Lists seem to be pretty trendy at the moment. ’10 things you learn after leaving university’, ’50 things 90s kids will remember’, ’10 billion lists you have to read before you die’.
I don’t really know why this is. At a guess, it’s probably symptomatic of the instant-gratification, info-byte culture we live in. We want material that is easily digestible – we don’t think we have time to sit down and sift through prose; we want cold, hard bullets. Straight to the point. All killer, no filler.
Cynical as that might be, here I am, writing a list. I actually quite like reading these sort of posts – I like hearing which pieces of kit just work for other climbers. I’ve excluded the more obvious things (for example, obviously I wouldn’t head off to the mountains without a harness, or my boots), but these are five things that I find myself coming back to, time and time again. Whenever I head out the door, this is what I seem to grab without even thinking about it.
1. Patagonia R1 Hoody
What a cliche. It’s a bit like a joke I get launched at me now and again: ‘how do you know if someone’s a vegan?’
Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
It’s the same for the R1 hoody. Anyone who’s used one of these will use every opportunity to scream and shout about how good it is. A few years back, I’d read all the hype and looked them up on the Patagonia website. ‘£120 for a fleece!’ I remember thinking. What a joke. I’d not thought any more of the matter, baulking at the ludicrous retail price. A few months later, I picked up a cheap second hand one for half the retail price. It had a few holes but it was still serviceable, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
Two years down the line, I can honestly say that I can count on one hand the number of climbing days where I’ve not taken the R1. I think the best bits of outdoor clothing are those that you just forget you’re wearing. The R1 provides excellent warmth, a non-restrictive, technical fit, and a good amount of wind proofing, for very little weight. The minimalistic hood fits perfectly under a helmet and removes the need for a hat; the thumb loops keep your wrists insulated, preventing cold spots, and the deep chest zip allows for excellent temperature regulation on sweaty alpine approaches. Best of all, the long-cut hem tucks into your trousers nicely and never seems to ride up, keeping all your core warmth in.
|Thumb loop, and, er…secondary thumb loop…|
It’s an oft-copied, never-bettered recipe. I’ve used loads of different midlayers over the years and none even come close to the Patagonia R1.
2. Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
Here’s another one of those ‘believe the hype’ bits of kit. Before owning one, I didn’t really know what it was for – it looked too warm to be a good midlayer, but too thin to be a good belay jacket. For the most part, I was right. It is too warm to be a good midlayer (though it does seem to work well as such on the wildest Scottish winter days, under a beefy shell), and it doesn’t provide a huge amount of insulation if you’re stuck on a stance for a while.
So, in all honesty, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me, but the Atom LT seems to work best as a cold-weather active layer. I use mine if I know I’m going to be moving fairly slowly in the alpine, on more technical, stop-start pitchy routes, or I chuck it on to keep the warmth in just before starting the first of many rappels off a big line. It regulates temperature like a boss, and the secret to this is its smart material construction.
Everywhere except the sides (up to the armpit), is a lightweight, windproof taffeta face fabric filled with 60g/m2 of Coreloft insulation, which insulates super well, keeps the wind out, and has a really, really good DWR finish, meaning the jacket will see off all but the most persistent of showers without the need to throw on a shell. On both sides there is a stretchy Powerstretch Pro venting strip, which aids movement and dumps excess heat super efficiently. The cuffs fit snugly without feeling tight, and the hood is generously sized, fitting well over a helmet. My only gripe is that the zipper doesn’t lock so sometimes you find it working its way undone, but this is really only a minor niggle.
|Stretchy venting side panels|
One of the most versatile pieces I own, and there’s loads of good deals to be had if you shop around. Get on it!
3. Petzl Sirocco
I’ve had a lot of climbing partners tell me they feel that the Sirocco is super sketchy. ‘Yeah, it’s light’ said one guy at Tremadog, ‘but so’s a tin-foil hat’. Well, Sirocco naysayers, I refer you to this video:
The material used in the Sirocco is amazingly resilient, happily flexing and returning to its original shape to dissipate impact forces. In the video, you see it getting flexed pretty severely in the lateral plane, and it’s worth pointing out that if this were to happen while your head was in it, yeah, you’d get pretty badly smushed. But it’s hard to think of a situation where that flexing could realistically occur. Where the protection really matters is on top of the head, and what you don’t really get an impression of from the video, is the fact that the material on the helmet’s crown is a good inch-or-so thick. This allows the material itself to compress and then re-expand, without passing much of the force through to your delicate watermelon inside.
