20th to 23rd January: Salt Palace Convention Centre, Salt Lake City, USA was once again the venue for the annual Winter Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show.
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Having visited Winter OR over the last five years it was great to be back and reassuring to see that it was thriving despite the current economic climate. Sure things have been better but there was a lot of upbeat banter and happy faces. Of course the Americans are good at talking things up, but I think the mood was genuinely positive for climbing, socialising and, of course, business.
OR has become a very international trade show over the years with good representation from the larger European climbing brands Petzl, La Sportiva, Mammut however the thoroughbred UK climbing gear companies were noticeable by their absence despite the North American market having previously been a core hunting ground for British climbing gear; the weakened pound, rising production costs, high international shipping rates and strongly competitive pricing from larger companies are all contributing to stifle transatlantic climbing trade.
Rab, PODsacs and Montane
Rab Carrington and Sam Killgore (Rab USA's marketing manager) at the Salt Lake City Outdoor Retailer (OR) Show
© Equip USA
Generally the UK outdoor trade presence at this OR was minimalist, however Rab, who now have a USA operational base in Colorado, and Montane were keeping the British sales end up. On the Rab stand, even Rab Carrington himself was in the house as fit and enthusiastic as ever to support the evolution of the brand that he started from scratch 30 years ago. The celebration cake and ale were available in good measure to mark the event and ensure the Rab brand will go even longer and stronger as a global company under the ownership of Equip. This is hardly surprising given the incredible product line up that Rab now represents, achieved without diluting the brands strong heritage or compromising its activist end user focus.
Also under the Equip banner and with a similar heritage, it was good to see PODsacs making it to the USA. Hopefully POD's strong range of packs and accessories will capture the attention and kudos they rightly deserve. Who knows maybe in a few years Pete O'Donovan himself will be cutting the birthday celebration cake at OR.
Montane were lower key in their debut presence, but the fact they were there definitely reflects their willingness to dip a toe into new international markets and build on the growing success they have had in Europe with their increasing range of quality products. Paul Cosgrove of Montane told me, "It was our first OR show but we had pretty much the top 20 US buyers on our stand at some point in the show. It was funny as people on many of the other stands were asking 'who are you guys!'"
Arguably this is a winter show but unlike the hulking board sport hangers of the European winter trade show, ISPO, the Winter OR is still definitely a roots outdoor show. And undoubtedly the growing number of quality climbing walls on both sides of the Big Pond, means that more than ever climbing is a 52/12 activity and the demand for at least the core climbing gear items must now be perpetual rather than seasonal.
But keep the faith - the Best of British climbing brands, namely DMM and Wild Country, are no doubt shaking their booty of new and exciting home grown gear and prepping their top notch arsenal of quality equipment to detonate in a blaze of glory at the summer trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Both these Llanberis based companies have major product launches this year. Watch UKC for more details.
I've focussed on the North American climbing brands to find out: "Hey what's happening, dudes?" So let's hear a big power scream for my top pick of the 'radical and awesome' in climbing gear at Winter OR.
Black Diamond (UK Agents: First Ascent)
The BD brand has been synonymous with high quality North American climbing gear for many years, and even longer for those who remember that it all started as Chouinard, before being sold to the employees to evolve from the fiery ashes of litigation as Black Diamond. BD have also got a long and strong reputation for innovation in climbing gear to improve safety and quality standards in equipment, as well as progressively designing with us climbers in mind to help improve our climbing experience And guess what? 2011 is no exception.
Straight out the gate is their new and very innovative belay karabiner the Gridlock
You have probably heard about this crafty bit of kit already as it was featured in the UKC article OutDoor Show 2010 - CLIMBING HARDWARE last year, but I make no apologies for banging on about it again because it takes pride of place at the top of my gear shopping list for 2011 and it will be in the UK's climbing shops very soon.
The Gridlock seriously addresses the safety issue of belay karabiners becoming incorrectly orientated on the harness belay loop whilst belaying. This creates the potential for the belay karabiner being cross loaded whilst holding a fall, and given the substantially weaker outward minor axis strength of karabiners, it could mean disaster. Another possible outcome for a wrongly orientated belay karabiner is that the acute axis of the karabiner could end up inside a tubular belay device, rather than the broadly rounded axis butting up against it. Although I am not sure which companies have tested this scenario it could potentially mean the belay device doesn't function as expected. Either way a correctly orientated belay karabiner that can't turn over in the belay loop has to be the way forward.
