Best Climbing Gear: Fall 2018

Tested and approved gear for the extended fall climbing season …

T here’s not much to be happy about in these dark and ominous days, but two things that do crack a smile for me are the availability of great new climbing gear, and the extended fall rock-climbing season in the West. The days may be growing shorter but each one is filled with glorious temps and tasty adventures on lonesome desert towers and sunny outcrops of rocks. Here are my picks for the best gear of fall 2018—stuff I use and love.


Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody and Patagonia Houdini

Backcountry Patagonia REI

Micro PuffFrom this day forth on multi-pitch climbs, I won’t leave the ground without these two outstanding jackets. Both the Micro Puff Hoody and the Houdini pack up into their own pockets and can be clipped via a single lightweight carabiner to my rear gear loop on my harness. In my view, these jackets are as essential to any trad adventure as bringing a nut tool. Both jackets can pack down into their pockets in less time than it’ll take you to coil a cordelette. Together, they weigh less than a pound and provide a pretty complete spectrum of protection against light winds, chilly/shady belays, unplanned bivys, and gale-force conditions that send you bailing.

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The Micro Puff Hoody has all the characteristics of a down jacket—extremely light, comfortably cozy, and really warm—without actually being down. The synthetic insulation in the Micro Puff continues working even when it gets wet. The warmth generated by this featherweight jacket truly seems like magic, as if it defies the laws of nature. I happen to own one of those 5-pound canvas and fleece-lined Carhartt jackets, and I swear it is literally one-fourth as warm as this 9.3-ounce Micro Puff Hoody. And yet, the Micro Puff Hoody is not so warm that you can only wear it in freezing temps. Again, the way it works just seems like magic. I’ve never owned a more versatile jacket—ever.

I also picked up a Houdini, which is a thin 3.6-ounce nylon shell with a DWR coating. This windbreaker just adds an extra bit of protection against elements. I’ll sometimes wear it by itself if it’s not freezing and I just want some protection at a belay. Or I’ll wear it over my Micro Puffy Hoody for an additional bit of wind- and weather-blocking protection. (I ordered the Houdini one size larger in order to fit over my other layers.) At just $99, it’s a no brainer to have this jacket always clipped to your harness.


Number 4 Ultralight Camalot

Black Diamond Backcountry REI

Ultralight Camalots

How many times has it happened that you’ve decided not to bring the #4 because you like the idea of going light and fast, only to find yourself halfway up the wall really wishing you had it?

Black_Diamond_Camalot_Ultralight_4To bring the #4 or not to bring the #4, is no longer the question/argument you’ll be having with your partner at the base of the route. The Black Diamond Ultralight #4 sheds more than two ounces off its C4 twin, so there’s literally no excuse not to bring this potentially crucial piece. If you’re not willing to update your entire rack to Ultralight Camalots, do yourself a favor and at least get the #4 Ultralight since it boasts the most significant weight savings.

I’m also looking forward to testing out the updates to the C4 lineup next spring. The #4, #5, and #6 cams will all be getting a bit lighter, and they’ll also come with a trigger keeper that keeps the cams retracted while on racked on your harness for more compact racking. I played around with this feature at the trade show and it seems solid. Currently 25% off at Backcountry.


DMM Ceros Quicklock

DMM Amazon

DMM makes some of the highest-quality and best climbing hardware—period. I got to tour their factory this summer on a trip to northern Wales (stay tuned for my feature story on Wales), and I was extremely impressed with their entire operation, the company’s ingenuity, and the people’s passion for making useful things out of metal.

The Ceros gets my vote for the best locking carabiner to use with a GriGri.

The Ceros is virtually impossible to crossload, which adds a higher degree of security while belaying. An ingenious little protrusion on the carabiner’s spine prevents the GriGri from sliding down onto the spine, and the mini gate at the base of the carabiner keeps the Ceros from shifting once its clipped to your harness belay loop.

Getting it clipped to the belay loop is easier than other biners of this kind. Just clip the Ceros to the belay loop then pull it, and it’ll automatically clip itself to the belay loop.

