I thought I had this semi-figured out, but I really don’t. It’s just after 6pm and I am finally off my feet: I’ve been running around the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 since 9am with barely a chance to grab some water, let alone sit down for a few minutes! This is such an amazing show, however, that running ragged all day is well worth it. The people you meet, the connections you make, not to mention all the shiny new stuff, are all well worth it. Here then, is my report from the first day at the show:
Scarpa introduces the Rebel Ice fruit boot. In one word: wow. This is a total redesign of the fruit boot and how it is used today: the heel is all-rubber like a rock shoe, without the bolts to mount the typical-of-crampons heel piece. But, nobody is walking on ice in these and heel spurs are passé, so it really can be argued the crampon heel piece on a fruit boot is unnecessary. Full carbon sole, with 4-bolt mounting for crampons (this means BD or Grivel… the new Petzl D-Lynx is a three-point crampon and will not mount to this sole!), BOA closure system for the forefoot, velcro strap on the upper. These will apparently be sold to the general public (unlike most current fruit boots) and MSRP is around $540. In a word: awesome!
Additionally, Scarpa is bringing their sock-fit technology from the Rebel-series of boots to the Mont Blanc: enter the Mont Blanc GTX Pro. Fits like the Rebel, but with the durability and warmth of the Mont Blanc. Very cool.
And if you’re less crampon-inclined, there’s also a new rock shoe, the Booster S. Ultra-high performance in a minimalist package. The Booster S features the thinnest midsole of any rock shoe (say Scarpa) and it feels super-flexible through the arch. Very aggressive downturn with dual velcro closure. This looks to be, if possible, an even more aggressive, softer Instinct VS.
Moving on to the next coolest thing I saw today is the Ice Project pack from The North Face. A bit of a pet project by TNF athlete Conrad Anker, the Ice Project is painfully obvious when you see it, but definitely took some vision to come up with. Basically, it is an ice- and mixed- cragging pack. Think about most of the climbs we do: half-hour to an hour approach, generally not too strenuous, then all we do is unpack and strew our stuff all over the ground. The Ice Project’s solution is to provide internal tool and crampon (it even has a special pocket for fruit boots!) storage, an integrated ice-screw sleeve, a large, padded flap on which to sit on and sufficient comfort to haul all that gear around (Andy, the pack guy at TNF, loaded up the IP with 42lbs of stuff for me to try out: the pack fits exceptionally, close to my back, and with a close centre of gravity.) This is one pack I am very, very excited to try and one that I suspect will become my go-to pack for most ice- and mixed- outings.
The included 10-screw holder snaps on top of the fruit-boot pouch (hidden underneath in this photo. There are two pairs of tools shown inside the pack – one on each side. There is a pick-sleeve as well as handle straps inside the pack.
The two ropes, two pairs of tools, screws, harness, helmet and other random stuff easily fit into the Ice Project, with room to spare.
The Ice Project carries very well. We had it loaded with 42lbs but it felt more like 20!
Arc’Teryx doesn’t have any new packs, though as usual they are pushing the limits in clothing design and functionality. Take the new Alpha Comp jacket and pants, for example. They fuse Gore’s Fabric Technology (basically, Gore-Tex Pro) with Arcteryx’s super-breathable Fortius 1.0 softshell, in a combination exclusive to Arc’Teryx until at least early 2016. On the jacket, you get Gore waterproofness on the arms, shoulders, hood and hem, and stretchy and breathable Fortius 1.0 softshell through the body. The pants feature similar patterning: Gore on the front of the legs and on the bum, softshell on the back and around the waist. Waterproof where you need it, breathable where you don’t. Both men’s and women’s styles are coming in limited numbers to Arc’Teryx stores & online sales on February 15, and to an Arc’Teryx dealer near you in Fall 2014. (Arc’Teryx have provided me with a set for testing and review: I am going to try and have it done by the Feb. 15 release date!)
