Equipment for the High Country
This page will focus only on equipment, refer to the clothing section for information on recommended clothing.
This is one of the more challenging topics to approach with regards to preparation for the high country. Few people agree on what is necessary and what is best. The discussion below is simply my opinions based on my experience. It is not possible for me to have tried every peice of equipment available or every situation conceivable. I will try to deal in generalities so you may come to your own decisions about what works best for you, but in some circumstances I will give specific examples to help illustrate a point.
Equipment can make or break an expedition. Too much can slow the pace, yet too little can bring it to an early end. I have tried to break equipment down into different catergories of need. When choosing your equipment keep in mind that personal abilities, comfort levels, and budgets affect your decisions and my recommendations may not help you.
Dayhiking in fair weather
- Water - I recommend a camelback, nalgene hydration pack, or similar product. These keep your water easily accessible and therefore you will drink more. Carry at least a liter for every 2 hours of hiking. Carry too much if unsure.
- Sunscreen - Sunburns are much easier to get at high altitude.
- Food - There are an abundance of options for food. Try to find a snack that balances carbohydrates and sugars. That way you get an instant energy supply as well as a long term one. Taste is also important. If you can't stand eating it, you probably won't.
- Hiking Poles - Apparently outside the hiking realm I am used to dealing with these make you look stupid, however the scientific backing for using them is hard to argue. Your endurance is increased by 25% when using them, damage to the knees is cut in half, and the likelihood of a fall is greatly reduced.
- Camera w/ extra batteries - Not really a survival or endurance item, but you'll regret not taking it if you don't. Also useful if you don't want to admit you need a break. Get everyone to stop for a group shot, or pretend you are taking your time to caputer the perfect lighting through the trees.
- Backpack - Unless your pants have huge pockets. Get one that is well padded appropriately sized and fits you well. Also taking the time to properly adjust the load and straps will make the experience much more enjoyable.
- First Aid Kit - Refer to the Safety section for more information on this topic.
- Light source - Headlamps have become very popular, and for good reason. They are lightweight, the keep the light where you need it, and keep your hands free. LED ones burn for a long time on one set of batteries, but don't cast light very far. I prefer the combination halogen/LED ones that allow you to choose how much light you need. Some come with a belt pack for batteries which will help your batteries last longer in cold weather. (If you're new to headlamps you'll quickly learn the rule to not look at people when you talk to them.)
Overnight trip in fair weather
Everything noted above plus:
- Tent - The lighter the better as long as it can handle any possible weather you may run into. Your preference for space will determine how big it should be. I like to use a 3-person tent for 2 people.
- Sleeping Pad - Don't conserve here. A good nights sleep is worth carrying an extra pound or two.
- Sleeping bag - Carry one appropriate for the weather you expect. The temperature ratings vary greatly between companies, so if possible try before you buy. Down bags are lighter and warmer, but synthetic are cheaper and better in wet weather.
- Stove - If you want a hot meal stoves work much better than cooking over the fire. I like to camp without a fire and just use a stove. It simplifies the process and is environmentally friendly. Be sure to carry enough fuel. Carry an extra canister or make sure your bottle is full, depending on the style of stove you use. Remember to bring a lighter or matches as well. A cheap alternative is to make an alcohol stove out of a couple of soda cans. These work fairly well and are easy to make, but putting in the right amount of fuel is difficult to master.
- Pans - Only necessary if cooking. Teflon ones are much easier to care for on the trail.
Dayhiking in winter weather
Everything in "Dayhiking in fair weather" plus:
- Bivy sack - In case you have to spend the night, one of these will save your life. It will still be a long cold night, but at least you'll wake up in the morning.
- Snowshoes or XC skis - I use the snowshoe option because it's cheaper, but the XC skis are probably the better way to go if you will be in a lot of snow. I will recommend the MSR Denali or Denali Ascent snowshoes. They are light, adaptable, and affordabe. I simply don't think any others compare.
- Avalanche Beacon - This is a very expensive piece of equipment and must be carried by everyone in the group. However these save lives year after year.
- Insulation for water - The tube of a hydration pack freezes easily without insulation, and still may with insulation. When it's really cold I usually give up on the hydration pack and use Nalgene bottles kept in insulated sleeves inside my pack. The nice thing about Nalgene's Lexan bottles is that if they freeze solid they still don't break.