on a recent trip i forgot to change over the heel bails on my crampons and found the straps too short for my double boots. no problem, i got the extra length by threading in 2 of the simple straps off my Cilogear worksack. true, any pack could have provided this, but from a Cilogear pack there was no need to fiddle or cut them off.

note the broken yellow bail and the metal D ring hooked round the tooth of the crampon

more telling tho, after a few hours into a 2 day trip i broke the binding (another story) and a 3rd simple strap saved the day, jury rigging for another 20hrs of climbing. the retention strap is one thing, but actually binding the hardest wearing part of a crampon to a boot for 20hrs of loaded climbing on rock and ice is several magnitudes up the scale. not only did it not need further adjusting, but aside from minor deformation there was no damage to the straps metal D ring.

makes me wonder what else simple straps can be used for…


>>>this information violates just about every warning issued by stove manufacturers, tent manufacturers and compressed gas manufacturers. we know that. we also feel that if you have the wherewithal to climb hard, cold routes you also have the wherewithal to manage other dangers. proceed at your own risk<<<

there isnt really a cold-specific stove out there. companies will say there is, and lots of stoves will burn in the cold, but set into the demands of high, cold climbing none tick all the boxes. its not enough for a stove to just burn at low temperatures and/or high altitude, it has to function for the realities of climbing which means inside a tent, being powerful, being as fuel and heat efficient as possible, being safe, being light weight, being tough and actually being able to cook – not just boil water. as yet nothing offered by the makers of stove systems does all that.

liquid stoves solve much of the power and low temperature issue. and thats it. they are heavy, dangerously cumbersome, suicidaly fire-hazardous and offer you a world of mishaps with toxic fuel. in a storm-bound tent they may melt water fast but compromise the tent as an environment of shelter. even the innovative design from Soto, that flares less, is still lacking. good in large base tents or snow shelters, taking one into a portaledge or single-skin on a chopped slope raises more problems than it solves.

canister stoves have come a long way in the last decade but still dont nail all the factors, tho they do come closer. the canisters can be inefficient in the cold, they can lack power, most lack the flame variability to really cook and some – most famously the Reactor – produce dubious levels of carbon monoxide. lighter and more compact they lend themselves better to cold climbing, but when it comes to turning ice and dehydrated matter into nutrients they lack the power.

winter after winter we had suffered the limitations of several different stoves, including Reactors, Jetboils, XKGs, Mukas, Whisperlites, Pocket Rockets and weird things from Snowpeak. not everything, but enough to see the problems were everywhere. so we sat down and made a list of the things needed and simply decided to hack it together ourselves. the lists were (based on things were had seen fail or succeed over the years):

safe. no flaring, no spillable fuel, safe levels of CO emission, low center of gravity

powerful. enough Kcal/h output to really melt snow

variable. we want to really cook as nutrition demands it

wind resistant. for obvious reasons

packable. light, compact, damage-resistant and easy to use

functional. hangable, canisters manageable in the cold, reliable to light, stable on the ground.

efficient. drain as much liquid gas from the canister as possible, burn as much of the available expressed gas, capture as much heat as possible

reliable. no flimsy bits, no complex components, no special ignition, few moving parts, adaptable to other pots

what wasnt on the list was;

expense. as a tier one bit of gear that lives depend on we will pay what it takes

gimmicks. after seeing all the little add-on bits of junk either fail or get lost we ignored them

brand loyalty. we figure if the big players can fill the gap then theres the right to go cowboy.

‘integrated’ designs. this stove would go round the world – it needed to work with whatever bits were available.

some factors were obvious;

the pot is half the issue. no matter how good the stove you need to an equal pot to harness it – it may well be a good pot does better with a bad stove than vice versa

‘remote canister’ stoves are the only real solution. they have the low center of gravity, canister manageability and damage-resistance. liquid stoves are bulky, toxic, complex and fiddly.

efficiency demands a preheating tube combined with a flux ring / exchanger system. not many canister rigs have this.

durability = simplicity. clunky, basic designs last longer – most systems fail due to damaging complex parts

enter the FRANKEN-STOVE (Mk I).

