Friday, November 19, 2010

The Gear List: What to bring for a night on the mountain.

Home is where the -20 bag is.
What should you pack on an overnight backcountry ski trip?  Over the years I've learned some hard lessons and developed a list to survive (and even enjoy) a long winter's night on the mountain.  Some items are necessities, while others (down booties) are comfort items that I'm willing to sacrifice some space and weight to bring along.

See for yourself why I have back problem by springtime.


One for you. One for the Sherpa.
More food. More clothes. More Equipment. Winter camping involves more of everything.  This means that you need to find a mini-van of a backpack to meet your winter needs.  In other words: Go BIG!  Be conscious of weight, but make sure that you have more than enough room to pack everything you'll need, and enough outside buckles to attach your ice tools, your skis, and an occasional dead body.

I also pack a second smaller sack-like bag for summit jaunts, allowing me to leave the heavier full size bag at camp (with most of the gear). It should be big enough to hold some warm layers, and have a way to attach ice tools and/or your skis.  Ditch your sleeping bag cover, and use this bag instead to save room in the pack.

High Peak Kathmandu Backpack (Large 80 liters) w/ Pack Cover 
Outdoor Research Summit Sack

The Home Away from Home 

Shelters like the Go-Lite Shangri-La, or the Mountain Hardware Kiva Lite (aka Charlie Brown's Anus) shave pounds off of your total haul, which can be a life saver.  They won't work well as well as a bomb-proof freestanding tent in gale force winds, but if you're planning on camping below tree-line they provide a lot of space for the weight.

Just looking at that bag makes me warm and sleepy.
As for the sleeping bag.  This is one area where you don't want to skimp.  Get a warm, breathable, and light bag.  It's one of the heavier items, but you'll be spending a lot of time in it.  I add a sleeping bag liner, which increases the warmth rating by about ten degrees and also extends the time between washings.

I carry two sleeping pads.  The first is a full length inflatable pad. The second is a cheap closed foam pad that I've cut into a square about the size of my upper body.  This can be attached to the outside of my pack, and used as a platform to sit on when I stop, or when I'm sitting around the camp during dinner.  I even use it to stand on outside the truck when I'm putting on my boots at the trailhead.  Then at night, it provides an important second layer under my upper body to reduce heat loss.  As for my legs, I place my backpack under the inflatable pad to get extra insulation.

GoLite Shangri-La 3 Person Tent
EMS -20 Mountain Light Sleeping Bag
Sea to Summit Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner
ProLite 4 Fast & Light Inflatable Sleeping Pad
Generic Closed Cell Foam Pad (1/2 Length)
Emergency Bivy Sack

The Kitchen 

There are two goals during down time when you're winter camping.  The first is to melt snow into water and get those fluids into your body.  The second is to stuff your face with as many calories as humanly possible to stay warm.  The key is to pack calorie dense foods like cheese, chocolate, dates, peanut butter and seal blubber.  Given that clubbing seals is frowned upon- not to mention unlikely in the mountains- this leaves the foods you can find in the supermarket, or maybe the convenience store on the way to the trailhead.  Gummi worms - also known as whitetrash power gels- are my favorite: partly because they are full of tasty sugars, but also because they remind me of being in fifth grade.

Powdered mash potatoes are another cheap alternative to more expensive dehydrated meals.  Add a little powdered milk, and some beef jerky or moose carcass and you have cheapo-chipped beef.

Don't forget your spoon... and seal blubber.
2x 1L Nalgene Water Bottles
MSR Whisperlite Stove w/ Repair Kit
GSI nForm Ultralight Cookset
Two MSR Fuel Cannisters with White Gas
Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee
Powdered Gatorade
Sugar Packets
Bourbon Flask
Gummi Worms
Mac and Cheese
Pop Tarts
Chocolate Bar
Hot Chocolate Mix
Tea Bags
Water Bottle Insulator


The Fitzroy Hotel
I usually wear three to four layers, depending on how cold it is. 

