Black Diamond Compactor Poles
Backcountry Essentials very own Jon Dorman reviews the Black Diamond Compactor Poles.
I was recently in the market for a new pair of collapsible poles. The pair I was replacing was the Voile touring poles. They had a scraper on the end of one of the pole handles to scrape the snow off your top sheet when you are touring. I really liked that feature. Spring snow makes your skis really heavy in the cascades when it’s on your top sheets, and to be able to scrap it off so easily was nice, but poles only last so long. I had to get new ones.
What attracted me to the Black Diamond Compactors was a number of features. The first was the compact and short length. I am a splitboarder and I often put my poles in my pack to take a run. These poles fit even in my smaller BCA stash pack with all my other avy gear, water, and an extra layer. The second feature I really like about the poles was the quickdraw feature which Black Diamond calls their ‘z-pole technology’. They extend much like an avalanche probe does, really quickly and really easily. They use a shock cord system with a plastic connector/protector to lock the poles into extended position. The poles extend smoothly which I was not expecting and I have yet to have any trouble with them. The third feature that drew me to buy these poles was the new and improved flicklock mechanism by Black Diamond—which secures the poles in place at whatever height you adjust them to. It is easy to use with gloves and is more durable than the previous plastic flicklock. The only disadvantage I see so far is what happens when they are in your pack. They can potentially scratch extra googles in your pack (I always have an extra pair just in case), punch holes in your pack, or pop your one of your touring brews—always a bummer, but never a day ender.
The Compactor poles have been a great pole for me so far, they weigh only 640 grams per pair, easy to use with gloves on, and surprisingly rigid for a 3 part corded style pole. They adjust from 115 to 135cm which is well within most peoples pole ranges. In my opinion Black Diamond did a great job with this pole.
Sock It to Me!
There are little things that we backcountry enthusiasts do that bring an overall quality to our adventure and experience when hitting the trails, slopes, urban jungle streets, bikes, or rock. For me, a mother of two rowdy boys, I start from the ground up. Socks! I need socks for my shoes , so I feel good about my feet. I need shoes for my socks, so my socks feel good. I need healthy feet to catch up with my boys!
At Backcountry Essentials, we have shoes AND socks! Not just any… but the best!
The equation is easy: heat + moisture + friction = blisters. The goal of wearing socks that perform and fit well is not only to make your feet comfortable, but also to reduce the potential for blisters. Blisters can ruin your day. We would be so sad if that happened. Are you familiar with Darn Tuff socks? They hang right beside our Smartwool socks—which are pretty awesome in and of themselves. So how are Darn Tuff socks different than Smartwool? What sock should you choose? Why should you avoid cotton socks and turn to a high performance trekking or ski sock instead?
Personally, I prefer Darn Tuff. They are made in Vermont and they boast a lifetime warranty. When I purchased my first pair I quickly learned that this is one of the most durable socks on the market. Darn tough! For real. The heel didn’t feel reinforced on these socks, but the heel, toe and foot bottom use 4-ply reinforcing nylon. Darn Tuff socks stay put on my feet, eliminated friction on long hikes and rocky scrambles. While I enjoy the comfort of Smartwool socks, I feel the padding often becomes excessive and will pack out causing weird pressure points while hiking for long periods of time. I also feel that Darn Tuff socks are a bit more breathable overall.
Cotton socks should be avoided—in ski boots, snowboard boots, or hiking boots. They aren’t breathable, they cause chaffing, and they will stink to high heaven if you wear them for extended periods of time. Wool is known for its ability to combat odor.
In choosing the perfect sock, it’s important to consider your own personal foot shape and what you’ll be using the socks for. Personally, I wear Smartwool as a lifestyle sock and mountain biking sock. The padding is super comfortable. For higher performance activity, I wear Darn Tuff.
Beer and Gear
Beer and gear seem to correlate with outdoor adventure in the Northwest somehow, and I’ve noticed the movement hitting the rest of the country lately too. As a sucker for versatility, I am reviewing a multi-purpose, do everything pack—the Deuter Speed Lite 30—along with the equally handy and lightweight Oskar Blues Momma’s Lil Yella Pils.
The Speed Lite 30, weighing in at only 2 lbs is great for Spring tours after the melt/thaw of Spring has locked most everything in place. Its 30L of load handling suspension takes 30lbs easily and has been a comforting cragging and alpine rock pack for me as well. The pack’s compression straps cinch down to provide extra stability for those heavier loads. Hydration compatible, several sneaky zipper features and with an ergonomic hip belt, this pack is comfortable and utilitarian. During winter travel, it has even been my wife’s pack of choice, adding comfort and breathability with its 3D air-mesh fabric lining and contoured, padded shoulder straps.
