Each year, climbing gear manufacturers shave grams and ounces off of their designs, but rarely is there a true innovation that changes the way people think about gear. Last year at Summer Market, many companies introduced extendable range cams, making it easier to get that perfect placement with one piece of gear. A whole new category was formed, with some very interesting designs coming out of Metolius, Trango, and Omega Pacific. Most of these designs are a bit heavier than traditional cams, but the ease of placement makes them the perfect panic piece and the extended range allows climbers to carry less gear.
This year the market saw many strong, evolutionary changes in hardware, including a completely new three-cam design coming out of Black Diamond Equipment. For several years the company has been relying on the double-axle four-cam Camalot design as its mainstay. Now, Black Diamond has the opportunity to lay claim to the TCU market as well with the C3 Camalot. With two patents pending one for compression drive springs above the trigger and one for the interlocking cam design at the head the C3 has the most innovative small cam design since the U-cable.
Also new from Black Diamond is the companys “Red Label” bouldering gear, which is taking the place of the Franklin brand. While there was not much radically new in the way of product, the marketing approach of Black Diamond Red Label should allow the brand to talk to the younger consumer much more effectively.
Metolius is also making some big evolutionary steps with their ultra-light Power Cams and TCUs. Over the past couple of years, Metolius developed Direct Axel Technology, allowing them to reduce the weight of their cams by 25% to 30% without compromising holding power. At the same time, the smallest cams are much easier to place since the connection points on either side of the cams are much smaller — and stronger.
Metolius is also starting an initiative that should help the entire industry design safer, more effective gear. The companys new, interactive website – saferbydesign.org has the potential to become the Wikipedia of climbing safety.
The site is designed to gather information from real climbers in real situations and help Metolius with gear design, safety, and function from real climbers and engineers in a controlled setting. The forum is open to the public, so it will benefit users and designers everywhere. Metolius doesn't intend to use the info exclusively for their own design, rather to further gear design and safety in the climbing community.
Metolius feels that there is no place for designers to gather data on cams being used in the real world and Saferbydesign.org should fill that void.
Many of the climbing shoe companies are beginning to push the boundaries in the design department as Five Ten, LaSportiva, and Scarpa look to diversify to a broader, more youth-oriented market. Many of the products coming out of these companies look more like lifestyle pieces than climbing shoes, but all have performance features relevant to the outdoor enthusiast.
Five Ten brought in some new design talent to launch their IQ line. The products all feature either a functional or stylized slingshot rand to give the line a continuity usually only present in fashion brands. At the same time, stealth rubber tells a performance story in every category ranging from water shoes to trail runners.
Scarpa, now under a new North American management team independent of Black Diamond, is bringing new styles from Europe that expand the brands offering into areas other than skiing and climbing. The decidedly Italian style and performance give the brand a new feel, while the very technical climbing products remain in the line with better end prices and better margins for retailers.
LaSportiva introduced a new line of urban approach shoes that blend skate shoe styling and comfort with sticky rubber and some climbing performance. The company is taking approach shoes in an entirely new direction with the Martini, Chaos, and Mandala. The look is a clear departure from this brands Italian heritage, but adds a strong fashion element and youth vibe to the companys highly technical reputation built on trail running, mountaineering, and rock climbing. New in the Rock Shoe line-up is the Viper, a performance training slipper, and Womens Miura.
Montrail is adding its custom molding technology, dubbed CTX, to its climbing shoe line, giving several of the top-end models more comfort and better sensitivity in the toe area, as well as a more positive and comfortable lock to the heel cup. The company is also using natural and synthetic leather combinations to allow a shoe to stretch in areas where it improves performance, and preventing it in areas where it does not.
Merrell introduced climbing shoes for the first time sine the company made the 5.10 in the early 90s. The Rock collection includes technical climbing and approach shoes. The Talon is designed for sport climbing, bouldering, indoor training, and “classic free climbs.” The shoes have a design and technology reminiscent of LaSportivas Kenda. The Rock collection also consists of two approach shoes, the Solo and Edge.