First time advice buying Mountaineering equipment

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First time advice buying Mountaineering equipment

by lowlands » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:38 pm

So, first of all, thanks for clicking in!

I'm a day hiker that wants to move into mountaineering. This coming summer (July-August) I'm looking to climb some prominent alpine peaks the most notable of which is Mont Blanc. Even though I've been big into hiking, none of the equipment I have really lends itself well to mountaineering, therefore I was hoping to get some help from you all in making some good gear decisions. The only "equipment" that I've bought is Freedom of the Hills. I'd like to get gear that I'll be able to use for plenty of years and climbs. After I do those alpine climbs I'd like to do some big American peaks; Hood, Rainier, Shasta, Storm King, etc.

So, I'm looking for gear that will do well up to about 5000m, maybe 6000m. And after that, I'd look into getting warmer stuff to last me up to 6000m to 7000m for climbs like Chopicalqui and Aconcagua.

That being said, what gear works well and can last me in my early ventures into mountaineering?

I need it all, boots, crampons, ice axes, a pack, jackets, pants, tent, etc.
What experience do you guys have and what would you recommend?

I've heard good things about La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX's, and don't mind the steep price, if they'll last me. It'd be great to have a boot I could wear on approaches and up to about 5000m, and then later, when I climb higher, I'd carry the Nepals with me, and switch to plastics when I get higher. Any experiences with other boots?

Anyone have any recommendations for a solid layering system? I like the approach hikes and think it's a big part of climbing a mountain, I'd need a system that can go from 80 F to 20 F, or in that range. Something along the lines of a thin vest/jacket (eg. North Face Annapurna), then a Patagonia DAS parka (I've heard they're great), and then a windproof/waterproof outer hard shell. Or, would a Down Sweater from Patagonia be a better mid-layer than the DAS?

Pants? Maybe a Khaki type pant as a baselayer, some long underwear underneath and then a winter pant on top of that?

The area where I live has an REI and a Hudson Trail Outfitters, but their selection isn't really oriented towards mountaineering. They don't carry any Ice Axes because they're afraid you might stab someone and only have a few packs.

Whichever component you can help me with, please do!

So, I'm all ears and appreciate very much any insight shared.


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by SpiderSavage » Thu Dec 24, 2009 11:02 pm

Ah, to be 19 and starting up again. Freedom of the Hills was a good start.

Get your gear and clothing as you need it.

Find good boots that fit well and take time to break them in.

Get out to the Smokies or up to Vermont as much as you can to practice. Study books and videos and work out the details on any steep hill you can find, road cuts, quarries, etc.

You'll have more fun if you hone your rock climbing skills. Got to climbing gyms and find out what your physical limits are on top-rope climbs.

Nearly all the gear out there for sale is good for something. Go with what looks good to you. Visit manufacturer web sites and collect their catalogs.

You can spend lots of money or you can climb mountains in anything.

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by LakeofConstance » Fri Dec 25, 2009 12:00 am

The best equipment you can get is experience. Make sure you get some of that before you start running around on mountains like Mont Blanc or Rainier. I don't mean to be offensive here, but you introduce yourself as a hiker and in the next sentence you say you want to climb some high peaks in the Alps. There's nothing wrong with being ambitious, but only if ambition is paired with a good deal of experience and common sense.

That being said, I'm happy to help with choosing equipment. Are you in Europe or in North America? I'm just asking since some European brands are not really available in America.

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by lowlands » Fri Dec 25, 2009 1:07 am

Thanks for the advice thus far.

I'm located just outside of D.C. in the States. Experience, what I have, is from hiking and sport climbing. I've done a lot of top rope climbing and am signed up for a lead climbing course that starts on the 7th of January.

I understand the concern that people would have, and actually anticipated some, thanks for that. I wanted to have all of the gear squared away so I could familiarize myself and start experimenting sooner. Like many things in life, I'll have a very conscientious approach to mountaineering, easy does it. I will also be climbing with some experienced people to start out with.

@ LakeofConstance: Ich sehe das du in Deutschland wohnst. Ich wohnte früher im Holland.

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by tmaxwell » Fri Dec 25, 2009 1:58 am

Great advice from LakeofConstance. There are great starter mountains that have lots of adventure with little or no glacier travel. A june climb of Mt Shasta in California is a great example.

From experience, its important to have good tech clothing for any big mountain. Even the "beginner mountains" can be very dangerous at any time of year. Base Layer (long underware), Soft Shell (maximum breathability), a mid layer (something like a fleece), a hard shell (your weather proof gear) and your insulation layer (puffy pants and parka) for when it all hits the fan.

It took me about a year to build up an alpine closet that could get me through the worst. The other stuff like a pack, sleeping bag, tent, can be rented but clothing is a god place to start.

