how-to rock climbing

C.A.M.P. 2015 Harness Line Reviewed

Though the legendary Italian brand CAMP built its reputation in the US on lightweight gear, the Premana-based company crafts a wide range of gear, from packs to apparel to hard goods. Indeed, some of CAMP’s equipment, like its popular Nano ‘biners, lead the industry in (light) weight, but many of their products compete on comfort, price, and performance regardless of weight. I’ve begun working more closely with the CAMP gang this season and having tried several of their harnesses, I thought I’d give a quick review of the models I’ve worn in the field.

The Blitz
I’ve probably spent more time in the Blitz (7.7 oz.) than any other CAMP harness. It’s great for skiing, alpine routes, and cruisy rock routes. The Blitz definitely leans towards the alpine–it’s unpadded, features a drop seat (meaning you can put it on without taking off crampons or skis), and packs down small. Unlike other anorexic set-ups, it has four gear loops, ice-clipper slots, and features CAMP’s exclusive “No Twist” belay loop. 

The No Twist belay loop distinguishes most of CAMP’s harnesses from every other brand’s–it’s a simple, elegant, lightweight solution to the problem of having one’s belay ‘biner rotate and risk becoming cross-loaded. Rather than rely on clumsy, job-specific carabiners, CAMP users simply slot any carabiner through a narrow, sewn slot in the bar-tacking on the belay loop and voila, the ‘biner is held in its long orientation in the belay loop. Forget heavy, dedicated belay ‘biners.

Another cool feature of the No Twist system is when short-roping while guiding. Slot your favorite locking carabiner, preferably with a wide gate opening, and it’s always oriented correctly on your harness. This allows a guide to build an Italian (Munter) hitch without looking down–a welcome advantage when short-roping one or two guests. One’s eyes can watch the guests, rather than looking down to fumble with a ‘biner. Most of CAMP’s harnesses feature the No Twist and if I’ll be short-roping, I’ll be wearing a CAMP harness, almost without fail–that’s how much I dig the feature, not to mention its safety application for anyone belaying.

CAMP’s No Twist belay loop turns any ‘biner into a dedicated, safer belay ‘biner–clever, simple, and lightweight.

The Blitz is comfortable enough to rappel in and the compressibility and weight savings make it a strong candidate for even long rock routes (Solar Slab in Vegas, Fedele in the Dolomites, the First Flatiron in Boulder), not to mention skimo and alpine routes. My only gripes are typical of lightweight, compressible alpine harnesses: the Blitz tends to fold up after several months of use and the two slots don’t hold an ice clipper as positively as heavier harnesses.

Jasper CR4
I snagged a Jasper CR4 (18 oz.) last year and put in several days on rock with it, before dedicating it to ice/mixed. Why? I ended up preferring another CAMP harness for rock and the ice-clipper slots on the Jasper are crazy stiff–they tend to hold an ice clipper (or “hub-racking ‘biner” as CAMP calls their excellent version) better than CAMP’s other harnesses.

The Jasper CR4 has adjustable legs, as well as dual pre-threaded buckles at the waist, allowing huge adjustability and a centered fit. No matter how many layers you change, you can dial the Jasper’s fit—cool versatility. The gear loops remain open, even when weighted with gear and ‘draws. And the ice-clipper slots function better than any harness I’ve used. It also has the No Twist belay loop.

The weight definitely ticks the heavy end of the scale, but for that you get heavier materials, too, making this a durable choice. I just purchased a couple as rental harnesses for our little guide biz,Vetta Mountain Guides.

Gripes? I really like this harness; it reminds me of BD’s older “Blizzard” model–tough, versatile, good value, but if I had to bitch about something I’d say this rig isn’t quite as comfortable as my favorite CAMP model–the Laser CR.

Laser CR
If I had to pick one harness in which to do everything–the Laser CR (15 oz.) would be it. It’s the most comfortable of the CAMP models I’ve worn, it compresses very well, offers four gear loops, and the No Twist belay loop.

CAMP employs laser-cut nylon, internal padding, and a low-bulk lamination process to fashion the legs and waist. The result is a more pliable and compressible harness, which makes packing it easier than the Jasper models. It’s also more comfortable.

The hub-racking slots aren’t quite as stiff as the Jasper's, but you can certainly ice climb in the Laser. No sweat.

Where the Laser excels is its overall performance—light enough to use backcountry, it’s also comfortable enough for a huge day (think Epinephrine; I loved it!).

