Editor’s note: Part of the formula for a successful expedition is knowing what gear to take. For human powered backcountry adventures, it’s a challenge to bring all the essential items while keeping backpack weight reasonable. Throw in the goal to conquer three major peaks during one trip to Alaska and packing becomes rocket science. The success of ‘SkiTheBig3 awed us. Here’s the list of gear that accompanied snowboarder Aaron Diamond during that outstanding mission.
163 Jones Solution split board. Reasonably light with some tip and tail rocker, it handles the variable conditions we’ve found on the trip pretty well. I’m still looking for my perfect board, but this is pretty close.
Dynafit Speed Radical toes. Combined with a Spark R&D adapter these mount easily onto the split board. With only toe pieces and a 163 board on my feet for touring I had the lightest skinning setup on the trip.
Bomber bails and Voile plates. Yup, the old tele binding bails. These go in my pack for the uphill and come out for the downhill. Stiff and burly but heavier than some of the other hard boot binding options out there.
Voile Tractor Skins. All nylon for better grip when hauling sleds.
Dynafit TLT6 Mountain (sized up and run without the tongues). The Dynafit “Ultralock” walk/ski mode seems much simpler and more easily repaired than other brands, and the boot seems to fit my foot better than its predecessor TLT5. I’ll be tweaking this boot a bit more to make it lighter and a bit warmer. Overall the TLT6 fits the bill for a snowboarder.
Intuition Dreamliners (sized up). Big, cushy, and warm. Intuition delivers a great product once again. Only downside is that in my sleeping bag they smell bad… really, really bad. Tips for molding them here.
40 Below Fresh Tracks Overboots. These have to be modded to accommodate the tech fitting on your boots. With a knife and some seam grip the whole process takes less than 10 minutes. I’ve been using these above 13k and my feet have been warm for the whole trip. Read Lou’s detailed review here.
Black Diamond Cyborg crampon. I opted to bring my slightly more technical crampons and axes on this trip mainly because I wasn’t sure exactly what sort of conditions we would encounter on Hunter. In retrospect an aluminium crampon would have fit the bill better and weighed less, but the frontpoints came in handy leading the bit of technical ice.
Petzl Aztar ice tools. They don’t plunge as well as a straight shafted tool but they swing like a dream. I brought a hammer and adze.
Black Diamond Whippet. I mainly carry this for arresting a crevasse fall. Also handy for moderate snow climbing. Detailed review here.
Black Diamond Couloir harness. Another new piece of gear for me for this trip having previously come from an Alpine Bod. A couple pluses and minus compared to the Bod. Pluses are it’s lighter, packs down smaller, and has a belay loop (Pretty handy for kiwi coils) on the down side I tend to have a hard time with the buckle when I have gloves on and I’d like 2 more gear loops. Detailed review here.
Glacier gear – Assorted locking and non locking binders, a foot, waist and 2 ratchet prusiks, 2 Black Diamond express screws (13cm and 22cm), and a V-thread tool.
Patagonia Mixed Guide Pants. I’ve been on the soft shell pants train for a number of years. These pants have a some reinforcement around the knees/lower leg and butt. A popular classic for high output activities in less than perfect weather.
Patagonia Super Alpine Jacket. Gore-Tex Pro Shell in a well designed jacket. Perfect for climbing above 13k.
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody. Probably my favorite jacket for 90% of my ski touring trips in Wyoming and the lower 48. Extremely breathable and windproof. Unfortunately not warm enough to stand alone above 13k but perfect for conditions lower down.
Patagonia DAS Parka. Warm and burly. I brought a heavier down jacket but didn’t use it much since the DAS has been plenty warm, even on the top of Foraker.
Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero Parka. This jacket fits the bill for the cold (-25F with moderate wind) we encountered on our summit day on Denali. I also wore it for the overnight bivy on Hunter. Too warm for the majority of the time but when you need it there’s no alternative.
Patagonia Nano Puff Vest. I usually throw this on as a mid layer when a base layer and shell aren’t quite cutting it. Packs down small and doesn’t way much. I always carry it.
Western Mountaineering Down Pants. The material the pants are made out of is prone to ripping quite easily. Great for sitting around camp, probably not so good for climbing in without a baggy shell pant over it.
Western Mountaineering Expedition Booties. Warm with a knee high Windstopper upper make these great for hanging around camp.
Black Diamond Punisher Gloves. My favorite glove ever. Dexterous for all of the rope work without sacrificing warmth. I usually get about 100 days out of a pair before holes start to form.