DMMCompared to other carabiners of this design, I find the Ceros the easiest to operate one-handed. There are three types of gates you can get with the Ceros—one is a manual screw-gate lock, and then there are two auto-locking gates, one requiring an additional action to open. I prefer the red QuickLock gate because it’s the easiest to open and shut one-handed.


Rhino Skin

Rhino Skin

Whether your skin is overly dry or baby soft, Rhino Skin has a solution for you. I’ve been a big fan of this core climbing brand since the beginning, and this fall, they’ve come out with some new packaging that makes their products last longer and easier to dispense/apply.

img_6108A few highlights from their line-up for me are Dry and Tip Juice, which I cycle judiciously in advance of a climbing stint. The stuff works pretty quickly, and I’ve noticed from one weekend to the next a difference in terms of how painful the crimps are on my project.

To keep the skin in good nick, I’ll apply the spray-on Spit just before I climb and apply Repair after climbing and before bed. This has kept me more or less free of nagging splits and flappers, which means I can keep climbing, bro.


 TC on the Dawn Wall. Photo: Corey Rich.
TC on the Dawn Wall. Photo: Corey Rich.

HangTime Koala

Tommy Caldwell famously “dropped” his iPhone while fielding calls from zillions of reporters (including me) while up on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan—although there’s high a likelihood he didn’t drop his phone so much as huck it off the portaledge.

“I’m trying to have a fucking wilderness experience up here!” he might have screamed, side-arming his iPhone into the ether.

Fact is, smart phones are great companions for long routes. A phone is a camera and guidebook all in one. But dropping these slippery little bastards is always a real concern. At a hanging belay, I will get pumped anytime I take my precious phone out of my pocket in order to check the topo—because I’m literally death-gripping it.

KOALA-FEATURES2.11The  HangTime Koala is a pretty nifty little accessory that removes this concern entirely. This leash system works with just about any device, providing a clip point to a harness/pocket/jacket, and a rubber gasket that grips the phone without interfering with rear cameras, etc. Bottom line, the Koala provides some peace of mind that you’re not gonna drop what’s probably one of the most expensive and useful things you own. The Koala leash isn’t officially out yet (I was fortunate enough to be an early tester), but it’s coming, so get on the launch list here.

But where to store your phone? I once accidentally smashed an iPhone screen after scumming up a 5.11a corner pitch on the south face of the Aguille du Midi because I’d placed my phone in my pants’ thigh pocket. Keeping my phone in the normal hand pockets, with a harness on, is getting harder as phones get bigger. 49446_BLKSince then I’ve been searching for other solutions and I’ve been experimenting with using the Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack, which is Patagonia’s fancy name for a fanny pack. I like this set-up ok. It’s low-profile and I can easily shift the pouch around my waist to keep it away from the rock. I clip the HangTime leash to the waist belt on the fanny pack and this results in a secure, functional, easy way to access my phone while on a big route.

Helinox Chair One



I grew up sitting in $5 fold-up camping chairs from WalMart, which are so cheap it’s inevitable that you end up just buying another one when you forget the one that’s already back home in your garage. Before you know it, you’ve accumulated dozens of camping chairs and all of a sudden you realize that your life has now become a Semi-Rad joke.

Rumpl_Helinox_Blanket_Web_White_2_600xThe Helinox Chair One is the best camping chair out. It’s sturdy, lightweight, comfortable, and packs up into a sack that’s smaller and lighter than a wine bottle. I’ve been bringing this chair out to go bouldering. It’s easy enough to throw in my pack, it sets up in a minute, and it gives me a place to sit to put my shoes on or take them off.

Helinox seems to always be teaming up with other brands to produce new designs, and this fall they teamed up with the blanket-company Rumpl to create an eye-catching design.

Scarpa Furia S

Backcountry Scarpa

IMG_2593 2

scarpa_furia_sThe new Furia S is a softer iteration of the Furia, with some other great improvements as well. Whereas the original Furia had two bulky Velcro Straps, the Furia S has slimmed down to a single, thin Z-pull strap. I really like this change; it just makes the shoe feel even more high-performing and it’s easier to get on. The other big change is the addition of more toe rubber, which makes the Furia S one of the best toe-hookers I’ve worn. The idea that one “toe-hooks” becomes an outdated term since you can actually hook with the entire top-side of your foot.

