Ultimate Equipment Guide for Your Alpine Climb
by: Anna SzlaviCategory: Mountaineering, Mountaineering Equipment
Planning to climb your first alpine mountain? Need a full equipment list?
Want to know how to choose the right boots for the trip? Are you in doubts if your backpack will be fine? Still wondering about what a proper base layer is? Perplexed by the variety of gear in outdoor stores? Not sure what you can leave home? I have good news for you: you needn’t worry no more!
Here’s the Complete Equipment List for Your First Alpine Trip.
With more than 10 years of coming and going to high mountains, our guides have brought you an ultimate tool kit, an extensive checklist, a professional inventory — of all the things you NEED and DON’T NEED for your first alpine climb, to Grossglockner for example.
This is not a dry and superficial “10 things you need” kind of stuff. This list will give you specific, hands-on knowledge of what you need to have (and what you needn’t) when you are planning your First Big Climb.
Trust me, you’ll need a great deal of energy up there just for the climb, so don’t make your life more difficult by freezing your ass off (“I wish I had thought my layers through!”) or dragging yourself like a mule (“Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the 60L backpack..?”).
Full Alpine Equipment List for Rookies
You will master how to prepare for your first alpine mountain as far as equipment is concerned. First, we’ll go through the entire body from the feet area to the head, then, we’ll show you the basic gear kit you need, like trekking poles and headlight. You’re going to be pretty clear by the end what you still have to purchase before your trip so you feel safe heading out to this exciting New World.
When you’re climbing, your feet are your most valuable assets. Just think about it: you will be carried on to the top all by your feet. So take good care of them.
You must have heard this a thousand times already: it’s not the boots you should save money on. If your boots are uncomfortable, small, or not water-resistent, you are jeopardizing your climb. You don’t need the best possbile quality of your polar, your backpack or your headlight, but with the boots you gotta be wise. Choose well and break them in.
The ideal boots are:
- water repellant
- rigid, because you will put crampons on
- high dunk (light ankle boots are not OK)
- made of leather or Kevlar
- equipped with protection on the side and front (against rocks)
- C or D category
- not too heavy (not like this for example)
Choose whichever model and whichever brand you like, as long as they fulfill the above criteria and they fit your feet. How can you test if their size is OK? First of all, don’t even think about buying your boots online. You need to try them for sure!
When in the store, test for comfort and size. Put on the boots, push your toes to the front, now place one finger into the boot just behind your heel. If there is no more space and no less, you are fine. Leave the boots on for a good 20 minutes to test comfort as well.
You wanna know a secret? Socks are just as important as your boots!
They need to be comfortable, fit like a second skin, wick moisture away, and keep you warm, wet or dry. Bring several pairs and some bandaid.
Again, it is smart to buy your first pair after actually trying them. Once you know which brand, which model and which size fits you, you can expand your wardrobe through online orders. First, go to the store.
Don’t forget about gaiters to protect your feet. What are gaiters? They are essential accessories to prevend snow, water, rocks, and little pebbles from going into your boots. They will come in handy even if your just go trekking on a rainy day.
The most important to keep in mind is that you will need to keep yourself warm by putting on several layers. In the valley you will not need all your layers, but as you ascend, especially as you reach snow level, you will need to put on your extra layers. The weather, above 3000 m, is unpredicatable, so you need to be ready for snow, rain, and sunshine. Here are the 4 essential layers you need.
Certain things are optional in a climber’s wardrobe, but surely not the base layer. You definitely need two-three sets, at least for your upper body (or the lower body one might be enough for now). It is a good idea to combine short sleeves and long sleeves to adjust to the weather quickly and smoothly.
The function of the base layer is to insulate and to wick moisture away. The two most popular types are merino wool and synthetic. Merino keeps heat even when moist and it doesn’t get stinky; nevertheless, it is rather expensive. Synthetic types are a lot more affordable, dries up faster; however, they insulate less and stink more.
Don’t forget about your underwear either. You should stick with underclothing that dries fast and doesn’t move around on your body. Merino is a good choice, because you may need to wear it for several days.
For base layer, our top choice is Icebreaker. But again, pick whichever brand, model, size fits you best. You need to try it and make sure it feels comfortable. Remember, you will wear this layer every day, and it is the one that has direct contact with your skin.
Softshell Jacket and Pants
If you have a great softshell jacket, you will not wanna get it off. It’s freaking comfy, doesn’t hinder your motion, wicks moisture away, dries off quickly, protects you from the wind; in short, it bears and offers a lot.
When picking your jacket, choose one with adjustable hood, because it will come in handy in wind. It is also a good idea to have zippers in the underarm area (you will keep your charming scent).
The pants should not be too big or thick. It’s better to have another layer underneath. Choose a model which you can tighten at your ankles; if you want some super pants, pick those that have gaiters and ventillation.
As your softshell jacket and pants, pick the model you like from the trusted brands (The North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear or Millet). Once more, this is a crucial layer, so you want to make sure they fit you. Go to store, try them on and choose based on what feels right for your body shape and size.
Down, Synthetic or Fleece Jacket
The evenings and the mornings can get real chilly, so you might need extra layers to keep you warm. The best you can do is get yourself a light down jacket. What’s great about a down jacket is that it is light as feather, can be folded and stored easily, and it warms you like a campfire. The downside is that down jackets don’t fancy moisture. If they get soaked, chances are you can forget about them.
A fine alternative can be the synthetic down jacket; the most well known filling is primaloft. Probably you know this name from your sleeping bag. Primaloft is a lot cheaper than down, it bears moisture better, and dries off more quickly. Its disadvantages are that it is less warm, weighs more, and takes up a bigger space in your backpack.
On a beginner alpine trip, you may not need to put on your down / synthetic jacket, but it is good to have it in your bag just in case the weather gets nasty. If you plan to climb higher as well, you definitely will need one inyour wardrobe.
Once more, go with the established brands, because you will want to wear your jacket for a long time.
If you don’t have any of the above, a couple of thicker fleece sweaters will do. But be prepared for a less comfy sensation. They are heavier, bigger, and need more time to dry.
If you encounter rain or storm, you’ll need your thin, waterproof and windresistant layers. Practically, we are talking about a rain coat and rain pants here. Membraned models (like gore-tex) will protect you from the rain, yet you won’t get swamp ass like you would with neylon rain-protection.
A top-choice hardshell jacket can be tightened both at your waist and your hands and have adjustable hood. Just think about it: without these qualities it just doesn’t serve what you need it for: to protect you from the wind and rain.
As for the rain pants, try to get yourself a pair that has zippers on the sides, because it is a lot easier to get them off and put them on. Typically, you will need to put them on not in the safety of the hut but out in the open, with the storm over your head and boots, gaiters, and maybe even crampons on your feet.
Hands & Head
It is quintessential that you keep your hands and head warm — they are the parts that tend to lose temperature most quickly, along with your feet. It’s key you understand the importance of getting the right type and amount of gloves and headwear; your climb is critical to your choices here.
It is a rookie mistake to underestimate the importance of gloves. You must learn it for now and for ever: the right gloves can save your life. Next to your feet, it is your hands that will start to get cold, which has a toll on your performance. We watched myriads of climbers turn back just because they were not equipped with the appropriate pair of gloves. The first you get yourself is a decent pair of boots; then you find the right gloves!
Our guides usually take 3-4 pairs of gloves for the climb, which is something you might wanna consider. At least you need to have a thin polar/softshell pair and thicker skigloves for the colder, windier times; along with an extra pair in case any of them gets lost or soaked (the extra pair can be older ski gloves if you wish).
Hats, Scarfs, Face Masks
When picking your hat, get one that is not too think, not too warm. If it happens to be too cold, remember you have a softshall or hardshell hood to put on.
Multi-functional scarfs are great, because you can use them on your neck, head, ears and face. Also, they are super comfy and soft. You don’t get sweaty or irritated, while it protects you nicely from the wind. This is a must for every climber!
Personal favorite is the Spanish superbrand Buff. You can find lighter versions and thicker ones as well.
You might get tricked into thinking: it’s only the cold you need to prepare for when climbing above 3000 m. In fact, when you go this high (and even higher), it’s not just temperature and weather that you gotta think about but also the sun. The higher you go, the more you are exposed to radiation. You need good-quality sun glasses (you can have glacier glasses if you wanna be fancy), high-factor sunscreen, and lip balm (not just for women!).
It is not only clothing you need to think of when preparing for your first alpine climb. You need some basic equipment as well. Some tour operators (like ClimbBigMountains) provides you with helmets, harnesses, carabiners, ice axes, and crampons you will use during your climb. But there is a basic kit you need will for yourself. Don’t worry, having all this will be essential for all your alpine climbs later on — because, of course, you will want to climb more after getting your taste of alpine heaven!
The ideal backpack for an alpine climbs:
- has a capacity of 30-45 L (you don’t need more — this is too much for example)
- is equipped with a comfortable backsystem, including hip belt and chest buckle (so it’s easier to carry for days)
- has storage for ice axes (so you don’t have to bring them in your hands)
- large stretch front and side compression straps (so you can make the backpack as narrow as possible or fix your raincoat on the outside)
- is hydration compatible (so you have your water at hand)
- is equipped with multiple pockets including hip belt pocket (so you can access snacks and bars without taking the backpack off)
- includes integrated rain cover (so your stuff doesn’t get soaked)
- is lightweight (so it doesn’t add a lot to the weight you have to carry)
Like above, whatever fits the previous criteria can be a good choice. These are the models we like: Osprey, The North Face, Deuter. There is also a comprehensive review of 10 great hiking backpacks we recommend you read.
Top tip: in heavy rain, no rain cover will protect your backpack. It is best to pack everything in plastic bags, and then your backpack. This will be useful also for grouping things, so it’s easier to find everything in your bag. Remember, you will be on the mountain, in rain / snow / wind. You will not want to unpack the whole bag to find that one chocolate bar!
You think you don’t need trekking poles, right? It’s for the weak and lazy, huh? Well, not really! You will be proven wrong big time. Trekking poles will be of great help both when ascending and descending, so get yourself a pair!
Practical and small, headlights are important in the tool kit of a climber. Forget about torches. You need your hands! A good headlight is small, light, waterproof and reliable. You don’t need the most expensive, but make sure they work. Black Diamond or Petzl is a good choice. Also, check the batteries before you head out.
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