Would I prefer it be six ounces lighter? Sure, but guaranteed loss in comfort. The only harness that I’ve worn on par, in terms of comfort, is Edelrid’s awesome Orion. The Laser, though, packs down half the size of the Orion and you get the No Twist loop—absolutely awesome for guiding. Love this thing.

My fave CAMP harness, the Laser CR

Energy
Here’s the surprise harness of this review—if not within the industry this year. CAMP’s Energy (11 oz.)–nearly as comfortable as the Laser CR and get this—50 bucks, retail.

I tried the Energy just to see what the CAMP guys were so jazzed about and I gotta say—this is by far the best “value” harness I know of. Why? Because even thought he price tag says “value,” the comfort is equal to any Arc’teryx harness I’ve worn, it packs flat in your pack, and it climbs just fine. It’s as light as some brands’ alpine harnesses, too. Woh, good job, CAMP crew.

Gripes—one of the ways CAMP must save cash on producing the Energy is deleting the No Twist loop from its feature list. Understandable, but a drag! The only other potential weak spot I see with the Energy is the elastic connecting the rear leg loops to the rear waist—it’s a bit light, so careful in chimneys (again, think Epinephrine!).

Overall, though, I defy anybody to find a better harness at $49.95!

Topaz
I’ve spent the least time in CAMP’s Topaz (14.5 oz.), a one-size-fits-all rig suited to rentals and gyms. That said, it’s pretty comfy (the padding centers itself on the waistbelt, so it’s always dialed on the wearer), has two gear loops, heavy-duty nylon on the leg loops and waist belt, and a single, orange tie-in point. It retails at $60 and adjusts from a 20″ waist to 37″. So far I’ve had clients in it a few days and no complaints.

Fast & Light: HMG's Summit Pack

Wearing the Hyperlite Mountain Gear "Summit Pack" on my Alpine Guide Exam, September 2014. Mike Arnold, in the background, is wearing the slightly lighter version, the all-white model built of a lighter Cuben fabric. Great packs...and we both passed the exam! 

Wearing the Hyperlite Mountain Gear "Summit Pack" on my Alpine Guide Exam, September 2014. Mike Arnold, in the background, is wearing the slightly lighter version, the all-white model built of a lighter Cuben fabric. Great packs...and we both passed the exam! 

Despite an above-average snowpack, some of us are already tying in and getting some pitches. With my rock exam looming next week, I’ve tried to be diligent and get outside when I can or at least hit the rock gym. Colorado managed to put together a pretty good winter and it continues to snow–it’s nuking as I type this–so I booked a few days in Red Rocks with a co-candidate on the exam and a Tucson-based buddy. I love climbing in Vegas, but it also made the perfect proving ground to hammer Hyperlite Mountain Gear‘s 30L “Summit Pack” ($170; 402g, 14 oz.).

HMG crafts packs, shelters, and accessories out of “Cuben,” a tough-and-waterproof fabric that’s used in high-end sails. Cuben sandwiches Dyneema filaments between polyester film, in terms dumbed down for guys like me. It’s a bit stiffer and “louder” than nylon packcloth…in addition to being four times stronger than Kevlar, chemical resistant, UV resistant, and waterproof. The Summit comes in 150d weight, while the Ice Pack saved some tonnage by using the 50d fabric. The Summit does seem noticeably more durable, as I hauled, thrashed, chimneyed, and bombed the daylights out of the thing…and it’s still hanging tough.

The worst of the damage inflicted over the course of two weeks of climbing, the last of which was in Red Rocks.

The worst of the damage inflicted over the course of two weeks of climbing, the last of which was in Red Rocks.

That’s not to say I didn’t damage it; I did. Having nuked several plain nylon bullet packs, my impression is the Cuben does just fine, though with a price tag of $170, you’ll want to baby the thing if possible. I hauled it (filled with two liters of water, rock shoes, a puffy, food, etc.) on the chimney pitches of Red Rocks’ Epinephrine, scruffed through plenty of oak scrub, and tunneled through endless boulders while approaching and descending climbs. I’m headed back to Vegas and plan to do my entire exam with the thing. It’s nearly perfect.

The Summit’s dimensions swallow approach shoes stacked against one another. With careful packing you can stack water bottles/heavy stuff along the back and lightweight gear (puffy jackets, etc.) on the outside, making the pack ride really well when climbing.

The Summit’s dimensions swallow approach shoes stacked against one another. With careful packing you can stack water bottles/heavy stuff along the back and lightweight gear (puffy jackets, etc.) on the outside, making the pack ride really well when climbing.

