GEAR WE USE
Updated on Wednesday, October 31, 2012
we constantly get asked about the gear we use, so here are reviews of the stuff that works in Japanese conditions ie, lots of snow, very cold, minimal moisture in winter, hot and humid in summer and most of it we also take to China and Central Asia as well. some things we are endorsed by, others we have pro-deals on, some stuff we just like.
theres not a lot of reviews here yet, but what is will give you an idea till i fill in the gaps.
Polartec & Neoshell
this year nothing has dominated the gear questions as much as Neoshell (well, and the tsunami…) resulting in trouble with distributors outside Japan as different countries have different licensing rules.
iceclimbingjapan got in early with Polartec and their new textiles by already being in with Teton Bros, who have the main licenses for Japan and deal directly with Polartec in China, where most of the milling takes place these days, and whilst most of the focus has fallen upon Neoshell, there are several other fabrics that are also significant advances in the textile world, but thats where things get hazy with different countries licenses. for now i will stick to Neoshell.
Neoshell matters because of its reinterpretation of what climbers need – to understand Neoshell you need to understand the greater textike market. the evolution of climbing towards lighter and faster, with higher commitment in less hospitable places has been a tenuous carrot for the textile world to follow. it was no big deal when only a few dozen climbers had these demands, but nowadays its huge – either real or imagined – what climbers expect from the companies.
Neoshell nails this market very well by understanding what is acceptable to climbers. by making concessions on water resistance they have hugely upped the breathability – something textiles like Windstopper started almost a decade ago, but exponentially more so.
Teton Bros Neoshell Jacket
an exceptional jacket. after years of promises we finally have what the marketing departments of the big brands have promised us – protection and breathability at the level wanted for high output alpine climbing. this is no mean thing, and took innovations in both textiles and design to achieve and Teton Bros has combined the two elegantly in true Japanese style. heres what i like about it:
it vents realisticly: the combination of well placed core vents, double zip and large sleeve openings makes the flow of moisture rising from your body easily customizable. no fiddling around under pack straps and weather flaps, two accessible zips and flicks of the velco cuffs and your body temperature can be regulated.
a truely helmet compatible hood: almost always a failing on other jackets, this hood really does cover a helmet over a beanie and not ride up.
functional zips: Teton Bros found zips that are both weather resistant AND easy to use single-handedly.
the cuffs: overlooked by so many designers, Teton Bros put effort into them to make them a big part of the venting system and as user-friendly as possible. over-sized tabs cinch the wide openings down easily over gloves, then release lots of built up humidity fast.
the colours: call me a fashionista, but i got bored of the usual black, orange and dark blue years ago. Teton Bros take great pleasure in matching up cool coloured Polartec textiles with psychedelic YKK zips.
this is a true alpine jacket designed to handle snow and changes in internal and external temperatures. theres little extraneous junk to detract from the elegant function, what would be an ugly and function-only jacket by any other company Teton Bros has made refined and ergonomic.
to buy this jacket click here
Teton bros Neoshell Bib
where the jacket is the pinnacle of elegance, the bib is the definition of function. retaining the streamlined design elements of the jacket, the bib features a range of details that make it a workhorse-piece that provides the base for the two piece Neoshell system.
modular by intention, the top bib section is removable – an unusual idea until you live in the bib for several days. rejecting the usual rainbow zip because of bulk and function issues alpine toilet matters are simplified, as is sleeping where you just remove the top section along with all the stuff jammed in its pockets.
the vents on the jacket match up with the cut of the bib for a clever and highly functional heat-dumping mechanism that allows venting direct to the baselayer level.
to buy this bib click here
its easy to get carried away with the new Neoshell variants gradually coming out, and indeed Neoshell is a big step along the process more ergonomic textiles. but really, without going over other layers of just as, if not more smart fabrics, the real value of Neoshell wont be realized. no surprise really considering Polartec developed the whole lot together.
