Winter OR 2018: New Gear Awards

The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2018, held for the first time in Denver, Colorado this year, wrapped up this past Sunday and, as usual, it was a much quieter week of new gear for climbers than the often-busy summer show. That said, there were a few standout items, covered here in the 2nd iteration of the Outdoor Retailer New Gear Awards, though for the sake of thoroughness, I will also cover items not shown at OR but announced elsewhere. Of course, all this gear is slated to arrive sometime in Fall of 2018 — I generally expect to start seeing these products in September/October.

Petzl Ergonomic

Probably the biggest news of the year is Petzl’s redesign of their ice tool line — a revamped Quark, a thoroughly redesigned Nomic and a brand-new Ergonomic. For me the standout tool is the Ergonomic as it swings into all kinds of ice beautifully, hooks solidly and edges confidently on rock. Check out the full preview, including some first impressions from climbing with the tool in the Ouray Ice Park, here.

Mammut Nordwand HS Flex Hooded Jacket and Nordwand HS Flex Pants

Gore is debuting a new, stretchy, version of Gore-Tex called, rather inventively, Gore-Tex Stretch. Same waterproof-breathable protection as the regular stuff, but with built-in two-way stretch, in a two-layer fabric (as opposed to three-layer for most Gore-Tex that you’re probably familiar with). A few brands will be using the new fabric, but by far the most impressive are the Nordwand HS Flex Hooded Jacket and Nordwand HS Flex Pants from Mammut. I was very, very, tempted to walk out of the Mammut booth with both pieces stashed in my pack — they feel that amazing!

The Nordwand (to designate it’s part of the super high-end Eiger Extreme line) HS (i.e. Hard-Shell) Flex (stretchy) Hooded (self-explanatory) Jacket (obvious) has a typically-Mammut much too long and way too descriptive name, but the rest of the features are pared-down functionality. The fit is very trim — think next level of what most companies refer to as ‘athletic’ — but thanks to the stretchy Gore-Tex panels, the jacket stretches with the wearer and doesn’t constrain movement at all. The stretch panels are two-way only, so Mammut has placed them in strategic locations along the back, underarms and hood. There are also small panels at the cuffs to seal against gloves, and larger stretchy inserts at the hem that, combined with sticky silicone webbing, ensure the jacket doesn’t ride up and eliminate the need for drawcords.

The Jacket has a helmet-compatible hood, again with some of the stretchy Gore-Tex, and a really cool collar gusset with laser-cut mouth vents that stays open thanks to a small plastic snap. Very neat feature. There are also two harness-friendly pockets, and an additional internal zippered pocket. It comes in two colours: an off-white grey that makes no sense to me in a mountain environment whatsoever, and a dark blue (helpfully called ‘night’) that is great for ninja missions but again lacks the brightness and visibility that I look for in mountain wear. Why can’t the ultra-bright crazy-orange inside be the outside colour?!

Weighing in at 430-grams for a Men’s Medium (sorry ladies, there are no women’s version of these pieces… yet anyway — complain to your local Mammut rep?!) the Flex is comparable to other high-end three-layer Gore-Tex jackets. MSRP is $650 USD, again quite in-line with competitors, but it has that awesome stretch!

The matching bottom is the Nordwand HS Flex Pants, which also have a very, very trim fit, especially for a Gore-Tex pant. Designed as a primary climbing layer, the Pants do not have any zippers and are designed to be put on and worn — which seems entirely possible thanks to the amount of stretch coming from the Gore-Tex Stretch panels. In the Pants, these are positioned along the back of the waist, through the thighs and on the outside of the lower leg. I put these on over my jeans and they fit perfectly (not that I’d wear jeans underneath the Flex, but I think these will work ideally with one of the breathable-insulated mid/base-layer pants that are either currently available or coming soon).

The Pants have two pockets positioned very high, just above the thigh but below the waist, which Mammut seems to think are harness-compatible. I’m not so sure about this, but am open to finding out if they found a new spot to place pockets. At least the pants do have pockets, which is awesome to see in a waterproof layer!

Weight for the Men’s Medium is 360-grams, and they come in the same two middling colours as the jacket: so you can either be matching and look like either a greyish snowman or a somewhat off-black ninja. Your call. MSRP is $450 USD.

Black Diamond Ultralight Ice Screw

By now you’re probably why I haven’t mentioned BD’s new aluminum screw — well, I guess I still have a lot of questions about it, and these have left a lingering doubt in me as to these new screws’ long-term performance. But, first, the details!

The Ultralight Ice Screw is pretty much an all-new design from the ground up. BD tried just re-making their Express Ice Screws in aluminum but found that the screws didn’t perform as expected, and pretty much everything was re-examined. This led to a larger-diameter tube, a new tooth profile, and a new design for the biting teeth. Add in the aluminum hanger, and the new wire-gate-like folding handle, and you have a screw that’s essentially an all-new design.

BD claims the new screws are 45% lighter than the steel screws, which kinda checks out. Running BD’s numbers, the 13cm comes out to be 44.8% lighter than the steel version, the 16cm is 44.1% lighter, the 19cm is 44% and the 22cm is 42.3% lighter. So, I’d say up to 45% lighter but not quite equal across the board. MSRP for all lengths of the Ultralight screw will be $85 USD, with the Canadian MSRP coming in at $105.