I’ve got a friend who once had a Petzl Meteor III smashed in half by rockfall while halfway up a bigwall in the Karwendel. Now, I don’t know about you, but the idea of being a long way up, with a helmet that’s just been obliterated, and with the potential for more rocks to rain down on you at any moment, scares me sh*tless. The main selling point of the Sirocco is that it can take a good smashing and still remain fit for purpose until you’re out of harms way.
|The author, looking arguably numpty-like.|
Some people reckon you look like a numpty wearing the Sirocco, and yes, I’ll be the first to admit it’s pretty lurid. But it’s definitely not that bad. The thickness of the material on top does make it sit pretty high, but I’d rather be safe and look like a bit of a tool, than look cool and have a helmet that’s been smashed into tiny pieces just when I need it most. The Sirocco is a real game changer. Good effort Petzl.
4. DMM Dragon Cams
Halfway up an alpine route last summer, my partner’s making his way up an improbable smear of ice, waaay too thin to take screws. From high above comes a primal whoop of joy.
‘Thank christ,’ I think. ‘He’s made it to the belay.’ I wait for the familiar call to let me know he’s safe.
It doesn’t come. A few moments later, a voice yells down.
‘Dude, these cams just go in!’
A gear placement warranting a genuine vocal celebration probably goes to show one of two things: the first is that the pitch he was on was really scary. The second, however, is that these cams really are a joy to use. The action is gorgeously smooth, the double-axle means they’ve got a fantastic range, and the extendable sling means that, half the time, you don’t even need to bother using a quickdraw.
I’ve seen a lot of Camalot vs Dragon debates on the internet, and the general consensus is that there’s really nothing in it. I’ve heard arguments for both. For aid climbing, you can clip straight into the thumb loop on a Camalot, gaining a couple of inches’ height. However, if you climb a lot in the winter, on mixed or alpine lines, the beefy thumb-stop on the Dragons can be easier to use with thick gloves on. So it’s horses for courses really, and I’m sure you’d be pleased with whichever you went for, but for me, the Dragons are the absolute mutt’s nuts. They really do ‘just go in’ – you find a slot, you’ll almost definitely be able to stuff a Dragon in it.
5. Edelrid Aramid Slings
These are the new boys on my rack, but wow, have they made an impression. Let me remind you of what will be, for many, a painfully familiar situation:
Your partner reaches the end of the pitch above you. They yell that they’re safe, and take in the slack rope. Moments later, they yell that you’re on belay. You start to strip down your anchor, which consists of a couple of good pieces of gear equalised with a conventional sling, and tied off to a single point, as shown below.
|The stuff of nightmares…|
But the stance you’ve just been on wasn’t that great, and you’ve been kind of semi-standing, semi-hanging on the anchors, your bodyweight tightening the knot in the sling into some sort of ridiculous, vacuum-packed monstrosity that’s impossible to loosen with your gloves on. The knot has started to ice up, too, making it even more slippery.
‘On belay!’ your partner yells again, wondering why the hell you aren’t moving up yet. You resort to biting the knot (which hurts like hell) in a desperate attempt to slacken it off. Nothing seems to work. ‘F*ck it’, you mutter, and stuff the bastard in your pocket. You’ve wasted a good couple of minutes trying to untie it, and now you’re down a sling for the rest of the route.
Enter the aramid sling. It’s basically a tubular sling made of something called – you guessed it – ‘aramid’, which is a material that goes into kevlar, apparently. So it’s pretty bombproof – literally. It’s pleasantly stiff, almost wire-like, so you can sort of fold it into a straight line for tricky threads, and the fact it’s tubular means that undoing it once it’s knotted is trivially easy. I used one back in Scotland and was an instant convert. As a bonus, you can use them as prusiks in an emergency, too. Magic bits of kit.
|Piece of cake to undo.|
|Nice and rigid for threading through tight spots.|