What you REALLY need to pack for an expedition climb.

We all get them every time we sign up for a guided trip, “The Packing List”. And after some experience you get the hang of things but if this is your first trip like this, then read on because I am going to show you what ACTUALLY needs to be in your duffel conpared to what many standard gear-lists will tell you.

Why? What’s the difference?

Well, it depends.

Some companies have learned to list necessities and are pretty spot on, others give you a novel, despite the weight limit that will be required. It helps to just know what you ACTUALLY need and why vs what is reccomended add-ons, what is available for rent, whats optional luxuries, and what’s not nessisary so you can budget gear purchases and pack appropriately.

Weight Limits:

First off, all international airlines have a weight limit on bags and any guided expedition that has available porters will give you a 15kg (33lb) weight limit as well to protect the porters. You would be surprised how heavy your stuff can be. It all adds up fast! So one key thing to remember while packing: WEIGH YOUR BAGS!!!

Sidenote, weight limits can vary:

Take climbing packing vs a trek for example: a trek, anywhere in the world, can easilly be packed to under 15kg. But if you are headed to climb a technical peak, you have A LOT of gear. You can’t always physically fit everything into 15kg, especially if You are on the mountain for 2 months! You may need a down suit, climbing gear, etc etc. All you need to know for now is in a climbing expedition there will be multiple duffels to carry your stuff, but they still can’t weigh more than 15kgs each.

What to ACTUALLY pack:

This list is gonna start out with you basics for a trek because even if you add technical climbing, you are still going to have the same basic trekking gear. This list is a base that works for any trek, anywhere in the world.

The obvious:

  • Your 70-90L duffel
  • A 25-35L day pack
  • Trekking poles (even if you think you dont need them you want them. Downhill at the end a long trek is brutal on the legs and knees)
  • Good, broken in, hiking shoes
  • Multiple pairs of hiking socks (rule of thumb. 1 pair for every 2 days)
  • Liner socks (only IF you feel like you need them… I never use them.)
  • 1 pair thick wool or ski socks (for sleeping/summit)
  • 0° sleeping bag (especially for high elevation camping)
  • Lightweight compactable Sleeping pad with R rating of 3 or higher (R rating is temperature compatibility)
  • Sunglasses (+glacier glasses if there is snow and going above 10,000′)
  • Water bottles (2, 32oz Nalgenes MINIMUM, bladders are useful too… Until they freeze)
  • Headlamp/extra batteries

Layers:

  • Underwear/bras (1 pair every day if trek is roughly a week or less, 1 pair for every 2 days if its longer. You can wash them and hang them to try on your backpack while hiking! Sounds wierd, is totally normal tho.)
  • 1 moisture wicking T-shirt
  • 1 pair trekking pants
  • 1 pair modest shorts (ONLY in hot regions and where cultrally appropriate. Examples: Kilimanjaro=ok, but Nepal=NO shorts!)
  • 1 long sleeve moisture-wicking layer
  • 1 long underwear top
  • 1 long underwear bottom
  • 1 fleece layer top
  • 1 fleece or sweatpant bottom
  • 1 puffy jacket
  • 1 winter coat with hood (down jacket is best if possible when climbing high, it can be rented in many areas of the world if your particular company requires it)
  • 1 rain shell or poncho

Sidenote, Why only 1 of each? You will wear the same thing every day. Sounds gross but saves space and weight. What I like to do is have one long sleeve as a hiking layer and then the long underwear and fleece become loungewear in camp. You can change out of your sweaty clothes and you are much warmer while hiking but you will be cold once you stop moving. On summit night I keep the long underwear on under my trekking pants combined with the winter coat and I am plenty warm.