The issue has been on the design minds of climbing companies for many years initially BD with their only partially successful Airlock belay karabiner back in the 90's and DMM with their neat but possibly over engineered Belay Master and even Edelrid and Anlo applying their own approach by using captive loops in their harnesses to restrain the belay karabiner in the belay loop.
But for a really nice design solution that means the belay karabiner can be removed and reattached easily and secured conventionally, I have to say the Gridlock does it for me. I am not sure of the origin of the name but in my mind total gridlock should be the situation in shops when it finally hits the shelves it has to be worth every penny and I will definitely be at the front of the queue. I imagine you are probably thinking - in USA parlance "Jeez, this guy is a total spraylord" However please bear in mind that the BD Gridlock currently gets my top climbing hardwear gear award for 2011 and I promise to get a skiffle on round the aisle of OR from here on.
TrackFit - BD's new adjustable leg loop design
For later in the year BD has some good developments on both the harness and helmet fronts. They have a great new adjustable leg loop design for their harnesses, called TrackFit, which utilises a slide adjuster rather than a buckle. It will make adjusting your leg loop size very quick and simple, and has the added advantage of no dangling webbing tail. TrackFit will be available on the BD line of Momentum and Primrose harnesses from Autumn 2011 .
"...Given half the chance climbing gear could be as good as sex!"
Also for Autumn, BD have completely remodelled their super popular Half Dome helmet. They have improved the fit with a completely new suspension system and custom wheel adjustor, which can now be tucked away inside the shell to prevent damage when packed. It also features new and improved venting ports and headlamp clips and presto! It weighs in at 40g lighter than its predecessor. It will be available in two sizes S/M and M/L which will make it a great fitting all round climbing helmet. Finally for those very few of us who are sad enough to think that given half the chance climbing gear should be as good as sex check out BDs Crag and Crag Half Finger leather climbing gloves nuff said.
Arcteryx (UK Agents: Big Stone)
Having seen BD's new designs in harnesses, I had to make Arcteryx my next port of call, because in my opinion Arcteryx revolutionised the harness world when it first launched the Vapour model this must be over 15 years or longer ago now, yet Arcteryx have consistently continued to be at the very forefront of harness development and design. And just two years ago they smashed the harness design ball right out of the park with their ground breaking Warp Strength Technology (WST) design.
So it had to be worth a look and in there lay a problem, because it didn't look like a look was likely. The security and paranoia on the Arcteryx stand was so intense, that it looked more probable that I would get an invite to the Royal Wedding, than get a sneaky peek at the latest Arcteryx harnesses and all this from very humble beginnings, particularly in the UK when Bill Birch was initially trying to push these 'very nice, but very expensive harnesses' with a name we could only hazard a guess at. But we did get to try them and we quickly began to learn not only the correct Arcteryx pronunciation but also that their harnesses were the new breed cutting edge in harness design and function.
My bait was up and I can be very persistent so two days later, after some persuasion, I was escorted to the climbing harness section of their booth, under the careful guidance of one of Arcteryx's very own harness experts. As a habitual user and massive protagonist of Arcteryx harnesses (and I own not one single item of their vastly innovative clothing line)., I had prepared myself for a massive let down, but this was not to be, and I was super impressed by both the immense knowledge of the guy who was giving me the harness lowdown, and the Arc'teryx harnesses themselves. Although there was no revolution, I was awed by how they have distilled their Warp Strength Technology and refined other features to create 'probably' the best harnesses ever made. It was a Back to the Future moment and the earth definitely moved a bit for me jetlag of course.
The name of Arc'teryx harnesses relates closely to their weight in grams which speaks volumes. Their classic all round harness the R-320, R-275 for women or R-320a with adjustable legs, will now feature a wider WST waist belt, to give even more support, and the WST leg loops are now going to have a conical shape, formed to optimise load dispersement and comfort when hanging for longer periods. The Surefit elastic connectors on the leg loops still work super well to accommodate a variety of leg girths within the size frame and really help to prevent leg loops shifting position of their own volition. Beefed up tie in points with wear safety markers complete the enhancement process.
