"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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Faulty by design

Buying new gear may sometimes be highly frustrating. It is quite possible that despite the numerous offerings on the market, no one is making exactly the kind of gear one would need.

I have found the following items most bitterly frustrating.

  • Hardshell pants. Manufacturer's just don't seem to get this right. First and foremost, almost all hardshell pants are way too wide. Because of this, they are heavy and constantly get stuck to rock and crampons. There's no need for hardshell pants to be any wider than soft shell pants, most of which are too wide as well. Furthermore, I find full-length side zippers to be both unnecessary and harmful. Not having them would make it easier to have proper fit, as well as making the pants lighter, more supple, more waterproof and cheaper. There are few models with half-length zippers on the market, but they have the zippers backwards. For taking a dump, the zippers would have to be from waist to somewhat above knee. Stretch fabric panels in seat and knees would be useful, although not mandatory. And finally, I don't like bib-pants one bit, especially ones with same fabric used above the waist, which just makes the pants heavier and also seriously impair the breathability. There seems to be no pants on the market fulfilling the criteria. Possibly the best option is to buy ones that suck least, then have them made narrower. Some paclite models might be good fit and featurewise, however, Paclite can't take the abuse of alpine climbing.
  • Tools for steep ice and mixed. Petzl Nomics are mostly excellent. However, they have two major faults: missing hammer and clippable spike. Because of these shortcomings, they suck whenever you need to pound pitons, on very low angle terrain often found during approach or descent and whenever you'd need to either secure your tools to yourself with lanyard or if you'd need to clip yourself to tool for resting. BD's new Fusion seem to have these areas covered, though. Whether they can deliver remains to be seen. If they do, hopefully Petzl will come back with Nomic 2.0.
  • Carabiners for racking. No matter how hard I've looked, no one seems to be making carabiners which would be optimal for racking gear. Plastic ice clippers are form-wise the best bet (large and deep enough), they are however too easily broken (I know several occasions where general portion of the rack was dropped because of this). If someone where to copy the form to aluminum carabiner and throw into it noseless design ala DMM Shield or Wild Country Helium, I'd buy them in a heartbeat.
  • Climbing gloves. Frankly, most ice climbing gloves have one fault in common: they are unsuitable for climbing. Which in my book is rather bad given their intended purpose. In order to be able to actually climb with a glove, they can't be too thick. furthermore, while all sorts of knuckle paddings would certainly have been welcome ten years ago when shafts were more or less straight and fangs didn't exist, with modern tools they are utterly useless and only serve to make the gloves too cumbersome and stiff. Suppleness-wise dry-tooling gloves are great. Also several softshell models, such as Mountain Equipment G2 Alpine glove are great if the temperature is high enough. However, whenever the temperature is significantly below zero, one does need some insulation. There needs to be a balance somewhere between very thick and uninsulated which most manufacturers seem to ignore. Gore-Tex lining is not mandatory, IMO. Come to think of it, despite having owned countless pair of Gore-tex gloves, I'm yet to own a pair which would be actually waterproof. Outdoor Design Diablo is good though, as well as BD Impulse. That's about it though, everything else seem to be either uninsulated or too thick. If the weather is too cold for such a gloves, I doubt any glove will work. Then probably the best pick is to use thin liner glove in combination with mitten. Mittens are warmer than gloves and because of way fewer seams, seem to be more supple. Unfortunately mittens are crap when dealing with screws, so you need to take them off for that. Not quite as cumbersome as one might think, as mittens are easy to put back on. Unfortunately spindrift tends to find its way into the mittens when they are dangling from your wrists, thus making the mittens wet, which will render them cold shortly.
  • Alpine climbing pack. For shortish alpine endeavours (like 2-3 days) I find that size around 30 liters is just right to fit climbing gear for technical ice, rock and mixed, stove, food, bivouac bag and just enough of clothing. Yet the size is small enough so that there's no room anything unnecessary (obviously this size doesn't really fit for longer trips or for cases where tent, pad and sleeping bag need to be carried). Given the size, the pack doesn't need to have very stiff hip belt, which wouldn't really work with harness anyway. It doesn't have to have all sorts of bells and whistles which only add weight and impair the functionality. It has to be relatively sturdy fabric though, especially if there might be the need to haul it. Mammut seemed to have got this quite right with their Granit. Unfortunately they have felt the need to spoil otherwise great design with two mistakes: non-extendable lid and down-right gimmicky (not to mention stupid) chest strap (I think mine broke during the first day out). Black Diamond Speed seemed like a great candidate as well. However, I soon enough found out that there's such a thing as too light a fabric. I don't expect my gear to last forever in alpine use, but it shouldn't tear on the first touch against the rock either.
  • Helmet. Hardshell helmet with proper ventilation seems to be impossible to find. Well, time-tested Petzl Ecrin Roc or newer Vertex might fit the bill, but they are so very heavy and sit on too high. Black Diamond had this down with first generation of their Half Dome; however, they had to go on and ruin the perfect design by changing the inner completely thus severely impairing the ventilation and adding all sorts of useless gimmicks.
  • Camera for climbers. Small and light, with manual controls, sensitive wide-angle lens and ability to shoot raw. Almost as elusive a combination as yeti. There seems to be some models coming to market though, that might hit the mark spot-on (Sony CyberShot DSC-WX1, Canon Powershot S90).
  • Approach/trekking shoes. I am looking for a show with no shaft. I find the shaft useful only if it was high and sturdy enough to actually support the ankle. So far none of the boots (including full-on trekking shoes) are stiff enough for that. And if they were, they wouldn't be good to walk in. As it is, the shaft only adds warmth, bulk, weight and price, none of which is beneficial. However, the shoes must have stiff sole (especially torsionally) for walking in rocky terrain carrying a pack. And of course they must be durable and shouldn't soak too easily, the features which are badly impaired with countless seems. Why can't anyone make a classic trekking show without the shaft is beyond me.
  • Grivel Rambo IV antibot. The antibot is made of hard plastic and elastic rubber with the big idea being that the elastic rubber reduces snow buildup and boosts longevity. In reality this doesn't really work, as the rubbery parts come off way too easily. I am yet to meet owner of Rambo IV's who have taken few approaches/descents wit their antibots intact. Once they come off, they start to do so very readily and they are virtually impossible to fix with super glue (even proactive treatment doesn't work).

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