2016 Guides Choice Award Winners
We are pleased to announce the Guides Choice Award winners for the 2016 spring and summer season. Through extensive testing by AAI guides, these products have proven to be the best in their categories based on design, durability, and performance and has earned a prestigious American Alpine Institute Guides Choice Award. Congratulations to those receiving the Guides Choice Award this season, and we thank all the manufacturers that have submitted equipment for us to review.
Berghaus Expedition Lite 80 Pack
The Berghaus Expedition Lite 80L pack was the pack of choice for our guides climbing in Alaska, Argentina, and Bolivia. The 80L capacity is just about perfect for longer expedition type climbing. The biggest reasons for excitement are the 3.3lb total pack weight and 2.2 lb stripped weight of the Expedition 80. This saves 2 to 3 pounds of weight when compared to most other 80L packs currently on the market. Despite the lightweight nature of the Expedition 80, its suspension system was still able to handle 50lb loads quite well. The packs overall structure is pretty simple and suited for climbers, composed of one big, main compartment, a floating, detachable lid, and two wand / picket pockets. There is some daisy chained webbing on the rear exterior where the user can fashion their own cord system to carry items like crampons or a sleeping pad if it doesn't fit inside. All of the buckles and zipper pulls are large glove friendly, making it easier to get into your pack without removing gloves in cold conditions. For shorter trips, the pack can be used in a roll top configuration when you decide to leave the lid at home.
The Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights are on average 25% lighter than their equivalent C4 size, saving between 22 and 64 grams of weight per unit or more than half a pound for a size run! To lighten up the Camalots, BD did as many other cam manufacturers have been doing and removed as much material from the lobes as possible and replaced the sling with a flat tape instead of tubular webbing. But, BD took it one step further and got rid of the steep cable and swage, replacing the cable with a round Dyneema sling. This upgrade is responsible for the biggest part of the weight reduction and has the added benefit of eliminating kinked cables when taking big leader falls. The Camalot Ultralights still have the buttery trigger action and the same range of the C4s, so fans of the C4 will be fans of the Ultralights.
Expedition climbing, ice climbing, ski touring, or ultra fast alpine objectives; the Mammut Zephir Altitude is up for it all. Our testers found the Zephir Altitude plenty lightweight at 220 grams. It was able to carry the necessary glacier travel gear on its two stiffened gear loops and has attachment points for 4 additional ice clippers if you need to rack up any additional gear. The Zephir proved to be very comfortable to wear under a pack hip belt on a three-week climb of Denali's West Buttress. Most other lightweight harnesses that have been tested had pressure points that became problematic with a big pack, but not the Zephir. The harness was extremely easy and fast to put on and take off thanks to Mammut's Click buckle system. The split webbing technology allows the leg loops and waist belt to be wide in the areas that weight needs to be distributed, allowing the harness to still be comfortable even when you have to hang in it.
The Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screw has been out for a few seasons now, and after long-term testing, we are still as psyched about them now as the day they came out. Being that the screws shaft and hanger are both aluminum, they are nearly half the weight of their all steel versions. The teeth are still made from steel to retain durability. The screw threads have shown some wear and tear over the couple years, but this is something that you can expect with any lightweight piece of climbing gear. We found the Laser Speed Light to be one of the easiest ice screws to get started into the ice, thanks to the longer, more aggressive tooth design. The long radius that is produced by the fold out handle makes for very easy spinning in of placements. Despite some users liking the two hole hanger design of the competition, the Laser still can manage to fit 3 carabiners in the single hanger opening comfortably.
Cables on pickets are not a new thing, but SMC was the first to produce a cable specifically designed to be used with any picket on the market. Testing has shown that when there are appropriate snow conditions, pickets placed in the upright orientation clipped at the center point with a cable can be as strong or in some cases stronger than T-trench placements, and far stronger than upright placements clipped at the top point. Upright picket placements are generally faster to deploy than T-trenches when snow conditions are appropriate, allowing for quicker anchoring and a faster overall rescue, or placement of protection while moving on a steep snow slope. The big benefit of the cable, that makes for stronger placements is that it can cut through the snow much better than a sling, encouraging the picket to dive deeper rather than popping upward and out of the snow. The cable was also less likely to be damaged if it was grazed by an ice axe when the placement was being cleaned. Our testers found that girth hitching the picket cable to the SMC I Picket was slightly lighter than other competitors pickets with cables permanently attached, so we really liked that!