The Best Climbing Gear at Summer Outdoor Retailer 2018

For several years, I would try to see all of the climbing stuff at every OR show. These days, my schedule usually only allows me to sneak away for a single day, so I focus now on the brands that I think are the most worthwhile. This is a personal opinion, and your mileage may vary. (I mean, somebody must be buying all this stuff…)

This time around, I’m only focusing on the products that really stood out. It can be easy to get jaded about the whole affair, to lament the lack of “innovation” and “game changing” products. In my experience, however, the creative people behind the products are incredibly passionate about what they are designing, and each year we get incremental improvements that help us have more fun while doing our favorite activity. Sounds good to me.

On to the gear, in no particular order.

Butora Sensa

I’m a sucker for climbing shoes, so most of the kicks I saw will make the list, but let’s start off with the Sensa from Butora. They had a prototype of these awhile back, but they are finally hitting the market this fall. The shoe is supremely soft, with no midsole, but they did put a small toe cap in the front to prevent the shoe from pushing itself off of small holds. (Something I’ve experienced several times with the Acro.) The woven knit fabric is breathable and comfortable, offering good lateral stretch (which means they are only making it in one width, unlike their other high performance models). Retail will be $139.

Five Ten

While it seems like it’s been a bit of a rocky road the last couple years for these folks as they’ve transitioned to being fully under Adidas, it appears things are finally headed in the right direction. I’ve always liked this brand, but the last couple of years I’ve had a hard time getting excited about their newest shoes. Not so the case anymore, as the new Dragons (both VCS velcro and LC lace versions) and the new Aleon look like something you would expect from a company that now has access to Adidas’ manufacturing capabilities.

The Dragons use the super sticky HF rubber, and will retail for $160. The Aleon is a single strap slipper that is quite a bit stiffer than the Dragons, and which uses C4. It’s the first Five Ten shoe to use welded construction, eliminating hot spots on the inside. And then there was the oh so swanky retro Five Tennies, with all the design of the original from 1985, bolstered by modern shoe technology. They are going to sell a million of these. Of note was a new tread pattern, a modified dot tread which supposedly will offer better traction.

La Sportiva

The Testarossa is one of my all-time favorite climbing shoes. It fits my foot like nothing else and offers the perfect balance of sensitivity and precision for most of the sport climbing I like to do, so I was a little anxious when I heard it was being redesigned. The major upgrades come to the heel, which is now fully rubber and has been made more secure. (A common complaint from people who didn’t love the shoe was the sloppy heel). They also get an aesthetic upgrade so you will no longer feel like you are sponsored by McDonalds. The front of the shoe remains the same as the current version, and I can’t wait to try these out.


The Instinct SR is a redesign of their popular slipper, with better heel tension and more rubber on the forefoot. The Instinct VSR now goes up to size 44, as there is now a dedicated women’s version of the shoe. And the Vapor V gets a cosmetic upgrade, along with a better heel that won’t dig into your achilles tendon. It’s also fully microsuede now so it will stretch with your foot but not stretch out, and also features an updated air mesh tongue.

Black Diamond

The new C4s are rad and they are going to sell thousands of these things. They feature the same lobe design as the Ultralights, but utilize a standard steel stem, which is stiffer on the larger units and more flexible on the smaller ones. They are 10% lighter than the existing C4s, although it’s important to note the Ultralight Camalots are still 17% lighter than these new models. Some folks have stayed away from the Ultralights, as dropping that much coin on something that may not last very long can be tough to stomach, but these should be a good compromise, as the retail is the same as the current C4s. And of course the thing that has been all over the interwebs already, the three largest sizes have a new feature that keeps the lobes retracted while they are on your harness or in your pack, to keep them low profile until you need them. It was easy to use, a small change that makes for some nice added functionality.


Once you embrace sport climbing, there are a lot of tactics that come with trying to climb as hard as you possibly can. A stick clip is an essential piece of gear, and I actually have two different ones. One is super long for sketchy high bolts, and one is a lighter Beta stick that I can easily take up routes with me, fits in luggage for overseas trips, etc. The Beta stick has been redesigned with some really nice features and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. (It’s the little things in life.) The pole is more durable, the closure system more robust, and the carabiner attachment has several options. Available in compact and standard lengths.


The Kinetic is an assisted braking device that works on ropes from 8.5-10.5. You never know how these will be until you try them, but I liked how it looked. Retail is $75.

Salewa Wildfire Edge

The best shoes I’ve ever worn for actually approaching and scrambling in the mountains are the Salewa Wildfire Pro, so I’m a bit partial to this brand. The new Wildfire Edge was intriguing, with the main selling point being that it has a hike and climb mode you can switch between. The climb mode puts more tension on the heel, driving your foot forward and creating more power over your toes. Will be interesting to see how it works in real life, as it sure sounded nice in theory.


I tested out some Dragon cams awhile back in the Creek, and came to really like them. I had never been a fan of the extended slings, but especially in the desert, I found myself using it all the time. I loved being able to quickly extend a piece without clipping on another draw, whether it was to help keep the rope out of the crack or for passing over short roofs. The Dragonfly cams are the smaller sizes of this tested design. With six sizes, they use the same non-anodized cam lobes as their bigger siblings. Interesting side note, DMM tested the holding power of cams with and without anodization in conjunction with a group at MIT and found that non-anodized held better. It probably won’t matter in bomber rock like granite, but in slippery quartzite, or limestone, or probably Indian Creek, extra holding power is nice to have!

A huge thanks to everyone we met with. Great to see old and new friends alike!!

One Response to The Best Climbing Gear at Summer Outdoor Retailer 2018

  1. Thanks for this article! Really good tips!

    I plan to climb the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador with the travel agency Gulliver Expedtions!
    I wish to see the glacier at the top of the volcano!
    I can’t wait to be there and now I know how to be perfectly equipped!

    Thanks again for all these tips!

    Ursula Stadelman August 15, 2018 at 9:31 am
Locals Corner

Bulldog Creek Dog Walk (IV WI 4+)

Hayden Carpenter and Tom Bohanon recently repeated an obscure ice climb on the south side of Mt Sopris. Given a brief mention in Jack Robert’s ice guide, Bulldog Creek Walk is described as being 100 meters of WI 4. What they found was seven pitches of ice in a remote setting that makes for one […]

Connect with Us

Real Time Web Analytics