Top-10 Gear Misconceptions

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Misconceptions about climbing gear can leave you wandering in the woods.

In this article, we’ll look at the top-10 most common gear-related misconceptions for those newer to mountaineering, and offer some quick comments in answer.

This piece was originally published in 2017, but it’s proved so helpful that we pulled it from the archives and gave it a refresh.  In the remix, look for additional links and notes so you can dive into the weeds of down-fill count or backcountry menu planning. 

  1. “My hardshells need to fit over all of my layers, including insulation.”
    • Once it’s cold enough to need a down parka or insulated pants, it’s typically cold enough that any precipitation falls as snow- which will shed easily off of your parka & insulated pants. Thus, you want to size your hardshells to fit over all of your layers EXCEPT for your insulated layers.
      Check Out: Hardshells: Waterproof Pants & Jackets
  1. “If a jacket is 800-fill, it is warm enough to use on Rainier or beyond.”
    • Fill-power (800-fill, 700-fill, etc.) indicates the quality of down in a jacket. The higher the number, the higher the quality of down used. The warmth of a down jacket is much more strongly indicated by the amount of down used in a jacket (also known as fill-weight) than by the fill-power. A typical Rainier parka will contain about 200-300g of high-quality down (700+ fill-power), and weigh about 1.5-2.5 lb.
      Check Out: Down Fill-Weight vs. Down Fill-Power & Down Insulation 101 
  1. “What I wore to climb a 14’er will be sufficient for Rainier.”
    • Mount Rainier can be a ferocious place. Proximity to the Pacific Ocean makes for high wind, cold temperatures, and plenty of damp precipitation. Even though Rainier is not much higher than most 14’ers, it is far colder, far tougher, and makes most “feel the altitude” in a way that is starkly different from most 14’ers. Check Out: Mount Rainier: Not Your Average Fourteener & What Should I Bring on Mount Rainier
  1. “Plastic boots and double boots are very uncomfortable, and cause blisters!”
    • Plastic boots and double boots don’t cause blisters- poor fitting and bad travel techniques cause blisters! With proper fitting, we’ve seen countless climbers use rental plastic boots, and come away from a trip with warm toes, happy faces, and no blistering.
      Check Out: Blister Prevention and Foot Care
  1. “Freeze-dried or dehydrated foods are the only option in the backcountry.”
  1. “Marathon running is the only training I need to climb big mountains.”
    • Mountain climbing requires a unique kind of fitness. Where running a marathon requires cardiovascular endurance, mountain climbing requires the cardiovascular power of a sprinter, strength of a weight-lifter, stamina of a multi-sport athlete- AND the cardiovascular endurance of a runner – the best training programs for mountaineering consist of a mix of activities that build both strength and endurance.
    • All our training plans, such as these guidelines for the Rainier 3-Day Climb have been created by Steve House and the team at UpHill Athlete.  Alpine Ascents International guests receive a 10% discount on these plans with the code available when they book any trip.  You can find more info here.
      Check Out: Is My Training Working?
  1. “Bars & Gu packets- lunch!”
    • Most seasoned guides & climbers avoid bars or Gu packet-style energy foods except for high-altitude summit days. These foods have their place, but most people feel better and are happier eating familiar, everyday foods while climbing. It is much better to pack “real food” like sandwiches, chips, cookies, trail mix, fruit, and candy for any climb.
      Check Out: 3-Day Rainier Climb: Lunch Time
  1. “Living at sea level puts me at a big disadvantage for my climb.”
    • Though living somewhere significantly above sea-level can be advantageous for higher altitude climbing, many climbers (including most of Alpine Ascents’ guides) live at sea level in cities like Seattle. Training hard before a climb is much more important than merely living -or sleeping-at altitude.
  1. “Backpacking & hiking don’t help me prepare for mountain climbs.”
    • Climbing big mountains requires constant self-care. Knowing how to dress, eat, sleep, pack, organize, and relax outdoors is a key skill, developed only with practice. We always encourage you to go backpacking & hiking- no matter the weather- as it is excellent training for any climb or expedition. In fact, heading into the mountains in inclement weather can be great training for the arduous conditions found mountaineering!
  1. “I should sleep with my foam pad beneath my inflatable sleeping pad.”
    • While sleeping with a foam pad beneath an inflatable pad is fine, and can even be preferable if you are camped on sharp or rocky ground, it is actually warmest to sleep with your inflatable pad against the ground and your foam pad on top of it. This system keeps your body from having to constantly heat the large quantity of air inside your mattress throughout the night, which can be important when camped in very cold conditions on snowy or icy terrain.

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