After booking your next mountaineering trip and getting into shape to head out into the backcountry, it is imperative that you bring all of the correct gear.
Having what you need to climb versus leaving a crucial piece of gear at home could be the difference between a successful trip and turning back early, or worse.
Packing for a mountain climbing trip is a delicate balance between ensuring you have everything you need and avoiding excess weight, so we’ve included a list of common items required for most mountain climbing adventures below.
However, not all mountaineering trips are created equal and therefore different trips will require you to bring along different types of equipment and clothing. Remember to always ask your guide for a complete equipment list before heading out on your next mountaineering expedition.
From packing the correct climbing gear to selecting the best tent, bringing the correct equipment will make your trip safer, easier and more enjoyable.
Whether you are responsible for carrying all your own gear up the mountain or are lucky enough to have porters to help you out, it is important to bring the correct type of backpack.
Generally, guides recommend that you bring a 20 to 60-litre backpack with a waterproof covering. This will provide you with plenty of space to keep extra clothing, climbing equipment, water, snacks and personal effects.
Since most mountaineering expeditions cross glaciers or snow-covered mountain peaks, it is important to bring an ice axe with a classic or positive curve.
This type of curve, which has a slight downward arch, allows you to have a solid third point of contact while climbing steep snow or ice. These ice axes tend to be lightweight and are also quite useful for making self-arrests.
Crampons are traction devices attached to the bottom of mountaineering boots. They have spikes on the bottom, which allow you to climb on ice and maintain your balance on glaciers
Crampons are usually composed of an aluminum or steel alloy and attached to your boots with a binding. For most mountaineering trips, you will want crampons with non-serrated spikes, which are better for traveling over mixed snow, ice and rock than crampons with serrated ones.
There are a variety of types of crampons for different terrains and these have different straps and clip systems for specific types of boots. However, the Grivel G12 is generally a good crampon for most mountaineering trips.
A carabiner is a metal loop that is used to attach parts of a climbing system quickly and easily. Most carabiners are made from steel and have a spring loaded gate. They are used by climbers to attach and detach themselves from harnesses, ropes and belay devices.
On a mountaineering expedition, you will usually need both locking and non-locking carabiners. The difference between these two is a locking carabiner has an extra security measure to prevent it from opening at an inopportune moment.
A belay device allows the user to more easily exert tension on a rope and prevent their climbing partner from falling. Belay devices are usually made out of metal and attached to a climber’s harness with a carabiner.
They are designed to decrease the effort required to feed out the appropriate amount of rope needed for rappelling, abseiling and climbing.
There are two main types of belay devices: the Figure 8 and the ATC. The former is the lightest and simplest belay device. The Figure 8 has no moving parts and is more commonly used for rappelling than belaying due to the ease of increasing the speed with which the rope is fed out.
The ATC, on the other hand, provides a bit more control than Figure 8 belays, but is also more restrictive. This is due to its angle and greater distance that the loop allows the device to sit from the climbers' harness.
A climbing harness is used to secure its user to either a rope or an anchor and is used for climbing, rappelling and belaying.
Harnesses are generally made from a combination of cloth and nylon and attach to the user's waist while also looping around both of their legs. For expeditions with plenty of glacier travel, lightweight harnesses (such as the Black Diamond Couloir) are preferable as all the extra padding that comes on a climbing harness is not needed.
When purchasing a harness it is important to make sure the one you buy is certified by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) or the European Committee for Standardisation.
Regardless of whether you will be rock climbing, ice climbing or glacier hiking on your mountaineering expedition, it is important to bring the proper type of rope.
Oftentimes, guides will provide the necessary rope required for the trip. However, this is not always the case.
For mountaineering, most guides recommend climbing with dynamic and static ropes. The former is useful for climbing as it is more elastic, while the latter is best for rappelling and rescue as it is stiffer.
Avalanche rescue gear
Any mountaineer heading up a glaciated peak will need to bring a shovel, probe and avalanche transceiver. If you are heading on a guided expedition, this equipment is generally provided by the guides (but may be carried by you).
Avalanche probes are 2-metre (6-foot) aluminum or carbon sticks and help you to find a person buried by an avalanche. The shovel will help you dig that person out of the avalanche and the transceiver is a piece of equipment that emits a low frequency and helps locate buried climbers.
Crevasse rescue gear
Along with avalanche rescue gear, it is also important to bring crevasse rescue gear. This kit generally includes a snow picket, single and double-length slings, lightweight pulleys and accessory cord (to make a prusik sling).
Snow pickets are generally made from a light-weight metal in the shape of a T. They are used as anchors when rescuing a fellow climber who has fallen into a crevasse.
Meanwhile, slings consist of tied or sewn webbing and can be used to lower rescuers into the crevasse to help the climber in need of rescue.
Having an accessory cord means you can also make a Prusik sling, if necessary, which can be thrown over an anchor and used to pull yourself or someone up and out of a crevasse.
Headlamp and extra batteries
Many mountaineering adventures include pre-dawn starts in order to reach the summit of the target peak and get back down in enough time. This means bringing a headlamp with some extra batteries could be the difference between a successful ascent and returning home early.
