55 forum posts
Looking for some Gear to Start
55 forum posts
Well, since no one else has responded at all yet, I'll start with a fairly simpleminded, but very important truism: fit is everything.
Applying that to shoes: In climbing, as you know by now, the initial key to climbing efficiently is to keep your weight on your feet, as much as you can. Put on a pair of over-tight, painfully shaped shoes, and you'll quickly find yourself staying on your arms because your toes hurt so damn much. Two moves later, of course, your arms flame out and you're off.
Go to a well stocked climbing shop, even better go to several. Sit down and try on as many different pairs as you can deal with. Then do it a again next weekend. Don't stop until you've tried at least five pairs, and ten is probably better. Make notes on what hurts and where for each pair, and which pairs are comfortable. Make the choice of your first pair based on comfort, not performance. Performance comes later.
Given two equally comfortable pairs of shoes, you can start looking at the finer details: fastening system, stiffness and stickyness. If you'll be doing most of your climbing in the gym or on single pitch outside, go for something that's quick to get on and off (i.e., I would recommend against a full-on lace up shoe, even though that's the fastening system most typically marketed to beginners, and would go for a velcro closure or even a slipper). Go for the stickiest rubber you can find. In my experience, 5.10 rubber is very sticky, Sportiva somewhat less so. The one pair of Evolvs I tried seemed quite sticky as well. My only pair of Boreals was quite some time ago and they were noticeably less sticky than anything else I've tried since. I hated them, but perhaps they've upgraded their rubber since.
A lot of climbing shoe salespeople will recommend you size so small that you'll be screaming. My rule of thumb for a first pair of shoes would be to err on the side of loose, rather than tight. Tight hurts, and pain will keep you off your feet, which will screw up your climbing. I'd say if your toes are right up against the front of the shoe, but NOT curled over, then you're in the ballpark.
Your shoes will wear out fairly fast in any case, so buying a less expensive pair of shoes may make sense, since you'll learn from your choice and be able to choose more effectively next time.
Applying the fit issue to harnesses: Absolutely get a harness with four gear loops. A full strength haul loop in the back is also desirable (for me it's psychologically mandatory, just because it makes me nervous not to have one; but I can't say I've ever found myself in a situation where not having it would have been a disaster). Adjustable leg loops are nice, but will add weight, and may not be necessary if you don't anticipate wearing the thing over lots of different layering setups.
With those few basics covered, put the harness on and hang in it in the shop. Good climbing shops will have a rig that allows you to hang in their harnesses to check them out. Again, try a bunch and pick the one that combines maximum comfort with the features you want. Good brands that I've tried are Misty Mountain, Petzl, Arc Terryx (sp?), Metolius and Black Diamond, but there are many others.
A harness should probably last five years (which is the lifespan at which I retire my nylon climbing gear whether or not it shows substantial wear). So it probably makes sense to spend a bit more on this, since you'll have it for quite some time.
I've been looking into buying a used harness, what would your thoughts on this be? Obviously it won't be in perfect condition, but I figured harness still function pretty well no matter how used they are.
5,872 forum posts
Basic rule - do NOT buy used gear! This is especially true for anything on which your life depends - harness, rope, pro (carabiners, chocks, slings, etc). You don't know the history, no matter whether it is a good friend or (gasp!) an anonymous eBay ad. The gear is not just for looks - it is your life.
You don't know whether it took a whipper fall (or 4 or 5), its age, whether it got thrown in the trunk next to leaky cans of oil (or in some cars where the battery is located and leaking acid, like a certain British car I once owned), or, for ropes and slings, whether it got used to tow a car.
tokyo mentioned retirement age of gear - UIAA specifies the lifetime of fabric gear stored under ideal conditions as 4 years, unless the manufacturer has subjected the gear to specified tests and demonstrated a longer life (2 rope manufacturers have demonstrated 7 years under ideal storage conditions). You can find extensive discussions with test data on the web by professionals. Gear should be retired earlier depending on usage, with gear used frequently sometimes needing to be replaced several times a season.
The retirement recommendations apply to metal gear as well, though at longer timespans. The UIAA recommendation for aluminum gear (carabiners, cams, chocks, etc) is 20 years. If it has been dropped, the recommendation is immediate retirement (you can't detect microcracks that can expand rapidly without an Xray inspection, and sharp dings can propogate surprisingly rapidly).
