Patagonia DAS Parka Review

Let me tell you about one of my favorite pieces of outdoor clothing: The DAS parka made by Patagonia. There is no better jacket made for cold winter days! It keeps you warm, whether you’re hanging at the belay on a climb or tagging a summit on a big ski day. I got my first version of this garment when I started guiding on Denali some ten years ago. Before that, I had for years insisted on flimsy down jackets to see me through the Colorado winters, although usually with quite a few shivers and cold hands and feet to go with it. That barely worked, and it wasn’t always comfortable. 

When Alaska called, however, I needed something warm for North America’s highest mountain.  Still, in the days of overstuffed 8,000’ down parkas, which fit the Michelin Man and his wallet a lot better than me, I was looking for more reasonable options that could withstand the rigors of the arctic environment. Enter the DAS Parka.  It was the required piece of equipment on the summit ridge of Denali at 20,000’ and kept me warm on 25 days of expedition life, but the super alpine is not it’s the only playground.  Since my DAS parka was red, it matched my ski patrol uniform, and on extra cold mornings I’d cozy up in it, riding the ski lift to work.  Often, the clear mornings after a snowstorm would reach record low temperatures, and we would be standing on a ridge high above treeline, throwing bombs to make avalanches before the runs would open.  It was so cold that your skis wouldn’t even slide on the snow.  I’d have my DAS parka on and my hood synched tight around my goggles – my only chance to stay warm. 

Nowadays, I have a new version, it’s blue (my favorite color), and I don’t leave home without it, come November.  Call me soft in my old age, but I like being warm! It stays in the car during the day when only the early mornings and late evenings are cold in early winter, but it’s there when I need it.  It travels with me when I cross over Togwotee Pass on the way to climbing ice in Cody – it hasn’t happened to me yet, but what if my car stalled out at the bottom of Togwotee Pass where cool air sinks into the valley and commonly creates Temperatures of -25F. 

Insulation technology is so great these days: this jacket features 120g/m2 Primaloft insulation (think more warmth, less bulk).  For long multi-pitch ice routes, I can easily fit the DAS in my climbing pack to pull out during cold belays, or when descending in icy wind at the end of the day. 

The cut is generous, fitting over a harness full of gear or extra layers.  The pockets are big, allowing for insulated storage of crucial items such as your spare gloves for the next pitch.  I have even stuck my thermos into the inside jacket pocket to keep a hot drink handy.  The hood fits over my helmet and keeps the wind and spindrift off my neck.

The DAS also works great for skiing, fitting over my lighter jackets that I wear on the ascent.  It’s lightweight, water-resistant and windproof nylon shell keeps the elements out. I have used the DAS on the ski area as well as in the backcountry.  I pull it out of my pack when taking a break and revel in its coziness.  It has me covered getting off the Jackson Hole tram in blizzard conditions.  Don’t think that it’s only appropriate for epic days, though – it works great for walking to the post office, too.  And all the mail fits in its pockets.

Gear Review: Osprey Transporter and Snowkit Organizational Duffels

Osprey TransporterNew in Osprey’s line up this year are the Transporter and Gearkit Duffel Series, with a bomb-proof bunch of options.  I had the chance to test two of them out on a circuitous trip to the Andes last month and I’m stoked on these duffels.  I managed to get my rock climbing kit for two weeks of climbing in New Hampshire and ski gear for a week of heli-skiing in Chile inside two of these bags which both weathered a lot of travel well.