For heads and hands:

  • Sun hat
  • Winter hat/beanie
  • Thin gloves
  • Waterproof Winter gloves
  • Balaclava or face mask (shield wind/dust)
  • 1-2 bandanas (multipurpose: snot catchers, face masking, sweat bands, wet cloths to cool hot heads, etc)

Accessories:

  • Gators (if theres snow)
  • Yak-traks or micro spikes (if minimal snow)
  • “Camp shoes” (comfy easy slip on and off)
  • Quickdry lightweight camp towel
  • Stuff sacks/dry bags to keep gear organized
  • 1 garbage bag (for stinky/dirty laundry! The plastic of the garbage bag will lock in odors so the rest of your stuff doesnt stink!)
  • Gallon sized ziploc for trash (food wrappers and TP. Pack it in, pack it out!)
  • Personal snacks and electrolyte gels or powder mixes (not optional, a MUST! Foreign food is hard on the stomach if you are new to it. Altitude kills your apetite. Having multiple snack favs to keep energy up makes a massive difference and electrolytes can help prevent altitude sickness!!!)
  • Toiletries: camp soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deoderant
  • Toilet paper (thank me later)
  • Ladies, feminine products (altitude screws with your cycle. Just be prepared)
  • Water purification tablets (backpack filters wont kill everything. Always boil water First THEN purify it)
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30+ minimum)
  • Lip balm with spf
  • Insect repellent with DEET (various infectious diseases in rural parts of The world. Protect yourself. Your “organic lemon bug spray” wont work on these bugs. Unless you have a severe allergy, suck it up, use the deet. Its better than Malaria)
  • Basic first aid kit (bandaids, blister kit, tweezers, is plenty. Guides have full med kits)
  • Wet wipes (when you cant shower for 3 weeks, these will make you feel better)
  • Hand sanitizer!
  • Camera
  • Portable chargers/extra batteries (keep in sleeping bag at night or they will drain in the cold!

Important documents:

  • Passport
  • Travelers insurance paperwork
  • Visa paperwork
  • Immunization paperwork
  • Credit card for emergencies
  • Cash: depending on your trip depends on how much to bring. You will need to tip your guides, porters and cooks for each day of the trip. In Nepal you will be staying in teahouses where you can purchase snacks and bottled water. Suvenier shopping is in cash in most rural parts of the world. Cash economy. You are gonna need to look up what is appropriate for tips and math out the legnth of your stay and how much you expect to spend on suveniers and other things. I can’t tell you an exact number because everywhere is different. I pull out what I think will be too much just to be safe and I can put back whatever I dont spend when I get home.

Medications: (vary based on location)

  • Regular Percriptions
  • Diamox (for altitude)
  • Malarone (for Kilimanjaro, Africa in general, central America, and other at risk countries. This drug has least amount do side effects compared to other malaria meds)
  • An antibiotic (incase of travelers diarrhea. Specific drugs are required for specific regions)
  • Ibrpofen (your new best friend)
  • Pepto-bismol tablets (helps prevent travelers diarrhea. Take this first before it gets incapacitating then take antibiotic)
  • Dayquil/cough drops (cold air, bew germs, new people.. Your probably goning to get sick at some point)
  • Daily multivitamin (can help prevent sickness as well as provide nutrients that may be missing from eating trekking food.)

Luxury items: (really just optional comforts if you have room to fit them.

  • Journal
  • Card games
  • A Book
  • Earplugs (for sleeping… trust me.)

Climbing add-ons:

  • Mountaineering boots
  • Crampons
  • Harness
  • 5-6 slings
  • Jumar
  • 3-4 caribiners
  • Climbing helmet
  • Mountaineering axe
  • Snow pants
  • Down suit (if climbing in temps below 0°F)
  • Down mittens rated 0°
  • Warm waterproof Fingered gloves
  • Prussets

Climbing gear can be heavy so spread it out and dont pack it all in the same duffel. A lot of gear is provided for you such as tents, ropes and sometimes even backpacking stoves/fuel for high camps. Much of the gear can also be rented for a small fee. Check with your guide service for their “provided gear” list.

There you have it! It may look like a really long list but don’t forget I added in all those notes, and I promiae you can succeed in meeting that under 15kg weight limit with everything on this list (minus the climbing add ons of course). I take it from personal experience.