another factor of late ice season is retrieving all the gear left in caches at various ice areas, so yesterday i combined these 2 elements – a busy ‘R & D season’ with the need to get gear back – and decided to run into Yatsugatake during a clear weather window. not that the weather co-operated in the end, crashing about 10:30am just as i set off, sans climbing gear etc to make the trip in easier.
carrying only about 5kgs in, but 16kgs out, in diagonal snow at between -3c and -9c with about 700m of altitude gain for 16kms is a great test for any bit of gear, and the new Polartec Power Dry variants worked well with no help aside from throwing on an 800 fill down jacket at rests to keep body temp up.
ive been using several new versions of Power Dry this winter and for this job i settled with the ‘High Efficiency’ grid-backed mid-weight, figuring high-wicking was going to be my main demand. there were a few moments when i think something with a tigher weave and therefore more wind-retardant would have been nice, but for 90% of the 2hrs 50mins this version worked fine, especially for the 25mins of low-action retrieving gear where there was minimal super-cooling as so little moisture was left in the fabric to go cold. impressive.
based on stuff like this, stay tuned for the latest Teton Bros alpine series thats being developed, focussing on using the latest stuff from Polartec to make systems for high-demand uses.
two other Power Dry ‘species’
Black Diamond Highlight tent
a good solution to the issues of lightweight climbing. there are dozens of tents in this category – single skin, 2 person, alpine featured and to my mind the Highlight functions best because of the large lateral opening rather than the little porthole opening in one end.
compared to port hole designs like the I-tent, Firstlight and Eldorado it vents better, its easier to get in and out of, its easier to cook in, it sits better on ledges (real and artificial) and if rigged with a tarp easily becomes a three person shelter. negatives are its more wind affected to pitch, has an extra pole (which can be dropped if needed) and is harder to streamline in high winds once pitched.
The North Face VE25
if youre staying in the cold for long periods of time you need real functionality. for the temperatures you need both good venting and a system for isolating still air as insulation. for living you need pockets, vestibule space, hanging systems and usable space.
MSR Twin Brothers with footprint
the troop carrier of alpine tents. the Twin Brothers is light, tough, basic and huge and the ideal shelter for places like kaikomagatake where the 12hr approach makes sense being done as a team, with several days in the lost kingdom to live and climb.
the Twin Brothers works on so many levels as a winter tent it is its own evolutionary branch. the main thing is its simple usability, and if youve never stood up in a winter tent before you see why immediately, more so if youve only even been in hooped tents. in what looks like some retro design lays the significance of the Twin Brothers function.
the two central vertical poles are not annoying structural problems. in winter they are two support elements that allows gear to be organized, stoves to be hung from and packs to be lent against. whatever the Twin Brothers looses in perimeter space it makes up for in central area functionality.
beyond that, with a 6ft peak height, you can walk into this tent, put you gear on on your feet, keep gear stored off frozen ground and sit well below the open vents needed when cooking. youre also a long way from the frost that will inevitably accumulate in a single skin shelter.
useless in winter but perfect for Big Canyon trips, Henessy Hammocks are light, weather proof, breathable and hangable anywhere, making them ideal for humid canyons.
Henessy Hammocks are smart, and obviously designed by obsessives as every detail has been thought out and tweaked. once inside, you are sealed into a cocoon thats bug free, highly breathable, roomy and user-friendly.