I used the Transporter 95 for the brunt of my stuff in a checked bag which seemed to have endless room for everything I needed.  Features I appreciated that make this a go-to bag include:  incredibly durable and highly water-resistant construction, wide grab handles in all the right places, a burly U-zipper and opening flap that is unique and different than most duffels making packing easier and attached shoulder straps that stow out of the way inside the U-flap and are easy to deploy.  Little extras like a window for your business card and flaps to protect the few Fastex buckles from luggage conveyers, mules or whatever your means of schlepping may be are also well designed.  Although this duffel will stow far more than I like to carry on my back, it actually carries well as a backpack which is an added bonus for short hauls.  I chose the Sub Lime color which stood out in airport baggage claims and was a bright and cheery part of my kit.  I received lots of complements on it wherever I went.  MSRP: $160


Osprey DuffelThe other bag, which I used for carry-on was Osprey’s new Snowkit Organizational Duffel.  This little beauty is a 45L well thought out bag with creative organizing pockets that are uber practical.  It doubles as a backpack and carries comfortably making it super versatile.  I was skeptical of bells and whistles but everything had a purpose with a clean design and super stealth profile.  I wanted to check the Snowkit out specifically for a ski boot bag, plus some.


Now granted, I wear a size 23.5 ski boot which isn’t large, there was ample extra room and they stowed easily (with a lot of socks, transceiver, Delorme device, etc shoved in them).  This boot compartment is accessed on the end with a large burly zipper opening and a sleeve of light material isolating it from the main compartment.  This part of the kit is also ventilated so when you put your steamy boots back in at the end of the day they won’t get everything else wet.  There was plenty of room around the boots to stuff clothing and other to fill up the space for flights.  Amazingly there was ample space left in the main compartment to stow even more.


The Snowkit has all the features I like on the Transporter Duffel and then some.  The main flap is heavily padded which makes it comfortable to carry as a backpack and it protects the contents inside.  It has a well padded, scratch proof goggle and sunglasses compartment that easily accommodates both with some room to spare.  The side pocket fits a water bottle which if the zip is left open is easily accessible while boot packing.  There are also webbing straps on the same side stowed in the pocket that you could strap a pair of skis on.  There’s a low profile tuck away helmet carry and a padded side handle that makes it easy to tote around in airports or just huck in the back of a truck.  This is a great duffel and will be my go to boot bag, carry on luggage for many an adventure.  Check out the features on Osprey’s video here. MSRP:  $130

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

petzl sirocco helmetThe Petzl Sirocco Helmet has been updated and is better than ever. It features top, side and rear impact zone protection which makes it the go to helmet for rock, alpine and general mountaineering.

It covers more of your head, has a lower profile than it’s predecessor and weighs 170 grams, which is slightly more than the weight of your smartphone. In fact it’s so light you may forget that you are wearing a helmet at all.

Read more about why this is going to be your new go to helmet for all your mountain adventures.


Sterling Rope Helix Review

sterling rope helix review

Sterling Evolution Series – Helix 9.5mm Rope 

When you and your partner are up two pitches on the crux of a multi-pitch climb the last thing you want to worry about is your rope. If you’ve done your homework and selected the right cord for the job it’ll give you the confidence you need to focus on the climb, not the rope. You have to trust it just like you trust your partner belaying you.

When I pick ropes for our multi-pitch climbs at Chicks, I put a lot of thought into it and make sure we have a small quiver to choose from. The top qualities I seek out for a multi-pitch rock climbing rope are durability, lightweight and a good hand (not too stiff or too soft). I prefer bi-color ropes but any rope with a good middle mark will work for descents when only one rope is needed.

Chicks partners with Sterling Rope because we believe they are the best in the industry.  Their R&D process is robust, dedicated to excellence and has produced what I am confident to say are the best ropes you can buy.  In addition to choosing which Sterling ropes we use at Chicks, I test Sterling Ropes as a member of their Team, which I’ve done for many seasons and used most of Sterling’s ropes extensively.  I know first hand, which rope is the best for the job.

