Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $23.50
Pros: great value, light, very durable
Cons: no sub top step
Best Uses: big wall climbing
Fish's Smart Aider uses the a simple design that has led to thousands of successful big wall ascents. Chris McNamara used these for his first 10 big walls and loved them. Fish Smart is the most durable aider we tested. After two decades and 30-plus walls the pair Chris first used are still going strong. He changed to different aiders only when he found a pair that had the top sub-step and later when he started using aiders that had larger steps with more reinforcement. Overall, for $47 (for a pair) they are an amazing value.
If you are counting your pennies (who isn't?) this is the most aider for your dollar by a large margin. You can buy five of these for the price of a pair of Petzl WallStep Etrier. With unlimited funds, you might prefer the Metolius 5 Step Aider or the GradiStep for an etrier style aider. But the Fish Smart Aider will get you up any wall and have the advantage of being lighter than most aiders on the market. Also, if you are one of those people who doesn't like the urethane-coated aiders, this is the best etrier style aider to get.
See How this compared to the other aiders and etriers that we tested in our complete Aider Review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Chris Mac says, "I used these a ton and never managed to wear them out. And that was after my friend Mark used them a ton." These are the most bomber aiders we tested. One big advantage of not having urethane or big steps is that this aider is less bulky when clipped to your harness for free climbing. Also, this aider won't get stuck in cracks as easily and is easier to free when it does. This aider is only sold in the 5 step length. If you are going to do a lot of free climbing, like on The Nose or Touchstone Wall, cut off the bottom step. Five steps is really only necessary for hard aid or if you are over six feet tall.
We really recommend against using four aiders when aiding in our How to Big Wall online guide. That said, if you are a die hard to the four aider method, this is one of the best aiders to have. Having four urethane aiders or four ladder style aiders will be very heavy and bulky.
One very cool thing about Fish Products is that you are not only ordering from big wall legend Russ Walling, but you are also getting your products from one of the last small big wall gear manufacturers in the climbing world. Help keep alive that lineage that started back with John Salathe (and before)! Also, Fish is the only aider company with a lifetime warranty. It's not the type of warranty where you can use the crap out of something and return it for a new one. But if you have an issue that is manufacturing related then fish will fix it for free and if you caused the issue it will be fixed at "next to nothing" according to Fish.
With no urethane the sides squeeze in more than on the Metolius so it scored a little lower for comfort. This aider is comfortable, but not as comfortable as an aider that has extra large steps like the Yates Aid Ladder. If you are climbing efficiently you won't notice the difference much. But if you are hanging out for hours on lead, you will notice unless you use four aiders (which we strongly discourage). While this aider is fairly easy to walk up, it takes a little more "fishing with your foot" to get your foot in because the steps don't stay as open as with the ladder style or an aider with urethane.
With no sub step in the top step, you are limited in how high you can top-step. This was one of the reasons Chris Mac eventually switched to the Metolius 5 Step. On the Fish web site this lack of sub top step is addressed thusly: "Unless you are on a slab, that kookie step in the top of other aiders will be virtually impossible to use." We would disagree. We use that kookie step a lot. It makes things much more efficient on a route like The Nose where, even when not on a slab, you can often get good jams and want to be be able to step as absolutely high as possible to make fewer placements.
One option is to have the grab loop custom made to make sure you can fit your foot in it. In fact, the price of the aiders ($47) does not include the grab loop, so if you are going to have the extra grab loop option ($3 extra) then you might as well have it made big enough so that you can squeeze a foot into it. This isn't an ideal fix, but it will help in situations where huge reach is mandatory for example, doing the left variation on the Changing Corners pitch on The Nose).
A Note About Ordering
If you want to buy these new, you need to order them directly from Fish Products. Unless there are a pair lying around, they will be made to order and might require a wait of 3-plus weeks. The good news is you will be probably be able to order some custom features such as length of grab loop. Hell, he might even sew you a sub top step. The downside is that you can't get them immediately.
This is a very versatile aider. It will work on hard aid or climbing The Nose in a day.
This is the most aider for the money. Period.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: January 30, 2010
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