Expedition Kit for Denali

One thing I started to sort out as soon as I committed myself to Denali was the gear I’d need for the expedition.  While I’ve accumulated quite a collection of mountaineering and general outdoor clothing and equipment over the years, the conditions on Denali (a combination of high altitude and polar temperatures) require a lot of specialty gear I simply don’t have and haven’t needed until now.  There’s a lot I don’t know about climbing in those conditions but thankfully there’s a wealth of information out there and a lot of gear reviews to base some of my decisions on.

Expedition Company Equipment Lists

Each of the expedition outfitters provide quite detailed information about the clothing and equipment that each climber is required to bring.  There’s unsurprisingly a lot of similarities between the lists, but also some glaring differences.

Previous Denali Expedition Experience

Prior expeditions provide a lot of feedback on how kit performed as well as recommendations on must-have/nice-to-have items – or things you can do without.  I’ve trawled the internet to glean what information I can find.

Buy vs. Rent Decision

Alpine Ascents provides a list of personal gear I’ll need for the expedition so I don’t freeze my fingers and toes off and/or jeopardize the team.  Communal equipment like tents, stoves, snow shovels, ropes, food and first-aid kit are provided by the company so I don’t need to worry about that stuff.  I can also rent some of the real specialty kit that I’ll probably never need again, and at this stage that’s looking like just two items:

  • Expedition sleeping bag: high-rated down fill, rated down to -30 to -40C
  • Large volume backpack: around 100L capacity, able to carry loads up to 30kg/70lbs
    • Mountain Hardwear BMG 105L
    • Lowe Alpine Expedition 75:95L

Specialty Kit Purchased for Denali

It’s been enjoyable to spend time researching some of the real specialty cold-weather gear needed for Denali, and I’ve made some selective purchases.

  • Scarpa Phantom 6000 Boots: Double mountaineering boots with a neoprene/insulated insert, a waterproof outer and built-in gaiter.  These boots should serve me well on this trip, and I will use them for future winter mountaineering and ice climbing days.  I’m really excited about these boots and have been impressed with their performance and comfort so far.
  • Forty Below Purple Haze Overboots: These are a necessary complement to double boots on Denali, due to the potential for extremely low temperatures high on the mountain. They’re made of heavy neoprene and completely enclose the boots up to just below the knee, and will be my insurance against losing some toes to frostbite.
  • Forty Below Camp Booties: These are a bit of a luxury, but will sure beat clomping around camp each night in stiff mountaineering boots.  They will fit inside the Purple Haze overboots to provide a bit more weather resistance and traction.
  • Mountain Hardwear Nilas Jacket: 850 fill jacket, hydrophobic down, fully baffled body and sleeves, awesome butter cuffs, minimal but ideal pocket placement.  It has only 2/3rds the fill of the MHW Absolute Zero expedition parks (used on 8,000m peaks) but the Nilas uses a higher quality down and is just half the weight.
  • Arc’teryx Alpha FL Jacket Shell: I’ve been wanting to get this jacket for a long time, and splurged on it when I was able to get it at a deep discount.  I’ve had the earlier Alpha LT shell for many years, and love it to death, but it’s a Medium and really only good for layering in summer conditions.  I went for the Alpha FL in a Large and it’s perfect – cut for alpine climbing, enough room for layering underneath, and lightweight without too many bells and whistles.
  • Arc’teryx Gamma MX Hoody Softshell: Another thing on my wish list for many years, I’ve wanted this jacket for so many reasons and Denali was the excuse.  It’s not cheap but it’s a great medium weight softshell jacket; and the light fleece lining should save me carrying another fleece up the mountain.
  • Arc’teryx Konseal Hoody 3/4 Zip Midlayer Fleece: This item filled a gap in my repertoire, as I’ve needed a lightweight (around 100-weight) fleece top with a hood.  This is the perfect midlayer, and I especially like the thumb loops and the close-fitting hood with built-in face mask which should be great inside the tent at night.
  • Outdoor Research Luminary Gloves: Got these as a mid-mountain, versatile pair of gloves (and because my Arc’teryx Beta AR gloves aren’t that warm, and would only be good down to around 0C to -5C I reckon).  The Windstopper shoftshell outer makes them really comfortable to wear (a waterproof hardshell isn’t necessary as the below-freezing temperatures should mean I’ll be encountering more ice than water), I like the long gauntlet, and the removable fleece insert is a must as I’ll need to dry it out at night in my sleeping bag.
  • Outdoor Research Alti Mitts: These expedition weight mitts are a must at high altitude when the wild weather really kicks up.  I sized them XL to be big enough to fit lightweight gloves/glove liners inside, as I won’t want bare skin exposed whenever I might need to take the mitts off.
  • Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants: Another specialty item for Denali, these insulated overpants are a must for cold nights around camp and for a potentially extra-chilly summit attempt.  They’re very bulky and the inseam is a bit long making the whole pant baggy, and I don’t like the elastic waist with a drawcord, but they’ll have to do as other insulated pants (e.g. Outdoor Research Neoplume) aren’t available in the spring/summer season.
  • DeLorme inReach Explorer: A text message device, emergency beacon and GPS unit in one, all with the help of the Iridium satellite communication system.  Paired with my old iPhone this will let me stay connected with the outside world, track our progress, and post updates to social media (Facebook & Twitter).  Can wait to start exploring what this handheld device is capable of!
  • Instapark Mercury 10 Solar Charger: Compact and lightweight solar panel providing 10W (5V & 1-2A) output via 2 USB ports.  I’ll need to buy a good battery too so that I can recharge devices and camera batteries in the tent in the evenings, probably around 4,000-5,000mAh.
Technical Equipment
  • Black Diamond Couloir Harness: I’m not sure about the fit as it doesn’t sit over my hips and is pulled down low at the front, so I might return it and stick with my existing Black Diamond Ascent harness.
  • Petzl Summit 2 Ice Axe: I’ve been lugging around a Charlet Moser 65cm ice axe (straight shafted and T-rated, with a rubberized shaft) that I’ve had since my early days in Switzerland over 15 years ago, but needed something more lightweight for Denali.  While I could have got away with really basic ice axe for glacier travel, I wanted something I’d find a bit more useful on steeper mountain terrain and liked the look of the redesigned Summit with its curved shaft and ergonomic design.  I decided to go for the borderline too-short 59cm length rather than the more traditional 66cm length, as I expect it will be easier to use/swing when beyond piolet-canne mode (i.e., in piolet-rampe or piolet-traction mode).
  • Petzl Ascension Ascender: Again, another bit of kit I haven’t needed until now, but a crucial item as we’ll be heading up fixed lines on the steepest section of the route between 14K camp and high camp.  As I’m right-handed and want to have my ice axe in my dominant hand handy in case I take a fall, I got a left-sided device.

