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New or Innovative Products

Recent or innovative climbing gear that has come to my attention, and worthy of highlighting. Some items I've used, other's I've just heard about. Gear addicts beware! Feel free to drop me an email, if you can think of a product that deserves mention.

Kong Cams – Italy’s answer to affordable spring loaded protection (By Neil Monteith)
First impressions are of a simple, yet rugged design – with a beefy single stem of similar design to the specialist Aliens brand camming devices. These seem better made – with a more ‘commercial’ finish to the overall package. The design is very basic – little in the way of moving parts and the most basic level of nuts and bolts holding the device together. This simplistic approach means that day to day wear and tear and subsequent repairs should be easy to manage. The build quality is good - metal is polished and without any manufacturing imperfections. The only glaring new feature to these Italian made camming devices is their cheap price - $79.95 (all sizes are the same price)  – this is around two thirds of the cost of similar big name brand cam.

The smallest sizes all have solid cams with reverse-strength lobes milled in. The larger ones also have the milled cam stops but also have weight-saving sections cut out of the cams. They come in 10 sizes covering expansion ranges from 10mm to 100mm. Each cam is coloured for easy identification.

In practice these cams work well. I found the placements were stable and reliable - certainly an improvement over some of other cheaper cams on the market. The tightness of the springs in a cam themselves make for a more reliable placement. These Kong cams were tight and had a good smooth trigger action.  The devices overall length is about 20% longer than the equivalent Camalot size - which allows you to place them deeper into cracks. I found their length to be a little cumbersome when racked with other cams due to them hanging lower on my harness. The narrow two finger trigger bar is small and awkward for big hands. I found my fingers slipping off the edges when they were sweating up. Distance between thump loop and trigger bar is longer than usual – and felt stretched in my hands. I think this would be a real problem for climbers with smaller hands – most girls would have serious issues with co-ordinating this cam into place without additional strain. Guys with big hands won’t notice any dramas.

Flexibility of the stem is restricted because of the larger diameter central cable. This was not a major drawback as in my opinion the stronger the cable the safer the unit as I have personally snapped two Wild Country cams in the past! The cam has a large clipping loop which can accept many carabineers simultaneously (very handy for clusterf**ck aid shenanigans). Also included is a very useful double stitched sling that can be extended to eliminate the use of a quickdraw. This saves the pain of having to drag up a cam and a bulky quickdraw for every placement. 

These appear to be a well built and solid camming device suitable for a first timers basic rack – or as an excellent second set of cams for the climber who is expanding into longer trad routes and endurance cracks. I was surprised that Kong, a well respected and long time climbing gear manufacturer, had not brought out their own cams earlier.

Mad Rock ShoesMad Rock Shoes
So what makes this particular line of shoes any better than the flock of other new shoes on the market each year? Well that kind of remains to be seen. They're available from December 2002, so I'm still waiting to hear enough first hand accounts. However there is certainly a lot of talk about them. A new technology in sticky rubber that varies in hardness (harder on the edges, softer in the centre) and shape, combined with a low price seems to have people excited on the forums. See Mad Rock's web site for complete details. Also check this thread over on, and this thread on rec.climbing.

Grivel Manu Day PackGrivel Manu
A lightweight day pack for multi-pitch climbing with gear loops on the shoulder and waist straps for clipping extra equipment, and a system for holding a water bladder (not included), in the Camel Back style. It's big enough to hold a rain coat, food, water, descent shoes, etc, but not too bulky and it sits high enough not to interfere with the harness. I'd personally just recently shelled out for a traditional camel back with day pack when I caught sight of this little beauty from Grivel, which made me wish I'd spotted it sooner. Now I'm wondering if I can sew gear loops into my Camel Back's pack. They seem to be going for about $100 AUD. See Grivel's page for more details. There's also a bit of talk about it on this thread of a UK climbing forum and this thread over on the mountain community forum.

Hewbolt SingleHewbolt Single
A single rope, auto-locking belay device. Slightly lighter than a Gri Gri, but bigger, this device performs much the same operation. It's a little more complicated to use, requiring the unscrewing and re-screwing of a permanently attached bolt, before belaying can commence. As with the GriGri is takes some practice to pay out slack correctly, without short roping your leader. See also the review from Planet Fear web site.

