Category Archives: Gear

MSR EVO Snowshoe Review


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Last weekend I cooked up the idea to go climb The Tooth’s south face.  I say cooked up the idea because the weather didn’t cooperate sufficiently to actually do any climbing.  This outing though provided me with my first experience with snowshoes and I have to say I feel silly for not owning a pair yet.

The snow on the hike to The Tooth was all around manky.  It was wet, heavy and deep enough to post-hole to mid-thigh.  To combat this mankiness I rented a pair of MSR EVO snowshoes from REI.  The snowshoes were only 22″ and with a pack I was pushing 200 lbs.  REI gave me a pair of tails that added 6″ but even with those I was a little worried about sinking into the mush.

My worries proved to be unfounded.  In general I sank only a few inches and when the snow really gave out, and I sunk deep, the EVO’s didn’t bind up and get caught in the snow.  I was very impressed that the wet heavy snow didn’t ball up and stick to the snowshoe.  I don’t know how MSR did it but I expected to be carrying a few extra pounds of snow on the bottom of the snowshoe and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

There were a few places that the snow got steep on the hike to The Tooth.  The toe crampon did its job fairly well and the snowshoe felt solid enough when I had to kick steps.  It wasn’t the most natural thing to kick steps in snowshoes but it wasn’t that awkward either.  The simple system of two rails of metal teeth on the bottom gave me sufficient bite when the snow was icier but I couldn’t really evaluate how well they’d do going up something steep and icy.

I wan’t particularly impressed with the EVO’s ability to transverse steeper slopes or their ability to go downhill.  In both situations the snowshoe would slip right out from under me.  I don’t know if this is problematic of all snowshoes or just these but for a little over $100 retail I don’t expect perfection.  In general the EVO’s seem to be at a sweet spot between performance and price.

I feel silly for not having a pair of snowshoes now.  They made the hike so much more energy efficient and really make climbing in the winter feasible.  Without them I would have been post-holing with every step and I wouldn’t have had the energy to climb if I was able to get there at all.

Despite being all around good performers I think I am going to buy a pair of the MSR Lightning Ascent’s.  I like the idea of having crampon like teeth all around the snowshoe.  I think the teeth all around would dramatically improve traversing and downhill performance.  They also have heel risers which seem like they would be amazing on sustained steep terrain.  While they are more expensive the extra features seem worth it to me.

La Sportiva Trango Alp GTX Boot Review

I bought the La Sportiva Trango Alp GTX boot when I moved Seattle so that I would have a lightweight boot to climb in the Cascades.  The boot is technically a 3 season alpine climbing boot but I have been seriously impressed so far.  I have not taken the boot out in winter yet but I have attempted to climb Rainier twice with the Trango Alp and they have performed flawlessly.

The boot is very similar to the Trango S Evo GTX so much so that at first I didn’t see much of a difference.  The Trango Alp uses a leather upper while the Trango S Evo uses a cordura upper.  The Trango Alp also has a more durable sole that seems to be made for scrambling while the Trango S Evo has a stickier sole that is more for technical climbing.  I compared the soles of the boots and the major difference is that the Trango S Evo has an edging platform at the toe.  While the edging platform looks cool and all, I figured that if I need to edge across a lip that small I’ll probably be putting on my climbing shoes.  Now I’m sure that there are some people climbing hardcore enough to need a toe platform but I am not one of them.

My personal experience with these boots has been pretty amazing so far.  My last boots were the classic orange plastic Koflach’s.  I still have them and they serve a purpose but they are straight up heavy.  When I tried on these boots I was shocked by two things.  One was how light they are and the second was the simple fact that I could walk with a normal gate in them.  Everyone’s foot is different but these boots are seriously comfortable.

I’ve taken these leather boots up to Camp Muir twice so far.  Both times were in late season and once was in marginal weather.  My toes were never cold, my feet stayed dry even when walking through slush and the slog didn’t feel like a death march because of the boots.  All in all I couldn’t be happier.

**Update after having them for a couple of months***

If you read the previous trip report you’ll know that when I attempted to climb the Fisher Chimneys on Mt Shuksan I took the wrong gully system and ended up climbing some 5.easy in these boots.  These boots were superb on this scrambling, climbing and snow sloggin’ route.  Even with jamming the toes of the boots in some rough cracks they came out little worse for the wear.  If I had to buy another boot I’d buy these again.

