Sweet Gear Review: Patagonia Crosstown Backpack

17 12 2009

Although most of the sweet gear I get is for climbing or running or cycling, there is some awesome gear that I use for my during-the-week life. I know that most climbers out there are like me: we have a “normal” job during the week to help support our climbing habit on weeknights, weekends, and vacations. Many of you probably commute to work in some way, and you might even have a laptop that you commute with, like I do.

Well, if you’re looking for a great solution for organizing your stuff and transporting your laptop to and from work or school, the Patagonia Crosstown backpack is a great choice.

Patagonia Crosstown backpack. Photo from Patagonia.com

For the last many years, including my entire time at Caltech, I used a Timbuk2 bag as my school bag. Although there are some great reasons to use a Timbuk2 bag (they’re awesome, and generally very compatible with getting around by bike), they are not really the best commuting bags, in my opinion, especially if you’re carrying a laptop back and forth. The fact is that the bag is only ever on one shoulder and, well, it doesn’t feel good on your shoulder. So, when I knew I would be carrying my computer to and from the office every day at Stanford, it was time for an upgrade (my parents offered to get me a new backpack as a graduation gift).

I chose the Patagonia Crosstown backpack because it seemed to have a great combination of features, functionality, and style, and that has definitely proven to be true.

Here’s a rundown of the features I love:

  • Laptop sleeve is perfect for my 13″ laptop, and easy to get my laptop in and out even when the main compartment is pretty full.
  • Plenty of room for notebooks, textbooks, lunch, extra jacket, etc. in the main pocket, plus a little internal mesh pouch that’s perfect for my calculator and mouse.

Main compartment, showing laptop sleeve and internal mesh pouch.

  • Just the right amount of organization in the front compartment – my favorite pencil, my favorite pen, my cell phone, and my ZuneHD. Everything a girl needs :)  Plus room for my wallet and other small necessities.

Front organizer compartment

  • External mesh water bottle pouch. Because it’s good to stay hydrated.
  • Zippered side pouch. It fits my keys and the “coffee shop” covers for my bike shoe cleats. It is really awesome to arrive at my office or my apartment and not have to take my backpack off to access my keys. I don’t think I can ever be happy with a bag that doesn’t have this feature from now on…

Zippered side pouch (perfect for keys!)

  • The front sleeve is PERFECT for my Chaco Flips, which I wear approximately 350 days a year, including most school days. Since I wear bike shoes to ride my bike, it’s great to be able to easily throw my flip flops into my backpack.
  • Comfortable suspension. To be fair, I don’t have a very long “commute” – 5-6 minute bike ride or a ~20 minute walk – and I have a very light laptop, but I’ve taken the backpack (full of stuff) through airports, too and it’s generally very comfortable.
  • Durable fabric that does a good job of staying clean. I don’t have a rear fender on my bike, so when it’s wet, the spray from the back wheel gets on me and my backpack. But you couldn’t tell from looking at my backpack – the dirt brushes right off.
  • Environmentally friendly: the backpack is made from 100% recycled polyester (except for the lining and mesh).

Flip flop sleeve!

There are a few minor issues I’ve had with the backpack:

  • The shoulder straps have a tendency to loosen – I feel like I have to re-tighten them fairly often. This may be due to the amount of on and off I subject my backpack to – I’ve never had a problem with it loosening while I’m riding my bike.
  • The waistbelt also seems to spontaneously loosen, even though I never use it (just keep it clipped closed so it’s out the way). This could be kind of annoying if you use the waistbelt on a regular basis (I don’t).
  • It might be tricky to fit a large laptop into the pouch, although if you have a computer that big, you’re probably not carrying it to work/school every day.

So, to sum up my thoughts: this is a really great backpack, especially for my (short) commute. It has great tools for organizing my stuff, without going overboard, as it seems many backpacks do these days. And there are many really thoughtful, awesome features like the zippered side key pouch and the front (flip-flop) sleeve.

Lizzy





Sweet Gear Review: Black Diamond Stone Gloves

20 11 2009

Back when I was learning to lead belay (and climb multipitch routes), one of my guides told my classmates and I that we needed to go get daisy chains and belay gloves before he’d let us lead belay: a daisy chain so that you can attach yourself to an anchor (although now I typically anchor with a clove hitch on the dynamic rope and have my daisy as backup) and gloves to make you more likely to catch a long fall when the force could otherwise start ripping the skin on your palms (yes, the thought of that makes me cringe, too).

The belay gloves are especially relevant for someone like me, who has small hands and often belays someone heavier than myself and I’ve continued wearing them most of the time. I’ve found that they help me when I’m dealing with the extra friction when top-belaying with my Reverso, and they help keep my hands a little more rope-grime-free (because when my hands get all rope-grime-y, I’m even more likely to accidentally get rope grime all over my face).

So over the past ~6 years I’ve gone through 2 pairs of Metolius Climbing Gloves, which are leather 3/4 finger belay gloves (I wear an XS). I’ve been pretty happy with them, except for the fact that sometimes the internal seams can really rub on the backs of my fingers (non-ideal when the cracks you’re climbing are doing that too).

I recently received a pair of the new Black Diamond Stone Gloves, which are also leather 3/4 finger gloves (again, I wear an XS in these also). I’ve been using them for the past couple of weekends doing short multipitches and cragging and overall I’m very happy with them, although there are a couple small issues you may want to consider, depending on what you plan to use your gloves for.

