Ever thought going off on some daring big mountain adventure and got overwhelmed by figuring out the right gear for it?
I'm willing to bet that anybody who's gone off to a large scale adventure knows that feeling of "oh boy oh boy" as they're starting to get into the gear planning. And unless you're Kilian Jornet, your favorite outdoor brand may not be bending over backwards to design custom solutions that are just right for your adventure - so figuring out the right mix of functionality, durability, warmth, and weight all comes down to creative problem solving, particularly when you're trying to go fast in extreme temperatures. I was lucky enough to be be in a position where I could draw on cutting edge gear from a number of sponsors and supporters (thank you adidas Outdoor, Lenz, Backpackers Pantry, PowerBar, Hyperlite, CAMP USA, Petzl, LuminAID and Goal Zero!) but I also had to get creative. I needed to keep everything as light, comfortable and breathable as possible - given that Libby and I were looking at a 20-30+ hour continuous push from 9,000ft up to almost 23,000ft and back down - but couldn't risk frostbite. Take a look below for how I put together my kit.
- Gloves. Lenz Heat Gloves 3.0 Women, with Outdoor Research Alti-Mitts (sans liner, since the Lenz gloves could double as a liner) for backup. Powered by a lightweight and rechargable lithium-ion battery pack, the heat gloves provide active warmth for up to ten hours - while providing a much higher level of dexterity than you'd find in any non-heated glove of similar warmth - and are well worth the cost.
- Ice axe. The lightest out there, the Corsa from CAMP USA. We ended up not needing axes given the lack of snow, but this axe is my weapon of choice for any non-technical snow climb.
- Trekking poles. I used and love the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles. They're super light, collapsible, and have skinny grips (which keep me from getting cramps).
Upper body. Layers upon layers! A basic adidas Terrex tee, the awesome Terrex Skyclimb top, and a gaggle of jackets: the men's adidas Terrex Climaheat Agravic together with the slightly lighter Women's Terrex Swift Climaheat Agravic jacket, plus the Terrex FastR Gore-Tex jacket.
Lower body. Again, layers. A pair of tights beneath the adidas Terrex Techrock Winter Pant, topped off with a custom GoreTex bib.
Overall warmth. Lots of Grabber Warmer hand warmers, ultra warmers and foot warmers. Yes, that's in addition to all the down and heated gloves and heated socks... it does get that cold up there.
Socks. I tried out the Lenz Heat Sock 5.0 Toecap for this project and was blown away by their performance. Full review to come soon!
- Footwear. This was a bit of a homemade custom job, since I needed something light and runnable - meaning not the La Sportiva Olympus Mons that I would typically wear on a peak like Aconcagua - but warm enough to protect my feet from prolonged periods of subzero temperatures. I cut a set of supergaiters down to be just above-ankle high and glued them on to the Salomon S-Lab X ALP Carbon GTX to prevent the top from popping off (a common supergaiter issue). Combined with the Lenz Heatsock 5.0 and a set of Grabber Warmer foot warmers for backup, this custom setup did wonderfully well.
- Crampons. The new Petzl Leopard FL crampons - light as a feather and super durable. I think they're actually lighter than YakTrax or MicroSpikes, which would have been the alternative.
- And finally, the last piece of the puzzle: Running Packs. A big mountain run like Aconcagua requires a double-pack approach: an ultra-lightweight, skinny pack or vest to wear right on your baselayer (underneath all your other layers) in order to keep your hydration system from freezing, and a larger running pack to accommodate gear, food and layers. I used the Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race Vest as my base sleeve, and the Mountain Hardwear Fluid 12 Backpack as my outer running pack.
The above kit is what I just about lived in for well over a month. When we had periods of nice weather lower down in the valley, I would simply take off the outer layers and adjust some of the winter gear with less extreme substitutes - a pair of adidas Terrex liner gloves instead of the Lenz Heat Gloves, Injinji toe socks (a favorite of mine every since I started ultra running) to replace the Lenz Heat Sock, and the lightweight and grippy adidas Terrex X-King trailrunner instead of my homemade big mountain trail runner.
Now, this is what I wore on my body; of course the gear requirements don't stop there... here's the rest of the setup.
- Camping. Libby and I had two tents on the mountain: the trusty Mountain Hardwear EV2 which I have used on multiple big mountain trips now and always was happy with, and the roomier The North Face Assault 3 which I have come to dislike thoroughly (full review coming eventually, if you're looking for details before I get around to it, email me with questions).
- Sleeping. We used an ultralight and highly comfortable Therm-a-Rest setup for sleeping pads, combining the classic Z Rest with the NeoAir XTherm (R Value of 5.7!) and a compatible chair kit for added comfort in camp. Our sleeping bags were -20 to -40F bags from Mountain Hardwear and TNF.
- Food. Nutrition is crucial on an expedition and all-too-often underestimated, which is the reason I include it in my gear list. Our base nutrition consisted of Backpackers Pantry freeze dried meals for dinner, stout oatmeal - fortified with powdered milk, honey and dried fruit - for breakfast, and PowerBar gels and bars for fuel on the go as well as for sweet treats. For me, this mix works great; others may need more variety to stay excited about food on a long trip.
- Kitchen. I use and am a huge fan of the MSR Reactor stove system, which is more powerful and efficient than any other stove I have used. For lightweight cook- and dinnerware, I switched to the Sea To Summit collapsible X Series a few years ago and have never looked back.
- Carrying. For the approach to basecamp and carries on the mountain I rely on Hyperlite Mountain Gear's large all-rounder, the Southwest 4400. Beyond its durability and waterproofing, I love that the pack is ultralight and seamlessly adjusts from medium-size day pack to porter volumes. That said, the pack isn't designed to carry super heavy (but I've been just fine with it carrying loads up to 65lbs).
And that's just about it! Of course there are the lovable and sometimes indispensable luxuries like solar lighting (check out LuminAID) or solar power from Goal Zero, as well as important peripheral items like headlamps or water purification. If you're looking for a comprehensive packing list to prepare your own climb, feel free to reach out to me and I'll be happy to share the detailed equipment run-down that I have used on past expeditions. Climb on!