By Michael Lanza
In the interest of full disclosure, as a climber, I’m no one. I climb trad and sport rock routes up to 5.10 and I like moderates. I do the kind of mountaineering where people generally survive. My partners are family and friends, none of whom are sponsored (although my son has climbed 5.9 in sneakers), and my only first ascents were accidental and not recommendable. If you’re looking for a reviewer with a five-continent climbing resume and a home that has bumper stickers, I’m not that dude.
But in a sense, I’m everyone—or I’m like most recreational climbers. For climbers like me, here are my gear recommendations—based on 25 years (and counting) as a rock climber and nearly as long as a mountaineer (and 20 years as a gear reviewer)—for what you need to hit the crags and the mountains to have fun, be safe, and go back to work on Monday with some pretty good stories that will never get into any magazine.
Mammut Infinity 9.5mm single dry rope
Ideal for all climbing disciplines—multi-pitch trad, sport, ice, and alpinism—the Infinity 9.5mm combines low weight (a mere 58g/m) with strength, and is the most supple rope I’ve ever owned. Leader falls end in a soft landing with this dynamic cord. The coated sheath, to keep the core dry in wet conditions, has 40 percent more abrasion resistance than untreated ropes. Bonus: It has an easily visible middle mark (as all ropes should). Whether clipping bolts or hauling it up on multi-pitch routes, this rope quickly became a favorite.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Mammut Infinity 9.5mm single dry rope at backcountry.com.
Petzl men’s Adjama and women’s Luna
$75, 14 oz. (men’s small)
Four men’s and women’s sizes
I’ve worn the workhorse Adjama from the gym to sport and trad pitches and a snow climb of the Mountaineers Route on Mount Whitney in April. It sports the features you’d want in an all-around harness for rock and ice climbing and mountaineering, including adjustable leg loops and four durable gear loops—two stiff loops in front and two soft ones in back. The belt, designed without seams in high-contact areas to minimize rubbing, EVA foam padding, breathable mesh, and wider sides to disperse weight and pressure evenly around the waist, was comfortable for hours. The pre-threaded, DoubleBack buckle tightens and loosens quickly with one hand. High-tenacity polyethylene at the tie-in points increases resistance to wear from rope friction. Get this if you’re ready to spend more for versatility and superior comfort.
BD’s affordable, entry-level harness for all-around use served my son well climbing Mount Whitney’s Mountaineers Route, and both of my teenage kids use these harnesses in the gym and cragging. Both harnesses have BD’s pre-threaded belt buckle, which adjusts with one hand and eliminates the risk of forgetting to double back the belt. Both have leg loops that adjust quickly with a simple slider buckle, which let my son layer long underwear under his soft-shell pants on Whitney and wear shorts on hot afternoons at Idaho’s City of Rocks; and the small Primrose adjusts down to fit my daughter’s very slim waist and legs.
The well-padded foam belt is made with two bands of webbing and widens around the sides and back, to eliminate pressure points. The four gear loops are a little small, but they’re all stiff, a nice feature on two fairly lightweight, low-profile harnesses that offer a great bargain for new climbers.
Black Diamond Vector
$100, 9 oz. (M/L)
Two men’s sizes, one women’s size
With a polycarbonate shell and EPS foam interior, the Vector is comfortable for all-day climbs, delivers full protection for climbing in the mountains, but remains light and airy enough for warm-weather rock routes. It has wide vents on the front, sides, and back allow excellent air flow, and clips to hold a headlamp. The ratcheting adjustment system gave me a stable, comfortable fit for hours on Mount Whitney, and it tucks inside the helmet when storing in a pack.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Black Diamond Vector at backcountry.com.
Mammut Wall Rider
$100, 8 oz. (size 56-61cm)
The Wall Rider helmet’s hybrid design combines expanded polypropylene (EPP)—the same material used in car bumpers—with a partial, hard plastic shell on the top and front (where you’re most likely to get bonked). Well ventilated, easy to adjust, comfortable all day, and equipped with clips for a headlamp, the Wall Rider crosses over to all forms of climbing in all seasons.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Mammut Wall Rider helmet at backcountry.com.
$130, 6 oz. (size 2)
Insanely light, the Sirocco delivers top-notch protection, thanks to one-piece construction using strong expanded polypropylene (EPP), without a hard outer shell. My son wore it for several hours on summit day on Whitney, with a thin beanie underneath, and reported that it was comfortable all day. Two easily adjustable sizes fit a range of noggins. With a magnetized chinstrap to clip one-handed, headlamp clips, and 360 degrees of ventilation (everywhere but on top), it crosses over from mountaineering and ice climbing to rock climbing on warm days.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Petzl Sirocco at backcountry.com.
$89, 1 lb. 4 oz. (Euro 42/US 9)
Sizes: men’s Euro 34-48
In 25 years of climbing, I’ve never developed an affection for painful, severely shaped rock shoes (just one of the reasons I may never lead 5.15), The Origin hits an affordable balance of performance and comfort. I like the stickiness of Scarpa’s Vision rubber sole and the shoe’s edging ability, for everything from steep jug hauls to slabby friction climbs. The soft suede leather uppers and padded aero mesh tongue feel good against bare feet and, with the two hook-and-loop straps in lieu of laces, the shoe conforms nicely to my foot. The flat last and firm heel cup kept my feet comfortable for single pitches of climbing. You won’t be wiggling your toes in these shoes, but you won’t crush them, either. Priced as a beginner’s rock shoe, the Origin worked for me on trad and sport routes from 5.easy to 5.10.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Scarpa Origin at backcountry.com.
