California Institute of Technology

Sierra Winter Trip Packing List

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2012 Sierra Winter Trip gear list

Gear is always a tradeoff between preparedness and being light-weight, as well as a matter of cost, so no gear list can be completely objective. However, group trips require a certain amount of uniformity, so the following items should be considered mandatory unless otherwise noted. This list is also available at:

Large items:
  • Large backpack. Internal or external frame.
  • Small summit pack, for the summit day. There are several options, each with disadvantages. You could take an extra small day pack with you, which makes for a nice summit day, although it adds weight on the approach. You could also take a small camelback pak (although a camelback bladder is likely to freeze). Some backpacks let you use the top-pouch as a fanny-pack. You can wear your outer jacket and put lots of things in the pockets, or combine this with a previous method (but make sure you can still carry enough water). And if none of these work, you can always use your main backpack, but even though it might feel light on your shoulders, it adds a lot of weight to your legs.
  • Straps for the backpack, or some other means to attach snowshoes to your pack. You will be carrying bulky items like snowshoes, ski poles, a helmet, and an ice axe; many people choose to attach these to the outside of the pack, so make sure you have a system (and test your system!) to attach everything.
  • Sleeping bag, a warm one. Down or synthetic is ok. If yours isnít warm enough, you can rent one at REI. Plan on night time temperatures down to -5 F. The kind of bag you need is a very personal decision, because some people sleep much colder/warmer than others (there are also many tricks you can use to stay warmer; having a good pad and eating a lot are the most basic tricks). If the night time temperature goes down to 0 F, some of us will be ok in a well-made 40 F bag, while others will be cold in a -5 F bag.
  • Sleeping pad, foam or therma-rest style. A good pad really helps you keep warm. You can rent these at REI if you donít have one.
  • Ski poles, if you want them. Many people like to use them for hiking (and to help your knees on descents), but theyíre certainly not essential.
  • Snow shoes. The REI in Arcadia rents them, and the Caltech Y has five pairs. Any kind will do, though some are certainly better than others. The very long powder types will add unnecessary weight. Backcountry skis are also acceptable if you are competent with them, but please let us know if you're going to use skis. Skins would be necessary.
  • Ice axe. Pretty much any kind will do Ė try to get the lightest one possible. Typical sizes are 60, 65 and 70 cm. Longer ones are generally a bit more comfortable, but heavier. Taller people will want a longer ice axe, but if you donít have your optimal size available then donít worry about it. Leashes are optional for the type of climbing weíre doing; if you want one, a light cord will do. Make sure you can attach the axe to your pack easily.
  • Crampons. For snow, almost any kind will do, but you probably want the lightweight, flexible strap-on crampons. If youíre taking plastic boots and only have step-in crampons, those are fine too. Do not use ďin-stepĒ crampons, which have only a few points in the middle of the boot (they donít have front-points). Your crampons should have 10 or 12 points. If you have step-in crampons, you must have compatible boots! See
  • Something to wrap the crampons in if youíre going to be putting them in your pack. You can buy rubber protective covers for $7 from REI, or just wrap them in a thick cloth or use the pant leg of an old pair of jeans. You can sometimes put the crampons on the outside of your pack.
  • Sturdy boots. Leather or plastic are best; part-leather, part-nylon is unacceptable for winter. Your boots need to be stiff enough to accommodate your crampons (they do not need the special crampon groves, if youíre using strap-on crampons), they should also be reasonably waterproof, and they should be warm. Plastic boots achieve these requirements better than leather, but are less comfortable and more expensive. I recommend plastic boots because they will be warmer. If you use leather boots, do so at your own risk, and be sure to waterproof them just before the trip.
  • Helmet, for rockfall protection. The specialty mountaineering helmets are nicest, but a bike helmet would be fine also.
  • Harness, for tying into the rope at the steep part near the summit. You want a light harness, without gear loops, and preferably with snap-open adjustable leg loops (so that you can put it on without having to step through the leg holes with crampons on), but any harness will do. The BD Alpine Bod is a good minimalist harness and also very cheap.
