Guides Choice Awards - 2021

Guides Choice Awards - 2021


The American Alpine Institute is pleased to announce the 2021 Guides Choice Award Winners! The Guides Choice has been a highly valued award for over 20 years and long coveted by manufacturers and industry insiders. A core group of AAI guides thoroughly test products in a variety of demanding conditions across 6 states and 16 countries. This year four winners have been selected.


Hilleberg Niak Tent


Guides need something that is reliable, since they go out constantly and not always in the best conditions. So when you are selling a lot of one item to Guides unprompted, you know that it is a good product. In comes the Hilleberg Niak! First introduced to the market back in 2016, this tent has brought back rave reviews! Before this tent came out the Unna was kind of the go to for the overall mountaineering tent within our ranks. When the Niak came out everyone was making 'oogly' eyes due to the weight savings and packability. The questions that needed answering though, since this new lightweight was due to using lighter materials,  what kind of weather can this thing hold up in? As well as how durable is this tent, or how is this tent going to hold up in the long run?

The results are in!  Turns out this tent can hold up in some pretty nasty weather. Even though it is deemed a 3 season tent, through Hilleberg's great construction, the Niak can still take on heavy wind and rain really well when pitched out correctly. The awareness here though needs to be that the fly does not go all the way to the ground, so sideways wind and rain can make it in. Also due to the lighter materials it is not going to be able to be out there in the absolute worst conditions. That is where you will want a truly rated 4 season tent at the very least if you find yourself in those conditions.

As far as durability goes, they hold up really well too. Quite a few of our Guides have this tent and use it throughout the summer and winter and I have not heard of any durability problems (Trust me I would hear about it if there was). 

So we have the lighter and more packable categories checked. On top of that you get the versatility of a free standing tent. You get an 'actual' 2 person tent with a good amount of interior space. Remember though that for mountaineering tents we want them to be kind of low profile so it can put up with harsh weather better. Plus you get a really nice amount of vestibule space. This tent also acts really well as a one person tent when you need a lot of space. If you do anticipate being more wet on a trip, then use the Niak to have plenty of space to spread out and dry things out better. Or use it in the winter for ski touring when you also want the extra space.

To sum up this tent is really versatile, and comes in at a very savvy weight to still be able to have that versatility. The only thing to keep in mind is to know the limitations of the tent in the worst of conditions, but if you are like me, and don't really plan an adventure in a hurricane, then your bases should be covered.

Guide James Pierson: I have the Niak, and I really love it. It's lighter than the Unna, just as roomy, and can stand up to all but the harshest of conditions. I had it on a Mt. Baker trip in June where we had 60mph sustained winds with probably 70-80mph gusts and it survived. Admittedly, it may be heavier than some of the other 3-season tents out on the market, but I never have to worry about it standing up to the elements. I also love that it has a real vestibule. I purchased the extra pole holders and am able to set it up with either just the fly or just the inner if I want to go super light in good weather. I would highly recommend it.

Edelrid Rapline Protect Pro Dry


Versatility is something that I think most mountaineers look for out there. Cool this product can do the job that it is designed to do, but is there anything else that I can use it for? How can I be more efficient? I have a Down puffy that I am using as a Down jacket, but can I also implement it in my sleep system so I can take a lighter sleeping bag to save weight and bulk? 

Versatility was the deciding factor in giving the Rap Line the award for 2021. We have an assortment of 6mm static lines to choose from, and the Guides keep reaching for the Rap Line, so that also helps.

There are many options out there for static thin cords, and if you have a really specific set of needs of a rope like this, then maybe there are other better options out there for you, such as if weight is your main priority (Petzl RAD Line), or if maximal strength rating is a priority (Sterling 6mm TRC Cord), or you only want it to do the specific job of a tag line (Petzl PUR Line). But for overall versatility, Edelrid Rap Line takes the cake.

The Edelrid Rap Line has a pretty good feel to it, meaning that it is more supple and is nicer to manage with your hands. The sheath is nice and grippy and the rope itself has a good shape to it. This is important because it gives you some good versatility to use prusiks on the rope when hauling, rappelling, or prusiking out of a crevasse.