Mountain Hardwear South Col 70L
the pack for guiding and alpine climbing. for a long time MHW packs were lost in the wilderness of pack-dom. heavy, over-designed and expensive. it was rare to see anyone using one. but now theyve got it together. they are still at the expensive end of the scale, but these days they are worth it.
maybe taking a nudge from Cilo, MHW has gone into woven dyneema, totally strippable, climber-friendly designs that in my opinion beat Cilo at their own game – for half the price.
the South Col is a big pack – 70L, but thats real volume as theres no pockets aside from the lid to absorb the numbers. and its light: 16500gms unstripped, about 1000gms if you do – for a 70L pack remember, not some little 35.
the features are well thought out, and tho it bristles with them, none are particularly cheesy. the buckles and tool retainers are all glove friendly (about time), the compression system is totally customizable, the dyneema pocket is huge and adjustable, the bits that are left once stripped are all still useable. debatable is the daisy chain down the length of it – does anybody actually use them? and the internal pockets, tho nice to have, mess with the opening when stuffed full. neither are worth loosing sleep over, nor taking the scissors to.
Arcteryx Cierzo 35L (old version)
at the ‘light & small’ end of the scale this pack from Arcteryx nails it. the new model is less alpine-oriented, having the compression straps replaced by a cord system thats less good for mats and crampons on the outside, but the lightness is still there. As a 1 Day pack or assault pack this thing is a good balance between light & tough, and voluminous & stripped.
La Sportiva Spantik
a lot has been written about this boot, which is understandable as even 5 years or so on it still stands out amongst other ‘big but not biggest’ mountain boots. tho funkadelic and spaceage looking, many of the design features used in the boot have still yet to be found anywhere else, with other-than-sportiva competitors tending to focus on the design of the Batura (see below) rather than the Spantik.
so much attentionseems to go into the Spantiks inner boot and insulating properties, but its the outer shell boot that attracts me. after several season in Baturas, the absence of the zipped integrated gaiter was welcome. i see the reason for it, and it beats a regular gaiter for sure, but the overlapping flange of alien-technology material that the Spantik has nails the problem of snow better and simpler. and that matters in Japan where youre often pushing thru waist-level of the stuff.
and the snow flange works because of the single lace system. even tho its sold as a one-handed, knotless thing, the way it clamps down the outshell is the trick in my eyes.
La Sportiva Batura
why companies still do other types of alpine boots is beyond me. La Sportiva nailed the design for 6000m conditions climbing 5 years ago with the low ankle cut, minimal leather and integrated gaiter and the rest is superflous now if you ask me.
minimal leather to freeze out, the gaiter to seal out snow and tuck your cuffs into, easy to walk in and easy to take off, for anything in the snow short of about 6000m the Batura ticks the boxes.
in my opinion, every other crampon is over-designed. what was first seen as some super-technical hard climbing specialists crampon, is to my mind all a crampon needs to be. the G20s are light, precise and simple. why they arent more popular I dont know.
for a start, they have all the usual well functioning Grivel bits: the well designed heel locking thing, the great strap buckle system, the near-universal toe bail. for the specifics, the mono-point sits right under your big toe, being less centered than the Dart. the front clusters and other teeth are not too long as to feel like walking in Kiss-style show boots. the Mono-rail connector bar functions mostly thoughtlessly, not being the radical pivot point its easy to imagine it as. without a front anti-balling plate im still yet to have significant balling up – and Japan has the snow to test that it.
there are ice tools and there are Nomics., and for the Nomics theres a hell of a lot of blah blah going about. some of the nomic enigma is deserved and other stuff is legend, but basicly they are the standard in steep climbing tools.
Black Diamond Viper
if you dont know what ice tools to get, make it Vipers. for everything from alpine trudges to difficult vertical ice, the Viper will do it well.
Jetboil Sumo & Flash
in a tent, in the sub-zero cold, with gloves on, with minimum gear, function matters, and Jetboils just work. not quite the most fuel efficient, not quite the most powerful, not quite the lightest – but all that is outweighed by the Jetboils usability.
crammed into a 2 person tent being beaten with pole-deforming winds, stuffed in amongst all your highly flammable gear, no other stove is as safe to use. with no spare ground to put a stove on, nowhere near the ventilation needed to prime one, and too cramped to sit with a stove on your knee, the Jetboil rigged to hang is the only decent option.
the Sumo especially is the right size for melting snow for 2 people. the indicator panel on the side is vital for squashed bivvies, so you know the water temperature from an awkward position, and the strainer built into the lid is great for straining out all the twigs and bits of grass that inevitably end up in meltwater.
