Lessons: 13 - 19

with all our worldy possessions, we get ready for a shiver bivi in the cave. north face of mt. alberta. Photo: uisdean hawthorn

with all our worldy possessions, we get ready for a shiver bivi in the cave. north face of mt. alberta.
Photo: uisdean hawthorn


This is the third part in my ‘Lessons’ series. I’ve learnt many lessons (some I wish I didn’t learn) through many mistakes, and wanted to share these light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek bits of knowledge. They are usually attached to fond memories.


I enjoy climbing in the mountains; I usually have a rich experience and plenty of adventure. The reward is usually much sweeter and lasts longer, too. Having said that, I’ve failed or bailed in the mountains many, many times!


Normally, when packing for a multi-day alpine route, I have to spend hours thinking and weighing each item of clothing, considering it’s benefits and disadvantages. My decision is formed by the objective, the weather forecast, the current conditions and my partner. For example: will the route be done in one day or three? Is the forecast for ‘unseasonably cold’ weather? Are the current snow and ice conditions ‘fat’ or ‘thin’? Is my partner psyched to go heavy or light?


I’ll admit to being a geek about kit; (I think most climbers secretly are). It can make a big difference to your enjoyment on a big route, and it has to be relied upon. As we know, fast and light is (usually) right.


The following information is mainly for my benefit: next time I won’t have to spend so long packing and stressing. I can just refer to this information. This has also been written without any incentive from sponsors; It’s just kit I highly rate and I’d like to share the knowledge gained from taking the right (and wrong) kit in the mountains over the years.

packing energy gels and bars for the north face of alberta. diabetes, here we come.

packing energy gels and bars for the north face of alberta. diabetes, here we come.


‘Medium’ Alpine

e.g. The north face of Mt. Alberta, Canada. 

The Cassin Ridge, Denali, Alaska. 

The Walker Spur in winter, Grandes Jorasses, Mont Blanc massif.


In Summary

#13. Base layer: Salopettes, base layer top.

#14. Mid layer: Thin fleece.

#15. Mid layer 2: Thin insulating jacket.

#16. Shell: Jacket and trousers.

#17. Insulation: Down jacket (and/or synthetic trousers/sleeping bag), gloves, hat.

#18. Boots

#19. Bothy/Bivi Bag/Tent


Base Layer

Salopettes (leggings which have shoulder straps) are the business. Yes, they look like a gimp suit but they eliminate cold spots between your leggings and base layer top. No more t-shirts riding up and getting a cold back... These are quite rare to buy, so get a couple!

Long sleeved base layer top

Merino or a composite prevents a mighty pong on a big route. Get one with a short zip to keep your neck warm, and extra long sleeves.


Mid Layer

Perhaps the most used piece of kit I own - I wear it almost every time I go climbing or in the hills. This is surprisingly geeky: it needs a decent hood, thumb loops, a warm but breathable material, a chest pocket and ideally only a half zip. ME have created the Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee with an offset zip so it doesn’t rub your chin raw: ideal. Again, alpine climbing clothes aren’t sexy, so don’t wear it to the pub... or to the bank.


Mid Layer 2

I usually need to wear a really thin (60 g/m2) mid layer piece to stay warm. Many people don’t need this extra piece but I wear something like the Switch (60 in body) or Transition jacket (60 in body, 40 in arms) over my mid layer. On long leads or moving together I get a bit warm, but most of the time I’m grateful.



Generally I take a waterproof hard shell (as opposed to a water resistant soft shell) in the mountains to calm my paranoia. ‘What if... the wind picks up and spindrift starts pouring?’ Perhaps it’s because us Brits learnt to climb in the ming-fest of Scottish winter, but I’m usually glad I’ve got it.

If it’s rough granite or a multi-day route I’ll usually take a Pro Shell jacket like the Tupilak. If it’s a two-day hit or softer rock I’ll consider the Firefox - Active Shell is more breathable and lighter.

Waterproof Trousers

As above, it shouldn’t rain in the mountains but a hard shell just gives me more confidence. 



Down Jacket

Having a big down jacket is like training hard, then going to an ice cream shop and eating a Chocolate Sundae with brownies, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, peanuts, hot fudge, caramel syrup and whipped cream with a cherry on top. Mm mmm. You know it’s bad but it’s also absolutely amazing!

A big down jacket is relatively ‘heavy’ (compared to other items of clothing), but I’m always so grateful I’ve got it, and even more grateful when I wear it! These days, down clothing is getting really light so perhaps the Sundae comment is a little harsh.

Insulated Trousers

aka ‘poof pants.’ Warm legs are happy legs. I like these because - in theory - if bad weather comes in I can pull these on and keep climbing. They’re synthetic and pretty water resistant. I’m not sure what’s warmer on a bivi - a really thin sleeping bag or insulated trousers. I think they might be more useful in a ‘single push summer alpine’ scenario.


I usually take three pairs: a thin pair for climbing, a thick pair for seconding, and a pair of mitts for belaying. 

I also take a thin hat because I don’t like wearing my mid layer hood under my helmet.


Sleeping Bag

Sometimes I’ll take a sleeping bag instead of the Insulated Trousers. A sleeping bag is usually warmer than trousers, and isn’t always necessary on your top half because of a down jacket. However, I was bloody grateful of it on the Grandes Jorasses and Le Dru this winter! I don’t think poof pants are very warm when it’s properly chilly.



These are really important too - choose your boots carefully or you’ll get frostnip!

I use double boots for the Alps in winter/Alaska. They can initially feel bulky but you quickly get used to them, and the extra warmth is necessary (for me).

I used normal alpine boots for Canada. See the examples below for specifics. They give the right balance of dexterity, warmth and comfort whilst balancing on your frontpoints.


Bothy/Bivi Bag/Tent

Optional. Choose your poison: if you’re out for only one night and will probably be sitting down, a bothy bag combines the warmth of you and your partners and can be less unpleasant. If you’re spending a couple of nights out and will be lying down, go for one bivi bag each or a single skin tent.

If only there was a two-person bivi bag...!



Example Kit:


Mountain Equipment

Base layer: Eclipse salopettes and Matrix 190 top.

Mid layer: Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee

Mid layer 2: Switch or Transition jacket

Shell: Tupilak or Firefox jacket; Tupilak trousers

Insulation: Vega down jacket

Synthetic trousers: Prophet insulated pants

Gloves: Assault, Couloir and Fitzroy mitts

Hat: Eclipse beanie.


La Sportiva

Boots: G2 SM  (for alpine winter).

Batura or G5 (for Canada/Alps in autumn and spring. If you run really warm, the Trango Ice Cube might work).


warm as.  photo: uisdean hawthorn

warm as.

photo: uisdean hawthorn

Tom LivingstoneComment