How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

In rock climbing, your shoes are your weapon. You go to battle with the rock, but having the right equipment for the right battle means the difference between victory and defeat. So, how do you choose the best shoe for your upcoming expedition? Well, it all depends on the type of adventure you’re about to embark upon. To begin, let’s break it down by which features are the most important and give you the best chance at sending it your first time:

Courtesy: 5.10
Courtesy: 5.10

Shoe Stance

A climbing shoe’s “stance” is basically the shape of it—specifically how much the toe is turned down below the heel. The degree goes a long way to determining control and pressure. There are three main stances: Aggressive, moderate turn down, and neutral. Each better suits a different style of climbing, whether that’s bouldering, crack climbing, or big wall climbing.

Aggressive

Aggressive shoes turn your toes downward while providing maximum heel tension and putting your feet in the power position for bouldering and sport climbing routes. All about precision, aggressive shoes allow you to focus power on the smallest of holds and propel yourself up a problem or route. Due to their asymmetrical shape, they are not meant to be worn for long periods of time, though. Bouldering problems and difficult single-pitch sport climbs are where these shoes excel.

Moderate Turn Down

Moderate shoes provide climbers with less of a camber than aggressive shoes. This allows them to excel in areas like slabs routes, longer multi-pitch climbs, and especially crack climbing. You sacrifice some precision but gain comfort and versatility with a moderately downturned shoe.

Neutral

Neutral shoes are the choice of many beginner climbers because of the all-day comfort they provide. Your toes lie flat within the shoe and get to be more relaxed than with any of the other stances. Don’t be fooled, though. Neutral shoes are not just for beginners and, in fact, are the choice of many big wall climbers looking for comfort while they scale long multi-pitch walls—think El Cap or Indian Creek.

GO: Aggressively Downturned | Moderately Downturned | Neutral

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Lacing Systems

Believe it or not, the type of lacing system could mean the difference between topping out on a route or taking a whipper. Essentially, it keeps what’s in between your foot and the wall itself secure. The last thing you want is to lose a shoe when you’re three pitches from the top.

Lace-Up

As with traditional shoes, lace-ups make you pull to tighten and then are finished off with a bow or whatever knot you prefer. This system allows you to tighten your shoes as much as you want and at every spot along the lace’s length, allowing for the best all-around foot fit. Laces ensure your foot is completely locked in, wrapping the shoes around like shrink wrap, so you can really feel the wall when you go for the smallest of footholds. The only downside is, you don’t want them coming undone in the middle of a route. Imagine being 500 feet up and having to figure out how to tie your shoe in the middle of pitch seven.

Velcro

Grip, rip, and go. Velcro shoes are built for speed and on-the-fly adjustments when you’re climbing. A majority of aggressive shoes have Velcro straps, as climbers can put them on quickly before going after a bouldering problem or single-pitch sport route. On-the-fly adjustments are definitely a huge plus. 40 feet up a wall and you feel like your heel is slipping a little bit? No problem. Just reach down, adjust the strap to lock your foot in more, and keep sending it! However, compared to lace-ups, Velcro shoes don’t provide the same level of tightness and control. But, depending on the type of climbing you’re practicing, that may not be a concern.

Slipper

Can’t tame your excitement and just want to get on the wall as soon as you get there? Slip-on shoes cut all the time out of lacing up or strapping in. Instead, elastic material simply hugs your foot. That’s not their only benefit, though. They make great training shoes, because they have a softer outsole and midsole and therefore strengthen your feet quicker. Their lower profile also makes them great for thin crack climbs. Go ahead and wedge your foot up in there. Just don’t get your foot in too deep, or you may lose your shoe.

GO: Lace-Up | Velcro | Slipper

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Outsoles

The outsoles are constantly battling to keep you on the wall or boulder. The rubber is what forms the bond between your feet and the rock. That’s one partnership with which you have to feel confident and trust completely.

Rubber Hardness

When you’re climbing, you have to trust every foot placement you make. Being confident that your foot will hold becomes a mental game, which is why having the proper rubber hardness makes all the difference. Soft rubber will be stickier, thus making it perfect for smearing and slab climbs where the footholds are tiny or nonexistent. They latch onto the rock, providing you with the best traction to top out.