and this was the result, as tested over +50 winter days/nights, trying expeditions to altitude, a dozen fuel choices, the rigors of logistics and travel. elegantly simple, we used minimal skill and tools to build what far out-shines any other system. it cost – all up it could go at nearly $300 if you bought all the bits new – but if you measure value by performance its worth 10 x that. 

the Frankenstove happily melting snow for 2 people at 4900m.

we took a Primus Eta Spider stove because it has the best Kcal/h output-to-least CO output available. this stove is so low-CO it makes Jetboil look dirty and the Reactor look like nerve gas. aside from that it sits low with a wide pot base, and has a remote canister to milk more gas. we usually have it hanging so the canister either sits under in in an inverted helmet, or by using a magnetic hook dangles from the bottom of the rig.

as a pot we (after lots of testing) scavenged an MSR Reactor pot. its heavy but the flux system is efficient, the clear lid fits well and allows a view of the water, and the long handle makes it good for scooping snow. its also strong and a decent profile being relatively wide at the base.

what makes it all pull together tho is our home-rigged wind shield/reflector that keeps so much heat from bleeding away you can put your hands right around it (ie same efficiency as a Jetboil) but allows access for lighting (unlike the Reactor/Windburner). this we made from a titanium UL cup-bowl thing, chopped a slot into it and punched a few vents holes. we sized it magically to fit perfectly inside the 3 pot stands and it slots in/out nicely. again, dozens of tests have shown it works. as an excellent touch, being titanium, it cools fast.

to hang the rig we bought, cut and swaged some thin cable, stuck one of those silly ‘S’ shaped novelty biners on the top and a tiny biner on each end that clips to the 3 stands of the stove. it balances well, but mishaps can happen especially in a tent being nailed hard by wind, so we string a bit of shock cord around it. the S biner was chosen because the top clips to the tent/branch/belay and the bottom clips to both the stove and assorted paraphernalia like igniters, spoons, knives, cups etc. its a little thing that goes a loooong way to making confined and dodgy living spaces manageable.

the Bialetti test: if it doesnt take a moka pot its not even in the running – a major Reactor fail.

to top it all off we use the Primus igniter thing thats long so you dont need to take the pot away to light – tho we have found every Piezo lighter to fail above 4100m for some reason.

it’s stable enough to take any pot you want, including the new collapsible silicone ones (tho the large size distorts a bit) AND vitally, it handles a Bialetti coffee espresso pot. we have cooked tagiatelli, laksa and chinese noodles in it perfectly, no damage to the pot and no cleaning/burning issues. despite digging snow with the pot there is no damage that affects its cooking. over the year of trialing it would have melted literally hundreds of liters of snow and ice.

it’s not perfect tho.

what failed was, unlike a Jetboil, Windburner or several other designs, it doesnt clip together. that would be nice. and with that it’s not holdable like a jetboil, so balancing the thing on your knee would be very sketchy. the other side of that issue is its the clip-together element that limits the other pots that can be used – either nothing will fit, the adapters are crap or the area to fit a pot is too small

stable on frozen, pebbly ground with a Tibetan wind blowing

and if you like that wait till you see Mk II. being tested now, early vectors point at being a remarkable 35% better across the board (power, efficiency, weight, function). stay tuned.


autumn in Tibet is like autumn anywhere – rapidly cooling, some moisture still in the air and oscillating winds both cold and neutral. only in Tibet it’s all exaggerated. the winds are colder, the sun is stronger, the difference between sun and shade is huge and the cold fronts huge. this means clothing needs to cover a wide spectrum of use, from sun protection to frosted tents way below freezing.

but first a rant…

current developments in fabrics and insulation have changed high mountain climbing clothing a lot, doing away with both the old standards of what is used, and how they mix. when the layers change so do how you layer them, and anyone saying nothing has changed since the 80’s simply doesnt have their eyes open. the old notion of a polypro baselayer, a fleece or pile midlayer then a Goretex shell on top and a huge down jacket at the end is now as relevant as plastic boots and leashes.