On my hands, I wear a bottom layer of thin nylon or neoprene water resistant and breathable gloves.  These should not be fleece, which attracts snow like a magnet: which then melts and leaves you with wet hands.  If it's cold I'll throw a pair of mitten shells over these.  If it's really cold I'll throw a pair of wool mittens between the gloves and the overmitts.

You'll notice that I have more than a few First Ascent items in my wardrobe.  I'll eventually do full gear reviews for some of their items, but suffice to say for now that I've been pleased with their products.  Or maybe its the fact that they've paid me huge sums of money to promote them because I am such a super-famous celebrity.  One of these is a lie.  You decide which one.

I prefer bib style pants with suspenders because its much harder to get snow up my back and down my pants.  Even where your pack pulls your jacket up your back, your base layers will stay warm and dry.

Thin neoprene (NOT fleece) gloves
Wool Mittens (2 pairs)
Layered like an onion.  But not as stinky.
EMS/REI Waterproof/Breathable Mitten Shells (with ties)
Wool Socks (3 pairs)
First Ascent Ultra 195 Merino Wool Top
First Ascent Ultra 195 Merino Wool Bottom
First Ascent Paradise Baselayer Light Crew Top
First Ascent Paradise Baselayer Light Bottom
First Ascent Cloud Layer Fleece Top
First Ascent BC-200 Waterproof/Breathable Shell Jacket
Marmot Randonee Waterproof/Breathable Bib Pants
First Ascent Igniter Light Insulation Jacket  or  Patagonia Fitzroy Ultra Warm Down Jacket
Neoprene facemask
Smith Ski Goggles
Smith Venue Ski Helmet
Fleece Hat
Down Booties

Misc. Odds and Ends

I highly recommend getting collapsible ski poles, and particularly the clip lock versus the twist lock poles.  Having used twist lock poles, they tend to surprise you with unexpected releases, or frustrate you when they get jammed and won't release- and let's face it: who needs a collapsible pole that won't collapse.

I carry a small sandwich bag to put my phone in.  This is because you want it close to your body to keep the battery warm, but unlike most of your layers, a phone doesn't "breathe" and will collect condensation.  This makes for lousy phone calls.

Just like sticking your foot up a goose's ass.
Mammut Lucido X-Zoom Headlamp
Small Thermometer

Ski Waxes/ Cork/ Scraper
Climbing Skins
Skin Wax
Ski Boots
Collapsible Ski Poles
Snow Shovel
Small Brush
6 x Snow Stakes
Plastic Bag (For Phone)
2 x Ski Straps
2 x Mini Carbiners (for attaching items to the outside of you pack)
Avy Beacon
Solar Charger

Climbing/Technical Gear

I don't take this gear on all trips.  Heck, I don't even take it on a quarter of my trips. I bring this stuff for trips that have very steep climbs or descents (50+ degrees).  Even if you don't take all of this gear, I recommend at least carrying the crampons and possibly one small ice axe in case you climb up a slope and the descent gets icy.  Plus you look like you know what you're doing if you carry an ice axe and crampons and SAR won't ridicule you as they haul your frozen corpse down the mountain.
For when you feel like skiing something stupid-steep.

Black Diamond Viper Technical Ice Tools or Full Length Ice Axe
Petzl  Vasak Crampons with Anti-Balling Plates
Outdoor Research Crocodile Expedition Gaiters
8-9mm Climbing Rope
Mountaineering Harness
3x Ice Screws
Belay Device

Emergencies and Repairs 

There's nothing really to say here, except that you hope to never use this stuff, but you're glad you have it along when you do. Except maybe for the Vaseline soaked cotton balls.  Those are fun to set on fire.

Plastic baggies make my world feel manageable.
Small Roll of Duct-Tape
First Aid Kit
Vaseline Soaked Cotton Balls
Tea Light Candles
Nylon Cord

Spare Skin Clips
Spare Binding Parts
Spare Crampon Connector Bar 

What items am I missing?  What are your luxury items?  Leave a comment and make me feel less alone in this world.


  1. Good post, Andy. This is helpful. And now I know where to turn when I need to bum some gear.

  2. how do you know what your foot up a gooses ass really feels like?

  3. The geese in Boston are waaaaay too slow.