For those who don't know me well, I've got some news. I'm a bit of a gear guy. Five years of working in outdoor retail will do that to you. Over time I've become fascinated with gear. Often times I think we glance over or take for granted the essential pieces of gear we use each and every time we climb. The work and engineering that goes into climbing equipment often amazes me.
Full disclosure: I do not pay full price for any of my gear, and some of it I did not pay for, however, none of the gear I talk about was given to me for the purpose of reviewing. All of the photos you see were taken from company websites.
Here's a basic rundown of what I'm wearing on a day of climbing. This kit occasionally changes around a bit here or there, but for the most part remains the same. Some of the gear here is pretty common, or not really worth talking about, but some particular gear I've got more to say about.
My Winter Kit:
- Shell: Mammut Nordwand Jacket
- Belay Parka: Mammut Ambler Jacket
- Mid-layer Insulation: Arc'teryx Atom LT
- Fleece: Mammut Aconcagua Hoody
- Base Layer Top: Rab Aeon Long Sleeve
- Base Layer Bottom: Minus33 Kancamagus Midweight Wool
- Pants: Mammut Eisfeld Pant
- Gloves: OR Warrant, BD Pilot, Arc'teryx prototype someting or other, and of course kincos on kincos
- Helmet: Black Diamond Vapor
- Harness: Black Diamond Aspect
- Tools: Cassin X-Dreams
- Crampons: Petzl Lynx
- Pack: Mammut Trion Guide 35 or Black Diamond Speed 22
- Socks: Darn Tough Thermolite OTC Cushion ski sock
- Boots: La Sportiva Baturas
Mammut Nordwand Jacket
I picked up the Nordwand Jacket at the beginning of this season because I really didn't have a performance hardshell specifically for winter use. The Nordwand is the mother of all hardshells. The Nordwand feels bulletproof. Its heavy duty construction protects from the worst mother nature can throw at you (like 90mph winds or freezing rain and graupel) A comfortable cut built specifically for ice climbing makes this jacket ideal for the sport. I'm particularly fond of the massive, easy to access pockets and the strong velcro on the cuffs that work perfectly for keeping snow out of gloves. The zipper is totally sealed, although it can sometimes be a bit funky to deal with. I'm personally not a fan of the double zipper however, I find it occasionally starts to unzip at the bottom, and this shell always is tucked under my harness so I don't see any use for it. The cut is a bit loose on me, and I'm not exactly a lean guy either. At 5'10 and 185 I find the jacket is a bit big around the chest and in the arms, even with 3 layers underneath. The cut works well under a harness albeit it does ride up slightly throughout the day. Arms are a perfect length for however, and I never had issues getting the cuffs to wrap tightly over the gloves I was wearing.
My two biggest complains with this jacket are as follows. One, the elastic toggles on the hood are pretty difficult to operate, especially with gloves, making it hard to tighten down the hood, especially when its really needed. I almost always needed help from a partner. My second distaste also has to do with the neck. While I love that it can be zipped high on the face, essentially up to my nose, I can almost never leave it zipped high for long. Fleece or soft material would be a huge plus here, preventing moisture from accumulating on the slippery gore fabric. All in all, however, this shell is phenomenal. After a full season its hardly looks beat, and I'm confident it will last for the years to come. Only problem, this thing cost something like $900. Is it worth it? Maybe if it's on sale. Otherwise I'm not too confident, its tough for me to say because I don't have the ability to compare it to say a $500 dollar jacket also built for ice climbing. What I do know is if your looking for top of the line quality, this is the coat.
Black Diamond Vapor
I've got a love hate relationship with the Vapor which I thought was worth mentioning. On one hand, this helmet is extremely light. I love everything about this thing fit wise. It works perfectly on my head, and the straps and buckles I never have issues with. This thing is even better in the summer when its scorching hot. Its easy to adjust and it stays put all day without issues. One problem. This thing is way to fragile. I've broken one already (crushed in the pack), and my second one is starting to develop cracks already. Doubtful it will last for much more than another month or two. BD replaced the first one on them (Thanks!!) but already indicated they won't replace it again. As much as I love the thing, there's just no way I can buy a new one. I'm not particularly hard on my gear in the first place, but I take extra care to pack this thing well. Simply put, it just can't handle the abuse most of us are going to give it. If there is such a thing as a durable, ultralight helmet, the Vapor certainly isn't the one. With a price tag of $140, I just can't justify another one, despite how amazing it is to wear.