Black Diamond Stone gloves in black (photo from Backcountry.com)

When I first put the gloves on, I noticed that they already felt nice. My previous gloves have always been a bit stiff at first (which makes the whole seam-rubbing-on-fingers problem worse), but these were good right away. They fit me a little tighter than my Metolius gloves, but the Metolius ones were always a tad big anyways. I have the gloves in black, but they also come in tan. The black has been nice in this cooler weather, but for warm weather uses I imagine the tan might be preferable.

The 3/4 finger length gave me good dexterity (a lot of full-finger gloves are too long for my small girly fingers), while still providing my hands with some warmth (which is another reason I like to have gloves with me). The gloves have a nice big (yet fairly low-profile) velcro strap to help with the on/off. They have worked just fine for standard belaying and rappelling and I don’t see any reason to switch back. The gloves are very well made and I think may be lighter than my previous gloves, which are both nice features.

Here’s how the gloves look on my hands. Note how the leather doesn’t really cover 3/4 of my fingers…

There were a couple of small issues:

  • The fingers are not quite as long as the fingers on my Metolius gloves. This means you have to try a little harder to keep the rope in your palm and not rubbing against your fingers – so these may not be the ideal gloves for aid climbing, where you have a lot of rope-pulling to do.
  • As you can see in the picture, there are holes in the straps. I assumed these were loops to clip in to when I want to put my gloves on my harness. So far they haven’t been as well suited to this purpose as the loops on my Metolius gloves. I also discovered some small loops on the inside of the glove that I guess you could thread a small loop of accessory cord through to make your own clip-in loops, but I still don’t know how well this would work. Basically the main annoyance is that the two gloves don’t sit in quite as low-profile a manner as I’m used to when they’re on my harness.

Overall, I’d say these are great for most cragging and multipitch uses. The gloves are well-constructed, reasonably lightweight, comfortable, and easy to get on/off. For any routes that could involve more hauling and aiding, I’d probably recommend going with something a little more heavy duty and with longer fingers.

Any thoughts about other brands or styles of belay gloves?

Lizzy

Full Disclosure: Black Diamond provided these gloves to DreamInVertical in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed above are my own and reflect my experience with these gloves.

For more Sweet Gear reviews from Luke and Lizzy check out our Gear Reviews page.





More Gear Reviews Coming Soon!

17 11 2009

After testing out the Acrteryx R320 I was interested in trying out the competition. Right now I am testing the Black Diamond Chaos with the Kinetic Core Construction. So far I’ve mainly been cragging but it went up the Freeblast twice back in October. After a bunch more pitches I will be doing a full review with a comparison against the R320.

DSC01283

The BD Chaos fully loaded on Hidden Arch in Joshua Tree

I just bought a pair of La Sportiva Speedsters so I will be contributing to Lizzy’s review so we can get a dual perspective on this new soft soled slipper. Expect this in the next two months after Lizzy and I have a chance to go bouldering on real rock.

Lizzy and I have been climbing multipitches for a while and have found that in some situations hauling the pack can be ideal for the follower. After putting holes in many of our packs we have recently switched to using the Metolius Haul Packs when we want to haul.

El Cap trip 2 - 169

A mess of gear and the yellow Metolius Shield Haul Pack

On the Original Route on Rainbow Wall I hauled a Zodiac pack, 15L, and on El Captain we used the Shield, 31 L, as a sub bag. These bags still look great after 10 and 22 pitches of hauling respectively. After a few more trips I plan on publishing a review and a few hauling tips.

Also I  think it would be nice to provided a summary of the summit/ follower packs that Lizzy and I have used. My current favorite is the Black Diamond RPM which is a bit on the large size (26L) but compacts easily and holds weight really well.

El Cap - Oct 09 054 - edit2

Walking across the Mammoth Terraces on El Captain with the Black Diamond RPM pack.

After much searching and frustration with outdoor clothing companies, Lizzy has finally found a pair of non-cotton, non-yoga-style climbing pants that fit her in addition to providing sun and bug protection. After a few months of testing for durability Lizzy will be writing a review of the Columbia Womens’ Trekster pants. Also, Lizzy has been using the new Black Diamond Stone gloves and should have a review of them out shortly.

I have a pair of the Black Diamond N-Force Ascenders and will be doing a comparison with the Petzl Ascension.  After using the BD ascenders 4 days straight on Freerider I have a good idea about what I like and what doesn’t work.


El Cap trip 2 - 030

N-Force in hand, ready for El Captain!

For other Sweet Gear reviews make sure to check out the Gear Reviews page.

Cheers,

Luke





Sweet Gear Review: La Sportiva TC Pro

6 11 2009

Tommy Caldwell is an inspiration, a bad ass and one of the most talented all around climbers in the world.  When I heard Sportiva was coming out with the TC Pro I wanted in. I’ve been a Miura junkie for a while but was curious about what the TC Pro had to offer. I dream of doing many long free routes and thought these shoes might offer an all day solution.

So far I’ve worn the TC Pros for more than twenty days which has racked up over 100 pitches of climbing. This ranges from the first day wearing the shoes at the gym, a pair of multi-pitch first ascents in the Tuttle Creek / Lone Pine Peak region  to climbing El Capitan. I’ve climbed from 5.6 slab to 5.12 face and all grades and styles in between. I’ve been climbing mainly on granite but the type of granite ranges from the the alpine rock of Mount Langley and Mount Conness, to Tahquitz, Joshua Tree  and Yosemite.

