Advance your backpacking experience by going mountaineering or try sleeping on snow. I’m sharing a series of posts on what mountaineering gear to pack for your trip. You won’t find much difference than normal backpacking gear with the exceptions of finding water, a more versatile tent and warmer sleeping setup. You’ll learn tips for staying warm overnight on your mountaineering or snow camping trip.
After writing about all the gear I use on my mountaineering adventures, I decided to divide the content into three posts:
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Overnight mountaineering camp gear
Sleeping overnight can look a little different when you’re mountaineering, including knowing how to build a snow camp. Tents have to be warmer and durable for winds, sleeping bag and pad temperature ratings are considered, and weight does play a factor when you’re adding climbing gear to the mix.
Sleeping bags are best when dry. If you can afford a light and packable bag, it’s nice to invest in and will last years if you take care of it. You can also rent sleeping bags or borrow them from friends to try before you buy.
You have two options of bag filling: down versus synthetic. Down tends to keep you warmer if you keep it dry and packs down better than synthetic. Though synthetic bags have come a long way in many years. Check the ratings.
However, just like layers and clothing, you’ll want to adjust the temperature for how you sleep. Are you colder or warmer in the bag? It’s important to know if you can sleep in it when it is fully zipped. Mummy bags are the most common type of style for warmth but some people find it hard to sleep in a confined space.
Sleeping bag tradeoffs. Down is lighter and more compressible than synthetic but also way more expensive. Synthetic tends to be heavier and less packable but retains warmth, goes wet and has a lower price tag.
Make sure the bag fits you. Can you sleep comfortably when fully zipped? Do your shoulders fit? Do you prefer more warmth for your legs and feet? You’ll want a little bit of room in the bag for mountaineering that you can put slightly wet gear in with you at night when you sleep to dry. Make sure your toes aren’t against the toe box. If it is too close of a fit, you will lose some of the insulating loft benefits where the air around you wams up the bag.
For the Cascades and adventuring in the spring climbing seasons, you’ll want to aim for roughly a 15-degree bag. I’ve been using the REI Co-op Sub Kilo +15 Sleeping Bag for many years and have seen other versions come out that are similar like the REI Joule 21.
You can also buy or rent these. Consider a high R-value or doubling up sleeping pads if sleeping on snow. Sleeping on snow is obviously a lot colder and will absorb some of the heat from your sleeping system way faster than when sleeping on dirt. Higher R-value pads tend to cost more money. If you want to be minimal and use your backpacking bag, consider adding a foam pad for additional insulation.
- REI Co-op Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad
Fortunately, you may not have to buy a tent for many years, if you have friends that have them and want to share. Tents should be 3-season for mountaineering and able to withstand some wind and snow. Backpacking stakes don’t work in the snow. Bury stuff sacks filled with snow or buy snow stakes, flukes, or snow anchors. Carry a ground cloth if needed.
Here’s where you can save some weight. I tend to carry a 3-person tent even for 2 people because I like the extra space and found one that is relatively light and has the features I need. Vestibules are nice to store your gear under and to cook in (with ventilation) during stormy conditions.
Pyramid tents, like the BD Mega Light (I have the GoLite Shangri-La 3 Shelter that is no longer made), are great options as well if you’re camping on snow because it is a tarp-like structure. However, if you want a mesh or bug proof for lower elevation camping, it isn’t the best choice.
- Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 3 DP Tent
- MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent
- Black Diamond Mega Light Shelter: 4-Person
Snow shovels are used to dig a tent platform and cut snow blocks to protect from the wind. The shovels are packable with an extendable handle and are easier on the back when digging firm snow.
Mountain kitchen, food, and water gear
The tent and stove can be ‘shared’ gear. Find a partner or partners that you can share the weight with to lighten your load.
Not everyone needs to bring a stove on the trip. However, stoves are a great way to make water to drink. A simple formula is you’ll want one stove per tent. In addition to the stove, you’ll want gas as well. There are many stove options including:
- Canister stoves are lighter, smaller, and great for boiling water. They aren’t great for cooking big meals.
