Tuesday, February 28, 2012

11-year-old Mirko Caballero sending The Aquarium, V12

It's mind-blowing how strong kids are getting at such a young age.  Check out this video of an 11-year-old, Mirko Caballero sending The Aquarium (V12) in California.


Women's Rab Neutrino Endurance Pics

Here are some pictures of Kelsey in her Rab Neutrino Endurance.  These were taken to give women an idea of how the jacket fits.  Kelsey is 5'8", 135lbs.  Her neutrino is a medium.  I'd guess this would fit nicely up to about 150lbs.  A large is slightly longer and slightly bigger in the body.  If she was 150-170lbs, a large would be better.  She can fit her neutrino comfortably over base- and midlayers, but it's a little snug over layers and a shell.  It works, but just a bit snug.

My beautiful wife.  5'8", 135lbs, road biker.  Neutrino is size Medium.

Hood not cinched, no helmet.

Backside.  Kelsey's torso is 18" long.  The jacket is 28" long from the base of the hood to the bottom of the hem in the back.

Side view.  Down jackets aren't always the most flattering pieces of apparel.  She really does have a flat stomach.

Hood with a helmet.  Kelsey is getting sick of pictures.  Can you tell?

This color is called Blackcurrant.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Biking in southern Utah, new route in Patagonia, and more reviews to come

I apologize for not posting for a few days.  Over the weekend I went to St. George with my wife for the Zion Century bike ride.  I haven't biked much since the Lotoja in September, and it showed.  It was a tough ride, but the weather was great and it was just fun to be outside on the bike again.  Now that I'm back up north and the temps are slightly cooler, I'm excited to check out the ice tomorrow morning.

Here is a short but cool article from Alpinist Newswire on a new route put up by the Russians on Aguja Poincenot, next to Fitz Roy.  The route, called Via Russo ( 6b (ABO), A4, M4, 1600m), or Russian Way, took eight days to climb.  The article is short but worth reading. 


Aguja Poincenot, Fitz Roy Massif, Patagonia

Fitz Roy Massif.  Fitz Roy is the tallest, Aguja Poincenot is the most prominent peak left of Fitz Roy.
Photos retrieved from http://elseptimogrado.com/contenidos/?tag=aguja-poincenot.  Also, cool trip report at this site if you read Spanish.

There are more gear reviews coming, but they will be sporadic for the next few weeks because school is doing a very efficient job at filling my time.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rab Neutrino Endurance Down Jacket Review

On the NW Couloir Route of the Middle Teton in late October 2010.  About 20 degrees F and 45mph wind here.  Phil let me borrow his Rab Neutrino because I didn't have one yet.

About 4 years ago, I went on a backcountry skiing trip with Phil in the Uinta Mountains of Utah.  We drove in as close as we could to the trailhead early in the morning; put our boots, skis, and packs on; and started the 12 miles skin in toward King's peak.  A couple weeks earlier I had just returned from living in The Netherlands and Belgium for a couple years. While there I didn't have the chance to climb, hike, ski, etc., so I wasn't in very good shape; not to mention I had been living at or below sea level that whole time.  Needless to say, the skin into King's Peak just about killed me.  Phil has always been an extremely strong hiker so he didn't seem to struggle much.

Anyway, we got into camp, pulled out our down jackets, and started getting ready for dinner and bed.  I pulled out my Mountain Hardwear Subzero SL Jacket.  I thought this jacket was sweet (it is a good jacket, despite its weight).  It was super warm, packed down relatively small, and had all the features I thought I wanted in a down jacket.

Phil then pulled out his down jacket.  It was the Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket.  It was beautiful!  It packed down about half the size of the MHW.  When I picked it up it felt about half the weight of the subzero.  I drooled over that jacket for a few years until I finally got one of my own.  It hasn't changed much over the last four years, but even now I consider it to be one of the best medium-weight down jackets on the market and an incredible jacket for mountaineering and alpine climbing.

The Features

  • 225g fill weight of 800 fill-power European Goose Down  
  • 30 denier shell with Pertex-Endurance water-resistant coating. 
  • 20 denier Pertex Quantum Liner
  • Total weight: 22oz
  • sewn-through construction
  • two handwarmer pockets
  • one interior zip pocket
  • Helmet-compatible hood with wire brim
  • Hem drawcord and adjustable cuffs
  • Relaxed fit.  I generally wear a size large in other jackets and this jacket in a large is ideal to fit over other layers as a belay jacket.
  • Waterproof zippers
  • $325 Retail

The hood fits nicely over helmet.  When cinched around the helmet, the jacket pulls up to about the nose, protecting nicely from wind, snow, and cold.
I'm about 6'2", 185lbs.  This is a size Large.  Just about right for fitting over other layers as a belay jacket.

Jacket compresses to about 2/3 the size of stuff sack.

A note on Pertex Endurance:  Pertex Endurance has a 1000mm water column rating, which means it's pretty darn water-resistant, but not waterproof.  Waterproof ratings are 10,000mm water column or more.  Endurance is an ultralight, thin membrane.  The fabric is quite breathable. 

Fabric detail.  20d quantum in gray, 30d endurance shell fabric in blue. 