Black Diamond Camalot C4
$65-$125, 2.7 to 20 oz.
Sizes: 0.3 to 6
Black Diamond Camalots C3
$65 each, 1.9 to 2.3 oz.
Sizes: 000 to 2
$90-$130, 2.2 to 7.9 oz.
I’ve used many different types of cams over the years, but always come home to Black Diamond Camalots. The classic Camalot C4s have a double-axle design that allows each cam to fit a huge range of crack widths and shapes, with great overlap between cam sizes, and a set of no. 0.3 to no. 6 will fill cracks from a half-inch to 7.7 inches. The five Camalot C3 sizes are super narrow at the head, for difficult, tight placements, and their tiny cams bite very securely on all types of rock. (no. 1 & no. 2 are the sizes I use most often, together covering many finger to hand cracks; the no. 000 is intended only for aid climbing).
The Camalot Ultralights are 25 percent lighter by size than regular Camalots, thanks to sculpted lobes and a dyneema cord in place of a cable, without compromising strength or the double-axle design. I find the Camalot triggers easy to manipulate, making the cams easy to place and remove. The color-coded sizes help my stressed brain pick the right size more quickly.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase the BD C4 cams at backcountry.com, the C3 cams at backcountry.com, and the Camalot Ultralights at backcountry.com.
Black Diamond Stopper Set Pro no. 1-13
$128, 1 lb. (full set)
To me, nothing inspires more confidence than sinking a bomber placement of a Black Diamond Stopper into a crack: You know when it’s set properly and that it’ll hold a fall. The BD Stopper Set Pro no. 1-13 covers everything from ridiculously thin seams to finger cracks—all for the price of one large cam. I generally lead with a full set plus extras in four middle sizes (7 to 10). The Stopper set no. 4-13, adequate for many cracks, is $99.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Black Diamond Stopper Set Pro no. 1-13 at backcountry.com.
Petzl Reverso 4
$30, 2 oz.
The Reverso 4 has become my go-to belay-rappel device for its easy of use, low weight, the way it reliability locks off a rope (any single rope 8.9mm or larger), and versatility. The simple design and diagrammed instructions on it makes for intuitive use, and it can be used for belaying one person or two seconds independently and simultaneously in Reverso mode. You can use it to auto-lock a second when belaying directly off the anchor; and on a multi-pitch climb, partners swapping leads can quickly transition without having to reload a belay device each time. A secondary clip-in point helps you free a locked rope to lower a follower who’s taken a fall. Put simply: It does more than other belay-rappel devices without weighing more.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Petzl Reverso 4 at backcountry.com.
Mammut Bionic Express Quickdraw
$110 for set of 5 or $24 each, 3 oz. (each)
Ideal for sport climbing and useful for trad, ice, or big wall, the Bionic Express quickdraws, with one straight and one wire gate, and a strong dyneema sling with a rubber retainer to stabilize the carabiner, hang straight from a bolt or gear to facilitate instant clipping, so you can get on with your business. I like the feel and shape of the carabiners and the gate size for popping a rope through it.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Mammut Bionic Express Quickdraw at backcountry.com.
Black Diamond Neutrino carabiner
$7, 1.3 oz.
Its low weight doesn’t mean the wire-gate BD Neutrino carabiner is too small. It has a relatively large gate opening that’s easy to slam a rope into. Rack it up for any kind of climbing, because ounces add up when you’re carrying a lot of ’biners.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Black Diamond Neutrino carabiner at backcountry.com.
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Mammut Bionic Mythos screw gate locking carabiner
$18-$22, 3 oz.
For some belaying situations and when feeding a carabiner through your harness belt to rappel, it’s very convenient and faster to use an extra large locking carabiner. The huge size and gate opening of the Mammut Bionic Mythos screw gate extra large locking carabiner gives you that, with a very secure and simple screw gate.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Mammut Bionic Mythos screw gate locking carabiner at backcountry.com.
Black Diamond Positron Screwgate locking carabiner
$11, 2 oz.
Whether for clipping multiple partners into belay anchors, setting up several top-ropes when bringing a posse of kids to a crag, or myriad other reasons, you often need a pile of locking carabiners—and it’s nice if they’re totally bomber and affordable. For those reasons, I own several Positron Screwgate locking carabiners, They’re reliable and you’ll never have to explain to a climbing newbie how they work.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Black Diamond Positron Screwgate locking carabiner at backcountry.com.
Metolius Personal Anchor System
$33, 3 oz.
I’ve come to rely routinely on my Metolius PAS at two-bolt anchors atop sport routes, and as a backup anchoring system on my harness just in case I need to clip in anywhere. The water-resistant dyneema webbing is rated to a strong 22kN, and you can clip individual loops of this 38-inch daisy chain into different points on your anchor, or into separate bolts at an anchor. The double-wrapped, 11mm webbing is more convenient, adjustable, and safer than standard slings.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase the Metolius Personal Anchor System at backcountry.com.
See also all of my reviews of approach shoes and these stories:
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.