This is my kit for a standard 3-day, 2-night unsupported trip to the mountains. It assumes 9-12 hours of motion per day, a few thousand meters vertical, reasonable weather and temperatures that drop no lower than minus 5 at night. It’s not an ultra-light setup (see the links below for the guys who do ultra-light right), and there are plenty of ounces you could shave if you were so inclined. But I’m confident that it will get me up and back down again with a decent cushion of safety.
That said, everyone draws their own line, and what works for me might not work for you. In the words of my gym teacher at school, don’t come running to me when you break your leg.
I use a Mammut Extreme 35ltr pack. At 1.6kg it’s not the lightest by any means (Yuka’s Mammut Granit 40ltr comes in at 1.2kg) but it’s incredibly comfortable and beautifully made. The ideal is a light pack which fits perfectly, but if I were forced to chose then I’d go for fit over weight every time.
All the small items that I might use over the course of a day are kept in their own sack and stored in the lid hood of the pack. This means that you can reach behind and extract them without taking your pack off. Taking your pack off and rummaging around in the lid hood wastes time. Less important in summer, but vital in winter, is that you tether the sack (as shown above).
In it, we have things that show you where you are (GPS, map, compass) and a whistle for when you don’t know where you are. There’s also a bag with hygiene and basic first aid/repair items, a swiss army knife and a headlamp. The pack cover is optional – sometimes I just go with a large plastic bag inside the pack instead.
Sunscreen is vital at all times of year. At 3000m, you are being hit with 50% more U.V. than you are at sea level.
Bitter experience has taught me to always turn one battery back-to-front in my headlamp. That way if (actually, when) the on-button gets knocked in your bag, you won’t burn through your batteries.
No matter what the forecast, you need rainwear. Not only can the weather divert rapidly over the course of three days, but it also serves as a windproof barrier and extra layer of insulation. I’ve been using a set of Arc’teryx Theta hardshells, which are single layer gortex. And in black, when you cinch the hood up tight, you look like you’re wearing a burqa.
Rainwear goes at the very top of the pack. You diligently put it on whenever it starts to spot with rain and take it off when it stops. Very bad things will start to happen if you get wet, so don’t be lazy. Contrary to the hype, goretex will not keep you “warm and dry”. You’ll be warm and damp, but that’s better than cold and soaking.
Food & Cooking
Next up is a large Granite Gear AirBag which holds everything related to grub.
Breakfast and lunch are a few sticks of Calorie Mate, which is a Japanese biscuit brand similar to shortbread with a good nutritional balance. Each 2-stick pack is 200kcal, and if you can’t eat one without it sticking to the roof of your mouth then this is a handy indicator that you might be dehydrated.
On the go, I take a mouthful of home-made carb gel every 30 minutes or so (decanted into the Weider gel packets above). Each one weighs around 330g and contains around 1200kcal of pure carbs. I usually get through 3/4 of a packet during the day, then dissolve the remainder in hot water as soon as I stop in the evening, which gets the all-important glycogen replenishment cycle going again. Peanuts and/or jerky or salami are a good snack to have along as well.
I make an early dinner of pilaf or something similar (these are quick re-hydrating meals which just require 200ml of hot water) and then a later dinner of noodles. The Jetboil is a decidedly non-lightweight stove, but I value its speed and efficiency over the weight. Two lighters at a very minimum are called for, and ideally of different types.
Even in the best of weather, I think you’re asking for it if you don’t carry some sort of decent insulating layer, such as a fleece. Mean temperature declines by 6-7 degrees centigrade for every thousand meters you climb, so it can be a pleasant 20 degrees at sea level and close to freezing at the top of a 3000m peak. More than that, if you get stuck somewhere for a prolonged period of time, then hypothermia can set in very quickly at surprisingly mild temperatures. I use a Mountain Hardwear “Monkey Man” fleece. When you wear it, sometimes people will try to feed you and stroke you, which is a bonus.
In the Granite Gear AirSpace bag goes a pair of socks, to be worn at night while the day socks dry out, a thin pair of Polartec gloves, a warm hat (also by Mountain Hardwear) and a light towel from an onsen hot spring. Arguably the latter is one of the most useful and versatile parts of your kit. In early spring and late autumn, I also put in a pair of Chocolate Fish Taranaki merino wool leggings for sleeping in.
Sleep & Shelter
At the bottom of the pack comes the bivy bag, sleeping bag & mat, and (optionally) a tarp.