  • Cord, for prussiks. We might be using this on the ropes near the top. Iíd suggest 6 mm. 7 mm is too large to grip on icy ropes. Iíd suggest one or two cords, pre-tied with a double-fishermanís knot. 8 feet should be enough for one cord.
  • Locking Carabiner. Please take one locking carabiner to tie into. You do not need extra carabiners. If you donít have a carabiner, please let me know.
  • Belay Device in case we rappel.
  • Shovel, for digging out campsite or for emergencies. If you have one, bring it. If you donít have one, no need to buy one just for this trip. Metal shovels are best.
  • Two-way Radios if you have them. Weíll be using FRS and GMRS bands.
  • Avalanche transceiver and probe if you have them (or can borrow them). You are not expected to purchase a transceiver (cost is about $300), but they are very useful if you're planning on much winter travel. If you have your own, know how to use it! Different models are operated differently.
Items per tent or cooking group (remember, youíre responsible to make these groups on your own)
  • Tent. It may be very windy, so a nice 4-season tent is preferred. If you only have a 3-season tent, then thatís life.
  • Tie down cord for your tent Ė this is essential! The wind is fierce. Stakes will not work. You may try to use snowstakes if you wish; deadman anchors work well, as do ice axes and snowshoes (although these don't work if you need to use them and the tent is still setup!), which all require lots of cord.
  • Backpacking stove and matches. Either the canister type or the fuel bottle type is fine (e.g. isobutane/propane mixture vs. white gas). We will need to melt a lot of water at night, so the stoves will get plenty of use. If you donít have a stove, check and see if another tent group has an extra. The aluminum foil sheets that you can setup around your stove are essential for cooking in the wind.
  • Fuel, for your stove. Take plenty Ė itís our way to get water at high camp.
  • Cooking pot, with lid. You probably only need one, and it will mainly be used for melting snow. Aluminum, or if you have it, titanium. You probably donít need a pot-holder, since weíll have gloves. You might want a serving utensil, but itís not always necessary.
  • Food. For breakfast, weíll want to eat quickly. On the summit day, try to have a ready-to-eat breakfast that you donít need to cook. For dinner, let your imagination run wild, but keep it light. Remember that because water boils at a lower temperature, any item that requires boiling water will take a while to cook. Iím not especially talented in this area, but a few possibilities, for those who are cheap and do not have discriminatory taste buds, are: couscous, buttery dried mashed potatoes, high protein (~30 g.) bars, summer sausage, salami, cheese. Or for light-weight and convenience, try the freeze-dried meals available at stores like REI. Some people liek ramen noodels, due to their simplicity. If you want to take spaghetti (not especially recommended), the thin noodles and rigati style cook fastest.
  • Drink mixes (optional). Sweet drink mixes are a good way to increase your hydration. Gatoraid works fine, but there are better mixes like gookinaid, endurox, accelerade, etc. (check out a bike store for options). Some brands claim that a bit of protein speeds up absorption, which may be true, but the mixes with protein make cleaning out the container much harder (the protein sticks to the sides, while sugar does not). As an added bonus, mixes may lower the freezing point of water.
Clothing Ė clothing items are especially subjective. Work with what you have.
  • Long underwear, tops and bottoms. I use polypro, but I think there are newer (and better?) synthetics that have recently come out, and some people prefer silk, though I donít think silk adds much warmth. Wool, if it isn't itchy, works well. Light-weight or medium-weight.
  • Socks, thick wool ones (or synthetic). I also use polypro liners, but these are perhaps not as important if you have synthetic wool socks. Bring at least two pairs of thick socks; they will get wet, either via sweat or via snow melt.
  • Pants, and perhaps waterproof shells. Unless you have expedition-weight long underwear, youíll want insulated pants (e.g. fleece, or soft-shell). I will not let anyone wear jeans. For waterproof shells, the expensive gore-tex style ski pants are excellent. However, if itís not in your budget, here are two alternatives: use either windbreaker pants (not waterproof) or cheap waterproof shells (not breathable); or use a cheap waterproof/breathable material (e.g. the Red Ledge fabric Ė pants for $30). For any kind of shell, especially the thin ones, be very careful about slicing it with your crampons. The best shells have thicker fabric on the inside of the calf. Sturdy gaiters also help. Full-length side zippers are very convenient.