Arcteryx do produce some impressive and very lightweight WST sport climbing harnesses for men and women weighing in at 275g (R-275 RT) and 260g (R-260 RT) respectively, instead using lightweight Vapour Mesh on leg loops to increase breathability and lose those meaningful grams.
However my top harness spot goes to their B-360a harness, which features a super wide WST waist belt and legs, 6 hi-laps-lo gear loops, 10 ice clipper slots, drop seat buckles, haul loop and beefy tie in point......enough? The point is it's a Big Wall Harness and it weighs only 360g light enough for me to use sport climbing, but there again I'm a dinosaur and a super well supported one too.
Finally all Arcteryx harnesses will be coming in their own stretchy mesh storage bags, rather than the original collectors tins which although great as road tripping coffee containers weren't so great for shoving in your pack .
Trango (distributed in the UK by Beta Climbing Designs)
Trango has recently undergone some major brand restructuring under the Great Trango Holdings Inc. (GTHI) banner. Unfortunately this has yet to impact on their gear development program, which is a real shame as they definitely have the ability to produce exciting products.
A good example is the quality Superfly Locker, which has been around a good few years and was probably one of the very first really light screwgate karabiners and is a sector of the climbing gear market that has since become a focus for other companies. Wild Country and DMM produced their own similar product almost simultaneously about a year ago, with Mad Rock and even Metolius joining the flock with their own lightweight screwgate offerings very recently.
Piranha alpine locking knife, Big Bro's and other stuff
Other Trango products that have set it apart in the past are the neat and super lightweight Piranha alpine locking knife, the very different and beefy stainless steel Shark nut tool, that incorporates its own locking knife and the stand alone Rack Tags for identity colour marking of our used, abused but carefully protected climbing racks.
Sadly these are glimmers of what could come from the Trango camp, but there is definitely uncertainty about whenever and if ever. Especially when Trango still seems to be wrestling with the CE certification process taking a relatively logical process and making it, well frankly speaking, a mud wrestling blood bath.
So those UK climbers who have been waiting eagerly for the arrival of CE marked Big Bro's Trangos very innovative expanding and camming tubular protection that go to sizes appropriate for very big cracks and with a significant weight saving over large cams don't hold your breath. There is no guarantee from the horse's mouth if they will or will not ever achieve CE certification.
Mad Rock (distributed in the UK by DB Outdoor)
Mad Rock Demon
UKC Gear, Feb 2011
© Mad Rock
Mad Rock is another US established company that has undergone some major changes recently, however I have to say the company and its products are looking in good shape for it right now.
There's no denying that Mad Rock rockshoes have had a difficult time in the UK market in recent years, but given their strong development program for 2011, there is no reason why they shouldn't feature more widely. The more durable Science Friction 3.0 rubber compound which is incorporated in their Power Upper and 3D Molded Concave Sole and Heel Cup definitely gives direction to the Mad Rock brand of rockshoes, particularly visible on their top end models.
The Demon is a radically downturned model that has been redesigned and improved for 2011, giving precision edging and aggressive heel hooking capability on steep rock, whether it's on sports routes or boulders.
The Mad Rock Con series provides plenty for us to go mad about on the rock. All feature a downturn toe and utilise varying degrees of stiffness to suit the needs of pretty much all aspiring climbers.
Con-Cept features a side entry lace up system which gives a greater across the toe surface area for the Mad Rock Power Upper which is going to excel for toe hooking, scumming and dragging manoeuvres. The 3D Molded Heel Cup should give it similar performance at the back end too. The Con-Cept has the stiffest midsole in the Con series to give it edging precision and is complimented well by the medium stiffness quick closure Con-Flict and a soft, sensitive slipper the Con-Tact.
