Winter OR 2018: Climbing Gear

It’s shaping up to be an awesome year for ice climbers and drytoolers — not only are we getting a full new line of Petzl tools, but BD has also a new Reactor, Grivel is adding a couple of specialized picks to their lineup, and Polish company Elite Climb is bringing their insanely light carbon tools to North America.

In case you haven’t read my preview of the new Petzl tools — Quark, Nomic and Ergonomic — you can check out the full write-up here.

Black Diamond has been struggling lately with their ice tools. The Cobra still climbs really well, but it’s not exactly the performance ice and mixed tool that the company needs. The Fusion is phenomenal for drytooling, but has an awkward swing into ice. The purported solution to this, the Fuel, and subsequent Fuel Hammer, retain the Fusion’s awesome stiffness and do swing better into ice — but they’re still lagging behind the best offerings from Camp or Grivel, not to mention the new Petzl tools.

Enter the Reactor. Now, at first glance you might think this looks like a copy of the Camp/Cassin X-Dream — which it is. Sadly, I’ve heard from a few people associated with or at BD that they basically set out to copy the X-Dream because it is just so damn good. So much for innovation.

On the plus side, because the new Reactor looks like a copy of the X-Dream, it should, in theory, swing very well, and climb rock equally adeptly. The new pick, in particular, is supposed to be very, very good. The Natural Ice Pick has been designed purely for ice climbing, and its geometry is optimized for smoother placements and easier cleaning. It tapers down significantly and appears to resemble the Cassin Mixte Pick, but I’ll you be the judge…

The new Reactor will of course come stock with the new Natural Ice Pick. There’s a new head design that is the same bolt pattern as that used on the newest Viper tools — so you can fit the Reactor with a hammer or an adze if you so wish.

The handle is a combination of sticky rubber and slippery plastic, with adjustable inserts on the upper end. I haven’t seen any of these inserts, but as there appears to be no adjustment for the overall handle size, I suspect those with smaller hands will not find this handle comfortable. There is a bit of a spike, but alas the clip-in point is a small hole in the grip — so if you use leashes, you’ll still have a piece of cord hanging from your tools. I would have loved to see an interchangeable handle end — like on the Fusion and Fuel — so you could fit a proper spike and attachment hole if you wanted to.

The Reactor weighs in at 610-grams, and should be available in September/October. Retail price will be $280 USD and they’ll go for $300 in Canada.

Other pick changes in the BD lineup are as follows. All BD picks retail for $55 USD or $60 CAD.

Natural Ice Pick — this used to be called the Ice Pick
Ice+ Pick — this was the Fusion Ice Pick before
Mixed Pick — formerly called the Fusion Pick
Alpine Pick — this is the Titan Pick, renamed

Grivel is joining the four-pick camp, and adding the Cascade Plus and Dry Plus picks to their range (for a total of five, actually). The whole range now looks like this:

Ice — designed for ice climbing but without the attachment point on the back
Ice Plus — same pick, but with space to attach either a hammer or an adze
Mix — a much more aggressive pick, doesn’t have the ‘Plus’ but does have the attachment for hammer or adze
Cascade Plus — the new pick designed specifically for ice climbing, tapers down to 3mm at the tip and has attachment holes for the adze or hammer. It’s also a matte-black finish.
Dry Plus — the burliest of them all, 4mm thick all the way to the tip, room for a hammer or adze, also matte black

I love Grivel’s picks: the Ice is probably one of the best picks on the market, so I’m stoked to check out the Cascade Plus. And who doesn’t want a thick, burly, all-black pick for drytooling to be all Ninja with?!

Not a new product per-se, but a relative newcomer in general, Elite Climb is a Polish company (ok, really it’s just one guy) that specializes in making composite tools. Jaroslaw Walewski is the man behind these tools, and makes each one by hand using a hybrid Kevlar and carbon fibre composite. The picks are outsourced to a metalsmith, also located in Poland.

I’ve seen pictures of these online, but photos do not do justice to just how stunning these things look in person. The finish is kinda grainy, with a texture like 80-grit sandpaper. The first thing you notice is just how incredibly light they are, and then that the handle has this oddly warm feel to it. Construction is first-rate, as befitting tools that are actually T-rated and fully certified.

The Raptor is the most technical of the three and has very distinct indents in the handle. This doesn’t look comfortable but they feel absolutely perfect in hand, the upper grip in particular seemingly designed for my hands. The handles are sizeable, however, so those with much smaller or much larger hands may find them awkward. The tool weighs in at 430-grams, including the pick. In case you’re not up on your tool weights, that’s around 30% lighter than most other technical tools on the market. Figure to pay about a dollar per gram — retail on these is 350 Euros, which converts to around $430 USD or $530 CAD.

I took a pair of Raptors for a quick test at the Ouray Ice Park and I have to say they surprised me with how well such a light tool swings — penetration into ice is phenomenal, and the pick cleans easily as well (and we were using an aggressive mixed pick, too). The handle is a joy to hold, grippy and warm, and the whole thing just feels weightless. On rock, the tool exhibits a tiny bit of flex, but feels completely bomber. Pick shift to the upper grip is miniscule. I am hoping to get a pair of these for a thorough review and some proper ice climbing in the Rockies — so stay tuned for an update.

Less technical but no less impressive is the Salamandra, a more laid-back tool designed purely with ice in mind. These are even lighter than the Raptor, weighing between 360 and 450-grams, depending on the pick. Though the handle isn’t as textured as that on the Raptor, it feels solid and secure, and I don’t think I’d bother wrapping it with any kind of tape unline most of my other tools. Price for the Salamandra is also 350 Euros, but you know how it goes: generally the less something weighs, the more expensive it is!

Finally, there’s the Kruk, a more traditionally-styled mountaineering axe. The lower part of the shaft is completely straight for easy plunging, but there’s enough curvature in the upper section to ensure an easy swing for ice climbing. The finish is completely smooth for easy snow penetration, but somehow still feels pretty grippy, though I wouldn’t want to try and hang onto these for too long on vertical terrain. Weight is an incredible 370-grams, and price is 250 Euros.

All the Elite Climb tools are currently available online, and I believe that Rock and Resole in Boulder stock them, as does Ouray Mountain Sports in Ouray. For more info, head to: http://www.eliteclimb.com/

In other climbing gear news, Grivel have fitted a Recco reflector to their Stealth climbing helmet, a world first, and a good step in the right direction of raising better awareness of avalanches among ice climbers. It adds all of 3 grams to the helmet’s weight, and $20 to the overall cost. Pretty cool!

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