Fully extended, or unrolled, the Summit holds 30+ liters. I routinely carried a light puffy, a hard shell, two liters of water, food for the day, harness, rock shoes, and a helmet inside. I’d drape a 60m cord over the top, feeding the loops of the rope through my arm straps to secure it. We had rain one day in the desert, so I quickly dumped the pack, piled the rope in the bottom, stuffed the rest on top and bumped the helmet to the outside–no problem. The Cuben fabric shed water easily and the rolltop design swallowed up plenty of gear.

The waist belt (3/4″ flat webbing) is nonexistent in terms of transferring weight to one’s waist–but it does stabilize the pack when climbing. Shoulder straps are unpadded, just plain fabric, which I appreciated. They’re cut well and with 15-20 pounds, they didn’t cut of chafe my shoulders. Another advantage of the minimalist design is the packability. When the Summit arrived in the mail, I didn’t think there was a backpack inside. The package was more like a padded envelope containing a small paperback. Point is, you could easily stow the Summit in a 40L pack on an approach and then climb with it backcountry (already thinking towards my alpine exam).

The back panel sports two daisies, through which I lashed a section of 5mm shock cord–it functions as my helmet holder on an approach, then I rethread it through a couple lash points to hold a jacket if needed. The rolltop functions as the compression, so when I had just a jacket, shoes, water, and food in it, it easily rolled down to 10-15L, without shifting or flopping around.

Improvised helmet carrier and the rolltop fully extended. Ample storage!

Improvised helmet carrier and the rolltop fully extended. Ample storage!

It’s the best bullet/summit pack I’ve ever used, but I realize the $170 is a chunk of dough. I’d say skip a couple meals out, a night at the bars…and pick up a Summit. Save it for your big days and backcountry missions. It’s winter-summer versatile, plenty tough, waterproof, and wears well, whether overstuffed or barely filled. Another score for the HMG crew. Good job.

Please check out another post on Hyperlite Mountain Gear's excellent "Ice Pack"--HERE, on Elevation Outdoors. 

This post originally appeared, in 2014, on Elevation Outdoors--thanks to my friends over there for the good work! 

The Kong Gigi--a Guide's Best Friend

Ever been climbing as a group of three and by day’s end your elbows are wreckage from pulling ropes through your belay device? Yes, well, there is salvation for you and your aching elbows…the Kong “GiGi.” The GiGi is an Italian-made belay device that’s mostly used for belaying your follower(s) in “autoblock” mode. Ropes tend to pull through the slots on the GiGi much more easily than a Petzl Reverso or Black Diamond ATC Guide–but like most techniques and tools there are compromises for the easier pulling…so read on.

The lightweight and easy-on-the-elbows Kong Gigi

The lightweight and easy-on-the-elbows Kong Gigi

Kong has an informative page on their site detailing all of the GiGi’s proper applications and techniques, but I wanted to write something specific about the Kong because I’ve used the the thing incorrectly on occasion. More on this in a sec…

Like I said before, the GiGi’s main advantage over the Reverso and ATC Guide is ease of use. For guides, who might be pulling hundreds of meters of rope a day, day in and day out, this can mean the difference between tendinitis and smooth sailing. The GiGi has wider, longer slots than other autoblocking devices (an autoblocking device locks up when a follower falls, introducing security into the system, as well as allowing the belayer to be tending to other tasks like eating, stacking the rope, checking the route topo, etc.) which allows rope to feed more smoothly and more easily–cool.

The downside, though, is that these wider, longer slots can let a thinner rope (less than 10mm in diameter, as indicated in the Kong literature) twist, invert, and come out of autoblock mode if the blocking biner isn’t oriented properly.

As with the Reverso and ATC Guide, the follower’s strand of rope (or the “load” strand”) is on top in this pic. Unlike the Reverso and ATC Guide, though, when using a rope of less than 10mm in diameter, it is not enough to simply clip the rope in the back with a block biner–as is pictured here. This photo, therefore, is of a GiGi set up INCORRECTLY when belaying a single rope of less than 10mm.

As with the Reverso and ATC Guide, the follower’s strand of rope (or the “load” strand”) is on top in this pic. Unlike the Reverso and ATC Guide, though, when using a rope of less than 10mm in diameter, it is not enough to simply clip the rope in the back with a block biner–as is pictured here. This photo, therefore, is of a GiGi set up INCORRECTLY when belaying a single rope of less than 10mm.

