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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.

The Myth of the "AMGA Way"

This blog originally appeared on Elevation Outdoors, June 15, 2012. Rob and Vetta co-founder, Mike Arnold, have since both achieved international certification through the IFMGA. 

Talking to climbers and reading online forums, I consistently hear about the “AMGA way.” A recent post on mountainproject.com got me thinking about this subject (again) and I thought I’d write something on it. For the record, I have taken my beginning rock, alpine, and ski courses, passed my “Single Pitch Instructor” exam (though, come to think of it, I think my cert is lapsed in that discipline–oops!), and I just passed my aspirant exam in ski mountaineering, all through the American Mountain Guides Association–or the mythic AMGA. I’m headed towards my full certification (I hope!) through the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA; or your “international” cert, basically). I am by no means a representative of the AMGA, any more than a “normal guide” is–I don’t teach for the AMGA, write on its behalf, etc.

Bottom line: though I’d say I’m pretty immersed in the process at this point, this here’s just the opinion of one dude going through the program.

Second bottom line: there is no “AMGA way.” I’ve heard the contrary a lot on courses and at cliffs–“oh, I heard the AMGA way is…” or “hey, what’s the AMGA way?” In doing my courses I’ve run across a couple old-school guides who preferred (quite strongly!) doing things in certain ways, but the vast majority of guide instructors I’ve worked with haven’t had or taught “a way.” There are practices one experiences repeatedly, but I’m trying to think of a course in which one of the instructors or examiners said, “You must do it this way…”

And I can’t.

They hammer certain principles into our heads, though: safety, speed/efficiency, client enjoyment, stuff like that, and in that order. As long as it’s safe, hopefully saves you some time (and doesn’t cost you any!), and your clients are having a blast–party on, brothers and sisters.

My most recent course in Valdez, Alaska, brought this general point home to me when doing my sled-rescue drill. I had been practicing it all winter and when I showed up my examiner, Vince Anderson, said everything looked cool, but he asked me a few questions: why didn’t I just “Munter pop” when doing my knot pass; why not just feed the knot through your Munter; how about setting your releasable hitch on the load strand rather than the brake side?

I don’t want to go fully into the sled-rescue exercise and its details, but my point is Vince was encouraging us to think within the context of skiing and snow, rather than a full-on rock-rescue exercise. We might have way less gear with us during a day of skiing. The potential load forces are generally, but not always, lower than in a rock setting. He said everything I was doing was fine safety wise, but towards efficiency I could improve my exercise.

The over-arching maxim for technical systems within the AMGA, seems to me, is “the right tool at the right time.” This can lead to some frustration, as an examiner might ding a student for using a technique that is arguably not quite appropriate at that particular moment, but the principle also leaves the door open to creative solutions to often complex situations and problems.

Is a single locking carabiner sufficient when clipping in to the rope on a glacier? How about on non-crevassed, but snowy terrain? A two-point anchor in alpine terrain, rather than a full-on three-point equalized rig? How about when a storm’s approaching? Are two locking carabiners “standard” on a toprope system’s master point, or a single non- and single locker?

The above questions might solicit several different solutions and answers, depending on the day, the time, the guide, the climbers, and the situation. Part of the fun and challenge of the AMGA process is filling one’s tool-box with as many techniques as possible, but the real finesse and elegance in guiding is knowing when to pull which one out and put it into practice. Just as important: when NOT to pull out the fancy stuff and let your routefinding, pacing, coaching, modeling, and communication improve safety and the experience.

Again, I am by no means a spokesman for the AMGA and I’m still a ways off of my IFMGA cert, but I spend a lot of time with guides and I’m way down the rabbit hole in terms of courses, so I have some perspective on this “AMGA way.” I don’t think it exists…unless you tack a little “s” on to the end of way…and then you’re on to something. Safe, efficient, and happy climbing!

Big Agnes Horse Thief 35--Light, Warm Comfy

Jargon, marketing, diagrams…it’s all for naught if you don’t get a good night’s rest. I thought twice before packing a Big Agnes Horse Thief 35 (852g; 1.8 lb.; $370) for a couple nights on Mount Shuksan. Despite having 800-fill down, the Horse Thief–like all of Big Agnes’s bags–has no insulation in the bottom of the bag. Makes sense on paper…but in the field, on my advanced alpine course…was this a good idea?

Turns out it was a great idea! My only gripe was not trying to score an even lighter model from Big Agnes…but hey, there’s always next year, right?

I’ve known of Big Agnes products for years, but just haven’t gotten around to trying ‘em. The idea that put ‘em on the map, not using insulation beneath the sleeper, seemed logical to me. You crush your insulation, particularly down, and it quits working…so why use it? Good question. To keep the sleeper warm, Big Agnes bags feature a sleeve along the bottom into which a sleeping pad slides. You’re literally locked onto the top of the pad, meaning you’ll never slide off of it and onto the cold ground. Second good idea.

More than a decade later and I’ve tried it out. Makes me want to sell my other bags and convert ‘em all to Big Agnes. I mean, seriously–why are all these other manufacturers stuffing the underside of their bags with expensive (and ultimately useless) goose down and synthetics? You’re better off with a quality pad beneath you and putting some of your insulation across your top.

The Horse Thief falls into Big Agnes’s “Divide Superlight” category. No hood, 800-fill down, Pertex Quantum shell fabric. I still found it roomy enough in the shoulders (I’m 5’10”, wear a 41R suit jacket, 165 lbs.) and I begged for a long model, so I’d have room to dry socks in the bottom. They call it a “mummy” bag, but it sleeps more like a rectangular rig. Mission accomplished and I dozed like a baby.

BA builds these bags with more vertical channels/chambers for the insulation, rather than horizontal. They call it "Insotect" construction, but whatever the case, it's plenty warm. I slept in my skivvies several nights in the Cascades, into the 40s and I was just fine in the Horse Thief. I'd have liked to try the next bag up, the Pitchpine 45, a lighter, quilted-construction model. Next time. 

I like the pillow pocket on the Horse Thief, too–just a thin, nylon pouch that’s sewn into the head of the bag. I stuffed my pants and baselayer into it and slept like a baby. The sleeve might add a few grams at the most; simply done, unobtrusive, and workable.

Big Agnes also sent me their “Air Core SL” pad to use and the thing is comfortable and warm–BUT, it’s heavy (561g; 1 lb. 4 oz.). So much so, I took my NeoAir (371g; 13 oz.) on my alpine course, rather than the BA pad. In fairness, it’s almost twice as thick as the NeoAir, but still…alpine climbing and the long walk into Shuksan…no dice. Backpacking, I’d probably lug the BA model, but it’s simply too chubby for climbing. The loft/height is impressive, so I imagine it’s warmer than most others (though I’ve heard too much height/airspace leads to conductive cooling).

So in summary–so far, so very good. I just pulled out the bag to shoot some expert (read: lame iPhone) photos and discovered there is a bit of down in the bottom/ground-side of the bag. I was under the impression there is none at all, but it seems there’s a bit. Why? That’s about my only question mark, though. All in all, the Big Agnes bag delivers on its word.

As for the pad–slim it down to NeoAir dimensions and I wonder if it’d be just as comfortable, but more durable than the competition. The shell material seems a little tougher than the NeoAir, so I’d love to see a lighter version and give it a fair comparison. Beyond that, though, I’m impressed with the Steamboat Springs-based company’s product. Love to try a heavier set up down the road. Maybe for my ski exam in February?

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!