UnSupported BaseCamps are where its at. none of the convenience of portered camps but several steps up from just surviving in a tent. the big thing in a USBC is you are cooking your own food which you have lugged in yourself, so efficiency is the key. more tweaked stoves are great for mild conditions, but when half of ‘cooking’ is melting snow the XGK has the power.
Black Diamond Punisher gloves
between mitt conditions and dextrous tooling lays a large expanse of glove territory thats heavily populated, mostly by junk it seems. my personal first test is how a gloves go on in the shop – and its amazing how many fail that with liners, too many or not enough adjusters, inners that bunch up.
Punishers dont do any of that, and then they go further by being tough yet dextrous simultaneously. the knuckle-duster padding is more insulation than just protection, and the simplified leather palm is tough in all the right places for abseiling as well as handling tools.
a beauty of these gloves too is the speed in which they thaw. so many gloves are difficult to warm again, but these seem to be wearable again within minutes.
Black Diamond Impulse glove
for a while there was a noticeable gap in the climbing glove world, lots of hefty super-cold gloves, lots of thin but dextrous gloves, but little specificly for technical climbing in between. fast mixed ascents up to about 4000m want a mid-warmth, padded, dextrous glove that stays tight on the hand – like a standard mixed glove, but bulked up a bit for warmth tho not too much and super-breathable to minimize sweating.
BD finally got around to nailing all this when the demand and technology hit threshold. this sort of climbing took off and Polartec came out with Windpro for the textile.
breathability has been the downfall of many an otherwise great glove, but the Impulses have sorted that with the Windpro backing. they breath well, so less moisture builds on the leather, which would then otherwise freeze like a popsicle. of course no glove is freeze-free, but the Impluses take longer and are then faster to thaw due to the same properties of allowing moisture to escape.
Black Diamond Mercury Mitt
a standard in super-cold gear, BDs Mercury Mitts are the double boots for your hands. into their umpteenth incarnation now there is no forseeable reason for them to ever leave production. mine are 6 years old now, have been dragged up big peaks and around asia and still look new. admittedly i dont wear them often, but when i do its with serious intent.
like Olympus Mons, these Mitts are not about shaving grams and dexterity – they are about saving your fingers from a trip to the surgeon. which they do perfectly. the shell is a bombproof mixture of tough cordura and solid leather, with a suedey bit to wipe lenses etc, then inside is a thick Polartec lobster mitt with the fleecy side to your skin.
these mitts work in so many ways they are a survival kit in themselves. big enough to go over your feet like booties, roomy enough to stuff bars and gels in to thaw, and tough enough to cope with endless handling of tool heads.
Grivel Salamander helmet
the hardshell helmet that acts like a a foam shell. where most hardshell helmets are bulky in that old school, workman kind of way, the Salamander is sleek and low volume, fitting well under hoods.
Revision ballistic glasses
ice climbing has high demands on eye wear, none of which have ever been very well addressed – though the Revision Ballistic glasses come pretty damn close.
sunglasses are vital above the snow line, but have limited protection from spindrift. visors are bulky to carry, have no UV protection tend to fog up. ski goggles will fog up regardless of what the colourful box claims and the elastic strap is a joke to use with helmets, hoods and gloves on.
these glasses resolve most of that.
sourced from the military industry Revision glasses are designed for absolute function. the lenses cover as much of your face as goggles, keeping spindrift to a minimum without fog-inducing seals. the choices in lenses cover UV protection and cut glare (vermillion being exceptionally good in low contrast conditions). the soft arms are easy for use and stashing in pockets and as a safety thing – if they can handle a shotgun blast from 10m then ice, flicked ropes and the rare popped tool dont stand a chance.
