Every year we get questions regarding gear and what to look for in specific items. This season we decided to compile a list of the most commonly asked about pieces of gear and give our guide picks. The rabbit hole for gear is endless. There are many types based on price, fashion, weight, durability, etc. We have decided to narrow down our picks based on durability and versatility in the mountains.
When looking for an ice axe it is important to understand what length is best for you. A shorter climber with a long axe is a bit cumbersome, so ensure you read the manufactures recommendations before purchasing. As a new climber opting for a model with an adze that is durable and dependable is key. Our guide pick had been the Black Diamond Raven for the past few years. This axe has a simple, durable construction that is ideal for glaciated climbs. If you would like a tool suitable for steeper mountaineering terrain, we suggest checking out the Petzl Summit ice axe.
Most conventional rock-climbing harness are perfectly adequate for alpine and glacier mountaineering; however, they tend to be bulky and hard to take on or off with layer changes. For this reason, MG / NWAG has been a big fan of lighter and more adjustable harness such as the Petzl Altitude Harness. It is easy to put on with gloves and only weighs 160g!
Protecting your head from falling objects is paramount in the mountains. Having a helmet that can withstand normal wear and tear of travel and a few hits is key. We have always recommended the Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet. Though a little heavier than foam-based helmets, the Half Dome excels at reliability and dependability. Just remember you may be wearing a ball cap or beanie underneath, so get a size that accommodates both.
Layering is a large part of travelling in the mountains. Having a warm jacket to count on for hanging around camp or when the weather gets serious is important. Mountain Gurus has been using the new Himali Altocumulus Down Jacket in our rental fleet, as well as guide uniform for the past year. This jacket has a great weight to warmth ratio and comes with 800 fill down.
This is a layer that you will be living in on expeditions or climbs, so make sure it is comfortable and serves as many purposes as possible. If you see our guides in the field, they will undoubtably be wearing the Outdoor Research Echo Hoody. This provides breathability and large amounts of UV protection. Having a hood and long sleeves in large glaciated terrain is ideal for summer climbs.
Here in the Pacific North West we are constantly changing our layering combinations to the myriad of temperatures and conditions. Having a solid softshell jacket allows water resistance with breathability, this is ideal when on the move. Our go to has been the Himali Annapurna Softshell Hooded Jacket.
As with most climbing gear, there are many options out on the market. When shopping around make sure your headlamp has at least 200 lumens, a red light setting, and a dimmer to conserve power (and to not blind your tent mate!). The Petzl Tikka has been the gold standard in lighting for many years.
Crampons are perhaps the one item we get the most questions about. Many times, it boils down to boot size and style that will accommodate specific crampon types. Have a look at our Boot & Crampon Guide before your trip. Whatever type works for your boots, make sure that they are constructed with steel and have 12-points. The Petzl Vasak is a great option. The Vasak comes with both wire and bail style toe pieces making it adaptable to many styles of boots. To learn more about mountaineering boot and crampon types and sizing, check out our boot guide and crampon guide.
Why can’t I use my normal sunglasses? This is a valid question that we often get, and the answer is about protecting your eyes. Most sunglasses fail to protect the peripheral vision or harsh UV rays. Glaciated climbing involves hours spent on highly reflective snow and ice, making extra eye protection important. Glacier glasses are specifically designed for climbing, skiing, and other winter sports. Often these include side coverage and special lenses for UV light. Our guide pick winner this year is the Julbo Monteblanco.
Our guides live in softshell pants for over 200 field days each year. Needless to say it is an important piece of clothing that is durable, flexible, and breathable. If you are looking for a new pair of softshell pants look no further, the Outdoor Research Cirque Pant. This pant was designed for climbers and skiers alike. They feature reinforced areas near the inner foot, amble pockets, and durability.
Layering is also very important when thinking about a glove system. Having lighter gloves for the approach or warm days, as well as beefier gloves for poor weather is key. Often though, we find ourselves between those two needs. This is where softshell gloves shine. In fact, over half the time we are in the mountains our softshell gloves are the go-to hand protection. Some things to look for are a leather palm and a Scholler type fabric. If you are climbing in the PNW or other wet environments stay away from Gore-tex fabrics, as they also keep water in after they get wet. One of our favorites is the Mountain Hardwear Torsion Insulated Glove.