Be cautious, though. Stickier rubbers degrade faster, so, for challenging, more technical climbs, you may want to think about a harder rubber. For gym climbing, crack climbing, multi-pitch big walls, and beginner climbers, you will want a harder rubber for its durability. You can wedge, lock, and heel-hook all day while trusting that your shoes will hold up and perform without question.

Thickness

Feeling the features of the rock while you climb aids in the mental game climbing brings forth. Having shoes with thicker rubber soles—typically between 4 and 5.55 millimeters thick—gives you the control and durability to edge all day. Thinner-soled shoes give you the ability to slab and smear, letting you feel the smallest of holds while you scale upwards. Once you’ve refined your technique and are dialing in your body movements on the rock, you might want to look into thinner soles, which are typically between 3 and 4 millimeters thick.

Edges

Climbing shoes continue to evolve as the limits on what can and cannot be climbed are pushed. Shoes with defined edges on the outsole give climbers the ability to balance on the smallest of footholds. They focus your foot’s pressure on a specific part of the rock as you reach for the next hand hold.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more “natural” feel on the rock while you climb, many brands have developed no-edge technology shoes. In this case, the rubber has a rounded, rather than defined, edge on the shoe’s sides and toes. The technology mirrors your foot more naturally. So, picture it like the way your foot naturally curves with your skin covering it; technology basically recreates this, just with a shoe. This allows for optimal edging, as the technology maximizes the amount of contact your foot has with the rock. However, these shoes tend to be on the higher-performance scale, thus costing more.

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Shoe Materials and Fit

It’s important to consider the materials that make up your climbing shoe, as they ultimately help you determine the best size. Unlike regular shoes, climbing shoes are supposed to be tight and a little uncomfortable.

Unlined Leather

Unlined leather shoes expand quite a bit as you break them in—sometimes, up to a full shoe size. When trying on a pair, you’ll want your toes right up against the end of the shoe, with your toes knuckled upward against the leather. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you break them in, your shoes will fit like a glove around your foot.

Lined Leather

Lined leather shoes tend to have minimal expansion when they are broken in—usually less than half a shoe size. The fit should be snug but not too uncomfortable, to the point your toes are curling in. This material also ensures the shoes do not stretch too much in crucial areas, like the toe box and heel.

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic shoes have very minimal stretching. You want the fit to be comfortable from the day you try them on. Synthetic materials also benefit from breathability and moisture-wicking technology, keeping your feet dry and comfortable as you climb.

GO: All-Around Shoes | Bouldering Shoes | Slab Shoes | Steep Shoes

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So, Which Shoes Should I Get?

Big wall/multi-pitch climbing: Comfort is key with long multi-pitch climbs. So, pick a shoe with a neutral stance that utilizes a harder rubber outsole with good thickness. This ensures the shoe not only lasts longer but also performs consistently as you scale 1,000-plus feet over multiple hours.

Bouldering: Get aggressive! Bouldering calls for a Velcro shoe that has a large downturned stance with defined edges to pinpoint small holds and overhung ledges. You’ll want a thick rubber outsole and a shoe made from lined leather or synthetic material. This ensures the shoe doesn’t stretch much and focuses the power where you need it most while also allowing you to strap in and out quicker.

Gym climbing: Look into either a lace-up or slip-on shoe to help build foot muscles. A neutral stance, unlined leather shoe with a softer rubber outsole will help you practice smearing the wall and deliver ample comfort for long periods of time, helping you improve endurance.

Single pitch/sport climbing: Select either a moderate downturned shoe or an aggressive stance Velcro shoe. These help you focus all your foot power and weight on the smallest of holds and let you adjust tightness on the fly. As well, go with a thinner yet harder rubber outsole with no-edge technology. This allows you to really feel every part of the wall, giving you a boost of confidence with every move upward.

Purchasing your first pair of climbing shoes is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of a bond among your feet, mind, and the rock. Stop at your local Eastern Mountain Sports and let the experts walk you through the process of choosing the right shoe for your climbing career. Happy climbing!