P8212109

Standing on nothing in Pine Creek Canyon

These shoes are marked as all around performers and I would have to agree. The first weekend climbing the TC Pro’s went to Pine Creek near Bishop for a bunch of fun sport climbs. I had taken them on a short crack climbing trip to San Diego’s Mt. Woodson but nothing serious. On their first lead climb, I was unfamiliar with such a stiff sole and didn’t know how to use them. Over the day, I found they could stand on very small edges which resulted in an onsight of Stone Cold Fusion, seen above. This was one of my hardest onsights of the last few months and the new shoes clearly did not hold me back.

Many of the sport routes on the Mustache Wall follow flaring cracks, un-protectable by trad gear, with sections of face climbing. In these flares the TC Pro’s worked really well since they are stiff horizontally and allowed me to get secure foot jams with zero foot pain.

One of the things that I also learned this first weekend was that the TC Pros do not break-in easily and after a pitch of climbing I was ready to take them off. On the other hand, the laces allow for a ton of adjustability so I could fit them a bit loosely on easier pitches for less pain. I was able to wear them for two consecutive pitches on the excellent three pitch MegaPlex, but was happy to take them off at the top.

P1040697

Doing an FA on Mount Langley

After Pine Creek I knew that I wanted to take the TC Pro’s crack climbing and the following weekend I got in thirteen full pitches of alpine climbing. On the first day on Mt. Langley I was able to wear the wear the shoes for a five pitch FA, only having to unlaced  them at the pitch three belay.  I was really happy with the lining of the shoes on this climb since my feet stayed quite warm in the TC Pro on the shady North facing route.  Also, the cracks were a bit sharp and the TC Pro’s did a great job of protecting my ankles.

The next day turned out to be an even longer adventure on the Keystone wall where we added a new finish variation to one of the existing lines. Climbing another new five pitches, I found a downside to the high top as small twigs, loose rock  and various other pieces of nature got wedged in my shoe. To be fair, the rock quality wasn’t ideal and I did climb through a few trees so this might be expected in a high top shoe. This day my feet were really starting to break into the shoes, though I still had pain in my little toes and occasionally my right big toe fell asleep.

IMG_1345

Trusting the smears on Spook Book at the Needles

The last three months these shoes  stayed on my feet for almost all my climbing adventures. They worked great in the granite cracks of the Needles and performed on the tricky footwork in Yosemite. As a final test I wore the TC Pro on our onsight attempt of the Freeblast. The shoes worked well standing on the small feet and jamming in many cracks. Our next day we went back for the redpoint and I swapped in my Miuras that I usually wear on multipitch routes.  While the Miuras provied me with added sensitivitiy, mainly due to the thinner sole, I missed the stiffness of the TC Pro. I felt less secure on small edges due to the softer platform of the Miuras. I think this test really drove home the advantage of the stiff shoe.


TC Pro Review - 040

TC Pro’s after climbing El Capitan

I held off publishing this review for a week so I could squeeze in one more test, El Capitan.  This past weekend I made my first multi day attempt on Freerider and brought along the TC Pro’s. The shoes are nicely broken in now, and while I still took them off at some belays, I was not in a rush to do so. These were the only climbing shoes I wore for our three and half days on the route. The shoes continue to perform wonderfully and they helped me have confidence to stand on numerous tiny foot holds including a redpoint of the 5.11+ slab just above Heart ledges that had seemed impossible on a previous attempt. After many pitches of climbing the shoes are in pretty good shape except for the rands on the side of the shoe. As you can see in the photo above both rands a third of the way up the inside of the shoe  have worn through quite a bit. This duribility issue  is the only real  gripe I have with these shoes.  Everyone’s feet are different so your milage may vary.  I have been using these shoes on a multitude of cracks and the wear may be caused by the way I jam my feet or an issue specific to my pair of shoes.

Overall I highly recommend these shoes. They perform amazingly well on granite and are a dream for single and multi-pitch crack climbing.

Smearing:

As I have stated, this shoe is fairly stiff and the rubber is a bit thick in the front. However, contrary to expectations, I think this shoe smears very well. The feel of small divots in the rock may be diminished by thick sole but the TC Pro really sticks to the rock. I was very impressed on Spook Book where I was constantly trusting my feet to featureless granite.  Proving its all around status, yet again, these shoes were instrumental on my first Yosemite 5.12 which featured powerful underclings with minimal feet. The TC Pro stuck to the wall and allowed for powerful opposition as I climbed the sweeping arch of Underclingon.

P1250971

Committed to a layback on Atlantis at the Needles, CA.

Edging:

An afternoon climbing at one of the San Diego local areas made me really understand how the TC Pro’s worked with edges.  So far I had not trusted them on thinner edges since I didn’t have a good feeling of the rock through the thick and  stiff sole. Lets split edges into three categories: a large edge, a small edge and a micro edge. With a large edge you have so much rubber on the feature that you don’t expect to feel it. Here the TC’s work great and stiffness is a plus. On a small edge I am used to being able to feel the edge and how my shoe is sitting on it.  Since the TC Pro’s are so stiff I struggle when I can’t feel where my foot is on an edge. On a micro edge you don’t expect to feel the edge and the stiffness is a plus. Thus the TC Pro excels for micro-edging and I have been impressed with how well it sticks to micro footholds. The micro-edge theory was further confirmed on Stairway to Heaven at Tahquitz where I had to apply all of my weight to some very small holds which great success.  On the opposite edge of the spectrum, I struggled to stand on a small edge on The Flakes since it felt smaller than it really was, due to the lack of sensitivity. Perhaps these are just my own mental distinctions but this is the best way I can explain my experience with the TC Pro.