Wild Country "Zero" CamsWild Country Zero Cam    (See: Rock Hardware - Camming Devices)
Heralded as the smallest cams on the market, Wild Country, the makers of the original friends (active caming device), have introduced 6 units in their "zero" range. Available in April 2002, the smallest cam will fit into a 0.22 inch crack. Note, the bottom few sizes of the range are only for aid, not free climbing. They use a patented, flexible stem/axel system that reduces the likelihood of the cam leveraging out of it's placement. I haven't had a chance to even see any yet, but there's a bit of talk over at "The Caff" on People are saying that the larger two or three units of the new "zero" cam range matches in size with the smallest existing Wild Country technical friends, but the tech friends have a higher strength rating. On the other hand, other posters are saying, the new "zero" cams use a super flexible stem, are lighter, and have a narrower profile. Things to consider if you're buying. See Wild Country page.

Splitter Gear's 2-Cam2Cam from Splitter Gear
They claim it "achieves the narrowest profile of any camming device" and "having the cams directly opposed eliminates walking”. Sounds interesting. I have no personal experience with them, but comments from rec.climbing are saying things like:
"The crack has to be of uniform width to maximize contact with the two cams"
"Great for AID placements"
"I've placed them in flares that wouldn't take Aliens"
"Be very careful of full retraction.... cut-outs on the lobes promote overcamming". 
"I can imagine situations where a Splitter would be ideal, but so far I have not run into one on the rocks".
See Splitter Gear's web site for more information, read the review from, and check this thread on rec.climbing.

Petzl Calidris Harness    (See: Rock Hardware - Harnesses)
A harness is a harness, and they're all pretty much the same right? Well maybe, but Petzl are renowned for great harnesses and their recent addition of the Calidris model is worth mentioning. A friend of mine bought one, and ever since I'd been eyeing the thing off, until I finally caved got one too. All buckles are self doubling back, so you don't need to bother remembering to do this yourself. The gear loops slope forward so the gear falls into reach. There's a clip at the back so you can hang a bog in a hurry without undoing the whole thing. Even the leg loops are cool. Petzl says they "create an even weight distribution across the entire area of contact with the thighs". It's way more comfy that my old harness. I've used a bit of spectra to form a fifth gear loop to the back of mine. If I had any gripe, it would be that the gear loops are a tad small and could have come forward a little more. See Petzl's page on their site for more info, or check out the review over on Rock and Ice magazine.

DMM BelayMaster Carabiner    (See: Rock Hardware - Karabiners)
This might seem like an incredibly simple thing, but think about the advantages. An aluminium  locking carabiner that won't cross load. No more potentially dangerous loading over the gate, where the carabiner's strength is greatly reduced. The black plastic sleeve keeps the rope where it should be, loading the carabiner along it's spine. Also DMM says they have added an "extra safety feature by making it impossible to shut the catch unless the gate is fully screwed up". It's got a 25kN strength rating and weighs in at 100 grams. I've not used one, but comments on rec.climbing, and uk.rec.climbing unfortunately seem to be fairly negative, though some recommend it for single pitch, single rope belaying. Read the review by The Deadpoint web site, or surf straight to DMM's BelayMaster page to check this puppy out.

Five-Ten's Guide Almighty Shoe
A rock shoe for both hiking and climbing. All day comfort (as opposed to high performance). It has Treaded Stealth C4 soles and a technical toe rand for climbing, but also lots of cushioning and ankle support for hiking. I can see this shoe being good for long and lazy multi-pitch climbs, and difficult approaches/descents where you wish you were wearing your climbing shoes, but want the comfort of your hike boots. I've got the Five-Ten "ascents", which I use for all day multi-pitches where comfort is more important than performance. This shoe looks like two steps closer again towards the comfort end (and away from the performance end) of the scale. See climbing magazine's review, and the Five-Ten web site for more info.