today, baselayers are about being warm by being dry, not by insulating. this makes them lighter by being thinner and having less density. the layers on top do any insulating required. contemporary baselayers function as well as sun layers due to their proficiency at drawing moisture off the skin. midlayers today dont just insulate, they provide a protective barrier as well by shielding wind and moisture whilst allowing excess heat to pass outwards. in the past what took 3 garments (base, mid, shell) now takes 2 and the result is more efficient, lighter and ergonomic (recall that every zip, seam, pocket and layer of fabric accumulates to compromise the end result – something to be said for elegant simplicity). shell layers now bear little in common with the hefty Gore garments of 10 years ago; they weigh less, they use less pieces, the bits like zips and fasteners are lighter and better, they stretch, and as part of a system of new fabrics they get worn much less, serving only as outlier elements. where the shell jacket was once the signature of the alpine climber, its now a secondary thing as the belay jacket comes to the fore, much to the concert of the companies.

ahh yes, the belay jacket, perhaps the symbol of all thats evolving in the alpine climbing and clothing world. both as an indicator of changes in climbing style and industrial development, the very idea of a specific belay jacket has taken a long time to solidify: partly because such garments are expensive to produce, partly because climbers dont turn them over like some other garments, partly because it took time for climbing styles to catch up and partly because the textiles to really make the idea work lagged behind the demand for them. like shell jackets, polypros and fleeces, not long ago insulated jackets were bulky and full of problems – to the point where it wasnt abnormal to simply leave them behind. as insulation got better and base and mid layers got more efficient, the demands on belay layers shifted and we now have garments that were mere fantasy once.

a well-functioning system has little barrier preventing moisture escaping from the skin and within the layers itself, only just enough of a barrier to stop wind sucking warm air away faster than demanded. when external conditions start to steal warmth too fast for the system to maintain, a shell is added as a ‘heat cap’. like the other layers, this heat cap is only as permeable as needed, aiming to capture the higher pressure inside the system as a force to keep cold and moisture out.

new fabrics dont just do the job better, they have better structural integrity that allows them to be put together in more ergonomic designs. only 2 or 3 years ago ‘cutting edge’ designs had dozens of panels of special fabrics that ‘body mapped’ for a garments demands. now as single fabrics have broader spectrums of function – and construction methods have evolved in parallel – garments are becoming more streamlined with less seams to fail and less bits to get in the way.

insulating, breathing, protective & ergonomic; fabrics have evolved to a remarkable state recently, altering the old definitions of how they worked together

this years clothing

as a next-to-skin layer Powerwool from Polartec is the latest thing. early protos last year in Tibet were a big success so this year it’s back. a firm stretch, stable wicking and drying and great as a sun layer, Powerwool creates a stable layer as the foundation of everything that goes over it, and unlike previous generations of wool or synthetic base layers suffers little with extended use, staying tight and odourless. in Tibet this layer doesnt get taken off, serving as protection from the sun, sleep layer and high output layer. it needs a full coverage hood, sleeves that cover the hands, large front opening and pockets for storing batteries and day food without freezing. usage time will be 100%

Alpha insulation, also from Polartec, is the obvious choice as  a mid or light insulation layer. grams to insulation value it far exceeds any fleece or pile, and with a totally breathable structure paired with a mildly wind protected stretch facing covers a huge spectrum of exertion levels and conditions. tho Polartec was the first to market, Patagonia beat their marketing with an identical product, nailing effectively the notion of put it on, keep it on. this layer also needs a full storm hood – not least for breathing thru when sleeping, big stash pockets for things like gas canisters (ideally the entire stove base) and to fit snug under a shell or belay jacket. aside from the highest output periods or in direct sun this layer is expected to be worn all the time. usage time 80%

as the capacities for base and midlayers to deal with moisture soar, reliance on a shell declines in places like Tibet, with light and stretchy shell layers like Neoshell acting more as stabilizers than as full waterproof armor. shell layers today have little relation to their ancestors of even 7 or 8 years ago, when a shell weighed twice as much, insulated too much, didnt stretch and was seen as a near-constant layer. in Tibet this will be a sub-300gm layer with priority on the hood and sealing ability, ie to lock out snow and spindrift but also act as a simple windshell so no need for any insulating properties. usage time 10%