Many guides will ask that you bring a spare as well, just for good measure.
While many popular mountaineering destinations have huts or refuges on their slopes, you will occasionally be required to camp out on the mountains when climbing. A high-quality four-season tent will protect you from the elements and keep you warm while you sleep.
Thermal sleeping bag
Bringing the proper type of sleeping bag is crucial for camping on a mountainside. You will want a thermal bag made from down or some sort of synthetic fibre, with a waterproof shell. No cotton.
When buying sleeping bags, use the average of the lower limit and comfort ratings to make your decision, not the extreme rating. High-quality sleeping bags are quite expensive, but well-worth the investment
Sleeping pads provide thermal insulation and padding when used with the sleeping bag. The pad is placed in between the sleeping bag and the floor of the tent. Depending on the material, they can also safeguard against your sleeping bag getting wet.
Footwear, headwear and clothing
Along with bringing along all the correct gear, it is also important to make sure that you pack all the right clothes for your next mountaineering trip.
Climatic conditions are often unpredictable at higher elevations and can change quickly. It is always important to dress in layers, so you can quickly and comfortably transition from hot days at the bottom of the peak to freezing temperatures at the summit.
Below is a basic list of clothing to pack on most mountaineering trips. Remember to always consult your guide about what clothing items they believe are necessary for any particular trip.
- Hiking socks and liner socks
- Mountaineering boots
- Street shoes or sandals for base camp
- Neck gaiter and balaclava
- Mountaineering goggles
- Mountaineering helmet
- Knit cap
- Category 4 sunglasses (for snowy conditions)
- Baselayer bottom and top
- Softshell pants and hardshell pants
- Softshell jacket, midlayer top and hardshell jacket
- Lightweight insulated jacket
- Insulated down parka
- T-shirts, shorts and trousers for base camp
- Nightwear and underwear (long underwear is preferable for camping on mountains)
- Liner gloves and mountaineering gloves
Eating and Drinking
Along with bringing the food for each of your planned meals, it is important to bring the right gear to cook and clean up afterwards.
When planning your meals for a mountaineering trip, it is important to keep where you are going in mind. For example, high altitude climbs means you should bring food that will not freeze and be difficult to eat or prepare as a result.
Always remember to bring an extra day’s supply of food too, in case your itinerary is delayed.
You will generally need to bring at least one one-litre water bottle on a mountaineering trip. Some guides may ask you to bring more.
Most guides recommend bringing a wide mouth and insulated water bottle. Both the insulation and wide mouth help to prevent the water from freezing inside. The wide mouth may also be used as a pee bottle in case of emergencies.
The Nalgene one litre bottle is commonly used by mountain climbers.
Water purification tablets and/or steripens
During longer mountaineering trips in the backcountry, you will not be able to pack all of the water that you will require.
In order to sanitize water that you find in the backcountry for drinking or cooking, you can bring water purification tablets. These use a chemical (usually iodine or chlorine) to kill bacteria living in the water.
Another option is to bring a Steripen. These usually resemble a large bottle of nasal spray and which use ultraviolet light to sterilize water.
Backpacking stove and fuel
You will likely want to bring either a liquid or gas-fueled stove with you into the mountains in order to be able to heat water and cook hot food.
Liquid-fueled stoves work better in cold temperatures and at high altitude, but the fuel is heavier to carry. This type of fuel is also easy to find, just about anywhere in the world
Gas-fueled stoves are harder to ignite (though this can be mitigated by adding isobutane), but the fuel is cheaper and lighter. In the developing and under-developed world, it may be harder to find this type of fuel.
Cooking and eating utensils
These include a set of pots that should be able to nest within one another like Russian dolls; a Swiss army knife, complete with knife, fork and spoon; a bowl or plate and a cup or mug.
Whether it is trail mix, energy gels, power bars or energy drink mix, it is important to have plenty of high-protein snacks with which to refuel while climbing.
- Hot drink mix
- Collapsible water container
- Biodegradable soap
First aid and toiletries
While all certified guides will carry a first aid kit with them on a trip into the mountains, it is important to have a personal one as well.
Inside of it you should bring sanitizer wipes, analgesic painkillers (such as ibuprofen), blister pads, sticking plasters, any personal medications, a lighter or matches in a waterproof bag and an emergency fire starter.
In terms of toiletries, it is important to bring toilet paper and a bag(s) to pack it out with, menstrual products, a toothbrush, sun cream and lip balm.
Navigation, paperwork and other
While a mountain guide will have planned your route and bring their own navigation supplies, it is always best to be prepared. This means packing a topographical map of the area, a compass, altimeter and local guidebook.
Along with navigation material, you may also need to bring some paperwork, including permits, a government-issued identification card and cash or a credit card.
There will also be considerable downtime while climbing that many people do not think of when packing. As a result, it is always good to bring something to read and write with as well as some form of entertainment, such as a deck of cards.
Be Prepared and Have Fun
Heading on a mountaineering expedition is a fun and exciting way to spend your holidays or free time. Be sure to make the most of your next trip and pack everything you need. It could be the difference between getting that great view or having to go home early!