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Backpacker Magazine – November 2008

The Denali Test: Gear for America's Highest, Coldest Peak

Our tester spent 18 days climbing, camping, and evaluating gear on America's highest, coldest peak. If his picks made it there, they can make it anywhere.

by: Steve Howe, Photos by Brooks Freehill

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Patagonia R1 Flash Pullover
Patagonia R1 Flash Pullover
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Zip T
Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Zip T
Outdoor Research WS Gorilla
Outdoor Research WS Gorilla
Feathered Friends Frontpoint Jacket
Feathered Friends Frontpoint Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants
Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants
MSR XGK EX
MSR XGK EX
Hilleberg Nammatj3 GT
Hilleberg Nammatj3 GT
MSR Lightning Ascent 30
MSR Lightning Ascent 30
Oakley Hijinx Iridium (Courtesy photo)
Oakley Hijinx Iridium (Courtesy photo)
REI Kilo Expedition -20°F
REI Kilo Expedition -20°F

Baselayer | Midlayer | Headwear | Puffy Jacket | Pants | Stove | Tent | Snowshoes | Sunglasses | Sleeping Bag

Pants
Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants

Insulated side-zip pants are one of those things that most hikers only infrequently need–but when you do, nothing else cuts it. The Compressors are best of class because of both material and design. The ThermicMicro synthetic insulation resists compression and soaking so you can sit in a snowbank, and a flexy, non-restrictive cut and feel makes them more comfortable than most insulated pants. The lightweight, 15-denier shell fabric is reinforced in the seat and knees for durability. With full side-zips and a loose fit, the pants slide over undies and shell pants alike. A hook-and-loop ankle adjustment adapts length for the short-legged, and a fly zipper makes pit stops quick, even with a climbing harness (a must up high). The adjustable elastic waist stays put under a weighty backpack. Quibble: The side-zips can be sticky to start. $140; 1 lb. 5 oz. (M); unisex S-XXL; mountainhardwear.com. Reader service #111


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READERS COMMENTS

Steve Howe
Jan 29, 2009

Hey Darren, I tested the dark bronze, which had plenty of visible light suppression. Never had to squint, even on the brightest days. However, if you want their darkest lens, go for "black Iridium" (Yes, it's available in the Hijinx. It's also less expensive.). I've used that lens in other frame styles and it's probably the best for seriously brilliant conditions....less so for overcast or backpack searching.

All those lens tints should protect your eyes just fine from UV damage, just choose the visible light level for comfort.

Darren - Oregon
Jan 27, 2009

I have a question regarding your recomendation on the sunglasses tint for the Hijinx. According to Oakley's website they offer that model with either Dark Bronze (non-polarized) or in a Bronze Polarized. According to the information on their site, it appears that the non-polarized Dark Bronze reduces more light transmission. Which tint do you test?

Jeremy
Jan 23, 2009

I concur on the R1 pullover from Patagonia... I have the hoody and the flash and both are fabulous. It is by far my most used layering piece. Highly Recommended!

blugh
Jan 13, 2009

pfffffffffffff! Expensive!!

Steve Howe
Jan 09, 2009

Couple responses here:
Eric Nelson: The glasses pictured did an excellent job of shielding reflected UV from the glacier surface and sides. They also vented better than glacier glasses in sweaty conditions. Believe me, I understand the need to keep reflected light out. But these are large-framed, full-coverage glasses, and they worked better than the glacier glasses from my previous two Denali trips. That said, there are numerous models available that work just fine for this peak. I used goggles on the summit day, and had them with me on all carries, but they were too sweaty most times.

To A.J.: I got the 'basic' FrontPoint jacket...with an eVent cover. No other modifications. I used it in a layering system, since the big parkas are only really useful around camps and above 14,000 camp. (I wore a Marmot 8000M parka the previous year, and it was deluxe, but too big and heavy for most of the mountain.) On this summit day I wore R1, Monkey Man pullover, a TNF hooded Redpoint synthetic jacket (since discontinued), and the Front Point jacket on top of that. The eVent cover was helpful in cutting wind and keeping the down dry.

A.J.
Jan 06, 2009

Hey Steve. Did you get the basic frontpoint jacket or did you add any custom features to it like extra down or additional protection on the elbows or shoulders? Also was the 13 onces of down enough or would you have added more if you could?

Eric Nelson
Jan 05, 2009

I have the 0 degree REI bag. It is only 2 lb 6 oz for the regular, and it is definitely a 0 deg bag. I tend to sleep cold, but I was almost sweating even at 20 deg in an open shelter with lots of wind.