How to Wash Down and Other Stuff Learned at Feather Friends

I stopped by Feathered Friends the other day to check out the store and whatnot and wound up bullshitting with one of the guys that works there for something like an hour and a half.  Being new to Seattle I wanted to get beta on the local crags and what are the classics that I have to climb.  The guy was crazy knowledgeable and I got all sorts of good info but that is not why I’m writing this post.

As we rambled on how to wash down sleeping bags came up.  Traditional wisdom was to use something like Woolite but it turns out Woolite strips the down of its natural oils and causes it to loose loft.  He recommended either just plain water or to use a down specific soap like Nikwax down soap and using a front loading washer.  The soap isn’t cheap but then again niether was your down sleeping bag.

I also found out that I have been pronouncing Cilogear wrong.  Apparently it is pronounced something like chjelogear or chi-lo-gear and not Silo-gear.  In North Carolina it didn’t matter because I think I was one of two people who owned a Worksack in the state but out here they are pretty popular.  I love my Worksack and if you’re in the market for a new pack you should definitely check them out.  Cilogear.

Choosing a Down or Synthetic Belay Jacket

I’m not sure exactly when it happened but after climbing X number of years I have changed from a gear review consumer to a gear review producer.  The only reason I mention this is because I recently found myself dispensing quite a bit of advice to a few people gearing up and I sort of amazed myself at the sheer number of pointers I could give to them.

That said, I thought I would share my thoughts on choosing an insulated belay jacket using my Mountain Hardwear Sub Zero down belay jacket and my REI brand Mountain Hardwear Compressor knockoff as references.

Before you get ahead of yourself and start thinking down vs synthetic or jacket vs parka, think about exactly what you’ll be using this jacket for.  What kind of temperatures do you think you’ll be using it in?  Then think about what you’ll be doing in those temps.  I’ve been comfortable in -5F weather in a fleece and a shell because I was hauling ass up a hill.  I’ve also been miserable cold at 40F in a windy shaded nook belaying my partner.  The reason I mention this is that no piece of gear will do everything and you should figure out what you want the gear to do before you buy the latest and greatest mountain toy.

I have both a down and a synthetic belay jacket.  My down jacket is considerably warmer than my synthetic but that was by design.  (More on that later)   The virtues of down are that it is highly compressible, its warmth to weight ratio is high and it is a durable material if you treat it properly.  The virtues of synthetic insulation are that it is cheap, provides warmth without loft and dries more quickly than down.

Now I want to say that if anybody tells you that synthetic insulation will keep you warm when wet then they are full of shit, period, end of story.  If your down or synthetic belay jacket gets wet you WILL be cold, there is no way around this.  But the nice thing about synthetic insulation is that it will dry more quickly than down and won’t lose loft like down will and therefore will work better when wet.

I bought the Sub Zero belay jacket for one reason.  That reason was I had 30 minutes to replace a stolen pack of gear and an AAI guide told me I wouldn’t regret it.  True to his word, I don’t.  The main reason I like the jacket is it works, plain and simple.  It keeps me warm, doesn’t let in drafts and is durable.  But that doesn’t help you much in picking out a belay jacket so here are some things to look for.

Hoods –  In short, get one.  Preferably one that zips off but having an insulated hood is a must in cold weather.  Bring your helmet with you when fitting the jacket to make sure the hood fits over your helmet.

Pockets – Fleece lined pockets are nice when your gloves are wet but the real “make or break” pocket is on the inside of the jacket.  Make sure there is some kind of pocket to hold a water bottle/platypus next to your body to prevent it from freezing.

Zipper – Make sure the zipper goes both ways meaning that you can have the bottom bit of the jacket unzipped while the rest is zipped up.  The is clutch when you’re belaying or roped up for glacier travel.

Weight – It may not be the lightest jacket out there but at 2lbs 4oz I’m ok with the weight.  Weight is always a factor in mountaineering but your down jacket is not the place to scrimp.  You’re obviously bringing the jacket because the weather is less than ideal and as a result it is as much a safety piece as it is a comfort piece.