…and the beer. Momma’s Lil Yella Pils, at 12 oz, is similarly light when you’re working hard, comforting when under duress, on point when needed, and generally liked by both men and women. A perfect pairing for a great day on the mountain!
Cilo Gear Worksacks
CiloGear 40B Worksack
My main question with these packs was how comfortable is it when fully loaded in one of its many lighter configurations? I chose the 40B pack and my climbing partner tried out the 60L worksack. For our short trip into the Tetons, we both left behind the framesheet and aluminum stay but kept the bivy pad for structure. Also of note, I felt compelled by discussions with the pack designer to limit my use of the many detachable straps that come with the pack to just two. I kept one set of simple straps for compression and my partner kept two sets, the second of which he rigged up as a combination for both load compression and lift by angling from the bottom of the pack to the hipbelt (pretty cool).
I was surprised at how comfortable the 40B carried when stuffed with climbing and camping gear for our relaxed venture into Garnett Canyon. The 40B was the perfect size for both getting my stuff into camp and then becoming our shared summit pack for the second to burden during the climb. The double haul straps even came into play as we wound up through chockstones in chimneys.
Since that trip into the Tetons, I’ve also had the opportunity to try out the 60L as a multiday ski pack. While these packs are not intended as ski packs, for lack of protection from the ski edges, I was once again pleased with how the pack carried a big load and felt even with the skis making it top heavy. Furthermore, when the pack was relatively empty, it cinches down so well that I didn’t notice any significant floppage while making turns. However, for the longevity of the pack, I still wouldn’t advise A-framing skis regularly as I think it would eventually shred the sides.
I would definitely recommend these packs for those who are looking for a light and versatile pack. I would even go so far as to say that backpackers might be pleasantly surprised and one needn’t have a vertical endeavor as a goal to appreciate these packs. And if that’s not enough information to spark your curiosity, American Alpine Institute just awarded the entire CiloGear Worksack line of packs with their Guide’s choice award. Here are some specs to look over.
Listed internal volume for 40B Worksack:
20 L (1,220 cu in) with both sides fully compressed
30 L with just one side compressed (and yes it still feels balanced).
42 L (2,560 cu in) normally stuffed
60 L ( 3,660 cu in) with extension all the way up
Pack bag: 845 g (29.8 oz)
Lid: 190 g (6.7 oz)
Hip belt: 160 g (5.6 oz)
Bivy pad+framesheet: 400 g (14.1 oz)
8 straps: 140 g (4.9 oz)
Total listed weight: 1,935 g ( 3lb, 13oz)
Similarly, the 60L becomes 30L with both sides compressed, 45 L with one side compressed, 60L when uncompressed, and freaking huge with the extension all the way up. Happy Travels.
2012-2013 Ski Review
2012-2013 Ski Review
By Chris Gerston, Owner of Backcountry Essentials
How I ski and rate skis: I am 165 lbs., 5’5” on a good day, and ski tele, mostly in what some would say is my one and only gear – as fast as I can. About mid season on deep powder days, when I’ve finally gotten my 41 year old legs back into skiing shape, I love the feeling of porpoising down the slope touching down only long enough to spring back into the air above the faceshot, and taking a breath. Since the binding and boot are such an important part of the Tele set up, you should also know that I prefer active touring bindings such as the Black Diamond (BD) O1 with midstiff cartridges or the 22-Designs Axl. My perspective on skis is to look for those that can handle a wide range of conditions, that is, the quiver of one. However, since the shops demo skis and my own personal skis have blended into one, I will compare three very different skis, The Black Diamond (BD) Drift, Moment Bibby Pro, and BD Carbon Megawatt, and how I have experimented with each as if it was my one and beloved only ski.
Black Diamond Drift – Light and Versatile
If you are familiar with the original Black Diamond Verdict, the Drift is an updated version of that ski—even more so than the BD Verdict of today that has sidewall construction. In fact, at a three day ski camp in the Sisters Range of Oregon (look up Sister Ski Yurts, you’ll love it) I brought down my old verdicts to ski with one on each foot. Even with the 4cm difference in length, I thought they skied almost exactly alike, with the main difference being that this new Drift skis better in icy conditions.
Compared to some of the other BD skis, The Drift has a softer and minimally rockered tip, but by no means, is it a soft or boring ski. What’s so rad about the Drift is the range of conditions it can handle for as light as it is. At 6 lb 10 oz, and 136-100-122, this is my typical long day, traverse, or volcano ski. There may be lighter skis out there, but if conditions are variable, I still want at least 100mm underfoot for stability.