In case you think this is nonsense, I will remind you of the highly experienced climber last year who completed a climb in Yosemite on an old harness. As he put weight on it to start his rappel, the belay loop failed, dropping him a thousand feet or so to his death. He had told his partner at the start of the climb that the harness was just fine, only a little wear.
Alright then, I'll stay away from used gear.
Bill S. is right on with regard to buying used gear, especially any kind of textile gear (ropes, slings, harnesses). This kind of stuff is susceptible to damage from exposure to chemicals (battery acid is a famous one, as Bill noted; and even marking pens and cat pee have been shown to be a concern!), and the damage is not necessarily visible.
He's also totally correct on the lifespan for textile gear - maximum lifespan of an article stored in ideal conditions and actual lifespan of the same article subject to regular use is vastly different. I know people who've used various items of textile gear for absurdly long periods of time and been fine. I value peace of mind enough to replace on a five year cycle no matter what, and also whenever wear requires before that cut-off.
I will say that the issue of microfractures in metal gear seems to be open to some debate. In a famous test, a Black Diamond quality assurance guy named Chris Harmston collected up a bunch of dropped biners from the base of El Capitan, which can be assumed to have been dropped anywhere from dozens to hundreds of feet. When pull tested for breaking strength, the results were pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the same items with no drops on them at all. Harmston and others apparently have used this as a basis for calling into question the concern about microfractures. Taking all this into account, I'm not too bothered about dropped metal gear provided that I don't see obvious visible damage. (There's internet discussion about this test and the related conclusions, but I'd have to dig to find it. Let me know if you're interested.)
With that said, I don't often drop gear, so I generally don't have to even think about it with respect to my own stuff. Furthermore, Bill S. is a genuine rocket scientist (retired, I think), whereas I'm just a desk weenie. So if I had to believe either him or me about microfractures, I'd believe him!
3,678 forum posts
Many excellent points have been made. I just wanted to add that two years ago Arc'teryx, Mountain Gear, and Rock and Ice magazine did a study on harness reliability with donated harnesses:
I can't find the results from Rock and Ice magazine right now though, but if I do will add it below.
747 forum posts
One of the major differences between the gym and real rock is the time you will spend in your harness. I have about 4 of them and frankly my "big wall harness" is the most comfortable and has plenty of places to attach the required spare biners, figure 8, spare brake, grigri and what ever gets used on real rock.
Shoes should be appropriate for rock not for the gym. My favorites are not made any more but they are lasportva Kakulaters - sort of high topped and pointy to go into cracks and I wear thin liner socks in them to protect my feet from sand - ever get sand in a tight climbing shoe?
If you are in area with serious objective danger of rockfall - wear a helmet.
Oh yes, always have a nodule of Tourquoise in the bottom of your chalk bag. It absorbs harm to the wearer and if its in the lower part of youre chalk bag it should hit first if you fall and protect you, at least thats the theory.
I climb mostly on Sierra granite which is like coarse sand paper. Keep your knees off it or they'll be bloody, so I climb in thick lycra tights. If I do hug the rock they stick to it, but they also protect my legs from scratches. tights show off your manly legs as well or better that shorts.
3 forum posts
Here is what I have to say:
Get some "comfort" climbing shoes that are tight, but not too tight.
Get a new harness that fits you and has lots of tail hanging out when fastened.
Get out of the gym and learn how to boulder. Stay away from the named stuff and learn how to judge rock, downclimb, and manage your safety and comfort level.
Beginners screw up ALL the time. Learn how to be "one with the rock" before you take on a multi-pitch route and kill yourself.
You can learn how to lead safely by placing gear while on a toprope. Place gear in everything on the ground - walk around the crags with your rack and learn how to place gear - and remove it.
Gym climbing is about being in shape. Real climbing is all about making judgements. You can't call a timeout when gravity is taking you down. One mistake and you are dead or in a wheelchair the rest of your life - dont skimp on gear or try to beat the learning curve.
