Friday 2 December 2016

RunOut Customs UL Double Portaledge

The RunOut Customs UL Double providing a welcome sanctuary high on the wall

If there is one piece of gear that will always fascinate both climbers and non-climbers alike, it has to be the Portaledge. The idea of spending the night in a tent hanging from the rock brings about an idyllic notion of grand adventure on walls too big to comprehend.

Of course, their design was born from necessity, with early big wall ascentionists tiring of the hammocks and heavy steel cots they had been making do with. Though a few ideas came and went, it was Greg Lowe of Lowe Alpine's LURP (limited use of reasonable placements) created in 1972 that created the shape and style we are familiar with today.

This is of course a very niche market, with really quite a small number of people actually wanting to take on the routes that require such equipment. As a result, after the initial surge in re-design there has been very little in the way of improvement since the ever popular A5 portaledge was released in 1986.

In 2010, a new company arrived on the scene. Headed up by engineer and climber Luke Malatesta, RunOut Customs took the beloved old design of the A5 portaledge and reworked it to produce the RunOut UL Portaledge.

As with so many things in the outdoor world, there is always a trade off of comfort against weight. With the RunOut UL, the emphasis is definitely on reducing the weight and it comes in at 4.14 kg, less than half the weight of the popular Black Diamond Double Cliff Cabana.

Part of this saving does come from the footprint space being slightly smaller, and I was worried how it would be to sleep on, but after three weeks of solo and shared nights spent on it, I can vouch for it being big enough to do the job. I am 182cm tall (6 ft) and it was fine for me. Also having three guys sitting on it eating dinner was no problem.

The most amazing thing about this ledge, besides how incredibly light it is, is how quickly it can be set up. There is no spreader bar and nothing especially complicated, plus there is the ingenious feature that the straps are attached with maillons so if you do get in a tangle it is quick and easy to sort out. With a bit of practice, you can have it out of the bag and set up in less than five minutes, though of course the fine tuning to get it level can take a long time with any ledge when you're tired....

Once in the ledge, you won't find the luxury cup holders and excessive clip points that some other brands go for, just three simple daisy loops above the feet of each person (so no gear hanging in your face at night) and one at the top. Obviously it is easy to add to this if you need to, but unless you really are spending more than a week inside your ledge with the fly down and cannot hang stuff outside you will not need any more.

Making the best of a rainy day....
I went for the standard Simple UL fly on mine, and then covered the bag with duct tape (we had to do a lot of slabby hauls) and it definitely toughed it out well. Setting it up really nicely does require making sure the ledge straps are pretty much fully extended, but that's normal for portaledge flys. It doesn't have a window, which I guess could be an issue if you are trapped in it for a long time, but they often leak anyway. In terms of keeping the wind and rain outside, it was excellent. The one complaint I would have is the lack of a vent. As anyone with a single-skin tent will tell you, condensation can make you wetter than the rain outside if it can't escape. Managing this was a bit of an issue, my solution was to open it up whenever possible and keep a small microfibre towel hanging up and just give it a wipe every now and then, which worked OK. Having never actually been stuck in a rainstorm in any other ledge, I can't say how much better any other fly would have coped, but I have seen some that have a venting top.

One great feature of the straps that differs from other brands is that he replaced the usual metal grab locks with plastic for the middle straps. In really windy situations, the middle strap locks on other brands have been known to tear through the fly by continually batting against it. This solves the problem perfectly and doesn't seem to make any comprimise since they are still plenty strong enough and really easy to adjust.

The build quality throughout is exceptional, with all the attention to detail that you would expect from a carefully hand-made and individually inspected product. Every seam is beautifully sewn and all the metalwork finished really nicely. There are a whole bunch of custom options you can get from them too, such as carbon fibre or titanium poles, different colour fabrics and a three-section version that packs down even shorter. I went for the extra-burly haulbag for mine and it served me well.

Get your stuff stowed outside the ledge!
Overall, the RunOut UL Double is without a doubt the best portaledge I have tried. Light to haul, quick to set up and built to last. I guess if I was planning to spend weeks sitting out storms in one spot I might favour a slightly larger one, but for just getting on with the route with enough space to do all the essentials, the RunOut UL is the one for me!

Luke Malatesta at RunOut was great to deal with, and answered all the questions I had really well. It seems like a good independent company taking great care over their products, and that seems worth supporting to me.

RunOut UL Double Portaledge
5 out of 5 - Highly recommended!

RunOut UL Simple Fly

4 out of 5 - Great construction, tough and weatherproof, but could use a vent.

Here are the official specs:
- 1.125 OD 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum frame
- Precision CNC Machined 6061-T6 anodized corners
- Coated 420d Packcloth Bed (Ripstop when available)
- Double-butted hand polished connectors
- Large central fin eliminates shoulder cramping
- Sharp taper central seam allows more shoulder room
- High grade quick links on corners ensure a tangle-free set up
- Two opposed daisy chains on suspension keeps things organized 
- Double grommets sewn into bed allow quick water drainage
- High quality metal cambuckles make suspension adjustment a breeze
- Heavy wall side scuff for abrasion resistance
- 1680d nylon end scuffs protect ledge from damage if set up in corners
- 6-point bed tension system allows for a drum tight bed and prevents sagging
- Breaks down to 41" or 104cm for hauling
- Weighs  approx 9.12 lbs or 4.14 kg
- Very quick and easy to set up

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