Baby soft ...
Baby soft …

To compare the Furia S to the sock-like Drago, both are equally soft—or, if there is a difference here, I can’t really tell. The Furia S is a narrower and much more asymmetric shoe, which will make lower-volume feet happier. The toe is also pointier than the Drago, which isn’t necessarily good or bad from a performance standpoint, but just requires getting used to if you’re coming from a different last.

Where the Furia S does seem to have an edge over the Drago, at least in terms of performance, is in heel-hooking. I’ve had some trouble heel-hooking with the Drago. The Furia S offers slight improvement, perhaps due to a better-fitting heel.

All in all, another outstanding offering from Scarpa, who is currently making the highest-performing shoes on the market, in my humble opinion. The Furia S is currently 25% off at Backcountry too.


Edelweiss Performance 9.2mm EverDry Unicore Rope


verdon 1

This rope is one to rule them all. The Performance 9.2mm from Edelweiss is a solid piece of string that you can use as a single, half, or twin rope. I picked up an 80-meter version of the 9.2mm, and it’s been my go-to sport-climbing cord for the past year. The 80m length weighs as much as some 60m 9.5mm ropes, and the extra length has come in handy on long pitches and rappels.

Performance-92_2011This rope has sustained some real abuse, and it’s held up remarkably well. It also saved my wife, who took a whipper on a pretty sharp biner and core-shot the rope. After a year of abuse, this is the only time we’ve had to trim the rope down, which might be a record for such a thin rope. This is likely the effect of Edelweiss’ UniCore construction, which bonds the sheath of the rope to the core, for added durability.

This article contains affiliate links that help support the site. Some of the gear in this review was provided by the companies. Neither of these factors have influenced the editorial content here.
  • Matt M

    Andrew. I too have struggled with the best way to tote a phone (esp larger “plus” models). The solution I’ve found and am currently a BIG fan of is essential a “fanny pack” JUST for your phone. I’ll include the link at the end but it’s a Maxpedition PLP iPhone 6s PLUS pouch. It’s designed to hang on MOLLE rigs but is easily setup to attached to any belt (I use a chalk bag belt or simply tie some 9/16th webbing). It has a burly Nylon cover and is felt lined giving it a bit of padding. The fit is JUST right with a thin case on the phone itself (I carry my 8 Plus in it) where you can get it in and out but there’s a it of friction preventing it from falling out with the zippers open. On its own belt, I can slide it around for access or move it so it doesn’t get thrashed chimneying etc. $16. Win. It worked really well on multi pitch trips to Squamish and the Dolomites this fall.

    • James Madelin

      Thanks for the PLP recommendation! I think that, along with any kind of lanyard accessory like the Koala, is just what I’ve been looking for. I own a great Koala alternative that I found in a ski shop in the French Alps, but hadn’t found a good pouch until your mention of the MXP PLP.

  • djbuzz

    Great review. Though, I have to respectfully disagree with your thoughts on the Furia S and the heel hooking performance. Especially, relative to the Drago, which you mention didn’t work for you. Obviously, fit has a lot to do with this, but the rubber, or lack thereof on the Furia S, is the other half of the equation. When I first saw this shoe’s exposed Internal Power Rib (IPR) rand down the middle of the heel I couldn’t believe it. Especially, since I’ve seen photos on the web of an earlier iteration where Scarpa original placed XS Grip 2 over this IPR. Just like Scarpa does on EVERY other high end shoe in their line up. Embarrassingly, I drank the cool-aid of the new design, hoping the heel was in fact all sticky rubber. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I have since spoken with a Scarpa rep to ask if the exposed IPR was sticky rubber and his response was, no. My take on the conversation was the rep was embarrassed. In the end, he suggested the Drago. In practice, if you’re placing a crucial heel, one that would pull off your slippers of yesteryear, this shoe have unexpectedly blasted off. These are obviously just opinions, but I simply can not recommend this shoe due to the inexplicable heel design.