Video: The First Descent of K2 on Skis

It turns out, the hardest big mountain in the world to climb is not all that simple to ski, either.


Alpha Guide: Mount Greylock's Thunderbolt Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steep, short, and scenic—a hike to Mount Greylock’s summit via the Thunderbolt Trail is the most direct way to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Greylock via the Thunderbolt Trail takes you through some of the East Coast’s most hallowed ski terrain and across the rugged Appalachian Trail, and is the steepest and shortest route to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.8 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

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Turn-By-Turn

To access the Thunderbolt trailhead, hikers can park in nearly adjacent lots on Thiel Road and Gould Road in Adams, Massachusetts. To get there from North Adams, the major jumping-off point for anybody heading to Greylock, take Route 8 south for about two miles, and then, make a right onto Friend Street at a rotary. After a mile, Friend Street merges into Notch Road. About 0.5 miles later, turn right onto Gould Street, and then, either continue straight for side-of-the-road parking on Thiel Road or make a quick left into the signed hiker parking lot on Gould Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

From either lot, finding the right trail is tricky. There’s a maze of intersecting trails in and around the parking lots, and the way to Thunderbolt is not always clearly marked.

For the easiest route, hike for roughly 10 minutes up the closed (to vehicles) section of Thiel Road, first on pavement and then on a gravel path, until you come to a sign (42.627598, -73.137497) directing hikers to Thunderbolt.

From the sign, navigation is still a bit strenuous, with the narrow trail winding through thick woods and dense ferns. Enjoy this short section, as it easily picks up elevation. You’ll soon approach the ski trail proper, (42.636150, -73.137497) where the trail opens up and the grade intensifies.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Ski Trail

The Thunderbolt foot trail ascends along the side of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, and it’s easy to know when you’ve reached its base. Here, the dense forest immediately transitions into a wide, open swath of green running straight up the mountain. The Thunderbolt Ski Trail climbs consistently, with few interruptions—among them, the juncture with the Bellows Pipe Trail (42.637295, -73.154152) and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail (42.642410, -73.161797).

That said, the footing is good, the path is easy to follow, and there are a good number of rest spots where the trail briefly levels out. When you need to catch your breath, make sure to turn around and enjoy the view back east, with Adams in the foreground and the Hoosac Range on the horizon.

Pro Tip: Although lots of trails intersect with the Thunderbolt trail and many of the junctions aren’t signed, knowing that you should be hugging the ski trail makes it harder to get off route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Joining the AT

After one final steep section, Thunderbolt levels out briefly before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Before ascending to the junction, make sure to pause to appreciate the spectacular view to the northeast. You’ll know you’re there when you see the first aid cache in the woods to climber’s right.

At the junction, follow the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes south another half-mile to the summit. The going is easy and relaxed, with only a slight incline. After a few minutes, hikers will cross the auto road, and then, spill into one of Greylock’s tourist parking lots.

Upon entering the lot, look to the right for the Thunderbolt shelter (42.638737, -73.0145218), an impressive stone warming hut built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934. Originally intended as a place for ski racers to warm up and prepare for their run—remember, back then, racers had to get to the top of the run via their own power—the hut is dedicated to Rudolph Konieczny, a soldier killed in action while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troop in northern Italy in 1945. Although, today, the shelter is primarily a tourist attraction and an emergency shelter for winter travelers, it is one of the summit’s several somber memorials.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

From the hut, the actual summit is only a short jaunt away. Simply rejoin the Appalachian Trail and follow the gravel, and then paved, path a bit farther south. Pretty soon, you’ll be on the summit proper (42.636898, -73.165527), which, in 1898, became the centerpiece of the first state park in Massachusetts.

As you approach the summit, Greylock’s 93-foot granite memorial to the Commonwealth’s war veterans—built by the CCC in the 1930s—looms overhead. If it’s open, make sure to go in to pay your respects. Then, climb the tower’s spiral staircase to a viewing observatory, which offers 360-degree views of the region. To the north, look for North Adams in the foreground and New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance. Looking east, mountains and hills are everywhere; try to pick out Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. Turning south and west, you’ll see the Berkshires, the Catskills, and the Hudson River Valley.