A note on Pertex Quantum:  Pertex teamed up with Rab to make Quantum GL which is an extremely light, 10 denier fabric that is quite durable for its weight.  The original Quantum is 20 denier and has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than Quantum GL, but is 20% heavier. 

The Jacket

I love this jacket, but I can find reasons to complain about anything. 

Phil's Neutrino, now 4 years old.  Still in great shape and he has used it a lot.

Some things of note on this jacket are its high warmth-to-weight ratio.  For 22oz, it is one of the warmer jackets on the market (compared to other jackets of similar weights).  It rivals other 30oz jackets in warmth.  One reason for this is that the fabrics, especially the liner, are very light which allows the down to loft really well.  Heavier fabrics impede the loft of the down.  Rab makes a baffled version that is 21oz according to the Fall/Winter 2012 catalogue, and has a higher fill weight (by 50 grams).  According to the website, it is 27oz, not 21.  It is also almost $100 more than the sewn-through version.  Not sure if the weights are accurate or a typo, but it seems weird that a baffled jacket with higher fill weight is the same weight as the sewn through with the same fabric.  My guess is a typo.

This jacket has a 2-way zipper (it unzips from the bottom and top).  This. of course, is great for belaying.  I do wish there was also a snap at the bottom of the zipper to keep the jacket from blowing around when its unzipped at the bottom.  Arc'teryx does this on the Dually Belay, but few other companies do on their belay jackets.  It's a little thing, but it would be a nice addition.

The jacket has two big handwarmer pockets.  The pockets themselves are not massive, but the openings are.  It's nice when trying to get gloved hands in the pockets, but I find the openings are so big that cold air gets in and the handwarmer pockets aren't that warm anymore.  Again, a little thing.  I really only noticed this while sitting in camp or walking around town without gloves on.  Hardly worth complaining about.

Pocket opening big enough to fit two 1-liter nalgene bottles, the pocket itself is large enough for about 1 1/2 1-liter nalgenes

The hood is great.  I don't have any gripes about the hood.  It is big enough to fit over a helmet, not too big that it doesn't fit well without a helmet.  It has a velcro flap in the back for taking volume out of the hood if necessary.  It cinches up nicely around the face with and without a helmet and the pull cords don't hit you in the face in high winds.  They're also easy to use with gloves or mitts on.  Rab also sewed in a velcro flap so that you can roll the hood and velcro it down.  Some people like this, apparently.  I think it's a waste of weight and material.  Just roll the hood up and tuck it behind your head.

Hood details.  Notice pull-cord tubes keep cords from whipping you in the face in high winds.  Easy to use with gloves 

Velcro tab in back of hood takes out volume if necessary

Hood strap for rolling away hood.  I agree, it's unnecessary.

The jacket is pretty long.  Again, I'm 6'2" and my large neutrino comes down to the bottom of the rear (see picture above).  From the base of the hood to the bottom of the hem on the back is about 29" long.  This additional length makes for a warmer jacket than, for example, the Rab Infinity.  The Infinity has a similar fill weight and similar loft, but it isn't as warm because it's a shorter cut.  The infinity is also 6oz lighter.  The infinity is not a lesser jacket, just designed for lighter, faster trips.

Because this jacket is sewn through, it is more susceptible to cold spots and slight wind penetration.  To combat this, Rab has sewn in an additional layer of quantum fabric along the front of the jacket, but not the back

This jacket also has one interior zip pocket.  This is nice for items that need to be close to the body to stay warm.  It is big enough to stick a nalgene about 2/3 in.  This jacket does not have a mesh stash pocket for holding a water bottle or drying wet gloves.  I know down jackets aren't the best for drying layers in, but I wouldn't mind an additional pocket (mesh) for a water bottle.  I think it's worth the weight.  Get rid of the hood strap and add a mesh pocket.  Voila!  No added weight, only added function.

Internal zip pocket, additional layer of quantum fabric on front of jacket for wind-resistance but not on back

Easy-to-use velcro cuffs, hem drawcord, and waterproof zips round out the features.


Though I haven't been super kind in my explanation of the features, I must say, any complaints I have against this jacket are extremely minor.  I love this jacket!  Each time I put it on I get chills (figure of speech, of course).  It really is an incredible jacket.  If I have one complaint it is about down jackets in general, not this one specifically.  They don't work well when wet.  We all know this.  Sometimes down is better, sometimes synthetic.  For example, even though the shell of this jacket is quite weather-resistant, while on Rainier last year, it was so humid that water was soaking into the down and getting it wet via the thread where it's stitched (on Phil's 4-year-old jacket).  Not a big deal because we were headed down that day, but over multiple days of climbing in wet weather it would have been.  Synthetic would be better for that situation.  But down is great for Utah.

To sum it up, I give this 4.86 (rounded up is 5) out of 5 stars.  It really is a great jacket and any of my complaints earlier are minor.  I am thinking about cutting off the hood strap thingy though.

Pictures of the Women's Rab Neutrino:

Kelsey is 5'8", 135lbs.  Athletically built.  Torso length is 18".

