3 Climbing Gear Trends Worth a Look

I traversed down the main aisle of the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show like a zombie, transfixed by a set of enormous breasts coming directly toward me. Breasts have a certain ocular magnetism that goes so far beyond their base sexual appeal and really turns into something more akin to seeing a car accident on the side of the highway. You can’t help but look.

“Hey, buddy, up here!” I heard, stated strongly in my direction. It broke me from this rather ghoulish hypnosis imparted by the cleavage, which was as long as my forearm. I looked up to see my friend Greg Houston, aka Big H, walking directly behind the breasts’ owner. He had seen me, saw what I was doing, and had the quick enough wit to make a joke about it.


I stopped dead in my tracks and just started laughing. Big H waved his finger at me in mock disapproval. Oh well. These breasts were by far the most interesting thing I’d seen thus far at the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer Trade Show held in Salt Lake City. But then again, if you measure what’s interesting on the scale of 1 to breasts, just about everything falls short.

There are three main questions that are invariably asked each and every Trade Show, incanted with such mandalic intonation that they’ve devolved to become rhetorical in nature. These questions are reiterated and sung by the plaid-wearing bards of the outdoor industry, pimping their wares as they walk the red-carpeted wasteland under the glare of florescent sky. The answers to these questions are utterly meaningless, of course. We all simply ask these same questions to fill time and wile away the minutes with “tasty talk,” as my friend Marko Prezlej calls your basic patent bullshit.

How’s your show?

It’s kind of slow this year, don’t you think?

See anything cool?

I didn’t check out everything at the Show, but I did see enough to observe three core trends currently sweeping the climbing world this season. What these trends mean for the future of our sport is up to you to decide. I’m just your friendly sex-crazed journalist, scouring the showroom floor on your behalf to find the best of the best new climbing gear coming to market … and if a set of amazingly large breasts gets in my way, then so be it!


Shoes are Getting Softer, Lighter and More Expensive

I tested the Five Ten Team VXi this year, not only did I think it was the softest, stickiest shoe I’d ever worn, it also changed my view of how much “support” I actually need from a performance climbing slipper. In fact, I now have a hard time climbing in any shoes that are too stiff to the point of detesting the experience vehemently.

For example, I went to the Verdon this spring, bringing a pair of stiff “edging” lace-ups, thinking that they’d be perfect for “all-day comfort” and “all-day support” on the 1,500-foot limestone slabs. Wrong. What I actually wanted was a soft slipper, like the La Sportiva Futura or even the Five Ten Team VXi.

I was encouraged to see at least two shoe manufacturers moving in this direction.

GT_Climbing_Scarpa_FuriaThe Scarpa Furia ($179) is an unlined butter-soft slipper—the softest Scarpa shoe to date—that I’m predicting will quickly become one of my favorites when it releases in Spring 2015. Acclaimed shoe designer Heinz Mariacher eliminated the midsole and is using tensioned pieces of rubber (Power Connection Band) to maintain the shoe’s shape in spite of the lack of sole. These pieces of rubber are tensioned by hand by master cobblers in Italy, which begins to explain the high price (but doesn’t make it any easier on your wallet). The Furia promises to give that feeling that your foot has been lightly dipped in rubber, which is increasingly what I now look for when choosing a climbing shoe. The only concerning design choice I noticed is that the Furia is completely black … How’s your foot feeling in the sun now, dawg? These shoes are clearly not meant for south-facing walls …

Genius-red-10RLa Sportiva has also joined the soft-shoe movement by taking their flagship sport-climbing shoe, the Testarossa, and mating it with the Futura, a soft “No Edge” slipper that is one of my perennial favorites for everything from technical granite slabs and steep limestone sport climbs. The Genius sails dangerously close to the $200 border of dirtbag doom and gloom with a tentative MSRP of $190. But it promises to be one of the most advanced performance shoes on the market. And when you consider that climbing shoes are the only thing that actually help you climb better, throwing down for top performance begins to seem more worth it.


Belay Devices are Getting “Grippier”

You could argue that assisted-breaking belay devices, more than any other type of climbing hardware, have the greatest potential for improvement from a design and engineering perspective. There’s a lot of terra left unexplored in the world of belaying—and a lot of preventable, pointless accidents that continue to happen despite ourselves. Fortunately, from what I observed at the recent Trade Show, that final frontier is now beginning to be probed by various climbing companies in some very interesting and unique ways—all of whom seem to be looking to dethrone the Petzl Grigri from its helm in the world of assisted-breaking devices.

But first, let’s imagine for a second what “Holy Grail” belay device would look like: It would be foolproof to operate (i.e., impossible to load the rope in the wrong configuration). It would have safety backups that never let you drop a climber, regardless of what your hands are doing. It would have dynamic-breaking properties. It would belay well with one or two ropes in lead-climbing, top-roping and guide-mode scenarios. It would be easy to feed rope. It would be easy to hold a climber’s weight. And finally, it would be easy to rappel on one or two ropes without the need to use a back-up prussik.

While there is currently no device on the market that lives up to that wish list—though in my opinion, the Edelrid Mega Jul comes closest—it seems that a few climbing hardware companies are now offering devices that move us closer and closer toward those ideals.

grip1First up is the DMM Grip ($49), a single-rope belay devices that works on ropes in the 8.5-11mm range. The Grip isn’t an “auto-locking” device, but it does provide a bit of assistance in holding a hanging climber’s weight. While I’m interested in testing the device to see just how much assistance the Grip actually gives, what was clear is that the Grip is quite obvious  in terms of loading the rope correctly, and I imagine it’ll be popular with the gym and beginner crowd.