Mad Rock Trigger Wire karabiner
Also very worthy of mention from the Mad Rock stable is the innovative Trigger Wire karabiner, which shows they have been thinking outside the design box. The Trigger Wire is effectively a wire gate karabiner that incorporates a notched flange that can be used to hold the wiregate open, This flange is hinged to the back bar of the karabiner - so when a rope is clipped into the karabiner in the gate held open state, it knocks the flange back and out of the way, hence releasing the wiregate to close normally. It's pretty neat and particularly for sport climbing could make for speedier, sweeter clipping or for gaining a few valuable centimetres when trying to clip those annoyingly out of reach bolts. It is also being billed as a viable option for use with a stick clipping system with merely the addition of a rubber band. As the manufacturer of the Beta Clip Stick I guess I will be joining the growing number of UK unemployed soon .
Five Ten (UK Agents: Big Stone)
Mr. Five Ten, Charles Cole. © Mick Ryan
The Five Ten booth was buzzing and it's not surprising as they have made a good few additions to their already impressive line-up of rockshoes for 2011. In fact they now seem to produce more models of rock shoes than the number of routes I managed to get up without falling off last year sad but probably true.
I was very impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the Five Ten Team climber who talked me through the new range. Clearly evident is Five Ten's drive to develop the well proven Anasazi line, but with a definite shift in adding models that provide a slightly more aggressively cambered last, as well as now catering for those with a lower volume foot. They have largely adopted this approach without dropping many already tried and tested models from their line and if I was to second guess their strategy it would be to develop a comprehensive range with rockshoe designs to suit pretty much every climbers needs.
Some of the most significant new models happening for 2011 are:
Quantum - The Quantum is hailed to be Five Tens latest development in their Anasazi Lace Up program and as their literature states 'For 5.10 fanatics the Quantum is a down turned Pink' - no doubt linking its heritage to the 'original' pink Anasazi Lace Up, which was a model clearly loved and dearly missed by many UK climbers. It's now purple but significantly it features a downturned toe to give that extra precision on small edges and even more significantly has a lower volume heel cup to minimise dead space under the heel and hook like no other Anasazi Lace Up has ever hooked before. Five Tens prestigious Onyx sole unit, Mystique rands and low stretch Cowdura uppers seals the deal. Personally I think the Quantum shows Five Tens true colours and who cares if its Pink, Green or Purple they have been listening to climbers and I think they have delivered. So as somebody with a virtually fossilised pair of Pink's, I can't wait to take the Quantums for a vertical walk
The new Five Ten Quantum
© Five Ten
Anasazi Arrowhead Having raved about the evolution of the Anasazi Lace Up it seems totally justified that Five Ten have given the new breed treatment to a quick closure Anasazi too (we used to be able to call it Velcro without fear of litigation (however other leading hook and loop tapes are also available from hardwear stores). The Arrowhead is a slightly higher volume fit than the Quantum, but Five Ten still appear to have worked some magic on the last to give it a precise downturned toe and minimise dead spotting in the heel. This should be massive with the Anasazi Velcro party faithful and more!
Blackwing Ladies This shoe could be ground breaking as potentially the first downturned rockshoe designed specifically for women. It's sad but quite fitting that we are in the Tennies (assuming that's what comes after the Naughties), but I think it's a rockshoe women climbers have been long waiting for. Most significantly it is more aggressively lasted with a downturned toe for precision edging on steeper rock. It features a snug low volume, narrower heel cup that is well contoured below the ankle bone.
The tongue is padded with a microfiber lining to wick moisture, uppers are low stretch durable Cowdura and the sole Stealth Mystique no surprises!
Supermocc I guess I couldn't get away without giving one up for the big softies out there. That's right the climbers desiring only the light touch of gossamer between their feet and the rock helped largely by the fact their feet have the tensile strength of titanium. As I read the Five Ten catalogue, which says of the Supermocc 'nothing is more durable, thinner or more penetrating' I couldn't help but yearn for my formative climbing days, before my feet buckled.
Anyway enough of this delirious claptrap, if you like slippers and like to climb 'touchy feely styley' the Supermocc should give you the precision you need and if they climb anything like the old 5.10 Zlippers they will be nothing short of incredible.
Finally in the Five Ten approach category now redubbed the outdoor action, freerunning, freeride street/dirt section - Wot the I am definitely getting old as I can't remember the last time I got caught riding dirty on the way to the pub. So temporarily digitally remastered for pubbing, clubbing, walling, hauling, routesetting, guiding and generally messing around en bloc the shoe for 2011 has to be the Five Ten Warhawk.
