Mount Whitney Winter Packing List

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This is a list of what you'll need for the Club Winter Mountaineering Trip to Mount Whitney, and the training trips to Mt. Baldy. As such it includes what you'll need for a winter mountaineering trip in the Sierra (excluding things like ropes and rock protection, which the trip leaders will take care of).

For a more general sample packing list, see Packing List

Large Items

  • Large Backpack. Internal or external frame.
  • Small Summit Pack for the summit day. There are several options, each with disadvantages. You could take an extra small day pack with you, which makes for a nice summit day, although it adds weight on the approach. You could also take a small camelback pak (although a camelback bladder is likely to freeze ). Some backpacks let you use the top-pouch as a fanny-pack. You can wear your outer jacket and put lots of things in the pockets, or combine this with a previous method (but make sure you can still carry enough water). If none of these work, you can always use your main backpack, but even though it might feel light on your shoulders, it adds a lot of weight to your legs.
  • Straps for the backpack, or some other means to attach snowshoes (and other gear you can't fit inside) onto your pack. In addition to normal camping gear, you'll be carrying snowshoes, a helmet, crampons, hiking poles, an ice axe, etc. These bulky items are often easier to attach to the outside of your pack, but make sure you have (and test!) a system to attach them.
  • Sleeping Bag, a warm one. Either down or synthetic will work. If you don't have a warm enough bag, you can try to borrow one by asking on the club email list, or by renting one from REI. You should be prepared for nighttime temperatures as low as -5F / -20 C. Note that different people have very different requirements for sleeping bags - at 0 F, many people will feel cold in a -5 or even -20 rated bag, while some will sleep fine in a good 40F bag.
  • Sleeping Pad(s), foam or thermarest/inflatable. A good pad is very important for staying warm (remember you'll be sleeping on snow!). Many people bring a second pad in the winter, as the added insulation keeps you a good deal warmer in the night, and also offers some redundancy should an inflatable pad puncture. These can also be rented at REI.
  • Ski/Hiking Poles, if you want them. Many people swear by them as aids for hiking and crossing snow and for saving your legs on the descent, but others consider them a waste of weight.
  • Snow Shoes. The club has several pairs, and REI also rents them. Most kinds will be acceptable, though those designed for steeper terrain are ideal. Backcountry skis are also appropriate (you will need skins) - please let the trip leaders know if you plan on skiing.
  • Ice Axe. Most kinds will do - for this trip, light is good. Typical sizes are 60cm, 65 cm, or 70cm. Long axes are more comfortable to use on moderate slopes like those we'll be climbing, but are heavier. Taller people will want longer axes. You may also want a leash to prevent your axe from getting lost if you drop it, though one is not required for this trip.
  • Crampons. For snow, almost any kind will do, but you probably want the lightweight, flexible strap-on crampons. If you’re taking plastic boots and only have step-in crampons, those are fine too. Do not use 'in-step' crampons, which have only a few points in the middle of the boot (they don’t have front-points). Your crampons should have 10 or 12 points. If you have step-in crampons, you must have compatible boots! See Crampons. Important: adjust your crampons to fit your boots BEFORE the trip! Adjusting them in the cold and snow is slow and often frustrating, and on more than one occasion, people have discovered their crampons don't even fit their boots!
  • Crampon Storage if you plan on putting your crampons inside your pack. You can buy a crampon case, or make one for yourself out of an old pair of jeans. You could also try to attach the crampons to the outside or your pack.
  • Boots Leather or plastic are best; part-leather, part-nylon is unacceptable for winter. Your boots need to be stiff enough to accommodate your crampons (they do not need the special crampon groves, if you’re using strap-on crampons), they should also be reasonably waterproof, and they should be warm. Plastic boots achieve these requirements better than leather, but are less comfortable and more expensive. I recommend plastic boots because they will be warmer. If you use leather boots, do so at your own risk, and be sure to waterproof them just before the trip. See Mountaineering Boots for more.
  • Helmet for rockfall protection. A mountaineering/rock climbing helmet is best, but a bike helmet will suffice.
  • Harness for tying into the rope on the last part of the route before the summit. The ideal harness for this trip is lightweight and with snap-open leg loops (the Black Diamond Alpine Bod is a good, cheap choice). However, any harness will do.
  • Cord for prussiks. You will need this to attach yourself to the fixed line at the top of the route. One or two 8 foot cords of 6mm width will work nicely. You can go to REI and get the length you need from the big spools there.
  • Locking Caribiner. You need one locking carabiner. A large, pear-shaped design is nice, as you'll mainly be using this to rappel.
  • Belay device. An ATC or similar design (Reverso, etc.) is ideal. Anything else is overkill and heavy.
  • Shovel for digging out campsites and for avalanche preparedness. Collapsable, metal shovels are ideal. Every single person might not need to carry a shovel, but they are always in high demand while setting up camp, are useful for staking out tents in the night, and are rescue gear in case of an avalanche, so bring one if you have or can borrow one!
  • Two-Way Radios, if you have them.
  • Avalanche Transceiver and Probe if you have or can borrow them. The club has some, which we'll bring.