- White gas works at any temperature. You can use a larger pot better for cooking.
Amount of fuel depends on the type of trip. I try to calculate how much water I’ll need for an entire trip. Will the water be found easily so I can filter it or will I have to boil water and use my fuel? Will I have to melt snow for water (if you’re mountaineering, most likely)? I highly respect MSR and the research they do behind their stoves. Learn more about ‘How Much Fuel Should I Carry?’ from the experts at MSR.I usually bring 1.5 canisters of 8 oz per person for a 3 or 4 day climb.
Depending on the type of stove you use, you may want to bring cooking pots and pans. Since I use an MSR Reactor, I boil water and let the water do the work in the pre-packaged food I bring.
I have a Snow Peak spork utensil that works amazingly. Some of the plastic, cheaper versions tend to snap when you’re shoveling food from a dehydrated meal bag to your mouth.
In addition, instead of bringing a cup for my tea, I use a 0.5L Nalgene and use it for my morning coffee or evening tea. It also serves multi-purposes as a small water source that can be clipped to the outside of your bag for easy access.
Food definitely varies person to person. The quantity depends on your body size and how many calories you need to stay warm and energized. It’s better to have too much than too little. Pack enough food for an extra night in the backcountry in case of emergency. Bring food you want to eat. Pack to eat on the move. In other words, keep some food accessible in the top of your pack or in your pockets. I prefer dehydrated dinners and then do bars, nuts, and gummies for my lunches. Small oatmeal packs are great for breakfasts.
I don’t like to figure out how to clean dishes, so I tend to make food that I can add water to. Bring a bowl, cup, and spoon or fork to eat the food. I try to go minimal here. Remember to leave no trace and eat all the food or offer it up if you can’t finish it. Avoid dumping the remains.
Most people need 2,500 to 4,500 calories per day which varies by exertion, size, body weight, and appetite. High calorie to weight ratio helps keep your pack lighter at the beginning of your trip.
Some examples include:
- Bagel or tortilla with cheese, meat, or PB&J
- Frozen burritos with hot sauce wrapped in foil
- Salty crackers and hard cheese with salami
- Fresh fruit for first day, dried fruit for next days
- Fruit, nuts, gorp-ish snacks
Pack in 1 gallon ziplock and carry near the top of the pack.
Think through your breakfast, lunch, and dinners as you pack. I like to try to lay out each day’s food before I pack it all together to visualize if I have enough.
Goal is to carry 3 liters of water. Keep some water accessible. Don’t confuse peed bottles with drinking bottles.
Wide-mouth or Nalgene-style bottles or bladder?
Bottles are reliable but heavy and bulky. You can add snow as you’re climbing to your existing water supply to last longer between melting snow. You have to pack bladders carefully to avoid punctures. Bladders also have a chance the hoses will freeze in cold temperatures.
Bringing a water filter can be rather handy depending on the approach.
Optional, nice-to-have gear
- Sit pad – cut up an old foam sleeping pad. You can use it to stand on which is surprisingly useful for helping keep feet warm in snow.
- Ground cloth – saves gear from getting wet or muddy.
- Goggles or clear eyewear – can be ski goggles or construction plastic clear glasses. Protects face from wind when using a headlamp before upgrading to glacier glasses when the sun rises.
- Trash bags – can be used as a pack liner to keep gear dry. Two 55 litre trash bags can be used as an emergency bivy.
- Down booties – take up space in your pack but make camp more enjoyable.
Other mountaineering essentials
- First aid kit
- LED headlamp + batteries
- Compass + map
- Lim balm and sunscreen
- Duct tape
- Pocket knife
- Blue bags – You can find these at select ranger stations or REI stores
- Waterproof matches
- Emergency bivy bag
- Toiletries, including hand sanitizer
- Hand/foot warmers
Now I want to hear from you. What is your favorite mountaineering overnight set-up?