In my opinion, the best multi-pitch rope out there is Sterling’s 9.5mm Evolution Helix. The Helix, and it’s smaller sister the 9.2mm Aero both have some unique qualities that set them apart from anything else on the market and make them our go-to ropes for multi-pitch adventures. I’ll break them down into the qualities I mentioned above; durability, light weight and hand.  I’ll also refer back to classifications I laid out in our Tech Tip on How to Choose a Rope

No matter what the rock type, friction and sharp edges are factors unless your route is entirely overhanging. The friction of the rope running through carabiners and over rock adds to your drag. Sharp edges are common and present one of the most problematic concerns for climbing ropes. Even in a perfect world of glaciated granite slabs, ropes wear over time with use.  If you’ve ever used a “Skinny Bitch” (referring to 8.9 to 9.2mm ropes discussed in the link above) for repetitive multi-pitch ascents you’ve probably had a core shot or extensive fuzzy bits on the sheath that aren’t very confidence inspiring.  If you’ve used your “Workhorse” for longer routes you’ve experienced strain on your elbows with belaying and the weight on your back from carrying it to and from the route. Although these ropes will both get the job done, they don’t compare to the middle of the road, “All-Around” ropes typically from 9.4 to 9.7mm for multi-pitch use. The “All-Arounder” is going to stand up to more abuse, but still handle like a skinny rope while taking up less space in your pack and wear on your back. This is the Helix at 9.5mm. What makes the Helix stand out when it comes to durability is an incredible 41% sheath to mass ratio. The durability of a rope depends on it’s sheath.  With 41% of the Helix (and Aero) being sheath, this translates to unrivaled abrasion resistance.  If you go with Sterling’s new DryXP treatment, you lower the friction and water resistance even more, further increasing it’s awesomeness.

Regardless of how many pitches or how long the approach, we just don’t want to carry more than we have to. Whether on your back or tied in leading a long pitch, a heavy rope is a drag. This is why we usually leave the “Workhorses” on the ground for top roping and take the “All Around” or “Skinny Bitches” up longer climbs. The “All-Around” Helix is our top choice for a rope balanced with lightweight and durability.  Weighing in at 59 grams per meter (g/m), a 60 meter Helix is only 7 lbs. and 12 oz. Thats’ completely reasonable for all it’s other great attributes.

Sterling has produced a super tight weave with a unique pattern on the Helix that gives this rope a solid hand out of the bag.  “Hand” is a term rope manufacturers refer to for the feel of the rope when coiled, knotted or working a belay. Many ropes when new can be stiff and don’t hold a knot well or they’re soft and feel almost lifeless. On the contrary some ropes are supple out of the bag but when they get dirty tend to stiffen up.  The Helix is instantly easy to work with, holds the knot as you tied it and pays through belay devices like butter.  The tight sheath resists twists, dirt and it plays through carabiners with remarkably low friction. The hand doesn’t change over time, which leaves this rope remarkably consistent and easy to work with.

What’s really quite remarkable about the 9.5 Helix is it’s UIAA rated to withstand one more fall than it’s bigger sister the 9.8 Evolution Velocity (Helix = 7 UIAA Falls as compared to the Velocity’s 6). The Helix’s lighter yet more robust core construction is the difference, also boasting greater water resistance. Also unique to Sterling; you can purchase the Helix and most of their ropes in whatever length suits your adventure… 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 meters.

This is the last determining factor which some will place first when purchasing a new rope.  Your rope is your lifeline out there in the vertical realm.  My opinion is that price should be the least of your deciding factors, but sometimes that just isn’t practical.

MSRP:  A 60m non-dry Helix will run you $212.95 with the BiColor option bumping that up to $276.85.  Add the new DryXP treatment and a 60m goes for $238.95, with the BiColor DryXP option bumping that up to $309.95

Sterling marks all of their non-BiColor ropes with a durable middle mark, so you can’t go wrong.  Spend the money and focus on the climb, not your rope. Read the many other Helix reviews on the web and decide yourself.  We’re sticking with Sterling Rope.

Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraw

Petzl Spirit Draw

The Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraw is the Cadillac of all quickdraws. It’s smooth clipping action is unparalleled and I definitely notice a difference of how easy the rope clips into it when I’m on the sharp end. It’s notchless keyhole design sets the standard for all carabiners on the market, because they are way easier to clip and it makes unclipping them a snag free operation. Whether you’re on lead or cleaning them on top rope, you’ll do less fighting with the quickdraw putting them on and taking them off whatever they are clipped to.