16 forum posts
For a harness you can use 1" tubular webbing AKA Swami Belt, it's not as comfortable as a harness, you'll also need to learn how to use a figure-8 sling for leg loops for safety or for rappeling. You can also make a homemade seat harness out of webbing. It's less expensive than a store bought harness, use 22' of 1" tubular webbing. The advantage to using 1 " tubular webbing is that it can be used for rappel slings if you need too. Information can be found in the 5th edition "Mountaineering The Freedom Of The Hills" by The Mountaineers, is also a good book to have.
1 forum posts
I can't believe you are suggesting that a beginner "builds" their own harness from a swami + webbing - that is advice that is 30 plus years out of date. At best it is going to cause the user unneccessary discomfort and at worst it could facilitate an accident.
There is some info below that I wrote for clients who were looking for advice - it's UK biased, so there is no info on Big Wall harnesses. We don't have many big routes in the UK!
"All climbing harnesses sold in the UK (and EU) have to meet certain mandatory standards as set out by the European Union Directive 89/686/CEE on personal protective equipment. The EN standard within this directive that deals with sit harnesses is EN 813 (Full body harnesses are covered by EN 361). This directive sets out the conditions under which products may be brought onto the market, the manner in which they may be used by member states, and their free circulation within the European Community. It also sets out general rules pertaining to design and defines the certification procedure for equipment.
As far as climbers are concerned a key part of the testing requirement is that a force of 15kN (equivalent to a static load of 1500kg) is applied to the harness and it must hold that load for 3 minutes - so don't be worried about the structural integrity of any new harness. It is one of the strongest parts of a climbing system.
A climbing harness is a core piece of kit for any climber so it is worth spending some time choosing one that fits correctly and has the features that you need.
Don't buy your first harness on Ebay or second hand - it is most likely that you won't have the experience to determine if it is safe and it is very unlikely that you will get the best combination of fit and features that you need.
Head down to a good climbing shop that has a wide range of harnesses and shop staff that climb. The shop should have some means of letting you hang in a harness so that you can check that the harness will hold you in the correct position in a fall /during an abseil. This also lets you gauge how the harness spreads the load / how comfortable it is.
Then spend some time choosing the best harness - the article below will look at types of harness, features and fit and should hopefully give you a few ideas about what to look for...
1. Types of Climbing Harness
Thus the first thing to decide is what type of climbing that you will use it for – this may sound silly, but each different climbing discipline is best served by a harness with specific features. The majority of climbers will not have a harness for all the different types of climbing, but knowing what features you will and will not need should mean you don’t make compromises in the wrong areas.
Centre Harnesses: Centres and groups want harnesses with a simple design, great durability and wide size adjustment amongst other things. Thus most popular centre harnesses are constructed from un-padded 44mm nylon webbing with a minimum of gear loops. Many have a high tie-in point because they are often used with children and this feature helps reduce the chances of children inverting (children have under-developed hips and a higher centre of gravity compared to adults). They are perfect for groups, but their limited features means they aren’t perfect for personal use.
Examples: DMM Alpine and DMM Brenin
Mountaineering and Alpine Harnesses: These harnesses need to be light, easy to put on when wearing big boots / crampons, have a wide range of adjustment to go over a multitude of clothing systems and have drop away legs for calls of nature. Ideally I prefer these harnesses to have 4 or more gear loops, although a lot of people use bandoliers in the mountains.
They are normally worn over several layers of clothing and so do not need padding for comfort, in addition unpadded belts are lighter and absorb minimal water - if you do want padding then try to ensure the padding is made from closed cell rather than open cell foam as this won't absorb water.
There are two main styles of alpine harness – harnesses with fully opening adjustable legs and those that use a nappy design. Nappy designs tend to be most popular because there is only one buckle to do up/carry up the hill.
You will be using this harness with gloves so check that everything can be adjusted with gloves on. Features that are fiddly in the shop will be impossible to use on the hill.
It is likely that you will be wearing this harness as much for walking on approaches / descents / glaciers - so check that it does not chaff on your thighs.
Can you use the harness with your rucksack on? Is it comfortable or will the sack cause the harness to dig in? Stop you accessing your gear loops?
Examples: DMM Super Couloir and BD Bod (not the Alpine Bod which lacks a belay loop
Rock / Cragging Harness: This is the harness for general summer cragging duties. It is probably the hardest design to get right because of the contradicting demands placed on it – it also (unfairly) increasingly unpopular as climbers have moved/been pushed towards fully adjustable harnesses.