CAMP_MatikThe CAMP Matik ($200) was definitely the talk of the Show, as it seemed to improve on one of the Grigri’s main shortcomings: panicking and holding the lever back and dropping a climber because you’re break hand wasn’t on the rope. The Matik has an “Anti-Panic system” that prevents climbers from being dropped when you pull all the way back on the lever—pull back too fast/hard on the lever, and the cam re-engages. The Matik also boasts compatibility with a wide range of rope diameters, from 8.6 to 10.2. I played around with the Matik for a few minutes in the CAMP booth, and found the feeding to be ergonomic, but I’ll be interested to take one out in the field and give it a real test to see how well it locks up on ropes of various diameters.

safe_imageEdelrid took the Mega Jul and simplified it down to create a single-rope device called the Jul 2, which seems to be quite similar to the Mammut Smart Alpine.


Packs are Getting Craggier

The Outdoor Industry is finally beginning to recognize that 99 percent of climbers aren’t really interested in taking trips to the Himalaya, and we don’t need super-lightweight, tech’d-out-to-the-moon gear just to go cragging every weekend at our local sport/trad cliff. Most climbers, in fact, split our time between the gym and the crag and we don’t necessarily need ice-tool holders on our “climbing packs,” nor do we necessarily want/need our climbing clothing to be made of super-expensive “technical” fabrics. All I can say is: Thank god!

Now, the industry is in a footrace to produce the very best “crag” pack—something that caters to us weekend warriors, and our lazy lifestyles of knocking out single pitch after single pitch, whether at the crag or gym. We need to be able to access our gear easily, pack it up quickly and move from one route to the next.

Next season, there will be several new offerings to join my current favorite climbing/cragging pack, the Arc Teryx Miura 35.

Pipe Dream 45

The Black Diamond Pipe Dream 45 ($169) is a fold-up spot-pad/climbing pack that stores a ton of climbing gear, and opens up to provide you a padded place to sit, a spot for your dog to lie, or even a place to change your baby’s diaper. It is a blatant rip-off of the old Pusher Sack—but so what? Picasso himself said that “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Indeed, the Pipe Dream takes what was great about the Pusher Sack and improves upon it by adding easier closure system, as well as a removable lid for storing car keys and other personal items. I actually have one of these puppies, and so far I like what I see. Stay tuned for the full review.

Black Diamond is also introducing the Creek 50—a haul bag-style pack that will surely become a favorite among desert craggers who use mini haul sacks to carry their trustfund of Camalots to and from the Meat Wall. What looks great about the Creek 50 is a side zipper that makes it easy to access your ton of hardware without having to simply just dump the bag’s contents out on the ground.

Crag Daddy
Crag Daddy

Patagonia is making a big push into climbing/cragging apparel next spring, which I am really pumped about (especially the new Venga pants, which offer a lot of promise to my never-ending quest find the perfect men’s climbing pant). But in terms of packs, they have three new models: a 16-liter Linked ($79), a 35-liter Crag Smith ($129), and the 45-liter Crag Daddy duffel.

Which of these items of gear are you most excited about?

Do you think climbing gear is heading in the right direction?

And most important, what great gear did I miss covering at the Show because I was distracted by boobies??

  • John Bercaw

    Andrew, Boone Speed developed the Spot while at Black Diamond. Maybe not the first commercial pad, but I think the first pad/pack. It had a lot of followers within and without the company but not enough. BD quit making it a few years later and when Boone went to Pusher he revived it. A great idea, before its time. I’m glad to see it on the market again.

    • Thanks for the history, John. I seem to remember this now. Appreciate the clarification

  • J.P.

    I like boobs too.

  • What I wonder is how similar the La Sportiva Genius is to the old Speedster.

  • Marc Hall

    Definitely missed the new RedLine Shoes by MadRock – awesome new soft slipper high performance shoes that redefine Mad Rock.

  • I happy to see gear manufacturers are making “craggier” packs or packs for sport/trad climbing (but not mountaineering). I have yet to see a perfect pack but maybe we’ll see one soon. I do love the Muira pack design but ended up returning it. It would be perfect if it had a side pocket for a water bottle. Let’s be honest, what climber uses a hydration pouch. Not one, everyone has a nalgene bottle with a bunch of duct tape on it. I think the best pack out there is the Mountain Hardwear Splitter pack which zips fully open, has two side pockets, rope strap, top pocket, front pocket (for guide book) and gear loops.

  • Clark Shelk

    Actually John Bercaw, Mick Call developed The Spot. It was then given to Pusher because BD saw no future in bouldering. I have been responsible for it’s production and improvements since 99, during which time we have sold thousands around the world. So a comment like “I’m glad to see it on the market again” is a great example of BD’s ignorance and/or arrogance.

    But all that is irrelevant because we all know this is a blatant knock-off of The Sack. You’re marketing it as a rope bag/pack, even your promo copy reads like ours. Let me ask a question; what is it like to look in the mirror and know that this product as well as your ENTIRE bouldering line was developed by me? It must feel bad, knowing that you run the largest company in the industry, yet BD can’t develop a single original idea. Instead, you depend on the truly innovative companies and designers to survive. It’s pathetic, John.

    Andrew, I would like to offer a word of advice to you as a writer, since valid and viable news is your stock in trade; you should be wary and skeptical of any information offered by BD. Their PR is kinda like Fox News, in that the truth is not their first instinct or obligation, it is self-preservation at any cost.

    Clark Shelk
    The Cordless Group
    Revolution Climbing.