This year the American Alpine Institute presented six awards at the annual Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City last week. The equipment and clothing awarded the AAI Guides Choice designation have proven to be of the highest quality in their product category. The awards are determined on the basis of excellence in design, performance, and durability demonstrated in rigorous international field tests conducted by professional guides of AAI. Evaluations are made throughout the year in desert, cold weather, rain, snow, high wind, and high altitude environments. The American Alpine Institute has no financial ties or financial interest in any manufacturer or distributor. All testers and their expenses are paid by AAI.
A core group of AAI professional guides conduct Guides Choice field tests year round, throughout the world. Tests may be completed in a single long season (for example five summer months of intensive climbing in South America), or over several seasons (for example McKinley expeditions in the spring and Himalayan expeditions autumn). Because of the intensity and constancy of use, the wear and stress that gear receives during these tests corresponds to many years of use by a recreational climber.
The following products won this year’s Guide’s Choice Award:
Patagonia Guide Pant
The guide pant is comprised of a tough, weather-resistant nylon/polyester/spandex blend that both breathes well and retains its shape. The guide pant is a lighter alternative to many of the other options on the market, but not too light. Patagonia found a great compromise in the epic balancing act between weight and warmth. This product is just about the right for everybody.
Many of our female guides found that these pants fit better than any of the alternatives. The cut of the women’s guide pants is both feminine and comfortable. AAI Guide Mary Harlan felt that they were the best option on the market for female climbers.
Patagonia CSS Technology
Like all new products, two to three years ago the stitch-free composite seam system technology (CSS) had a few problems. Patagonia worked to eliminate these problems and this year after extreme testing in a variety of environments, our guides found absolutely no problems with the CSS technology.
Patagonia’s CSS technology provides for jackets that are streamlined without extra bulk, weight or material. Sewn seams are far more vulnerable to abrasion, wear and leakage than the durable non-stitched seams found in Patagonia’s modern jackets.
Buff for Buff Original Headwear
The Buff is a multifunctional article of clothing that may be used as a scarf, a neck cover, a face cover or a hat. Many guides find a variety of other purposes for the product. Over the last couple of seasons our guides have begun to wear these on a regular basis. Indeed, it has become almost a part of the AAI guide’s uniform. “When it’s too warm for a balaclava, but too cool to go without, the buff is the perfect piece of clothing,” Senior AAI guide Justin Wood said. Such a sentiment is common among the guide staff.
MontBell Ultralight Thermawrap Parka
The MontBell Thermawrap Parka is an incredibly well designed and functional mid-weight layer. The Exceloft synthetic insulation stays warm even when wet. The combinations of fabric and insulation are designed to dry extremely fast. This makes the jacket a valuable piece in warm and wet environments like the one that we have in the Pacific Northwest.As part of a layering system, our guides found that the jacket performs extremely well. Some of these light to mid-weight jackets are too warm to be used as a part of a layering system. This particular model doesn’t have that problem. On Denali our guides found this to be a good top layer low on the mountain and a phenomenal mid-layer as the temperatures dropped higher up.
Black Diamond Quantum Pack
Our guides found the 55 liter Quantum Pack to be an exceptionally well-designed backpack. This stream-lined pack feels bigger than other packs of the same volume. This has to do with its longer/taller profile. It’s built with ultralight, durable and water-shedding VX 21 Polyant laminated fabric and lined with lightweight 30d SillNylon. In other words, the pack is tough, light and carrys loads well. There are no extra bells and whistles. It is a good pack.
Black Diamond Anarchist Ski Pack
The 42 liter Black Diamond Anarchist Ski Pack is a durable well designed pack with the multi-day backcountry skier in mind. There is enough volume in the Anarchist to cover the minimalist skier for up to four days in the field. The pack’s expandable top-loading design features a side-access panel for easy admission. Its sleek design allows it to compliment the skier’s movements.
Like the Quantum Pack, the Anarchist is tough. The 420d nylon fabric and 1300d Ballistic reinforcements offer water-shedding, long-wearing performance. Our ski guides put this pack to the test, working it through day after day of deep powder in the Sierra and the San Juans and brushy wet approaches in the Cascades.
Mountaineers Books Outdoor Experts Series
A few years ago Mountaineers Books introduced a new series of “how-to” texts. The books took off in a way that went far beyond anyone’s expectations. This series of books now includes some of the most well-known outdoor education writers and climbers in the field. Kathy Cosely, Mark Houston, Craig Luebben, Jared Ogden, Molly Loomis, Martin Volken, Margaret Wheeler, Scott Schell, Andy Tyson, and Will Gadd are just a handful of the well-known mountain guides and climbers that have contributed to the series.
Voilé Telepro T6 Avalanche Shovel
One might think that a shovel is a shovel. But when our guides are up on Denali in -30 degree temperatures, trying to dig out a tent platform during a storm, a good shovel may make the difference between frostbite and comfort. The T6 Avalanche Shovel was the only model not to break or become damaged during our eight expeditions to the tallest mountain in North America this year. If that isn’t enough reason to give this product the Guide’s Choice Award, then we don’t know what is…