Petzl ReversoPetzl Reverso    (See: Rock Hardware - Belay Devices)
What's this I'm hearing about the new Petzl "Reverso" belay device? Is it worth getting one? Basically its a belay/abseil device that offers an auto locking mechanism for belaying a second or two seconds simultaneously. When belaying a leader its not auto locking and acts just like a regular ATC style device. People seem to be divided on its usefulness. My opinion is, if you want the security of a mechanically auto-locking device for belaying a second and don't want to carry the weight of, say, a GriGri for this purpose then the reverso would be a good buy. However I have heard that it can be hard (or impossible?), to lower the second once they have fallen and locked the device. For this reason I have avoided my usual "gear freak" instinct in rushing out to buy one, though I recently saw this comment on rec.climbing: "Some people have commented that it can be hard to give slack once the device has locked, but if you read the instructions, there is a relatively easy way (albeit non-intuitive) to give slack".
Check out the Reverso at the Petzl website, and read Dawn's FAQ for more info. Also check out this page, from the US Mountain Guides web site, for a good review and details on how to lower the second while in auto-lock mode. Chockstone forum comments are here.

Petzl TikkaPetzl Tikka (& Zipka)    (See: Rock Hardware - Head Lamps)
The new, super small and light LED headlamp from Petzl. Something like 150 hours of light from three AAA batteries. The beam is diffuse rather than directional and only extends a short distance, but is very bright. Not good if you want to spot distant outcrops on an epic descent, but the thing is so small you could tuck it into a pocket, for "just in case" climbs, and almost forget it's there. It would also be great for camp cooking & snowbound tent reading. You can pick the Tikka users from a group of head-lamped climbers pretty quickly due to the bright, slightly blue-ish light. If someone shines the light in your eyes, you'll know about it. Check out Petzl's Tikka page and read Dawn's FAQ for more info. They also have the "Zipka", which is basically the Tikka but with a roll up strap system, making it even smaller & lighter again.

Petzl Tibloc Tibloc    (See: Rock Hardware - Ascenders)
A tiny, light weight device that grabs the rope like an ascender. Can be used to ascend the rope (though I've never tried it for this purpose due to its sharp looking teeth), or can be used in rigging a hauling system. The later use I have tried (see: Hauling Systems) a few times, and can attest that it does the job well, at least for me, and didn't shred my 10.5mm dynamic rope. For the purpose of hauling a second past the crux using an unassisted hoist, it proved to be quicker to rig and smoother to work with than a prusik. Check out Petzl's page on the Tibloc and the review over on Also see "What are petzl tiblocs good for" over on Dawn's FAQ.

Yates "Shorty" ScreamersYates Shorty Screamer
The original "screamers" came out over 10 years ago, but Yates have recently introduced their new "shorty" and "zipper" models (pictured right). Screamers are a shock absorbing sling designed to reduce peak loads in any climbing system. Basically you use them instead of a quick draw on dicy or questionable trad/ice placements, such as micro nuts. During a lead fall the screamer should sequentially tear its stitching (until it becomes a normal sling), thus reducing force on the piece (and the rope, etc), hopefully rather than the piece popping out of the rock. Yates say peak loads will be reduced by 3 or 4 kN. The new "shorty" is just a more compact version of the original, and the "zipper" model is for long falls. Screamers activate at 2kN. See Yates page on screamers. See also the tech tip from Climbing Magazine on using them.

Wren Industries Silent PartnerSilent Partner
This device came out back in 1999. It's a self belay device primarily for lead soloing though it can be used for top rope soloing as well. Wren Industries says it is a "speed sensitive device that will automatically feed out rope while the climber advances, but quickly lock in any kind of fall". They claim no chest harness is required. It works via use of a clove hitch around the central wheel. I've no personal experience with this device having never had the stomach for lead soloing (though I've done a little top rope soloing using a GriGri and backups). The Silent Partner has been used successfully to lead solo several big walls. Check out Hans Florin's article over on Mountain Zone's web site where he uses the device to do two big walls, Half Dome and El Cap Yosemite, in under 24 hours. It's a fairly expensive device (approx $450 AUD), but if you're mad keen enough to solo I'd imagine you'd not want to do it on the cheap. See Wren Industries web page for more info, or just head straight for the Silent Partner user manual in PDF format. Also see a comparison of other self belay devices from Dr Gary Storrick's web site. Also check out this web page for how to rig the thing correctly.

