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Colin Haley Alpinism – Hardware Part 3

Hardware Part III – Other Important Gear


A large backpack with an internal frame is appropriate for an approach, but on route your pack should not have a frame. Not only does it add weight, but while climbing technical terrain a stiff frame limits the motion of your body.

Also avoid really wide, cushy hip-belts and shoulder straps for the same reason. On a route with moderate technical difficulties where a lot of simul-climbing is expected both backpacks should be similar in weight. On steep, difficult terrain, however, the leader’s pack should be significantly lighter than the follower’s pack, and consider even bringing backpacks of significantly different size. Remove the hip-belt from at least the leader’s pack so that it doesn’t get in the way of racking. Another good way to save weight is to leave the lid pocket behind, because it adds very little volume and your small items can be kept organized just as well inside a silnylon stuffsack. Traditional ice axe loops are better than tool tubes because they are lighter, accommodate leashless tools more easily, and keep your tools lashed more securely.

A lightweight leader’s pack without a hipbelt – Mark Westman on the Denali Diamond. Photo by Colin Haley.



The usefulness of approach skis depends on the range you are climbing in, the nature of the terrain where you will be, and the season you will be there. On many expeditions skis would be useless, but on many others it would be completely impossible to travel without them. Snowshoes are typically much slower and less efficient than skis, but do have the advantage of being lighter. For this reason, the one situation when snowshoes are a good choice is if you expect to have to carry them on your backpack for a long ways before using them on your feet. Telemark bindings have no useful application in alpine climbing, and the randonee bindings that you choose should work well with mountaineering boots (which usually means a wire bail front).

A good ski setup for alpine climbing is very different from a good ski setup for backcountry skiing. The skis should be lightweight and short, with a length from 130-160cm. Skis this short are much easier to turn when wearing mountaineering boots. Some skis are specifically designed as approach skis and come in these shorter lengths, but you can otherwise just buy an old pair of kids skis at a ski swap. Also, it is best to use skis with a waist that is relatively narrow by modern standards – mountaineering boots do not provide much lateral support compared to ski boots, so it is hard to put wide skis on edge.

A trick that is very useful for skiing in mountaineering boots is to use ‘knee-cords,’ a cord that runs from the tip of your skis to a strap right below your knee. By tensioning such a cord you essentially mimic the effect of a high-backed ski boot and will stay in control much more easily in variable snow and with a heavy backpack. Drill a hole through the tip of your skis, and connect the knee-cord to the tip using 5-6mm perlon with a stopper knot on the underside of the hole in the tip. The tension on the knee-cords should be easily adjustable while you are wearing them, as should the tension in the strap around your knee.

Approach skis – Mark Bunker on Eldorado Peak. Photo by Colin Haley.


The purpose of eyewear on an alpine climb is to block the sun, the wind, and blowing snow. Sunglasses block the sun well and ski goggles block the wind and snow well, but unfortunately neither of them do both very well. Traditionally many climbers have brought both sunglasses and ski goggles on a climb, but this seems excessive most of the time. One solution is to bring hybrid glasses-goggles that aren’t as nice in the sun as glasses and not as nice in the blowing snow as goggles, but do both decently. These hybrids typically have separate lenses with foam around each, and fogging is often the biggest problem, so it is worth trying them on for a few minutes before buying them.


On many lower-elevation routes single-boots provide adequate warmth, but for climbing in real cold double-boots will be necessary. Plastic-shelled boots are obsolete, and their only advantage is a relatively low cost. The new wave of double-synthetic-boots are warmer than plastic boots, and more importantly they climb technical terrain much, much better. To get the most warmth out of your boots for extreme cold, consider using thin, skin-tight (but not circulation-restricting) neoprene socks that act as vapor barriers. The inner boots are essentially vapor barriers anyways, so if you don’t use neoprene socks expect that your socks will get moist.

Water Bladders

Water bladders are useful because they have a large volume for their weight, take up almost no pack space when empty, and are much more comfortable than a bottle inside your jacket or sleeping bag. However, hoses and bite-valves are much too hazard-prone for alpine climbing; the hose tangles in the rack, the hose freezes, or they leak. The only water bladder that seems trustworthy are the MSR Dromlite bladders. Use ductape to make sure the nozzle on the screw-top will never come open accidently.


A good headlamp is one of the most important pieces of gear on any climb, and if climbing during the dark seems likely then a very bright headlamp will absolutely be worth the greater weight than a just-in-case headlamp. Get the brightest headlamp you can find that uses only LED’s. Incandescent bulbs will zap your batteries incredibly fast, and the new LED’s are impressively bright. For important climbs, always use lithium-ion batteries rather than alkaline batteries – not only are they much longer lasting, but they work better in the cold and are significantly lighter too.

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