Our Guides’ Gear Picks for Ice Climbing this Winter
At Wyoming Mountain Guides, we take our ice climbing gear selection very seriously. Because we climb a lot of challenging, rugged terrain, we need equipment that not only performs at a top level but is also durable enough to withstand consistent abuse in an unforgiving environment. We also prioritize gear that is user-friendly regardless of a person’s climbing background – that’s why you’ll see our guides using the same equipment as our guests. Last but not least, we try to use gear that’s a great value to buyers. In a sport that has so many barriers to entry, having more affordable equipment is important to make ice climbing a little more accessible to a wider range of people.
The following are a few of our favorite pieces of ice climbing gear that we’ll be using this season:
Ice Tools: CAMP-Cassin X-Dream*
The X-Dream is the daily driver for our ice climbing guides and makes up the bulk of our rental fleet for guests. It excels as a technical tool due to its lightness and exceptionally comfortable handle, allowing for delicate climbing on featured steep ice and reducing pump on long, challenging pitches. It outperforms any other tool we’ve used on hard mixed terrain (not surprising since people are still winning World Cup competitions with X-Dreams). We also find the X-Dream has a very intuitive swing for new ice climbers on lower angle ice, which we were a bit surprised by because it is known primarily as a steep ice tool. The main downsides that we’ve noticed are: 1) the modular hammer design seems a bit flimsy, and although we haven’t broken a hammer yet while hammering pitons, it is a concern; 2) the stock ice picks do not last as long as the Petzl Pur’Ice picks; and 3) the X-Dreams do not climb cold, brittle WI3-4 quite as well as a heavier tool like the Petzl Nomic. These minor drawbacks aside, there isn’t a tool on the market that we’d recommend as much as the X-Dreams given their great performance, versatility, reliability, and value.
Crampons: CAMP-Cassin Alpinist Tech*
One major issue we’ve found guiding and climbing in Cody is modular front points breaking due to extended use on rock and hard ice. Our favorite crampon for years was the previous generation Petzl Dart, which didn’t have a modular front point and the simple yet durable mono-point design held up really well in the rugged terrain. Since then the Dart has went modular and CAMP has switched to a fixed front point design with its Alpinist Tech, which is reminiscent of the older Petzl model but has some very unique features. One of the best features of the Alpinist Tech is the addition of crampon points directly under the forefoot, which provide greater stability when climbing on cauliflowers and highly featured steep ice. These crampons also have a horizontal secondary point next to the main front point like the Grivel G-20+, which can add some nice security and calf-relief when front pointing on really smooth and low-angle ice. That said, the horizontal secondary is a bit on the longer side and can get in the way while torquing in deeper seams on mixed climbs, so we recommend filing it down a bit to give the main front point more clearance. We have been impressed by the durability of both the main front point and secondary points – if a crampon can last more than a season climbing almost every day in Cody, then there’s no questioning it’s a great design. And although you can’t replace the front points on the Alpinist Tech, the replacement front sections aren’t much more expensive than some competitors’ front points.
Ice Screws: CAMP-Cassin Rocket*
The CAMP-Cassin Rocket is the easiest screw to place that we’ve ever used and also one of the least expensive screws currently on the market. The ease of placing these screws is just incredible, and although falling on ice is never, ever something we want to do, the ability to more efficiently place protection without wasting as much energy helps increase the leader’s margin of safety considerably. The Rocket is a lightweight steel screw, and although it’s a tad heavier than its ultralight competitors, it’s much more reliable than aluminum screws in cold conditions. Additionally, the Rocket’s diameter is slightly wider than Black Diamond and Petzl screws so you can more reliably reuse screw holes if you’re climbing in a well trafficked area. The one minor problem we’ve noticed is that the coffee grinder handles are a bit floppy and can interfere with clipping the hanger on occasion. Nevertheless we believe that the Rocket is still THE screw to use due to its ease of placement, reliability, and affordability.
