Equipment List

In almost 50 years of guiding on Denali, we’ve tried a lot of gear. The following is a general list of gear we recommend for climbing the West Buttress. Clients of Mountain Trip should follow our Equipment List on MountainTrip.com.

Because many of the items on the list need to fit you well in order for you to fully enjoy your experience on the mountain, you should plan to have your gear early enough to try it on before you head out. Perched on a ledge at 15,000 feet on the West Buttress is not the place to discover that any one piece of gear does not work for you. Check out our Guide Tips for some practical advice on how to get the most out of your equipment on the mountain.

Recommended items reflect the opinions of our guides. We have used and have faith in all of our recommendations, but they may not necessarily fit or work for you. When you click a link from our Guides’ Pick selections, Mountain Trip might receive a small compensation for directing you towards the site of a trusted industry partner. So click away! 😉

We’ve found that there is often a good selection of gear available in Anchorage if you need to do some last-minute shopping, but it’s wise to plan ahead for things that you might need in a particular size, as local shops do not always have every item in stock. Lastly, only bring quality gear that is in very good condition on your expedition.

If you have any additional questions about your gear, feel free to contact us. A lot of us around the office are what you’d call “gear heads,” and there’s usually someone around that will be stoked to talk technical equipment with you.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Mountaineering Boots

Mountaineering boots for Denali fall into two categories: double boots and triple boot systems with integrated gaiters. Either variety works well; however, double boots need overboots for the upper mountain, making triple boots generally lighter and arguably simpler. Try on a variety of boots as they all fit differently and get the one that fits best. Consider your future mountaineering objectives when purchasing boots as well. If an 8,000 meter peak or a trip to Antarctica is on your climbing radar, maybe now is the time to buy triple boots.

Ski Mountaineering Boots

While keeping things light is important on Denali, you might not want ultralight ski boots. Skiing with a big pack, a sled, and on extremely variable snow are all arguments for a burlier boot. Size it up a bit from a “resort fit,” meaning you’ll want about two fingers of room when you shell fit the boots.

  • We don’t have a specific suggestion for Ski Mountaineering Boots. We recommend selecting whatever brand of boot fits you best.

Overboots

Double mountaineering boots require overboots for the potential extreme cold of the upper mountain, as do ski boots. We prefer snug-fitting neoprene overboots, such as the ones from 40 Below. Make absolutely certain that your crampons will fit with your overboots on! Make any necessary alterations (like cutting out the toe or heel areas) before you come to Alaska.

Mountaineering Socks

3-5 pairs of good wool or wool-blend socks. You might consider a medium weight pair for the lower glacier and run medium/heavy weight pairs for the higher elevations. Try them on with your boots, as differing weight socks can affect the fit of your boots.

Gaiters

The last thing you want is to fill the cuff of your boot with snow. Gaiters will prevent this. Some double boots and all triple boots have built in gaiters that work well. Also, some pants fit snugly enough around the cuff of your boots to eliminate the need for gaiters.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Sun Hoody

A sun hoody is a great lightweight layer to help protect you from the intense UV at high altitude. It’s a go-to layer for most guides, as it both keeps the sun off your skin and helps keeps you cool. We used to consider this optional, but you should really bring one.

Base Layer Top

1-2 sets of Merino or synthetic lightweight base layers. If you opt for two sets, consider having one be a sun hoody, which can double as a light base layer. There’s a good argument that you don’t need to bring a change for this layer.

Light Fleece Hoody

Light/mid-weight fleece (or wool) top with a hood. You will wear this over your lightweight base layer.

“Puffy” Insulated Jacket

Size this layer to fit over your light fleece hoody and wind shell, and you’ll probably layer it underneath your expedition parka on summit day. Synthetic is easier to deal with than a similar down-filled layer. We consider a hood on this layer mandatory! You can run one moderately thick puffy, or two lighter weight ones. The double puffy system is a little heavier, but allows for fine tuning of your layers and is increasingly popular among guides.