Notice in the above photo that the GiGi is set up exactly as one would belay a single rope with a Reverso or ATC Guide. While this works flawlessly with either of those tools, the GiGi is not designed to belay a single strand of less than 10mm rope in this fashion. Why?

To see why the GiGi isn’t meant to be used this way, simply weight the load strand, then twist the blocking biner forcefully in either direction by rotating it in one’s hand.

To see why the GiGi isn’t meant to be used this way, simply weight the load strand, then twist the blocking biner forcefully in either direction by rotating it in one’s hand.

As you rotate the biner, you’re essentially taking the climber’s (or load) strand and flipping it to the bottom. Because of the wider slots on the GiGi, with a rope of less than 10mm in diameter, it is possible to flip the climber’s strand to the bottom and the GiGi is no longer in belay mode and will fail.    

As you rotate the biner, you’re essentially taking the climber’s (or load) strand and flipping it to the bottom. Because of the wider slots on the GiGi, with a rope of less than 10mm in diameter, it is possible to flip the climber’s strand to the bottom and the GiGi is no longer in belay mode and will fail.

 

The ropes have now been flipped, so the climber’s strand is on the right in this photo, which is also the bottom–INCORRECT on the GiGi as well as the Reverso and ATC Guide. The belay device will fail at this point. To be clear: this is not a design flaw in the GiGi. Rather, it is user error, but perhaps a common one because the Reverso and ATC Guide are virtually impossible to flip while the GiGi can with a skinny, single rope.

The ropes have now been flipped, so the climber’s strand is on the right in this photo, which is also the bottom–INCORRECT on the GiGi as well as the Reverso and ATC Guide. The belay device will fail at this point. To be clear: this is not a design flaw in the GiGi. Rather, it is user error, but perhaps a common one because the Reverso and ATC Guide are virtually impossible to flip while the GiGi can with a skinny, single rope.

Before you write the GiGi off, there is an easy fix for the above error. As described in the GiGi manual, you simply orient your blocking biner around the whole device (pics to follow) when using a rope of less than 10mm in diameter (which everybody seems to these days!). I generally only use my GiGi when belaying two strands of rope from above, which makes the potential error described above a moot point–with two strands of rope, it’s impossible to twist the blocking biner around and release them. Even with a single strand, the likelihood is fairly low, but it is potentially a catastrophic mistake.

Below is a quick video illustrating what can happen: 

So, not to worry, the fix is easy–simple orient the blocking biner around the entire device when belaying a single strand of rope. You just rendered the whole “rope-flipping” thing a moot point–good work! The GiGi manual describes this situation clearly, but I’ve seen the GiGi used this way a few times and an IFMGA guide emailed me to clarify the technique. He had a near-miss early in his guiding career and took the time to send me some video showing the GiGi release when set up incorrectly–and I want to reiterate that this situation is not a design flaw in the GiGi–it’s simply using the tool incorrectly.



The simple fix: if belaying a single follower/strand of rope of less than 10mm, orient your blocking biner around the entire device, so it can’t rotate and flip the ropes into an “unbelayed” or “non-autoblocked” orientation. Easy!

The simple fix: if belaying a single follower/strand of rope of less than 10mm, orient your blocking biner around the entire device, so it can’t rotate and flip the ropes into an “unbelayed” or “non-autoblocked” orientation. Easy!

If you’re using the GiGi with two rope strands, no sweat, but if you choose to use it on a single strand when belaying your second/a follower, then make sure you orient your blocking biner around the entire unit and you’re good to go. I like my GiGi because it feeds rope smoothly (on rappel, too) and despite what people say, it can belay a leader when used correctly and by a skilled practitioner. But again–visit the manual and verify that you’ve been using it correctly! It’s a great tool, but one that requires a bit more management than a Reverso or ATC Guide.

Apologies if I’ve been redundant or a bit pedantic, but I wanted to clarify this issue with the GiGi–I’m sure I’ve set the thing up incorrectly at some point in the past…and while the likelihood of twisting the rope and releasing it (as shown above) seems pretty low, I’ll make sure to always orient my blocking biner around the GiGi so it can’t flip.

I’m a big fan of the GiGi, and maybe it’s worth introducing to your toolbox…but make sure you’re using it correctly–I am now. Thanks to the guide who took to the time to email me and happy climbing to all of you.

This post originally appeared on Elevation OutdoorsThanks for the team over there for the good work!