Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Sneak Preview Of Black Diamond's New 2020 Gear With Kolin Powick

  •  Black Diamond Z4 Cam Head

    Black Diamond Z4 Cam Head

Welcome back, Kolin. Let’s just jump right into this. There’s talk that Spring 2020 will be a big year in terms of new product releases for Black Diamond (BD). One of the recently confirmed rumours is that BD will be offering several approach shoes for next spring. Do you want to talk a bit about that program? 
Kolin Powick: Thanks for having me! Yes, Spring 20 is a big year for the Climbing Category at Black Diamond. Depending on how you count, we have 37 new products we’re introducing for Spring 2020. If you're counting colours and sizes, the number of new products is massive!
 
Yes, we are launching into Performance Footwear. At BD we felt like we could bring something a bit new and different to the approach shoe market. And with it being an obvious extension of our rock shoe line, and the fact that we’re all a bunch of mountain folks that happen to wear shoes most of the time, we put a small team in motion about two years ago.
 
We are breaking the Performance Footwear launch into two different families of shoes: Technical Performance and Performance Lifestyle. The Technical Performance line reflects that we’re a technical brand, and we need technical shoes to do technical things. The Performance Lifestyle line acknowledges the reality that we’re not in the mountains all the time. We need shoes we can wear to the gym, bouldering, to the bar, and to work.

So our two technical shoes are:
Mission LT – for fast and light blast missions in the hills – like maybe the Grand Teton in a Day. These are super comfortable and made for more walking, less climbing.

The Technician – for more climbing, less walking. Think the Flat Irons. It's built on a different last than the Mission LT, with a more performance fit in mind.

Both of these shoes use what we call EnduroKnit – a breathable, lightweight, yet tough upper.
  •  Black Diamond Mission and Technician Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Mission and Technician Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Mission Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Mission Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Mission Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Mission Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Mission Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Mission Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoes

Black Diamond Technical Performance Approach Shoe Gallery (click for more images)

Kolin Powick: We developed our rubber with our vendor partners and are calling it Black Diamond BlackLabel. We have two compounds – BlackLabel-Mountain, for the Technical Performance shoes, and BlackLabel-Street, for the Performance Lifestyle shoes. BlackLabel-Mountain is stickier for better grip when climbing, and BlackLabel-Street, though still sticky, is more durable.
 
The Performance Lifestyle shoes are the Circuit and the Session. The Circuit is great for everyday wear, while the Session (with its cool elastic stretch heel for easy on/off) is perfect at the gym or for bouldering.
 
They all come in men’s and women’s models and multiple colours.
 
We (our employee testers and our field testers) are pretty psyched on these shoes! It's a real challenge keeping the samples by my desk!
  •  Black Diamond Circuit Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Circuit Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Circuit Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Circuit Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Circuit Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Circuit Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Session Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Session Approach Shoes

  •  Black Diamond Session Approach Shoes

    Black Diamond Session Approach Shoes

Black Diamond Performance Lifestyle Approach Shoe Gallery (click for more images)

It sounds like the shoes are going to be popular. In a previous interview, you discussed the product development cycle from a hard-goods perspective. Want to walk folks through the typical footwear development cycle?
Kolin Powick: At a high level, it’s very similar: market analysis, white space, technical perspective, written briefs, vendors investigated and selected, prototypes, testing, more prototypes, more testing, field testing, lab testing and discussions with our sales force. We then get final samples for tradeshows, and we finally run production. The reality is that whether it’s a cam, carabiner, t-shirt or approach shoe, most of the development cycle is the same. There's more lab testing and certification for climbing gear, but fundamentally, the process is very similar.
How about we move on to the hardware program. Any new climbing widgets for the gear-geeks out there?
Kolin Powick: Well, considering we have 37 new climbing products, and the shoes only account for four, that means lots of new climbing products. We have some super-cool new cams, an almost entirely new carabiner line, a bunch of harness updates, a brand new sport climbing and competition harness, an economically priced bouldering pad, belay gloves, new via ferrata sets and one new rock shoe – I may be missing something! 
We want to provide all the gear necessary for you to get you outside and climbing regardless of your experience level. From beginner to the best in the world, and no matter what discipline, we’ve elected to cover it. – Kolin Powick
37 new climbing products! What the heck were you thinking? Have you guys lost your minds yet?
Kolin Powick: Yes, some of us have lost our minds! If you include the Mountain, Apparel, Footwear and other product categories – we've got a shit-ton (technical industry term) of new stuff for 2020!
You mentioned that there were some new cams in the 2020 lineup. I've been looking around the web, and I'm sensing that the new Z4 cams will be an update to the existing X4s. Can you talk about the new Z4s' construction, how they're an improvement over the X4s, and how these updates will benefit climbers in the field? 
Kolin Powick: Yes, the Z4s replace the X4s and in essence the C3s as well. Our athlete team mentioned that they love how the C3 can be easily placed due to the stiffness of the stem. Unfortunately, this stiff stem, as well as the unit's 3-cam construction (the centre lobe acts as a pivot point), make the C3 cams more prone to walking. The X4s, with their more flexible stem and 4-cam construction, avoid this issue.

So with the new Z4 cams, we wanted to combine those two features. The Z4 cams have two small wires that parallel the stem and are attached near the head and on the trigger. This construction stiffens the entire stem when under tension, making the cam easier to place and remove. When the stem is not under tension (after it's been placed), the unit remains flexible and less likely to walk. It's the best of both worlds!
 