Tibet being cold the outer insulation is all important, and todays Primaloft Gold resolves what was the grail of insulation – the properties of down unaffected by moisture. Primaloft Gold combines waterproofed down with a blend of just enough synthetic fiber to minimize the extend to which the down collapses when wet, allowing warmth to circulate and push out the moisture that got beyond the downs nano proofing. unlike regular down, Primaloft Gold doesnt collapse when wet, the synthetic fiber alone retaining about 30% heat, enough to kickstart the down drying. for longer trips in tents and portaledges, keeping the slow invasion of moisture at bay is vital and as yet this is the best solution. this layer directly relates to survival and resilience – the longer it keeps its loft values to less cold-creep as we give in to the entropy of fatigue and loss of kcals. the garment needs a serious hood, to go over everything else, to seal out snow and wind and to store large things like 1L bottles. usage time 20%

for the legs Polartec’s Powershield Pro is the vanguard of softshell fabrics. a more breathable membrane and heavier weave creates a barrier that keeps snow out and lightly insulates without being too big a heat trap, requiring only a light Powerwool layer beneath. Powershield Pro has the durability to handle abrasion and the wicking and permeability to not get clammy. they need to be tough enough for climbing, warm enough for sitting around and ergonomic enough to sleep in. they want a high cut back, a long front zip and pockets for things like a knife. usage time 80%

combined and in action, these textiles create a microclimate that moves, breathes and protects far more efficiently and at a much reduced weight and bulk than what existed even 5 years ago. designs can be simpler yet more ergonomic, requiring less pieces and less space to stuff them into. in action the user has a greater range of comfort and movement. these are genuine improvements that may be little more than novelty on weekends out or from the comfort of large basecamps, but that come into their own with weeks of 24hr use when there’s no alternative available, ie real expedition use.

should you go out and spend big on the latest gear?

only if you do it properly. not all new gear combines the latest fabrics with construction, and its often the construction that sends up the price. also, a single whiz bang garment in a mix of outdated junk wont do what it says on the tin, meaning you may be better replacing that favorite old baselayer than getting the latest Neoshell jacket. garments need to be used integrated with the others in the system and unless you can lay down $1000 at a time to get the whole set it makes sense to just get the best when you can. this years latest development will be next years sale items so spending a bit each year means you will have a near-current system in 2 or 3 seasons. consider too your actual demands – producers will sell you the idea of Himalayan (or Greenlandic or Antarctic or Baffinesque) use but you may be able to drop a level back from that if you just climb weekends.

will the latest gear make any real-world difference?

realistically, for weekend and occasional holiday climbers, no. most use will be well within what the garments can tolerate and most issues will be comfort issues, not survival ones. functional differences begin to creep in the moment you have to carry everything (ie its about weight) and use it non-stop for more than a few days (ie its about durability of function). its a double edged equation because not only are you more reliant on less, but you have less ability to do something about a problem should it arise. a 20% compromise on insulation for a night out in Hyalite will be uncomfortable, but at 5000m in Tibet 4 days into a 10 day trip it changes the equation.

highly functional clothing allows you to plan around it. heading up a winter big wall with an all-down system is insane to the point of negligent, but advances in moisture-proofing down and mixing it with synthetic fibers means by day 5 you probably wont have found the limits of what a jacket or sleeping bag can go to. fabrics like Powerwool are more hygenic than some others, not to mention more team-friendly after a week without showering, and knowing it functions as a sunlayer means the transition from baking approach to chilling shadows at the base of a route wont require a change of tops. new midlayer textiles like Alpha truly can be left on almost all the time, meaning less messing about at belays and in tents when you have better things to do. add it all up and the minutes saved become hours and the grams saved become food, fuel and batteries – things that directly relate to safety and survival regardless of how well you climb.


the new Grivel double-gate biners have been available for about a year now. the idea goes back a while, with a few esoteric companies producing similar concepts, but its taken grivel – who are still secondary players in the biner world – to make it really happen. Grivel have their own slice of the climbing supply chain, consistently bringing out innovative, aesthetic and laterally thought out product for a century. with Italian flair they are good at keeping hardware from going down the road to boring mass consumerism. and these new biners get it right.