  • Gaiters. Sturdy ones; a strong fabric (like cordura, I think) on the inside of the calf is nice. Iíve never sliced through my OR Crocodiles with crampons, but I have sliced through a thinner kind (which I was borrowing. The moral: donít borrow or lend gaiters).
  • Upper layers. You can go surprisingly light for upper layers while youíre hiking, as long as you donít stop much (or put on more layers when you stop). A fleece with a wool shirt might work.
  • Down jacket for camp, and to wear during rest-stops. This makes life much more enjoyable. If you donít have one, then take several fleece and wool jackets.
  • Shell jacket. Very useful. There are newer light-weight versions (some intended for jogging) which are less bulky and are lighter, and there are bigger versions with lots of pockets and perhaps a bit more warmth. For this trip, any kind will do. Most people already have one, but if you donít have one and itís not in your budget, then you can make do with a cheaper non-waterproof windbreaker.
  • Hat for warmth. Any reasonable kind. You may wish to take two hats, in case it is very cold (after all, hats are very lightweight).
  • Gloves and mittens. During the day, thereís a good chance your gloves/mittens will get wet, so bring another pair for use in camp. Gloves and mittens are light, so my suggestions is take all the gloves/mittens that you own. There are obvious advantages to both gloves and mittens, so pick your favorite (or take both). Reasonable waterproofing for your main pair is essential. Light fleece gloves can be nice because theyíre dexterous while putting on crampons, etc., and because they dry quickly. Many people use a liner glove inside a thicker glove.
  • Balaclava or scarf or neck gaiter. We can expect very strong winds near the summit, and any exposed flesh will be at risk for frost-bite. There are advantages to both thin/stretchy balaclavas (you can easily move them away from your mouth when it's not windy) and thick balaclavas (warmer, but condensation near the mouth and nose are often a problem).
Smaller and miscellaneous items Ė most of these items are optional (except for flashlight, water bottles, and lunch)
  • Sun hat (e.g. baseball hat) for the approach. It will be very bright on the snow.
  • Sunscreen. Do not bring a large container. I just refill a small plastic container; REI sells nice small containers, while many people use an old 35mm film canister.
  • Chapstick with a SPF. Your lips can easily get burned.
  • Sunglasses, preferably very dark ones. You can use specific glacier models, or use Jeandrewís method and put tape on the sides, or just use normal sunglasses.
  • Headlamp. Weíll be starting the summit day at night, so you need a headlamp. Itís hard to beat the modern LED headlamps. You probably only need one headlamp; donít bother about a backup. Bring fresh batteries.
  • Batteries for flashlight (and camera). You could consider bring a backup set; batteries die very fast in the cold. Lithium batteries are lighter, last longer, and more expensive; they now come in AA and AAA sizes, available at larger stores and REI. I think they are about 3 times the price of alkalines, and 2/3 the weight. However, they are only 1.2 V (alkalines are 1.5 V) so your light wonít be as bright. Good rechargeable batteries (e.g. NiMH) are not as nice because even the best ones (e.g. 3000 mAh for AA size) still have less capacity than alkaline, and they are 1.2 V.
  • Camera, if desired. Light-weight cameras are better for serious mountaineering.
  • Small first aid kit. Pills are lightweight, so you can take small amounts of whatever medicine you want. I recommend ibuprofen (for all kinds of things) and ginkgo biloba (for altitude headaches). Gauze and tape for emergencies is also nice.
  • Mole skin or athletic tape, for blisters. If your boots are new, then you can count on blisters. Athletic tape or duct tape can be put on before you hike as a preventative measure. If you use moleskin, bring a small knife or scissors. Waterproof tape is nice, so that the tape doesnít come off once you start to sweat.
