Its not necessary to bring everything on this list - but the point is to address everything on this. If you don't know what conditions will be like, then you bring everything and make a final decision at the trailhead. The goal is to take the smallest pack that carries everything you need to have and nothing that you don't. This is a difficult balance to strike, because so much depends on estimating the conditions with your own skills and comfort zone. In his 2002 Backcountry Skiing Snoqualmie Pass, Martin Volken introduced a system of "threesomes", which I've tried to modify for my own use here.


The goal here is to take the smallest pack that carries everything you need to have and nothing that you don't. This is a difficult balance to strike, because so much depends on the weather, the climb, and your own skills and comfort zone. When Martin Volken wrote Backcountry Skiing Snoqualmie Pass in 2002, he came up with a great system of "three-somes", which I have used and modified extensively for my own trips. My current favorites, if any, are linked in each description.

The Basics:

Start - pack, trekking poles, car keys

  • 45L-55L, internal frame pack. The goal is to have the pack over-full for the approach hike, so that its the least cumbersome during the climb. I can even get away with 35L in midsummer, since my tent/fuel/clothing requirements are at their lightest. My current favorite alpine pack is the Patagonia Ascensionist Pack 45L.
  • Trekking poles. I use a simple pair of ski poles. The whole idea is that these help you with balance on the way up, and absorb some of the jarring impact on the way down, saving a ton of energy so that you need to recover less at the end of the day. So strongly recommended! Bring a pair with snow baskets if you are traveling into snowy places!
  • Car keys. Or, more specifically, designate a special place in your pack for the car keys. A lot of packs are coming with clips now for them. Failing that have a special bag/envelope/ziplock for your car keys and wallet. I've witnessed two lost sets of keys and one lost wallet in 15 years - and it wasn't pretty. 

Feet - camp shoes, mountaineering boots, socks

  • Camp shoes are great for trips longer than one night out, providing camp is not in snow. Consider down booties for those camps instead (plus they pack up with my sleeping bag).
  • Mountaineering boots. There are so many options out there now it is really hard to give a definitive recommendation. I wear one of two models: the Scarpa Charmoz for summer conditions or the Scarpa Phantom Guide for heavy snow or cold (below freezing all day) temperatures.
  • Socks. I bring along one pair to sleep in - often they're a "heavy" pair of socks and are packed with my sleeping bag. For daytime/climbing use, I bring/wear one pair for an overnight trip, two pairs for three or more days, and a third pair for any trip lasting more than 5 days.

Hiking - underwear (and sports bra), shorts, short-sleeve shirt

  • Underwear - I typically only have one pair, unless I'm wearing long underwear for the entire trip. I'll add a second pair for trips lasting more than 4 days.
  • Shorts. Often times the approach/descent hike is warm and sunny, so a pair of longer running shorts are easy to pack and leave in camp, like the OR Turbine Shorts.
  • Short-sleeve shirt. I've incorporated mine into my base layers, but its worth bringing one for the approach and descent too. I'll either wear an OR Growler Shirt or OR Echo Tee.

Bottom Half - long under wear, soft shell, hard shell

  • Long-under wear bottoms. Everyone's different, but I've found I need long underwear only if the daytime temperature doesn't climb over 32F. OR Sequence Tights.
  • Soft shell pants. I wear these 85% of the time - OR Cirque Pant.
  • Hard shell pants. The other 15% of the time I need a trully waterproof pant that I can pull on over my soft shells, like the OR Furio Pant.

Top Half Insulation - long underwear, mid-layer, belay jacket

  • Same as for my bottoms, I'll bring an OR Sequence L/S Zip-Top if the temp's are cold. My mid-layer insulation + my short-sleeve shirt becomes my base layer if its warmer.
  • If its not so cold, then my short-sleeve + mid-layer = base layer. I really like the OR Deviator.
  • The Belay Jacket is a key piece. For average summer pursuits in the Cascades I'll use the OR Havoc. For colder temperatures or higher elevations - think winter trips or Mt Rainier - I'll use the OR Chaos. For the Pacific Northwest these are my go-to pieces because they withstand the wet better. In less wet conditions, like California, the Alps, or Antarctica I'll go with down instead, like the OR Transcendent and OR Incandescent.

