Packing for a Multi-day Ridge Traverse

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reposted from January 2014
By IFMGA Mountain Guide, Jed Porter

So, something about a multi-day ridge traverse has captured your attention. Maybe it’s a 2-day itinerary on Lone Pine Peak, the 4 day version of the Palisade Traverse, or something bigger and further out there. In any case, you want to cover some ground and be ready for technical climbing. You will spend cool nights at altitude, burn lots of calories, and carry all of your gear the entire time. A trip like the Palisade Traverse requires the ultimate expression of “fast and light” packing strategies. The first, easiest, and cheapest way to lighten one’s load is to leave stuff behind. Then one must choose gear that is multi-purpose. Then one should consider some of the more specialized gear. Here is an annotated list of personal gear one should have for a trip like this. For now, lets ignore group gear considerations (rope, rack, cooking kit, first aid and repair) and focus on individual gear and clothing.

  • Pack: Choose a small, simple pack, and leave behind what won’t fit in it. Now, a 25-35 liter pack will be stuffed tight as a drum, but that makes for a rigid package that stiffens the whole outfit. That means you can (and should) choose a frameless version, one that can contain a tri-folded piece of closed-cell foam as “framesheet” and sleeping pad. Bam, many pounds saved right there! Models we like: ArcTeryx Cierzo 25 or 35. Cold Cold World Ozone or Valdez.
  • Sleeping Pad: see above. If you absolutely must have something inflatable and complicated, choose one of the lightest, smallest pads you can. Like the Thermarest NeoAir. Size small.
  • Sleeping Bag: Down-filled, rated to 30 or 40 F. About a trillion options here. Pack it in a plastic-bag-lined compression sack. Squish that guy to the density of a rock.
  • Shelter: Bivy Sack or tarp. Less than a pound, no poles or silliness like that. With Sierra Ridges we simply don’t camp high in poor weather. Poor weather brings electricity, and no bivy sack is lightning-safe. Keep it super minimalist. What we like: Brooks Range ultralight tarps. Solo size, or share a bigger one with your partner. Or the Outdoor Research Aurora Bivy.
  • Helmet: your choice, but realize that the lightest options are half the weight of the heaviest.
  • Harness: Lightweight, minimalist. The Camp Alp 95, at just over 3 ounces, is the extreme expression of this. But the Black Diamond Couloir and the Camp Air harnesses both come in around 8 ounces and are far more durable and versatile. Your choice.
  • Carabiners: Each person should have a pair of lockers. Tiny lockers are light, but less versatile. Your huge lockers from that Denali expedition in ’94 weight probably twice what they need to, and who knows what has happened to them since Kurt Cobain died. Grab a pair of modern, small, pear-shaped ‘biners. Like the Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner.
  • Belay device: Learn to belay and rappel without a device. Or throw in a small, simple multi-purpose device. Like the BD ATC Guide.
  • Chalk, rock shoes, tape gloves, etc.: you’ll be surprised how climbing alpine rock without these things isn’t all that bad. Leave ‘em at home.
  • Early season Footwear: Early season you’ll want mountain boots. Lightweight, low-profile, uninsulated, dedicated mountaineering boots. The go-to is La Sportiva’s Trango Evo S GTX, but other companies make excellent entries in this category.
  • No snow? What to use on your feet? If conditions require no steep snow or ice, don’t hesitate to go to approach shoes. Get ‘em in high-top configuration to keep the scree out and fit ‘em with a compromise between walking comfort and climbing performance. We like Evolv Maximus shoes for High Sierra scrambling, off-trail travel, and technical ridge-climbing.
  • Gaiters: Nah. Just rig some elastic to your pant cuffs to keep them down snug over your shoes.
  • Socks: Wear-a-day, Air-a-day. 2 pairs max.
  • Pants: Mid-weight, softshell dedicated climbing pants. OR Cirque pants are great, as are any number of comparable offerings. Maybe add long underwear if the forecast is unseasonably cold.
  • Upper body: Here, the options are limitless. Start with a synthetic t-shirt. Then add 3-4 more layers, the more hoods the better. One of which should be an ultralight, truly waterproof shell. OR’s Helium Jacket is one choice. Another of your 3 or 4 layers should be a light-weight puffy jacket. Less than one pound, again, ideally with a hood. Then a lightweight fleece and/or a long-sleeve base layer and/or an ultralight soft-shell. Hoods all around, sound like a broken record?
  • Hat: No need if you have all those hoods! Maybe a sun-hat for the approach.
  • Gloves: One pair, ultralight. Consider work-style gloves for durability and dexterity. Jed really likes “Ironclad Cold Conditions Gloves.”

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