Soft Shell Wind Jacket

For much of the season, Denali is fairly dry. You might get rain at lower elevations from early June onward, but if your trip starts in early May, consider bringing a light soft shell instead of a GORE-TEX jacket. Some weigh just a few ounces, so you’ll save a good amount of weight, and the increased breathability will be appreciated.

Hard Shell Jacket

See above. For trips starting in late May, it’s a good call to bring a GORE-TEX jacket. Find the lightest shell you can and size it to fit over your light fleece and under your puffy layers.

Vest (Optional)

For early season climbs, or if you just run chilly, a light down or synthetic vest is a nice addition. Size it to fit over your light fleece and under everything else.

Expedition Down Parka

Your parka is an important layer and should be made of baffled construction to ensure a uniform thickness of down throughout the jacket. If you bring layers like the ones suggested in our equipment list, you probably don’t need a huge 8,000-meter parka. That alone could save you more than a pound of weight.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Underwear

Bring 3-4 pairs of synthetic or Merino wool underwear.

Base Layer Bottoms

You really only need one pair of light Merino or synthetic long underwear.

Light Fleece Bottoms

One pair of light fleece bottoms will be appreciated on the upper mountain. Fabrics with a smooth outer face tend to layer more easily than fuzzy faced fabric.

Soft Shell Pants

You’ll put these on in Talkeetna and wear them every day of your trip. On most Denali climbs, you can wear these instead of GORE-TEX for most of the mountain. Soft shell fabrics don’t block all the wind, but they block most of it. The benefit of being highly breathable makes them well worth the wind protection tradeoff.

Hard Shell, Waterproof Pants

When it’s raining, a soft shell pant just isn’t enough and you’ll need a waterproof “hard shell” pant, GORE-TEX or equivalent. These should be as lightweight as possible, and fully separating side zippers will help to get them on without taking off your boots. We’re starting to see wet conditions up to 10,000 feet as early as late May, so plan to bring a pair of hard shell pants and then cache them at 11,000 feet.

Puffy Insulated Expedition Pants

Cold days on Denali need puffy, insulated pants with fully separating side zippers, so you can pull them on while wearing crampons. You don’t need full-on 8,000-meter pants, but they need to be warm. Practice putting these on while wearing boots before you leave home!

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Summit Mittens

Thick, warm mittens made from down—synthetic fill or a combination of insulation—are crucial for summit morning on many big, cold mountains. Most come with some form of retention straps, which can help reduce the chance of losing them to a gust of wind or in the event of a fall. Good mittens are expensive, but how much is one finger worth?

Heavy Weight Gloves

Warm, insulated gloves are the day-to-day workhorses on cold peaks or for cold days of ice climbing. We prefer gloves with removable liners for ease of drying. These thick gloves might require some time to break them in.

Medium Weight Gloves

A mid-weight glove will generally be a soft shell type glove with some light synthetic insulation.

Lightweight Gloves

When the sun comes out on a glacier, the temperature can soar. Lightweight, soft shell gloves are great for keeping the sun off your hands, while still giving you a bit of protection from the wind and cold.

Warm Hat

We’re fans of bringing one mid-weight knit hat, as we wear lots of layers with hoods.

Buff Neck Gaiter

Buff is a brand of lightweight neck gaiters that have grown to become a staple of every guide’s kit. These are amazingly versatile, and can be worn as a hat, a neck gaiter, or pulled over your face for protection from the wind or sun. They come in many thicknesses nowadays, but we prefer the original weight for its versatility.

Face Mask

A Buff will help, but if it is really blowing, you’ll want a neoprene face mask to prevent your cheeks and nose from cold injury.

Sun Hat

We cannot stress the importance of sun protection enough. Guides often pair a baseball cap with a Buff and/or a sun hoody. Wide brim hats are great as well.