The harness needs to be padded so that it is comfortable on stances and yet be lightweight and unrestrictive, so as not to hinder athletic movements. This is best achieved by using a sculpted waist belt that is wide at the rear and is then cut away at the sides - when designed correctly this should provide support in the small of the back / over the kidneys and yet not restrict sideways bending. The quality of the foam padding is also important – there is no point in having padding if it collapses under load. Squeeze the waist and leg loop padding and see how it behaves - if is collapses easily then it is unlikely to provide much comfort. A few models of harness use a plastic stiffener in the waist to further help spread the load.
The exception to this is the new range of Arcteryx harnesses that use a proprietary weaving technique (Warp Technology) to create a very thin waist belt without traditional foam padding - it creates a very light, very comfortable waist belt. It should be noted that the legs don't use the same technology despite looking very similar - so if one of these harnesses ends up on your short list check that the legs are comfortable when hanging.
Leg loop design is also critical; a good fixed leg loop design will allow a reasonable amount of adjustment and provide support that is spread evenly across the whole of the padding. Round leg loops offer very little adjustment whilst elasticated, tier drop or delta legs offer much greater versatility. Leg loops constructed using structural binding rather than webbing that runs all though the leg loop tend to spread loads best. Try doing some simulated high steps or wide bridging moves to see if the harness restricts movement.
Females especially should check that the shape of the leg loop fits them comfortably, especially on the inner thigh where rubbing/chaffing can occur.
Gear loops should number at least 4 and depending on your preferred climbing style you may need up to 7. Check that you can fit your preferred rack on the available gear loops and that it sits correctly on them. Can you reach/see everything? Does the gear sit symmetrically on each side? Does the gear sit too far forward and fall in your lap?
Gear loops come in a variety of shapes and sizes - I prefer solid gear loops over cord/flexible ones because the gear is less likely to all crowd together and so it is easier to find the correct piece in a hurry.
Getting the gear to sit symmetrically over a variety of clothing systems can be difficult on harnesses with a single waist belt buckle. This means that the gear on one side will sit too far forward whilst the gear on the other side sits too far back - a real pain. Gear loops can be permanently positioned symmetrically on the waist belt by using either double waist belt buckles or by using a floating waist pad. On a true year round harness (see the "All Round Harness" category below) this is a really useful feature.
I really like to keep everything tidy and organised on my harness and so always check that all excess webbing straps can be safely and neatly stored away.
Examples: DMM Maverick and BD Chaos
All Round Adjustable Harnesses: This will most likely be the type of harness you first buy – probably 75% of all harnesses sold in the UK fall into this category. This is because this style of harness can tackle most jobs pretty well – summer cragging and winter mountaineering.
The design is generally similar to the cragging harness described above, but the leg size will be adjustable via buckles to cope with year round use. The harness may also be beefed up slightly compared to its cragging counterpart and have winter features such as an ice tube racking system.
A key feature to look for is that the leg loops can be undone completely so that you can get the harness on over bulky footwear easily. Stepping into leg loops with big boots is a pain and trying this with crampons is guaranteed to end in tears.
Check that the harness size range will cope with the clothing you are likely to be using - will it cinch down enough for those summer red points when wearing just a T-shirt? Will it expand enough to go over your winter fleece and waterproof system?
As mentioned above it is a definite advantage if the gear racking on this type of harness can be kept symmetrical whilst being worn over a wide range of clothing systems - harnesses with double waist buckles or a floating waist pad win here.
Examples: DMM Renegade, Wild Country Syncro and BD Blizzard
Buckles: There are two main types of buckle – thread-back or “slide lock/ziplock/speed”. The majority of rock climbing harnesses now feature slide lock buckles because of their ease of use, however I must admit to being slightly old school and preferring thread-back buckles; they can’t slacken off accidentally/be knocked open - however it should be mentioned / stressed that the slide lock buckles do have a pretty much perfect safety record.
There are some fairly shonky far east buckles appearing these days and it is worth just looking at the inside edges of the buckles to check for rough edges / poor finishing.
Belay Loop: A core part of most harnesses as it forms a central connection point in a wide number of situations. There is a bit of mistrust about belay loops after a high profile accident, but this was down to user misjudgment and for sensible climbers who look after their gear this is one of the strongest parts of the protection system.
