The Latest Ice Climbing Gear Gets Put to the Test

The Latest Ice Climbing Gear Gets Put to the Test

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We’ve had a full-blown winter this season with big piles of snow lingering throughout the city streets of Glenwood Springs. It’s been a great season for skiers and snowboarders and also a great winter for ice climbing in western Colorado. While in most winters I still find myself getting out on the rock on sunny days for pulling down on the local stone, this winter I’ve left the rock shoes at home and have grabbed the ice gear every day instead. In the process, here’s some gear I’ve fallen in love with along the way, and now find myself grabbing more often than not.  


The Petzl Sitta ($160) is a feather light harness that comes in a compact package. When I first pulled the Sitta out of the box I was skeptical it could be useful for anything more than light duty missions. But, I’ve fallen in love with the freedom of movement allowed by its lightweight and simplicity. The lightweight is largely accomplished by the Wireframe technology that features strands of Spectra running through the waistband and leg loops, creating a light and breathable harness that tips the scales at 270 grams (medium). Two rigid gear loops up front feature an adjustable divider to help organize gear and two rear gear loops lay flat to provide comfort when wearing a pack. A couple of ice clipper attachment points make this harness ready to go for speedy ice missions.


The Arc’teryx AR-395A ($159) offers a little more beef for those bigger days while still being almost as light as you’ll find in a harness. I’ve come to grab this Arc’teryx product when I feel the need for adjustable leg loops that are easier to get on and off with crampons still on my boots. The four gear loops and separate haul loop allow you to carry as much gear as you want while also featuring the ability to remove the stiff plastic gear loops from the cord underneath to make carrying a pack more comfortable or for slimming down your setup. Finally, with four ice clipper attachment points you can carry more screws if needed or have more organizational options.


Helmets for ice climbing can be frustrating when you start putting them on over hats, but the Mammut Rock Rider helmet ($79.95) has treated me right. This molded foam helmet is light and features a suspension system that is easily adjustable to fit over your headwear of choice. I particularly like the push button adjustment system in the back of the helmet that works well with gloved hands. While many helmets today have wheels for adjustment, the Rock Rider has two buttons that can slide together for a tighter fit or be released to loosen things up.


I’ve also enjoyed the Beal Atlantis helmet ($79.95), a competitively priced and similarly lightweight molded foam helmet. Available in three stylish colors and with a dial adjustment system that works effectively, I’ve been particularly fond of its magnetic chinstrap buckle. It’s not the first magnetic buckle to be used on a helmet but it might be the easiest as it just seems to clip into place if you get it anywhere close to the right spot, something that is appreciated when trying to strap in with cumbersome gloves on.


One of my go-to ropes has been the BlueWater Icon ($221.95 for a 70-meter Double-Dry Bi-Color). This 9.1mm single rope has a tight sheath braid that makes for great handling and a smooth feed through belay devices. I haven’t been able to burn through this skinny rope despite repeated abuse, as BlueWater claims that the 35% sheath mass is designed to make this lithe rope more durable than any other  I’ve appreciated its effective double-dry treatment that has held up well on long days of ice climbing to help the rope maintain its handling features.


Skinny ropes are all the rage these days but sometimes I want something with a little more bulk, particularly with newer belayers. Hence, one of my favorite ropes to grab has been the Maxim Pinnacle Yellow Jacket ($324 for a 70-meter double dry treated bi-color). So far, the Yellow Jacket has proven to be remarkably durable, maintaining its favorable handling characteristics after many days of use. The double dry treatment of the sheath and core has similarly shown to be effective against getting iced up on wet days. Plus, I like the bright yellow and black contrasting colors that I’ve lovingly come to call the “Iowa Hawkeye” rope. As an Iowa native, I feel like Maxim made this rope for me and while the market for ropes amongst Hawkeye fans may be limited, surely others will find joy in its eye-popping color.


Regardless of rope, the Edelrid Jul2 ($29.95) handles all sizes of rope from skinny to fat (8.9-11mm) and provides added security thanks to its braking assistance in an almost foolproof design. In ice climbing there are always things falling down (chiefly ice) and we typically position ourselves well away from the climb accordingly. Both situations can make for opportunities that challenge the security of belayers – particularly inexperienced ones – to lose control of the belay. The Jul2 helps provide reassurance that a catch will be made if something goes awry and performs admirably on iced up ropes. As a testimony to its popularity, I’ve had many friends and climbing programs add them to their kit after using it.


Ice tools are not all made equal and while everyone has their favorite, I’ve latched on to the Cassin X-Dream ($279.95 per tool). I’ve found them, along with clients and students; to be an easy swinging tool that has helped up my game from less evolved options. I particularly like the lighter weight of the tool along with its balanced feel and multiple pommel rests on the shaft. I feel like this tool swings into ice like a dream and can scratch its way up mixed climbs with equal precision. The adjustable angle of the handle for dry or ice is nice but I really like the variety in the three available picks, making it a quiver of one for technical ice and mixed climbing.

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Full disclaimer: I don’t own any of the Petzl Laser Speed Light screws ($74.95) but I used them for a week of ice climbing in Ouray. I quickly fell in love with them and promptly told my wife I wanted to get rid of my old rack of screws and replace them with this new option from Petzl. She told me, “pump the brakes, honey” but I still can’t get them out of my mind. These lightweight screws have tubes made out of aluminum to save weight and steel tips for durability, and they’re constructed in a way to add bite in ice. Despite concerns about long-term durability, I’ve heard nothing but positives from people who have used them extensively.


But, why place screws by hand when there is an easier method? I was initially skeptical and it seemed like “cheating” but after placing screws above my head with ease I was sold on the Fast Ice ($349.95 plus $19.95 for each adaptor) cordless drill system. It has the potential to be a game changer for ice leaders, new and old, because of how much mental and physical stress it removes when leading. A Mikita impact driver powered by 12 volt lithium ion batteries will give you 20-25 screws per charge, enough for a modest day of leading. If you need more, throw a second battery in your pocket. It may be a different process than the leading of old but once users get tuned in to the system, it’s hard to not love it. Recently while climbing through a sketchy crux I placed a screw so high that I couldn’t reach it to clip it and I thought, “well, that’s a new problem to have while ice climbing and not an entirely bad one.”

MZ NepalCubeGTX 11I

I’ve hiked some serious miles and climbed plenty of vert this winter, and the LaSportiva Nepal Cube GTX ($575) boots have been with me most of the way. They’re warm enough to suffice on the single digit days we’ve had this winter while providing great protection from water and snow thanks to their insulated Gore-Tex construction. I’ve felt comfortable clawing my way up mixed routes while also leading multi-pitch and hard single pitch routes up to WI5 ratings. Regularly I’ve put in long days from dawn to dusk in these boots and found myself keeping them on for time at the bar at the end of the day too. That should tell you how comfortable they are.