IMG_2710

A bit of tricky footwork on Pratt’s Crack.

Crack and Offwidth Protection

The semi high top of the TC Pro’s does a great job of protecting your ankles. Prior to climbing Mt. Conness and Pratt’s Crack I had spent a day of offwidthing using the lower-topped Tradmaster. My ankles turned out quite beat up and I was very happy to have the high top protection when climbing the offwidth on the Harding Route. I also found the lengthwise stiffness on the TC Pro works really well for offwidths and squeeze chimneys. I felt very secure doing heel toe jams in 6″ – 10″ cracks and doing tricky foot stacking on Pratt’s Crack. These shoes really work well in cracks of all sizes!

Pros:

  • Stiff sole edge well on very small holds.
  • Horizontal stiffness and toe padding make this shoe a crack climbing all-star.
  • Lining is soft and warm (good for alpine routes).
  • High top provides excellent ankle protection.

Cons:

  • Long break in time.
  • The side rand has durability issues.
  • Thick sole reduces sensitivity.
  • Expensive.

Sizing:

I wear the TC Pro in a size 39.  I wear size 38.5 Miuras and Testarossas (tight)  and size 38 Katanas (tight) & Cobras.

In 5.10 shoes I wear 7.5 Mocasysms (comfy).

Cheers,

Luke

Full Disclosure: La Sportiva provided these shoes to DreamInVertical in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed above are my own and reflect my experience with these shoes.  Feel free to leave comments regarding your opinion of the TC Pro.

For more Sweet Gear reviews from Luke and Lizzy check out our Gear Reviews page.





Sweet Gear Long Term Review: Black Diamond C3 and Oz + Petzl Reverso 3

8 10 2009

Its been little over a year now that Lizzy and I have been using our Reverso3’s, Black Diamond C3’s and Oz carabiners. I wanted to check back in and give some follow up comments to add to my first review .

Petzl Reverso 3

Looking back over the past year I’ve done over 300 pitches of climbing which is likely the reason my latest Reverso is looking pretty shabby. Lizzy’s is still going strong and she loves it. I have enjoyed mine and liked that it worked well with ropes of variable diameters and is very light weight for an auto-blocking belay device.

One important thing that I have learned with the Reverso 3 is that the ease of pulling through the rope, in top belay mode, is proportional to the size of the biner that is being used.  After getting my Arc’teryx harness I switched out my belay biners for the Black Diamond VaporLock which I usually use on my daisy chain.  I like this keylock biner since it has a pretty narrow nose, good for clipping through bolts, and weights around 50 grams. However this biner does not work well with the Reverso3 when belaying a second on a 10 mm rope and I often had to add second biner. Some interesting stats can be found at Black Diamond on the use of auto-blocking belay devices.

Climbing - Summer 09 087

The Reverso3 with a nice large round radius Omega locker. Too bad they are WAY heavy…

So when using the Reverso3 I suggest a nice round carabiner like the Petzl Attache or BD Rocklock. I just got the new Attache 3D which is a bit flatter than the Attache but has a bigger radius than the Vaporlock. I am currently using this biner for belaying since it is lighter than the original Attache and about the same as the Vaporlock.

Overall, I really like the Reverso3 and only have a few minor complaints. The Reverso 3 doesn’t top belay as well with ropes fatter than 10 mm. This doesn’t effect me that much I usually use ropes between 9.4 and 9.8 but it is worth mentioning since I have had trouble with partners’ ropes. Secondly, my Reverso3 only lasted a year before the edges became fairly sharp (like previous models) and I no longer felt comfortable using it for belaying. As I said before this is probably reasonable since I used it for so many pitches, especially for rappelling, which causes the most wear.

Black Diamond OZ Carabiners and Quickdraws.

When I first got a hold of the Oz carabiners they went straight to my rack. It is easy to drop a pound or so off your rack by upgrading to these 28 gram carabiners. So far they have done well and have been taken up many pitches, clipped directly and scraped on sharp granite. I do see the shiny coating leaving some of these biners, but that’s to be expected and I see no scary wear from the last year of use.

After my cams lost some weight, I knew that a new set of ultralight quickdraws were in order. Since getting my first round of Oz carabiners I decided to check out some of the other lightweight biners before committing fully. The Camp Nano 23 was first on my list since it is the lightest carabiner available.  A few of my friends use this carabiner and I played with it both on slings and as a racking biner. My main issue with the Nano is the size. My fingers are not that dexterous, so clipping a toy-sized biner in a tricky situation was less than ideal. As a racking biner I found it to be more acceptable but still a bit small for my liking.  A good use for the Nano is for a pre-made anchor setup. I’m thinking about buying a few to create this simple setup used by my friends:

Ultra light belay setup. ~120 grams Photo thanks to Nate at PullHarder

This year Metolius added another 23 gram carabiner to the market with the FS (Full Strength) mini. This carabiner is a bit smaller than the Camp Nano but has a nicer looking finish. Since this is even smaller biner than the Camp I think it would be pretty hard to clip in a time critical situation. I think the Camp Nano and the FS Mini have a place in the alpine realm where weight is essential. Also if you have small fingers or hands these might be a good option.

