A Tale of Two Shovels: Brooks Range Compact and Hauler Lines

If there is an eternal tool in backcountry travel, it’s the shovel. Skiers, mountaineers and backcountry guides share this common denominator as much as the freedom of the hills. Beyond the obvious role of avalanche rescue, where shovels are essential, they have myriad functionality in the backcountry, whether it’s snow pit studies, winter camping, glacier travel—the list is long. Brooks Range has produced two lines of snow shovel that can be tailored to meet the varying demands of those who journey into the snowy mountains.

Ski tour equipment and avalanche safety tools

The primary distinction between the two shovels is the size of the blade. The Compact is a relatively square 24.5 x 24.5cm configuration that’s intended to be ever ready, fit in any pack, whether it’s for a day of ski touring or a long technical winter climb—one that excels in efficiency. The Hauler line’s blade is larger and more rectangular at 28 x 25cm. Think maximum scooping for snow pit tests, winter camping duties, or digging out your buddy’s car at the trailhead.

Bear in mind, avalanches don’t care what size blade you have. When an avalanche comes to a stop the entrained snow settles like concrete, and debris can be hard. Your shovel needs only to be reliable. Both Brooks Range shovels are made of high-tension aluminum for maximum strength, minimum deflection and long-time durability. They are also anodized to repel oxidation so the blade remains strong for years of dedicated use. And the yoke of the blade is extended to create a stronger interface between the blade and handle. It doesn’t matter if you scoop or paddle when it matters most, they won’t break down on you in the event of an emergency. All shovels feature slots cut into them to rig with BR’s Ultralite rescue sleds in the case of emergency. There are also laser etched rescue reminders in the back of the blade.

The Compact (L) and the Hauler (R).

The Compact (L) and the Hauler (R).

In addition to blade size, there are two types of blade edge: smooth and sharktooth. Both offer different strengths. The straight surface excels in the snow pits, which depends on making smooth planar surfaces when isolating columns and for seeing weaknesses and discrepancies in the snow pack. The sharktooth is adept at breaking down harder snow and ice, ideal for ski mountaineers and alpine climbers who spend time dealing with more potentially adverse conditions. The top of every blade is flat so you can kick them like a spade.

Smooth vs. Sharkstooth blades

The smooth vs. sharktooth blade edges.

For those who dig a lot of pits, the choice of a telescopic handle make it easier to scoop large amounts of snow, craft consistent pit walls and columns with ease. Not to mention saving your back. The larger Hauler scoop and extended handle combo also shines with expedition-style winter camping chores. The shorter handles often paired with the Compact series are sought after for their simple virtues and ease of use. T-handles are low profile and fit well into packs, whereas D-handles are good for folks who like mittens for colder exploits, as well as those who shovel a lot, i.e., expedition guides, pit nerds and patrollers.

Brooks Range believes everyone has his or her own quirks when it comes to gear. And shovels are no different. Big blade, little blade, smooth or serrated—that’s up to you. The thing we believe matters most? That’s simple. We want it to work.

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Partners in High Crime: 5 Backcountry Essentials

Partnerships. They are a hallmark of the backcountry. For all of us who’ve found good companions for the mountains, the rewards are hard to nail down in words. Instead of complicated explanations why this is so, sometimes the easiest reasons work best: “We just work well together.” Well, Brooks Range has products that do that very thing; they work well together.

What we chose to bring on our backcountry forays—whether it’s a day of ski touring, winter mountaineering, or ice climbing—there are core essentials we all want with us every time we leave the trailhead. Brooks Range has designed and built five key pieces you can’t live for just about any endeavor in the hills.

The Armor Jacket and Armor Suit make a one-two punch of versatility and performance. Each uses uses Polartec Neoshell, a highly breathable waterproof technology that wicks heat moisture away from the body during high output activities like skinning and climbing so you don’t get soaked from the inside out. The weatherproofing outer layer keeps winter’s icy chill at bay, too. In short, water vapor leaves, and weather can’t get in. You stay dry. The jacket’s oversized hood accommodates a helmet, and its tailoring features two Napoleon chest pockets for easy access, plus longer arms for dynamic climbing moves. The two zippered hand pockets are also positioned so they don’t get cinched below your pack’s waist strap.

The hybrid-leaning Armor Suit features the same Neoshell on the pant legs, while the chest and back use Polartec’s Power Shield for warmth on frigid days. The ankle cuffs are trim for alpine and ice climbing, but they stretch easily to fit over touring boots for any ski mission. Two Napolean pockets keep essentials close and warm to the chest.