Hand Warmers

Disposable hand warmers are cheap, lightweight insurance against cold injuries. Bring 4-6+ pairs and use them whenever you feel the need.

Glacier Glasses

Photochromic lenses that darken to “Category 4” are great, because they will adapt to different light conditions. Whatever you bring, make certain they have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays.

Ski Goggles

Ski goggles are essential for cold, windy, snowy conditions. Select high-quality goggles with double lenses. Versions with a built-in fan or other mechanical venting help prevent fogging. As with glacier glasses, photochromic lenses are amazing, but a good general purpose lens will work well, too.

Nose Guard

You can make your own or buy a cloth or leather nose guard to keep the sun from hammering your beak.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Denali Sleeping Bag

-20 F (-29 C) is the minimum rating for a Denali sleeping bag, and many climbers will bring a -40 F (-40 C) rated bag. Cold sleepers should bring a warmer bag. We feel you need to justify bringing a synthetic bag as they are heavy and bulky, requiring a bigger backpack in some cases. Don’t compromise with your sleeping bag by bringing an insulated liner or an overbag. Bring the right tool for the job.

Inflatable Sleeping Pad

Inflatable pads now come with R-value ratings, which give an indication of how well they insulate. Choose a light pad with an R-value of 5 or greater. Consider your teammates before you buy an extra-wide pad, which can impact their sleeping experience.

Foam Sleeping Pad

In addition to your inflatable sleeping pad, you’ll want a second one made from closed-cell foam. Two pads will provide substantial additional warmth and you’ll have a backup in case a crampon point meets your inflatable pad.

Compression Stuff Sack

You’ll want a lightweight compression stuff sack for your sleeping bag and possibly another for your parka and puffy pants.

Expedition Tent

Select a tent based on the size of your party. Consider the relative merits of putting two people in a 3-person tent, which affords you more space, but if heavier and a team with multiple tents will need to cut more snow blocks for an “extra” tent. The more people that are in a tent, the warmer it will be.

You want a strong 4-season tent that is in new or near new condition. Large vestibules are a plus! Equip every guy point on the fly with good tent cord, and have a system in place to tighten guy lines.

Single wall tents are lighter and quieter, but they are significantly colder and we’re not fans for the West Buttress.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Kitchen Tent

Many a longtime Denali guide has attributed their longevity on the mountain to using a kitchen tent. The added weight is more than outweighed by the benefit of having a comfortable place to stand and cook outside of your tent. Crank several stoves up inside and it can be downright balmy in there!

The most basic kitchen tent—which works great—is a floorless, pyramid-style tent. Weighing under three pounds, there is no reason not to bring one, even if there are just two or three of you. At the other end of the spectrum, you can use the fly from a Black Diamond 4-person Mission Tent and dig out a palatial cooking and dining area. See our Guide Tips section for more info on kitchen tents.

Stoves

Liquid fuel stoves are the norm on the West Buttress. Guides favor the MSR Whisperlite Stove, which is relatively quiet and burns plenty hot. Plus, they are generally easy to maintain in the field (learn how to do this!). We also often carry one canister fuel stove, like the MSR Reactor. (Please note that you must contact your air taxi ahead of time if you plan to fly in with fuel canisters, and some brands are not FAA compliant.)

How may stoves do you need? Two at minimum. Teams of four or more should bring roughly one per every two climbers.

Cook Set

To a large extent, your selection of cook sets will be dictated by your expedition menu. Generally speaking, you’ll want a large pot for melting snow and larger teams might use a dedicated pot for this to minimize cross contamination. You’ll want 1-2 smaller pots for mixing ingredients and cooking. A light fry pan is critical for pizzas, quesadillas, and Nutella-dillas.

Stove Boards

We haven’t found a good commercially available stove board, so we make ours from 1/4-inch plywood cut to the width of a sled for easy packing. We use spray adhesive to glue closed-cell foam to the plywood and then set our stoves atop the thin metal disk that comes with MSR Whisperlite Stoves to help protect the plywood.