I am currently packing for Kilimanjaro which I leave for in just a couple days! I have noticed how similar my list is compared to Nepal but I am packing less now that I know what I used and didn’t use, what I wish I had more of (snacks, all the snacks!), and since I’m not planning in a technical climb, I get to leave all the heavy climbing gear home which makes meeting the weight limit much easier.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for trip reports from Tanzania!

7 Tips for Expedition Preparation

No matter what your adventure, planning is important. However, when you are planning an expedition, it becomes critical! You have an ever changing to-do list, physical training, as well as other logistics to keep in mind.

Here are some tips you need to know to make sure you are checking off all the important preparation tasks for a big trip!

Step 1: (The Obvious) Book your trip!

Once you decide what you would like to do, book your trip before doing ANYTHING else, including booking your flight. Depending on your expedition will depend on availability of dates as well as available guide companies to book through. DO NOT just book the first company you look at. compare prices, compare dates, compare reviews, compare summit success rates, and most importantly, compare safety standards for crew and clientele. Some have the money and are willing to pay for the best of the best, which is great! However, others (including myself) have to think about budget and getting the best possible experience for the best available price.

For me personally, my first priority was climbing local. Not only does it support their local economy to climb local when you can, but you get a much more in-depth cultural experience learning about the country and culture! My second priority was safety, and third was price. These are all things to keep in mind when choosing who to book your expedition with. Below are just a couple of my personal favorites:

  • Third Rock Adventures: Local Nepali guide company recommended by Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, Travel Channel, New York Times, and more. Local guides fluent in English, great safety standards, cheaper than western guide companies, and all the money you spend supports the struggling Nepali economy. 
  • Eco-Africa Climbing: The best local agency in Tanzania. They pride themselves on ethical porter treatment, ensuring they all make a living wage (even before tips). They will teach you Swahili and ensure a safe climb up Kilimanjaro! Safaris are also available.
  • Summit Climb: Founded by famous climber and guide Dan Mazur. Variety of charity treks available, experienced guides, most affordable Everest climbing from a western company, wide variety of larger expeditions and climbs, well organized.

Step 2: Book your flight!

Once you book your trip, wait until you make your first payment and receive a confirmation email with all needed info regarding your expedition before booking your flight. Everyone always talks about how there are key windows to book the cheapest flight. This is more true for nationwide flights more-so than international flights. International flights tend to book much more quickly and have their ideal price window between 4-6 months in advance depending on the time of year. The trick is to start monitoring and follow flight prices as soon as you book your trip, and once everything is confirmed, then book your flight. There are now a variety of flight apps to help track prices and some work better than others. Google Flights is always a good start, however I found Hopper and Skyscanner found much cheaper flights. 

Step 3: Training Schedule

Planning out a training schedule for workouts is critical. It is important to map out when and how you are going to workout and train. This will be ever changing however. Life happens. You may find you were more out of shape than you thought and it may take longer to re-establish a base line of fitness, or you may get sick and be out of commission for a week or two, or maybe you are just so exhausted from work you aren’t getting to train as much as you would like. Whatever happens, set and establish fitness goals at the beginning and just try to get as close to them as possible. You may get lucky and be able to stay on track, but if not, you have a guideline to help get you there.

Step 4: To-Do lists everywhere!

Start simple, and add things as needed. When you first book your trip there are a few essential things that need to go on your list, but other random things may come up as you get closer. here are some things to make sure get done:

  • Order new passport (if needed)
  • Purchase Travel Insurance
  • Purchase Emergency Evacuation insurance
  • Ensure your health insurance is current
  • Set a doctor appointment to get a physical, (most guide companies require a doctor to clear you for a major expedition and will require a form to be filled out by your doctor)
  • Have your doctor write you a prescription for Diamox (for altitude sickness) and antibiotics (for emergencies)
  • Receive any immunizations needed for the country you are traveling to.
  • Shop for any needed supplies or equipment
  • Call bank before you leave to let them know you will be out of the country

Step 5: Faux Pack

At some point you will need to make sure all your gear fits in your duffel right?  This is also a good opportunity to double check your equipment list to make sure you have everything you need. It is recommended to do a packing trial about a month or so before you leave. If you are missing gear, it is good to give yourself the time to shop for it. Another good reason for this is weight limits. Not only do airlines have weight limits for luggage but porters do too. There are laws in place to protect porters safety and health to ensure they are not carrying too much weight. Many well established guide companies respect these laws as well as their porters and are strict about weight limits. This can get tricky when you are hauling a bunch of heavy climbing gear. When you pack, take only what you need. Don’t bring a bunch of extras, and pick one outfit to hike/climb in with various layers, and one outfit to lounge in. There are ways to launder clothes at high altitude if you really need to, but most just deal with the stink!

