Gear for climbing Mt. Rainier
Back in May 2008 when I was preparing for my upcoming attempt to climb Mount Rainier the following month, gear questions sat at the forefront of my mind. Did I really need this? Oh, yes I definitely need this. Or do I? What about that? And should I try to buy that or rent that? Mt. Rainier was my first major climb, and I wanted to ensure that I had the appropriate gear for all different circumstances.
I didn’t want a gear issue to keep me from the summit. If weather or some other unpredictable element kept me from the summit that would be fine, but not gear. Online research produced a few decent lists for my upcoming Rainier excursion, but one thing was noticeable about them all: their length. The lists provided good information but it seemed like I was destined for a 90-pound pack if I followed the advice verbatim. Did I really need three different types of gloves? And seven layers? Maybe I did, but I wanted more specifics.
My experience on Mount Rainer taught me a couple of things but perfecting my gear list is a work in progress. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts – a gear list is never fully complete, or completely edited for that matter.
Essential gear for Mt. Rainier
The obvious stuff. And some other stuff, too.
- Mountaineering boots. A sturdy pair of crampon-compatible boots, most likely boots of insulated plastic variety. Buying mountaineering boots is a huge investment, so you may want to rent these the first few times around and test out a few options before thinking of purchasing.
- Crampons. Make sure they are compatible with your boots if you are renting. General-purpose, adjustable 10- or 12-point crampons are probably the best bet.
- Internal-frame backpack. – The size will depend on the length of your journey and how well you are able to whittle down your gear list, but look at 60-liter packs at the minimum.
- Sleeping bag. A bag with a temperature rating between 0°F & 32°F. Stick on the higher end of the temperature scale if you’re a cold sleeper. Synthetic or down is personal preference.
- Hooded down parka. This is again a huge investment, so you might want to test one of these out as a rental for use high up on the mountain.
- Synthetic base layer. For lower and upper body to stay warm and (hopefully) dry.
- Climbing / trekking pants. The exact type and thickness will depend on how you handle cold weather.
- Insulating layer. This goes for both upper and lower body. Opt for a soft-shell fleece layer that can be used optionally depending on the conditions.
- Lightweight insulating layer. For the upper body. Exact nature of this layer depends on your ability to handle cold.
- Water- and wind-proof jacket. Protect from the wind and rain. The more breathable the better.
- Water- and wind-proof pants. See above.
- Ice axe. Make sure to get an ice axe that is properly sized for your height.
- Trekking poles. Some may not consider poles as completely necessary gear, but I definitely consider them essential for stability on the lower slopes.
- Duct tape. Duct tape is always essential. Always. Wrap some around your ice axe and/or trekking poles or carry separately.
- Hats. One warm and one lighter.
- Socks. See above.
- Glacier glasses. Or dark-lensed sunglasses that protect your eyes from high levels of UV radiation reflecting off the snow and ice.
- Goggles. These may be considered optional by some but ended up being essential during my June 2008 Rainier climb.
- Climbing harness and carabiners. For roped portions of the climb.
- Climbing helmet. To guard against rock fall. This danger can be more or less present depending on the date and time of your ascent.
- Headlamp. Preferably LED – for an alpine start.
- Water bottles. Two or three depending on the size of the bottles, the length of your expedition and your preference.
- Water treatment. A small stove to boil water and/or treatment tablets. SteriPEN has some interesting products, too.
Optional gear for Mt. Rainier
Some nice gear to have around, depending on the specifics of your excursion.
- Tent. This depends on whether you plan to bunk in one of the huts at Camp Muir or not. This obviously heads up to the essential list if not.
- Gaiters. Some might consider these essential with crampon use to help protect from pant tears.
- Lightweight gloves. For use on the lower portions of Rainier.
- Compression stuff sacks. Get some good waterproof ones. Smaller sizes can be better to separate gear more easily.
- Avalanche transceiver. Rent this if you can to protect against worst-case scenarios.
- Eating utensils. Specifics depend on your food plan.
- Toiletries. Specifics depend on your camping plan.
- Zip-lock and other plastic garbage bags. These can be useful in many ways.
Gear to load up on
Some gear to double up on, if you feel like it.
- Carabiners. It’s always a great idea to have a couple extra carabiners. You never know when you might need one.
- Gloves, gloves, gloves. Yes, bring three pair. Bring four or five. They weigh very little and take up little space. Protect those hands!
- Extra socks. Keeping your feet warm, dry and comfortable is key. You don’t want your feet to be cold, but you don’t want them overheated, either. Protect those feet!
- Sunscreen and lip balm. Protect that skin!
- Extra batteries. For headlamps, etc.
- Candy and other excellent food. OK, I guess this isn’t really gear.
Gear to leave home when you climb Mt. Rainier
Some gear to consider doing without.
- Extremely lightweight pants. You can double up the need for lightweight trekking pants and thicker mountaineering pants by picking one pair that’ll serve both purposes.
- Cooking equipment. Climbing Rainier can be a short enough affair that you don’t need a ton of stuff for the camp kitchen. This obviously changes if you are planning an extended trip.
- Sleeping pad. Personal preference here.
- Balaclava. Personal preference here, again. Go with a neck gaiter or get neck coverage with a layer if you need extra neck protection from wind and snow.
- Energy bars and drinks. Save these for your training. When you’re on the mountain, choose foods that you know you love and that’ll go down easy when you may not feel like eating.
- Extra shoes or boots. Try to stick with one pair of boots for the entirety.
- Extra “just in case” top layers. Plan your layers wisely and you won’t need this.
- Extra “just in case” jacket. See above.
- Extra “just in case” pants. See above.
Final thoughts on Mt. Rainier Gear
All in all, I came prepared when I stood on the slopes of Rainier back in June 2008. But I did come a little over-prepared in some aspects and ill-prepared in others. My gloves were inadequate, I brought too many layers and am now wiser about my layering choices and I would definitely choose different mountaineering boots the next time around.
Prior to the climb, I thought I wanted to show up ready for all circumstances, but I really should’ve just come ready for one particular circumstance: the worst. On my next Rainier attempt, I’ll scrutinize every layer and every piece of gear beforehand, come prepared for whiteout conditions and then happily peel back and scale back when the weather is perfect as I stroll up the Emmons Glacier.
My main takeaway: Eliminate anything that comes along with a “just in case” descriptor. Your pack and your legs will thank you.
What are your thoughts on what gear to bring when climbing Mount Rainier? Let’s hear it!