Who would use sunglasses without side shields at high altitude? That's just stupid. Oakley is a top brand, but these glasses are only good for looking at Denali from a distance. All wavelengths of light reflect off the snow. These glasses do not protect from the top or bottom. I always use goggles, but one should at least use mounatineering glasses.

Steve H.
Dec 29, 2008

Hey ERB:
As to gloves. For the lower mountain most warm ski gloves work fine. From about 16,000 on up, it's all about mittens. Most thick down or synthetic mitts will work well if they're 'expedition' or near expedition grade. I've used OR, Mountain Hardwear and Marmot mitts, both down and Primaloft, on successive trips and all worked fine. I also recommend taking some large, "Grabber" style handwarmers for summit day. Key point: Finger warmth has a lot to do with body core warmth. Even the best mitts won't keep your digits going if your core is chilled. Also, I don't generally use liner gloves. I've found that they constrict my fingers, cutting off blood flow. But that's just me. Others disagree.

Steve H.
Dec 29, 2008

Hey ERB:
As to gloves. For the lower mountain most warm ski gloves work fine. From about 16,000 on up, it's all about mittens. Most thick down or synthetic mitts will work well if they're 'expedition' or near expedition grade. I've used OR, Mountain Hardwear and Marmot mitts, both down and Primaloft, on successive trips and all worked fine. I also recommend taking some large, "Grabber" style handwarmers for summit day. Key point: Finger warmth has a lot to do with body core warmth. Even the best mitts won't keep your digits going if your core is chilled. Also, I don't generally use liner gloves. I've found that they constrict my fingers, cutting off blood flow. But that's just me. Others disagree.

DMH
Dec 23, 2008

In our community of avid hikers, at least half a dozen people have MSR Lightnings. Each and everyone of them have had broken crampons after two seasons of weekly use. MSR and their retailers have been wonderful about repairing and replacing, yet it means time without snowshoes.

DMH
Dec 23, 2008

In our community of avid hikers, at least half a dozen people have MSR Lightnings. Each and everyone of them have had broken crampons after two seasons of weekly use. MSR and their retailers have been wonderful about repairing and replacing, yet it means time without snowshoes.

ERB
Dec 23, 2008

what about gloves?????

AlpineAlan
Dec 23, 2008

The key is to not use one of those "kiddy sleds" which litter the Kahiltna without modification. I brought along fiberglass poles from Ed's Wilderness Systems, and also some fins to keep the sled tracking straight. I used a large nail heated with my stove to punch the correct holes in the sled to modify it to fit my gear. I sewed the pole attachments to my Black Diamond Alpine Bod harness with carabiner quick-release attachments. This set-up worked wonderfully going up and down...I snowshoed the first time on Denali and hated every minute of it. Thanks...

Bob J- Oregon
Dec 23, 2008

I have an MSR XGK since 1979. It has never let me down.

Steve
Dec 21, 2008

Hey Alpine Alan. Sorry, didn't see the tail end of your comment. Packs: I used an Osprey Argon 85. Huge capacity and very stable. I also had good success with Gregory's Makalu (slightly smaller) on my first trip. I'd gladly carry a Deuter ACT Zero 65+10, or a Mountain Hardwear Intention 75 as well. Big simple bags with good harnesses.

Steve
Dec 21, 2008

Hey Rich. I'm not a fan of MSR Whisperlites (same clog problems), but the XGKs are another story.

Steve
Dec 21, 2008

Why snowshoe? Simple. Because I didn't want to spend three weeks in ski boots. I used skis on my first Denali ascent, and while they were fun, they were of very limited logistical advantage. Above 11,000 feet you're usually climbing on crampons anyway, and the skiing is marginal except for fun runs around 14 camp. The snowshoe/moon boot (Asolo Manaslu) arrangement also weighed much less, and hence climbed considerably faster. I'm all about skiing, but I also watched a lot of expert skiers get totally jiu jitsued by wildly careening sleds. This way I got to enjoy the flexy ankle comfort of warm, light, poofy boots.

Rich Mayville
Dec 21, 2008

I quit using all MSR stoves in the early 90s do to RELIABILITY PROBLEMS! The jets always clogged (I sent back 3 whisperlites and an XGK before I learned to never buy them) and the jet pokers always broke. Does MSR still employ the gimicky shaker jet cleaner? Finally went with Primus and never looked back. It's the most reliable brand on Earth.

AlpineAlan
Dec 19, 2008

Why snowshoe when you can use alpine touring skiis with skins and climb much faster...and go down with style?? Also, what backpack did you use...there aren't many good ones for Denali.

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