The thing that really sets this Rap Line apart from the others is it’s dynamic reserve, meaning it has enough stretch (relative to a ‘static’ line) that it makes the rating of 2 falls from the EN 892 test when being used as a twin rope. Edelrid was able to accomplish this in a really clever manner, implementing aramid fibers into the rope. These aramid fibers will break under a certain amount of forces, and this breaking of fibers allow for the stretch that this rope offers. Due to this property of this rope, please make sure to inspect your rope on a frequent basis, as well as after a fall.

What the stretch does is absorb some of the forces that are generated from a fall. Which can lessen the force that is applied to you, your anchor, or a piece of pro ('pro' commonly referring to a cam/nut/picket/ice screw/etc. placed along your climb, between anchors).This does not mean that you should lead climb on this rope (and that is emphasized in the instruction manual). This rope has some stretch, but not enough to safely use it as a lead line. But it can give you the flexibility to belay someone up on an anchor, or short-rope in a safer manner when compared to the other 6mm static cords out there. That is the big takeaway here, the Edelrid Rap Line can do all the things you want out of a 6mm static line, but then can be the difference maker if you get into a pickle, which isn't always in our hands out there. 

Something to take into considerations for lines like these is belay/rappel device compatibility. Since they are so thin, if you are rappelling off this cord only and not using it as a tagline or partnering it with a thicker rope, make sure that you have a compatible device with you. One option is the Edelrid Mago 8 device, more tailor made to handle thinner cords such as the Rap Line. Always practice and get a feeling for things before actually using them in a 'real' situation. If you plan on using this cord for ski mountaineering, I would recommend you practice rappelling at a crag with heavy gloves on. To get a feel for what it is actually going to be like.

NOTE: Using these thin static cords is seen as more of an advanced technique, and it is highly recommended to have proper knowledge of crevasse rescue, rappelling, mountaineering, ect. before implementing a thin static cord in your system. Always read the instruction manual of the manufacturer and adhere to their recommendations.

Totem Cams

If you want to know if a piece of equipment has been seismic in its impact on the climbing sphere, take a look at the average rack around Camp 4.

Where Chouinard’s hardened steel pins had once been the buzz of the Valley, the Totem Cam is now emblematic of the bleeding edge. Friends, Camalots, Aliens: the lineage of camming devices that have moved the needle in free and aid climbing need make room for one more.

Totem understands that the world isn’t perfectly splitter, and where most cams work most of the time, Totems excel in the weird, the untrue and the uneasy placements. The smaller end of the available spectrum has been the most impressive, fitting and holding where other cams dare not go and creating an almost cult following.

Whereas the Aliens used a softer 6061-T6 alloy cam lobe to achieve their signature stick, Totems crank up the engineering and employ a fully flexible stemless design that ensures equal load to distribution to all of the lobes, even allowing for a climber to load just two lobes on marginal aid climbing placements (body weight only). This trademarked Direct Loading System also allows for the cams to be placed in horizontal cracks without worry of being over-leveraged or working their way out.

Our only quibble lies with the racking, which splays the cams widest side out along our harnesses due to the sling design, but this can be forgiven for their undeniable function, you just wouldn’t want to rack up with triples. The weight of Totem cams is also a wee bit on the heavier side, but again for their ability we are willing to get a bit stronger (or make our partners carry the rack).

With the capacity to act like offset cams, combined with a larger camming angle as well as a more svelte head width, Totem Cams have taken to not only filling the blanks left by other camming units, but surmounted them on many fronts. As an aid climbing piece they are revolutionary, and for trad climbing they significantly punch above their weight class in terms of sheer utility, which easily lands the Totem Cam a Guides Choice Award.

Guide Ian McEleney: I was skeptical about the Totems at first; there was a lot of hype around them and they looked heavy and bulky. I was quickly won over, however, on an ascent on El Cap where they proved to be incredibly useful, and quickly became gear that I saved for particularly tricky sections. Now a double set of Totems (and maybe triple of the coveted black size) are mandatory for any wall climbing I'm doing. I think the narrow head size and super flexible body let these cams stick in weird flaring placements where other cams will just rip out. Despite their added weight and bulk, they come along any time I'm on unclimbed terrain or on funky rock like limestone.