I got to play with another two lightweight biners on our trip to Indian Creek back in March. One of our friends racks his cams on the Mammut Moses, which clock in at 27 grams. This carabiner is almost as large as the Oz but has a funny feeling since it is quite thin. For some reason this biner, as well as the Trango Superfly, 31 grams, just doesn’t feel right in my hand. A combination of a slick coating and the thin metal design makes me stay away from these biners. Many of my friends swear by the Superfly since it is cheap, almost full size and lightweight. I climbed with the Superfly and the Moses a bit more recently and  got used to the shape which made me like them a bit more but not as much as the Oz.

Incredible Hulk - July 09 226

A lonely Oz quick draw on the 3rd pitch of Positive Vibrations

Also in Indian Creek, I picked up two DMM Phantom quickdraws. At 26 grams a biner these QDs are really light and weigh half as much as a Petzl Spirit draw. These got plenty of use and I liked them although they feel a bit small in my hand. I encountered a moment of truth with the Phantom when I just barely made a clip before pumping out at the anchors of Swedin-Ringle. Getting the clip proved these biners were workable and I was ready to get a few more. However, Lizzy dislikes the small size and that, coupled with the $25 per quickdraw price, kept me from buying a full set.

After all this internal debate I bought a bunch of Oz biners on sale and a handful of 20cm BD dyneema dogbones to make long ultralight draws for trad climbing. I think a long quickdraw is faster than an alpine draw and often having 20cm is enough to alleviate rope drag. Unfortunately these draws were stolen at Smith Rock back in June.  Luckily I found another sale and picked up a new set of 12 cm Ozs from Bouldering.com. These draws went up the Incredible Hulk three times and I am super happy with them. I recently bought a few more 20cm dogbones which I have used to extend my original  DMM 11cm Phantom draws so that I have four long draws to go with my eight shorter OZ draws.

The Oz quickdraws have gotten a lot of use and I am happy to have the variety added by having four longer DMM Phantom draws.  I have gotten used to the lightweight feel of the Oz biners and can clip them with ease. Having quickdraws that only weigh around 60 grams each really helps reduce the weight on longer climbs. They also help you have  a lighter pack for strenuous Sierra aproaches.

Indian Creek - March 09 060

A handful of cams!

Black Diamond C3 Micro Cams

The more I use the Black Diamond C3’s the more I like them. The initial dislike of the stiff springs has changed into a positive attribute. The added force of the springs gives me extra confidence when placing these small cams. As well the narrow head design really allows for the C3’s to be placed where no other cam would fit.  As I said before I don’t like the largest size, the #2 yellow, since it seems to be more prone to walking. I’m sure there are situations where the head width would play in but for the most part I prefer the four lobe yellow Alien or the yellow TCU. I used a friend’s Red, #1 C3 on Positive Vibrations and Darkstar and  found it to be a good alternative to the green alien even though I don’t own one yet.

Over Memorial day weekend in Zion, Lizzy really came to like the C3’s after taking her longest lead fall, 20 feet or more, on to a marginal green 0 C3. She was super happy that the cam held that real life test made her believe in the cams. One of our friends, Sara, also had a great experience with the purple 00 C3.  I think the Green  is also my favorite C3 and it got a lot of use on the SW face of Conness, fitting in one spot that was surely too narrow for any of our other small gear.  Overall these cams are still working great after a year of use and always come along when thin gear is needed.

Feel free to leave any comments or questions

Luke

See the top tab for other Sweet Gear reviews or click here.





Sweet Gear Review: Arc’teryx R320 Harness- Light is Right

7 09 2009

Memorial Day was just around the corner and I was in need of a new all day harness. I had been checking out the Arc’teryx WST harnesses for the past year and wanted to wait until the new Black Diamond harness came out before decided which to buy.

When I started multipitching all of my partners and I had the Misty Mountain Cadillac and I enjoyed having the beefy webbing and the 6 gear loops. In an attempt to get a similar harness I bough the even larger Yates Shield which had more gear loops than I knew what to do with.  I used this harness when climbing The Vampire and Cloud Tower in 2008 but found it to be way too bulky. I tend to sweat while trying hard and the thickly padded leg loops left bands of sweat around my pants.

At $125 the Arcteryx R320 is a big investment for a harness  and I was unsure that it could really live up to the hype. I had gotten Lizzy a R-280 for Christmas and she had been fairly content with the fit and feel but didn’t like the gear loops.  One of my good friends had taken an R320 up the Nose and raved about the comfort. Living in a harness for three days sounds like a good test to me.

Smith Rock - June 09 097

Getting ready to take some falls on Pure Palm in the Lower Gorge at Smith Rock.

Racking up for Sheer Lunacy in Zion, I had a lot of cams on my harness and could feel their weight pulling on the thin WST webbing but I was still comfortable. As the day wore on the harness stayed comfortable and my only complaint was that the cams tended to fall in front of my leg.

