Having proper technical training and being in excellent physical shape are critical to a successful Rwenzori Mountaineering experience for your Climbing adventure booked with Rwenzori Expeditions. But, before you head out on your 7 Days Rwenzori Mountaineering or 12 Day Rwenzori & Gorillas , you need to be sure you’re equipped with the right gear and clothing.
This article will focus on the gear; for clothing tips, see our article, What to Wear Mountaineering.
Here’s the essential gear you’ll need for most mountaineering trips:
- Mountaineering gear: Items such as mountaineering boots, crampons, a climbing helmet and an ice axe are standard items for almost every mountaineering climb. For trips that take you onto glaciers, you’ll need a rope, harness and crevasse rescue equipment to protect against crevasse falls.
- Camping gear: For day trips, you’ll need basic items like a backpack, headlamp, hydration system and the Ten Essentials. But, many mountaineering trips require at least a night or two of camping, in which case you’ll need a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and stove.
- Mountaineering accessories: Accessories like an altimeter watch and navigation tools can make travel in the mountains easier and more comfortable.
The mountaineering gear that’s required for your trip depends a lot on the route you’re climbing. For instance, if you’ll be crossing glaciers, you’ll need a rope, harness and crevasse rescue equipment. But on unglaciated routes, you may be able to leave some or all these items behind. And if you’re hiring a guide, certain things may be provided or available to rent, so check with them before purchasing.
Mountaineering-specific gear items required for a climb:
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good pair of mountaineering boots. They’ll provide traction and stability for traveling on rocky terrain, and the ability to attach crampons for climbing snow and glaciers. Your more-flexible backpacking boots may seem like a good option, but not all backpacking boots are compatible with crampons. Also, the flexibility of the soles can actually cause your feet to tire quickly when walking on uneven terrain. Stiff mountaineering boots provide a stable platform.
- Insulated mountaineering boots: For climbs in frigid temperatures or those that feature a significant amount of time spent on snow and/or glaciers, mountaineers wear insulated mountaineering boots. If conditions or personal preference call for them, they can be worn any time of year, but they’re commonly worn in winter, early season (May/June) and late season (September).
The warmest insulated mountaineering boots have a two-part design (which is why some people call them double boots): inner booties that provide insulation and outer waterproof shells with soles on them. Traditionally the outer shells have been made from plastic, but more and more options are available with flexible synthetic materials that are more comfortable. These tend to be the choice for winter ascents in the contiguous U.S. or climbs on bigger peaks, like Denali.
- Non-insulated mountaineering boots: For climbs in more mild temperatures or those that don’t require much time on snow or glaciers, non-insulated mountaineering boots are a common choice. They are typically less bulky and lighter than insulated boots, making them more comfortable and agile. It’s common for mountaineers to wear non-insulated boots during mid-season (July/August) climbs.
Crampons for Mountaineering
- Steel crampons are strong and durable, making them a common choice for general mountaineering.
- Aluminum crampons are much lighter than steel but also less durable. If your climb will be mostly on moderate snow slopes, aluminum crampons will be sufficient. However, if your route takes you over rock and snow or the steepness requires front pointing, steel crampons are recommended.
- Binding types: Crampons attach to boots using one of three binding types: strap-on, step-in or hybrid.
- Strap-on crampons feature nylon webbing straps and flexible toe and heel bindings that attach to nearly any mountaineering boots.
- Step-in crampons have wire bails in the front and heel levers in back that attach to boots, creating a very secure system. To use step-in crampons, your boots need to have at least 3/8” welts or grooves on the toes and heels.
Climbing Helmets for Mountaineering
Most standard rock-climbing helmets are suitable for mountaineering. Make sure your helmet has clips for attaching a headlamp. Some helmets have closable vents, which can be nice on cold days.
Ice Axes for Mountaineering
When choosing an ice axe, you’ll need to consider your size and activity when comparing the lengths, weights and shapes of the axes. For general mountaineering, most climbers choose an axe with a fairly straight shaft made of aluminum and a head and spike made of steel.
One popular way to find the correct length of an axe is simply to hold an axe at your side with your hand around the head and the shaft pointing down toward the ground while standing relaxed. The spike of the axe should reach your ankle bone when you stand fully upright with your arms at your sides.
Ropes for Mountaineering
If your mountaineering trip will involve glacier crossings or technical rock climbing, then you’re going to need a rope. If you’re hiring a guide service, ropes are generally provided. But if you’re choosing your own ropes for mountaineering, you’ll want to look closely at the weight because a lighter rope is less of a burden to carry during a long approach hike. The weight of a rope is largely determined by the diameter and length:
Diameter: Often times, the skinnier the rope is, the lighter it will be. The good news is that ropes rated as single ropes continue to get skinnier and skinnier; it’s now possible to get a single rope that is about 8.5mm in diameter.
Length: For many mountaineering climbs, you may be able to use a rope that’s shorter than the standard rope length of 60m, thereby reducing weight. When determining the length of rope you need, you must consider things like how far apart the climbers on your climbing team will tie into the rope and how much rope you need to perform a rescue.
Dry treatment: Because you’ll be traveling on snow as you traverse glaciers, we recommend you choose a climbing rope with a dry treatment that resists water absorption. When a rope absorbs water, it not only gets heavier, but it’s also less able to withstand the forces generated in a fall. Wet ropes can also freeze, which makes them slippery, stiff and difficult to work with. Dry ropes can have a dry core, a dry sheath or both. Ropes with both offer the greatest moisture protection.
Crevasse Rescue Equipment for Mountaineering
If your trip will take you onto a glacier, then it’s essential to carry crevasse rescue equipment so you’ll be prepared if you or one of your climbing teammates falls into a crevasse.
Many climbers build their own basic crevasse rescue kits that typically include:
- 1 snow picket
- 1 single-length sling
- 1 double-length sling
- 20 ft. of 5–7mm accessory cord for making prusik slings
- 2 lightweight pulleys
This gear can be used to haul a fallen climber out of a crevasse. Knowing how to set up a hauling system correctly and quickly is essential, so seek out expert instruction if you’re new to mountaineering.
Camping Gear for Mountaineering
Mountaineering climbs often require some of the same gear you take backpacking, such as a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and stove. If you’re out for a day trip, then you may be able to leave certain items behind.
Sleeping Bags for Mountaineering
For overnight climbing trips from May to September in the contiguous U.S., a sleeping bag rated to keep you comfortable from 0°F–20°F will typically be sufficient. If you’re traveling to Alaska or plan on doing any winter mountaineering, you’ll want a bag rated to -20°F or possibly even colder.
Sleeping Pads for Mountaineering
Although it can be bulky, a foam pad eliminates any worry of punctures when you’re spending the night out on a mountain. If you take any type of air pad, be sure to carry a repair kit. Some climbers use an air pad on top of a foam pad for better insulation and for the peace of mind of having a foam pad in case your air pad pops.
Whatever sleeping pad system you choose, shoot for an R-value (or equivalent) of at least 3. R-value is a measure of a sleeping pad’s thermal resistance to conductive heat flow.
Headlamps for Mountaineering
Whether you’re out for a single day or several, a headlamp is a must-have. Most summit attempts involve a pre-dawn start, so you’ll need a bright, reliable headlamp to help you navigate through the darkness. Look for an LED headlamp that has both flood and spot beams, and outputs 100 lumens or more for sufficient light. Always carry an extra set of batteries and consider using lithium batteries as they withstand cold temperatures better than alkaline.