The Spirit Express Quickdraw also comes set up with one straight gate carabiner and one bent gate carabiner. Remember the straight gate always gets clipped to the metal hanger on the bolt and the bent gate makes it more ergonomic to clip the rope into it. The webbing (aka dogbone) that connects the two carabiners is nice and beefy, which makes them more durable and easy to grab if you ever feel the urge to French free through a section of a climb. The dogbone is nice and stiff which makes clipping out of reach bolts a touch easier.

The Spirit Express Quickdraws come in two lengths, 12cm and 17cm. I personally prefer the shorter ones but it’s nice to have a longer one or two for good measure to help the rope run in as straight a line as possible on a route. If you’re not sure what length to get, go with a 50/50 split and you’ll be well equipped for any route.
How many do you need? That depends on the area you climb at, how tall the routes are and how many bolts are on the climb. They are sold in single units (as opposed to a pre-packaged set), so you can buy as many as you think you might need. In my experience, 12 quickdraws is usually enough to get me up most sport climbs. And if I need more, I just borrow some from my climbing partner and hope that they too have Spirit Quickdraws too.

For more info on carabiner basics and proper use, including tips on clipping, Petzl’s website is a treasure trove of information. Check it out

Slingfin Tents

slingfin tentThere are so many tents on the market, how do you choose?  When I was first introduced to the climbers who work at Slingfin Tents, I knew nothing about them, but was open to testing them at our Chicks Indian Creek clinic in April.

My first impression was the workmanship in these tents.  We had three small tents, each a different size and design:  LFD (our basecamp dining tent), the CrossBow 2 Mesh, 2LiteTrek, and the 2Lite. What all three shared in common was evidence of optimization of strength and minimization of weight, even in the smallest details. For example, the guy lines were the small accessory cord made by a rope company.

I also liked the features such as the two doors on the sides, because they are larger and easier to get out of than doors on the ends.  The shape of the tents allow more room at one end of the tent so you can sit at the end and cook, which is more practical than the center being higher in a small tent.  The set-up was easy and intuitive.

slingfin tentFinally, I was stoked on their customer service. Slingfin went out of their way to get us tents for our event.  There was tight turn-around after their last demo and they sent three tents plus a large dining tent Fed-Ex overnight.  When I asked about the purpose of a few features, like the small rings in the inside corner of the tents, I received an email explaining how that was part of the tensioning system in high winds, left over from their mountaineering heritage.  Its nice to know there are still a few companies in which everyone, including management, are avid climbers and users themselves.

Chick Pick: Petzl’s New GriGri +

Petzl Gri Gri PlusIf you haven’t heard the buzz about PETZL’s new GriGri + here’s the skinny. PETZL has upped the ante on innovation again with improvements to the coveted GriGri that make it a more user-friendly and safer device across the board for beginners and experts. The new “anti-panic” handle on the GriGri+ completely eliminates the possibility for user error in descent mode that has caused numerous accidents with earlier models by belayers holding the handle wide open and not holding the brake strand properly.  Those days are gone, moving the GriGri+ into the #1 assisted braking device on the market. This doesn’t mean you can forfeit good belaying technique which is required for proper use, but it does mean the learning curve is safer for beginners and the belay and lower are more secure across the board.

Another upgrade is the ability to put the device into either Lead or Top Rope mode. Top Rope mode facilitates taking up slack and overall makes for easier operation whereas Lead mode provides the same ease of paying out rope with the additional security of knowing the lower will be glitch-free. A simple knob on the back of the device below the handle makes the switch easy prior to belaying. It is possible to belay either a lead or top rope in either position, so you can’t go wrong but using the correct switch does optimize it’s performance.

Petzl Gri Gri

The lockable belay mode selector and the anti-panic function of the new Petzl GRIGRI + adds an extra level of security when belaying both in lead and top roping mode. The steel wear plates and expanded rope range also increases the devices lifespan and application.