Next is the safety blanket. Weighing in at exactly one pound, the hooded 800+ fill Mojave down jacket can accommodate a helmet, has an athletic cut, longer arms for alpine pursuits such as ice and mix climbing, and features horizontal baffles that prevent balling. Plus, it has sleek Pertex Quantum face fabric that is wind- and down-proof, and maintains a high strength-to-weight ratio as well as high abrasion resistance. This means it can handle the rigors of being pulled out and shoved back into your pack over a long life span and still do its job, making it appropriate for any and all mountain enthusiasms.

Backcountry 101 begins with having a dedicated shovel. As a staple in your pack, its value goes well beyond avalanche rescue. Brooks-Range’s Compact Shovel is a simple two-piece tool that weighs well under two pounds, and is optimum for long days or overnights when digging snow caves or performing other winter camping duties. The flat T6 Aluminum blade works well to craft smooth pit walls for accurate measurements and tests, but it’s also rugged enough for chopping away at avy debris, ice and hard snow.

Lastly, the Igloo 70 Folding Snow Saw is a pit nerd’s dream. The aluminum saw is anodized black with 1-3 mm crystal grids laser-etched on the side of the blade, plus metric and imperial rulers on opposing sides. Two ski straps can affix the saw to a shovel shaft or ski pole for a longer-reaching tool when isolating snow columns, cutting small cornices, or establishing an igloo quarry. However you slice it, you’ll do it with ease.

Now that you have your kit lined out for the season, get outside. Tag your winter adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #gotogear for a chance to be featured.

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How to Educate New Climbers

One of the biggest problems facing the climbing community today is the poor behavior of some climbers. Improper trail use, damaging rock faces, and crushing fragile vegetation can threaten climber access to outdoor climbing areas. Can education change behavior, ethics, and stewardship among climbers or are we doomed to a life of closed crags? Many people who love climbing have been discussing how to change climber behavior the past few years and their discussions resulted in the formation of the ROCK Project by Brooks-Range Mountaineering‘s partner the Access Fund.

GEAR FOR THE CRAG: HYBRID DOWN SWEATER

The ROCK Project was created to promote positive behaviors among climbers, especially those who are transitioning from the gym to the outdoors. These climbers are often cited as the biggest threat to climbing’s future, because they can appear to be unfamiliar with the social and environmental intricacies of climbing outdoors. However, it is a mistake to blame only gym climbers for the damage and access problems happening at outdoor climbing areas. Pointing the finger only invites scapegoating, which divides our small climbing community.

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The problem of damage to climbing areas is probably mostly due to increasing numbers of climbers as a whole. As more and more people go to climbing gyms, even more people are taking their newfound love of climbing to the outdoors. There are only so many outdoor climbing areas in the US and many of the popular ones are becoming overcrowded, over-trampled, and over-loved.

As it would be impossible to police all climbers’ behavior at all crags, one solution is to encourage climbers to want to do the right thing on their own. This is where climber education comes in. Sometimes “education” consists of just posting the rules. However, does simply posting laws change people’s behaviors, ethics, and their sense of stewardship? Probably not! Messages can encourage positive behaviors, and encourage visitors to internalize the rules, but management has to do more.

The reasons why people choose behaviors that may have negative ecological and social impacts vary depending upon their motivations. People may break a rule simply because they don’t know that it’s the rule. But often, rule breaking is more complicated than not knowing the rule. Some people feel justified breaking a rule when they see others breaking it too. Social trails are an example: One person goes that way, and the next person thinks it’s all right. It’s important that management removes or blocks the “social trail” to remove this cue for negative behavior.

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Some people break a rule because they think the rule is stupid, or they don’t understand the negative consequences of breaking the rule. For example, boulderers might put their crash pads down without thinking about the vegetation that they are crushing while doing so. Informing visitors of the negative consequences of their behaviors can help change these behaviors.

Sometimes people break rules because they feel they have no alternative: They have to have a safe place to land. Management needs to provide reasonable alternatives for these climbers, such as “sacrifice” areas where the vegetation is already dead to put their pads.

Sometimes peer pressure to violate rules is an issue. Visitors egg each other on to go against the rules. This is a hard issue to deal with, but some have had success by encouraging these visitors to identify with management goals by having the climbers become “citizen stewards” of the land, and record instances of damage.

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Finally, there will always be a small percentage of the population that will purposely violate rules – for fun, profit, or malice. The only effective tools here are direct management techniques such as law enforcement and fines.

Simply posting rules and calling that “climber education” doesn’t go far enough in encouraging climbers to change their behaviors, ethics, and stewardship. However, explaining the reasons behind the rules, removing evidence that rules have been broken, providing reasonable alternatives, and encouraging identification with management goals could go a long way toward improving climber stewardship and ensuring access to crags for many years.

Play safe out there!

Dr. Kevin, PhD, Brooks-Range Mountaineering Product Ambassador, Assistant Professor, Westfield State University and Rebecca Barry, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Arizona State University

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