The twisted cable on the larger units also allows for equal flex in all directions. The larger cams need two cables to achieve the necessary strength. The smaller cams only need a single cable to hit the desired strength rating, so the twisted-cable construction is not required.
  •  Black Diamond Z4 Cam Head

    Black Diamond Z4 Cam Head

  •  Black Diamond Z4 Cam

    Black Diamond Z4 Cam

  •  Black Diamond Z4 Stem

    Black Diamond Z4 Stem

  •  Black Diamond Z4 Cam

    Black Diamond Z4 Cam

Black Diamond Z4 Cams Gallery (click for more images)

Kolin Powick: On the Z4 slings we tucked the tags into the underside of the webbing so they are less likely to get hang up your carabiner gate.

We also removed the anodizing from the surface of the cam lobes for better bite on a variety of rock surfaces.
 
The design team also worked hard to decrease the head width of the cam. With the Z4s, they managed to create a four-cam head that has the width of a typical three-cam unit.
 
We also took the Z4 cams down to a #0 (green). This is our smallest cam ever - smaller than the gray #000 C3.
 
Finally, the design crew managed to create a full set of offset Z4s – from the #0/.1 all the way up to the #.5/.75.

I’m a huge fan of offset cams (and nuts) for free climbing. They are super-versatile. They are not just for pin scars or aid climbing anymore. Offset cams are the way!
You also noted that BD is releasing new harness with some pretty cool features. Can tell us who you see as the ideal end-user for this harness and walk us through some of the more compelling innovations? 
Kolin Powick: The new airNET harness is a super light, super comfortable, incredibly breathable high-end sport climbing harness. The unique airNET construction allows for exceptional load distribution (comfort) while being incredibly breathable. The harness also features two real-deal gear loops in the front and two webbing-only gear loops at the back. This setup provides plenty of draw-carrying capacity for even the longest sport routes. 

The airNET harness also introduces our new Infinity Loop – a super-rad seamless belay loop. When dogging a route, it eliminates the dreaded belay-loop shift that often happens when the seam of the belay loop unexpectedly moves after getting hung up on one of the tie-in points. It's the sport climbing equivalent of biner shift when you're aid climbing. And it's not ideal in either situation, so we're psyched to eliminate (or at least minimize) it from sport climbing!

We worked with our athlete team on this product as well, and you will see it on Adam Ondra at the Olympics in 2020!
Earlier you stated that almost the entire carabiner line was getting an update. This will no doubt come as a surprise to anyone that's familiar with the BD biner program – the current offerings are pretty refined. Care to share some details about the new lineup?
Kolin Powick: Yes, pretty much the entire line is getting updated – almost all of the single carabiners and quickdraws and most of the lockers.

In almost all cases, the replacement biners are lighter and optimized for the intended task. Rope end biners have a large rope-bearing surface, thoughtful gate design and a nose-gate interface that allows for easy clipping. We've also optimized the carabiners for strength and function by removing material where it's not needed, and leaving (or even adding) material where it's most required – like the rope-bearing surface. There will be a similar offering of quickdraws as before (wire/wire gates, solid/solid gates and solid/wire gate combos) with premium dogbones.

We're also introducing two incredibly light and small carabiners. The MiniWire weighs just 23grams, and our LiteForge Screwgate comes in at just 45g.

We’re pretty psyched on the functionality as well as the aesthetics of the new carabiner lineup.
  •  Black Diamond 2020 Quickdraws

    Black Diamond 2020 Quickdraws

  •  From left to right: Black Diamond Hotwire QD,  HotForge Hybrid QD and HotForge QD

    From left to right: Black Diamond Hotwire QD, HotForge Hybrid QD and HotForge QD

  •  Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge and Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge and Hotwire Carabiner

  •  Black Diamond HotForge and Hotwire Carabiner

    Black Diamond HotForge and Hotwire Carabiner

Black Diamond 2020 Carabiner and Quickdraw Gallery (click for more images)

Let’s now talk a bit about some big-picture market trends. Climbing is continuing to grow at what seems like an unstoppable pace. What challenges does this type of growth create for a full-product company like BD?
Kolin Powick: Well, you pretty much summed it up. Climbing is growing, and we offer pretty much the entire product lineup. I always joke that here at BD, we make our lives pretty difficult. We want to provide all the gear necessary for you to get you outside and climbing regardless of your experience level. From beginner to the best in the world, and no matter what discipline, we’ve elected to cover it. And that’s the toughest part – trying to stay on top of so many categories. The biggest challenge is prioritizing.  We have so many product categories that we need to be strategic about when we bring new products to the market or when we update current products. 
Alright, no interview with you would be complete without a discussion about Rumple. I recently saw a picture of him and he seemed to be showing a bit of gray on his face. How’s the old guy doing?
Kolin Powick: Well, he’s not an old guy – still at pup at heart, though he celebrated his 10-year anniversary at Black Diamond last October. He’s been coming to work since the day I got him at seven weeks old. As you know, it’s tough seeing the pups get older, but he’s still doing great. He still goes everywhere with us – work every day, climbing every weekend, etc. I don’t think he can make it up to Lone Peak or into the Winds with his pack on anymore, but he’s still a happy, great guy. He still loves hiking, diving, swimming, working and lots of sleeping!
  •  Rumple

    Rumple

  •  Rumple – A Decade at Black Diamond

    Rumple – A Decade at Black Diamond

  •  Rumple – A Decade at Black Diamond

    Rumple – A Decade at Black Diamond

Rumple Gallery (click for more images)

You can find out more about Black Diamond's new products at https://www.blackdiamondequipment.com

Join the discussion of this and other climbing related stories at https://ontarioclimbing.com/forum/
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.