Whether you’re boulderers arguing about whether you like your Friction Labs chalk chunky or dusty; Trad climbers battling over whether Totems are superior to the new BD Camalot Lights; or Big Wallers painstakingly weighing the entirety of their haul bag to lose every excess gram possible; we’re all SUPER GEEKS when it comes to the gear we use.
Now I know we’re not all at the same level of geek; we all know those climbers out there who exceed the standard level of Gear Geek and become almost God-like in their level of geekery. They are a truly spectacular subject to behold as they know almost every detail of every piece of gear around – but I certainly believe we each as climbers have at least a smidging of geekery inside us; I think it’s just in our nature.
As I’ve gotten older my personal level of geekery has only increased due to my realisation that the gear we use really does make a difference. Having been a dedicated climber for 12 years and worked in the industry since I was 19, I’ve been blown away by the continual advancements in technology of climbing products.
Of course we are always learning and making new advancements. Knowledge is power! I have been lucky enough to work closely with several of the best outdoor brands (Edelrid – Scarpa – Patagonia) which has only made me even more interested in the world of gear. It’s hard not to be when the gear you use on a daily basis is some of the best available on the market.
I’m not claiming to be the fountain of climbing gear knowledge (far from it), but I have had a few breakthroughs over the years, and if these reviews could be useful to even a few of you, then the time writing this will have been worth it.
(CLIMBING SHOES) Scarpa: Instincts
The SCARPA Instincts are in my opinion the best in the range for all-round use. They come in four styles:
- Instinct Laces
- Instinct Velcros
- Instinct VSR (Velrcos with the Grip2 Rubber)
- Instinct Slippers
All Instincts come with XS-Edge rubber with the one exception, the VSR that has the much softer Grip2 rubber.
Anyone that knows me will tell of my longstanding love for stiff edging shoes. As a bigger dude weighing in at 78kg on an average day of face stuffing, I do like the support that the XS-Edge rubber provides and for the majority of the climbing I do which more recently has been hard vertical granite, the XS-Edge is the only thing that can handle standing on the tiny edges and crystals. Saying that, the Instinct feels just as solid on hard limestone sport climbs where I put a lot of pressure on small feet and that is one reason why it is a great all-rounder.
I use Instinct Velcros and the VSR’s indoors during training. I like the Grip2 rubber for using on bigger holds and volumes but with that same Instinct shape that I love. I don’t think you’ll ever have the same edging support with the VSR as you do with the Velcros, but it’s just a game of picking your weapon for your battle.
I climbed El Cap three times last year – twice in Instinct Laces and once in a pair of annihilated Magos (“El Niño”). Looking back on that instance, the Magos did amazing to hold up as well as they did, they certainly are not the shoe for that situation, but I was still a novice on granite big walling at the time and did not really understand that the Mago was not the right weapon for that battle.
The Instinct Laces are however my weapon of choice for Granite Big Walling for two reasons:
- Edge Power
The shape of the Instinct for me takes every curve of my foot providing a solid secure and comfortable fit, which combined with XS-Edge provides an uncompromising support for standing on the tiniest of granite edges.
The only combatant against the Instinct for standing on the edge atoms is the sadly misunderstood Boostic. This beast is the only shoe I found that could withstand the tiniest foothold of “Coeur de Lion” on the Welsh Slate. Calum Muskett and I are the only people to have used that foothold in the crux as we’re too big to fit into the small man beta that Johnny Dawes, James McHaffie and Ian Cooper used, using ever-so-slightly better feet (but only marginally).
The Boostic is sadly not sold in the UK due to historically depressingly bad sales that might be due to a misunderstanding of the British climber that the Boostic is the same as a Booster S (a totally different shoe with Grip2 rubber and an annoyingly similar name). The Boostic is an aggressively stiff shoe with 4mm XS-Edge rubber that is in my mind the ultimate animal to combat tiny feet on any angle. I’ve had it from top Big Wall climber and Alpinist Josh Wharton to British Champion boulderers Dave Barrans and Roddy Mackenzie… the Boostic is a weapon!
The Instinct however comes into it’s own for that extra comfort, less aggressive shape and being just a bit more adaptable all round.
(HARNESS) Edelrid: Leaf
Edelrid is the most innovative climbing gear brand in the world… I don’t even think you can find another company that does as much R+D and brings out as many new and interesting products as well as technological advancements each year as they do.
The Leaf Harness is the best harness I’ve ever had. Lightweight. Comfortable. Functional. It covers all bases. It packs into a tiny space, weighs nothing at all and contours to the shape of your body.
My one desire is to have a 5th gear loop added to the back, which I am currently lobbying for. An extra loop on the back would be a welcome addition to remove some of the clutter built up from extra screwgates, belay devices and slings. The British Trad climber who basically always has way too much shit on their harness to deal with will thank me.
(JACKET) Patagonia: Nano Air Light Hybrid
WOAH! That is a mouthful… I only remember this name now from having forgot it so many times. This beauty of a jacket comes as the final piece of the Patagonia puzzle that is the Nano-Air family of jackets.
The Nano-Air’s are all synthetically insulated jackets with a robust exterior and wind stopper fabric that allows ease of movement whilst climbing as well as a great wind buffer and cold air suppressor. The Nano-Air Light Hoody is a lighter version of the Nano-Air Hoody, great for on the move climbing.
