Category Archives: Gear Reviews

Detailed description and opinion on various outdoor gear

Golden Fleece: Why Wool is Still King for Outerwear

“I don’t necessarily like wearing a lot of clothes, but wearing Smartwool socks is better than not wearing socks.” – ZAC Guide and clothing guru, BJ Cassell During my time at Nordfjord Norwegian Folk School, I had many unique and unexpected lessons. Of all the courses I took, from blacksmithing to crevasse rescue, our textile lesson surprised me most. I had arrived in Norway with my arsenal of quick-drying synthetics and Gore-Tex, ready for mountaineering, cross-country skiing, backpacking, kayaking, and just about every outdoor sport known to man (and Norwegian). What I learned in our 2-hour textile class, however, was that there was so much I didn’t know about various fabrics’ benefits and drawbacks, and how important clothing was to a successful advenutre. After analyzing charts comparing polyester to rayon, gore-tex to triple point, and all sorts of measurements on breathability, insulation, and water resistance, at the end of the session I emerged with one profound truth: For just about every outdoor activity and weather condition, WOOL IS KING (or kongen, in Norwegian). Wool is very trendy right now for outdoor enthusiasts, but it has actually been proving its utility for thousands of years. Another ingenius culminating product of evolution, wool regulates warmth … Continue reading

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Best Cell Service for Southern Utah’s Canyon Country?

Steve Susswein posted this question yesterday on the Canyons Group: Can anyone recommend which carrier has the best cell phone coverage in southern utah canyon country? I’ve been using verizon for a while and have generally been surprised at some of the places I’ve gotten coverage (in the roost, for example). My contract is up and I’m considering changing service providers, but don’t want to lose the coverage when I’m out in the desert. Specifically curious about straight talk and other prepaid plans. I don’t know if anybody has carried out comprehensive testing here, but personal experience, anecdotal evidence, and the coverage maps from three major carriers all point to one choice: Verison Wireless. Let’s take a look at each company’s published service maps, shall we? As the maps show, AT&T usually works, IF you’re along a major highway. Sometimes. Maybe. I read one strong vote of support for T-mobile yesterday, but haven’t heard many folks using it around here; looking at the coverage map, you can see why. Verizon’s coverage is WAY larger than either AT&T or T-mobile, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it works deep within the bowels of south-central Utah. As middle-of-nowhere enthusiast Steve Ramras … Continue reading

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Climbing Gear Review: GriGri 2

Twenty years ago Petzl introduced the original GriGri with this simple, tongue-in-cheek ad campaign: For the best belay job you’ve ever had, Call 1-800-555-0100 Ask for Grigri GriGri has been giving amazing belay jobs for years now, and all my friends know it. For hang-dogging on climbing projects, multi-tasking on big wall aid climbs, or hanging from the anchor at a top-managed belay, the GriGri is my go-to belay device. It provides unmatched utility, comfort, and options for belaying. But the smooth, easy pleasure only Grigri can provide just got better. I’m talking, of course, about Petzl’s new assisted braking belay device, the GriGri 2. The design is 25% smaller than the original, 20% lighter, accepts a broader range of rope diameters (8.9mm – 11mm), and features a “progressive descent control lever”. I picked up the new GriGri 2 about a month ago and have been putting it through rigorous testing. I have used it for several days of cragging, long multi-pitch climbs, ice climbing, and some single-rope rappelling. Through a wide range of rope diameters -skinny rope (9.2mm) to fat (10.2mm) – I’ve seen no significant difference in action. The GriGri 2 feels good in my hand. It still feels substantial … Continue reading

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Rappeling Off Sand: The Sandtrap Anchor System

A Revolutionary New Canyon Tool Without a doubt, the most interesting and widely discussed canyoneering innovation of the last year or two has been Steve Woodford‘s “sand anchor”, a simple but brilliant contraption allowing canyoneers to rappel relatively safely off a plentiful canyon resource: sand. Though not nearly as simple or obvious to use as bolts or a tree, Woodford’s design enables trained canyoneers to leave no trace safely and securely in remote, pristine canyons much more easily than previous leading-edge “ghosting” techniques. As this tool, and the understanding of how to use it, spreads through the canyoneering community, I hope to see less new bolting in canyons, and perhaps even less rope scarring as well. The Sand Anchor Concept The fundamental idea behind the anchor design is straightforward: If you can spread a lot of weight over a large enough friction surface, you end up with a safe anchor to rap on. In the past, there have been lots of approaches to this concept, but most of them relied primarily on the weight variable, and not as much on the surface area variable. Thus, we always needed a sharp corner or deep hole to gain enough friction to hold … Continue reading

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Finding the Right Cord: Climbing Rope Review

The author, geared up for another day of playing with ropes. It is time for another Climbing Gear Review, and in this installment I’ll focus on the backbone of any climbing system – ROPE. As our direct connection point and lifeline, it’s worth considering the vast options before dropping a couple hundred dollars on a new cord. Rope Longevity, Inspection, and Care First, a word about rope life. Except in extreme circumstances, modern ropes do not fail. Ropes only fail when they are cut by sharp rocks or knives, bathed in cat pee or battery acid, or when they’re used for canyoneering (haha). So, when your rope starts to get fuzzy, don’t worry, it is unlikely it would break under any normal circumstances. Like most protection, however, if you have any doubts about your safety, it is probably time to replace it. I typically go through one rope each year. I retire a rope when it gets really fuzzy, has taken A LOT of BIG falls, and/or has soft spots (bend the rope in half and it should maintain a round shape). When assessing a rope’s integrity keep in mind that the sheath (the outside layer) is deigned to protect … Continue reading