There are a lot of other things to do on the summit. In addition to the Thunderbolt Ski Hut, there’s the Bascom Lodge. Perched nearly on Greylock’s summit, the lodge is another minute south on the AT. Made using local schist and red spruce, the lodge was built in the 1930s by the CCC to offer shelter to summit visitors. Today, it features a restaurant and cafe, provides seasonal accommodations, and is even available for weddings and private events. Whether you’re grabbing a meal inside or having a snack at the nearby picnic tables, the Bascom Lodge is the perfect place to linger on the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

To return to your car from the summit, simply retrace your steps back down the way you came. Of course, as you pass by signs noting iconic sections of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, such as Big Bend, Big Schuss, and The Bumps, try not to get too distracted thinking about how much more fun (and faster) it would be on skis.

If you didn’t know, the Thunderbolt Trail was originally built as a ski trail (also by the CCC) and is rich with New England ski history. For example, Dick Durrance, the 17-time national champion ski racer who won the first race held on the Thunderbolt Trail in 1935, descended in just two minutes and 48 seconds—a time that feels especially fast to hikers anxious to get back to their cars.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Thunderbolt Trail is open to hikers all year, winter hikers are encouraged to ascend where others already have to preserve the snow for skiers.

The Cheat Route

If you have someone who would like to experience Mount Greylock’s summit with you but is unable to ascend the approximately 2,200 feet of elevation over roughly 2.5 miles, have them meet you at the top. The Greylock auto road allows cars to drive to the summit from May through October. Just know there’s a small fee to park at the summit.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Saying the Thunderbolt Trail is steep feels like an understatement, especially considering that, at its steepest, the trail pitches to 38 degrees. Make ascending and descending a little bit easier by bringing a pair of trekking poles.
  • Plan for your trip up and ensure you stay on track with the Mount Greylock Reservation Map. Mount Greylock State Reservation has over 12,000 acres and is home to roughly 50 miles of trails, so there’s plenty left to do after your successful summit.
  • While the origins of the Greylock name are up for debate, one popular theory is, it refers to the mountain’s appearance. Often, it has a gray cloud—or lock of gray mist—overhead. This has certainly been our experience, so don’t forget to pack a raincoat (men’s/women’s) for the summit.
  • 360-degree views and plenty of places to avoid inclement weather make for an unrushed experience on the summit. Treat yourself by bringing something warm to eat in the winter, or cool for the summer with a Hydro Flask Food Flask.
  • With so many steep pitches ahead of you, having a good-fitting pair of performance socks is critical for avoiding blisters. Pick a pair made from a wicking material, such as merino wool, to keep your feet happy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Before heading to the mountain, get some local knowledge at the staffed Visitors Center in Lanesborough, which is open all year.
  • Spend the night at one of Mount Greylock’s 18 tent sites, or in one of the five lean-tos found on the mountain. Learn more here.
  • Looking to grab a pint and absorb a little culture? Bright Ideas Brewing serves delicious brews and is located in the courtyard of the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).
  • Dogs are welcome to hike Mount Greylock’s trails, as long as they’re leashed and attended. However, if you had to leave Fido home and are missing man’s best friend, stop by the Museum of Dog (M.O.D.). Located just down the street from Mass MoCA, M.O.D. features more than 180 pieces from roughly 50 notable, dog-loving artists. Ironically, dogs are not allowed inside M.O.D.
  • Visit the Thunderbolt Ski Museum in the Adams Visitor Center to learn more about the history of this storied ski run.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Greylock recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Video: Ice Climbing A Frozen Niagara Falls

Who’s ready for ice climbing season?


How to Buy Climbing Ropes

Whether you’re new or a seasoned sender, the process of buying a climbing rope is surprisingly confusing. Multiple styles, various widths and lengths, and other features make it difficult to know where to even start. While they’re versatile, knowing what you plan to do with your rope and what you’re looking for narrow down the choices and help tailor your purchase.
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Dynamic or Static?