Items Per Tent or Cooking Group

(it's most convenient to have your tent and cooking group be the same)

  • Tent, 4-season if possible. Our campsite at Iceberg lake is likely to be windy. If you only have a 3-season tent, that's life.
  • Tie-Down Cord for your tent. The is essential! Stakes will not work. You can use snowstakes if you have them, build deadman anchors, or use ice axes, trekking poles, snowshoes, and the like to secure your tent - you will need lots of cord for this!
  • Backpacking Stove and matches/lighter. Either the canister type or the fuel bottle type is fine (e.g. isobutane/propane mixture vs. white gas). We will need to melt a lot of water at night, so the stoves will get plenty of use. The aluminum foil sheets that you can setup around your stove are essential for cooking in the wind.
  • Fuel for your stove. Take plenty, as melting snow takes a lot of fuel and is almost certainly going to be our only source of water at high camp.
  • Cooking Pot with lid. You will probably only need one, and it will mainly be used to melt snow (as such, reasonably large pots are nice).
  • Food. For breakfast, we’ll want to eat quickly. On the summit day, try to have a ready-to-eat breakfast that you don’t need to cook. For dinner, let your imagination run wild, but keep it light. Remember that because water boils at a lower temperature, any item that requires boiling water will take a while to cook. Some basic suggestions for those who are cheap and do not have discriminatory taste buds, are: couscous, buttery dried mashed potatoes, high protein (~30 g.) bars, summer sausage, salami, cheese. Or for light-weight and convenience, try the freeze-dried meals available at stores like REI. Some people like ramen noodles, due to their simplicity. See Favorite Backpacking Meals.
  • Drink Mixes (optional). Sweet drink mixes are a good way to increase your hydration. Gatoraid works fine, but there are better mixes like gookinaid, endurox, accelerade, etc. (check out a bike store for options). Some brands claim that a bit of protein speeds up absorption, which may be true, but the mixes with protein make cleaning out the container much harder (the protein sticks to the sides, while sugar does not). As an added bonus, mixes may lower the freezing point of water or prevent it from freezing solid.


Clothing is fairly subjective - work with what you have, but avoid cotton like the plague and remember that it will likely be very cold and windy!

  • Long Underwear tops and bottoms. Polypro, merino, etc.
  • Socks, thick wool (or synthetic). Thin synthetic liners are also popular. Bring at least two pairs of thick socks , as your socks will get wet due to sweat and/or snowmelt.
  • Pants and perhaps Waterproof Shells. Unless you have expedition-weight long underwear, you’ll want insulated pants (e.g. fleece, or soft-shell). NO JEANS! For waterproof shells, the expensive gore-tex style ski pants are excellent. However, if it’s not in your budget, here are two alternatives: use either windbreaker pants (not waterproof) or cheap waterproof shells (not breathable); or use a cheap waterproof/breathable material (e.g. the Red Ledge fabric – pants for $30). For any kind of shell, especially the thin ones, be very careful about slicing it with your crampons. The best shells have thicker fabric on the inside of the calf. Sturdy gaiters also help. Full-length side zippers are very convenient.
  • Gaiters, sturdy. A strong fabric on the inside of the calf is nice, since cheap gaiters often get shredded by crampons.
  • Upper Layers, such as a fleece or wool shirt.
  • Down Jacket for camp and when not moving. If you don't have one, you can replace it with layered fleece or wool jackets.
  • Shell Jacket
  • Hat, warm. You can even bring two hats, as they're light and do a lot to keep you warm.
  • Gloves and Mittens. During the day, there’s a good chance your gloves/mittens will get wet, so bring another pair for use in camp. Gloves and mittens are light, so it's not unreasonable to take several pairs. There are obvious advantages to both gloves and mittens, so pick your favorite (or take both). Reasonable waterproofing for your main pair is essential. Light fleece gloves can be nice because they’re dexterous while putting on crampons, etc., and because they dry quickly. Many people use a liner glove inside a thicker glove.
  • Balaclava / Scarf / Facemask / Neck Gaiter. High winds are probable, so something to cover your face will protect you from frostbite.

