Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ISPO Munich 2014 - The climbing gear

ISPO 2014

Not being sponsored by a climbing hardware company gives an awkward advantage when visiting the ISPO. 
This year I was allowed to take a look at the current market with a very open mind. I even heard myself saying “I think I’d like to use that”. To a brand-manager of a brand that I formerly never even thought of looking at. 

Though, climbing is a Summer business and with the Outdoor Show in Salt Lake almost at the same time there was less innovation show then I was hoping for. 
I expected to see more innovation in harnesses for example. A lot of brands started making harnesses although it’s not their core business. For example Grivel and also Beal are more and more getting into other stuff then just ropes. 

On the first day we had quite some meetings but on the second day I took the time to walk around and take some pictures of the stuff that I found interesting. 
Of course, this is just a small collection. I didn’t focus too much on anything lifestyle-likely or anything less climbing orientated (like skiing and snowboarding or swimming). 
So the following reviews give only just a small glimpse on what you could have found on ISPO. 

Ocun came with a ‘plastic mesh’ harness, claiming better breathability compared to the current harnesses on the market. In fact is was just a piece of ‘plastic’ mesh without the fancy looking texture covering over it. Nothing new. 
Beal has now for a while harnesses that have the ‘Arc’Teryx-look’. But taking a closer look makes it rather obvious that it’s just a similar look and not the same technology. It looks rather fancy, going with the current ‘climbing fashion’ and is quite a lot cheaper then the rather overpriced Arc’Teryx harnesses. 
For as far as I saw Edelrid is still making the most comfortable harnesses on the market with their innovative 3D technology. In the first place the harness looks rather bulky but with actually wearing it you don’t even notice the bulky leg-loops. 
I was able to try the harness for a while now and even used it in the Iceclimbing Worldcup finals, where moving legs into complicated figure-of-fours is crucial. The bulkiness didn’t bother me at all, actually, I didn’t notice the harness on my body at all. 
Edelrid also came with a new rental-harness. Clear markings in the leg-loops make it obvious on wich is left and which loop is right. The small elastic in the middle of the two legloops makes it impossible to turn the loops the wrong way around. Also the two elastics on the back of the loops, connected to the hip-belt are sewn in, finishing with the problem of people taking them off, turing them upside down and so on. 
I liked the sewn-through gear-loops on the waist-belt. Sew through and thus adding strength and durability. 

Indoor Climbing
With rental-harnesses I get onto the topic of indoor climbing. 
More and more brands are making special indoor draws now. 
Petzl came with their new Djinn quickdraw. Rather fancy looking draw out of steel. 

Usually draws nowadays are made as light as possible, making concessions on durability. But draws that hang permanently in the wall dont’t need to be light. They need to be durable. And thus they’re made of steel and have thicker slings. Logical. 
I was wondering what took all brands this long to introduce their gym-draws. 
Petzl wasn’t the only one with the gym-draw.
We all know the classic Fixe quickdraw that is hanging in most gyms. 
New was the Grivel draw, the CT draw, the Singing Rock draw, Edelrid draw and even Rock Empire came with their own gym-draws. 
But still, it’s all just a draw, made out of an other kind of metal. 

Recently Mammut did a recall on their new top-anchor. They’d made an top-anchor for indoor climbing, one that you can only clip into, and can’t undo. But next to clipping in the rope, you could clip in your fingers. The sharp system could easily make a nasty cut in your finger. Not the nicest thing to happen when being pumped hanging the top of the route. They didn’t show their new version yet on the ISPO, making me guess what they’re up to now considering the development of the thing. 
For Edelrid this was an advantage. They also came with their new gym anchor. Leaving the whole theory of how an top-anchor needs to look behind, starting from scratch making a device that is new, different and definitely innovative!
The device seems to work super smoothly; taking up the rope, pushing it into the device. You don’t have to open draws, biners, screw-gates, no, just lift up the rope and lay it onto the opning of the device. Automatically the system closes, making it impossible to clip out the rope or clipping in more rope (or fingers). The base on where the rope lays is thicker then any draw on the market. With this thick surface the ropes runs super smoothly through the device minimising rope-drag, twists and curls in the rope. 
On top of that all the thing is hanging on a 3D swivel construction. Never twisted top-ropes or ropes running in an angle. 
Other funny thing they came with is the gym-draw. A full steel draw on a sling that changes colour when it gets older, giving you sign on when to change the draws. The draw itself is hung in the sling with a bolt, making it impossible to twist or side-load but still changable from the sling. 
The current leader, Fixe, has a biner with a small pin, that avoids the side-loading and twisting, but in the gyms this small pin is often missing after a while. Implementing the anti-sideload into the hanging system of the draw sounds a lot more logical. 
Another little detail was the small rubbers on the sides of the biner, protecting the wall from damage by the biner. 

