Okay, story time: the first time I climbed a big glaciated mountain was in central Chile, Villarrica Volcano to be exact. While this experience was absolutely magical, I also realized that having the right gear can really make or break a mountaineering adventure. In that case, I learned that proper sun protection — including of your face — is absolutely necessary, otherwise there is a good chance you will get a sun-induced headache and burnt lips.
But like many other things, it sometimes takes two mistakes to really learn a lesson.
Fast forward to my first attempt on Mount Hood in Oregon: dense cloud cover, freezing rain, and whiteout conditions. And no real rain gear or proper gloves. Aka misery. This highly uncomfortable experience — though pretty awful at the moment — drove home the fact that having the proper gear can not only make or break a summit attempt but can also put you in some dangerous positions.
Now many mountains later I feel like I am getting close to having all of the proper mountaineering gear. This gear guide below is a basic outline of everything I pack with me to summit mountains (during the warmer months). These items have gotten me up not only Mount Hood (on try 2), but many other peaks in the Cascade range (and a few other South American volcanoes).
Check it out!
\\ Mountaineering Clothes
| Tights: thinner black full-length leggings are usually my go-to for days on the mountain due to their ability to protect my skin from all of the elements (wind, rain, sun), while also being plenty comfortable to move around in — from scrambling up rocks to hiking across glaciers.
| Waterproof Pants: if the day looks to be a bit colder and wetter (snow or rain) and/or there is a good chance I will be trekking through snow, then I also make sure to pack a pair of comfortable waterproof pants. This pair by Black Diamond is nice and stretchy — meaning you can continue heading up all kinds of rugged terrain in comfort.
| Sports Bra: I tend to lean towards lighter, less supportive sports bras while mountaineering (but I have a small chest so it isn’t that big of a deal). This bra by La Sportiva is a great option no matter your bust size as it has plenty of support while still being light and breathable. Plus, it’s made from recycled materials.
| Breathable Base T-shirt: a simple, wicking t-shirt will go a long way in keeping you comfortable out on the trail. This one by Outdoor Research is lightweight and will protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays.
| Thermal Shirt: for an extra layer of warmth or skin protection — either from the sun or the wind/rain — grab a comfortable wicking long-sleeved shirt. This one by Mountain Hardwear is quick-drying and breathable.
| Pullover Jacket: for me, nothing is cozier than a fleece jacket on a cool and crisp day. Especially when out on the trail. This one by Patagonia is perfect for winter layering or shoulder season adventures. Plus, it is made from recycled materials.
| Rain Jacket: this Cotopaxi rain jacket was a game changer when it came to my mountaineering gear setup. This colorful jacket is not only light and breathable, but it also handles both extreme wind and rain really well.
| Puffy Jacket: it can be really cold on the summits of mountains, especially if you are looking to reach the peak in the early hours of the morning. Therefore having a warm puffy jacket in your backpack is paramount. This one by Patagonia is ultralight and packable while still being durable and toasty.
| Wool Socks: always try to bring at least two pairs of wool socks with you when mountaineering. I found myself having to double up while summitting Mount Hood just because it was so cold during the midnight push. Plus, having an extra pair is smart in case your first pair gets wet.
| Thin Gloves: I always pack a lighter pair of gloves for those in-between moments when the weather isn’t quite cold enough for full winter gloves, but it also isn’t exactly warm enough for no protection. Plus this lightweight pair from Smartwool is nice for rock scrambling (they have good grip) and sun protection.
| Waterproof Gloves: never head out to the mountains without a pair of warm, waterproof gloves or mittens. I learned this the hard way on my first attempt up Mount Hood, and have since always made sure to pack a durable pair. This option from Black Diamond is great because it includes a waterproof exterior, a warm wool interior, and the ability to grip your gear (like an ice axe) thanks to the finger mitten design.
| Beanie: another basic piece of gear you should always include in your mountaineering gear setup is a warm beanie. This one from The North Face is basic but warm and it will definitely keep your head and ears nice and toasty during those early morning climbs or summit photo sessions.
| Buff: the final piece of mountaineering clothing you should have with you is a buff of some kind. This one from Smartwool is made of cozy Merino wool, a type of textile that is not only soft but also fast drying and somewhat odor resistant. I always wear one around my neck since it is great for protecting my skin from the howling wind, the burning sun, and in the Pacific Northwest, some uncomfortable volcanic odors.
\\ Mountaineering Gear
| Mountaineering Boots: while not the most comfortable shoe out there, mountaineering boots will definitely help you on those really rugged and steep mountains, especially if glaciers and crampons are involved. This pair by Lowa is nice and durable and is compatible with most crampons.
💬INSIDER TIP: depending on the time of year you are planning to climb a mountain, you may be able to get away with wearing standard hiking boots or even trail running shoes. When climbing Mount Adams in Oregon (in August), I was able to summit in Salomon trail running shoes (this exact pair) and microspikes.
| Crampons: a key piece of your mountaineering gear set up will be crampons — aka spiky boot clips. Crampons are necessary for most alpine and glacier travel, especially when traveling up very steep terrain. This pair by Black Diamond is compact, lightweight and thanks to its full-strap attachment system you can use them with almost any type of boot (and even a few non-boot styles).
| Ice Axe: another important piece of mountaineering gear is going to be an ice axe or ice axes (having one or two kind of depends on your preference). This classic style from Black Diamond is light but tough and is made from stainless steel.
| Durable Backpack: the type of backpack you bring with you up a mountain will mostly depend on the terrain and the length of the adventure. For shorter summit pushes, I try to pack light and go with a smaller backpack, but if there is a chance of being out there for most of the day — or if the mountain requires a lot of gear — then I go with my larger 30L backpack.
This backpack by Deuter is 34L plus an extra 8L if you extend the hood. This should be plenty of space to carry all of the necessities like water and snacks, extra layers, a first aid kit, crampons, etc. Plus, there are external bungees that are perfect for securing your ice axe, trekking poles, or skis.
| Water Bladder: one of the easiest ways to carry plenty of water with you up a mountain is via a water bladder and hose. I almost always fill up my 3L bladder and then if necessary (like if I feel the trail is going to be quite long/hot) I pack another water bottle and store it in the bag (best if it has a filter built in — like this LARQ bottle does).
| Headlamp: another important piece of mountaineering gear to pack, especially in terms of safety, is going to be a headlamp. This is especially true if you are planning to start your mountaineering adventure in the early hours of the morning or if there is a chance it will take you into the night.
I personally like to pack two with me, as well as extra batteries (if they aren’t rechargeable) just in case something happens with the first one. This headlamp by Black Diamond is compact and has three different vision colors that allows for more exact adjustment.
| Phone with Offline Map: before heading out on your mountaineering adventure, make sure to have a fully charged phone and an offline map of the area you are planning to explore. I like to use Gaia GPS and download the whole area (not just the peak or trail itself). Other good mapping services to check out are AllTrails, Komoot and maps.me.
| Compass: never a bad idea to pack a basic, lightweight compass with you — even if you do have an offline map on your phone.
Other pieces of mountaineering gear you may want to pack with you, depending on the mountain, are going to be a climbing rope and harness. I would suggest for the latter piece of gear finding one that is comfortable to wear for long(ish) periods of walking/climbing, as most of the time you will need the harness and rope for glacier travel.
Having the proper gear can make or break an adventure. And when it comes to mountaineering that notion couldn’t be more true. Mountaineering can be absolutely glorious, but also quite dangerous — especially if you are planning to summit and explore larger, glaciated peaks.
Hopefully, this gear guide helps you pack for your own epic mountaineering adventures. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below or reach out.