I have seen a few people thread a screw gate through their crutch loop and waist belt instead of using the belay loop, but this “belts and braces” system is very misguided as there is a serious risk of the carabiner being 3-way loaded.
Climbers should always connect into/belay off/abseil off the belay loop or rope loop.
As a side point always thread the rope carefully through the leg loop and waist belt tie-in points - this is the primary point for harness wear and careful tying-in and un-tying will greatly prolong the life of the harness. Pulling the rope through quickly will quickly cause concentrated abrasion damage.
Racking: As mentioned above check that there is enough gear racking for the gear you are likely to carry, that the gear racks are in the right place and that they are a shape and size that you like.
It is important that the gear loops sit correctly on the full variety of clothing that you are likely to use. This is quite a hard call as it needs to fit both when you are wearing just a T-shirt and when you are wearing a thermal, fleece and wind/waterproof. The best ways of keeping the harness and gear loops centred are by using a floating waist belt (DMM Renegade) or by using double buckles on the waist (Wild Country Syncro). Or you could use a bandolier to compensate – some people love bandoliers, some hate them.
Are the gear loops firm or soft; will all your gear bunch together and will it be a pain to find the right piece in a hurry? Don’t be afraid of hanging some gear from the gear loops and seeing how it hangs.
Padding: If there is padding on your preferred harness check its quality – just try to compress it – if it crushes down easily it is likely that it won’t work well. Quality foam is expensive and because it is hidden away is a common means of cost cutting.
Haul Loops: Horrible things that increase the odds of you messing up. Was that the gear loop I clipped or the haul loop? I much prefer a rear gear loop on which I rack my belay device, prusik loops and emergency kit.
Rear Risers: Females especially will find releasable rear risers very useful. Check that they are solid and won’t release accidentally.
Weight: As always light is right, but don’t compromise weight for function. Fit, features and comfort are for me key, but after this weight is a good selection criteria.
Price: Harnesses cost between £40 and £80 and last on average 3 years. £13 -£27 a year – not much at all. A good harness that keeps you safe in a variety of environments and allows you fast access to gear can help keep you safe and happy. If it fits and has the features you want hand over the cash; skimp and you will most likely regret it.
Compromise on comfort and you will be constantly squirming on every hanging belay trying to get comfortable / take weight off a pressure point.
3. Fit and Sizing
A good fit is absolutely crucial – take your time and forget about the labels on a harness. Some males find female harnesses fit them best and some females find that unisex harnesses fit perfectly – it all depends on your shape / size and the manufacturers sizing.
The reason why a good fit is important is that it maximises your safety and allows the leg loops to take the majority of the force in a fall or the weight of your body on a hanging stance. If your harness does not fit correctly then the waist belt may end up taking more of the force and this can be dangerous for several reasons – you may damage the multitude of internal organs that lie around your lower torso in a fall or the harness may ride up into your ribcage and restrict your breathing when hanging. A correctly fitted harness will also maximise the chances of you staying upright in a fall or upright and able to breathe if you are knocked unconscious.
As mentioned previously your harness should work with the clothing systems/number of layers you are likely to be using - try it on with booth just a T-shirt and with a chunky fleece/jacket. Does it fit both waist and legs / are the gear loops in the right places / will it go big enough/small enough?Is the padding in the right place? Can you move freely in the harness / bend easily from side to side? Can you raise your legs freely?
Look at a full range of harnesses; there is a much better choice of female harnesses now, but don't discard a harness just because it is unisex. If it fits well and is comfortable, consider it - it is all about whether a specific harness in a specific size fits you and has the features you want.
Is the "rise" OK? This is the distance between the waist and the leg loop tie in points - women tend to have longer rises than men. If the rise is too short the front of the harness will be pulled down causing discomfort and a poor hanging position. A rise that is too long will cause the harness to be loaded incorrectly and place more force / weight on the legs. Metolius have a patented variable rise system that is very good and worth looking at if you are struggling to find a good fit.
The waist belt should sit above your hips and cinch down enough so that if you do invert in a fall your hips will stop you from falling out of it. The legs should be snug and not tight. The rise should be such that the belay loop sits vertically almost, but not quite, under tension. Too tight and it will drag the waist down and cause you to flip backwards on an abseil or in a fall; too loose and you will find everything moves around a bit too much. Definitely avoid a rise being too small.