As being Dutch, I think the gym-climbing is a very interesting culture. One that is growing and producing different climbers then the ones that grew up with natural rocks and outdoor activities. It’s more and more become a ‘fitness-culture’ with a majority of climbers that have never touched real rock in their whole career. 
I think in the near future we can expect more innovations playing into the gym culture. 

Ice gear
I just have to start with the icescrews here. Quite some brands have been trying to make screws that are more efficient. Connecting the draw to the screw (Grivel), having tubes to carry your screws (Petzl), making it possible to screw out the screw without disconnecting it from the rope (Petzl) and changing angles of the screw-teeth to make the whole thing go in faster. 
That last thing is something Petzl did with their new screw range. The teeth are more aggressive, the wire holds better because of the different shape and they’re even lighter. To my opinion a pretty good screw that kicks Black Diamond off the leading ice-screw position. 

Salewa actually did an even better job on the ice screw innovation. They made a screw that is rather similar to any other on the market but, the racking system, the head, the usability is incredible. After having tried it I was convinced I would trade my old Grivel, Black Diamond and (old) Petzl screws for a set of these ones. First of all you don’t need a special biner (‘Carry-tool’ or ‘Ice-clipper’) on your harness to rack your screws. That was horrible, when using different brands of screws... 
The draw is integrated on the screw so you can just clip them on your regular gear-loop. 
The problem with that was always when trying to screw in the the thing, the sling would swing and twist around. They made a metal ring around it all, making the draw always hang down. Of course because of this, it’s also possible to screw in/out without having to clip the thing off your rope. Handy for desperate climbs and clumsy clients. Then the super nice thing is the plastic head. It has a big rounded surface, so pushing the screw the first three turns goes easier then ever. Then the integrated handle is rather big, adding extra force and speed on the screw-turning action. And, another positive thing of the plastic cover; on glaciers, climbing with clients in sunny crevasses for example, you’d normally constantly cover your screw with ice. On ‘aper’ glaciers that is rather impossible to find, causing the screw to melt out. The plastic cap covers the whole screw, avoiding the melting around the metal. 
Though, I’m still a fan of using screamers, they don’t provide the things with the shock-absorbing slings. 
Another comment I heard was; “now how about when you can’t get the screw in all the way, like when touching rock, can you tie-off the sling”? No. You can’t tie off or lock the sling. But you can just place a sling or rope over the remaining piece of screw that is sticking out. Personally I think you should have placed your screws differently or use shorter screws anyway. To me it hardly (almost never) happens that I have to tie-off a screw. 

Other ice gear I saw were the new crampons, the Edelrid Beast-light won the ISPO price. 
They do exactly what the name says: technical super light crampon. The changing system looks easy. Duo, mono, bindings can all be changed in a fast way, even blonde girls (like me) can easily adjust the system. To my opinion a crampon for everyone, from beginners to pro’s. One small thing, I really like the hook that the Petzl Lynx crampons have on their side-frontpoints on the left and right, making it easy to ‘hook’ the things around rocks and technical ice. But well, thats a thing you’d only need when climbing more then M9. 

On fruitboots (or iceclimbing shoes) there isn't much new except of something very new: the Scarpa shoes are light, warm, rigid and very functional looking. Good job on designing those. They're lighter and far more functional then any shoe on the market so far. The heelhooking option, the warm inner, the stability, the versatality of being able to use different crampons... I tried them on and when you're finally in them, the twisting system with steel cable is really securing your feet in. Just waiting to get the right size. Good job on that Scarpa!

Iceaxes are becoming popular things too. They’re becoming more and more like real gadgets. CNC’d aluminium tools, fat shafts in fancy colours, multi-grip handles, and even special drytool holds. 
Trango showed two prototypes of their new dry/comp tool that looks rather similar to the Grivel tools that were already on the market. For as far as I saw they had a nice swing. Something that can’t be said for the Grivel comp tools. 

