Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What to Bring in a Big Mountain Trip

Post Cho Oyu summit, C1 can be seen below/left.
my huge sleeping bag dangling behind, bad packing?
wrong gear? (photo taken by a Spanish climber)
If you’re doing your first-ever trek (hiking) and/or climb (mountaineering) trip – you’re probably be worrying too much about the kind, type, cost, brand, color, design, weight, etc. of your gear or equipment. First, there are many guides posted, or checklist shared/sent, so you’ll have 80% chance of getting it ‘right’. Still, one or two wrong gear may spell disaster – so it pays to plan very well.

Here’s to share what I’ve learned and used. Technology changes overtime so some gear type or brands may change, but what-to-acquire or bring principles should be fairly constant or near similar.


A. Useful/ functional for the intended terrain / environment / climate / activity. So KNOW the destination first and plan, if the place or condition is unknown (ex. exploration) – you’ll have either more or over-rated gears ‘just to be sure’. Function vs. aesthetics? Ex. You have a poly-based super cool magenta-coloured water-resistant ‘rain jacket’ with large image of One Direction boy band (ahmm…) - but is not waterproof, no hood, non-breathable, have non-sealable ventilation holes and other kill-me-or-make-me-suffer features. Well, don’t just favour looks or feel, get something functional or with the right specs/features.

B. Lightweight. Ex. Thick wool vs. Down-filled jacket? Big 8-ring vs. ATC belay device? Both functional but one is lightweight. Combine 50pcs of gear items and simple 200gm of average weight difference each will add up to significant kilos of weight.

C. Flexible-use / two or many-in-one. This is to reduce items to bring. A glacier glass that doubles as a sun glass for example (the former is normally darker though). Large backpack convertible to small summit pack? City shirt and Trek shirt. City/travel shoes vs trek boots, etc.

D. Fitted / tested. Worse is to be on site only to realize you brought the wrong sized gear. A harness not fitting on ALL your layers of clothing? Double socks that made a perfectly sized boots uncomfortably small? A nice Shell jacket that doesn’t fit when a fleece and down jacket are worn? Mitts that doesn’t fit after putting on 2 layers of gloves? Crampons that won’t fit in your big boots? Test/fit them as you would use them.


General Notes
- If you have an outfitter/ operator, food supply is typically planned for and you just need to worry about bringing favourite snacks, drink mixes, energy munch.
- If you have an outfitter/ operator, group gears such as tents, group ropes, safety gears (ex. anchors), special medical gear like gamov (aka gamow) bag/ chamber are normally provided.
- For expensive gears that you may not have (and not yet planning to buy) – these are sometimes rented from your outfitter or stores near/around climbing sites or big cities.

The list below applies to major trekking/hiking trip and climb expeditions. Items not applicable to trekking are marked ‘*climb’. Some mountains may have specific gear requirements that are not listed below (ex. Snow shoes for Denali, Mustagh Ata). For easier gear planning, I normally split the list by category using body parts (when applicable), or type of gear or supply. This is a useful technique when you run through your list mentally (as you pack, unpack, re-pack). Those items that are normally required are marked ‘(*Must)’ but carefully check your gear needs before ignoring each item. Also, most city-used items may be left behind with your outfitter or hotel so don’t worry about the extra haul.

I previously posted a general gear guide for big mountains here. I encourage climbers to read this first.  Below is a comprehensive list, some are optional so don’t be overwhelmed… Just yet.

- Winter Socks. (*Must). wool, poly or acrylic; light wicking layer ideal, plus heavy/warm. Saving cash? Buy acrylic brands from Landmark. 3pairs or more.
- Wicking liners-socks. A baselayer socks may also prevent blisters (but not always). Mostly poly, non-cotton. (optional). Thrifty? Use your polyester dress/corporate thin socks. 2pairs
- Cotton Socks. For travelling/city (optional). 2prs
- Climbing Boots (*climb / *Must). either: (a) double plastic boots w/ neoprene over-boots; ~200-300usd; (b) or 3-layer boots (Millet Everest) for 7000m+ or -20C. 500usd+ (c) or, some mountain may only require a lighter insulated boots (not double boots) esp. if -15C or warmer; 100-150usd. This is a cost challenge – mostly expensive. Rent is possible, or buy 2nd-hand (ex. KTM (Kathmandu Nepal), I bought a 2nd-hand and used it for 3 trips). 1pr
- Gaiters for boots. Prevents snow/rain from going inside the boots. Optional in some cases, required for climbers not-using triple-layer system. Cheap brands available in many places (ex. KTM).
- Trek shoes or boots. (*Must). Brand new or slightly used. Avoid re-using after a major trip, OR bring lots of super glue. 1pair
- Sandals/ slippers. For camp or city. (optional). 1pr
- Camp shoes for snowy camps. (*climb) Down-filled camp shoes is nice, though I just normally use the ‘inner boots’ of my big boots.

