling asleep.
AKU -- This footwear brand has earned its reputation for lightweight hiking boots. Though it's offered mountaineering boots for a while, the designs were old-fashioned clunky affairs -- nice but nothing special. That changes next fall with the introduction of the new Spider GTX ($425). This boot places AKU on the cutting edge of technology. The Kevlar uppers are bonded with a TPU web for durability at minimum weight. Insulation and water protection is provided by Gore-Tex Duratherm XL. It's a bit on the ugly side but should deliver serious performance for less weight than most, if not all, the competition.
Black Diamond -- It's a telling sign of the direction the ice climbing market is heading when BD replaces its all-around price-point tool, the Rage, with a leashless tool. Still priced at $190, the Reactor uses the same head and pick but has a new aluminum shaft with a nice offset grip and it does not come with a hammer or adze head. This promises to be an excellent beginner to intermediate tool that should work better than the Viper ($243), though it's less versatile. The Fusion ($270) remains the premier tool for those who spend more time hooking on rock than ice.
The Bionic crampon received a major upgrade to become the Cyborg ($190). It is not only 6 ounces lighter but also stiffer under the forefoot for reduced calf strain. Unlike the Bionic, the Cyborg crampons come with anti-balling plates as a standard feature instead of a poorly designed afterthought. These Cyborgs will be the first significant rival to the Grivel G14 for high-performance technical crampons.
The fruits of the acquisition of Anker Climbing Equipment appeared with the new Single Portaledge ($650) and two-person Cliff Cabana Portaledge ($700); an optional Wall Organizer ($40) attaches to the rigging for extra storage. Wall rats will immediately recognize these as direct descendents of the old A5 ledges, though there have been numerous improvements over the years. The basic fast-deploy rainflys will run $200 and $250, respectively, and are suitable for most walls in Yosemite and Zion. The Deluxe Flys ($400 and $450) add large windows and internal pockets for greater livability on extended climbs. The new ledges are a vast improvement over BD's previous offering and are an excellent complement to its haul bags. Two other classic products that came with ACE include the Bosun's Chair ($70) and Rope Bucket ($40).
CAMP -- The Alpax ice axe has been in the line for a while now; it's a lightweight and versatile mountaineering tool with a slightly curved shaft for better performance on ice. The new Alpax Special ($170) takes it a step further. In standard mode, the bottom of the shaft is clean for plunging into snow. When a section of ice is encountered, slide the red grip up and fold out the hand rest to improve climbing performance. It's a nice feature that only adds 5 grams and $10 to the standard version. This should prove popular with alpine purists.
Coleman -- Everything about the new Fyrestorm Ti multifuel stove looks great until you get to the price. It's lightweight (under 12 ounces), has a high heat output, can use liquid gas (but not kerosene) and screw-on butane canisters, and has a stable design with no-slip pot supports. But the $190 price tag is more than a wee bit high -- as in, no frickin' way! The Fyrestorm SS is just 2 ounces heavier and $40 cheaper, so it at least has a chance competing against the Optimus Nova, MSR XGK and Primus OmniFuel.
For anyone who cooks for groups, the new Gemini ($140) will be of interest. This is the first two-burner, liquid-fuel backpacking stove on the market -- think of the classic green Coleman stove (about 10 pounds) stripped down to only 2 pounds, 5 ounces. A single-burner version called the Apollo weighs in at 20 ounces and will cost $80.
When Coleman introduced its Powermax stoves in 1997, they proved to be a great system with one serious drawback: it's hard to find the fuel canisters. This system gets a major boost this season with the introduction of a Powermax Fuel Adaptor ($23). It allows the liquid-feed stoves to use any butane canister by inverting them onto the adaptor. Expect the Xpert and Xtreme stoves to get more interest now that finding fuel is no problem.
Fusion -- There is a new player in the climbing market. The line consists of 18 aluminum carabiners, seven quickdraw sets, 11 steel carabiners, two harnesses, and an assortment of pulleys, belay devices and bolt hangers. Build quality appears fine and prices are a bit less than other brands, but there isn't much to make the line standout. It's essentially more of the same without enough pricing incentive to steal much of the pie.
Grivel -- The Marmot Precip of ice tools hit the market last season. First, there was the Monster ($130), a price-point leashless tool better suited to rock than ice. Then it was joined by the X Monster ($130), that was tweaked to make it more ice than rock. Now comes the Alp Monster ($120), which is a straight shaft ice hammer in two lengths (38 cm and 44 cm) -- this may be a popular option as a third tool. And there's the Lil' Monster ($110), which is an ice pick mounted on a 32 cm shaft that has a closed grip, for complete knuckle protection, and resembles a ninja weapon.
Kahtoola -- During Outdoor Retailer trade shows, the SNEWSÂ® editors are constantly asked if we've seen anything really new and cool. Often, we're left pondering to come up with something that really stood out, but not this Winter Market. This winter, without hesitation, we told everyone to, "Go check out the Kahtoola snowshoes!"
The system starts with the FlightDeck ($185), a well-designed snowshoe with a step-in binding. The deluxe version uses the FlightBoot ($150), which is an insulated overboot (seven sizes to fit over most running shoes and boots) that has serious traction and mates with the snowshoe. For those with warm boots and a tighter budget, the Aces ($100) is an alternative snowshoe binding that straps to any boot and can detach from the snowshoe to serve as a forefoot crampon.
Nemo -- Best known for its inflatable summer tents, Nemo has also offered a conventional single-wall mountaineering tent that uses aluminum poles. Essentially its version of a Bibler Eldorado, the Tenshi ($675) had a couple of unique features including a curtain to reduce condensation. But a do-nothing half vestibule was a weak point. Next season, the Tenshi gets a full vestibule that can be removed to save weight. It also gets a waterproof tie-in point that allows climbers to anchor themselves to the mountain. Nemo still offers the insulated floor as an accessory, but it's so heavy and bulky that it will never get carried anywhere.
Omega Pacific -- While the Link Cam has been getting all the buzz, one of the smallest new items at the trade show should not be overlooked. The OP Rappel Rings ($3) are made from solid, forged aluminum. Unlike the hollow aluminum SMC rappel rings that have been around forever, these are robust enough that they don't need to be doubled up. They are also much lighter than the Fixe Stainless Steel rings.
Simond -- The Pitbull crampons received a long overdue upgrade for next season. The new Vampire crampons will have hot-forged front points (much better than the previous design) and include the anti-balling plates (formerly an option). These improvements put the Vampires in the same category as the BD Cyborg and Grivel G14 crampons.
Wild Country -- The much anticipated ice tools from DMM (Anarchist and Rebel) and carbon fiber deadman were delayed for a season but are scheduled to appear next fall.
The new Long Stem Zeroes should be appearing in stores fairly soon, particularly good timing given all the quality control issues with CCH Aliens. In addition to a longer stem, these new Zeroes have a bigger trigger. The two changes will likely make these a top choice for thin crack protection.