The Warhawk is effectively a hybrid of the very popular Five Ten Daescent, providing more support, a padded tongue and most importantly looking awesome in both men's and women's models.
Evolv (distributed in the UK by Beyond Hope)
For UK climbers Evolv are probably regarded as the new rockshoe kids on the blocs, which is a bit weird as they have been exhibiting at OR as long as I have been coming here and have now been available in the UK for several years. Personally I think this reflects how difficult it is for new brands to penetrate our rockshoe market, rather than any issue with Evolv's extensive and diverse rockshoe range. So hats off to the UK distributors, Beyond Hope for making it happen and in my opinion their well-deserved shelf space in most serious UK climbing stores is testament to just how good the Evolv rockshoes are.
I have never really indulged in idolatry, but having met Chris on a couple of occasions at trade shows, I can see how he has become an amazing inspiration to many climbers worldwide. He very definitely stands for climbing as a voyage of personal discovery and as a way of life.
Of course a couple of years ago, Evolv added a special weapon to their strategic sales and marketing campaign they signed Chris Sharma to head up Team Evolv adding immensely to the credibility of the Evolv brand.
I have never really indulged in idolatry, but having met Chris on a couple of occasions at trade shows, I can see how he has become an amazing inspiration to many climbers worldwide. He very definitely stands for climbing as a voyage of personal discovery and as a way of life. In my opinion he comes across as a decent bloke that knows how to pull quite hard when needed. But my opinion is of small significance to climbing companies most important to them is that gear association with Chris Sharma helps to build their brand and subsequently increases sales.
It's hard to name any other climbing personality who can do this so effectively on the world climbing stage Sharma is very much a business asset for Evolv.
Therefore it is only fitting that we begin an overview of what I consider to be the best new Evolv rockshoes for 2011, with the Shaman this incredible looking shoe is effectively a Sharma signature shoe developed around a new last designed by Chris Sharma, Obviously Chris is no slouch in the R & D department between bouts of pulling hard. It will be available from summer.
Not surprisingly it as a top end performance rockshoe, with a fairly aggressively cambered and asymmetrical last. It has a thermo molded half midsole but also features what Evolv terms a 'Love Bump' under the toes designed to prevent dead spotting, enable powerful footwork on very small edges and help the Shaman maintain its downturned shape for longer. It is a quick closure shoe, however it does feature an arch tensioning mid strap to suck it onto the foot. The Shaman is a really exciting looking shoe and should give aspiring climbers the ability to deliver precise and powerful footwork the hope is that with footwork as good as that, you shouldn't need to pull as hard as Chris - but don't let that stop you, pull hard anyway!
Evolv have also redesigned their other performance rockshoe for 2011 the Optimus Prime SC and have added a new Optimus Prime Lace. The Optimus Prime fit has been improved with a wider toe box and a snugger arch. The detailing on both shoes is excellent with more rubber coverage on the toe rand, a padded tongue and full cotton lining. Although downturned for performance edging and power on steep rock, they don't look as aggressive as the Shaman.
Not wanting to be fully outnumbered by the Five Ten massive, Evolv have introduced another new line of performance rockshoes for 2011 the Gesheido which will be available in both lace and strap closure models from autumn. Another very technical looking rockshoe with an asymmetrical down cambered last. However the downturn in the toe is moderate which will make them a great shoe for climbers making the transition to downturn. The Gesheido should be a really versatile performance shoe, which can be particularly appropriate for the UK where climbers need their shoes to work well for a variety of rock types and climbing styles. Hopefully the Gesheido will be trad-tastic.
Evolv have also added a Bandit SC to their more intermediate range, building on the strong reputation of their laced Bandit.
Although not new technology, but a revelation to me and worthy of mention is that many of Evolv's rockshoes incorporate their VTR technology (Variable Thickness Rands). This important development enables thicker randing in high wear areas, but less in other areas so Evolv shoes featuring VTR shouldn't feel like a pair clogs. Previously this would have been mostly significant for the toe dragging, foot scrubbers amongst us - however given the recent price jumps in UK rockshoes, anything that maintains performance but increases rockshoe longevity has got to factor in.