Misc – The MH Sub Zero has a stretch cord on the small of the back that adjusts to make the jacket more or less fitted depending on what you need.  I think that this helps with drafts immensely.  I also like having velcro around the cuffs but that is not a dealbreaker in my book.

I also have a REI brand Mountain Hardwear Compressor.  It is a lightweight synthetic jacket that works surprisingly well.  I bought it because it can be compressed smaller than a Nalgene and can turn into an insulated vest.  Unfortunately it doesn’t have a hood but for $85 on clearance I’m not going to complain.

I took this synthetic jacket as my main insulation layer on a trip to Rainier (gear list) (trip report) and it worked wonderfully.   The synthetic insulation is surprisingly warm yet is not lofty/bulky which makes it a great layer underneath a shell which is exactly what I did to deal with the 100+mph gusts on Rainier’s summit.

I’m hopefully headed to Denali in 2010 and I can tell you with certainty that both of these jackets will be going.  It will be damn cold on Denali but the combination of a lighter synthetic sweater/jacket and a down belay jacket will cover all temp ranges from just a bit nippy to spit freezing before it hits the ground cold depending on how I layer.

Specific Recommendations:

There is a lot of quality stuff on the market so keep your eye out for good deals.  It doesn’t have to be the fanciest or the warmest it just has to work as part of your clothing system.  To help here are my recommendations based on what are perennial favorites.

Down Puffy: Mountain Hardwear Sub Zero, Feathered Friends Stuff

Synthetic Puffy: Patagonia DAS Parka,

Light Synthetic/Sweater:  Mountain Hardwear Compressor, Patagonia Down Sweater

If you have other suggestion please, please, please leave a comment.  I’m interested in your thoughts.

Dream in Vertical has a nice review of the Patagonia DAS Parka here (link)

Choosing a Locking Carabiner

A while back I left a top roping rig at the top of my local crag.  It was stupid to forget it up there but it was starting to rain and I thought Ben had grabbed it and Ben thought I had grabbed it.  All in all I lost four lockers and some nice Sterling 6 mil PowerCord, which by the way is pretty awesome.  Not exactly the end of the world but not exactly cheap either.  Since then, every time I’ve been climbing I’ve felt like I was short a locker or two, which is easily remedied by two opposing regular ‘biners, but it still would have been nice to have the extra locking carabiners.

So I finally got off my rear and went to REI to pick up a few lockers.  Picking out locking carabiners is actually a non-trivial event for a climber because by virtue of having to use a locking carabiner you are signifying that what you are doing is especially important and it needs to be more secure than what a regular ‘biner can provide.  Whether that is building a top roping anchor, belaying a partner or tying into a glacier rig, you are using a locking carabiner because the extra security of locker is important.

Having said that, here are a few things to keep in mind when you are picking out new locking carabiners.

Not all screwgates are created equal, some are a lot smoother than others.  I play around with the actual ‘biner I’m going to buy to make sure it is easy to lock/unlock with one hand and to make sure the screwgate doesn’t get easily stuck at the top or bottom.

Check the diameter of the ‘biner.  A rope will run smoother around a fatter ‘biner but in general fatter ‘biners weigh more and an ounce here, an ounce there and all of sudden your overnight pack is 65 lbs.

Look at the basket of the ‘biner and see if it is wide enough to properly hold a clove hitch with your rope.  Remember a clove hitch requires a flat surface to be full strength.  So for a clove hitch, this is a good ‘biner (link) while this is “less good”  ‘biner (link).  If you don’t know the parts of a carabiner the American Alpine Institute has good article. (link)

What about auto-locking carabiners (link) to use with our belay device?  The simple answer is don’t event think about getting them.  Not only are they are a pain in the butt to use once they get “in the real world” but what is a dealbreaker for me is that even the slightest bit of ice will render these absolutely useless.  While on the topic of ice and ‘biners, my quick tip of the day is, in cold weather with screwgate locking carabiners, tighten the screwgate and then back it off half a turn.  This should help prevent the ‘biner from freezing shut.

Well, I think that is all I’ve got to say about locking carabiners.  If you have any questions or if I’ve missed something feel free to drop a comment.