Clothing and Equipment Guide
The following information is intended to help you select the best type of clothing and equipment for your trip. See also our Useful Links page for details of specialist retailers who will be able to offer further advice and assistance with purchasing new clothing or equipment.
This is one of the most important considerations, as blisters and sore feet will spoil your trek. We recommend that you take a pair of lightweight hiking/trekking boots, suitable for walking over rough terrain, offer good ankle support and will be comfortable over long distances. Good quality fabric or leather boots are recommended. If you are considering a trek where you are likely to encounter a couple of days of snow-covered trails, you should opt for a waterproof trekking boot - either a Gore-Tex-lined fabric boot or a leather boot. If you prefer to do your walking in a more substantial pair of leather boots, that’s OK, but make sure that they are well worn-in prior to the trek. Choosing a pair of trekking boots is a very individual process, and you should be governed by your own experience and preferences. A good outdoor equipment store will be able to advise you as to the fitting of your boots. For wearing about camp and walking the easier sections of trail we recommend sneakers or sandals that allow you to wear socks underneath.
Despite the increased popularity of a new generation of leather boots for technical alpine mountaineering, plastic boots are still standard equipment for cold conditions. They are lighter in weight, warmer and more waterproof than leather mountain boots. Also, you can sleep in the removable inner boots to ensure warm toes in the morning! Climbing and trekking at altitudes of up to 6000 metres (20,000 feet), the temperatures can be very cold indeed (as low as minus 25°C/15°F), and leather boots are really not suitable for these cold conditions. Plastic boots are also designed to take step-in crampons, quickly and efficiently, and this combination of plastic boots and step-in crampons is by far the most sensible option when considering a trekking peak climb. Asolo, Koflach, Scarpa and Lowa are examples of excellent plastic boot manufacturers.
Some KE climbing trips at lower elevations require only semi-rigid (B2 rated) boots, possibly manufactured out of leather or a combination of materials.
Gaiters are an important piece of equipment, which will help to keep your feet warm and dry in wet and snowy conditions. The simple 'alpine' style of gaiter which hooks onto the boot laces and is held under the instep by a strap or lace is fine for most trekking applications. These alpine gaiters are widely available. There are more expensive gaiters that cover the whole of the boot uppers, providing additional warmth and protection, and these are a sensible option for those trips which involve the negotiation of several days of snow-covered glacier.
If you prefer to wear two pairs of socks, your inner socks or liners should be cotton or wool-based or a mixture. Bring 4 pairs. If you prefer to wear a single pair of thicker socks (and some sock manufacturers are producing excellent socks which are designed to be used without a liner or inner sock) then these should also be mainly made of natural materials and of loopstitch construction for maximum warmth and comfort. Take 4 pairs. Thor-Lo is an example of a sock manufacturer that markets a wide range of technically advanced trekking/walking socks.
Your clothing must be adaptable to suit a wide range of conditions, including all extremes of weather and varying levels of physical activity. Modern thinking supports the adoption of the principle of 'layering' which involves the use of several thin layers of thermally efficient clothing, which can be worn in a number of combinations, according to the prevailing circumstances. Where it is warm enough you can trek in either shorts or lightweight trekking pants (a long skirt is an option for women) and a long sleeve cotton shirt or T-shirt or the new Capilene T-shirts. For colder conditions, you can add layers of thermal clothing. Patagonia Capilene thermal clothing, for example, is very good and comes in three weights - lightweight, midweight and expedition weight. On top of these thermals you should add layers of fleece. Patagonia, Marmot, The North Face, Mountain Hardware and many other manufacturers make a wide range of fleece garments, jackets, pullovers, pants and vests. These are generally made from Polartec fabric (in a variety of weights – including Polartec 100 and 200), which is warm, light and quick drying. Warmer still, are windproofed fleece garments commonly known as WindStopper. Extremely, if it starts to rain, or if you are making a high, cold climb or pass crossing, you will have your waterproof outerwear, jacket and pants or bibs, to fall back on. Shell pants and bibs with full-length zips are a good idea if you choose a trip that involves the use of plastic boots and crampons.
Active outdoor pursuits such as trekking and climbing require protection from the chill of the wind more often than protection from rain, especially in mountain ranges such as the Himalaya. Shell garments made from breathable fabrics (Gore-Tex or equivalent) are to be preferred for the following reason. Thermal underwear or base layers work on a ‘wick-dry’ principle, wicking the perspiration away from the skin to where it can evaporate without cooling the body. A non-breathable shell garment prevents this drying process from being effective, by trapping the moisture as condensation on the inside of the shell material. The enclosed thermal layers remain wet, and their insulating properties are reduced as a result. There is an enormous range of waterproof and breathable outerwear on the market. This includes technical mountaineering shells as well as simpler (and less expensive) garments which are ideal for general outdoor use and, at the same time, perfectly suited to trekking trip and easy trekking peak climbing.