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Gear Review: Ram Opines on Imlay Canyon Gear “Spry” Pack

Steve Ramras, known as “Ram” in the canyon world, does more canyoneering than anybody I’ve ever met. This guy regularly puts together 14 – 21 day canyon trips, pieced together with partners from his incredible multi-state social network and canyon routes from his vast prior experience and his highly topographic imagination. First descents, 20th descents, returning-after-15-years-away descents… Ram regularly combines them all in one trip. With that kind of mileage under his belt, it’s easy to imagine he has learned a thing or two over the years. So when Ram offers thoughts or advice on gear choice, I’m always interested to hear what he has to say. Ram is a guy with ample access to gear. Each morning, he has the freedom to pour over a full quiver of packs, bags, ropes, carabiners, etc. and choose his plan of attack, a la carte, for the day. (Well, at least at the BEGINNING of his 3-week trips, he does…) Which pack is big enough, but not too big? What combination of ropes will be both high functional, but reasonable in terms of weight and volume. Etc, etc… So when Ram says he finds himself using the same item over and over … Continue reading

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Gear Review: Black Diamond Offset Micro Stopper

A review of Black Diamond’s newest passive protection should really take place in the context of the competition. BD’s offset nut is the first not produced by a British company, and Black Diamond (BD) is fighting for a niche market held by the HB Brass Offset for a long, long time. The HB Brassy has proven itself to be an indispensable aiding tool. When HB went out of business years ago, the brassies become a coveted piece of equipment, unavailable on the retail market until recently, when DMM bought the old molds and continued the production of these amazing little nuts. Now, BD has tweaked the tried and true formula, using bronze instead of brass for better durability, and utilizing a less aggressive taper. The width of the sides correspond almost exactly between the HB and BD offsets, but BD made their stoppers with a slimmer, longer profile giving it a larger surface area. When I finally got my hands on a set of these I had very specific ambitions to climb the Desert Shield in Zion. With a few hundred feet of sustained thin aid and pin scars, it was the perfect place to put them to the test. … Continue reading

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Petzl Elia: Women-Specific, Ponytail-Compatible Climbing Helmet

Leave it to the French to make not only a highly engineered, comfortable headpiece, but also a beautiful 5+ minute video to tell the world about it. The new Petzl Elia helmet was designed specially for women’s heads. How are female heads differnet than their male counterparts? That’s what I wondered. But the video help point out the subtleties: 1. Perhaps obviously, women sport a much greater variety of hairstyles than men, and accomodating for this seems to be a major feature of this helmet. 2. Women generally care about fit and comfort more than men (and rightly so), so this helmet was specifically designed to hug the entire head evenly, rather than the rear-center weighting most helmets feature. 3. Female heads are much smaller than male heads (in more ways than one). 4. The removable interior helmet foam allows washing for a cleaner, odor-free experience, which women seem to value more than us smelly dudes. As per usual, Petzl’s color choices seem a bit… Euro?… but that’s to be expected. Thanks to Petzl for helping fill to void of women’s climbing products; hopefully we will incorporate them into our guiding line-up soon. Here are the rest of the specs … Continue reading

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Sizing Five Ten Canyoneers for Really Big Feet

Each year, I get several questions from curious Sasquatchian Canyoneers wondering, “What is the biggest foot that fits in the Five Ten Canyoneer 2?” As a person with a size 14 foot, I empathize with fellow men and women who struggle to find shoes that fit. I have been fortunate to see what does and does not work in dozens of rental situations where folks with large feet tried on the Canyoneer2, so I thought I’d share this admittedly esoteric knowledge here for the world to enjoy. First, let’s lay out the important facts to consider when planning a large foot fitting: 1) Foot width is often describes as foot “volume”. A narrow foot is considered “low volume”; a wide foot is “high volume”. 2) The largest Canyoneer 2 size Five Ten makes is 15; the next smaller sizes are 14, then 13 (no half sizes). 3) The sock a person wears inside the Canyoneer 2 greatly affects the fit. Thicker socks offer more warmth in cold water, cushion for hiking, and help low-volume feet fill the width of the Canyoneer 2. Thinner socks provide less insulation (good for summer), but offer less cushion. Here are a few popular sock … Continue reading

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Gear Review: Rock Climbing Helmets

Climb in Zion long enough, and you will come to know geology on an intimate level. That is, you will experience an erosion-induced episode of falling rock colliding with your body with small to enormous consequences. Sooner or later, you WILL experience rock fall – it is part of the adventure – and if you want to avoid experiencing life-or-death trauma medicine, PROTECT YOUR DOME. The movement towards helmets has changed the standards in skiing, snowboarding, bike riding, skate boarding, etc. It is a matter of self preservation. Not necessarily an alternative to health insurance, but preventative measures go a long way. The traditional plastic climbing hard hat has evolved. Much like a bicycle helmet, new helmets use closed cell foam and offer varying degrees of side impact protection. Many helmet manufacturers are creating helmets in this style to offer a lighter, safer piece of climbing protection. Closed cell foam is very light, but is designed to withstand only one impact; this means we must be careful packing and storing our helmets so you don’t smash it in transit. While the old hard plastic helmet may withstand more daily abuse, it is also designed to be retired after one serious … Continue reading

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