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by stormflap » Fri Dec 25, 2009 3:27 am

im starting out as well. i find alot of good gear reviews on youtube. most of the manufactures also have a youtube site with reviews of their gear. i own a pair of la sportiva backpacking boots ive had for years. im getting the nepal evo boots for summer climbs in north cascades and rainier. consider the length of your jacket. marmot alpinist jacket is 32 inches long in the back. arc tyrex beta shells are 27 inches long. arc tyrex alpha shells are 28. mountan hardwear beryllium jacket is 29.5 inches. ive never heard anything bad about arc tyrex gtx pro shells. its top on my list to get. check out each item has customer reviews on the page that are very helpful. that site has everything for mountaineering. here are two cool videos with steve house talking about his gear for nanga parbat. loads of knowledge in this 17 minutes.. mention of the dac in both videos i think.

here is mike barters page on youtube. you can trust his instruction.

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by moonspots » Fri Dec 25, 2009 5:45 am

stormflap is mike barters page on youtube. you can trust his instruction.

Not only that, but he's very entertaining to watch/listen to, :lol: and that usually means you'll learn something.

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by WML » Fri Dec 25, 2009 6:53 am

Are you looking to climb more technical routes on these mountains or are you more in it for the snow slog/peak bag?

Regardless of which of the two, I personally recommend the following layering system for winter mountaineering/alpinism (All are from Patagonia):

Capeline 3 zip-kneck base layer
R1 Hoody fleece layer
Shell layer (either hard shell, stretch element, when it's nuking out, or ascensionist for when it's nice out)

R1 pant (I run a little bit cold, but it's breathable enough for when I'm working hard) - functions as base layer
Shell Layer (either hard shell, stretch element low bibs, when it's nuking out, or guide/winter guide/alpine guide pant for when it's nice out)

belay/camp parka: DAS Parka

Sock combo: Liner + Wool

Gloves: TBD by goals

Ice axe/tools: TBD by goals

Crampons: TBD by goals

Tent: the Bibler iTent is the golden standard. A good, and very similar tent, is the Sierra Designs Convert 2, a bit less expensive with slightly more room, but room is a relative term as it pertains to tents for alpine pursuits.

Sleeping bag: Depends on time of year and regions that you will focus on with your climbing. Down is almost always preferred.

Again, more clearly define your goals and this becomes much more applicable. Also, explain your style and physical condition - are you looking to set up camps and progress up the mountain in a more methodical fashion or are you looking for single-push attempts?

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by lowlands » Fri Dec 25, 2009 3:38 pm

Those videos were really interesting.

And thanks for that gear layout

As far as technical or peak bag climbing is concerned, I'm not sure. As a relative beginner and my first time on a given mountain, I wouldn't want to do the most technical climb, for safety reasons, but that doesn't mean the technical routes don't appeal to me. For instance, Mont Blanc, the first time up I would most likely take a normal, more frequented route, but I'm also very interested in the Innominata route, which I wouldn't feel ready for on my first time up. What I'm trying to say is, yeah I like technical climbing, but getting into the sport takes its time.

Edit: But if your question was more oriented towards ice climbing or not, I think I'll save the straight vertical ice face climbs for a later time. As for now, I'm looking to essentially take my hiking to a higher altitude, quite literally.

Another Edit: My Physical condition would be atheltic/fit, I'm 6'3". Well, since the beginning of the year up to Thanksgiving I was running everyday, and that recommences on January 1st. When that's started again, I'll be 170lbs and fit. Right now I would guess I'm around 173lbs.

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by lowlands » Sat Dec 26, 2009 6:19 pm

Those being my goals in the above post, warranting certain gear decisions. What kind of rope should I be looking into? I'm sure it's necessary, definitely as far as Freedom of the Hills is concerned, but what can you guys share regarding rope?

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by bird » Sat Dec 26, 2009 7:15 pm

WML's laying system is dead on for most pursuits.
As for rope, a 60M dry 9.6 will get you through most situations, you can top rope on it, lead on it, glacier travel, etc. By the time you wear it out you'll be ready for a pair of 8.5 half ropes. As for brands, I prefer Mammut and Bluewater, though everyone has their preferences.

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by LakeofConstance » Sun Dec 27, 2009 1:02 am

Shoes: LaSportiva have been discussed already. If you have wider feet, look into Scarpa boots. The Jorasses are awesome mountaineering boots for all the mountains you mentioned in your first post. The fit at the heels is perfect and really keeps them from moving up and down.

Socks with Merino wool are great, really reduces blister formation, and are warm and comfy. Two pairs of those plus a Neoprene liner sock as vapor barrier will keep you warm in cold conditions.

Clothing: So much to choose from, I'm a big fan of Haglöfs, but that's hardly available in the US. Layering is key, every piece should be light and should also be functional when used on its own (simply saves money). I use a Paclite Shell, a light Primaloft insulation jacket, a light fleece and some base layer. With that I climbed 6000m peaks in Peru and Elbrus in Russia. When I rest I throw over a Tango Belay Parka (from MEC, very similar to the DAS Parka). A down jacket saves some weight here.
For pants: I wear some random warm long johns, warm winter soft shell pants and when conditions get really bad i put a pair of Paclite shell pants over everything. Keeps me warm.
On Alpine peaks in summer that is usually way too warm. I just wear some quick drying hiking pants then.

Ropes: Edelrid or Mammut. Dry treated. A 9.5 mm single rope is the good for everything option. If you want to rappel off alpine routes, half ropes save you a lot of time, plus they add safety. For glacier travel/climbs a single half rope mostly suffices.