New Gear to Test: Scarpa Phantom Guide Boots

I have new boots to test out for the next little while.  They are the Scarpa Phantom Guides.  They've been out climbing once so far.  I'm really excited to climb on these for the next few weeks, including a week long climbing trip to Wyoming.  Look for an in-depth review next month.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ski Touring by Ben Lomond

I just got back from an afternoon of ski touring with a friend of mine from the Weber State Outdoor Program.  They have a great program going on.  Daniel, the Director, and I hiked and skied almost 6,000 vertical feet (3,000 up and 3,000 down) in the Cutler Basin area just below the north slope of Ben Lomond. 

For all those that live in Ogden and are interested in backcountry skiing, check out the Weber Outdoor Program.  They have very knowledgeable staff and they get out in the backcountry whenever there's a storm and conditions are safe.  This year has been rough because of the lack of snow, but there's enough snow where we went to skin all the way up and ski all the way down.  Didn't even do any damage to my skis!

The Outdoor Program is one of Ogden's best kept secrets.  The director and assistant director are AMGA certified mountain guides, avid bc skiers, incredible whitewater paddlers, and everything in between.  They run trips all throughout the year.  Some trips that have been run in the past are Mt Rainier Climbing, Middle Teton and Grand Teton climbing, backpacking, backcountry skiing (with overnight stays in Weber's own yurt), a trip to the Cirque of the Unclimbables to climb Lotus Flower Tower, they run multiple rafting trips each summer, etc.  They also have rental equipment for all of the activities mentioned above.

I had some video from the GoPro, but I am having a hard time getting them to upload.  I'll try to figure it out.  In the mean time, here are some pictures (taken with the GoPro).  These were taken at about 8100ft. 

Just to prove I was there.  I'm usually behind the camera.

Daniel with Ben Lomond (on the left) and Willard Peak (directly above Daniel) in the background.  Beautiful skiing if the snow and weather is better.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Alpine Climbing Kit for under 10 lbs total?

Most climbers have been following Ueli Steck ever since his speed ascent of the Grand Jorasses, the Ginat on Les Droites, and especially the North Face of the Eiger.  Last year he took his speed climbing in to the Himalaya, with ascents of Cho Oyu, Cholatse, an attempt at Everest, and a speed ascent of Shishapangma in 10.5 hours.

With the help of Ueli, Mountain Hardwear has designed an alpine climbing kit that's warm enough for the Himalaya (purportedly) but weighs under 10 pounds total.  This kit includes the clothing, sleeping bag, tent, and backpack for the Himalaya.  I'm not sure if every piece of the kit is being made available to the public (like his no-zipper sleeping bag), but most of it is.

See the video here: http://vimeo.com/25737054

Sorry, I tried to embed the video,but I can't seem to get it to work.

These pieces include:

Desna Hoody-12.3oz, powerstretch hardface, 1/2 zip, scuba-style hood, slightly water- and wind-resistant.  Note- I'm not sure they continued this for Fall/Winter 2012-13.  It's is no longer in their catalog.  The Desna in their catalog is full-zip, 3-pocket jacket version (17oz).

Warlow Pant- 14oz Minimal Softshell Pant, 2 hand pockets.

Quasar Pullover-9oz, Deep half zip, 1 internal stash pocket, Dry Q Elite.  This thing is sweet!, but pricy. $375  This piece made me giggle when I saw the weight and design.  I have been waiting for a good, lightweight, waterproof pullover.

Nilas Jacket-22oz, fully baffled jacket, 850 fill-power down, 15 denier AirShield Elite fabric (windproof, water-resistant), 2 handwarmer pockets, 2 internal stash pockets for waterbottles/gloves.  Also super sweet!  Overpriced? $500.

Nilas Bib-25oz, fully baffled, 850 fp down, AirShield Elite, etc. Powerstretch bib above waist, thermic micro synthetic insulation around calves for less bulk under/around boot, 2-way watertight front zip, 6-slider watertight rainbow zip in rear, reinforced instep. $475.  Ouch!  Nice though.

Mountain Speed 32 sleeping bag-15.5oz, 32 degree EN rating, 850 fp down, 7-denier fabric, 1/3 length zipper.  (not the bag in the video, but still super lightweight). $400 (reg), $440 (long)

Direkt 2 Tent-40oz (2lb 8oz), 2-person (close friends, family, or not shy), 25 ft^2, DAC featherlight nsl poles, etc.  $500.

Summitrocket 30 backpack-16oz, 30L (1830 in^3), removable compression and framesheet make pack 14oz, fabric is 100 denier ripstop nylon and HardWEar X-ply Dyneema. $150.

All of these pieces put together make for a total weight of 153.8oz or 9lb 9.8oz or 9lb 7.8oz with pack stripped down.  Either way, pretty impressive and expensive.  For this whole kit at retail you will be paying $2715, unless you need a long sleeping bag like I do, then $2755.

I checked this gear out pretty meticulously at the OR Show a month ago and the quality is top-notch.  I am particularly curious to try out the Quasar pullover and the Nilas Jacket.  I ordered a Nilas Jacket last week, but the Quasar was out of stock in my size.  Be watching for a review on the Nilas in a few month.

I have the Rab Neutrino down jacket which is about the same weight and length as the Nilas.  It, however, is sewn-through construction making it less warm than a baffled jacket.  I am curious to see if the Nilas in significantly warmer than the neutrino, or just significantly more expensive. 