Reader's Feedback:
"Self feeding, yup, it certainly does that, but it doesn't do it terribly well with a fat fuzzy rope but with a thin 9.1mm rope it rocks. I ended up paying about $650 AUD for mine when the current exchange rate was factored in so it
certainly is not a device for the faint hearted" - Phil Box.

Black Diamond's Micro CamalotsBlack Diamond Micro Camalot    (See: Rock Hardware - Camming Devices)
The .1, .2, .3, .4 and reworked .5 & .75 were introduced back in 2000 I think, but they are still a fairly new item. I couldn't resist and bought the four smallest to complete my full set of camalots. I'm very happy with them. I also have the 5 smallest aliens and it's interesting comparing situations where I'll deploy one verses the other. The stem of the alien is more flexible but the BD micro cams have the passive lock. See the BD web site for more information. Also see Climber Online's comparison review of BD Micro Camalots and CCH Aliens.

Wild Country Offset Friends    (See: Rock Hardware - Camming Devices)
Four head cams with two heads smaller than the other two allowing placements in flared cracks. These have actually been around for a while now, and several other cam manufacturers (For example CCH Aliens) also produce a similar design. However, when they first came out, the concept of offset cams was pretty intriguing to many a climber hell bent on climbing a specific route that could not be protected naturally with any other device. For a beginner to intermediate climber, I'd say these are unnecessary. Even advanced climbers probably only take them on specific routes where flared cracks are the norm. Some people think there total overkill unless you're aiding. I've personally never placed one, but that's probably only because I can't justify the cost vs use on the rock I generally climb. See this Wild Country web site page for more info. And check "Which cams should I buy" and Should I Add Hybrid Aliens To My Rack, on Dawns FAQ.

Petzl Gri GriGri Gri    (See: Rock Hardware - Belay Devices)
An auto locking belay device that has become very popular for top roping and sport climbing. There are pros and cons, but I admit to loving mine, especially for bringing up the second, where you can convert to hauling them past the crux in few seconds. 

- When used correctly, it's very handy for top roping, sport leading, and even (if you know what you're doing), trad leading with additional uses like hauling.
- Auto locking, so even if the belayer is hit by rock fall and knocked unconscious the leader is still on belay. 
- Handy for big walls where you might be belaying a leader for hours on end.
- Handy for abseiling where you need to lock off and stop a lot. (eg, to clean gear).
- Converts from belaying the second to hauling them very quickly.

- Heavy.
- Beginners might learn a lack of vigilant belaying.
- The danger of threading it backwards exists.
- A single rope device, so can not abseil on two ropes without a little mucking about.
- Not recommend (by Petzl) for belaying a trad leader using dicey placements, because the fall is caught more abruptly than an ATC/plate device, where it's expected the rope will slip through the belayer's fingers a little, offering a more dynamic belay.
- Without practice it's easy to short rope your leader.

Note, the GriGri is no substitute for an educated and vigilant belayer. I've heard stories (which may not be true), about grit getting in the cam and causing it to fail, user's holding the cam open during a fall, someone sliding down a slab too slow to make the cam engage, etc - I suggest you read up and really understand the device before using it. That said, I love the GriGri and use it often. See Petzl's page for more details, and check this page on Dawn's FAQ for how a GriGri can fail.

Big BroTrango Big Bros
Protection for wide off-width cracks. The inner tube unscrews from the outer tube to expand to the appropriate size of your crack, offering a considerable  expansion range. The biggest one expands from 20cm to 30cm! I wish I could afford one. As well as free climbing pro, they are also handy to keep the rope from being swallowed by the crack when top roping or belaying from above. When set right they are bomber, you can even stand up on them. See Trango's page.


Further Reading: 
Gear Reviews - Reviews of climbing gear from
Outdoor Reviews - Their page on user submitted reviews of climbing and mountaineering equipment. 
The Deadpoint - Their page of gear reviews by the editor.
Equipment - From Climbing Magazine in the US.
Gear - From Rock & Ice Magazine in the US.
Gear Reviews - From the Trail Space web site. Mainly tents, backpacks, etc.
Climbing Gear - Forum dedicated to climbing gear on web site.
The Gear Critic - Open forum for gear discussion.
Planet Fear - UK climbing site's review page.

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