In this video we look at gear for mountaineering and alpine climbing. Alpinism has become synonymous with concepts like “fast and light,” minimalism, and “speed is safety,” and conjures up images of small teams moving quickly in the mountains. With this in mind, the guiding philosophies for our gear considerations video will be lightweight, self-sufficient systems, and items that have multiple uses.
Alpine climbs range from backcountry rock climbs in a mountain environment, to full-value winter expeditions that involve huge glaciers, multiple camps, and steep technical snow, rock, and ice.
Due to the huge variety in types of trips, your “alpine kit” will really depend on six main factors:
1. Time of year
2. Length of the trip
3. Technical nature or goals of the trip
4. Terrain (Snow, Rock, Ice)
5. Mode of travel on the approach (Hike, Ski, Snowshoe)
6. Most current weather forecast
Alpine Pack: The ideal alpine backpack depends on the length of trip. For the majority of alpine missions, most parties spend 1 to 3 nights, so our pack considerations will reflect this trip length.
- An alpine pack should allow you to carry all your overnight equipment, and shrink down for you to carry on climbing days that involve technical movement. It is rare to carry a separate summit pack, just to wear on the climb.
- Alpine packs range between 35L bags (for summer time single night missions) to 65L bags (which can hold food and supplies for a multi-day OR winter climb).
- There are many alpine-specific packs on the market. You want to look for a light pack with minimal bells and whistles that has as low a pack-weight as possible.
- Standard features include pack systems that allow ice tools/axes to be securely stowed on the outside of the pack, as well as a small zippered pocket that is accessible from the outside to access essentials.
- Look for compression straps and removable top lids that allow a streamlined version of the pack to be used while climbing. One nice component is the removable back pad that can be used as part of your sleeping system. And if you climb at altitude or in the winter, consider buckles and zippers that are easy to use with gloves.
- The pack should be constructed of materials that are both lightweight and durable enough to handle technical climbing, and still carry the weight comfortably.
Lightweight Trekking Poles: These can be worth their weight for approaches involving trails or snow, however they are not very useful in talus fields or places where you need your hands for travel.
- We love ultralight fiberglass trekking poles that collapse to a fraction of the extended length, so we can attach them to our pack while climbing without sticking out. Snow baskets are much better for travel in winter snow.
Alpine Rack: This should include..
- Small assortment of nuts/stoppers
- Single set of camming devices (Note: In the wintertime you may rely less on cams as they are heavier, and don’t provide protection in icy cracks)
You may also include the items below, which are unique items that would be considered based on the route you will climb, and are featured in our other CTT videos.
- Ice screws for steep snow.
- Pickets (For snow protection).
Important Note for Snow Anchors:
In some videos, we show a guide placing a snow picket. In those instances, he might have placed it vertically on the steep snow. This is now considered INCORRECT and potentially dangerous. It should be 10 degrees back from PERPENDICULAR with the snow surface. Additionally, the top-clipped picket is rapidly falling out of favor, with the Yates MidClip picket as the better replacement. The Yates MidClip has a cable, and has revolutionized snow anchors.
Clothing Layers: We will cover these in depth in the our Alpine videos on “Clothing Considerations” and “How to Stay Warm and Dry” will also vary by season.
- Headwear, always bring a warm hat or buff that fits under your helmet and gloves.
- Upper body, include a base layer, a puffy insulating layer, and a lightweight rain/wind shell.
- Lower body layers include a long underwear base layer, and a pair of soft shell pants. Unless there is rain in the forecast, you can leave behind the rain pants. Gaiters are also usually left at home unless post holing in deep powder snow, and most alpine climbing soft-shell pants can be rigged to cinch around the bottoms of your boots to avoid needing gaiters.
Alpine Boots: These depend on the season as well as the terrain, but have a nice pair of boots that climb rock well and work with crampons. For summer time alpinism there are excellent approach shoes on the market that can do the job as a lighter alpine boot.
Crampons, Ice Tool/Ice Axe selection, and First Aid Kit considerations will all be covered in other CTT Videos.
Rope(s): This will be very specific to the terrain you will climb. Rope selections will be covered in our “Team Rope & Travel Considerations” video.
Personal Gear: Personal gear necessities for the alpine environment include sunglasses, headlamps, sunscreen, and water treatment.
- Sunscreen - The sun can be extremely intense at altitude, and the combination of less atmospheric protection and the reflectivity of the sun on substrates such as snow or light colored rocks can lead to snow blindness and sunburns.
Sunscreen should be carried in amounts that will cover you for the length of the trip but the jumbo sized tubes are less than ideal for the backcountry. Think pocket size products for alpine climbing trips.
- Sunglasses - High-Altitude Sunglasses such as wraparound types or with side protection help protect your eyes significantly. For extended trips on snow or glaciers, you will need proper glacier glasses.
- Water treatment - these products come in all shapes, sizes, and costs. For alpine routes, we recommend small and simple treatment solutions like aquamira (Chlorine dioxide) or Iodine tablets.
Filters, gravity filters, and electronic pens are great for big groups or camping trips where speed and weight are less of an issue. Keep it simple with your treatment.
- Stoves - For short alpine missions, a small canister stove like a jetboil or MSR Reactor are best.
Longer trips that involve melting large amounts of snow or international alpine expeditions are often better served by a liquid fuel stove.
For most short trips, a small titanium pot & spork work well as bowl and cup, as well as for cook-wear.
- Sleeping Bag - Think light and compressible. Wear your layers to sleep to get away with a lighter sleeping bag. Lightweight down sleeping bags tend to be ideal for alpine climbs.
- Tent - Think light and compact. Single wall bivy tents come in various options. A simple and lightweight tent that is versatile for the mountain range where you spend the most time probably serves you best.
There are many other items that may seem essential when you are at the store and looking at all the shiny outdoor toys, however, when you are in the field, think about layers and gear that did not get used.
Example: During the coldest part of the day (mornings and evenings) you could get away with lighter insulation if you are cooking while wrapped in your sleeping bag.
Challenge yourself to carry less. Did you really need those extra things that never left the pack?
Last but not least, you’ll want a communication device. This piece of gear depends on where you spend your time. The pros & cons of mobile phones, locator beacons, satellite phones, and UHF/VHF radios will be discussed in additional videos.
We hope you found this video helpful. Feel free to comment below with questions or thoughts!
Please remember, climbing is inherently dangerous. Climb at your own risk.