Mt Vinson Gear

Gear for Mt. Vinson

As I get closer to leaving for Antarctica, it is time to layout all my gear and check, double check and check again. Overall, I will take almost the same items I used on Everest or other 8000m climbs even though Vinson is “only” about 5000m or 16,067′.

Antartica Katabatic Winds
Antarctica Katabatic Winds

It’s the Wind, Mr. Scott

While temps can hit -40F, it is the wind that creates the extreme danger. Katabatic winds are the culprit. These winds come down from the high mountains sometimes at hurricane force bringing all activity to a halt, including flights in and out. Of note is the first flights for the 2010 season have been delayed over a week as of this post.

I am limited to 50lbs of personal gear on the Russian IIyushin 76 cargo plane which will take us from the tip of South America, Punta Arenas, Chili to Union Glacier, Antarctica, basically a GPS coordinate on the ice at 79° 45’S 083° 14’W at 2,600 feet. Weather depending, a Twin Otter then takes us to Vinson Base Camp, located at 7200 ft on the Branscomb Glacier to start the climb.


The biggest challenge is to manage the heat and extreme cold; so as usual this calls for layers. I start with a base layer of Merino wool tops and bottom, another merino wool top (with zips for venting) then add a Polartec one piece suit. This is what I will live in the entire climb.

The outer layer begins with a solid soft shell stretch pant. These are lined and wind resistant. On top is a heavier wool hoody with a full zip or a lightweight wind shirt (with hood) if I need a bit more warmth but no serious wind protection.

As the wind picks up or I get cold, I start to add layers. My first line of defense begins with a soft shell wind resistant jacket or a lighter down jacket. At this point I begin to get serious about hand and head protection.

I always have my wool cap on plus a pair of lightweight gloves. As I get cold, I simply pull my hood up since it is rare for me not to have a hood on something I am wearing. I use a glove system that goes from liners to wind protection to serious cold protection to full mittens depending on the conditions. They are all available on an outer pack pocket or on the top inside my pack for easy access.

A thick balaclava protects my entire face when needed. My glacier glasses never come off and are always attached with a strap. Like my mittens, my goggles are never far away.

Extreme Protection

For Vinson, I am keenly aware that the weather can change a moments notice so having access to my last layers is the difference between begin uncomfortable or worse. On my legs goes down pants and for the ultimate my full Gortex bibs with full length zips so I can get them on in under a minute while wearing crampons. On top goes my 800 fill down jacket with full hood. And the piece de resistance is my Gortex hardshell, with hood.

Remember, my goal is to never have more than 3 layers, not including my wool base top and bottom, on at any one time so a bit of quick change is required. Something I have been practicing on harsh training days. All my clothes are packed unzipped, including full length leg zips to allow for a quick addition.

If I am still cold at this point, it is time to crawl back in the tent and my -20 bag!

Last thing to cover are the feet. I am using an integrated gator/boot system with an insulated inner boot. Two pairs of socks, one light and one a bit heavier do the trick.

So this is what it all looks like laid out on the floor:

Gear for Mt. Vinson
Gear for Mt. Vinson

Odds and Ends

A few more items are my technical gear for climbing: harness, crampons, 70cm ice axe, jumar, caribiners, prusiks, cord and crampons. I also have two water bottles with insulators, small thermos, cup and bowl. I have not mentioned but also critical are some meds and personal toilet items.

For me I also carry my electronics so I can send dispatches. This starts with a satellite phone and PDA plus a small solar panel and various cords. Of course I have my camera and POV video camera. On thing not needed on Vinson is a headlamp since the sun never sets in November!

All of this goes in my85l pack. In addition, I am hauling a sled which is tied to my pack.  Somehow all my personal gear plus some group gear including parts of tents, food, stoves, fuel, etc. is split between pack and sled. By the way, this is almost identical to the scheme on Denali.

If you want to see more specifics on brands and models, take a look at my gear page where I list all my gear and note my favorites. One of my goals with the 7 Summits climbs is to create what I am calling the Ultimate 7 Summit gear list that shows what works across all 7 climbs.

I’ll report back after Vinson and let you know what is different for Aconcagua, the next climb.

Climb On!


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7 thoughts on “Mt Vinson Gear

  1. Greetings and brrrrrrrrr Alan! You are in one of the most magical places on earth. I hope you are enjoying your climb of Vinson. It is an amazing experience, that will test you and change you. Physically I came back looking a little worse for wear, but mentally I was on top of the world. Good training ground for Everest. When will you be on Kili? I’ll be bringing a group with Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease to climb Kili from July 10-24. It would be great to finally meet in person. All the best to you on this climb and all 7. Great cause, great man, great memories. Climb on! -Lori

  2. Hi Alan,

    I love what you are doing. I am big supporter of your cause. I put a link to your blog/site on my blog. I am new to mountaineering, interested in making my own ascents over the next few years. Since I’m new to everything, I’m beginning with long spring/summer/fall climbs just to improve my fitness. My current goal is the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains in New Hampshire on Memorial Day. From there I am hoping to try a winter climb of Mount Washington next February.

    I think climbing for a cause is a great thing. You have definitely inspired me. Have a great climb up Mt. Vinson! I look forward to following your progress.

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