The holiday season can be as much as an adventure as a week in the Grand Tetons. Instead of treacherous peaks, deep crevasses, and sketchy traverses, the madness moves to the shopping malls of treacherous spending, deep discounts, and sketchy salespeople. Shopping for the climber and outdoorsman can be tricky given that they tend to be very particular about what they like. In a breakout year for the outdoors and for climbing, I came across new gear that made getting outside lighter, more efficient and allowed me to push limits with less burden and more comfort. As I wind down the year, I’m looking back at my top five favorite pieces of the year.
La Sportiva Wildcats ($110.00)
La Sportiva has created an incredibly lightweight and functional trail runner that has become a go to staple for everything from approach to climbs, street running, and even for general lifestyle and everyday wear. The Wildcat features a mesh covering up top that makes the shoe lightweight and extraordinarily breathable. The tough treads and cleats on the bottom provide an excellent braking system when scrambling uphill, and reduce bounce and kickback when running on concrete. While the top lets my foot breathe, the plastic covering at the toe gives ample protection while not sacrificing any of the weight. They performed as well on the rock on Alaskan trails as they did in the mud of the Everglades. The La Sportiva Wildcats were by far my favorite shoe of the year.
Kelty Teton 4 Tent ($159.00)
This year saw me undertake two big camping trips. One deep inside the Everglades in the midst of the rainy season, the other a week long climbing trip at New River Gorge West Virginia. I needed a durable tent that could store lots of gear, be comfortable, and was easy to set up. The Kelty Teton 4 delivered in every area providing a three season, four person tent that is lightweight to carry, easy to set up, and provides maximum comfort against rain and wind. The tent was a breeze to set up, no poles to weave through the fabric, just a quick criss cross and a few hooks had the tent up and running in less than five minutes. The inside is massive, having been able to fit three sleeping bags, backpacks, gear, and climbers and still have space. The large doorway allows occupants to enter and exit without having to climb on each other, and the rain cover plus seamless floor never gave way to any leaks. The Teton was the essential piece of gear on every trip.
Marmot Variant Jacket ($170.00)
I’ve never said I’d fall in love with a jacket. That was before I was introduced to the Variant and to say that I am awed is an understatement. The Variant is a mind blowingly perfect midlayer in every way. Marmot has designed a jacket with a lightly padded chest that provides the right amount of thermal protection without feeling overly bulky. The Polartec sleeves and sides allow breathability and flexibility while the thumb pockets don’t leave space for cold when coupled with a pair of liner gloves. I took the jacket on a ski trip through Gatlinburg and it was as functional on the trail as it was just walking around town, while it was a crucial piece of warmth on the upper slopes of Rainier. At one point I even managed to replace a base layer with the Variant and never feel the difference.
Petzl Reverso ($35.95)
With so many belay devices on the market, finding one that doesn’t feel too large but is lightweight and sturdy can be daunting. Petzl continues their strong tradition of great belay/rappel devices with the Reverso. What I really love about using the Reverso is the teeth on the side which catches the rope and doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to keep it in a brake position. On a long rappel, it didn’t take a huge effort to control how fast or slow I wanted the rope passing through the loop. It allows for easy control of two climbers at once although I have yet to try this feature, and at the time of writing, Petzl has introduced a new version which is 25% lighter of an already sturdy and lightweight design which I utilized this year.
Sanuk Vagabond ($60.00)
After a long day of having my feet crunched together in the confines of my climbing shoe, there is no better feeling than to turn to a pair of comfortable slip ons to recover in. The excellent Sanuk Vagabond goes for comfort and versatility allowing for the perfect shoe for resting around camp. The hemp construction is sturdy and flexible and stack up nearly completely flat inside the pack so that they barely take up and space at all. Sanuk’s ingenious yoga mat material inside the sole just lets the foot completely sink in and cushions sore toes and heels inside an extremely stretchy space. When I speak of versatility, I was able to take them onto some steep rocky approaches in West Virginia and even walking around the icy ridge of Camp Muir, and even though the rubber didn’t stick to the ice, switching from my plastic mountaineering boot to my comfortable hemp slip ons was a welcome feeling after a long uphill day.
While these are my top five pieces of 2012, there is a host of new innovative products coming out in the new year that are going to make hiking, camping, and climbing even more durable, flexible, and lighter. After making expedition specific products, (such as North Face with their Meru line) gear is becoming tailored to particular needs and having the right equipment is going to allow pushing farther, higher, and longer than ever before.
What’s been your favorite piece of gear in 2012?