Other Alternatives

There are less expensive options to almost all of these pieces, but they will add a little weight.
Instead of the Warlow pant ($150), the NWAlpine Fast/Light pant ($110). 
Instead of the Desna ($160), the NWA Black Spider Light Hoody ($90).  Not as warm as the Desna, but similar design.
Instead of Quasar Pullover, not sure.  Most other waterproof/breathable jackets are similarly priced but not as light as this jacket.  From what I or Phil have tested of Dry Q vs. Neoshell, Dry Q is lighter, Neoshell breathes better. 
Instead of the Nilas, the Rab Neutrino $325(or Neutrino plus for a baffled construction $400).  Probably not as warm as Nilas, but my guess is they're pretty close.  We'll see. . .
Instead of the Nilas Bib. . . beats me.  I'm not aware of a down pant that is less expensive, as light, or as well designed for high-altitude climbing as this one. Maybe the Arc'teryx Kappa Pant ($300, coreloft instead of down), but that will not be as warm as this bib.  Other 8000meter pants usually cost more than these bibs.
Instead of Direkt 2 ($500, 2lb 8oz), Black Diamond Hilight ($370, 2lb 10oz min. wt.) or Firstlight ($300, 2lb 13oz min wt.)  Similarly sized, not priced.  Direkt 2 has more stake/guy points.
Instead of Summitrocket 30 ($150, 16oz), Cilogear 30L Worksac ($150, 16oz stripped, 32oz with extras).  It may not be as light as the summitrocket, but it may be more versatile.

The Verdict

I'm psyched on what Mountain Hardwear is doing with their gear.  All of their new, Ueli-inspired products look top-notch and are as light or lighter than anything else out there.  The only issue I have is that they are expensive.  The pieces that I think are a little too expensive compared to what else is on the market is the Nilas Jacket and Direkt 2 tent.  I haven't tried either piece out yet, however, so when I do try them I could find that they are worth every cent.  If you have the money, I don't think you can go wrong with any of these pieces.  If your funds a limited, maybe look at some of the other less-expensive options. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Colin Haley's Farewell to Bjorn-Eivind Artun

I have always appreciated reading Colin Haley's blog.  He is a great writer and extraordinary alpinist.  I found this post about Bjorn-Eivind Aartun to be particularly touching because Colin is a good friend of Aartun's and has spent so much time with him in the mountains.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Plice is Nice When There's No Ice!

As I have complained about in previous posts, the weather in Ogden has not been real conducive to ice climbing this year.  Last week the daily highs averaged about 45 degrees and lows didn't get much below 30.  This week hasn't been much better, though the last couple nights have been a bit colder.  Phil and I had planned to head up to Malan's Waterfall for some training, but those plans didn't quite pan out.  We have an ice climbing trip coming up and are anxious to get in better climbing shape; therefore, we built a plice (plywood ice) tower and decided to work out on that.  It's only about 16 feet tall, but with multiple laps and no gloves, it was enough for us to get pumped.  It was amazing how much less tiring it was once I put gloves on.

Anyway, here are some pictures of training:

Myself on the plice ladder.  We wanted to make it taller, but multiple laps and down-climbing gives us the same pump without risking broken bones in the case of a fall.

Phil on lap #10 or so.  We tried to do the laps without gloves for the extra pump factor.  We also used crampons for the first little while, but eventually took them off because they're a bit awkward and our calves weren't feeling it anyway.

Climbing on plice is a bit boring compared to real ice, but it's a great way to train when the weather isn't cooperative.  This ladder cost about $25 for wood and screws and took about 1 1/2 hrs to build.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gore-tex Active Shell

The following link is a review of Gore-tex Active Shell that I read today.  It is very similar to what I have read and understand about Active Shell.  In essence, great in the lab, not as great in the real world.  Working hard in this jacket still leads to plenty of clamminess.  Not as breathable as Neoshell, more breathable than paclite.  Lighter than neoshell and as light as paclite.  Probably not great for multiple days of continued rain, probably great for shorter, fast and light pushes. 

I have yet to use active shell, but I am excited to do so.  Either I or my buddy Phil have used Neoshell, Dry Q, Event, Proshell, and many others.  Active shell is about the only one we haven't used.  Until then, here is the opinion of  an avid backpacker from the UK, where it rains a lot.  I have read some other reviews from terrybnd and this guy is fairly knowledgeable.  This is worth reading (at least the first half).  The second half mostly repeats the first half.


Anyway, check it out. 

Ice Screw, Crampon, and Ice Tool Sharpening

I have gotten into mixed climbing a bit more this year than I have in the past, which means that I have also had to sharpen my ice tools and crampons quite a bit more as well.  I haven't had to sharpen my ice screws yet, thank goodness. 