Stevie ‘aston doing the promo videos is all good and well, but just showing them being used in a tv studio doesnt really mean much. of course they will look good. likewise, fiddling with them at trade shows and in the shop has more to do with fetish than it does real world use. annoyingly the ‘reviews’ all reflect this.

out in gritty reality the concept and product is noticeably different. after millions of biner clicks, these take a degree of relearning. in some ways they are easier, in others fiddlier, but all up usability swings well towards the good side. these things are not cosmetic gimmick as they can appear, this is a serious step in climbing safety. so far in Japan only the Mega K6G (the HMS version) and the Sigma K8G are available, so they are the ones weve played with, but its the Sigma K8G that stands out.

the Mega K6G HMS is certainly safe and strong but the gates are harder to use, more so with sweaty, tired or gloved hands and chunkier to fit thru devices. the general shape is great for HMS-type demands, but getting them off the harness is harder. they dont have the intuitiveness nor ‘WOW’ factor the Sigma K8G does.

simply the Sigma K8G is a quickdraw-style D shape, perhaps slightly larger then normal, with a regular solid gate then a regular wire gate ‘upside down’ on the outside. minus the wire gate its a classy design and artfully forged to have rope directed strategically thru it. with the wire gate it becomes stronger, safer and slicker to use. the choice of which gate goes where has been carefully thought thru for ease of clipping, rope safety and maintaining strength during ‘snap-back’. load this thing however you want and all the issues of a single wire gate or solid gate are gone. you cant cross load across the wire gate, you dont lose strength if the gate snaps-back, gate opening width isnt compromised, it cant freeze shut. combining 3 gate pins and one gate of spring steel now means the gate isnt the primary weakness.

and its rated to 30kn, something usually reserved for steel biners. these are impressive bits of hardware.

in use-wise, once theyve been played with a few times the ergonomics kick in and they are no harder than normal, even with gloves. the outer wire gate is much easier to manipulate than the solid gate of the Mega K6K and thinner to thread thru stuff. it also opens wider due to the greater ‘give’ of the design, whereas the solid gate on the Mega K6G is stuck to a certain range of movement. this sounds like obsessive gear-geek over-thinking, but in actuality its a significant difference.

the main thing that changes the game is they provide locking-gate safety minus the problems of freezing, being forgotten to lock or undoing themselves. no doubt there is some tiny percentile where it could occur, tho its very hard to forsee. for guides these things are great, knowing clients wont have primary connections undone – once they get how to use them.  in complex systems or under duress, knowing these things are locked makes a noticeable difference. checking is easy as to not be fully engaged would require very noticeable indicators, and checking by touch is simple. for primary connections like haul bags, ascenders, belay devices etc where an unlocked biner is a time bomb, these bring an added level of security (tho all caveats still apply of course: NO biner should be assumed 100%, things can still go wrong).

would we replace every locking biner with them? i see no reason not to, perhaps the only anomaly is clips that are in difficult spots like corners wont accommodate the outer gate. several new designs are showing up, with further varieties of gates. it may not be too long before every biner – even quick draws – can be locking.


somewhere up a huge granite face, a long way from home, with no topo to point the way, in the cold, is NOT the place to find out how your stove works. or your bivy bag. or your aiders. or your tent. or your partner. likewise, a day at a crag or a night in your backyard isnt realistic either.

unexplored objectives, unique mix of gear, early efforts up high, lots of factors unknown: with enough to focus on already, it pays to hammer out any details you can well before

when youre spending good money and energy and have pinned your expectations on a result, its unrealistic to not fortify your ability with functional practice. climbing trips to serious objectives are not the place for cutting corners, and worse than cutting corners on gear is cutting them on capability. especially things easily rectified once dragged thru the mill of experience. its amazing to see what climbers let slip thru with no preparation, even obvious stuff. common bug-ridden elements include:

  • cooking, melting and eating: these things need to become automated second nature as 9 times out of 10 they happen in cramped, stressful, time-dependant conditions. you need the right tools and to know how to make it all work. there’s a reason manfacturers say not to cook in a tent and circumventing this warning is skill, not luck.
  • packing to climb: messing about in the dark with a hundred stuff sacks is dangerous, annoying and time-wasting. you need to know what you have, where it is and how to get to it. beyond minimizing rummaging when youd rather be sleeping, access to important gear can save your life.
  • setting up bivvys: alpine tents, tarps, chopping ledges, securing gear, being safe and maybe even comfortable are important skills that need trailling to understand.
  • sorting racks: the less known the route the more unique and complex the gear. weekends cragging – especially sport or in the gym – negate the frontline skills of forseeing, racking and using the array of gear a leader needs
  • exped-belays: unaccustomed climbers dont realize how different an expedition-belay is. the time, the jobs to do, the conditions, the environment, the safety are lightyears away from guidebook stuff
  • seconding: along with the belays, seconding is a real job as part of a real team. you have shit to do. as the leader is busy at the sharp end the second has the tail-end responsibilities
  • descent: you usually dont just walk off an expedition objective. getting off unknown mountains with your gear, on ‘exped’ anchors, as a team, is a VITAL skill.

EVERY ONE of these things is fundamental to staying on mountains. NONE of these things are hypothetical. ALL of these things are trainable. not having these skills refined and functional wastes energy when you need it most and compromises your position as a team member – if you cant get it right someone else is affected.

pre-exped ‘debugging’ trips are as much about assessing your condition as they are about nailing down the general ‘house keeping’ skill set and test running the equipment you plan to use. a debugging trip needs to take place close enough to an expeds schedule to apply the foundations you have built for the trip, but also with enough time left to fix as much as possible. debugging trips are where you get to try things out and make (some) mistakes with a safety net. its also where you find out where you fit into a team, and get to self-assess whilst others observe you.

there’s right and wrong ways to setting up bivvys and exposed mountainsides is the worst place to find out

the best preparation trips mimic as many of the stressors of the real, planned trip as possible – minus the things that can kill you if your mistakes are too big, ie altitude, conditions, expense, travel factors and overall time. as much as you want to emulate the technical factors you also dont want to burn so deep as to compromise your condition for the real thing. Steve House & Scott Johnston recommend prepartory trips prior to focal expeditions, over-compensating some factors like height gain and loads carried in environments that allow it, and assumedly to refine their clothing, nutrition and technical systems as well. factors to prioritze debugging for include;

  • nights out: as many as possible, in a row. its usually the 3rd night that shows how good you are at it
  • load bearing: both approaches and on the vertical. can you actually move the stuff you need to?
  • nutrition: over several days. again – it takes a few days to realize the weaknesses in your intake
  • access skills: getting a months worth of supplies into BC is as much a team event as it is a necessary chore. not the best place to see a rope bridge, cable hoist or zip line for the first time
  • seconding: everyone needs ample time jugging, cleaning, belaying, organizing and suffering on the blunt end
  • systems: practice with your exped gear be it different ropes, chest racks, climbing in big boots, hauling, traversing, simu-climbing etc
  • organization: planning ahead and executing efficiency leads to better rest, time management and safety
  • communication: talking is the least useful form of communication. get as good as possible at reading signs so when you have to talk its only for important stuff.
  • descent: if nothing needs practise more its this, both as an individual and as a team. with gloves, by headtorch. even regular alpine descents are confusing.
  • being a team member: its easy to think its all about YOU. observe the ways your behaviour and abilities impact others so you can interact healthily.

spread over multiple weekends these elements can be accumulated, but combined in a short trip specific for the intention of up-skilling is far more effective. its not just the individual skills that matter, its the interplay and random throwing together that makes preparation realistic and not just simulated exercise.

ideally too, preparation trips should be fun. there will be enough genuine suffering on the real trip, preparation should be a time to immerse yourself in the enjoyable aspects of climbing, to whet your psyche as much as your skills. like avoiding burning out before you even start, dont crash your motivation or espirit de corps either. remember this is still a step on the up and up, not the final crux. realistically 100% of the final objective cannot be pre-empted, so the aim is to sharpen the bits that need it most.