Sterling Rope (distributed in the UK by Beta Climbing Designs)
Sterling Rope's new Photon, a 7.8mm double and twin rope
UKC Gear, Feb 2011
© Mick Ryan
Out of Maine, USA - Sterling Rope have been making high quality, high performance climbing ropes for a very long time. However if Evolv are the new kids in the UK market, that means Sterling Rope are practically virgins, with them finally reaching UK climbing shops only last summer. I do have a vested interest here, as with Trango, as we distribute Sterling Ropes in the UK.
I really want to get on my soap box and have a serious rant about ropes and the problems in the UK market but breaking the habit, I'm not going too well not much anyway.
A serious rant
The big problems for selling ropes in the UK is that for most climbers there is a total perception that all ropes are equal and therefore buying is largely determined on price - and there are some very cheap ropes about. I know this sounds demeaning but it's not really meant to, after all they all hold falls and rarely break - however unlike new rockshoes they seldom improve our climbing ability.
The bigger problem for climbers buying a rope is that unlike rockshoes and harnesses, you can't try them on well not without being thrown out the shop. Therefore we have to trust and accept that they will do the job we expect of them primarily hold falls and not break but most informed climbers do appreciate there is a lot more to rope performance than these givens and distinguishing the other important features of ropes can be tricky.
Often climbers have to rely heavily on the ropes technical specifications what it says on the label generally giving information about diameter, rating for single/half/twin, length, dry coatings, weight per metre, no of falls, impact force, % elongation, etc. All this is very helpful and useful information but what's on the packet doesn't necessarily translate into what I would regard as two key performance characteristics of a rope how it handles and how it wears! The best knowledge of this information if from experienced climbing shop staff, personal recommendation from active climbers or tried and tested reviews.
Right that's my demi-rant done back to Sterling and how it all fits.
In my experience Sterling Ropes not only do what we expect of them and what they say on the packet, but their high performance rope engineering is primarily developed to produce a range of top end ropes that emphasise great handling and durability. The existing Sterling Rope models in the UK are testament to these qualities Pro 10.2, Velocity 9.8, Nano 9.2 and Duetto 8.4 currently they aren't as proliferated as the bigger brands but are definitely worth searching out for their high quality .
For 2011 Sterling Rope have developed a high performance half rope in their Fusion category.
The Photon is a slim 7.8mm, weighing in at a meagre 41 g/m aimed for the very weight conscious alpine and winter climbers, as well as climbers who really appreciate light ropes on long trad leads.
It is also certified as a twin rope so should also be popular for followers of the cascade climbing faith. Photon prototypes have already been tested thoroughly by UK climbers - in fact Charlie Woodburn used a pair on his impressive 4th ascent of The Walk of Life, giving them some fall time in the process and the feedback is very positive. The Photon should be available in the UK around May, in 60m Dry & 70m Dry formats.
Like Evolv, Sterling Rope also benefits from having Chris Sharma leading their already significant team of Pro Climbers. They brought him on board a couple of years ago and apparently he is loving the Sterling Rope performance. I guess Chris's Sterling Rope of choice is the impressively durable Velocity 9.8 based on the fact that for 2011 Sterling Rope have launched a Sharma Signature version of the Velocity. Effectively this is the same great handling and performance of the current Velocity but in a Special Sharma 'Rasta' colour styley importantly $2 USD of each Sharma Signature Velocity sold will be donated to The Sharma Fund to help those less advantaged.
Finally for later in 2011 Sterling Rope are dipping their toes into the hardwear market, with a tight range of belay karabiners, devices and pulleys to compliment their ropes. These will be produced in USA by the kudos Rock Exotica company totally respected for producing state of the art climbing and safety hardwear, with a big emphasis on strength and precision engineering. As an example they make the Petzl Spirit karabiners for Petzl America at the moment.
Metolius (distributed in the UK by Beyond Hope)
"...Overwhelmed by his gamut of ideas, I nearly had another gear freak seizure..."
Metolius have been around a long time in both the USA and UK and in my opinion are a company that hold closely and dearly to their strong climbing roots, They are still based out of Bend, Oregon and with the world class Smith Rocks on their doorstep it is amazing they find any downtime to design and develop brilliant new climbing gear. Yet every year they seem to have a natural predilection for developing some great new gear whether its harnesses, cam's, hardwear, softwear, training products or crashpads.