When looking for resources on how to properly sharpen such items, I have found these links to be particularly  helpful:

Ice Picks:



My personal thoughts:  The videos above are particularly helpful if you climb on Petzl tools, which seem to be the hottest tools on the market these days.  I, however, have found that I like the CAMP Awax or Cassin x-all mountain picks better than the current Petzl picks, and have filed other picks down to resemble the x-all mountain/Awax pick profile.  The x-all mountain/awax picks stick extremely well in ice due to their narrow profile; sometimes too well.  My friend Phil (currently uses x-all mountain picks most of the time ) and I (usually use Awax picks) have found that filing the first tooth down is helpful in removing them from ice.  They also climb well on rock, even though they're b-rated picks.  I have cammed them in horizontal seams without a problem.  I have climbed on BD Laser picks, BD Titan picks, Petzl Cascade picks, and Petzl Nomic ice picks (though not extensively).  Awax and x-all mountain picks are my favorites on ice, so far.  I haven't climbed much mixed on all these picks mentioned.  A lot of t-rated picks out there are so thick that they displace a lot of ice and don't climb as well on brittle ice. 
Cassin x-all mountain pick profile



From http://cascadeclimbers.com/ice/gear/ice-crampons:


Keep your crampons sharp. It can not be emphasized enough. This means every point from the front to the secondary to the back. Repeated filing will eventually wear down your crampons and you will either need to buy replacement front points or new crampons. It is worth it.You will climb more efficiently and more confidently with sharp points. To sharpen them, start with the front points. If they are vertical points, you should sharpen them like you would sharpen the pick of an ice tool make sure to keep the original angles and file towards the back. Get the tip to an actual sharp point. For the rest of the points, and for horizontal front points (like the Sabertooths pictured above), file the left and right edges until you have a sharp point. You should not file on the wide side of the point. A vise can be helpful to hold the crampons still while working on them.

Ice Screws:

From Petzl:


From Black Diamond:


Enjoy!  Great music in these videos ;)  I almost didn't make it through the video, until I realized I could turn the sound off.

I hope these resources are helpful.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lighten up! But how?

There are so many benefits to going light in the mountains, and so few benefits to not, that it boggles my mind sometimes to see how much stuff people take on trips into the mountains.  With that said, I have been guilty, and I occasionally continue to be guilty.  Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I spent the night out together.  My pack was probably 55 lbs, for an overnighter.  Ridiculous, but true.  Granted, when I go on a trip with my wife, I don't like to split up gear.  Even though she is just as strong or stronger than I am, I feel guilty making her carry part of the tent or the stove.  And on winter trips with her, I don't like to skimp on the comforts.  But even at that, I overpacked.  Phil, who also went on that trip, carried about 20 pounds, which included a 2-person tent for himself, shovel, probe, crampons, ice axe, stove, etc.  He was a much better example of light is right.  Plus, he stayed just as comfortable and warm as Kelsey and I did.  

While co-teaching a mountaineering course, I was talking to some of the students about packing light.  A couple of the students complained about not knowing how, a few complained about it being too expensive, and a few more said it's too risky to go ultralight during the winter.  What I have found, however, is that going ultralight isn't expensive (at least, it doesn't  have to be), is often safer than carrying more weight and extra gear, and it isn't difficult to learn.  It just takes practice.

Going light during the summer and going light during the winter are two different animals.  The principles are the same, but they're two different systems to get figured out.  I find that every first trip of the given season is usually my heaviest, because I forget what I need and don't need.  Over the course of the season, my pack lightens significantly as I start leaving things at home and my confidence increases.  This post is about going light during the winter.  I don't go as light as some, but I do usually go lighter than most.  Hopefully some of these ideas can help others lighten up.

3-day climbing trip in Wind Rivers, 18lbs including water, crampons, ice axe, 30m rope

The Benefits

Going light is about enjoying the journey.  Try hiking five or ten miles during the winter with a 50 pound pack and enjoy it.  First of all, you can't hike nearly as quickly, so you spend twice the time hiking.  Hiking like this usually consists of stopping every five minutes or so to adjust the pack, hunch over your hiking poles to catch your breath, and contemplate giving up.

Second, you have to eat and drink way more food and water, because you're burning so many more calories and losing water from sweating or breathing out more water vapor from panting.  Needing to eat and drink more means that you have to carry more food and water and you have to spend more time melting snow for water.

Third, you probably won't sleep as warm.  If you hike/climb half of the day and then have the other half to melt snow, eat, drink, and relax, you can probably rehydrate properly and eat a decent amount of calories to keep you warm.  If you're hiking/climbing until it's dark and then stopping for the night, you're probably going to bed dehydrated and calorie-deficient.  Poor hydration and not enough calories (or the right kind of calories) means you will probably be sleeping cold, even if you have a really warm bag.

Fourth, hiking with  a heavy pack means you'll have sore shoulder, sore hips, and probably a sore back. 

Fifth, going light is safer.  If the weather turns really ugly or there's some emergency and you have to get back to the car, you'll get there much faster with 20lbs than with 50.  You're also less likely to get injured (ankle, knee, etc.) with 20lbs than with 50.  You're much more prone to injury when you're tired.  You'll tire more slowly with less weight. 

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point.  Going light allows one to enjoy the mountains more.  It does for hiking and climbing what metamucil does for pooing in the mountains; it turns an uncomfortable situation into a delight!

The Principles

Light equipment and apparel is usually more expensive than the heavy stuff.  So if you try to lighten up only by buying new, lightweight gear, it will be expensive.  Don't get me wrong, I love new gear!  It drives my wife crazy.  I am the last person that would tell you not to buy a new tent or jacket if you have the money and it's a good value.  But when it comes to going light, taking four jackets will always weigh (and cost) more than taking one or two jackets.  The fastest and best way to lighten up is to leave stuff at home.  Maybe this is why people feel like going light is dangerous.  It's as if their mind is subconsciously saying, "if you don't have everything you need for Denali, that 6" of forecasted snow and 20 degree weather could kill us."