I’ve been using an Integral Designs Salathe Bivy for a few years now, and often get asked why. The weight saving versus a lightweight one-man tent is not that great nowadays. For me though, there are two reasons. First, with a bivy bag, if there’s enough room to lie down (or even curl up) then there’s enough room to camp. This is important if, like me, your predilection is to sleep on tiny summits or squeezed in between boulders. Second, camping away from designated sites is often frowned upon (for reasons both good and bad), but somehow a bivy is seen as fair game – and in many cases is a considerable source of interest. I’d much rather that my first conversation of the day started with “Wow, you slept in that?!” rather than “Hey, you shouldn’t camp here”.
The Salathe bivy is made from a semi-breathable eVent upper and waterproof lower, and comes in at just over 900g. I’ll be switching over to a new Integral Designs Penguin Reflection bivy this winter, which promises a 650g weight. The bivy gets jammed into a compression sack.
In warmer weather I use a Montbell Spiral Down Hugger #4 and when it gets a little colder the Montbell ULSS Down Hugger #3. The Spiral versions are new this year, and won the 2009 BackPacker magazine Editor’s Choice award. They are cut on the bias, which makes them naturally flexible, and they’ve finally sorted out the cover by using PolkaTex treated nylon (the covers on the ULSS bags are parlous – they might as well be covered in blotting paper for all the water resistance they offer). The sleeping bag gets its own waterproof dry-sack from Sea To Summit, as that’s the one thing that you really don’t want to get wet.
The mat is a Montbell ULSS Comfort System airmat, and a departure from the “self-inflating” Therma-rests I used to use. I’ve found it to be warmer, lighter, more comfortable, and significantly smaller in terms of packed size. As with all non-solid mats, puncture risk is danger, so I carry the small repair kit (provided with the mat) and place the mat inside the bivy itself.
A tarp is optional, but if the weather outlook is mixed then a small roof makes getting in & out of the bivy, not to mention cooking, much more pleasant. The Integral Designs 5′ x 8′ Siltarp is just enough of a shelter, although the vast majority of occasions it doesn’t get used at all.
The final item in the pack is a 3 litre CamelBak bladder. If you’re camping away from water sources, and the majority of the time I am, then you’ll need several litres to last you overnight and into the next day. Some people swear by Platypus or Nalgene, but I’ve heard too many stories of the former bursting for no apparent reason. I haven’t heard of Nalgenes bursting, but the hose on Yuka’s Nalgene did de-connect itself en-route, and that makes me nervous. I’ve never had a problem with CamelBak.
Before going to bed, I usually boil up the remaining water and pour it into the CamelBak as a hot water bottle for the sleeping bag. It stays warm for a surprisingly long time. But you must check and double-check that you have closed off the mouthpiece… A handful of peanuts or some salami before bed also work wonders to keep you warm.
What to wear..
I wear my Chocolate Fish Taranaki Mid Layer merino top all year round. Cotton is a killer, synthetics give you that “Odeur de Homeless Person” seemingly within minutes of putting them on, but merino wool keeps you warm and smelling like a summer meadow. I like black because it absorbs more U.V. Merino costs more, but lasts much longer than other tops, doesn’t lose its shape and (because it stays warm even when damp, and doesn’t smell) you only need one.
When it gets cooler, I like the Haglof Rugged Mountain Pant [sic]. In fact, I like pretty much everything that Haglof put out. The built-in gaiter and zipped vents at the back are nice innovations, as are all the reinforced areas. They’re too warm for midsummer use, so I usually switch over to the Montura Vaiolet trousers (Montura, your website is appalling – you seem to be missing a “Products” section..).
Under it all goes a pair of Under Armour Boxerjocks. They have good, er, “support”. A baseball cap and pair of sunglasses complete the outfit.
I’m a big fan of Aku footwear, and am increasingly ambivalent as to whether I wear boots or trail shoes. The boots are the Suiterra Injected GTX, and the shoes are the Stone XCRs. They can be found under Trekking|Hiking and Active|Multiterrain respectively here (I’m beginning to suspect it’s an Italian conspiracy to hide their products).
The essential items come in at just a fraction under 8kg, including the pack. The optional items add another 400g to that total. I didn’t include the weight of the camera (and optional tripod), nor the weight of any water carried. On the way back, assuming you’ve eaten everything, the pack should weight around 6.3kg. There are plenty of ways to get the weight down even further.
Here is the final kit list and weights:
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The Kings of Kit
(in no particular order, and I’m sure I’m missing many)