Length BD Express BD Ultralight Petzl Laser Speed Light Petzl Laser Speed
13cm (both) 134 74 91 128
16cm (BD) 145 81
17cm (Petzl) 100 143
19cm (BD) 159 89
21cm (Petzl) 110 161
22cm (BD) 168 96

Now that we’ve got the numbers out of the way, a few concerns…

It looks as if the aluminum tube comes almost all the way to the tip of the metal insert, which means there’s probably a lot less longevity to these than the full-steel version when it comes to sharpening. EDIT: I’ve learned that the steel teeth and the aluminum tube are glued together. I can only presume BD is using some very-extra-strength glue! [Previous version: Nobody at BD also seemed to know the answer to the ‘how is the steel insert attached to the alu tube?’ question, and as there are no obvious teeth or grooves showing in the screws, we have no idea how these are fused together.] Given that there have been issues with the Petzl alu screws, I’m curious to see how the BD’s will hold up to actual use in customer hands.

Of course, these are all pre-production samples, so ignore the extra-length of teeth machined onto the longer screws (production versions will have the same length of teeth on all screws). As well, I am curious how tight the tolerances will be between the crank and the tube — a couple of these showed more bulging out of the flat crank section adjacent to the tube than I’d like to see, especially on pre-production versions that looked rather new and mostly unused.

Another very weird thing about the Ultralights is that the hanger colour for the 22cm is Purple. Purple?! BD pretty much set the colour standard for ice screws (10cm = red, 13cm = yellow, 16cm = blue, 19cm = grey, 22cm = green) which is now followed by Petzl as well, so why the change of the longest screw to Purple? EDIT: So I’ve learned that the idea behind the colour change from green to purple is so that the screws match the rest of the ‘BD Colour Story’ within their protection line (i.e. so that a purple cam = purple hex = purple nut = purple screw, though how a screw compares to nuts or cams for pro I don’t get?!) I seriously can’t make this shit up: how screws relate to rock pro is beyond my understanding of climbing, but that is apparently why the Green screw-knob will change to Purple for FW2018, and this also includes the current Express screws. [Previous version: Beats me, and nobody I talked to knew the answer.]

Now, on to the good news: these things place phenomenally. Even better than the Petzl I think, though of course we didn’t get a chance to test them out side-by-side. But placing it into the handy ice block found at the BD booth felt effortless and the screw bit very efficiently. Check it out for yourself:

The other great thing about the BD’s is the dual-hole hanger, which not only has two spots for biners, but is also longer so should, in theory, rack better. BD only had four loose screws on hand, but they seemed to rack pretty well on my pinky finger.

I also love the positive action of the handle, which snaps open and closed with a positive, solid, action. Looking forward to playing with these once some retail versions are available next season!

La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX

There’s an old adage that says 1 pound on your feet (that’s 454 grams to most of us) equals 5 pounds on your back (2268 grams), and there’s actually a 1984 study from the US Army Research Institute that upholds this statement. So with that in mind, the best thing you can do for your feet is to lose some weight, and the easiest (and really only?) way to do that is to get a lightweight pair of boots.

La Sportiva’s Trango Tower Extreme GTX weighs in at a claimed 731-grams, which is only 4-grams more than their lightest ice climbing boot, the Trango Ice Cube (I have no idea which size Sportiva claims weight for, but my 43.5 Ice Cubes weigh 760-grams, so I’m guessing they’re weighing their sample-size EU 42). I really like the Ice Cube but it is not the most durable boot out there — I have snapped the plastic lace-locks on three pairs of them by now — so the very first thing I looked at on the Tower Extreme was the eyelets: all metal!

The Trango Extreme shares the last and sole with the Ice Cube, but it trades that boot’s laminated construction in favour of old-fashioned stitching and gluing. It feels like it’ll be just as warm, just as stiff, and climb just as well, plus it doesn’t have the Ice Cube’s somewhat annoying gaiter. Warmth and waterproofness is courtesy of the typical Gore-Tex insulated lining, and there’s a 9mm insulated insole plus a 6-7mm TPU midsole. Add on some abrasion-resistant laminated Nylon Honey-Comb Guard stuff and a small collar gaiter and it has the makings of an awesome do-it-all lightweight mountain boot. Love, love, love it. Did I mention the Trango Extreme will also be cheaper with an MSRP of $475 USD?

Wrap-Up

And that’s it — those are my four stand-out items from OR Winter Market 2018. Check back in a day or two for complete write-ups about Apparel, Climbing Hardware, Packs and Miscellaneous Gear!

3 thoughts on “Winter OR 2018: New Gear Awards

  1. Pingback: Winter OR 2018: Apparel – The Alpine Start

  2. Brian says:

    The purple/green thing isn’t that complicated. A purple screw doesn’t compare to a purple cam or stopper. Purple is the next size larger than gray, across the line of pro. Red-yellow-blue-grey-purple is now their color scheme from smallest to largest in their various protection pieces. The colors may not compare to other pieces of gear, but they certainly compare to each other

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