Also, use clothing and equipment that multi-tasks.  For example, instead of taking insulated pants, a down jacket, and a 0 degree sleeping bag, take the pants, jacket, and a 30 degree sleeping and sleep in your clothes.  You can easily save two pounds on a lighter sleeping bag and not be any less warm than if you brought the heavier bag.  I made a 40 degree primaloft quilt (sleeping bag without a floor) that I can use, along with a down jacket and pants, down to 0 degrees (with proper nutrition and hydration).  0 degrees is usually about as cold as it gets in the mountains of Utah below 12,000 ft.  My quilt weighs 14oz and packs up just slightly bigger than a nalgene.

This quilt weighs 16oz, keeps me comfortable to about 40 degrees without layers or 0 degrees with my belay jacket and insulated pants.  The strings are to keep it snug aroung a pad.

Compresses to about 2/3 this size, but this is the smallest stuff sack I have.

Use the action suit/belay jacket system.  If you're hiking or climbing, especially with a pack, you can stay warm with a surprisingly small amount of clothing.  When you stop, however, it gets cold.  Having a warm, light belay jacket (down or synthetic) and insulated pants for sitting around is usually all you need.  Then, when you're hiking or climbing, maybe you only need a baselayer and windshirt or softshell.  This system is usually much lighter than carrying extra fleece midlayers.

Stay dry!  Many people overdress during the winter and then soak their layers through sweating.  Wet layers, even synthetics, don't insulate well (and you'll get more dehydrated).  It will take a lot more wet layers to stay warm than dry layers.  Also, pick layers that dry quickly.  Postholing in snow for hours or sitting under a dripping belay are sure to get your layers wet.  If they dry quickly during exercise, you should be ok.  You can even use synthetic outerlayers to dry wet base or midlayers by hiking in them.  Make sure, however, that you're not overheating and just sweating in your layers.

If  you're cold while sitting, climb in your bag or walk around.  When I get into a winter camp, I usually set up my tent (or build an igloo/dig a snowcave), throw on my belay jacket and insulated pants, lay out my pad and quilt , and climb in.  I usually do my cooking just outside the tent door while laying in my bag.  If I'm sick of laying down but am afraid that I'll get cold outside of my bag, I walk around.  Usually if I walk around too long, I start to overheat and need to stand around for a minute to cool off.  If I'm climbing, I usually just climb until dark, climb into my bag and cook/melt snow, and sleep.  Not much walking around on the side of a cliff.

A Good System

Here is an example of what I would consider a good system for winter backpacking (overnight).  My climbing system is pretty similar.  Food might be different but everything else stays about the same for longer trips.  I add an extra fuel canister for 3+ night trips (8oz).

  •  If time and snow allow, I'll leave the tent at home and make an igloo (Ooz).  If not, I'd take a Black Diamon Hilight (3lbs 2oz; split between 2, 1lb 9oz each).
  • My pack is usually a Cilogear Worksac 60L (I'd take a smaller worksac if I had one), stripped down; no top pocket, no framesheet (2lb 10oz) or Golite Jam Pack (17oz)
  • Pad is Thermarest Neoair (13oz) or Z-rest 3/4 length and use backpack under feet (10oz).  Z-rest can't be ruined by crampons/ice tools
  • Homemade primaloft quilt (16 oz) or 30 degree down bag (1lb 5oz approx)
  • Stove, MSR Reactor w/fuel (1lb 9oz)
  • Headlamp, BD Spot (4oz)
  • Gloves, lightweight primaloft mittens (6oz)
  • Extra socks (1oz)
  • Food (2lbs)
  • Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody (18oz)
  • Rab Neutrino Endurance (22oz)
  • Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pant (1lb 5oz)
  • Water for hiking, (3lb)
  • Shovel, BD Deploy 3 (1lb 4oz)
  • Probe, BD Supertour 265 (11oz)

This makes for a total minimum weight of 15lb 11oz, total max weight of 20lb 14oz (not splitting up the tent). on one's back.  I didn't count clothing, boots, etc. that would be worn, just what is on the back.  I may have forgotten a few items, like a map/compass, etc, but I think the extra weight would be minimal.

This system would work well to keep me comfortable down to 0 degrees, maybe even colder.

This is Phil with his 20lb pack and Kelsey's in the background with her 20lb pack.  I'm behind the camera because I'm embarrassed how heavy my pack is.

How do I get there?

Like I said earlier, my heaviest trips are almost always at the beginning of a season.  Throughout the season I trim what I take to the very bare minimum.  It can be a little intimidating going into the mountains during the winter, not feeling like you have everything you need.  So, each time I go into the mountains, I make note of what I used, what I didn't, and what I could get away with not using in the future.  Then I leave that stuff at home on the next trip.  When I'm not with my wife, my pack usually hovers between 15lbs and 20lbs, without climbing gear.  With climbing gear it is around 30lbs.

Finally, once you've trimmed down your load so you're only carrying stuff you absolutely need, then you may look into replacing that stuff for newer, lighter gear, which may trim off an extra 10 lbs, depending on your current equipment.