“Water Shovel”

Dedicating one shovel as your “water shovel” can reduce the chance of picking up a gastrointestinal bug. This shovel is only used to collect snow for melting into water—nothing else.

Compactor Bags for Water

Bring several robust, plastic trash compactor bags for use in collecting snow to melt into water. Bring the thickest millileter bags you can source, as it doesn’t take much for a shovel to tear the plastic.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Large Zippered Duffel

You’ll want an XL-sized (90-100 liters) duffel for your expedition. Lightweight and inexpensive bags work fine, although water resistant bags like the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag 100L are nice for their toughness-to-weight ratio. A quality duffel bag can work for a sled bag on Denali, a mule bag on Aconcagua, and a great all-around travel bag.

Expedition Pack

Denali loads are hefty, so you’ll want a big pack. 85 liters is about as small as most mortals should consider, and if you are not a seasoned and efficient packer, you might want a 100-liter pack. You don’t need the burliest pack, but consider the pack’s weight to it’s carrying comfort.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Ascender

There is enough fixed line on the West Buttress to justify bringing a full-handled ascender. It will make you much more efficient on the headwall than you could ever be by securing yourself with a prusik. If you’re going to buy one, consider that you’ll ascend the right side of the uphill fixed line to the 16,000-foot ridge, so a left-handed ascender is arguably simpler to use.

Alpine Climbing Harness

Lightweight harnesses designed for alpine climbing will fit better under your pack hip belt than a fully padded harness. Gear loops should be attached at the bottom of the swami belt or they will rub you raw under the weight of your pack.

Carabiners

Bring at least eight regular (non-locking) carabiners. Wire gates are less prone to freezing. Private teams will need more carabiners (a total of at least 15-20) for clipping off slings, cordelette, pickets, etc.

Locking Carabiners

Bring three locking carabiners. Screwgate or auto-lockers work equally well. Choose lightweight lockers with at least one being pear-shaped for use with a Munter hitch. Private climbers might bring a few more.

Primary Attachment Locking Carabiner

Triple Action (TriAct) carabiners are designed to not come unlocked while you are traveling on the glacier. Clip it in and forget about it. You really only need one of these lockers.

Accessory/Prussik Cord

You’ll need some 6-7mm accessory cord to create a prusik and rig your ascender. How much you need will depend on your personal systems. You’ll also need accessory cord to rig your sled for glacier travel. Climbers with Mountain Trip should bring 20-30 feet of cord, but private teams might need 50 feet per person in order to rig your sled.

Cordelette

A suitable Denali cordelette is made from 15 to 20 feet of 6mm perlon cord or 5.5mm tech cord. Perlon is a bit bulkier, but it’s arguably more versatile and a lot less expensive.

Climbing Helmet

Make sure your helmet fits over your warmest hat and under your various hoods. Consider how you will protect a lightweight foam helmet during travel!

Mountaineering Axe

As the West Buttress is not a “technical” climb, you can do the route with one general mountaineering axe. Length is partly personal preference and partly tied to your height. In general a 60-70cm axe will serve most folks well. Choose a lightweight one! If you are on a private team, you might not want one with an aluminum head, as these are not great for bashing pickets into firm snow.

Ice Axe Leash

Ask three guides how to tether your ice axe and you’ll get three different techniques. We really like aome of the commercially available leashes. Bottom line: You don’t want to lose your axe in a fall, so have a way to tether it to you.

Crampons

Twelve-point, steel mountaineering crampons are the best for the West Buttress. We do not suggest using aluminum crampons for Denali. Wire toe bales generally work well, but versions with a nylon or strap attachment for the toe and a heel throw for the back are arguably easier to manage, especially if you will use overboots. Whatever you bring, make absolutely certain that they fit your boots well and that you know how to adjust them in the field.

