The annual orgy of gear and beer that is OutDoor Friedrichshafen is over for another year. A large UKC and UKH team consisting of Rob Greenwood, Dan Bailey, Natalie Berry and Alan James were there, with Nick Brown and Paul Phillips filming all things shiny and new from all the leading manufacturers. From amongst the mountain of kit on offer we've picked our top ten products of the show, most of which will be hitting the shops in 2017. It's just a bit of fun...
For us, packs were one of the main stories of this year's show. While there's nothing revolutionary here, these three new packs stood out as quality, well-thought-through products:
Lowe Alpine Ascent Superlight 30 pack
The clean stripped-back lines of the new Ascent Superlight 30 mark it out as a lightweight mountain pack par excellence which, say Lowe Alpine, fits "all climbing pursuits, from expedition alpinism and hut-to-hut adventures to high alpine peaks, winter climbs and summer rock climbs". We'd rate it for UK scrambling and mega hillwalking days too. For us, its simplicity and functionality really stand out. You get: slimline, well-sculpted shoulder straps; a basic waist belt; a removable bivvi mat that folds out to a fairly usable size; low-profile daisy chain style lashing points; a really neat and novel ice tool attachment system that combines toggles at the head end with an elasticated top retainer; a rope holder and large grab handle; a couple of small zipped pockets and a big main entry zip... and that's about it. Less is more, after all, and with something called Trishield Superlight fabric thorughout, the whole package comes in at just over half a kilo.
Montane Featherlite Alpine 35 pack
Montane are very much a brand on the up, with a good looking range of Gore-Tex clothing just out, some great looking down products to follow (see Featherlite Down Pro Pull-On Hoody here), and the Andy Kirkpatrick-inspired and designed Fast Alpine 40 pack being released earlier this year to high acclaim (see our review here).
Building on their pack offering for Spring/Summer 2017, the Featherlite range focuses on a stripped down, yet functional approach. By that, we mean an abundance of useful - as opposed to cluttered - features. The pack features a clean design and strips down so small it even fits into its own lid pocket. A neat carriage system also means that the weight of the pack is kept snug to the back, leaving it closer to your centre of gravity so you can climb that bit more freely and easily.
Crux AX35 pack
A development from their bombproof AK range, Crux's AX packs use a lighter Dyneema/Cordura ripstop fabric, which is stitched rather than welded, saving you both weight and money. With the same feature set and carrying system as the popular AK47, the AX35 is an equally capable technical pack; yet for a very reasonable £119 and at 990g in weight, it comes in £80 cheaper and about 200g lighter. Its looks and features are quite traditional - you get a lid pocket, twin buckles, side compresison straps, wand pockets and pretty standard axe attachment points - but the key thing that stands out is how well it's all been done. No fuss, no fiddles. Nice one Crux.
On to climbing hardwear, where three developments in particular grabbed us: a genius assisted locking belay device that might just prove a game changer; an all-new range of superb quality harnesses made entirely in the UK; and a reinforced carabiner that is so obvious in hindsight that you have to wonder why no one thought of it sooner.
Wild Country Revo
And now for something exciting and genuinely revolutionary (pun intended). Hitherto, assisted braking belay devices have all had their particular quirks, and needed an experienced hand. Not so Wild Country's new Revo, which is so slick, easy to use and basically foolproof that it might just have re-written the rules of the game. This tube-style assisted braking device is based around an inertia reel, the same principle as a car seat belt, so it pays out smoothly when you're belaying - and yes, it's not remotely grabby even when you're throwing the rope out at top speed - but locks automatically when the rope runs faster through the device (ie. in the event of a fall). It works in either direction, and perhaps best of all, unlike some devices currently on the market there is no possibility of an accidental manual override to the locking mechanism. It's due out in Spiring 2017, and we can't wait to get our hands on one.
DMM FlexForm Harnesses
Less a complete revolution than a series of thoughful refinements, DMM's new 'FlexForm' harnesses are their best yet, bringing their harness offering bang up to date for 2017. Built entirely in the UK, the range uses 3D bonded composite pads, with closed cell foam cushioning that's cleverly zoned so that it's thicker and more supportive in the lumbar region but thinner and more flexible towards the front. Leg loops and waist belts are broad and beautifully sculpted across the range, which offers models with either fixed or adjustable legs, for both men and women. With generous moulded gear loops, plastic-reinforced tie-in points and a floating waist belt that lets you keep everything well centred, the feature set is spot on. While they are not the lightest harnesses available they feel superbly made, comfortable and supportive - just what you need on long routes with a rack of heavy gear. We reckon these are the first harnesses from DMM that really live up to the quality of their hardwear.