Top Half Shells - wind shell, soft shell, hard shell

  • Sometimes all you need is an uber-light-weight shell to block the rain or wind. The OR Helium II fits that bill for me, and will even replace my hardshell if I don't think I'll need a hard shell, but will really regret it if I don't have it.
  • Again, 85% of the time this is all I need. OR Enchainment is great.
  • Hard shell - for that other 15% of time when its wet and nasty. I've been wearing the OR Axiom.

Head - sun hat, knit hat, neck gaiter

  • Ball cap, bush hat, trucker...
  • Knit hat - I typically get the heaviest wool hat possible, like the OR Spitsbergen Hat.
  • Aka the "buff", I always have a light-weight version that keeps the drafts off my neck and doubles as a light-weight hat.

Hands - light gloves, medium gloves, heavy gloves

Eyes - sun glasses, bright sun glasses, ski goggles

  • Sun glasses don't necessarily need to be glacier glasses - they simply need to fit well enough to block light from around the frame. Because snow reflects almost 100%, I want my bright sun glasses to block as much light as possible - but that's often too much when I'm off the snow, or if the the day's overcast. So I bring two pairs.
  • Ski Goggles are for the stormy days, so I find a rose or yellow lens is the most useful.

In Camp

Sleep - sleeping pad, sleeping bag, ear plugs

  • I'll use an air mattress like the Thermarest NeoAir XLite or a foamie like the Thermarest Z Lite Sol, either in 3/4 length.
  • A 20 degree F bag is perfect for three seasons out of the year. Down or synthetic, a compression stuff sack is a must-have to pack it down as small as possible.
  • Ear plugs - because you never know when your tent mate is telling the truth before the first night.

Eat - cup, bowl, spoon

  • Cup - instead of a mug, I'll bring a 500mL Nalgene.
  • Bowl - any tupperware will work, but my favorite is Fozzil Bowl. The snaps make it solid and secure, but it unfolds into a flat square that packs so easily.
  • Spoon - I don't pack food that needs a fork. A single lexan spoon is more than enough.

Drink - water bottles, thermos, water purification

  • Two 1L, wide-mouth Nalgenes are the norm. The wide mouth makes them easier to fill. I don't bring water bladders on trips where the temps drop below freezing.
  • Thermos - on colder trips, a thermos will often replace one of my 1L Nalgenes. A 1L Nalgene, 750mL thermos, and a 500mL Nalgene meets everything I need.
  • Water purification - if we're able to melt snow, our water purification needs are minimal. On longer trips or with big teams below the snowline, I'll bring a filter. Otherwise, I prefer tablets.

Sun - sunscreen, lip stuff, bug stuff

  • Sunscreen - waterproof and at least 25 SPF
  • Lip balm - with at least 15 SPF

Bits and bobs - pocket knife, toiletries, first aid/repair kit

  • Along with  your toothbrush/toothpaste, any meds or contact/eye care stuff.
  • A personal first aid kit is primarily for blister repair and bandaids for small nicks. 10' of duct tape and a lighter is the minimalist repair kit.

Climbing Kit

Sharp stuff - ice axe, second tool, crampons

  • For most mountaineering applications, a general ice axe meets all our needs. 
  • Sometimes we'll bring a second axe for more technical routes. On routes with technical cruxes, we may opt to bring two technical tools that can double for mountaineering (the reverse usually isn't true).
  • Crampons need to be 10-12 points with an anti-ball plates, and fitted to your boots.

Climbing gear - harness, helmet, carabiners

  • A mountaineering harness needs to be minimalist. The BD Alpine Bod or BD Couloir are great examples. My current harness is the Blue Ice Choukas.
  • Helmet - UIAA approved, climbing specific. The BD Half Dome is the simple solution.
  • 2 Locking Carabiners, 3 non-locking. Its ideal if 1 locker is a big HMS, and if the second locker is the same length/size as the non-lockers.

Personal protection - ice screw, slings, cordellete

  • One 13-17cm ice screw 
  • One 120cm dynex/dyneema sling (sometimes referred to as a "double-length", or a "double-shoulder" sling).
  • One 18-24' length of 6mm cord, called a "cordellete". Uber-useful for anchors, haul systems, and clothes-lines.


Navigation - altimeter watch, maps, compass

Electronics - cell phones, camera, gps

Provided by the guide - may bring your own on instructional trips

Kitchen - stove, fuel, cooking pots

Climb and Camp - tents, ropes, technical climbing protection

Team Kits - team first aid kit, team repair kit, team water purification