- Trek pants. (*Must) Poly-made, light weight, quick dry. A removable lower-leg portion is ideal for some warm treks. Cheap brands available everywhere (ex. La Galag). (1pr)
- Travel pants (if different from trek pants). (optional) Cargo pants are my choice for those many documents and things. 1pr
- Thermal trousers / thermal underwear / baselayer / underwear. Warm fabrics are wool/ merino wool/ capilene (*Must). Saving cash? Just use cycling shorts, or any long poly leggings. I don’t use a long thermal at all. 2pcs or more.
- Shorts (camp, city). 1-2pcs.
- Fleece trousers. (*Must) Insulation layer. Mid to heavy for big climbs (combine with Down pants). I’ve used corduroy in some warmer trips to save money. Cheap alternatives available in many places in Asia (ex. KTM). 1-2pc.
- Shell trousers/ pants. Waterproof/ windproof, breathable. Required for climb (*Must), optional but recommended for treks. Preferably with full-side zippers (i.e. removable without removing boots). Size fits on top of fleece pants. Cheap brands may not be breathable, this will do but just pick the one with sealable ventilations. 1pc.
- Down-filled pants for big climbs (7000m+ peaks or -20C below). Size fits on top of fleece pants. Optional if you’ll use downsuit. I’ve never used one. Saving cash? Get 2 thick/heavy fleece. I just use 1 fleece inside my downsuit.
- Knee braces/support if needed or if one has history of knee injury.

- Shell jacket. (waterproof/ windproof and breathable). (*Must). Fits on top of fleece and down jackets. With hood. No money for Goretex? Just buy cheaper alternative that is waterproof (sealed) but not breathable with sealable ventilations, not ideal but ok. 1pc.
- Thermal longs / baselayers, poly-long sleeves. (*Must). In Manila, many good options in Marks & Spencers (pick the poly vs. cotton version), R.O.X. recently has merino wool base (very good but expensive). No money? Just bring 3-4 poly longs and invest on good jackets. 2-3pcs.
- Cotton shirts. For travel or camps (optional). Or just buy a souvenir on site. (camp, city use). 2pcs or more.
- Down-filled jacket/ poly-filled jacket / puffy jacket/ parka. For climbs (*Must), use down-filled. Size fits on top of mid-layer/fleece jacket(s). I bought a cheap brand (U2) in HK with 40down/60feather but was ok. I’ve used a cheaper Surplus Shop, poly-filled jacket and survived previous cold climate treks. 1pc.
- Downsuit. (*climb) - or down jacket and down pants, for 7000m+ or -20C below. OR use up and down Down-filled jacket/pants. Very EXPENSIVE. Cheaper to buy separate down jacket and pants. 1pc.
- Fleece jackets. (*Must, at least 1 heavy pc). One fits on top of the 1st fleece. 1 mid, 1 heavy/expedition rated. Cheap brands available and mostly safe (ex. KTM). I just normally bring 2 ‘light-mid’ pcs in 8000m climbs under my downsuit. 2pcs or more.

