Whether you’re headed for the dark varnish of Moab sandstone or the patina edges of long moderate routes in Vegas, we’ve reviewed and compiled the best possible gear for your next desert climbing trip.
Cams are the name of the game in the desert where cracks tend to be split in smooth, parallel fashion and nuts just don’t always do the trick. Particularly if you’re headed to the crack mecca of Indian Creek, check out DMM’s newly redesigned Dragon Cams ($69.95-84.95). DMM color codes by size the lobes and sling on the Dragons for easy identification, and the same color coding on the popular Black Diamond Camalots, but leaves the cam’s contact points free from color anodizing. That feature along with increased surface area of the contact points is combined with DMM’s Triple Grip design to create more friction and hence, according to DMM, create a cam that is more stable in placements and stronger when holding a fall, particularly in the soft rock you can expect to find in the desert. The Triple Grip design on the cam lobes features sharp edges on the cam lobes to give the cam extra purchase on the little crystals and irregularities in a crack. DMM kept the doubled sling that gives users the option to extend the sling without having a grab a quickdraw.
Rack up plenty of hardware with Metolius’ Safe Tech All-Around Harness ($99). Metolius’ popular line of Safe Tech harnesses include components that hold at least 2000 pounds (9 kN) each, providing users with extra security knowing they’re not going to rip off a gear loop or break a flimsy haul loop when tagging a line. The All-Around features plush padding and adjustable buckles on the waistbelt and leg loops to create a custom, comfortable fit. Four gear loops and a high strength, easy to use haul loop make this a worthy workhorse for a desert climber.
Rope choices abound and it’s hard to go wrong but Petzl’s Arial ($229.95-289.95) gives you plenty of options for your next desert mission. Its 9.5 mm diameter provides a happy middle ground for providing a lightweight rope for lugging up desert talus while offering enough durability to last through the abuse offered by the sand and grit found in the desert climbing environment. Available in 3 lengths (60, 70, or 80 meters), means you can find the right length cord for you, whether it be shorter for desert towers or longer for some mega pitches in Indian Creek. With favorable handling and a marked middle point, the Arial is a quality rope for any desert climbing.
If you’re lugging a helmet on the approach to your next desert mission, save yourself some weight with the Mammut Wall Rider ($99.95). Lightweight with thin nylon straps and no fancy adjustment system, the Wall Rider keeps it simple yet functional. The expanded polypropylene construction cuts down on the ounces you’re carrying but is protected by a hard plastic shell on the top to add durability, which is appreciated as I seem to have an uncanny ability to knock my noggin’ in desert chimneys.
Scarpa’s Iguana ($119) is a versatile, lightweight approach shoe that will handle a wide variety of demands that you place on it: sturdy enough for long talus slope approaches but breathable and comfortable for hanging out at the base area in between climbs. While they’ll do the job cragging, the Iguana’s really shine on multi-pitch where their lightweight and compact size make them easy to clip to the back of a harness for a long route adventure, ready for the descent. But I’ve made great use of them for the ascent, not just the descent. Sticky Vibram rubber and a nicely rubber capped toe made them a go to shoe for me on easier routes where I don’t need an aggressive shoe but I’ll be standing on ledges and working all day.
I love having hands that are generously chalked up and when climbing cracks I really like having the backs of my hands as well as my palms and fingers covered in the beautiful white stuff. For crack climbing I’ve taken to using the Secret Stuff ($19) from Friction Labs. This liquid chalk provides great coverage and is long lasting, making it less likely for me to be addictively hitting the chalk bag multiple times on a pitch. By covering my hands completely with Secret Stuff before leaving the ground I find that I chalk up less while climbing and it works particularly well with the backs of my hands which are hard to recover with chalk mid-pitch.
Chances are your first desert crack climbing mission will be fraught with misery, frustrations, and gobies. Save yourself some effort and skin by reading Kent Pease’s The Crack Climber’s Technique Manual ($28.95) from Fixed Pin Publishing. I wish I had this book before my first humbling Indian Creek experience years ago as Pease meticulously explains how to jam every size of crack imaginable, from tips to chimneys. Filled with colorful photos and effective illustrations, the Crack Climber’s Technique Manual is thoroughly detailed. Even if you’re a hardened desert rat this book may help refine technique or offer new perspectives on the art of crack climbing. Throughout its pages, the book offers helpful tips on things like taping fingers and hands and even how to construct indoor cracks for training.