The tail of the Drift is fairly flat if you need to create an anchor, and while I’ve heard some would rather see that tail completely flat, the slight upturn has huge benefits when needing to back up in tight trees or chutes without auguring into the slope behind you.
Moment Bibby Pro – Playful and Energizing
The Bibby’s are my slackcountry play ski. These skis were amongst the most recent wave of new fangled boards utilizing both rockered tip and tail and maintaining camber underfoot. Additionally, the widest point of the tip and tail were brought in towards the center from where a traditional ski would have had it, utilizing a shorter parabola which creates a faster, nimbler ski from edge to edge both on hardpack and powder conditions. To its credit, the Bibby maintains having an effective tail to lean back on when kicked into the backseat, despite its being so rockered.
At 143-116-134, and just over 9 lbs.--which ain’t too bad for an inbounds oriented ski--I use this ski typically for lift access or days around 5,000 vertical feet. When I first tested the Bibby at a ski demo in SLC towards the end of a long day, after a longer night with old friends, my legs had been starting to feel tired on the runs just prior. Even with the test ski being a 184 I knew this ski was special as it had the effect of reinvigorating the spring in my legs. I was rallying through the 16” of cut up powder and not caring if the landings from turn to turn varied between bottomless cushion or hard pack springboard. This ski kept me in the front seat and in control better than my legs should have been doing at that point in the day. Since then, I got myself the 174 Bibby, not because the 184 skied too long for me, but because for touring I prefer the shorter 170 something lengths as the longer tips get too long for my short legs and I have to start changing my usually mindless kick turn on the up track. In ordering them, I was concerned that they might feel too short with the rockered tip and tail. Luckily, this has not been the case and if I want to make long turns on groomers or quick turns in powder, this ski is fun, fun, fun.
Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt – Ridiculously Fat but Light and Snappy
For many of our days in the Mt. Baker backcountry, skiing something 120mm underfoot just makes sense. Whether the snow is wet and heavy or soft and fluffy, we get a lot of it. But we would expect a ski this fat to ski well in deep powder. The amazing thing about this ski is both how light it is for its width and how well it handles ice, slush, groomers, bumps, trees, chutes, etc. This past summer I skied with a confidence not typical of the old Megawatt, off the summit of Mt Baker (10,700-ish ft), where it held its edge on the often icy Roman Wall and sped over the slush of the last 1000 ft back to our camp at 6,000 ft. Never would I ever have thought that I would bring this fat of ski on a summer volcano ski day. At our ski camp in the Sister’s Range of Oregon, I can honestly say that if there had been enough Carbon Megawatts to go around, it would have been the preferred ski by just about all 12 of us. The rockered tip makes trail breaking in deep conditions quite a bit easier as the ski floats up on the forward stride.
For those who know the Megawatt as it has changed over the years, the Carbon Megawatt is the same dimensions of the original Megawatt but with camber underfoot and carbon added to its construction. The camber and carbon have resulted in a truly versatile fat ski that weighs 9 lbs in the 178 length. It’s amazing to me how the combination of materials, dimensions, rocker, turning radius, overall flex of the ski vs. flex underfoot, all come together to create the performance of the ski. In other skis, sometimes the combinations fall flat. The Carbon Megawatts, at 147-120-126 in the 178’s, and 153-125-130 in the 188’s, are going to be one of the buzz skis of the season. For those who want to see for themselves what a ski like this can do for you, come on down and demo this ski mounted either tele with BD O1 bindings or Dynafit AT bindings.
A layering System for Alpine Climbing
A friend and I hiked into Snow Lakes last week to climb the South Face of Prusik Peak. The golden alpine granite that can be accessed from Leavenworth runs the whole gamut of amazing alpine climbing, from the well travelled ultra-classics (Prusik, Dragontail, etc) to modern classics (Acid Baby on Enchantment Peak) and even first-ascent potential (see Blake Herrington’s recent blog post).
While the sun did technically shine at moments, it only shone through the occasional hole in the frigid cloud sets roaring through the Alpine Lakes area, engulfing Prusik and the surrounding terrain, spitting snow down upon us all morning and throughout the climb. Peering up every pitch, clouds screamed by overhead like a time lapse video. Wind howled, blustery and threatening. The snow pellets flew sideways, upwards, and downwards. Our fingers and toes were frozen mashes and during the most intense and enduring gusts we shivered.
We definitely didn’t plan on a cold and snowy climb. I actually packed for the sunny and hot weather forecasted, but when conditions turned out otherwise I was adequately prepared by packing a tried and true layering system of jackets and shirts. Of course there are always exceptions and the potential to be underprepared exists. Yet, over the ten years I’ve been climbing I have assembled this system that works for me. You may need to tweak the system to find what works best for you.