Ice axe: So many options. Make sure it's long enough do give you good support when walking on a glacier (for you 65 cm). There are more and less technical versions, depending on what you want to do with them.

Ice tools: For the steep ice. I'd get tools that plunge well, they are simply more versatile. Try to find some used Grivel Alp Wings or similar to save money. Petzl Aztar are also great.

Sunglasses: Julbo Nomad

Head lamp: Petzl Tikka

Altimeter: Suunto watches are great

Stove: MSR Whisperlite or Dragonfly

uh, so much mores stuff to talk about, but no time.

Of course, these suggestions come from what I use and like.

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Re: First time advice buying Mountaineering equipment

by Brad Marshall » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:15 am

I'll throw in my $0.02.

First, it sounds like you're off to a good start with a great attitude, getting some instruction and not taking on my than you can handle right away. Next, if you haven't already read over the many great gear/clothing reviews here on SP. Biggest mistake I made when starting out was buying clothing that was available (MEC) before finding out there was better stuff out there for a few dollars more. Lastly, here's a layering system that works for me because I generatte a lot of heat when on the go:

Socks - Injinji liners with Smartwool hikers or mountaineering weight depending on temps
Underwear - Patagonia lightweight
Bottoms - Patagonia silk or lightweight
Tops - Patagonia Silk, light or midweights, R1 Hoody
Pants - Columbia zip-off cargos (approach), Patagonia Guige soft shell, OR Paclite hard shell
Jackets - Mammut Soft shell, Gore Tex Paclite hard shell, EMS synthetic belay parka
Gloves - MEC Out-of-Bounds technical gloves, MEC liners, Granite Gear Lutsen mitts

Rest of my recommendations (for what they're worth)
Glasses - Julbo Dooglans
Headlight - Petzl Myo XP
Knife - something simple and light, usually don't need all the gadgets
Stove - MSR Dragonfly (white gas), Brunton Crux (canister)
Watch - $30 Casio with good backlight and loud alarms because of item below
Altimeter - Used to use an Altimax but my partner has a better one
Compass - Suunto with Global needle
GPS - Geko 201 but get something newer, light and small
Axe - something heavy if climbing on hard ice, length is a personal choice but I prefer longer
Boots - LA Nepals for most climbing and ice, Spantiks for high altitude and cold weather
Crampons - Grivel G14s
Pack - Osprey, whatever size all your gear fits in (take your gear to the store and pack it)
Tent - Depends on conditions

This would get you up Aco with a 0F bag and a couple of pads.

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by lowlands » Sun Dec 27, 2009 4:20 am

Wow! Thank you all for the insight shared. It's great to see everyone's layering and equipment systems, and noticing similarities in those really shows which products are popular for good reason. I do tend to run quite warm, even when I go on runs in the winter where temps are just below freezing I find myself ripping open my break-away pants because I'm really warm. So, Brad, you and I are probably quite similar in that sense.

One of these days I'll head to a big Patagonia Store here in the area (D.C.) to see what they have, and to start trying stuff on and seeing what I think. As more questions come up, I'll be sure to post.

Thanks again!

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by climbxclimb » Sun Dec 27, 2009 4:45 pm

It is an exiting thing to move from hiking into mountaineering....I am sure you will have a lot of joy in the future.
There many source of information here and in general on the Web, but the basics are that you need multiple layers made of synthetic materials and you need to exchange them according to the conditions and your comfort to avoid sweating and getting cold.
And bear in mind that you will be changing system once you`ll learn more....about the gear and your performance and comfort, what is good for Steve House may not be good for you...but it could be a good starting point.
More than single items maybe I would recommend trusted manufacturers, because you need to test the gear yourself and see if it suites you well. Patagonia, Arcteryx, Mammut, Black Diamond, Wild Things, Grivel, La Sportiva, Petzl, Fish, Feathered Friends are my favorite for a ll kind of gear with Grivel, Petzl and Black Diamnond only for hardware (BD also for gloves).
The DAS parka and the Nepal Evo are both excellent, but for boots you need to look at the type of climbing you will be doing. If you plan multiple days on the mountain a double boot is the ticket and it does not make sense to carry a lighter boot fro approach unless you have porters....If the the climbing takes one day the Nepal is quite warm, indeed a little too warm for summer mountaineering in the Alps, I use these days the Trango Prime instead.
That said, summer mountaineering is very different from winter mountaineering especially in the Alps.
Just one note on Mont Blanc....for a person who is new to Alpinism the normal route is already a big challenge, the rate of death on that route is very high for weather and inexperience, although the route is technically easy.
On the other hand the Innominata Ridge is a very technical route, involving rock, snow and ice climbing and a couple of bivouacs. It is a a serious route which has claimed the life of many alpinist including the fellow SP member Rahel Maria Liu, and even with a guide it can be a big deal ( last year when I was climbing in Chamonix a guide and his client died on that route).
But ultimately alpinism is about responsibility for our-self and accepting the risk of our you can decide the level of risk you are able to take....
Last edited by climbxclimb on Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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