Once you have short listed a few harnesses try them on the shops hanging rig.The weight should be taken between the legs and the waist (more on the legs than waist) and the harness should hold you naturally upright. If you have to fight to stay upright / comfortable then it is time to look at another harness."
I hope that helps a bit..
747 forum posts
Thank you Silvia, both for the valuable read and for bringing this up. I too was amazed that anyone would suggest a home made webbing based system to new climbers. (not that I haven't used similar systems for back-up while solo climbing).
Mtn Guide, Have you ever actually used a system like that which you propose, or is this information that you read about and are sharing with us without trying it? There are very serious hard core climbers on this group who will not stand for beginners being given dangerous information. Anyway I hope anybody who wants to climb will get serious instruction. Please don't be offended by our overly protective stance. Perhaps you were just giddy from too much eggnog when you wrote this...
"anyone who uses information gleaned from the internet to engage in life threateneing activities without professional instruction is asking for a disaster."
5,872 forum posts
Current edition of Mountaineering:Freedom of the Hills ("MFOTH") is the 7th edition. The home-made tubular sling harness does not appear from the 6th edition on.
The first Boy Scout Climbing Merit Badge Book had this type of harness mentioned as an alternative to the manufactured harnesses. A number of us who are BSA Climbing Directors raised strong objections to including this at the Climbing Director Conferences. After a couple of revisions, National agreed to drop it, because of the dangers mentioned in a couple of other posts.
Yes, back in the 1950-70 era, many of us used a straight swami belt (or even tied directly into the rope with a single bowline). But by the 1970s, good full harnesses had become available at moderate cost, and by the 1980s, the UIAA standards had been developed, as mentioned by SilviaFitz. All harnesses (and most other climbing gear) sold in the US and virtually all countries in the world must meet the appropriate CE standard, and are labelled as such. Some of the old techniques are useful in an emergency when nothing else is available. But only in an emergency, and in the hands of a thoroughly experienced expert.
Wow, thanks for all the help. This thread is a bit old... but I still don't have climbing gear. But, I did find an old copy of Freedom of the Hills, 4th Edition in my parents house which I'm now reading, although it seems a bit dated...
I'm still looking for some good recommendations for some shoes and a harness. In a month or two I'll be getting my lead certificate.
Sounds like you really want some specific model recommendations. Well, okay. But first, here's a pretty good on-line article on harnesses that goes through a bunch of the models that are actually on the market right now:
To give you a specific harness model recommendation, I'm currently using a Black Diamond Momentum SA. The selection over here is somewhat limited, and this is the model that fit me best among those available with the features I wanted. This has been with me on two week-plus overseas trips with many consecutive days of climbing, including all day routes with semi-hanging belays, as well as numerous cragging days. It has performed adequately in all respects. I don't absolutely LOVE it, but I'm certainly willing to keep using it for its full lifespan. The price is also reasonable.
In retrospect, I would counsel you to avoid the Momentum SA model that I have, because I'm not a big fan of the "speed adjust" buckles. For some reason the leg loop buckles tend to slip, although I've never had any slippage at the waist. This is the principal reason why I don't absolutely love mine - I'd much rather have the old-fashioned standard buckles on the Momentum AL. Alternatively, if you don't expect to need to accomodate a wide variety of bottom clothing layers, then just skip the adjustable leg loops altogether - non-adjustable leg loops with elastic for a little stretch, like the standard Momentum, are actually more comfortable.
For shoes, it's still going to come down to what fits YOU, but for an all around versatile shoe that will take you quite far up the learning curve, you could do a lot worse that the La Sportiva Mythos:
Of course, it has to fit you to be any good. Also, these stretch quite a bit, so it's prudent to buy them on the small side, and then let them stretch to the shape of your foot. I have a pair of these that have been successfully resoled four or five times, and I still love them for all-day routes.
Apparently my brother got into climbing a bit a few years ago. Long story short, he has passed his gear on to me... Mainly just a harness (looks quite similar to the Black Diamond Momentum, not sure which one though), and some super tiny shoes which probably won't do me any good. I'll try them out for a day at the gym next time I go and see if I need new stuff.
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