Carrying excess weight is not fun; it tires you out and prevents you from performing when it really counts, like when weather becomes threatening, in an emergency, or worse yet, when you want to climb quickly. To be most efficient I choose clothing that can perform multiple functions; that I can wear hiking as well as climbing. Before breaking down into categories of Tops and Bottoms, it should be stated that whatever you wear in the backcountry it should NOT be cotton, regardless of their comfort, sentimental value, and natural breathability. Lightweight wool and synthetics are the ticket to happiness. The brands I mention below are in no way the nor a commercial endorsement, just what I have in my gear closet.
Tops: To stay as cool as possible I wear a synthetic T-shirt like Patagonia’s Capilene or Ibex wool tops. At water and snack breaks the breeze on my wet back gives me a chill, so I might throw on a long-sleeved version of that baselayer as I hydrate (in colder temps like later fall I’ll replace the thin long-sleeved base layer with a thicker Patagonia R1 pullover). The benefit of these baselayers, and most synthetic insulation layers is that they dry quick, often times using your body temperature to speed the evaporation. If it’s a little windy or cool and foggy I throw on a superlight wind shell like the Marmot Trail Wind Hoody or Patagonia Houdini, which also handles light rain superbly. While not an absolute necessity they are incredibly versatile, light, and so packable that it seems foolish not to stuff one into your pack (or pocket!).
When we finally reach camp and night falls I start to dress for the cold. I wear the T-shirt, long-sleeve, and now start to break out the warmer layers. An underrated but trusted member of my layering arsenal is the Marmot Windshirt, which is essentially like the Trail Wind hoody (thin nylon shell) but with a fleece lining. At first glance you wouldn’t think this layer regulates body temperature as well as it actually does, but you’ll be happy to have it. For my warmest layer in the summer I ditch the huge puffy and opt for a lighter synthetic jacket like the Mont Bell Thermawrap or Wild Things EP Hoody. I absolutely love Primaloft insulation, a close synthetic equivalent to down. It’s lighter, warmer, and smaller than all other synthetic insulation and absorbs close to no water in a typical Cascade deluge.
Against most people’s better advice, I don’t usually bring a rain shell on summer climbing adventures. My reasoning is that if we wake up to rain I probably won’t be climbing, and if it’s raining when I’m hiking I’d probably sweat out the rain shell anyway and be soaked. Rab has begun using a technology called NeoShell (from Polartec) in a new rainshell that is making me reconsider this aspect of my system. And Rab, OR, and Marmot are now making 6-7oz rainshells that may replace my 4oz windshell.
For our frigid Prusik ascent I was able to re-use a combination of those hiking layers to stay as warm as possible without over-heating. I ended up climbing in just about all of my layers (as I tend to get cold easily). I wore my base-layer tee, long sleeve, wind shell, and instead of the fleece-lined Marmot Windshirt chose to climb in my puffy. My climbing partner wore the Windshirt and stayed comfortable. There were moments when we were deep in a chimney system or groove that was in the shade where we shivered, but for the most part the layering system worked beautifully.
Dynafit Titan AT Boot
It’s been years since I’ve had a ski boot that I truly appreciate. A three year search for an Alpine Touring (AT) boot that matches up with all the Downhill boots I’ve had has been a constant challenge and everything seemed to fall short. These ones hurt. I fell over wearing those. That isn’t stiff enough. Those ones don’t tour well. This buckle broke. This doesn’t ski well. Issues. Way too many issues. And so I continued to ski in my downhill boots and only complain a little; Garrett, Dave, Sak, and Jon might say differently.
The release of the Dynafit Titan last season marked the dawn of a new era, ie, dawn patrols. When touring, the range of motion is equivalent to anything else that has been out on the market except the release of Dynafit’s own TLT and DyNA series. With a walking range of 30 degrees and weighing a mere 2000grams Dave no longer needed to tour behind me to remind me of how slow I am. Comfortable, controlled, warm. No problems touring and stiff enough to drive any ski I’ve been on over the last season. Quite frankly, I’d put it up next to my old alpine boots which now sit in the corner collecting dust, cobwebs, and the occasional candy wrapper.
Its overlap, pbax, high cuff, 4-buckle construction reflects a typical alpine construction and according to Dynafit has a flex rating of 130. I’d agree. Micro dialed buckles, two forward lean options, and a burly “booster-strap-like” strap allows this boot to charge day in and day out. It even comes with alpine sole blocks for the overly inbounds skier.
This boot has gone way beyond my expectations of what a “backcountry boot” can do. Priced at $759.95 the Dynafit Titan will meet “charging” expectations for anyone. But let’s face, it is really all about the up.