Climbing uses two kinds of ropes: dynamic and static. The former is used for belaying the climber (i.e., holding a climber who falls), while static ropes are designed for anchors and hauling. To “hold a fall,” these ropes stretch when weighted. Elongation then dissipates the fall’s energy and reduces the force placed on the climber and their gear. This process dramatically reduces the potential for injury or catastrophic failure of anchors and gear. Unlike dynamic ropes, however, static options stretch very little, making them ideal for building anchors but dangerous to climb on.

GO: Dynamic | Static

Elongation

The UIAA’s two measurements—dynamic and static elongation—indicate how much a rope will stretch. Dynamic elongation is how much a rope stretches during its first UIAA fall. More elongation means a longer fall, but also less force exerted on gear and the climber. The maximum amount of dynamic elongation allowed by the UIAA is 40 percent.

Static elongation measures how much the rope stretches with an 80kg weight hanging from it. The maximum amount of stretch allowed for single and twin ropes is 10 percent, while half ropes can stretch 12 percent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Single, Double, or Half?

Single

Climbing article assetThe most common type, single ropes are easily identified by the “1” marked in a circle on their ends. That simply means, when you’re climbing, you only need that one rope.

Thanks to their incredible versatility, they are the logical choice for almost every application. Indeed, they are used in all manners of climbing—top rope, sport, trad, multi-pitch, ice, and mountaineering. First-time rope buyers, take note!

Single ropes, however, are not perfect for every application. So, if you’re planning on doing long multi-pitch climbs like Lost in the Sun (which has seven 60-meter rappels) or just really enjoy pitches that wander, a two-rope system might be a more suitable choice.

Twin

With a circled infinity symbol (∞) on their ends, twin ropes are the simplest of the two-rope systems to use. Designed to be used as a pair and clipped simultaneously for protection, they offer multi-pitch rock and ice climbers two main advantages. First, they add redundancy to the system, as the leader is attached to two (as opposed to one) ropes. Second, in contrast to single ropes, where a climber can only rappel half the rope’s length, the two ropes allow climbers to make full-length rappels. Because you climb with two, they are typically narrower in diameter than a single rope.

Twin ropes, however, are still susceptible to rope drag on wandering routes. As well, they may complicate rope management at belay stations—something that can be particularly challenging for newer climbers.

Half

Half ropes—sometimes called double ropes—are the other two-rope system. The main difference is, unlike twin ropes, they are clipped to alternating pieces of protection. If this is done correctly, half ropes reduce drag on wandering routes. Because they are clipped independently of one another, half ropes also lessen the force a fall puts on protection. For this reason, they’re a favorite of climbers operating on delicate mediums, such as an ice formation. For identification, a “½” mark is added to their ends.

GO: Single Ropes | Twin RopesHalf Ropes

If all of these options sound appealing to you, you’re in luck! Rope construction and technologies are improving so rapidly that manufacturers can construct one that meets the standards for two, and sometimes all three (e.g., the Sterling Nano), of the aforementioned categories. If in doubt about a rope’s intended use, simply check the rope tag—located on both ends—and look for the corresponding symbol.

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Diameter and Weight

Rope diameters range from less than 8mm to more than 10.5mm. Traditionally, single ropes are wider (9.0 to 10.5mm) than twin and half ropes (7.8 to 9.0mm). In general, thicker ropes are heavier and more durable, and skinnier ones are lighter and less durable. For this reason, thicker ropes are typically used for activities like top roping, and skinnier ropes are better for sport climbing. Climbers looking for one rope to do it all will be happy with a rope ranging from mid-9mm to low-10mm, as they offer a good blend of performance and robustness.

Because the way rope manufacturers measure the diameter isn’t standard—for example, some are measured under slight tension—the rope’s weight can help paint a clearer picture of its intended use. Heavier ropes tend to be built for longevity, while lighter ones are constructed with performance in mind.

Length

Ropes today come in a wide range of sizes. You’ve got gym-friendly 35-meter lengths to pitch-stretching 80-meter monsters. As a general matter, 60 meters is the most common, and will work at the majority of crags for everything from top-roping to ice climbing. That said, due to the recent trend of developers putting up longer sport routes and rope weights falling dramatically over the last 15 years, 70 is quickly becoming the new 60. A good recommendation is, be familiar with standard pitch lengths at your crag and purchase accordingly.