Compared to the GriGri 2, the GriGri+ is overall a better suited device for all users across the board.  As an expert who climbs with beginners frequently it has quickly become my assisted braking device of choice after only a week and a half of use. It’s weight of 200g compared to the 170g of the GriGri 2 is insignificant for the improvements in security.

With a MSRP of $149.95, it’s a no brainer investment to add more security to your climbing. As with any belay device, proper instruction and use of the device is required.  

Learn more in our article on How to Lead Belay with a GriGri.

Chick Pick: Joshua Tree Hand Salve

Written by: Real Life Chick, Diane Mielcarz

Joshua tree hand salveI’m sure all of you have heard of the Gobi Desert but did you know you can GET gobies in the desert? If you are new to the crack climbing scene, and as inexperienced as I am, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Gobies…those abrasions/scrapes that magically appear after a day of finger, hand and fist jamming. Believe it or not, there is relief…Joshua Tree Healing Salve. This salve is highly effective in treating abrasions and scrapes. It is an organic skin treatment that reduces inflammation, promotes healing and moisturizes without softening my calluses. I began using this salve during a recent 3-day Chicks clinic at Indian Creek and was able to climb three days later at Red Rock without any pain or discomfort. I am now an advocate of Tree Salve and will always end my climbing day with it. Thank you Chicks and Joshua Tree Skin Care for the opportunity to try out this product.

Chicks Gear Review: Petzl Sitta

Petzl SittaAt the Ouray Ice Festival, I acquired a new favorite piece of equipment from the friendly folks at Petzl, the Sitta Harness.  It’s a full strength, very lightweight harness made from high tensile strength materials, that comes in bright orange and white colors.  When folded up, the harness fits into a miniature stuff sack, with the collapsible gear loops neatly tucked into the tight package.  When worn, the harness is almost unnoticeable owing to its light weight.

When I first laid eyes on the thin materials and low bulk of the harness, I expected it to be a great ski mountaineering or glacier travel tool – working well for a situation where the harness is only used in emergency or short time frame operations.  While the Sitta certainly is a great harness for such situations, its’ use extends much beyond my initial assumption.

The Sitta is actually very comfortable in a vertical environment where hanging in a harness is required and may extend for long time periods.  In spite of the low volume padding, the shape and width of the leg and waist loops are quite comfortable.

I have now used the Sitta harness for both ice and rock climbing, and I am impressed with its’ functionality.  Especially on long multi-pitch routes where weight savings are critical, the Sitta is my tool of choice.  The gear loops are large enough to hold rock protection and quick draws, and ice clippers can be attached is needed.

Chick Pick: Patagonia M10 Jacket

Patagonia M10 Jacket

Chick guides Kitty Calhoun and Karen Bockel along with Chicks Alumni Diane Mielcarz love their M10 jackets

The Patagonia M10 is our choice jacket for fast and light objectives or for mixed and ice climbing in wet conditions. The M10 is a 3 layer hardshell jacket made out of Patagonia’s patented H2No fabric. Despite this jacket being a waterproof hardshell, it is by far the most breathable jacket in this category.

Its minimalist design is perfect because it has everything you need and nothing that you don’t. It has an athletic cut that fits well under a harness and stays put due to it’s generous length at the torso. As climbers and guides we appreciate this as it makes racking gear and seeing your feet a much easier task.

They’ve added zippered hand pockets to this seasons version and the sleeves have a hook and loop closure so you can tighten the cuffs around your wrists. The hood on the Patagonia M10 accommodates a helmet with ease and is equipped with a single point adjust toggle located in the back.

Lastly, another of the Patagonia M10’s special features is that the whole jacket zips into the Napolean chest pocket. Inside of this pocket there is a sewn loop that you can use to clip the jacket to the back of your harness when you’re on the move.

Patagonia M10 compact designFor the rock, alpine, ice or snow, you can’t go wrong with the M10 jacket. It’s the one to rule them all.

What we Love:

  • Waterproof & Breathable
  • Minimalist & Compact Design
  • Versatile
  • Great color!