Harnesses: Blue Ice Addax and Cuesta ADJ*
We’ve been really impressed by Blue Ice’s ultralight Dyneema harnesses and the Addax is the most luxurious of their current lineup. Given how many layers we’re wearing while ice climbing, we don’t need quite the padding of a rock climbing harness but rather a harness that works with the layers to distribute our weight and avoid pinching and rubbing the wrong way. The Addax does all of this and more (we’ve actually used it sport climbing in shorts and found it to be more than comfortable for all-day use) while packing down to just about nothing. The harness is also very durable thanks to a protective mesh on the waist belt and the belay loop/hard points have held up very well so far. We don’t have a lot of hanging ice belays in Cody thanks to the ledgy nature of the terrain, making the Addax plenty comfortable for most routes that we guide in the area, but we are looking forward to testing out the new Cuesta ADJ harness this year for use on bigger alpine walls. We used the Cuesta dedicated rock harness this past season and found it to be just as comfortable as the classic Arcteryx A-395 but a bit lighter and more durable in its construction. We expect the Cuesta ADJ with its ice clipper loops and adjustable leg loops to be our new go-to four-season harness for hard climbing on big routes.
Backpack: Blue Ice Firecrest 38L*
The Firecrest 38L is an all-around alpine backpack with an innovative carrying system and great carrying capacity. The backpack is the first of its kind to feature a flat, running vest-like shoulder strap system that distributes weight more evenly over the shoulders rather than cutting into them. These really comfortable shoulder straps also feature two pockets to store your phone, emergency communication device, mid-route snacks, or even a small water bottle. The rest of the pack body is made up of durable rip-stop fabric that has survived both an ice and rock season with minimal wear and tear. The Firecrest’s 38L capacity is plenty for our guides to bring extra layers and thermoses and we’ve even used it for overnight trips in the shoulder season. When not loaded, the pack cinches down flatly across your back, which is great while climbing harder routes and squeezing through tight mixed chimneys. We would like to see an external crampon pouch and tool straps designed for modern handles (the current design gets hung up on the handle when removing the tool) but overall this is a great pack that carries and climbs exceptionally well.
Gloves: Showa Temres 282-02
Finally, an ice climbing glove that is warm, waterproof, but also really light and cheap! The fleecy lining of the Showa Temres 282-02 is remarkably warm for how light it feels on your hand – you really have to try it to believe it! The drawstring on the new version of the Temres helps seal out moisture while burrowing through deeper powder or getting showered on by a wet ice climb. And most importantly, the warmth and waterproofness of the glove do not add much bulk, which helps reduce pump and adds enough dexterity for this glove to excel on most grades of ice and all but the hardest pitches of mixed. The real kicker is that this glove outperforms most of its competitors while selling for a fraction of the price. Often we find ourselves doing everything in these gloves – climbing, belaying, and rappelling – so the palms can get worn down after a couple months of heavy use. But the gloves are so cheap we can buy three or four pairs for what we’d pay for another glove, which makes them an absolute no-brainer!
Boots: Still searching for something that holds up to a season of climbing in Cody!
In the past few years we’ve primarily used top model ice boots from Scarpa and La Sportiva, and although these boots are incredibly warm, lightweight, and climb really well, we can’t fully recommend them because we’ve had some serious durability and performance issues. The Scarpa Phantom Tech has been our first choice given its weight, warmth, and ability to hike and climb. But the laces break after a few weeks of use and for two years in a row (and for multiple guides) the heel cup detaches from the upper boot, rendering the boot useless as it loses all stiffness in the heel. Before we used the La Sportiva G5, which climbed well but was not waterproof (again, rendering the boot useless as we can’t be guiding all day with wet feet). We have yet to try the newer G-Tech model and hope that some other companies’ models might fare better (such as the Asolo Eiger XT GV Evo and Kayland 4001 GTX). We’re also very open to suggestions if there are any other models of boots that you might recommend – please send us an email at email@example.com with your suggestions!
We hope you find these recommendations useful! Although there are a lot of good gear reviews out there, do note that we really put our gear through the wringer and our recommendations are based on at least one full season of consistent use. If you’ve every ice climbed in Cody or other alpine-esque ice venues in Wyoming, you know that the terrain is unforgiving and is especially hard on your gear. Choose your kit wisely and don’t just buy what looks cool – make sure that it will hold up over time too!
*Full disclosure: our company receives demos and discounts on gear from CAMP-USA and Blue Ice. We are grateful for having a working relationship with both of these companies, which we believe make the most innovative, high-performing, and reliable gear in their respective categories. We also started using many of these products before we received any sort of discount or promotional deals, but we cannot claim to be completely objective given these relationships.