Grivel also improved their other, real iceclimbing tools and CNC’d one of those too. Making it look rather fancy but very durable. 

DMM still has the same tools. Durable, as always, but slightly too heavy and the handle is a bit too big to my opinion. (And yes, I have big hands)

Black Diamond seems to have done a good marketing work on their new tool. But in fact the old-old Fusion is still 100% better then the thing they now introduced. 
It looks fancy with the black-green shaft and handle but thats just all, basically they made them just cheaper to produce. The current Fusion has a built in hammer, the new tool doesn’t have a hammer at all. The handle has been improved slightly, by adding some extra grip in the pink-rest but the shaft is super fat, making hooks in narrow cracks impossible. And although they reduced the weight it’s still super heavy. So, although they make it look like a cool toy, it’s nothing new. Just a way to sell more Black Diamond stuff, to sell more iceaxes. Just a marketing tool.

I took a look again at the Cassin axes. The wide handle actually made it look like a rather comfortable iceaxe. Wouldn’t mind trying it out. 

Petzl didn’t change anything on their axes. The shaft is still too thin, they still haven’t changed anything on the head of the axes. So still, after half a year of full-time use they’d wear out, the head will come loose and you still have the chance on breaking the shaft. Sad, I expected more from them. 

There are a couple brands making specialised drytooling holds that we now see on the Worldcup Competitions. 
The most beautiful ones are the granite holds used in Saas Fee. 
Edelrid took a totally different approach on drytooling holds. 
They showed their stainless steel 2-way hold. Super durable, 100% sure it won’t break when taking it as ‘stein-pull’. and not much ‘waste space’ making it possible to place on any regular climbing wall. Fancy, small, durable. So clearly useable for anyone. Though, I’d use a thin plate on the wall to protect the wall for the stein-pulls. 

Other climbing stuff
Petzl introduced their new bright orange crashpads. Too bright for most costumers I think and too expensive for the others. Nothing too much special. Just a crashbad basically. 

Trango implemented a ‘screen’ into their helmet, having instant sunglasses. Funny. 

Grivel came with their new karabiner. A funny double clip system that Stevie Haston explains in a way too long video. In the video it looks like he’d been practising a lot, but when he introduced it to us on ISPO and I tried it myself I could do it first go with my eyes closed. I had to admit it actually works better then I expected. 
They expect to sell a lot of those. I’m wondering how the market will react. If they’ll believe in it or rather stay with the (maybe) nicer looking other biners like the ones from DMM, Petzl or Edelrid. 

Other stuff
Being fan of Patagonia I had to take a look at their new stuff. Rather weird for a winter fair was their introduction of the new wetsuits. Totally made of natural products. Simple, but so good that they’re so aware of environmental issues. 
Mountain Hardware won an award for their gloves. 
I was able to use MH gloves last winter (until I lost one) and was surprised by their comfort. Not as thick as the Black Diamond classic gloves, warm and very, very water proof. Next to the way, way too expensive Arc’Teryx gloves I think those are the best on the market by now. 

Being a climber I also need to use sunglasses. They more and more get functional by special lenses and comfortable textures. I’m not really a skier or boarder, but I noticed the goggles are getting better and different too, with lenses that lay onto the frame instead of in the frame, giving more visibility. The Zebra lenses used in Julbo products are auto adjusting the amount of light to protect your eyes.

Rock Empire presented their climbing jewelry. A couple years ago I’d bought some earrings in climbing town Arco. They had the shape of tiny bolts with draws. Looking at the way Rock Empire presented them I was astonished. Very fine precisely shaped draws, bolts, cams and knots. Much finer then the ones I bought. Much nicer then what I’d seen so far. Marianne: "I’d like some as present from my boyfriend ;) "

Other cool thing: the Mammut "photograph".

Having walked on my Keen Alaska boots for 1,5 years now Keen finally came with a womens version of the boot. Rather warm, nice looking and much better priced then the popular brand Sorel. Just because of the ridiculous pricing I’d never buy a pair of Sorel shoes. 

On the clothing I didn’t see much innovative. We still have the waterproofed down, the different membranes, Gore Tex and Polartec etcetera. Funny thing to see is that most brands are getting into the bigger zippers again. Zippers that work better then the too fine ones you saw the last years in the waterproof jackets. 

And next to that I saw a lot of fancy clothing stuff in the stands like Maloja. But that’s just fashion, nothing innovative on that :)

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