The Nano-Air Light Hybrid steps it up a notch with a completely breathable back and under arms making it the ultimate contender for a jacket that you can use during continuous movement outside in cooler conditions.
This is certainly my favourite piece of clothing that I own due to its versatility in pretty much most climbing situations that I operate in. I can boulder, sport, trad and even train (at EICA where it’s cold) in it effectively covering for me most of the bases.
Needless to say, I’ll be taking this to the Alps this summer where it will be put to use every single day!
(TROUSERS) Patagonia: RPS Rock Pants
RPS stands for “Rock, Paper, Scissors”… personally, I always said “Rock, Scissors, Paper”… That actually makes sense because Rock kills Scissors and Scissors kills Paper… Silly Americans have got it backwards.
Function has always been at the heart of Patagonia designs. I remember reading Yvonne Chouinards book “Let my people surf” where he stated that looking good was not something he really cared much for and it was actually the function of the clothing that truly mattered. Well the RPS Rock Pants hold true to this philosophy (besides looking good); they are exceptionally hard wearing, flexible in their range of movement and most importantly for me, they have a well positioned zipper pocket that sits just below the leg loop of your harness allowing easy access to my stash of Clifbars.
On top of that, the unique waist tightening system works really well and is as easy to undo as it is to tighten making that all important big wall toilet time a breeze in more ways than one.
(APPROACH SHOES) Scarpa: Zodiac
When you get out and about as much as I do, your gear gets really put to the test. Basically, it’s either built to last or it aint… and if it aint, then it don’t last long with me!
I took the Scarpa Zodiacs to Cochamo (Patagonia) on a jungle bashing, granite big wall aiding mission! Aid climbers will know all about how granite EATS approach shoes through intense jumarring and just generally being pressed up against a wall for days and days of intense painfully slow aid climbing. If the Zodiac could hold out in Cochamo on the walls as well as being an effective approach shoe through jungle swamp, bog and mudlands; then it would be the shoe of choice for nearly everything rock based from now on.
They didn’t disappoint. 6 Weeks later and they are still going strong, almost undeterred by the harsh gritty granite and steep dense jungle approaches that Cochamo presents. This is the first time I’ve really been impressed by an approach shoe in a while and it will for the foreseeable future be the shoe I return to for most outdoor approaches.
(CARABINERS) Edelrid: Ninteen G + Pure Slider
OK… I’m kind of cheating here because I’ve got two carabiners; but it’s important to know that sometimes you just need two completely different weapons for two completely different scenarios.
The Nineteen G carabiners were first introduced to me many years ago on a trip to France. I had been given a set to climb with and I took them on an onsighting sport trip HAHAHA! Now this is not really what they are for, but I did it anyway because I wanted to. My buddy Andy was too scared to use them on their own so he placed two on every bolt – BIG PANSY!
The thing I’ve heard many climbers complain about with them is their ability to use due to their teeny tiny size. I’ve not had too big a problem with this. I have small chubby hands so you’d think that I would struggle; but I don’t really. My opinion is that it maybe takes a bit of getting used to if you’ve come from standard size carabiners. The benefit is you get a super light rack that knocks the socks of everything else out there and they come in all colours meaning you can match easily with your cams for ease of identification. My only preference to not use them is when I use longer slings because with their size they can be a bit trickier to deal with one handed on a sling in the midst of harder climbing – so for that I just get mission carabiners.
Lastly, the Pure Slider is a genius carabiner that auto locks through a spring-loaded slider mechanism. I’ve not used this carabiner to it’s full potential as yet, but for me it’s the answer to a lightweight locker suited to attaching things you definitely don’t wanna drop e.g. cameras.
Every climber should own a Pure Slider… even Boulderers! Flicking the slide lock system back and forth is well addictive and passes hours of rest time between attempts on your boulder projects…
(GOLDEN GEAR) Petzl: Micro Traction
Aside from it being golden, it’s also worth it’s weight in gold… which might not be a lot, but it would still be worth a lot more than it costs to buy at a shop!
I’ve used the Micro Traction mainly for hauling with thus far, but its uses exceed this when you enter the world of simul-climbing – which I am only just starting now.
I’ve used the Micro Traction in Yosemite, Patagonia and the European Alps, all to varying degrees of intensity and I’ve always been really impressed at how it can make something that should be bloody hard work, easier and safer.
Whilst climbing the North Face of the Eiger, I would carry the MT (attached to a tag line) and when making the belay, would set it up to haul the light rucksack of gear via the tag line trailing from the last belay. The same setup is used when climbing in Yosemite, with the one exception that instead of a light load, we’re now hauling a heavy load of up to 70kg. I was initially a little worried about the weight being too much for the small MT to handle, but this was unfounded. I always make sure to back up the system in the event of a failure, but it never happens of course because these are built to withstand this.
The benefit of the MT is that it’s super lightweight; you barely notice the thing jangling of the back of your harness. For something so tiny and inconspicuous, it sure improves life on the wall tenfold!
Sadly mine fell off the back of my harness and is now somewhere in a jungle in Chile… I’ll let you know the co-ordinates if you fancy hunting for a free Micro Traction.