Step 6: (the most important) Mental Preparation

Mind will win over body every time. If you aren’t confident in yourself or your abilities, don’t expect success when you arrive at your destination. Your mental health is going to be more important than your physical preparedness. Preparing your mind will look different for every person depending on where you are at to begin with. Some seek out therapy to work through fears and doubts, however some can simply meditate on their goals. There are a variety of things you can do to mentally prepare yourself but this one I can’t give advice on specifically because it is something where you will need to just decide what works best for you. 

Step 7: Farewell!

This is another thing where you decide what you would like to do! Some want a party, some love to spend a final evening with family and friends, others maybe do something more interpersonal. Whatever you choose, it is important to surround yourself with those who support you! Cheers and Good Luck!

The BEST Way to Combat Altitude Sickness

Are you fortunate enough to live near the mountains?

GOOD. You are going to need the altitude.

I’ll get right to the point. The BEST way to combat altitude sickness is acclimatization. No matter what the elevation of your nearest peaks are, taking advantage of high elevation before embarking on an expedition can be crucial to avoiding Acute Mountain Sickness during your trip. If you are within a short drive distance from anything at least 2-3,000 vertical feet from where you live, pay attention, this is for you! The goal in training is to get as high as you can for as long as you can to get a head start on acclimatizing for your climb.

STEP 1: Hang Out.

I would like to hope and think that if you are planning an expedition, or even a simple trek to Everest Base Camp, that you have SOME experience hiking at elevation. This step may be obsolete. But if it’s been a while, or you have been living at sea level, simply drive up the canyon and get higher. DO NOT go higher than 8,000 feet above where you live when you first start. (this means if your town is at 2,000 feet above sea level, don’t go above 10,000 feet). Ascending too fast can be dangerous if your body is not used to the altitude. Take your time. slowly increase the altitude, drink LOTS of water, and enjoy the view.

STEP 2: Work Out.

After taking a few trips up into the mountains, it is time to start working out at higher elevations. Altitude Sickness can start as low as 8,000 feet above sea level. If you live in a low sea level state like California, I do not recommend a trip to the High Sierras as your first hike. Start lower. you want to start working out no more than 3,000 feet above where you live. You can gradually increase the elevation as your body becomes more adapt to the altitude. Take gradually longer hikes and with gradually heavier packs. Again, Water is key. You dehydrate faster at high altitude as your body needs it more. Most cases of Acute Mountain Sickness actually start from dehydration.

STEP 3: Camp Out. 

When you are feeling confident in your ability to hike high and feel good, it is time for a camp out! Sleep anywhere from 3-5,000 feet from where you live, but no more than 6,000 for the first night. Your body may feel adapted, but wait until it has to try to rest and sleep at that altitude. Your body uses sleep-time to heal itself. If it can’t feel like it’s getting properly rested, you won’t wake up feeling so good the next morning. If you are doing a multi-day trip, or decide to come back another weekend, you can slowly increase the sleeping altitude. try not to increase it by more than 1,000 feet per day. If you start feeling like you have a headache, light headed, nauseous, or dizzy, descend immediately.

Vertically Challenged?

Many major cities have Hyperbaric Therapy Clinics that can be beneficial to your training. Some are as cheap as $35/session. If this is simply not an option, a road trip to the nearest mountain range will do you some good, even if you can only find time for one weekend camping trip. Any elevation is better than no elevation. Regardless, the #1 key for those at at low elevations, is to maximize cardio fitness.