Petzl Zipka head light
when things never get above -15c you keep your headtorch on you all the time to keep the batteries from fizzling out. like water, socks and gas canisters, these things need to be kept warm. Zipka headlights fit the bill not just because they illuminate well, but because they carry well, having lost the dangly straps thatmake most headlights a pain in the ass to stash.
the only headlight that matters is the one that works when you need it to, and that means having it already in a pocket, batteries warmed and easy to use. this is where the Zipka excels because its low bulk allows it to stash anywhere, meaning the batteries arent dying keeping 9 functions alive in your pack somewhere.
MSR Dromlite hydration bag
no one is 100% certain about sleeping with a hydration bladder full of hot water inside their sleeping bag with. Unless theyre using a Dromlite. carrying water in winter is a matrix of problems: regular hydrations systems freeze within minutes, every design of bottle either freezes into uselessness, leaks, is too big to carry or is dodgy to have in your sleeping bag. so far the MSR Dromlite comes out best.
it collapses down to nothing and is much tougher than any other hydration bladder, which is nothing special for winter. what matters when its well below freezing is the Dromlites managability.
inside a sleeping bag the Dromlite is both secure and soft, which matters during long winter nights. even better it reduces in volume as the water gets used – something a bottle cannot do. maybe most importantly, when the cap freezes (which it will do at some point, no system is that perfect yet), the soft structure lets you sit it easily across a pot of hot water to thaw – again something a bottle doesnt allow for as effectively.
with a few modifications the Dromlite becomes even better: tape down the little squirt spout to prevent accidents; attach a keeper cord to the small cap, make an insulating sleeve that both keeps the contents warmer longer and makes it more handleable when filled with boiling water.
aside from the orientation of the clipping hole theres little difference between the Reverso3 and its Black Diamond rival – except the colour.
now i often joke about liking the colour of the Reverso3, but from a guiding perspective it matters.
Marmot Pertex Windshell
theres light as in ‘lightweight’, then theres light as in ‘stripped down’, then after thats theres light as in ‘jeez thats light’, and then theres the ‘f#%k me!’ category that this thing fits into.
I-lohas Mikan Mizu bottle
the ultimate piss bottle exists. the problems with piss bottles is multiple and varied – a nalgene works well but is big to carry, a collapsible bottle just isnt secure enough for the situation. the I-lohas bottle is neither and both.
Hyaku-yen 1mm silvered closed cell foam
this stuff should be in the space shuttle – sheets of 1mm thick, foam with one side coated in reflective silver. every Japanese person in a tent has some but its overlooked by everyone else. perfect for tent floors in winter, water bottle covers and insulating gas canisters, it weighs nothing and is 100 yen for a 1m x 2m sheet.
Jetboil cold weather modifications
the Jetboil hanging kit is a good bit of gear – for nice warm days in the backyard. at -15c in a cramped tent or on a ledge, not so much. why? because they made it too complicated with all those dangly bars and cable.
the set up i made is simpler and more convenient and im no industrial engineer – how it escaped Jetboil i cant explain.
all it is is 3 sections of thin cable attached to the burner section, converging at the top to a small karabiner. all the joining is done with proper swages and it costs about $5. the production version costs about $30.
it fits both the sumo and flash version, and when not being used just gets wound around the burner and canister and still packs away inside the cup. the cup doesnt unbalance, rather the cables hold it upright. and the best thing is you can detach the cup from the still hanging burner – something many other self-modifications dont acheive.
along with the hanging set up, I have a bit of foam cut to fit over the top of the canister with a hole thru the centre for the attachment, and a rectangular strip of foam that goes around the canister with a rubber band to hold it in place. again, not brilliant, but something that works. a frozen canister obviously has nothing to gain from being insulated, but the one thats been in the small of your back as you slept, or stuffed in the armpit of your jacket does. the bits of foam keeping things burning efficiently longer which matters when its -10c inside the tent.
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