Slings and Runners

Nylon runners have some advantages over thin Dyneema or Dynex runners, but Dyneema slings are appreciably lighter. For glacier travel, a 48-inch (120cm) nylon runner can be used as a moderately comfortable chest harness. You’ll want at least one 48-inch nylon runner, and private teams might carry a couple per person, plus a handful of shoulder length (24-inch/60cm) slings, with additional runners being of a lighter variety, for use in slinging rocks for running belays.

Belay/Rappel Device

Private teams will want to bring one plaquette-style belay and rappel device per climber that can be used in auto-block mode.

Snow Pickets

There are numerous sections of the West Buttress that you will probably want to protect with snow pickets. They are also helpful for use as tent anchors. How many will you need? It really depends on the size of your group, but 2-3 is minimum for a basic crevasse rescue system. In general, each climber should have a picket, and a team of four should have several more split amongst your team. Two-foot (60cm) pickets work well, but in early season, bring some three-footers (90cm).

Ice Screws

On occasion, you’ll need an ice screw or two for protection on the West Buttress. We’ve used them to make “V-thread” anchors to protect Windy Corner, but generally they aren’t needed below 15,000 feet. For a V-thread, you’ll want a long 22cm ice screw.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Ski or Trekking Poles

Find lightweight, collapsible poles with large “snowflake” baskets. Three-section poles often fit in duffels more easily for travel. If traveling on skis, bring ski poles with wrist straps.

Snowshoes

Find lightweight snowshoes in the 22- to 28-inch range that have heel risers (you’ll thank us!). Guide services often rent snowshoes.

Skis or Splitboard

If everyone in your party is proficient, skis or a splitboard are a nice option for glacier travel. They offer some advantages over snowshoes, but can also pose some challenges. Keep in mind that skiing with a heavy sled behind you is not like ripping that double back diamond run at the local resort.

  • 90 to 105cm lightweight touring skis with light tech bindings. Look for skis that weigh 1,100-1,400 grams per ski.

Ski or Splitboard Climbing Skins

Denali is not the place to experiment with a new version of climbing skin. Bring a new pair from a brand you are familiar with or a pair that you have used on 6-10 tours involving multiple transitions

Probe

You’ll need a probe or two to probe your camps, and sometimes to probe along your route when the Kahiltna Glacier is melting out. You don’t need a full three-meter probe. We’re fans of lightweight carbon probes.

Glacier Rope

For the West Buttress, we recommend using a low-stretch rope rather than a traditional dynamic climbing rope. Recognizing that statement opens a can of worms. Our reasoning is that we feel the risk of taking longer crevasse falls on a thin, very stretchy dynamic rope outweighs the risk of added forces from a fall on steep terrain while tied into a low-stretch rope.

Sled

You’re going to want a sled to haul your mountain of gear and supplies up glacier. Talkeetna Air Taxi rents sleds for $10, which is a bargain. Some climbers pull heavy, purpose-built sleds with rigid poles attached to them. Most use pretty basic plastic sleds like the ones your kids use for sledding. Rigged with cord to act as a sled brake, these lightweight options work really well. If you rent from an air taxi, you should still bring 50-60 feet of cord to rig your sled.

Crevasse Rescue Kit

Your kit will utilize some of the gear listed in the “Climbing Gear” section above (cordelette, locking carabiners, pickets), but might also include pulley(s) and/or an auto-locking pulley like the Petzl Mini or Nano Traxion.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Satellite Phone

A satellite phone operating on the Iridium network is the best way to communicate to people off the mountain. You can purchase a “Northern Lights Plan” that is Alaska and Canada specific, which will save a little on airtime. Surveyors Exchange in Anchorage will rent phones with Northern Lights plans.

Satellite Tracker/Communicator

All Mountain Trip guides carry a device like the Garmin inReach Mini, which allows us to track the whereabouts of a team from the comfort of home. These devices also allow you to send and receive texts with folks off the mountain, as well as with other similar devices on the mountain.

