Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black Diamond Chaos Harness

What makes a great harness? I ask myself this question with many items of gear I am lucky enough to use. If something works, why not keep using it instead of upgrading? If the new product is superior, then it makes sense to upgrade. This is the case with the new Black Diamond Chaos Harness.

My criteria for a harness: Four gear loops, pre threaded waist loop (I like not having to remember to double back), light weight, packable, and comfortable. The Chaos meets all of these expectations and adds a full strength haul loop.

The luck was with me this fall and I was able to use the harness sport climbing in the flatirons, trad climbing in Eldorado Canyon, and climbing the classics in the Boulder Rock Club. Did I fall? You bet. Did I hang? Oh yea. Did I send? Yes. I enjoyed the harness on all excursions and forgot it was there when I was climbing. Pretty cool to not think about a harness when you are trying your very hardest. The gear loops work well, the new Kinetic Core Construction and lightweight foam is supremely comfortable, the waist is adjustable enough to go over layers or cinch down over simply a tee shirt,and the harness packs well when you are carrying a trad rack and rope in the pack.

If you are looking for a new harness, or want to trade up. Try the Black Diamond Chaos harness.

Mike Alkaitis
CMS Guide
AMGA Certified Rock Guide

Monday, November 22, 2010

Backcountry Access Stash Pack

A day-sized, comfortable, and well-featured ski pack is hard to find. They often don't fit, have too many or too few bells and whistles, or don't fit your stuff well. That's why I wrung the life out of my BCA Stash pack from 2004 until now, often logging 120+ days per season between work and play. It is simple yet effective and it's 35 liter capacity sits just so (a little bit lower than most) on my back to feel well balanced on the up and the down. When this pack finally bit the dust, it was my good fortune to be handed the newest model Stash BC for testing.

I immediately noticed two things. heavier fabric made up the body of the pack and two separate zipper compartments helped to organize my stuff. I especially appreciate the front pocket which includes probe and shovel handle sleeves; fits a shovel blade, the rest of my snow study kit, and avalung perfectly. Additional features that I won't take shears to include a stow-away helmet carrier, a fleecy goggle pocket, and the exceptionally functional hydration system that's become standard on all BCA packs. 

As for the fit, the overall structure of the pack is a bit stiffer than the Stashes of old, owing to a beefier back panel.  It is supportive and comfortable. The wide shoulder straps distribute weight well, but definitely fit the broad-shouldered folks better than others. With my narrow shoulders, I use the sternum strap more with this pack than others that I own. It still retains it's mid-low center of gravity, which, if you're used to a top-heavy pack, may feel like a low rider. This characteristic really shines as the pack sits perfectly on the way down.

Critical feedback for this pack includes two details. The Stash offers diagonal and side-carrying options for skis. The diagonal system is centered around the "noose strap", which is adjustable via a ratcheting strap on the hip belt. I prefer a simpler option, such that is featured on the Squall pack. That said, this is an effective way to quickly affix your skis. Secondly, a back panel zipper was added to facilitate easy access to the body of the pack while the compression straps are buckled. I find myself simply avoiding this zipper all together, unbuckling the compression straps, and using the main zipper. Additional zippers equal more opportunity for failure in my mind. That being said, these are picky details that you may find irrelevant, or you may in fact appreciate.

If you are looking for a well-designed and durable day pack for ski touring, give the Stash BC a shot. It's great to know that you're buying a product made by the BCA folks right here in Boulder, and they make it worth your while. Whenever I needed a replacement buckle for my old pack, BCA's customer service was friendly and prompt. Go to your local dealer and try it out!

Mike Soucy
CMS Guide
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AIARE Level 1 Instructor