Another good resource for lightening up is Ray Jardine's website:

or Nick Truax's blog often has good information:

and finally Cold Thistle, for the climbing folks:

Crampon fitting tips from Cold Thistle

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  I really enjoy Dane Burns' blog, Cold Thistle.  If you like ice and alpine climbing, check it out.  He has a lot of experience, good advice, good opinions (that I agree with about 98% of the time), great gear reviews and comparisons, etc. 


Today I noticed a post of his about crampon fit, which reminded me of a different post of his that I'd read last year about fitting crampons.  It's an important concept.  Worst thing I can imagine is being half way up a route and have your crampon fall off.  If you ever climb in crampons, check out this post, it's worth your time.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Piolet d'Or candidates announced. The late Aartun selected.

The 2012 Piolets d'Or candidates were announced for the most progressive, difficult, committing climbs of 2011 done in good, clean style.  A list and explanation of the climbs can be found on the Alpinist Newswire website, at this link:


Among the candidates is the late Bjorn-Eivind Aartun who was killed last week in a climbing accident in Norway.

The climbs include Pik Pobeda (7439m), Kyrgyzstan, Saser Kangri II (7518m), India, K7 West (6615m), Pakistan, Xuelian North-East (6249m), China, Meru Central (6310m), India, and Torre Egger (2850m), Argentina.

These six candidates were selected from a list of 86 climbs, which can be found at this site:


The Right Gear Could Save Your Life

I read about this video in Outside magazine the other day.  Pretty rough.  Glad to see the guy get up at the end.

Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody Review

One day, while reading Jason Kruk's blog, I came across these lines:  "If you read through the archives of this website you will see a distinct lack of gear reviews or blatant product placement. I don't really roll that way. . . .   As an alpine climber, . . . you gotta use the best stuff.  Simple.  Consider this a public service announcement: You need to know about the new Arc'teryx Acto Jacket!"


Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody, Cardinal Red, $300 retail

I read further and by the end of the post, I was 99.9% sold.  I "needed" to get my hands on an Acto.  Soon after that I came across a second blog post about the Acto, this time from Dane at Cold Thistle.  He said, among other things, "After seeing the Acto I can say I am a little disappointed on the fit and detailing on this $300 garment. And like my previous garment before it, I am not sure I can find a place in my clothing system, either climbing or skiing, that the Acto makes much sense compared to others I now use . . . .   The Acto promises a lot and doesn't do much for me @ $300. The Gamma MX seems a steal at $350 by comparison as does the Epsilon SV Hoody @ $225. "


After that post, I was 65% sold on the Acto.  Maybe I trust people's opinions too easily.  But Jason said he had climbed in Patagonia with it and it worked great for him.  I decided the best way (though also the most expensive way) to figure it out was to get one for myself and try it out.  So, I tried one on at Backcountry, decided I needed a Large (I'm 6'2", 185lbs, and Medium fits me well in most other Arc'teryx products).  The medium was just a bit too tight to layer and too short in the torso, which is weird for me because I have a short torso (18").  A month later I was the proud owner of a red Acto MX Hoody.

Size Large with climbing helmet layered over NWAlpine spider hoody.  Fit is trim.  I'm 6'2", 185lbs.

I'm sure, at this point, you understand that I am a bit partial to Arc'teryx products.  Back in the day I had a lot of Moonstone, Mountain Hardwear, and Marmot product.  I never bought Arc'teryx because I couldn't afford it.  Finally, I got a good deal on the Gamma MX Hoody, and I was totally sold on the quality of Arc'teryx.  After that point, I made affording their product a priority.  I have a number of Arc'teryx pieces now, but I'm happy to say that I don't buy exclusively Arc'teryx product.  I shop around through all the brands for what I feel is the best product and buy that.  I still have a number of newer products from Marmot, OR, Rab, NWAlpine, Mountain Hardwear, Mammut and others.  I do still find that attention to detail is usually a bit higher in Arc'teryx products.  Price usually is too.

In the Field

Anyway, I took the Acto snowshoeing the day after I got it.  The weather was in the mid 20s and partly cloudy.  While hiking through the trees I felt comfortable in just a baselayer and the Acto.  It wasn't until I started going  up a long, steep uphill section that I started to overheat.  Pretty soon, however, we were out of the trees and into the wind (about 30 mph gusts).  Whatever sweat I had worked up quickly dried and I was back to comfortable.  I ended up hiking comfortably the rest of the day in just the baselayer and Acto.  The Acto quickly became my go-to jacket for snowshoeing.

A day or two later I took the Acto on its first ice climb.  On previous trips I had climbed in a baselayer, the NWAlpine Black Spider lt hoody, and a gore-tex shell.  This time it was about 20 degrees, slightly windy, and I decided to try just a baselayer and the Acto.  I'd throw on the Atom lt at belays.  I felt totally comfortable the whole time I was climbing.  I even stood under a dripping part of the waterfall for about 10 minutes to check out the water resistance.  Thanks to a good DWR, the water rolled right off.  The little bit of water that didn't roll off quickly froze and fell off.  The Acto quickly became my go-to jacket for Ice Climbing.