  • Small knife, if you want. Keep it light, if possible Ė no need for a hunting knife or very large swiss army knife. Iíll be taking a very small knife with plastic handle.
  • Toilet paper and/or WAG bag (the kits the Forest Service gives you to dispose of waste). In a group of our size, we should be pretty responsible about this, and should definitely pack out our waste.
  • Misc. Toiletries, e.g. contact solution, toothbrush, small amount of toothpaste (you can find small containers in the Trial Size / Travel section of CVS). For contact solution, I have a small plastic bottle from REI that I put a few ounces of solution in Ė I would not recommend taking a large bottle. Youíll need to sleep with the solution so it doesnít freeze. Prescription glasses are ok, but try to have some clip-on shades because itíll be very bright (unfortunately, clip-ons don't work well, so expect your eyes to burn). You might also want to bring a small container of moisturizing lotion, because the sun and wind will be very harsh on exposed skin.
  • Goggles, useful if itís windy. We will continue to the top in high wind (as long as itís not a storm), and itís no fun to have to turn back because your eyes hurt from the blowing snow.
  • Personal utensils and bowl. You might not even need a bowl, depending on your food plans (i.e. you can eat dinner out of the big pot). If youíre having instant quaker oats for breakfast, the ďpaperĒ packets are actually reinforced with plastic, and will hold hot water, so you donít need a bowl. For utensils, metal will work but plastic is lighter. REI sells nice lexan ones, but you can get very sturdy plastic ones for free from the condiments section at Whole Foods. If youíd like, bring a mug for hot drinks, or just use a water bottle.
  • Compass. Itís very lightweight and cheap, so no reason not to have one.
  • A whistle can be a nice thing to have in case you get separated from the group, or for another emergency. They weigh next-to-nothing.
  • Map. Weíll pass these out and post them online.
  • Water bottle. The widemouth bottles are nice because you can pour water into them easier. Any kind, but make sure it doesnít leak. Take 2 or 3 liters.
  • Snacks and lunch. Whole Foods and Trader Joes have lots of dried fruit, though not always for low prices (Lake Produce Center has some really cheap dried fruit; Costco also has good deals). Dates and figs are relatively cheap. I personally donít mind the energy gels (e.g. GU, CliffShots) but I donít use them due to cost. You can never go wrong with chocolate or trail mix. I get ravenous while climbing, but a common effect of altitude is to decrease your appetite. It is hard to overstate the importance of eating a lot on multi-day winter trips, so bring something you really like to eat and then eat it!
  • Duct tape, for all-purpose jobs, if desired. Itís useful for blisters, torn clothes, torn tents, fixing snowshoes, etc. I generally carry athletic tape Ė you probably donít need both duct tape and athletic tape. Hareem recommends carrying the duct tape around a nalgene; Iíve also heard of people carrying it around ski poles (I would not wrap it around an ice axe). Donít take a full roll, of course.
  • Watch. Very important for mountaineering. Weíll need alarms to wake us up in the morning, and in general weíll need to know the time so we can plan accordingly. Not everyone needs a watch, but every subgroup should have one.
  • Ear plugs for more restful sleep at night (unless youíre responsible for waking up to the alarm).
  • Pee bottle for use inside the tent at night (definitely OPTIONAL). Some people like to use a bottle so that they don't have to go outside.
  • Cell Phone (OPTIONAL). Cell phones can be very useful, although coverage in the mountains is very limited. With a large group, only a few people should take phones.
  • Iodine for treating water. Many people don't treat alpine water in the Sierras, but many people do. The risk is up to you. You need one or two full tablets to kill giardia; you only need a small fraction of a tablet to kill everything else, except cryptosporidia (which isn't killed by iodine at all, although it isn't much to worry about if you have a healthy immune system). Note that iodine degrades over time, and you should get a new bottle after 6 months to a year. Storing it in the fridge or freezer slows the degradation.
Items NOT to take
  • Webbing, carabiners, rope, etc. The leaders will have what we need.
  • GPS is probably unnecessary on this trip and just adds weight.