Darn Tough Thermolite Over-the Calf Padded Cushion
Socks are sometimes overlooked by climbers, and for many of us, don't really make or break a day. I've got feet that run cold, and that are pretty unusually shaped. I wear a size 42 boot, but have a much higher instep and width for someone with a foot this size. What this translates to is boots that generally too tight on the top when the length is right. My boots are slightly long for me, but are as small as I could go because of a high instep. I wear the Baturas (which I HIGHLY recommend), and when I first got them, spent some time experimenting with different socks. I've settled finally on these bad boys from Darn Tough. If you don't wear Darn Tough socks, I highly recommend re-evaluating your life decisions. They are now the only socks I wear, every day, year round. Made locally right here in Vermont, these socks last longer, fit better, smell less, wick better, and are more comfortable than any sock I've ever owned. Period. They also come with a lifetime warrenty, meaning when they wear down, you can bring them to anywhere that sells the socks and exchange them for a new pair. Anytime. Always. Its awesome.
Anyways, I settled on these socks because they are relatively thin, which is important for me because my feet are already tight in my boots. The Thermolite material in the sock makes them surprisingly warm for their thickness, which is great considering I upgraded to Baturas from Nepals because my feet were always cold. (Best decision I ever made.) These socks are padded in the heal and toe, which make them comfy to wear all day, and enhance the fit of the boot in the two places that are arguably most important in ice boots. The shin is also padded (they are ski socks after all), which doesn't really do much for climbing, although I do also wear them skiing. I do wish they were slightly bigger around the calf, as I do find they can be somewhat tight which can be uncomfortable. The best part about these guys however, is what makes all Darn Tough socks so amazing. I only need one pair. Thats because I can wear them five days in a row without washing them. When I was living in a UHaul van in Ouray this January, I did just that, and each day it was like putting on a new (maybe slightly smelly sock). These things seriously last before they need washing, which is a huge plus for those of you headed out on multi-day trips, climbing or skiing (hopefully both). For those of you looking for a thicker, warmer sock with all of these same perks, check out the Mountaineering OTC Full cushion sock. Another great choice and a sock that many of my partners wear and love equally.
Outdoor Research Warrant Gloves
Next to my favorite piece of kit. The Warrant Gloves are the best ice climbing glove that's every been made. Period. The only downside of these gloves is that they cost a whole heck of a lot for a pair of gloves. I don't pay full price for OR gear, but I would pay full price for these, and thats saying something. These gloves are in their second generation and they are the total package. Sealed with Gore-Tex and insulated with PrimaLoft, these gloves keep your hands warm and dry without sacrificing dexterity. They fit comfortably and snug, wrapping the wrist high enough to cover them with the cuffs of a jacket. I love these gloves because they perform time and time again, and I know I can count on their reliability. There warm enough to wear in 20 degree temperatures comfortably (and my hands usually run cold) yet they simply do not feel bulky. Built specifically for ice climbing, these gloves are padded on the top of the hand to prevent bruising, and lined with sticky leather on the bottom for a solid grip. I really do think these gloves are perfect for what they're built for.
With that in mind, they do have limits and probably aren't for everyone. My first generation pair wore down after a full season, and of course, OR generously replaced them with the next generation model, which appears much more durable than the last. After a full season they feel just as waterproof, and there are no signs of stitches pulling or material wearing through. On warm days or for hard ice/mixed pitches, I typically wear the thin BD Pilot Gloves. On cold days, or for belaying, I typically wear a warmer glove, like my kinkos. I usually avoid belaying or doing anything else in these gloves other than climb, simply in an attempt to get them to last as long as possible, however, they did see their fair share of abuse this season and I'm quite pleased of the shape their in. If your someone who has problems keeping their hands warm while climbing, or simply want the best glove out there, I would highly recommend the Warrant. They are pricy, but OR has one of the best guarantees out there, so you know you'll be getting a new pair when your old ones are shot.
Rab Aeon Long Sleeve Tee
The last piece of gear I want to talk about is the Rab Aeon Long Sleeve Tee. This is by far the best base layer I've ever owned. I don't think its the piece for everyone, but for me, its absolutely perfect. I've tried lots of base layers, mostly because I sweat a lot. Like way more than most people. It can be a big problem actually. On some days I've actually packed a second shirt to change into after the approach. I have absolutely no idea what it is about this shirt that makes it so great, but for a sweaty guy like me, it performs far better than everything I've worn. It's the lightest base layer I've ever owned, which is why I say its probably not for everyone. If you run cold, or don't sweat, probably not for you. It feels almost like silk, and yes, I've tried silk base layers. Whatever makes this shirt so great I may never know, but what I do know is that this shirt wicks better than anything I've worn. Consistently throughout ice season I've found myself feeling less wet, and as result, less clammy and cold as the day goes on. Just to make sure I wasn't totally imagining it, I went back to some of my old layers. Low and behold, the difference was clear. If your looking for a shirt that has maximum wicking capability, this is the one.
Thats all I got for gear. Check back for more in-depth gear talk as rock season comes around!