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Over the course of a year our reviewers get through a mountain of gear. Most outdoor clothing and equipment these days is more than up to the job, but even in a strong field there will always be a few products that really stand out. Whether it's a mould-breaking innovation, or something more conventional just done very well, we've all had our favourites. Here, members of our review team pick their personal highlights from the class of 2017. Stuck for Christmas present ideas? We're here to help...
We first saw the Edelrid Bulletproof karabiner as a prototype back in 2016 at the summer OutDoor Trade Show. As with most of the best developments, the thing that struck me instantly was why hadn't anyone else thought of this before. The idea is simple - a krab reinforced with a steel insert on the bit that takes the wear and tear. This avoids the pernicious problem of edge wear on over-used carabiners which can become very serious if not noticed since a sharp edge develops if you aren't careful. On the Bulletproof the insert is small enough not to add much to the weight (54g for the krab and 124g for a quickdraw) - in fact you barely notice it.
I have found myself using one for the first bolt, since that always takes more strain than most of the other quickdraws, and saving one for the lower-off, since that gets the full rope running through it. For longstanding projects you may want to place one before the crux. We are not the only ones who think this is a bit good. The Bulletproof was the winning product in the climbing equipment category at the 2017 UK Outdoor Industry Awards (UKC Report). Currently it is available in straight and bent gate for a good quickdraw combination. It will become really interesting when the larger screwgate belay krab is released next year.
The price was the first thing to hit me in the face, followed closely by the Bora AR's unconventional back system. With a hard plasticy framesheet, a radical moving hipbelt, and shoulder straps that anchor on an odd looking arrangement of plastic pegs, it was tempting to dismiss this pack as over-elaborate. But then I used it... and all became clear. That framesheet adds structure and strength to what is already a bombproof pack. The shoulder straps are adjustable both for height and width, for a bigger range of fit. And then there's that unique hipbelt. Mounted on a sliding pivot, this can both rotate and move up and down, a clever device that accommodates the bending and stretching that the torso and hips undergo as you walk through uneven terrain.
It may not completely revolutionise your experience of backpacking, but there's no denying that it works. Does the innovation justify the outlay? That's a question only you can answer. What I will say is that this is one of the best-balanced, best-built and most comfortable load carriers I've ever used; and when you're lugging heavy gear over miles of rough ground, that's got to be worth a lot.
A jacket that's arguably designed to be worn all day rather than carried, the brightly coloured Paramo Enduro is my go to shell for Scottish winter climbing and walking. Whilst it's a little on the heavy side, that could be considered a benefit in atrocious winter weather. It is weatherproof and highly breathable, meaning I can wear it from car park to summit and back again (though I normally add a few layers before starting climbing). The Enduro might not be the most stylish garment going, but for the foul conditions that our little island can throw at us, it does work exceptionally well. Besides, when you're in a whiteout on the Cairngorm Plateau, who gives a **** what you look like! I've just reproofed mine in preparation for the coming winter.
The Petzl SIROCCO hasn't left my pack since I got it to review earlier this year. It also never leaves my head when I'm at the crag because it's just so light (170g) that I forget I've got the thing on! It's stood up well to the durability test over the summer - despite being bashed around and treated poorly it's held up absolutely fine. If anyone's looking for a new helmet for trad and sport climbing, or even winter use, I'd highly recommend the SIROCCO - it's worth paying just a little bit more for something that's really light and doesn't make your head hot. It also looks pretty stylish, which makes a nice change from the SIROCCO's previous 'satsuma' iteration...
My logbook tells me I've climbed 259 routes so far this year and by far the majority have been low- and mid-grade gritstone cracks. So for me, gear of the year has to be crack gloves and, if for no other reason than they weigh next to nothing and squash easily into any pocket, the Outdoor Research Splitter gloves in particular. The gloves are very minimalist: stamped out of a sheet of indestructible synthetic suede and with some sort of thin rubber polyurethane layer bonded on to it to create grip. They don't need padding; our hands are actually perfectly well padded for jamming once our skin is protected from cuts and abrasions.
The gloves are so light and slimline you don't notice them when you don't need them, but as soon as you lock a hand securely and comfortably into a crack, you'll wonder why you ever climbed without them. Call them cheating if you wish, I don't care as I'm having too much fun, but I do expect you to take your shoes off for the next route - seems only fair.
No longer the cheap and cheerful bargain retailer of yesteryear, Alpkit have been quietly upping their game in recent times, and now offer a number of products that battle it out head-on with high end rivals. A surprisingly affordable winter mountain shell that sacrifices nothing by way of fit, features or quality, the Definition jacket screams good design. Alpkit have not tried to add lots of superfluous bells and whistles; the Definition is instead neat, simple and tough. However all the mountain essentials are there, and are discretely assembled to give a minimalist and functional jacket. At 490g (size M) it is competitive in terms of weight as well as price. Alpkit say this jacket was 12 years in development, and I would say it shows. For the price it really seems a steal, and it also looks great! One year on, my review sample is still going strong.
A subtle but noticeable improvement on MSR's classic mini gas stove, the Pocket Rocket 2 is lighter and more compact, yet no less powerful. It might weigh only 75g, but this thing roars like a Saturn V at escape velocity, bringing 1 litre of water to a violent boil in a mere 3 1/2 minutes. If your camp cookery aspirations go beyond simply vapourising water as loudly as possible, though, the output can also be turned down to the gentlest simmer. Given its excellent build quality, the £30 price tag seems more than fair. For many years an original Pocket Rocket was my trusty night time companion. Sad as it sounds, I've now got a new favourite stove.
The Ribelle is a revolutionary ultralight mountain boot that has effectively created a new category all its own. It's designed for fast and light mountaineering where the wearer is looking to combine the stiff sole, warmth and crampon compatibility of a winter boot with the sort of comfort and feel you'd expect more in an approach shoe.
The most immediate and impressive feature is the weight, a mere 1220g/pair for a size 42. That's around half the weight of most winter mountaineering boots. Being so light, and with a super-flexible ankle, they are the only boot I've worn that you can genuinely run in. It doesn't feel like you're wearing a semi-stiff soled boot at all - at least until you come to climbing. Over the past few weeks I've had these out for summer scrambling and easy winter mountaineering routes, and suffice to say they perform amazingly. I have loads more to say about this amazing boot, but you'll have to wait til the New Year.
'Innovative' is an overused word in the outdoor industry, often attributed to features that weren't needed and would otherwise have gone unnoticed. The Pongoose Climber 700 makes for a refreshing change, because (at least in my eyes) it represents a genuine improvement on what has come before. Functionality-wise it is capable of clipping quickdraws, clipping ropes, unclipping quickdraws, brushing holds, and filming routes/problems. If that weren't enough it's built to last, with spares being readily available if a catastrophe did occur - as such it's a pole for life.
Ultralight and mega-stretchy, the Kinetic Plus Jacket is a brilliant outer layer for changeable spring/summer/autumn weather. Keeping you dry like a hard shell, with a 10,000mm hydrostatic head, and yet breathing like the thin softshell that it is (35,000mm/sqm/24hr if you're counting), it's as versatile as it is hard to pigeonhole. In on-off rain this is all the shell you need, but it's equally at home used as a windproof on dry breezy days, or as a minimalist zipped jumper to take the edge off cool weather. From sea cliffs and mountain crags to hillwalks and scrambles, I've rarely been without this genre-bending hybrid since first getting hold of an early test sample back in summer 2016. The price might be high, but so is the quality; mine still looks fresh after 16 months of abuse.
|Everything you need to run, walk, climb or boulder up anything!|
See this product at the Needle Sports shop