Spending a week climbing in Smith Rock in June I took only my R320 and was very happy climbing both sport and trad. On the hot days I could wear the harness without a shirt despite the super thin waist band.  At Smith I hang dogged for an extended time, took falls and even climbed a multi-pitch putting the R320 through a full suite of tests. I still had an issue with the gear falling over my leg so I ended up switching the orientation of the front two gear loops.

Smith Rock - June 09 234

Leading up Wartley’s Revenge with a full rack at Smith Rock

In July and August my R320 accompanied me on over 40 pitches of alpine climbing in the Sierra on the Incredible Hulk and Temple crag. The harness still is looking new and I finally felt ready to give it a review. Switching the gear loops, (so the angle of the loop tilts back) makes the gear sit much better for trad climbing, in my opinion, and I can easily fit 12 quickdraws and a double set of cams.

One of the initial reasons I stayed away from the R320 was the fit.  For a 5′ 8″ male I have relative large legs but a smaller (~30 inch) waist. I had to buy a medium to get a comfortable fit in the non adjustable leg loops. When I pull the waist band all the way tight I still have a little bit of room. This issue does not interfere with my climbing so it has not been a problem.  I have heard that the waist versus leg size  issue could be solved by trying the women’s R280, which I should have tried on before buying the men’s version. If it comes down to fit I suggest looking at both models.

Incredible Hulk - July 09 238

Sporting the R320 while climbing Postitive Vibrations on the Incredible Hulk

Overall the R320 is amazingly light and does not hinder your movement. The design of the gear loops is a bit floppy since they are plastic over webbing instead of a stiffer molded plastic (used in Petzl and Mammut harnesses).  A strange thing we also discovered is that the size of the gear loops is proportional to the size of the harness. Thus Lizzy has less space in her gear loops on the extra small harness compared to my medium.

Darkstar - July 09 063

Getting ready to hike out from the Summit of Temple Crag. I had been wearing the harness for ~12 hours when I arriving back at the  base.

After around 100 pitches of climbing in the last four months my R320 still looks fairly new which was my biggest concern. I’ll make sure to either comment here or write another post to discuss the long-term durability after I have had the harness for a year. The only two problems I have seen,  on other R320’s, is that plastic part of the reversible gear loops can pop off.  I added a piece of electrical tape to prevent this from happening. As well the attachment point for the haul loop on a friend’s harness is getting pretty worn after a year or so of climbing. I expect this is due to abrasion on the back of the harness from climbing chimneys and descending from alpine routes.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight and moves well with your body.
  • Comfortable to wear while hiking and descending from long routes.
  • Breathes well and is soft enough to wear shirtless.
  • Gear loops are reversible and large enough for a double rack of cams plus quickdraws.

Cons:

  • Gear loops are somewhat floppy and the plastic can become detached.
  • Gear loops are proportional to the size of harness. The smaller sized harnesses have less room for gear.
  • Adjustable leg loops are only available on the A300a and the  X350a, the alpine WST harnesses.
  • Expensive: the R320 or R280 (women’s trad) are the middle of the range at $135. The S240 sport climbing harness is the cheapest at $99 and the alpine X350a clocks in at an astounding $159.

Feel free to leave questions or  comment about the Arc’ teryx WST harnesses.

Luke





Sweet Gear Review: La Sportiva Miura VS

25 08 2009

I have been a follower of the La Sportiva Miuras (I have a pair of the unisex and women’s versions) for a long time. I got my original pair about 6 years ago and have resoled them 4 or 5 times now and they were still amazing (they now have an unfixable hole, so they are on the fast track to retirement, sadly). When I heard that Sportiva was coming out with a velcro version and the new P3 platform to help prolong the downturned shape, I knew I had to get a pair. With my small feet, it took a while before I could get my hands on a pair, but it was well worth the wait.

The Miura VS fits fairly similarly to my other two pairs of Miuras – it conforms perfectly to my foot. In my men’s Miuras, there is a little extra space in the toebox that my women’s Miuras and the Miura VS don’t have, but this doesn’t seem to have affected the performance. The 3 velcro straps are very good at tightening the shoe around my narrow feet (just as good as the lace versions), but much easier to remove quickly (i.e. well suited for bouldering).

Bishop Bouldering - Jan 09 - 231

Trying out the Miura VS on Sad Parrot (V3), Sad Boulders, Bishop.

I’d heard that the sizing of the Miura VS was about a quarter size (European) different than the original ones, so I sized down half a size – getting a 35, when my normal Miuras are both 35.5. The result is that the shoes are a bit tighter than my other Miuras, but not painfully so. I feel you would be wasting some of the power to not size down half a size like I did, but you should probably still try on a pair before buying (or get a pair with a good exchange policy) if you’re not already familiar with your normal Miura size.

What has really impressed me is the HUGE improvement in performance that comes from the shape and the P3 plaform. Although my old Miuras had always been great for technical edging and smearing, the VS bring it to a whole new level. On several problems in Bishop and Joe’s Valley, the Miura VS have allowed me to put an incredible amount of power on a tiny foothold that even my well-performing women’s Katanas couldn’t handle.

The shoes also come with the relatively new Vibram XS Grip rubber, which I’ve been very pleased with, although I’ve always been happy with the rubber that La Sportiva uses. I feel like I can usually compensate for less “stickiness” with better footwork and the extended lifetime of Vibram rubber (relative to softer rubbers) is really cost-effective in the long run.

