4000 metre layers image

4000 metre layers

July 17, 2014

Dear Andy.

I know you must be bombarded by emails of advice like this from fans like myself but do you think a rab vapour rise lite, and a rab strata will be enough for a 4000m plus alpine summer peak?

Many thanks for your time


Hi Andy

Is that all you’ll be wearing : )

I’m not totally sure about the Rab Strata, but know about the Vapour rise lite, but I’ll give you my thoughts.

I think it’s always hard to give a specific kit list for alpine climbs, as conditions can change from day to day, or even hour to hour.  I’ve been on El Cap, where it was 40 degrees when I started, and have wanted to have more clothes than you describe at 2am in the morning!

What should always guide your choice for any alpine climb is:

Time: how long will you be expected to be out in a worse case scenario. Sure you intend to set off at 4am and be back by 10pm, but what happens if the weather closes in and you can’t make it back to your hut, or are too tired to make it. What if someone falls in a crevasse and is stuck down their all night?  How about a broken ankle, or having to help deal with someone else’s epic?  The layers you describe are ideal for a speedy ascent and fast descent, but stumble or stop and you’ll get cold very quickly. 

Fitness: How fit are you? Can you keep up the pace to stay warm, and how warm will you be 15 hours in when your foods all gone?  Also how fit are your partners? 

The most important question you need to ask of all is how would you rate your survivability? This is a vital question for any climber tackling routes in hostile environments, and this ‘survivability’ factor is one of the foundations of alpine climbing, as your speed and ability to move also needs to be factored in.  Sure you can climb the Eigerwand in just a thin fleece and a shell like Steck, but having just a kilo of extra gear can mean both the difference between success and failure, as well as life and death. 

For me I always like to know I have the clothing to keep me alive (not necessarily comfortable) when venturing into the mountains without bivy kit.  This small amount of kit can do multiple duty in that yes it will allow me to survive a night out, but also knowing I have it may mean I have the confidence to keep on going to get out of a jam, and the ability to make good choices (throwing on a duvet jacket and warm hat, and drinking a hot drink can help you focus on the ‘right’ choice, and avoid more instinctive and dangerous fight or flight responses).  Sure you may find you come back from the summit nine times out of ten without having to touch your emergency kit, but that one time you do will make up for the other nine.

So for me I’d probably go for a system that can deal with both extreme heat, and extreme cold, and expect to be wearing a layered system made up of the two that deals well with the average.

My kit list would look something like this (head to body):

  • Lightweight Sun hat (with peak, works both for sun, and with a hood in bad weather)
  • Medium Weight Fleece hat (make sure it covers your ears, and a fleece wool mix works well).
  • Medium weight Balaclava (can be worn as a hat, but as a balaclava it protects face)
  • Buff (good for sun and protecting face in wind, can also be use as a towel or babdage).
  • Lightweight/midweight Merino LS top (used to protect against the sun, or as a base layer. Make sure arms can roll up and try and get a model with a hood and long front zip)
  • Mid weight midlayer (Vapourise style or Ninja style fleece that can be worn on the move, alone or under a shell).
  • Soft Shell layer with hood (stand alone protection against wind and snow, and light rain/mist, ideally something like a Montane Prism or Rab hooded Strata. This can be layered up with base and mid layer to form a good ‘slow’ layer when it’s cold and you’re unable to move quickly, or for early starts).
  • Belay jacket (For a alpine climbing a lightweight or medium weight down jacket with hood is ideal,a and this can be used both for standing around, bivys or when the weather gets super bad.  Worn over all layers you should survive a night out with just a bothy bag in even winter conditions).
  • Hand wise a pair of fleece gloves and a pair of mitts will be fine.

Carrying a bothy bag, a tiny gas stove and one small gas canister and titanium mug, as well as the foam in your pack and rope to sit on, you should feel confident you can survive most things (don’t forget extra batteries so you can also just keep going through the night!).

Sorry if I sound like the voice of doom, and as I said nine times out of ten this would be overkill, but if you need to ask the question, then this is the answer you probably need.

Have a great time.