- Over-mitts down and shell. (*climb) Looks like a pot holder. (*Must, for big climbs). Cheap brands available in most places. Some are puffy poly-filled, ok at -20C depending on thickness (ex. KTM). 1pair or 2 if you tend to lose a piece.
- Base layer gloves (poly). (*Must) 1-2pair (long trips, suggest 2pairs)
- Fleece gloves. Fits on top of base layer. Windproof. (*Must for climbs). Cheap brands available everywhere (ex. KTM) 1pair

- Fleece ski mask/balaclava, beanie (covering ears). (*Must at least 1pc). Good as warm-day bonnet, or stormy cold head gear. 2nd ‘bonnet’ layer over a first layer works perfectly for big/cold mountains. Cheap fleece version can be found in many places (ex. KTM). 1-2pc (2pc or more for big climbs).
- Ski goggles/ ski mask. Anti-UV. (think diving/snorkelling mask minus the nose cover). (*climb). Good for windy/stormy climbs. 1pc
- Dark sunglasses (anti UV). (*Must for both trek and climb; or suffer snow blindness). 1pc
- Glacier glasses (anti UV, 5-8% white light penetration). Available in most climb destinations (Kathmandu sells branded goods for those doing Himalayan climb). 1pc or have a back up.
- Neck-bib/ neck gaiters. (*climb, optional), sometimes combined with face mask to ensure zero-skin exposure (for stormy-windy places like Denali/ Antarctica, etc.)
- Cap or wide brim hat. Useful for trek. neck-string useful for windy places.
- Face mask. Optional for most alpine climb (required for stormy cold places like Denali, Antarctica). Some are made of neoprene (I’ve never used that). I didn’t use one in Everest but used full-face balaclava. 1-2pc

- Sleeping bag. (*Must) Rated -40C for big climbs (7000m+ or -20C below) Rated -5 to -10C for most cold treks. -15 to -20 for many 6000m climbs. 1pc. Or 2 pcs if carrying/transport is not a challenge. Down-filled sleeping bags, esp. the -40C version is EXPENSIVE. One of the top challenging items. Borrow or rent if possible.
- Sleeping Mat. Covers entire body length. 1 closed-cell foam (*Must, at least 1pc; 2pcs for snowy climb). ex. 1 ridgerest, or other rubbery material, plus 1 air-/down filled ex. thermarest. 2 closed-cell also ok for big mountains. Trek – at least 1 closed-cell. Cheap rubber material like the yoga-mat type bought in hardware. Just cut a length enough for your entire body length (heavier but will work).
- Sleeping bag liner (thin fleece) optional. 1pc.

- Toothbrush. 1pc
- Toothpaste. 1tube(sm)
- Soap. Biodegradable. (Optional). 1 small pc.
- Sunblock spf50+ (*must). Lotion can freeze, tube/gel version works. 1stick and/or 1tube
- Deodorant as needed. (lotion/semi liquid can freeze, gel works better).
- Anti-bad smell. ex. alcologne, menthol-based muscle relaxant, talcum powder (best for cold places).
- Lip cream/ ex. chapsticks spf20+ 1stick
- Tissue paper. 1roll (additional rolls are normally provided by outfitter/ operator)
- Wet Wipes. Optional, good for ‘spot washing’ or popoo use. 2pks
- Small towel. Quick dry/ high absorbing type. (Optional). 1pc.

- Camera and extra batteries, memory cards, films. Almost optional. 1pc
- Head lamp or Head Torch and 2 extra battery sets. (*Must for climbers, hand-held torch ok for trekkers). LED is better for long trips. If you’re buying cheap but proven brands, bring 2pcs. 1pc
- Big duffel bag 120li+. Can fit ALL your gears (except hand-carry), if not get 2.. Use for porter or yak carry. For trekkers, some us their 60li pack for travel, and small 20-30li pack for trekking (this is ok). Note: for those joining the Oct trip, this is provided as souvenir on-site. Cheap versions can be bought in Kathmandu. 1pc or 2 for big climbs.
- 80-90li backpack. (*climb, *Must). Ideal for big climbs. If none, 70-80li at least with not-so-nice external attachments. 1pc
- 20-30li Travel/Trek backpack. (*Must) Cheap brand is ok, also useful as summit pack. 1pc
- Trekking poles. *Must for climbs. Optional but highly recommended for treks. Collapsible is better. Preferably with shock absorbing mechanism (to reduce/ avoid elbow/joint pains). For snowy climbs, preferably with snow stopper. In the past, I’ve used a cheaper Korean brand on major trips and was ok. 1pair
- Plastic bags. For waterproofing gears. Useful for rainy areas/weather, ideal also for snow (esp for sleeping bags and clothes). 2-3 big pcs.
- Water bottle 1li. Preferably durable poly-carbonate, BPA-free. Cheap brand is ok (most cheap brands though do not claim BPA-free, a risk of cancer). 2pc for trek-only, 3pcs if climbing.
- Insulated seat (optional, recommended for everything-ice/snow like Denali/ Antarctica) 1pc.
- Thermos bottle. (*climb) – stainless steel. useful esp. summit days. 500ml or more. Cheap is ok, I bought mine from Landmark. 1pc.
- Pee bottle (*climb), optional (almost required for big climbs, required in Alaska,Antarctica). Buy cheap brand but with good lid/cover seal. I bought mine from SM. 1pc
- Wrist watch. 1pc
- Writing medium. pad-pencil-pen, or tablet (with solar charger). Optional. 1set
- Multi-tool / swiss knife. Small. 1pc
- Sewing kit. Repair kit for fabric gears. Needle is useful for draining blisters. 1set
- Strong tape /duct tape. Repair for tents/shells. Few strips.
- Ziplock bags. For your documents or munchies. 2-3pcs
- Whistle / signalling device. Almost optional, don’t get lost. 1pc