Edelrid Bulletproof carabiner
Long term heavy sport climbing use can cause dangerous wear and tear on your carabiners. Over time, repeatedly clipping metal bolts will do visible damage, but even something as soft as a rope can wear grooves in the metal, particularly if it's carrying dust and grit. Any sharp edges or burrs at the rope end of your quickdraw could in theory damage the rope in the event of a fall, perhaps even catastrophically. With the Bulletproof, Edelrid have closed this potentially fatal loophole. The idea is so simple that it's inspired: a hybrid construction that combines a largely aluminium body with a protective steel plate at the point of highest abrasion. The Bulletproof quickdraw features the reinforced carabiner only at the rope clipping end; but it's available singly too, in both bent and straight gate models, so you can build your own belt-and-braces quickdraw that's also protected at the bolt end. Anything that increases safety margins seems a good idea to us.
For the best of the rest we've picked a selection of stuff from the fun and frivolous to the genuinely, hand-on-heart, impressive. There's quite probably the most scientifically-researched, painstakingly-constructed range of down sleeping bags ever made; a handy headtoch carry case that doubles as a light diffuser; a chalk bag that you can stitch your own design on (well we didn't claim these were all going to be ground breaking); and a Jetboil stove that you can actually do more than vapourise water with.
Mountain Equipment down sleeping bags
For 2017, Mountain Equipment have rebuilt their down sleeping bags more or less from the ground up. With regular UKC/UKH contributor Matt Fuller on board, one of a vanishingly small number of people in the world with a PhD in down, they set about a rigorous process of prototyping and testing, both in the lab and up mountains. The result of all this research is a range of bags, every aspect of which has been painstakingly considered and engineered in order to best reflect the particular requirement of each individual model - whether that's the lightest possible bag, for instance, or the warmest. They've heavily experimented with the shape, size and orientation of baffles to ensure the optimum density of down; they've tweaked the position of side seams to get the best wrap around the body; filling has been zoned to different areas that need more or less insulation; and hoods, collars and zip baffles have been reconfigured for maximum efficiency and minimum bulk. Mountain Equipment's high-end 'Extreme' bags use 800+ fill power of European goose down, combined with top fabrics such as GORE THERMIUM or DRILITE Zero, and all look to have superb build quality. The Extreme range is broken down into sub-categories - Expedition, Alpine and Light - so there's an ideal bag for any user, whether you're aiming for 8000m, camping in a Scottish winter, or zipping up a summer Alp. It's rare to get excited about something as ostensibly basic as a sleeping bag; but in fact these bags are anything but simple. It is obvious how much hard work Mountain Equipment have put in, and we think it has paid off. Someone ought to review one asap. Hint, hint...
Compatible with Petzl's popular range of compact headtorches - the likes of the TIKKA, the ZIPKA and the REACTIK - the NOCTILIGHT serves as a protective plastic case into which you can zip the torch for safe transit. What's nice is that it also doubles as a lantern, turning the light of the torch from a hard focused beam into a softer diffuse glow that's perfect for gently illuminating the interior of a tent. Your torch can be switched on and off through the flexible plastic wall of the case, which can stand on its bottom on a flat surface, or dangle from the tent ceiling on a little loop that unwinds from the base. A bright idea.
Mammut Stitch chalk bag
Have you ever wished you could embroider your chalk bag? No, it hadn't crossed our minds either - until we saw Mammut's Stitch. A plain black bag riddled with holes, coming with three colours of thread and a needle, this is a blank canvass onto which you can sew any darn thing you fancy. Of course it won't help you climb even a fraction harder, but crafty types might enjoy creating their own unique personalised design. Christmas present material, maybe.
JetBoil - Mo family of stoves
Traditionally, JetBoil has aimed to boil water quicker than anybody else. When you were tired, exhausted and hungry, the stove was perfect at speeding up the water boiling process. The self-confessed drawbacks of the standard JetBoil were that it only boiled water, and it was not necessarily easy to eat from the 1 litre cup. The new Mo range aims to answer those problems, whilst maintaining and even improving the boiling speed. The new stoves have a regulator at the base which allows you to simmer as well as boil, making it possible to cook a wider range of food without burning it to a crisp. A redesigned, wider 1 litre cup makes it easier to eat. With both power and versatility, the Mo family are clearly some of the leading stoves in the industry.