Continuing with their down program, Arc’Teryx are expanding the line with the Cerium LT down sweater (uber light but not uber fragile), the Cerium SV jacket (warmer than the Cerium LT, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the Ceres Parka, the one that’s got my attention! The Ceres is basically the Kappa Hoody but with 850-fill down: tough Windstopper shell, double-slider zipper, hem snap, big hood, great pocket configuration inside and out. The Kappa Hoody is tough to fault: warm, roomy, bombproof. Think the same but with down, which has me thinking it’ll be much warmer.
I don’t want to brag, but I’m hard to surprise at this stage of the game. So when I spotted a pair of white gaitered boots in The North Face’s showroom, I literally stopped dead in my tracks. I had never even heard of TNF making gaitered climbing boots, so imagine my surprise when I was told they’ve been around for over a year! The TNF guys explained that these boots mostly sell in Asia, and aren’t even shown on the North American website, which explains why I’ve never seen them around here!
First up is, uh, well, honestly I can’t remember the name, but it is a double boot in the 6000m category. The inner bootie is particularly impressive with a high-traction rubber sole, completely lined inside and with a traditional lacing system. The outer also features normal laces, as well as a velcro strap above the ankle. They feel seriously light and well put together. Suffice it to say I can’t wait to get my hands on a pair!
Next up is the Verto S4K Ice GTX, which when I checked the TNF website last wasn’t there, but now is. It’s a very light boot, insulated 200g of Thinsulate and Gore-Tex Duratherm and featuring Vibram’s Mulaz outsole. These look cool, and I think might be stiff competition for some of the other lightweight ice boots coming from other manufacturers.
Adding to the proliferation of ice and alpine packs are redesigned Mutants from Osprey. Both the 28 and 38 have been redesigned, though to me the 38 seems more useful so here’s a quick preview: the tool attachment has been changed to a stick-the-aluminum-thingy-through-the-head-of-the-tool style with a more normal elastic-loop handle cord; the hipbelts have been redesigned for better use with a harness and the extension-collar has gained a built-in lid. The pack features a regular floating lid but it also has a trick ‘flap’ built into the extension collar that then clips into the same straps as the floating lid. Very slick, and in a way similar to the Patagonia Ascensionist packs’ system. I think this is one pack I would use without the top lid most of the time!
Outdoor Research have been my go-to glove this season, and this doesn’t look like it will change for next year with the introduction of a heated version of their super-popular Stormtracker. Using a unique heating system in which the heating elements are braided throughout the fibres, the glove promises more uniform heating (and it seems to work – I could feel the glove heating up all around my fingers). Combine this low-bulk heating system with the Stormtracker’s exceptional fit and dexterity and you might just have a game-changing glove for ice climbing.
Grivel has a couple of new technical tools coming: The Tech Machine, and another one whose name I forgot (there is a lot of information to take in at this show, I try to write it down or take brochures, but sometimes I forget even that!) The Tech Machine looks kinda like a revamp of the Racing Tech tool from a few years ago. It feels light and well balanced: more competition for Petzl’s venerable Nomic. The other one looks similar to the super-expensive Reparto Corse tools ($475 retail, per tool!) as well as kind of like E-Climb’s Cryo LT. It feels quite a bit heavier than either of those tools, however.
Somewhat less climbing-oriented, though falling into the climbing-approach category, are G3’s new tech binding, super-light carbon skis and their new poles. The Ion is unique in that it has a spring allowing fore-aft movement of the heel piece, making for easier set-up and also effectively creating forward-pressure on the toe-piece. The toe-piece has two guiding tabs that ensure proper boot positioning every time, making toe entry a snap.
Most of G3’s skis gain carbon construction, resulting in skis that are bafflingly light. The Synapse are a new line of skis with 92, 101 and 109 waists, full carbon construction and modern shaping. Did I mention all these skis are stupidly light?!
Finally, G3 is introducing ski poles with removable straps. I have two sets of skis poles: one with straps, one with the straps cut off. The new G3s effectively solve my dilemma by anchoring the straps with a plastic clip. Brilliant!