when its cold, you’re tired, the ropes are frozen and theres a lot of rappels ahead, you wont be thinking about pointless details: its now when you need to be well prepared

dollar-for-dollar, preparation trips are the best money spend towards you goals as its here not that you get to play with your expensive toys, but that you get to refine what you dont need. gimmicky folding bowls, esoteric hardware, over-sized sleeping bags, silly clothes, flimsy electronics and bad food choices can get pin pointed and eliminated, freeing up cash for other things and simplifying what happens on the mountain.

in the end your capacity to acheive your objectives and return is at most 50% about you pulling 5.12 moves – the other 50% is how well you can sustain yourself in the place when its all occurring, including amongst your team mates. half that again is how well you perform, the remaining (25% in total) is how well you know yourself and your abilities so you can make the call.


power wool is soon to have it’s big release for fall-winter, so it’s a good time to get some real-world beta out there along side the endless press releases and showroom fondling from the trade show circuit. having used the stuff over almost a year and taken it from baking granite walls to nasty tibetan snow storms and lots of variety of trips between, a decent perspective on the stuff exists.

high exertion, bleaching sun, cold conditions: Polartec’s Power Wool is a quantum leap in next-to-skin fabrics

having worn capilene, various merino wools, maybe every form of Powerdry, Powergrid and Power stretch and like everyone, the old school poly pros, Power Wool is as close to getting it right as has been achieved. now into 2nd and 3rd generation versions, some of the issues have been worked on and what now exists is impressive.

what matters is that the entire clothing ‘system’ rests on the foundation of the baselayer. compromise it and that $700 jacket is off to a poor start. baselayers need to fill a range of functions much more sophisticated than the other layers, so stakes are high, and as it goes Power Wool is as big – if not a bigger – leap in function that Neoshell or Alpha.

the way Power Wool works is straightforward: the inner side is wool that has a degree of insulation yet allows heat to dissipate consistantly, and the outer side is a synthetic fiber that wicks efficiently and allows moisture to pass thru unimpeded.

how they’ve made it work is very sophisticated: this is not 2 layers stuck together. evolved from Alpha-style technology, Power Wool is a bi-component 3D knit (not a traditional weave) thats the one layer but with 2 sides to it. the wool inner side is a waffle texture, the synthetic outer side is a denser uniform texture.

beyond all that are the properties of the fibres: the wool doest reek, it keeps your skin in good condition and it gives a firmness to the fabrics dynamic. the synthetic element gives it durability, provides most of the wicking properties and retains the elasticity of the ‘firm stretch’ factor that makes it fit so well.

speaking of which, the fit is a major factor at work here. firmer than a normal high-stretch baselayer but not prone to the stretch degradation of wool, Power Wool acheives much of it function by form fitting alone. it sits tight against the skin to have maximum thermal and wicking efficiency, but has minimal bunching around the joints or riding up like many tight layers do. perhaps the best factor is that by combining wool and synthetic 3 dimensionally theres no need for a patchwork of ‘body mapping’ panels – which means construction can be kept simpler and more durable yet function is heightened. this then leads to more sophisticated design possibilities ie, how panels conform to the body, where zips go, ways of connecting panels etc.

Power Wools body-conforming ability makes it super efficient: it stretches but doesnt sag, sitting firmly against the skin but not loosing integrity with use

in use Power Wool is a true ‘put it on, leave it on’ fabric – which is vital for a baselayer. the days of stripping to a baselayer yet still sweltering are a big step closer to being over. Power Wool doesnt work by being thick – it works by being efficient, which means it’s almost neutral to the touch. as a single layer it will work comfortably well into warmer temperatures. this is largely increased by it currently being produced in a silver-grey that reflects radiant heat well. this stuff is as much sun layer as it is warmth layer.

on extended trips Power Wool has the odour minimizing properties of any wool, with the quick dry properties of synthetic. the minimal amount of seams needed to achieve high function also makes a garment with less pieces to come apart. over time is where the stuff really come to the fore, allowing the other layers in the system to maintain their functions too, remaining less compromised by the effects of grime as a trip wears on.

all this could only be done by Polartec, the only company working on a full spectrum of functional layers. they realize that for Alpha, Powershield, Neoshell etc to work properly they need to be on top of a foundation layer that gives them the best possible chance. of all the layers it’s taken the technology for Power Wool the longest to emerge, and in producing it theyve reinterpreted how baselayers can function.