We consider these to be mandatory for guides and every Denali team should have at least one. Take the time to learn how to set them up to share your location with friends and family before you fly to the glacier. Also, share your contact with your air taxi service!

Radio

NPS and the Base Camp Manager on the Southeast Fork monitor FRS (Family Radio Service) channels, and the evening weather forecast is broadcast over FRS. Your basic Motorola FRS radio is lightweight and will work at most elevations on the West Buttress, but is very spotty at 11,000′ Camp and for part of summit day.

More powerful radios with optional longer antennas, such as the Wouxon KG-UV3D have much better reception across virtually the entire West Buttress route.

Gear

Description

Guide’s Pick

Stuff Sacks

We are fans of the very light, stiff sacks made from “silnylon” (Silicone and nylon) fabric. Bring enough for your clothes and personal items. Light, zippered stuff bags are really nice for toiletries.

Two (2) 1-Liter Water Bottles

You will need two 1-liter plastic water bottles. Please bring wide-mouth bottles, such as those from Nalgene, as these are much easier to fill than bottles with small openings.

Insulated Bottle Cover(s)

Water bottles freeze when it gets cold. Crazy, but true! Extra clothing can help insulate bottles, but dedicated water bottle insulators do a much better job. Bring at least one.

Large Plastic Bowl

Bowls are much easier to use and are much more versatile than are plates. Bring a 2-4 cup camping bowl or a plastic Rubbermaid-style container for your mountain dining.

Insulated Cup or Mug

A 12-16 ounce mug with an attached lid will help keep you hydrated. The Kleen Kanteen Insulated Bottle with the “Cafe Cap” is pretty nifty, as it’s a mug and a thermos all in one!

Lexan Spoon

A soup spoon made from Lexan will survive most trips and is more useful and versatile than a fork or even a “spork.” Mark your spoon with your initials to keep spoon rustlers at bay.

Lip Balm (2 Tubes)

Protect your lips! Bring two tubes of high-quality lip balm with SPF.

Sun Screen

Smaller tubes work well as they are easier to keep from freezing than is one big tube. You’ll want to bring 3-4 ounces for the trip.

Toiletry Kit

Toothbrush and toothpaste, dental floss, Handi-wipes (one per day on average), a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and perhaps some foot (baby) powder … keep it small!

Toilet Paper

Depending on your technique, you’ll want 1-2 rolls, each packed in a quality Ziploc bag.

Medical Kit

If you’re joining a guided team, keep your kit small and light.

If you are building out a kit for your private team, you might consider reading our Guides Tips on team medical kits. You’re headed to 6,000 meters, so you should consider bringing the standard altitude drugs, including Diamox (acetazolomide) 125mg, Decadron (dexamthazone) 4mg, Nifedipine XR 30mg. Also consider bringing a couple courses of antibiotics for respiratory and gastrointestinal issues.

Camera

Most climbers are just using their phones these days. If you bring a dedicated camera, have a way to charge batteries or bring a bunch of extras.

Altimeter Watch

These can be handy for tracking changes in barometric pressure. With the high-quality GPS apps for phones these days, the usefulness of an altimeter watch is not as great nowadays as it once was.

Small Knife or Multi-Tool

Every climber should have a small knife or multi-tool. Each team should have at least one full-sized multi-tool, but you don’t need one big tool per climber.

Repair Kit

Check out our article on repair kits in the Guide Tips section of the site. Keep it relatively small, but bring some long ski straps, a small spool of baling wire, Tenacious Tape, Seam Grip or similar adhesive/sealant, a repair kit for your inflatable pad, zip ties, etc.

Personal Music/Video Device

This is probably just your phone, but many climbers now bring small tablets with movies and books downloaded onto them. If you are running music or an audio book while hiking on the Kahiltna Glacier, make sure you can hear your teammates!

Solar Charger

One solar charger per tent is probably sufficient for most power needs. Check out our Guide Tips section on solar power and charging considerations.

Several Good Jokes

A moose walks into a bar …