As leading in the gym has grown in popularity, ropes shorter than 60 meters have, too. They offer a more affordable (and more transportable) option, but if you take these ropes outside, be extra cautious and confirm the rope will be long enough for the route. Don’t be the fool who lowers your climbing partner off the end of a too-short rope!

GO: Under 50 meters | 50 meters | 60 meters | 70 meters

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Dry Treatment

Ropes lose a considerable amount of their strength when wet. Furthermore, a wet rope weighs significantly more than a dry one. Because of this, most ropes come with the option of a dry treatment. More expensive than their non-treated counterparts, dry-treated ropes are favored by ice climbers and mountaineers for obvious reasons. But, dry-treated ropes offer a host of advantages for most climbers. Particularly, a dry treatment decreases rope drag and helps ropes run smoother through gear. More importantly, the same treatment that keeps your rope from absorbing water also helps to keep dirt out of your rope, thus extending its lifespan.

Dry ropes come in three forms: ropes with dry-treated sheaths, ropes with dry-treated cores, and ropes with dry-treated sheaths and cores. Treating the sheath (i.e., the rope’s outer shell) helps repel water, reduces the rope’s friction on the rock (thereby reducing abrasion), and gives the rope a nice slick feel and handle. For the core, dry-treating reduces the amount of water a rope will absorb and also reduces the likelihood of dirt and grime working its way into the core, the rope’s most important part. Dry-treating both the sheath and core combines the two treatments and offers the most water protection. However, it is also the most expensive and perhaps best reserved for ice climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing done in wet conditions.

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Middle Marker

Middle markers aid in a wide variety of ways, such as indicating it’s safe to lower a climber to ease in threading rappels. Most ropes today feature some kind middle-mark indicator—with features such as changing patterns, a distinctive mark, or a special weave to highlight a rope’s midpoint. Bi-color ropes offer the clearest indication, but also tend to be the most expensive. Ropes with colored middles offer a cost-effective solution, but the color can fade with use, and the middle mark can be difficult to see in fading light.

UIAA Fall Rating

The United International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) tests climbing ropes to see how many falls they can hold before failing. For single ropes, the test involves dropping an 80kg weight on the rope. With twin ropes, 80kg is used for both ropes. For half ropes, a 55kg weight is dropped onto a single strand. Single and half ropes must withstand a minimum of five falls, and twin ropes 12. Any rope that meets the UIAA fall standard is considered safe for climbing.

As a note, the lab tests subject ropes to more force than they’ll likely encounter in a real-world scenario. More so, the outdoors subjects ropes to hazards like sharp edges and worn fixed draws. So, get in the habit of inspecting your rope, especially if you’ve taken a big whipper.

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So, Which Rope Should I Get?

Although most ropes are pretty versatile, here’s a quick breakdown by activity:

Multi-pitch ice climbing: You want a rope that is long, skinny, and dry treated. Consider half and twin ropes—or, even better, ropes that rate as single, twin, and half—if your ideal routes involve long approaches and rappels, or if you’ll often be climbing as a party of three.

Top-rope cragging: Pack a beefy, durable single rope in the low-10mm range.

Sport climbing: For clipping bolts, a 60- or 70-meter single rope of medium diameter (9.4-9.8mm) is ideal.

For multi-pitch rock climbing: Bring a 60- or 70-meter rope of medium diameter (9.4-9.8mm). As with ice climbing, consider half and twin ropes—or ropes that rate as single, twin, and half—if your ideal routes involve long approaches and rappels, or if you’ll often be climbing as a party of three.


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Video: Matterhorn Speed Record

While laypeople may only know it from the packaging of Toblerone chocolate bars, the Matterhorn has an illustrious history, particularly the stunning north face. Another milestone has now been entered into its timeline, as Swiss mountaineer Dani Arnold has set a blazingly fast new record on the route, reaching the summit in only 1 hour 46 minutes, shaving a full 10 minutes off Ueli Steck’s record, set in 2009. See highlights of the climb in the video above.