Japan’s not the easiest place to find the climbing in. theres hundreds of places but aside from a core few most are quiet and off the grid. Unlike other destinations with hard climbing histories, many of Japan’s serious routes in the 5.13 – 5.14 range are surprisingly obscure. Even the Japanese complain about the lack of good, collective info. Mizugaki has long been the slightly esoteric sister to Ogawayama. the trails are less trampled, theres usually no one else out there, and aside from a few boulderers even weekends tend to be quiet. despite significant routes by Dai Koyamada and Yuji Hirayama and visits by Steve House attention is (welcomingly) minimal.

perhaps the start of a new wave of publishing, the new guide to Mizugaki is the book weve been waiting for. besides being a well done book with good (as in really good) data and images, theyve picked a location still with hundreds of routes to be done. Somewhat more daunting than Ogawayama and more popular spots, presenting Mizugaki like this could just be the thing to see significant new routes go up this summer, which could then lead to winter attempts on the higher routes.

note its all in Japanese but easy to figure out the basics for non-readers, and comes in two volumes covering different parts of the mountain. note too both editions almost sold out in the first week. hopefully – unlike other classics of Japanese climbing guides – it will go into extra printings.


finally Chimpanzee bars have arrived.

in the world of energy bars its hard to stand out, with most bars following the McClif Bar model and just rehashing the same old stuff. but Chimpanze bars take a different approach, producing a less tiresome, more multiday friendly nutrition source. not all that sweet, with a high raw and fibre content, Chimpanzee bars dont clog the system as much as more procesed bars. the flavours are bit left of center (beetroot? surprisingly good) perhaps reflecting their Czech origins and the protein content is really good.



after years of trying lots of packs weve settled on Cilo gear. others have worked well, but Cilo’s packs have simply worked the best, and a recent trip to the US solidified a relationship so Teton Bros can make them more available in Japan for climbers and skiers. iceclimbingjapan amongst others is part of getting the word out there.

Peaks Magazine, Japans #1 exposer to the outdoor industry, was impressed enough to give Cilo the front cover

when about 40 days per winter is spent carrying loads and that average load weighs 30kg, the pack matters. even when its not about weight, its about durability and function, and tho Cilo isnt the top in any one catergory their packs out-do others when its all combined. this is why they are worth the rolls royce price tag – you are getting a rolls royce product.

legendary in their home country, Cilo’s packs carved a place into climbing to call their own. perhaps no other company has made such a radical splash for their size. seemingly from nowhere Cilo brought new textiles, new construction methods, new functions and new levels of function to an already saturated market. we didnt need any more packs – until Cilo came along. its to their credit that years later they are still going strong, with few real competitors, and became icons of both material evolution and market direction. in more ways than one Cilo are the standard for where packs are going.

ice, granite and extended use – Cilo gear packs in their element

very light and very strong, Cilo packs have every detail tweaked towards alpine limbing. theres none of the market compromise to get them to sell to a wide consumer base who dont really need them. non-climbers and non-skiers will scratch their heads. the weird fabrics, the strange dangly buckles, the odd colours and the significant prices make them out of place on the shelf amongst all the other slick packs, where they appear basic, clunky and half-baked – yet on the mountain they shine. its hard to name another pack that stands apart so distinctively in both enigma and function.

hydrophobic dyneema thats actually lighter than water means the white Cilo packs absorb no moisture and so dont freeze when things get really cold. spilled coffee will stain them tho…

now all this sounds like superlative. no pack can be that interesting, right? well that depends on how much your pack means to you. a few weekends a year for a few hours a time is a spartan relationship where little matters, but seriously loaded, seriously abused and spending serious time together shines a light on what a pack can be. other packs dream they are Cilo packs. theres a reason Cilo spends so little on direct advertising – appearing on the backs of most world class alpinists does it form them.