Ice Climbing, 4am, Ogden, Utah

A week or so later, my wife said she wanted to climb the Pfeifferhorn in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Last year we got caught and spent the night (in a tent) in a nasty blizzard on the south face of Ben Lomond.  That trip convinced her she didn't want to go with me to Mt. Rainier anymore.  So when she suggested we go on a winter climb of the Pfeifferhorn, I was very pleasantly surprised.  While packing for that trip, I took the Atom lt out of my pile of clothes and replaced it with the Acto.  It was a hard decision to make.  The Atom and I have become very close over the last few years.  I didn't wear the Acto the first night as we were hiking to red pine lake.  I had a heavy pack and I was comfortable in just a baselayer.  But the next morning I put on the Acto at our camp and didn't take it off again until we had climbed the Pfeifferhorn and were almost back to the car.  The temperature was about 25 degrees that day but very windy, and I was totally comfortable in the acto the whole day.  When hiking up steep slopes, I unzipped the front zip a little.  When resting in the wind, I zipped it up and tightened the hood.  I don't think I got sweaty on that trip, except under my pack.  The Acto quickly became my go-to jacket for mountaineering.

The summit of the Pfeifferhorn, Kelsey in Atom lt Hoody, Me in Acto MX Hoody

The Jacket

The Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody is designed to be a very breathable, but protective jacket for high-energy exercise in cold weather.  It is made of Aerius Gridloft, which is a lightweight grid fleece laminated to a wind- and water-resistant shell fabric.  Or in other words, take the Patagonia R1 Hoody and make it highly water- and wind-resistant, but don't take away very much of its breathability.

The wind- and water-resistance is due to the tightness of the weave of the face fabric, not a membrane (like windstopper or conduit, etc).  Therefore, it breathes significantly better, though it doesn't block all of the wind.  I would guess, based on my own experience, that it blocks about 95% of the wind.  That 5% that it does let in helps to move water vapor out of the garment and speeds up drying if somebody has already sweat.

The features of this jacket are simple:  two chest pockets, a helmet-compatible hood with two-way adjustment (Needs a different adjustment system, imo.  More about that later), and that's about it.  I absolutely love the simplicity of this jacket.  No pockets where a harness or hipbelt go.  No pit zips (not necessary)  The seams are taped to increase comfort while wearing as a midlayer, not for increased water resistance.  The cuffs and hem are impeccably finished, but I think Arc'teryx could improve the function of those as well.

Two mesh-backed chest pockets

Abrasion resistance on this jacket has been top-notch so far, though it is only about 2 months old.  I have dry-tooled in it and scraped up against rocks and bricks and so far no sign of wear.  Time will tell, I guess.

This Jacket is beautiful.  While ice climbing in it, I ran into a friend.  From about 50 feet away while hiking up toward us he said, "Dang.  What jacket is that?  That looks nice!"  And then he inspected it for about 5 minutes.  And the compliments keep coming.  Pretty much wherever I wear this jacket, people are making comments about how nice it looks.

The Gripes

I love this jacket and I use it almost everytime I go into the mountains, but it's not perfect.  First of all, the cuffs and hem that i said were finished so nicely, need a little work.  I thought I'd love the cuffs (because Arc'teryx always nails the cuffs - see Atom lt), but I don't like that they're not adjustable.  When I climb in them, they're great.  But when I want to put the jacket on or take it off, I have to take my gloves off as well.  I didn't think that would be a problem, but I was surprised how often I would get slightly annoyed that I couldn't get my jacket off with gloves on.  Maybe if they were just a little stretchier.  I'm not sure the best solution, but the cuffs need a little work.

The hem also needs work.  There is no hem drawcord on this jacket.  Again, I didn't think I would care about this when I first got the jacket, but because I usually use this as my outerlayer, I would like to be able to keep cold wind out of the jacket a little better.  A hem drawcord would be nice.

Hem, Cuff, and Material detail

Finally, I think that the hood needs a little work.  It works pretty well while wearing a climbing helmet, but I can't seem to get the hood adjusted right when I'm not wearing one.  I like a hood to move with my head when I turn.  This one doesn't very well, especially without a helmet.  The size of the hood is perfect, but they need a drawcord to cinch the hood to the head from behind.  Again, I'm not sure exactly what the best solution is, but I think the hood needs work.  Arc'teryx has been making the best products for years, I'm sure they could figure something out.

Helmet-compatible hood with two adjustments.  The lower adjustment takes volume out of the hood when not wearing a helmet.  The other adjustment cinches hood around the face.  I think a third cinch from the back of the head would help when not wearing a helmet.

The Verdict

Though not the perfect jacket, there is something to be said about a jacket that is my first choice for almost every outdoor trip, from ice climbing to snowshoeing to mountaineering to looking good at the movies.  This jacket has all but replaced by Gore-tex shell, occasionally replaced my Atom lt, and totally replaced all my other fleece midlayers.

The material is top-notch.  I haven't ever seen or used a better softshell (Arc'teryx calls it a hard fleece) for high-aerobic activities, including my gamma mx hoody.  If I expect to be in absolutely horrendous weather, I still take the waterproof shell.  For everything else, I take the Acto.

Worth its $300 retail price?  I guess that totally depends on your income and how much time you spend in the outdoors.  If  you have $300 to spend on a softshell, this would be a great way to go.  If buying this means your family goes hungry, probably not.

I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars.  5 out of 5 stars for the fabric, but 4 out of 5 overall.