What is a Lumen? Shining a Light on Headlamps

Choosing the right headlamp can be daunting. From a wall full of lights that all look similar, covered in numbers that mean next to nothing, how do you pick the right one? To begin, understanding the lumen is the first step toward getting what you need. But, there’s more to know if you want to have the perfect headlamp for your next adventure.

So…what is it?

A lumen is the technical measurement of the amount of light emitted in all directions by a light source. More simply, a lumens rating indicates how bright a headlamp will shine with a fully charged battery. The more lumens a light has, the brighter it is.

Headlamps and other lights run the gamut of brightness. You’ll find anything from the 30-lumen, kid-friendly Black Diamond Wiz to the ultra-powerful, 750-lumen Petzl NAO+. The great thing about these headlamps is, they all have enough lumens for general use. Even those with the lowest lumen count provide enough illumination for an evening stroll around the campsite or a storm-bound day spent in the tent reading.

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How many lumens do I need?

But, for other activities, you might need more lumens. So, how many should you get? The answer to that question is activity dependent. For movement-based activities, like night hiking or backpacking, a headlamp with a minimum of 150 to 200 lumens is best. There are exceptions, of course, like hiking the Presidential Range under a supermoon.

For faster-paced activities when you need to see farther ahead so you don’t trip (think nighttime trail-running), a light with more than 250 lumens is ideal. And, for activities like alpine climbing and mountaineering, when you might need a really bright light to briefly scope the next pitch or skirt some sketchy terrain, a lamp with a super-bright option (e.g., more than 350 lumens) will be really useful.

Most major manufacturers list a headlamp’s lumens on its package. It’s worth noting, however, that the majority will only be able to reach that number with fully charged batteries. More so, the higher power at which you operate your headlamp, the more battery power it consumes. Thus, it may make more sense to use a lower brightness to conserve battery life, rather than operate at the full 300 lumens.

Does the ability to adjust brightness interest you? To begin, make sure to check out the lights in Petzl’s Active series, like the Petzl Actik Core. A few Black Diamond models fall into this group, including the Icon and ReVolt.

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So, lumen count is the only thing that matters. Right?

All that said, lumen count isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s also important to consider how the headlamp directs the lumens. Generally referred to as the headlamp’s “beam,” the focusing of the lumens—from pinpoint to diffuse—greatly influences the activities for which the headlamp is ideal.

Types of Beams

A good example of a “general use” model is the 300-lumen Petzl Actik, which lets you toggle between wide and regular beams. Toggling makes the Actik ideal for use around the campsite, where the regular beam is perfect for precision tasks like cooking. The wide beam, meanwhile, is key for navigating around a site without blinding your fellow campers.

Alternately, a headlamp like the 300-lumen Black Diamond Spot has a more focused beam. Thus, it’s ideal for people doing precision work in the dark. Threading rappel anchors after being benighted, checking a climbing partner’s knot before an alpine start, and searching your pack for a midnight snack are all occasions where you benefit from a focused beam.

Some headlamps, such as the Black Diamond Sprinter—built for runners—are engineered to excel at one specific task. The Sprinter uses neither a wide, diffused light nor a concentrated proximity light. Rather, it produces a strong oval beam that is bright enough to illuminate potential hazards on the road or the trail, and shines far enough ahead so that you can anticipate upcoming terrain.

Reactive Lighting

A clear sign of just how far headlamps have advanced in recent years is Petzl’s reactive light technology. These advanced headlamps, like the Petzl Reactik, use a sensor to analyze the amount of ambient light in your environment, and adjust the brightness accordingly. This feature is particularly useful: It ensures you’re receiving just the right amount of light, it uses the headlamp’s battery as efficiently as possible, and it reduces any fiddling with buttons or dials. You can even control the Reactik’s settings via an app to prioritize everything from battery power to brightness.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

Out Like a Light

The best thing about buying a headlamp at EMS is that there are no bad choices. Almost every model found on our shelves will provide enough lumens for whatever task you ask of it. And, for those looking for a headlamp to perform in a specific instance, manufacturers are rising to the occasion to fill those niches.