|summit of Cho Oyu, wearing my full 'battle suit'|
Anatomy of an 8000-m climber
This is a gear guide on (mostly) what to wear when climbing big mountains, or any cold-serious mountain (think Denali, Antarctic peaks, or anything above 25000ft). For little warmer places or mountains, the principles of this gear guide are the same.
1. Proper head-gear. I normally use polyester-based fleece ski-mask (aka balaclava). When I’m really cold, I wear the mask down (not folded up), when I’m really, really cold, I wear 2nd piece on top (folded covering ear-level up). I seldom use a separate neck-bib and face mask, but that’s useful for very cold-windy frost-biting places. In Cho Oyu and Everest, I only wore 1 piece plus the downsuit’s hood. Cost: cheap, you can buy a good poly-fleece in Kathmandu (what I’m wearing in the picture). A good brand of course will cost you more. The typical Baguio-made version (acrylic or poly non-fleece) is not good for alpine use (not windproof, lots of ‘holes’, little heat retention).
2. Proper eye wear. UV light is not good for the eyes. There’s stronger UV radiation at altitudes, and more UV rays in alpine setting due to more reflection (from snow). Too much white light is also not good (it can cause eye problems or headache). You’ll need 2 sets of eye protection. What I’m wearing here is called glacier glasses. Difference vs. typical sunglasses is the white light penetration rating (you’ll need 5-8% ideally), and ‘goggle type’ enclosure to avoid side lights from entering your eyes. (Obviously 100% UV block similar to any good sunglasses). ‘Vent-holes’ are needed to avoid too much moisture inside (- moisture turns into ice causing you to see a ‘blur’). For windy / bad weather day – use ski goggles (face goggles), that’s you’re second piece. If you tend to break or lose glasses – best to bring a back-up. Remember, no eyewear – no climb, no summit! Cost: mid expensive. Invest for your eyes!
3. Not a gear, and not required – but it’s nice to bring ‘your reason’, or ‘what you represent’, or ‘a message’. A picture of your wife or kid(s) perhaps? A stuff toy given by your girlfriend? A banner of some sort (like if you were climbing for a cause)? Or a flag of your country (here, I’m claiming a first Pinoy 8000m climb).
4. Oxygen set (mask, hose, tank). For the lucky and strong ones – maybe optional. But for most normal people like me ;) a necessity to survive. Supplemental oxygen prevents frostbites, severe AMS (altitude sickness) and allows one to survive in an environment where air (pressure) is almost a third of normal. Cost: normally rented or provided by your outfitter. What will you do with an O2 tank after your climb?
5. Cold weather outfit. Extreme cold-weather outfit. My outer layer here is commonly called ‘downsuit’ - a suit (1 piece) of up and down clothing with ‘goose down’ fill. Down (finer and different from normal goose feather) is known for its ‘heat retention’ capability – better than ‘foam’ type, or fleece. Here I’m using an ‘800-fill’ suit ( a ‘fill’ of 700 is normally ok – a ‘fill’ is like a measure of how much down is stuffed inside). Under my suit, I have 2 layers of fleece jacket – both polyester-based. A fleece made of wool is nice/better and warm but heavy. My fleece jacket has ‘200tka’ – again another weird measure of how thick / good the clothing is, a higher number should mean a warmer piece of clothing. And under my fleece jacket, I have a next-to-skin base layer (poly-based) which is suppose to ‘wick my sweat’ away from my body (presumably transfer the wetness to the fleece jacket). No cotton for base layers as cotton retains moisture (i.e. you can get frostbite from your own sweat). Some climbers use 2-piece down (jacket and pants) and an optional waterproof-windproof ‘fly suit’ (overalls) on top of it. COST: the suit – extremely expensive (my #1 most expensive item), down jacket / pants – med-high expensive, fleece – cheap version available, base layers – cheap-to high available.
6. Harness set and hardware for climbing. Harness should be fitted on top of ALL layers of clothing. The set normally includes a tool for ascending (to prevent fall), belaying (controlled descent) and general protection (ex. ‘cow’s tail’ or 2 slings with karabiners each). Ice axe (not in the picture) is also needed, and normally attached in the harness to prevent accidental loss. Cost: mid-high.
7. Proper glove system. (In this picture, not properly demonstrated/used). For extreme cold weather needs, 3 layers are needed (though I just use 2). I normally use thin-fleece poly layer gloves (my personal favourite is The North Face version), a mid-layer fleece (if you’re the coldy type), and an outer layer down-mitt. Why mitt vs. glove? Mitt ‘joins’ the 4 fingers together and helps fingers ‘huddle together for heat’. Cost: cheap version available, including down mitt (this one from Kathmandu mid-priced but worked well for me.
8. Socks. I normally use 2 layers (first layer for wicking; also, double socks system prevents blisters). One thick wool-based is normally enough if partnered with a super nice boots (#9 below). Cost: cheap to mid. My old-days climbing went through smoothly using Landmark mall-sourced acrylic-based cheap socks.
9. Expedition boots. This one is like 3-layer system -- the inner boots, the 2nd/real/main boots, and an outer cover ‘ala gaiters’. This Millet brand (and the La Sportiva Olympus Mons version) are rated -60C - very warm and trustworthy. Plastic / ice-climbing double-plastic boots can also be used but with added neoprene ‘over boots’ layer (like an external attachment). The advantage (of Millet or Mons) is ease of use, but it’s quite expensive. The double-plastic boots can be used for ice-climbing (this one in the picture is difficult to use for that purpose, it’s non-rigid). Cost: expensive. (my #2 most expensive in the list, #3 if I count the -40C down sleeping bag).
10. Crampons. A glacier-use collapsible type (not the rigid/fixed version used for ice climbing). This one has 10 points (sharp ends) enough to bite on ice. Highly useful for glaciers or any icy or iced environment (and not so useful on soft snow). An anti-blocking device (flat plastic or rubber or even duct tape) should be installed underfoot to prevent accumulation of snow (imagine walking on 4-5in of balled ice). Cost: mid-high.
Boots and Shoes
Outdoor Toilet Needs
What to Bring in a Big Mountain Trip (complete gear guide and checklist for Trekkers and/or Climbers)
Fighting Cold Weather
Inside the Tent
Mountaineering - Supplements and Medicines