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Backcountry Journal: Deep-Water Soloing

If you’ve ever seen deep-water soloing, you know how compelling it can be.

Rock climbers dangle free and untethered far above the crashing surf, falling violently into the waves when the stone spits them off. Spaniards invented the sport on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca—a place where orange limestone cliffs jut out over the sea. They called the new climbing style ‘psicobloc,’ and for years I’ve watched video, but I’ve never had a chance to make the trip. Recently, though, I was able to get a taste of what it’s all about at the Utah Olympic Park—conveniently located across the street from our offices in Park City.

Psicobloc at the UOP

Above the pool where ski aerialists practice their jumps they built a radically over-hanging wall that rises fifty feet above the surface of the water. The wall is the venue for the Psicobloc Masters competition and every year it attracts some of the world’s most talented climbers. This year, for a few weeks before and after the comp, they opened the wall to the public. So with my friend Diana—a Backcountry Gearhead who’s no stranger to hard climbing—we grabbed some of our favorite new gear and gave it a go. The takeaway: it’s far scarier than it looks and falling awkwardly stings—I have bruises to prove it.

prAna Lahari Halter Bikini Top
prAna Raya Boyshort Bikini BottomClimb in prAna swimwear

When it comes to melding fit, function, and style, no one does it better than prAna—especially when you’re talking about climbing and yoga. The Raya Boyshort stretches for a perfect fit and free movement thanks to a generous dose of Spandex, and the style works as well for swimming as it does for a warm-weather bouldering session. The Lahari Halter Top gives you a little more coverage than traditional triangle tops, has just the right amount of stretch, and is even supportive enough for a thirty-foot plunge from the climbing wall into the pool—which means it’s going to work for just about anything.

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Women’s La Sportiva Solution XS Grip2 Climbing Shoe

La Sportiva Solution Grip2 Climbing Shoe

Walk into any climbing gym in America and take a look at the shoes people are wearing and you’ll notice a few models completely dominate the landscape. The Solution is one of them, and in a sport where performance trumps style every time, that’s saying something. Climbers stick to what works and if the Solutions weren’t solving problems like they’re supposed to, no one would be wearing them. This year La Sportiva upped the ante again by narrowing the last and heel cup to create a women-specific model. According to Diana, “they fit like a glove.”

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The North Face Waterproof Daypack

The North Face Waterproof Daypack

Made from PU-coated nylon that’s far lighter than traditional dry-bag material but every bit as waterproof, this simple pack completely seals out moisture with a roll-top closure. Perfect for guarding books and final drafts while crossing campus in a blizzard, shrugging off puddle splashes during a bike commute, or in our case, keeping a pile of soggy towels and wet climbing shoes contained. Sometimes you a need a technical bag with all the bells and whistles, but most of the time you don’t, and that’s when you grab The North Face Waterproof Daypack.

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Outdoor Research Flyway Hooded Shirt

Outdoor Research Flyway Hoodie

After taking the plunge, the Flyway Hooded Shirt was just what Diana needed to stay warm before her next attempt. The DriRelease cotton blends the quick-dry ability of tech fabrics with the familiar comfort of your favorite cotton tee. It’s essentially the perfect fabric for a casual go-anywhere hoody. The Flyway has a single zippered side pocket for your phone, a relaxed fit, and thumbholes keep the sleeves in place during cool morning runs. Plus, it’s packs up small enough to fit in a tote or purse—in case you need a little extra warmth when the sun dips below the ridge.

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 Patagonia GI III Short

Patagonia GI GIII Shorts

During the time spent on the wall—and in the water—I kept thinking the GI III Short must be tailor-made for deep-water soloing. As it turns out, the seaside cliffs of Mallorca are exactly what Patagonia designers had in mind. The first thing I noticed was the lightness and surprising durability of the nylon taslan fabric. Combined with a DWR treatment, these trunks literally dry within moments of leaving the water. That means you don’t have to worry about soggy shorts weighing you down on a steep line. A relaxed leg opening and gusseted crotch keep movement at a premium, and four pockets add some around-town versatility. Climber or not, every guy needs to have a pair of these in the rotation.

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Five Ten Dragon Lace-Up Climbing Shoe

Five Ten Dragon Lace-Up Climbing Shoe

The Dragon Lace-Up has remained virtually unchanged since Five Ten started making it a decade ago. That’s because you don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken. I, for one, have kept a pair in my shoe quiver for as long as I can remember—and I remember having the original hook-and-loop Dragons way back in the day. When the moves get really nasty, the Dragon has always been my first choice in footwear. Sure they can be a bit painful for those unaccustomed to climbing shoes, but the blend of sensitivity and power is perfect. They grab holds like a second set of hands, stab into tiny pockets, smear well, and stand on dime edges when required. For boulders and steep sport climbs, you can’t go wrong with these.



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