Kinco Leather Work Gloves. Not the warmest gloves ever but they are cheap and with a coat of Snow Seal once in awhile they last forever. My current pair have around 150 days and show no signs of stopping.
Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero Mitts. I can’t do much of anything with these on my hands but they’ll keep my hands warm even when hell freezes over.
I brought an assortment of base layers ranging from muscle shirt super thin type layers to expedition weight wool tops and bottoms. Various brands as well as Capilene and wool. The Outdoor Research stuff seems to be holding up the best.
Hats – Again, I brought an assortment ranging from my trusty Ski Arpa trucker hat to a heavy wool hat. When things get really nasty outside I pair them up with a Buff and a Patagonia balaclava.
Bern helmet. New for me on this trip. Great for skiing but hits my pack when I’m climbing and looking up causing it to slide down over my eyes.
Darn Tough socks. Even sitting around camp I can’t wear a heavy sock without my feet sweating. I use the ultra thin ski sock for just about everything. I haven’t been able to put a hole in them yet either. Without a doubt these are the best socks on the market. Read Lou’s detailed review here.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost -40 sleeping bag. I’m not a “warm” or a “cold” sleeper and I’ve slept in this thing down to -40 and the temp rating seems spot on. The Event shell gives me a little more peace of mind when it comes to keeping the down dry over such a long period of time — or during an unexpected night out. Only downside is that it doesn’t pack down small compared to the other bags on this trip.
Thermarest Neo-air. I’ve been using this as a stand alone winter pad for the past 2 years. Packs down smaller than a Nalgene and is super warm even without a foam pad beneath it.
Pack and sled
Mystery Ranch G-7000. For those of you familiar with Mystery Ranch you know they are known for making burly packs that carry extremely well. Unfortunately they aren’t the lightest packs in the world, but they work. The G-7000 is huge and fits everything and more. I’ve yet to fill it up. The heavily padded waist belt makes carrying heavy loads a breeze (or at least as close to a “breeze” as possible) and it’s not over the top in features. I’ve found the external pockets extremely handy to keep my crampons in to make transitions quick and easy.
Mountainsmith Sled. This was a loaner from a friend in Jackson who has better things to do in May and June than haul pig 7000ft uphill in Alaska. Rigid poles rigged to the waist belt of my pack with quick links make this sled side-hill quite well. A rope rigged on the front (similar to the drop chain on a patrol sled) acts as a brake for terrifying split ski descents. Sleds are an ongoing issue with Denali expeditions. They work well at low angles, but tend to be inefficient, downright torturous or even dangerous when the going gets steep or crevassed. More, nobody makes the ideal Denali sled. Read about Lou’s pulk mods here.
Patagonia Black Hole duffel. Another 100l of storage for stuff I don’t want to put on my pack. A couple pieces of webbing and some buckles keep this thing in my sled.
Ortovox S1 beacon. Ortovox S1 beacon – The same beacon I’ve had for years. The processor is not as fast as some of the other beacons on the market but I love the display for multiple burials. Detailed review here.
Black Diamond Guide probe. 300cm long and metal. Just what the doctor ordered when you’re trying to figure out exactly where that crevasse ends or where your buddy is buried.
BCA Chugach Pro shovel. Moves snow like no other shovel on the market. Also probably weighs more than any other shovel on the market.
GSI Fairshare mug with 40 below insulator. I eat a lot; this mug holds a lot. A match made in heaven.
Spoon and fork from my kitchen – I’ll get a bit weight weenie on some things but for a 45 day trip I didn’t want to have to eat with a spork. I’m also too cheap to buy nice titanium ware.
Nalgene water bottle with insulators. I brought a 1.5 and 1 liter bottles with a 40 Below and Outdoor Research insulators. Most days these start full and I return with about a half liter.
Klean Kanteen bottle. This stays at camp and has become my hot drink and sleeping bag bottle. The sippy top makes it less likely I Exxon-Valdez all over my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.
Last but not least…
Crazy Creek. I think I’d literally go crazy without this thing. Makes sitting around much more comfortable and saves my back for carrying heavy packs. (Editor’s note: Mandatory expedition gear for any trip longer than a week.)
(‘SkiTheBig3 was an Alaskan ski mountaineering expedition cooked up by four deprived (or perhaps depraved?) guys who never get enough ski and snowboard alpinism. Aaron Diamond, Evan Pletcher, Anton Sponar, Jordan White. The crew skied Denali, Mount Foraker, and Mount Hunter all during one expedition.)
Aaron Diamond hails out of Jackson Wyoming, he’s a big mountain snowboarder and guides in Chile during summers.