DMM Offset Nuts

As a class of protection, nuts often get the backside of the harness.

You can’t much blame them, however. They lack the flash of active pro, and there’s only so far you can stray from the old railroad nuts before you end up with something completely foreign. With cams becoming the pro-du-jour on pitches the world over, passive protection has become more refined and specialized. Enter the Offset Nut.

Produced from the original Hugh Banner design (there’s something undeniably fulfilling about a pedigree) the DMM Offset Nut leans fully into its roots and understands that constrictions rarely exist in only two planes. Flares, pin scars and awkward pods that would otherwise spit traditionally shaped nuts out receive Offsets handily.

Turned like a gem, DMM’s Offset Nuts display a variety of facets that taper downward, producing a far more plug shaped nut that nestles into constrictions with ease. By employing different angles on each face, the nuts can be rotated until the prime placement is achieved. When surface-area contact is the name of the game, having a number of different options greatly increases your ability to place solid protection.

As a set, from 12mm to 30mm, the Offsets are an excellent supplement to your existing traditional nuts, and you may often find reaching for them more often. Being rated at 12kN each and slung with a swaged steel cable will ensure they’ll be able to stand up to multiple seasons of abuse.

Almost comically, the only trouble we have with Offset Nuts is also why they are so good: they can occasionally be tough to get out! Because of their offset profile, the old rip and go style of removal doesn’t yield an extraction as often as we’d like, and fiddling with a nut tool is often the best way to clean.

The Offset Nut has nudged its way onto many of our guide’s harnesses and seems liable to stay put for a while, earning it a Guides Choice Award in 2021. 

    A Note from the Judges:

    In choosing our award winners this year, we opted to do a bit of cleaning up and award some well deserving products that have been on our minds for many years, but now have full confidence and feedback on. The DMM Alloy Offsets in particular have been on the market in some form or another for years, and were an easy choice in making an award winner. Their shape has made them the nut to have on harnesses across the globe, many even opting to carry only a set of Offsets and supplementing with a few extra in the middle sizes. If that’s not proof of superior use-ability, I don’t know what is.

    The Totem Cam, too, has had a long time coming in becoming a Guides Choice award winner. While the rack of our guides is always changing, we’re beginning to see a new standard forming: a single rack of Camalots, and a single rack in Totems. This speaks volumes about Totems as not only being the specialty pieces you might bring for a couple difficult placements, but rather as a full-fledged and well-developed line of cams that can stand on their own in anyone’s trad rack.

    On the new and exciting side of the spectrum, the Edelrid Rap Line is a cord that we are particularly enthusiastic about. As a pull cord it functions just about as well as most on the market (there are a few that notch a few more points against it), but where the Rap Line truly shines is in its almost off-label uses: as a glacier-travel cord and in navigating quickly changing alpine terrain. These cords have seen wide use on glaciers, and particularly with ski mountaineers who are keen on trimming weight on anything that’ll weigh them down on the ascent. We are excited to see companies like Edelrid push the bleeding edge, and believe that the Rap Line is well deserving of a Guides Choice award.

    And finally, while we have given many awards to designs by Hilleberg the Tentmaker in the past, the Niak simply couldn’t be denied. It is a testament to the ‘built for the worst’ philosophy that we’ve come to enjoy about Hilleberg tents, and would easily call this a 3+/4- season tent, where Hilleberg only calls it a 3. It’s this hedging against the worst-case scenario that’s baked into the Niak, and what places it above almost any 3-season tent on the market today. On any given weekend, you’re likely to see American Alpine Institute guides unfurling their Niaks on any number of North Cascades peaks.

    This year’s equipment choices are all examples of excellence in their respective niches, and we are excited to be bringing them into the spotlight with the honor of the American Alpine Institute Guides Choice Award.

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