6 Comments on “Expedition Kit for Denali

    • Absolutely! More than warm enough for 17k high camp (we were stuck there for 4 days) and summit day in temps -30C to -40C. By itself with a thin layer underneath it wouldn’t be warm enough, but I had my layering systems sorted and didn’t have any issue. On summit day I was wearing a thermal base layer, mid-weight fleece, lightweight synthetic puffy, Goretex shell, and the Nilas jacket for rest stops as well as higher on the mountain when the winds picked up. I was toasty warm.

  1. I know you posted this awhile back but I’m headed to Denali this June and am thinking about taking my Gamma MX softshell. How did it work out for you?

    • Jealous you’re headed to Denali – would love to go and do it again!

      You’re making me wish I’d found the time to update this blog with some more perspectives on our expedition… Re. the Gamma MX, it was an essential part of my kit and I wore it as my outer layer most days on the lower/mid section of the mountain (higher up I was wearing a lot more insulation, plus a hard shell if the wind was up). As you know the jacket is fleece lined and that makes it often too warm in some conditions (e.g. ice/alpine climbing in the Sierra Nevada mountains), but with the colder temps on Denali having that little additional insulation was perfect.

      My Gamma MX is roomy enough that I could do one or two layers underneath (wool base layer + Arc’teryx Konseal Hoody light fleece mid layer) depending on the temperature and activity, and if the weather turned particularly sour I could throw my Alpha FL jacket on over it.

      Around camp in the evenings I’d usually stick to a base layer and mid-weight fleece (Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody) with an light insulated jacket (Arc’teryx Nuclei) over the top. As you can see I have a bit of an Arc’teryx habit… 🙂

      Good luck, climb safe, and have a blast!!

      • Thanks Paul, much appreciated! Your advice is in line with what I was hoping you’d say and my layering will be much the same as yours. Hope you make it back some day!

  2. Cheers Paul, I have been looking at the Nilas Jacket for awhile now, primarily for winter mountaineering and hopefully a Denali trip in 2020. It looks like this is the jacket for me. Thanks for the write-up.

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