Personally I am always interested to find out where Metolius are going on crashpad development, because Metolius have always been a major player in this market and in the UK were pretty much the first 'real' crashpad to become universally available. OK crashpad cognoscenti I know about the BD Spot (in fact I still have one and our dog still likes to lie on it in the back garden) and the Cordless 'who knows what's its name', but these were never widely available in the UK as I recall. The Metolius Crashpad really did open the UK climber's eyes and in my opinion was undoubtedly the pioneer of the ensuing UK crashpad revolution In a rare caution to the wind moment I threw a massive one past Chip (Metolius' Global Sales Director) - 'Where does crashpad innovation go from here?' I was surprised by his candid response and our ensuing banter covered the new wave direction crashpads should take including the existence of some amazing techno shock absorbing materials and the need for weight and packed size reduction. Overwhelmed by his gamut of ideas, I nearly had another gear freak seizure. But of course there is always the rub developing this next generation of crashpad would be incredibly expensive, in both project development and high end materials costs.
The result would be a Willy Wonka dream ticket crashpad the reality is a non-commercial no brainer. How many climbers would pay 400 big ones for a crashpad! So I guess we were just massaging ourselves.
But back in the real world Metolius have not held back on developing and improving their existing crashpad range, using top quality fabrics and foams from their entry level Bailout to their gargantuan Magnum - however it is their new Recon crashpad that currently gets my top crashpad spot for 2011.
The Recon will be available from autumn. It looks amazing, using a combination of fully biffed 900d and ballistics materials to cover the fat 4'', top notch 3 layer foam matrix, with a very respectable ground coverage of 60'' x 42''. That's 12'' longer and 6'' wider than the classic Bailout. Yet the most impressive feature of the Recon is its trifold sandwich styley, which for its coverage gives a very neat packed size. Its folded size is boxier than other big crashpads but this means it will feel less unwieldy in backpack mode, as well as fitting very efficiently into the boot spaces of our Economy class autos (small hatchback cars rarely if ever seen in USA). This compactness does however mean there is no real storage space for gear inside the folded Recon, meaning the need for a supplementary shoulder bag or pack for carrying essential bouldering items however as a frequent user of a large burrito style crashpad which does have extra carrying capacity, I still find myself carrying an additional pack on most bouldering outings. I figure this is mainly because I got older and feel colder, needing a lot of extra clothing to protect me against the recently obvious effects of global warming. Finally a great feature of the Recon is its superbly designed harness cover that fastens over the shoulder straps to keep your back clean and dry on those walk outs when the Recon has had some serious dirt time.
Metolius have also been busy on the accessory front, pretty much making the nut tool their personal world. For Spring 2011 they have beefed up the handle of their Torque nut tool to take a good bashing without shredding your hands, A very useful bit of kit despite the not so UK useful bolt tightening spanner holes. Later on this year they will launch their Feather nut tool that weighs in at an impressively light 21g. Of course its aluminium and doesn't feel super robust but it definitely fulfils the 'owts better than nowt' criteria and think of the saving .
I've nearly finished - HONEST!
So this concludes my in depth of the North American climbing brands turning it on at OR this year.
If you've made it this far, you definitely don't have a power endurance problem and if you like the sound of any of the gear you have read about here, please go and check it out at your local climbing store.
Climbers need rock + climbers need gear = climbing gear needs you + climbing shops need you
It's a very neat and simple little equation that supports the diversity of climbing aspirations, the development of great climbing gear and good business in the climbing market.
Si Berry is an enthusiastic climbing and running lifer. He was manager of Sheffield's Rock and Run for 12 years before starting Beta Climbing Designs. He is the inventor of the climbing Beta Stick. His climbing experience includes bouldering to big walls all over the globe and he has competed in 12 KIMMS. Several years ago a climbing accident at Joshua Tree smashed his ankle (thanks BMC insurance!) and despite being told by doctors that he would never run again, he still runs and climbs. Si also manages the UK's Ultra-running Championships, you can enter here: www.runfurther.com
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