Although I haven’t done much  heel-hooking in the new shoes, they have the same awesome heelcup as the original Miuras, so I’d guess they’d be just as good for heel-hooking.

Pine Creek - Aug 09 - 071

Enjoying the great edging of the Miura VS on the technical, small crimps of Window Shopper, 5.11c, Pine Creek Canyon.

Recently, I took the shoes on their first route (Window Shopper, 5.11c, Pine Creek). They were, again, fantastic, if a bit painful still, for standing on small edges. I didn’t really feel like I could smear in them at all, but they compensated for that by allowing me to stand on micro-crystals. Now I’m even more excited to wear these on other routes, since I love the kind with technical footwork on very small holds.

Perhaps the only decrease in performance is the fact that, since the shoes are so good at retaining their down-turned shape, they will not cross quite as well into hard crack climbing and multi-pitch climbing as my older Miuras (whose shape has mellowed out a lot) have. However, I expect many more great performances on boulder problems and single-pitch climbs requiring a lot of technical footwork.

Overall, I’d say the Miura VS is a must-have addition to the climbing shoe quiver of any Miura and/or Katana lover.

- Lizzy





Sweet Gear: New Reviews Coming Soon!

20 08 2009

2009 has been full of new gear at Dream in Vertical and we will be publishing  some of the reviews that Lizzy mentioned earlier in the year.  As well we just got two of the latest and greatest shoes from La Sportiva thanks to Backbone Media and Sara over at RockClimberGirl.

I am excited to try out TC Pro which seems perfectly suited for some of the harder multipitches I plan on climbing  later in the year.

The new Sportiva TC Pro designed by Tommy Caldwell featuring Vibram XS Edge rubber.

Lizzy will be testing out the Speedster and as a stiff shoe lover will provided a chance to try out the more sensitive end of the climbing shoe range.

The super sensative Speedster with the new 3mm Vibram XS Grip 2

Also after wearing the Arc’teryx R320 for many pitches from Zion, to Smith Rock and the Sierra I feel ready for a review.

Darkstar - July 09 043

Wearing the R320 on a sub 20 hour C2C ascent of DarkStar

Also I will be doing a 1 year review of the Black Diamond Oz, C3 and the Petzl Reverso3.

This should add a bit more info to my previous post:

Sweet Gear Generation3: The Reverso, The OZ, and C3’s

Also be sure to check out some of our other Sweet Gear reviews:

Approach Shoe Reviews by Lizzy.

A General Rope Review by Luke

La Sportiva Miura VS by Lizzy

Patagonia DAS Parka by Lizzy

Patagonia R1 Flash Pullover by Lizzy

Patagonia Plush Pants by Lizzy

Enjoy!

- Luke





Sweet Gear Review: Patagonia DAS Parka

19 03 2009

I’m a pretty cold person, so I’ve had a down jacket almost as long as I’ve been a climber (got my purple TNF down jacket almost 6 years ago). It’s been pretty useful – lightweight and warm as you would expect from any down jacket. But lately, climbing in cold desert winters (I know I’m a total weather wuss, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to be warm) has made me long for something a little bit better.

tahquitzjt-oct08037

My TNF Nuptse down jacket

These are the problems with my standard run of the mill down jacket:

  • no hood = I lose a lot of head from my head and I have way too much hair and a weird shaped head so beanies don’t work out so well for me
  • not perfect for belaying – since it’s a “jacket” it only goes down to waist level, so I can’t easily wear it over OR under my harness, which leads to waist-level coldness while belaying
  • the “stash pocket” is not a very good way of storing the jacket for attaching to my pack, so it has a tendency to get really dirty

So, for my improved insulated belay jacket, I was looking for something with a nice roomy hood that could fit over my climbing helmet, a longer length to help keep me warmer, and a belay zipper to facilitate harness compatibility. The Patagonia DAS Parka was on the top of my list from the start because I love Patagonia clothing and the DAS has synthetic insulation so I would still be warm even if I got a little wet (not that that happens often in SoCal, but it’s good to be prepared).

snow-dec-08-160

Testing out the DAS Parka in the snow

I was lucky enough to get a great deal on my DAS Parka – 50% off. I had tried on the XS (the Parka only comes in Men’s for now – do they think women don’t need belay jackets too?) in my local Patagonia store and was pretty happy with how it fit. Sure, it looks a bit big on me, but that means it covers my butt and there’s plenty of room to wear other layers underneath (even my down jacket, but that might be a little ridiculous…).

I got my Parka just in time to get snowed on in December at my parents house in Poulsbo, WA and our bouldering/snowboarding trip to Bishop over New Year’s. In addition to some weekend outings in January and February, the DAS Parka was invaluable on our recent trip to Indian Creek, which featured sunny but windy and chilly weather.

indian-creek-march-09-090

It’s nice and warm in the snow in Utah, too.