It is important to keep your extremities warm, and you must not neglect your head and hands when selecting the equipment for your trip. Gloves and a hat or balaclava made from stretchy thermal material make a good base layer for your head and hands. On top of this you should consider a warm fleece hat and a pair of warmer gloves or mittens. Waterproof overmitts are essential for climbing on a trekking peak.
A down jacket is a welcome luxury for evening wear on most treks and becomes an essential item of gear for our Himalayan trips in December and for any trips with camps above 5000 metres (16,000 feet). However, these are expensive items and if you think that you will need a down jacket, and you do not possess one, consider borrowing one instead. Without doubt the best insulator in terms of warmth for weight is pure down - it is at least 100% more efficient than the best synthetics when dry. (Its performance when wet is not so good, so if you have a down sleeping bag or jacket, keep it dry!).
Sleeping bag and camping mat
A good quality sleeping bag is essential on all trips involving camping. A full-length side zip is required to facilitate ventilation on warmer nights. A cotton or fleece liner adds to the warmth and comfort of a bag and prevents it from becoming excessively soiled. A camping mattress is needed primarily to insulate you from the cold ground, and you should take a good quality closed-cell foam mat or you should consider the more expensive self-inflating Thermarest. We advise all clients to bring with them a cotton or fleece sleeping bag liner to use with their main bag. (We rent out suitable sleeping bags and Thermarest mattresses).
Sun protection should of course always be taken seriously. A wide-brimmed sunhat or headscarf should be used to keep the sun off your head. At altitude, the sun’s rays are particularly strong, and sunglasses with 100% ultraviolet and infrared filtration are recommended, such as Vuarnet PX5000, Cebe 2000/3000 and Bolle Irex 100. These glasses are available with detachable leather or plastic sidepieces, which give increased protection, especially from reflected glare, and you should give serious consideration to such ‘‘glacier glasses’’ for any trek which includes walking or climbing on snow. You should bring a plentiful supply of sun cream - a couple of large tubes of factor 6-10 for lower down, and some total block (factor 15-20) for above the snowline. Lipsalve of a suitable filter factor is also necessary.
A 30-40 litre (1800-2400 cubic inch) day pack should be large enough to carry the following items on trek.
- waterproof shell gear
- fleece jacket, extra pair of socks, or sandals
- water bottles (2), with at least 2 litre total capacity.
- camera plus accessories, binoculars, etc.
- small first aid kit.
For climbing trips:
You will need a slightly bigger backpack than for a trekking-only trip. A 60-65 litre (3500-4000 cubic inch) pack is required to carry more warm clothing and food during the climbs, and also your personal climbing gear.
Whether you are going on a trek or a climb, please pack your day pack before leaving home to check on its size. If you have any questions about gear, please do not hesitate to call us for advice.
For climbing trips and any KE trek that crosses steep, glaciated terrain, the following items of climbing hardware will be needed.
10 or 12-point crampons with front points are required. You should choose a pair which fit your boots and which are light and strong. For many of our highest climbs, we recommend plastic mountaineering boots and these will accept crampons with ‘step-in’ bindings. Crampons with step-in bindings are quick and easy to fasten on to your boots when making a pre-dawn Alpine start. Plastic boots and step-in crampons are the best combination for cold trekking peak trips and high climbs.
For some of our lower climbs, we recommend that semi-rigid, B2 rated, boots are appropriate. These boots may only work with 'strap-on' or 'semi-step-in' crampons. Grivel, Charlet Moser and Black Diamond are examples of crampon manufacturers.
Again, lightness and strength are the 2 most important characteristics that you are looking for in an ice axe. For trekking trips that include a high pass crossing or sections of glacier travel a 'walking axe' of between 55 and 65 centimetres in length is OK. Note that walking axes are intended for ice-axe braking and occasional assistance, they are not intended for continuous hard use. For climbing trips, where the axe might actually be used to help your progress up the mountain, an 'Alpine axe' of around 55 centimetres is recommended. Alpine axes are likely to have a slightly curved shaft and a more drooping pick than a walking axe. They are made to stand up to a lot of hard use, but also work perfectly for general glacier travel. Speak to a member of KE's expert staff if you are unsure about your choice.
Grivel, Black Diamond and DMM are examples of ice-axe manufacturers .
A simple, lightweight mountaineering harness is recommended, such as the Black Diamond Alpine Bod Harness.