MEDICAL KIT (may be a group kit)
- Blister kit. (needle/ blister tape)
- Wound/ cut kit. (bandage, gauze, betadine, med tapes)
- Medicine set. Paracetamol, anti-diarrhea, personal medicine.
- Water Purifier / Iodine. Good for at least 3li/day ration.

- Light favourite snacks (nuts, energy bars, etc.). Good also for morale boost. Optional.
- Juice mixes. Optional/ sometimes provided.
- Utensils. Plastic bowl, spoon-fork, cups (*Climb). Normally provided in Treks.

- Passport (some places will require you to bring this with you).
- Insurance (travel, medical, rescue)
- Permits. Normally carried by the guides if outfitted.
- Cash / cards (credit/atm)
- Plane ticket or e-ticket
- Extra photos 2x2s 2pcs (ex. on arrival visa, 'sudden requirement')
- Photocopy of passport/visa/ insurance, etc. (leave in the city or with your outfitter)
- Book(s) or tablets (with solar charger) optional. Good for month-long trips.
- Map and compass, as needed.
- Bag padlock, keys/spare keys. Optional, recommended.

Note: (*Climb, *Must). Mostly for not-so-technical or semi-technical peaks, sometimes with fixed rope system, mostly requiring group rope-up travel.
- Karabiner set. 2 locking (wide gate, screw type), 2 non-locking. Add couple more for bigger or haul intensive climbs (Denali, Everest, Vinsons) or as back-up. Avoid renting/borrowing biners, be safe.
- Ice axe 60-75mm. With leash. Mountaineering, straight shaft. (not ice-climbing axe). 1pc
- Harness (seat). Fitted on top of all clothing. 1pc
- Short prusiks. 2pcs or more.
- Descender/belay device. 1pc
- Ascender with handle-leash. (typically left-hand at least, ice-axe on right hand) 1pc or 2 if trip requires it.
- Technical gloves. Normally with leather-palm for rope works (optional, fleece gloves works fine in most cases). 1pc
- Crampons with snow-guard / anti-balling plate. Clamp-type /rapid fix type. Fitted nicely w/ your boots. 10pt+ 1pc.
- Climbing helmet. Required for ice-climbing, vertical climbing. Fits on top of your balaclava/beanie. Some peaks may not require. No extra money? Use your bike crash helmet / rafting helmet. Well, not so ideal for falling objects but better than nothing. 1pc.
- Extra slings / strings. extra pcs.

Suggested use of this list: cut-paste in your own excel file, add ‘status’ column and assess (ex. “I have”, “know where to borrow for free”, “will rent”, “will get from sponsor”), remove row items you surely don’t need or color code them, add column for action-date (ex. will buy in Kathmandu, will rent in xxx, will borrow from xxx, etc.), add a column for cost (rent/buy). This way – you can track your stuff, and gauge or estimate your additional cost. The same list is reusable for your next trip (with little edits). Last tip – even if you have all the money, don’t buy all of these. Invest slowly and start with those critical items first (marked with “*Must”).

Good luck. =)

(watch-out for a future post on packing tips)

Related posts:
Gear Guide - big climbs
Gear Guide - boots and shoes

No comments: