Descriptions and suggestions for gear we use for mountaineering and alpine climbs.
Shell jackets – SJ
Helly Hansen – Odin Mountain Jacket
Helly Hansen – Odin Vertical Jacket
The best shell jackets for alpine mountaineering are lightweight, waterproof/windproof/breathable and durable.
There are many different brands, designs and qualities. The best will have a membrane like the Helly Hansen HellyTech Professional, which being waterproof efficiently keeps you dry from any outside rain, while letting moisture created from your body heat escape out of the inside membrane when you’re working hard.
The jacket should have sturdy zippers big enough to use while wearing gloves and feature a hood that easily lets you wear a helmet underneath.
You wont need a lot of pockets or fancy ventilation, but two simple pockets, that you can open, while wearing a harness and a possibility to vent out under the arms are useful.
We do not recommend using normal insulated ski-jackets, which won’t let you adjust layers for heat-management.
They don’t withstand wet conditions as well as a shell jacket either. When an insulated jacket gets wet it also takes a long time to dry!
Shell pants – SP
Helly Hansen – Odin Mountain Pants
Helly Hansen – Elevate Shell Pants Mountain pants
A good shell pant for winter and high alpine use is like the Shell jacket above made of durable fabric with a modern 3 layer membrane, to keep the you dry from the outside, while letting you get rid of you moisture created from your body heat otherwise trapped inside. It’s great with a pant that goes up a bit on your back, to avoid a cold barrier between the jacket and the pant. Models with suspenders can aid in avoiding this gab.
It’s useful with a full-length zipper down the legs, so you can take the pant on and off while wearing your boots. Lower leg re-enforcements are great to avoid quick tear and wear.
A variant of the above pant without suspenders and full-length zippers will also work well, when used in combination with a pair of “guide-pants” (se below). This will be a slightly lighter shell pant and used more as an “over-pant” you use for the summit push or occasional windy and poor weather.
Guide pants – GP
Helly Hansen – Guide pant (heavy-duty)
Stretchy, sturdy and comfortable, a good soft-shell fabric assures great movement and durability.
This pant type has become the reference pant for mountain professionals used essentially for summer alpine climbing and spring ski touring.
Trekking pants – TP
Helly Hansen – Guide light pant (light weight)
Great for hiking and rock climbing, it’s a lighter variation of the “guide pant” and not as durable, and not really enough for alpine climbing and ski touring. Its force is in being great for normal alpine trekking or even rock climbing, where you need some wind-protection, but doesn’t need a warm pant. The lighter fabric also dries really fast.
Note on pants:
Its difficult, takes time, and often it is simply not possible to change your pants combination when climbing, and therefore important to get it right from the start. Here are 2 relatively similar options, where we recommend the first.
- Base-layer + heavy-duty guide pants + a very lightweight shell pant. This is a simple, yet efficient combination of trousers for climbs in the Alps. For most of the time you can get away with just wearing the mountain pants, and add on base-layer and shell pants when needed.
- Base-layer + normal light trekking pants + Normal sturdy shell pants.If you have a pair of heavy-duty shell pants and don’t want to invest in a brand new pair of cool mountain pants, you can get away with bringing a pair of normal trekking pants of lighter material. You will then always wear a base layer + shell pant during our climbs. A heavier and less flexible solution than number 1, that is still absolutely OK.
Base-layers – BL
Helly Hansen Dry Base-layers
Helly Hansen Warm Base-layers
A great base layer like all of the HH Lifa base-layers, does what they promise, by transporting moisture away from you skin, keeping you dry and warm. Base-layers get a lot of use, and you’ll often keep a well-functioning system for a long time. Make sure you like the feel and experiment with thickness. A good idea is to have 2 base-layers. A normal + a warm version will do great. We use normal base-layers the most for summer alpine climbs and will put the warm base-layer on when attempting e.g. the summit of the Mont Blanc or cold winter days skiing or ice-climbing.
Mid-layers – ML
Helly-Hansen – Daybreaker fleece jacket
A fleece sweater or jacket will do great. We prefer to keep this layer relatively light and find that Fleece 100 is a good weight.
For cold days you can opt for a 200g-fleece jacket for added warmth, but most often we would then anyway be bringing an extra warm layer. So more often than not, we stick to the 100g version.
Extra warm layer – WL
Helly Hansen – Insulator Jacket (Fiber)
Helly Hansen – Verglas hooded down insulator (Down)
This is a great layer and we use it all the time. It’s not hugely important whether it’s a fiber or down jacket. A fiber jacket is often best used underneath a shell jacket, where it really does act as a great insulation layer. Most fiber jackets are also relatively slick in design and doesn’t fill or weigh much in the sac. Fiber jackets dry pretty quickly.
The down jacket is always nice! On Mont Blanc it’s a jacket we often wear above the shell jacket as it takes more room than the fiber jacket. Its insulation value is greater than fiber and hence works well outside the shell jacket. It takes more room in the backpack and it dries slowly.
Don’t mix the above description with a heavy expedition grade down jacket. We don’t use these unless we are on a winter camping course! They are simply too heavy for normal alpine! You might see some guides, who are particular tired of being cold, using them on Mont Blanc J
For our alpine climbing trips and ski trips always bring a good hat, which covers your ears.
Balaclava / Buff / Facemask:
For our high alpine trips like a Mont Blanc climb or other alpine 4000m peaks, and our ski mountaineering trips, where the weather can be tough, you should bring either a balaclava, buff or a facemask, to insulated further and to be able to fully cover your face leaving no skin vulnerable and prone to frost bite.
A classic sunhat with a strap so it doesn’t fly off is great, or simply just a cap for the sun. Useful during summer and winters when the sun is strong and it’s nice and warm.
Good glove brands include Black Diamond, Hestra, Patagonia, Arcteryx + visit to your local hardware store for light leather gloves.
Extra warm gloves/mittens – EWG
For very cold days during or for those who generally suffer from having cold hands we recommend using insulated mittens or 3 fingers warm glove versions. A mitten will always be harder to use when taking skins on and off or using your ice axe etc., and you might have to take them off. You should have a pair of glove liners on for those moments as an immediate barrier towards the cold.
We recommend always bringing a less warm pair of finger gloves for use when the mittens are too warm. Also if you choose to use mittens opt for a light pair, and not an expedition grade mitten, which is absolutely useless for much else than surviving in 8000m.
Warm gloves – WG
A good pair of finger gloves made of good insulating and reinforced material will do well for most people on our alpine programs and winter activities. They are better for manipulation gear than mittens and you can get them in nice a warm models. We often supplement with a glove liner for extra cold days.
Fleece/soft shell glove – FG
Always bring a lighter pair of gloves like a fleece glove or soft shell glove. We use these to a great extent, when its to warm for anything beefier. You will even see guides wearing what looks like garden gloves. Cheap “leather” gloves from you’re local hardware store is actually great for most summer rock routes and via ferrata, where you need a sturdy glove for protection, but doesn’t need anything particularly warm. These simple gloves work super well with a glove liner underneath a long way up towards the point where you change for your warm gloves.
Glove line – GL
For our high alpine programs and ski mountaineering trips the glove liner is very appreciated as we always end up having to take off our gloves for some gear or clothing adjustments during our climbs. The thin liner creates a barrier against the immediate cold and can protect your hands in a great way. Make sure they fit underneath your warm gloves.
Mont Blanc climbs and Alps 4000 peaks
Glove Liner + Fleece Glove + Warm Gloves (+ Insulated mittens)
Will do fine for most people. Those who suffer from extra cold fingers should go for a warm 3-finger warm glove version or simply add a pair of insulated mittens to the system.
(glove liner ) + Fleece glove + (warm glove)
Depending on the weather (wind, precipitation etc.) and temperature you can add an extra glove liner if needed or leave behind your warm gloves. It’s always usefull to bring a set of fleece or light soft-shell gloves.
General off-piste skiing
Glove liner + fleece glove + warm glove (+ extra pair of warm gloves).
We recommend bringing an extra pair of gloves for powder skiing if it’s snowing heavily or if you count on sticking your hands in the snow often.
Water icefall climbing
Glove liner + warm glove + technical warm glove
Ice climbing is a bit of a conundrum. You need warm gloves to keep you hands warm enough in the cold icy environment, yet you need the dexterity and precision of a technical snug fitting glove to manipulate ice-screws, karabiners and the handling of the rope. Fact is that you need a whole set of different gloves. The warm gloves for belaying and the technical gloves for the climbing, and an optional glove liner to avoid bare hands packing sacs etc.
You can even add on another pair of warm gloves to share between the climbers, just in case!
One pair of trekking socks and one pair of warm socks will be fine for all our summer mountain activities. You can then adjust to the temperature and e.g. wear the trekking socks on the hut approach and shift to the warm socks for the next days summit attempt.
Some people prefer to wear liner-socks. We don’t use these normally and we don’t believe that they help you avoiding blisters. On the other hand, if that’s what you use and you are happy using them, you should continue to do so.
Ice climbing the summer sock combination counts, but you will most likely need the warmer variant to keep you feet nice and toast!
For skiing you’ll need a pair of ski-socks that extend further up your leg and are especially designed for wearing ski boots. For multi-day trips always bring a spare pair of socks.
For summer use we only need the short version, but if you have the long version, that will also works, and especially ice climbing during the winters, where we might be approaching in deep snow, these are good.
For normal summer use you don’t need to buy some very technical or expensive gaiters, as there is a great risk you will damage them with your crampons anyway (especially if you are new to using crampons). For winter use it makes more sense getting a good sturdy pair made by a recognized brand.
An avid mountain enthusiast going out summer and winter will most likely have a whole arsenal of different backpacks to use in any situation. It is possible to get away with having just one backpack though!
Alpinist + mountaineering + ski touring backpacks
A tough 35-45L backpack will do fine on most alpine routes and on our alpine climbing programs and even double as your ski pack during winters.
It will be just big enough to fit in what our equipment list describe, but don’t count on being able to stuff much more than that in – what you anyway shouldn’t do since it will become to heavy and big for climbing.
It should be made of durable and water resistant material and have 2 ice-axe straps for attaching ice axes and poles. A top pocket is good for extra bits and pieces.
A classic ski backpack is pretty much identical to the alpinist backpack listed above, but you’ll need two straps in each side for carrying your skis in a V shape. For normal off-piste skiing you will get away with a 25-30L pack and for multi-day ski tours a 40-45L pack.
In the Alps we rarely use packs of more than 45L. Bigger packs tend to create unnecessary bulk and aren’t good for climbing.
Brands: ABS, Mammut, North Face, BCA, Ortovox
Today it’s getting very normal to ski with a special avalanche backpack. These bags have compressed air bags hidden in side-pouches of the pack. They all have some sort of release handle or strap, that make it possible to trigger a rapid inflation of the air bag. The fully inflated air bags make the skier stay on surface avoiding being buried during the slide.
You get these packs in all sizes, but for normal off-piste skiing you can choose a 20-25L variant, which leaves enough room for shovel, probe and extra parts.
If you plan on using this pack for ski touring day trips, I’d go for a 30-35L variant.
Some versions let you zip on different sized packs on to a base system, which is the carrying system + air bag system.
Since more statistics have surfaced over the last few years evidence shows that quite a few still dies in avalanches even when the air bags are triggered. This is due to the fact that the air bags wont help you in a terrain trap situation or prohibit serious trauma of prolonged falls over cliff barriers.
Overall statistics are favorable for the use of air bags and we use them for normal off-piste skiing and day ski tours. On hut-to-hut ski tours you rarely see people using them, as the added weight of the system becomes a bigger negative than positive.
Rock climbing packs
For multi-pitch climbs we often bring a small 20L backpack for water, hiking shoes and extra layer of clothes.
In the Alps we use single leather mountaineering boots. They do not have a removable liner, but are insulated with several layers and come in many different sizes and qualities.
Single 4-season mountaineering boots and normal climbing shoes can be rented in Chamonix and Argentiere. Lighter “summer” or 3-season boots usually does not show up for rent.
Mont Blanc and Alps 4000m peaks
On Mont Blanc and many of the Alps 4000m peaks you need a light and solid leather mountaineering boot. They reach well up over the ankle and are insulated for up to 5000m and we use them all 4 season.
They have reinforced toes and sides to handle walking in loose rocks for extended durability and waterproofness.
You must be able to securely and easily fit a pair of crampons.
There are models with an integrated gaiter system. A good number of guides use these on Mont Blanc and winter climbs, as they are a bit warmer, than the normal single boot.
Example – Nepal Top, La Sportiva
Matterhorn and technical alpine summer ascents
On summer climbs of the Matterhorn and other technical alpine ascents we use a lighter and less stiff version of the above mentioned boot for Mont Blanc. They are less bulky and therefore better to climb with. They are not warm enough generally for walking hours in snow like we do on Mont Blanc and are labeled as 3-season boots.
Ice-climbing / Ice-runnel (Goulotte) climbing
Here we tend to use the same category of boots as the ones we use on the Mont Blanc, as we need a warm stiff boot.
Traditionally climbers would use plastic boots for cold weather climbs like these, but they are completely out of fashion as they are very clumsy compared to modern leather boots and much heavier.
Expeditions to 6000-7000m – Cold weather regions
Expeditions to South America and on 6000-7000m peaks you enter the category of double boots. You need a very warm boot, and most models are with full-integrated gaiters and removable inner shoes.
Expeditions to highest altitudes – Cold weather regions
For the coldest spots on earth (Highest Himalayan peaks and the Poles) you need extremely well insulated boots to protect you from frostbite. They are often called something like 8000+, Everest etc.
They are with full-integrated gaiters and removable inner shoes, and pretty clunky. Yet, its what you need for such expeditions if you’d like to keep all of your toes.
A light approach shoe is a normal shoe that is relatively stiff and durable, and has a good sole for climbing. For climbs where we don’t touch snow or glaciers, we often prefer to access the routes in these shoes, as we can travel much quicker and often limit the time spend in tighter fitting climbing shoes.
We tend to go for quite comfortably fitting climbing shoes on multi pitch routes in the 5-6th grade.
For harder sports climbing routes you will need very tight fitting and precise climbing shoes.
There exist several different crampons for a variety of use.
The classic 12-point crampons can be rented in Chamonix and Argentiere.
Classic 4000m peaks, technical AD-D routes and Mont Blanc
Are pair of classic 12-point crampons are what you need. They have 10 vertical points for optimal grip when walking flat (10-pointing), and two horizontal front-points for use when “front-pointing” on steeper ground.
Very technical routes and water-ice climbing
On very technical routes and water-ice climbs you can get more aggressive crampons with 14 points or mono-points for extremely precise placing.
Snow & glacier trekking
For simple trekking on snow or glacier you can use a 8-10 point crampons, that will be lighter than all of the above mentioned crampons. We recommend steel crampons for summer glacier travel, where we are often on hard glacier ice.
Notes on crampons:
We prefer the bindings of the hybrid or “semi-step” version, which are easy to fit on stiff soled boots, that has a heel groove. They are the fastest and easiest crampons to deal with.
It’s required that the crampons come fitted with anti-plates to prevent snow from sticking to the crampons. This is really important to avoid dangerous sliding.
You should bring a bag for carrying the crampons to avoid them destroying gear in your backpack.
The ice axe is the mountaineer’s equivalent tool as the hammer for a carpenter. We use it on many occasions such as climbing, building snow anchors, using it for self-arrest, opening a beer…etc.
Brands: Black Diamond, Grivel, Petzl are the reference brands.
Classic ice axe
This is the most used ice axe and is simple in design and comes in length between 50-75cm. The correct length for you depends on your size and the activity. In the Alps we are usually always on some steeply inclined slopes and we therefore tend to go a little shorter on the axe for the purpose of climbing and bring a telescopic pole for balance and support when walking.
Since we switch the axe over according to our direction on the slope we favor not having a leach attached as this makes progress slow.
Example. A 180cm high person is good with a 55 – 60 cm axe.
On steep and difficult routes we bring so-called technical axes. These are curved and shorter than the classic axe. The angle of the pick is much steeper than on the classic axe. Great for water ice and in ice runnels. They are less good for building snow-anchors, as the shape of the shaft doesn’t favor this.
On technical mixed routes where the terrain is not much steeper than 50 degrees and only in short sections, you can bring 1 axe. When climbing steep ice and longer steep snow-slopes you always bring 2 technical axes.
Example: A 180cm high person goes with 2x50cm axes.
Note on axes:
The axe is composed of a “shaft”, a “spike” a “head section” where you find the “pick” and the “adze”. The spike is used to penetrate the shaft in the snow most often pushing down on the head of the axe. We use the adze to “clean” the ice when inserting ice-screws or digging in the snow when building snow-anchors. When swinging the tool holding the shaft at the lowest towards the spike, you get a good purchase using the pick for climbing.
Rating: B for basic and T for technical. B is fine for general mountaineering and what the quality of most classic axes. T is the standard for technical tools, which needs to be more durable and strong than the classic axe.
On classic climbs we mostly carry at least 1 telescopic pole. It’s great for balance on uneven or slippery terrain or can be a help when you need to probe for a crevasse.
An added benefit is that you can use it during descents to take some of your weight when coming down the mountain. Some people swear bringing two poles and especially if you have some difficulties with your knees this is a good idea.
You should choose a pole or a set of poles that can be reduced in length and fit neatly on your backpack, while not sticking high up over your pack.
Note: If you are suffering from bad knees or other joints, then even two poles wont help you. The strain during mountaineering and especially during the descents will be too much for you.
We always wear a helmet when actually climbing. It’s an important item for reducing the risk of injury in case of falling ice or rock from above and in an event of fall.
We use a normal climbing helmet for our activities. It doesn’t matter too much whether it’s a “suspension” helmet or a “foam” helmet. The importance is that it fits the person well, can be adjusted to cater for a hat below and that it doesn’t have any faults (cracks etc.).
Classic harness + screw karabiner can be rented in Chamonix / Argentiere.
Anytime we are climbing or walking on a wet (snow filled) glacier we will be wearing our harness.
We prefer alpine mountaineering harnesses for most of our mountain trips on classic routes such as Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, alpine routes up to AD and during glacier trekking.
They feature fully adjustable leg loops and either double back or automatic waist belt buckle.
You need a minimum of 2 gear loops and a belay loop in front for belaying and rappelling.
It’s important that it has a good fit and sits well above your waist.
It should be quick and easy to get on and off, and its great if you can get it on without having to take your boots off.
For technical ice climbing or rock climbing where we will be actually hanging in the harness its great with a more technical and better-padded harness for comfort. If you have a sports climbing harness this might work, but check that the leg-loops are big enough to wear your shell pants etc.
You should have a minimum of 1 screw-gate karabiner on your personal harness and must provide this yourself unless you rent from us.
Additional climbing gear:
We usually provide all ropes, karabiners, friends, quick draws etc. used by the guide during the guided activity.
Nevertheless on alpine courses or crevasse rescue courses it’s a good idea for the participants to bring.
3 screw carabiners (or simply locking carabiners)
2 normal carabiners
1 ice-screw (15-17cm)
Prusiks (2x50cm x 6mm)
Mechanical devices: Petzl “Basic” or Kong “Duck”
10m x 6-7mm cord
35-40m of 8-9mm rope
Petzl makes great small headlamps. It’s great if you have a red-light function for added discretion when having to find the toilet during hut nights.
Make sure you have new batteries installed
You are fine with 1L + 0.5L on most of our trips like the Mont Blanc. Carrying more becomes too heavy.
It’s best to have bottles that can take warm tee like e.g. bottles like Nalgene or Sigg, but a “San Pelegrino” bottle can go a long way.
We don’t recommend using water systems (e.g. Camelbags), as they tend to freeze up (even when fitted with an insulated hose).
Sunblock: We recommend that you use 30-50 factor sunblock.
Sunstick: Take care of your lips. 30-50 factor sun stick are recommended.
We recommend category 4 or 3 (dark version) sunglasses that efficiently cover the sides.
Snow goggles: Any type of goggles that we use when the weather is harsh.