The thing I love about the Parka is that it has just the right features and nothing extra. In addition to the zippered chest pocket that’s perfect for some Shot Bloks or a topo, there are two zippered external handwarmer pockets that are very effective at keeping my hands warm. The jacket has two internal mesh pockets that are perfect for keeping your climbing shoes warm before you climb or storing a waterbottle if its genuinely cold out. There is also elastic to help adjust the hood or tighten the jacket at the hem. The cuffs are elasticized, which I prefer over velcro because it can’t come undone by accident. Finally, the jacket has a water repellant finish and has reinforced patches on the shoulders and elbows. And to top everything off, the Parka comes with a perfectly sized little stuff bag that has been very helpful for stuffing the jacket into when I’m attaching it to my backpack on approaches and descents.

indian-creek-march-09-125

A cold morning at the Cat Wall

In terms of fit, the hood is warm and fits perfectly over my helmet. There is plenty of room to wear layers underneath, and the 2-way zipper makes it easy to belay while wearing the jacket. As I said, I have the Parka in XS (I’m 5’5″ and around 110 lbs.). I’ve found the insulation to be simply awesome. If the jacket wasn’t streamlined and lacking in little down feathers escaping at the seams, I wouldn’t know that it wasn’t down. It’s lightweight and, like down, keeps me warm when it’s really cold without immediately overheating me when the sun comes out. Plus it’s quite good at keeping out the wind, another invaluable trait in Indian Creek.

Patagonia’s quality is usually great and I have no doubt that I will continue to wear and love my DAS Parka for many years to come.

indian-creek-march-09-244

Taking a break at Battle of the Bulge

I do have a minor gripe, though. The stuff sack for the Parka is great – very lightweight, but the toggle that came on it was very flimsy. The plastic snapped and became unusable within less than 5 uses of the stuff sack. It was, however, easily replaced.

With spring just around the corner, I know most people won’t be needing the DAS Parka very soon, but it’s not cheap, so if you’re interested, I’d recommend looking around for Parkas on sale for the off-season because you’re unlikely to find them on sale when it starts getting cold next November.

Happy Warm Belaying!





Sweet Gear Review: The Reverso3, The OZ and C3’s

26 02 2009

Wow, its new and shiny, it must be amazing! I am a consumer, I must have it!!

gear-shots-feb-09-011

I try to keep thoughts like these at bay when I read through online reviews or the bi-annual OR gear show reports. Unfortunately I can’t help lusting after the latest and greatest in the outdoor industry. In my free time I read a lot of news and often hear about a product way before it comes to market. I remember 2+ years ago seeing an article about a capillary based fuel delivery system. This product, which sounded beyond cool, became the MSR Reactor. A similar story comes to mind about an ultra narrow camming device that would have longitudinal springs, a first in the industry. This information came from a BD rep and it was just a matter of time before the C3’s came to market. Lizzy was a bit skeptical about the super stiff triggers and I was thrown off by the $70 price tag. Could they really be that good? I could find TCU’s on sale for half the price. A year or so passed and I finally bought the three smallest sizes.

gear-shots-feb-09-024

C3’s, made by Black Diamond, are a well polished three lobe camming unit. They have a plastic body that protects the springs and allows for each lobe to move independently. The smallest sizes, Grey 000, Purple, 00 and Green 0 fit in unique places and fill out the low end of our rack. The 0 is about the same size as a blue Alien / 0 TCU. I recently placed this piece on the crux pitch of cloud tower and it was bomber. The lobes sat nicely in the crack and the strong springs held it securely in place. Climbing the Vampire a month or so ago I had a stunning placement of the 00. It fit in a tiny crack and despite the small lobes it inspired confidence a rare thing for me when making such small placements.

gear-shots-feb-09-039

Since buying these cams back in August they have been my preference for the smaller sizes. I did not buy the finger size ones since they did not seem to provide as much of an advantage. We have finger size aliens and TCU’s that work very well in that range. Also when I used a Yellow #2 C3 in Indian creek it seemed to walk more than the smaller sizes C3’s or a same size Alien.

gear-shots-feb-09-049

When the Reverso3 was released this year Lizzy and I were anxious to get our hands on one. The older style reverse wears dangerously (after a few years of use) and the new design was lighter and came in sweet colors. I feel that having an autoblocking belay device is pretty essential for mult-pitching. My Reverso3 got put through the paces with 17 pitches in the first two days of use. I learned quickly that the device was a bit picky with diameter. Trying to use the autoblock with a fuzzy 10.5 rope proved difficult. Lead belaying on the other hand work perfectly regardless of the diameter. So it should be noted that you want to have a sub 10mm rope if you expect to use the autoblock mode with ease.

The Reverso3 really proved its worth when we were rapping cloud tower. The new friction slots allow for the Reverso3 to really grab thinner ropes. We were rapping with our lead line, a 9.5 mm Ion and the beal 8mm trail line and had no problem controlling our speed. The Reverso did a great job on the 8mm and we saw very little slippage a nice change for me from the previous generation. I was even able to do a single strand rap on the 8mm rope without having to redirect the rope to add friction. Also of note the Reverso still rappels well on larger diameter ropes.

gear-shots-feb-09-003

The last new toy that has become part of the rack is the Black Diamond OZ. This biner weights 28g or one ounce. It is the same basic shape as the Neutrino but with less metal. As a result the OZ is not as strong at 20Kn versus 24Kn for the Neutrino.  The biner handles well and is noticeably lighter than the Neutrino. Our primary use for the OZ is a racking biner for our cams. They sit well and are ok to clip. This past weekend I doubled them up for use as alpine draws and they helped shave a considerable amout of weight. They are not the lightest on the market, bested by the Camp Nano at 23g, the Mammut Moses at 26g and the Dmm Phantom at 27g, but are still well below the average 40g biner. Overall I enjoy using these biners and time will tell in regards to their durability.

gear-shots-feb-09-016

Cheers,

Luke








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.