Small / Misc Items

  • Sun hat for the approach. It will be very bright on the snow. If you burn easily, consider bringing a hat with flaps to cover your neck, or a bandanna under a baseball cap.
  • Sunscreen. Do not bring a large container. I good idea is to refill a small plastic container; REI sells nice small containers, while many people use an old 35mm film canister. The altitude and reflective snow mean that even if you don't usually burn, you can get roasted on the approach, so sunscreen is essentially for almost everybody.
  • Chapstick with SPF. Your lips can easily get burned. Burt's Bee's Lifeguard's Choice is a good option.
  • Sunglasses, preferably very dark ones. You can use specific glacier models, or put tape on the sides, or just use normal sunglasses.
  • Goggles, useful if it’s windy. We will continue to the top in high wind (as long as it’s not a storm), and it’s no fun to have to turn back because your eyes hurt from the blowing snow.
  • Headlamp. We’ll be starting the summit day at night, so you need a headlamp. It’s hard to beat the modern LED headlamps. You probably only need one headlamp; don’t bother about a backup.
  • Extra Batteries for headlamp (and camera). You should bring a backup set; batteries die very fast in the cold and you don't want to get stuck in the dark.
  • Camera, if desired. Light-weight cameras are suggested, but if you want to lug your huge SLR we won't stop you! See Alpine Photography.
  • Small first aid kit. Pills are lightweight, so you can take small amounts of whatever medicine you want. Ibuprofen is useful. Gauze and tape for emergencies is also nice.
  • Mole skin or athletic tape, for blisters. If your boots are new, then you can count on blisters. Athletic tape or duct tape can be put on before you hike as a preventative measure. If you use moleskin, bring a small knife or scissors. Waterproof tape is nice, so that the tape doesn’t come off once you start to sweat.
  • Small knife, if you want. Keep it light, if possible – no need for a hunting knife or very large swiss army knife.
  • Toilet paper and WAG bags . We will need to pack out our waste.
  • Misc. Toiletries, e.g. contact solution, toothbrush, small amount of toothpaste (you can find small containers in the Trial Size / Travel section of CVS). For contact solution, consider a small plastic bottle from REI to put a few ounces of solution in . You’ll need to sleep with the solution so it doesn’t freeze. Prescription glasses are ok, but try to have some clip-on shades because it’ll be very bright (unfortunately, clip-ons don't work well, so expect your eyes to burn). You might also want to bring a small container of moisturizing lotion, because the sun and wind will be very harsh on exposed skin.
  • Personal utensils and bowl. You might not even need a bowl, depending on your food plans (i.e. you can eat dinner out of the big pot). If you’re having instant quaker oats for breakfast, the “paper” packets are actually reinforced with plastic, and will hold hot water, so you don’t need a bowl. For utensils, metal will work but plastic is lighter. REI sells nice lexan ones, but you can get very sturdy plastic ones for free from the condiments section at Whole Foods. If you’d like, bring a mug for hot drinks, or just use a water bottle. You probably don't need any utensils beyond a spoon or spork.
  • Compass. It’s very lightweight and cheap, so no reason not to have one.
  • Whistle . Nice to have in case you get separated from the group, or for another emergency. They weigh next-to-nothing. Many new packs have a built-in whistle, but test it to make sure it's loud enough.
  • Map. If you've printed one out, make sure it's in a plastic bag.
  • Water bottle. The widemouth bottles are nice because you can pour water into them easier. Any kind, but make sure it doesn’t leak. Take 2 or 3 liters. Water tubes (camelbak, platypus, etc.) are often more trouble than they're worth, since they freeze very easily, but the pouches can be useful as lightweight and compact supplements to your water bottles.
  • Snacks and lunch. Bring things you like to eat, and eat them! Energy bars, dried fruit, etc. etc.
  • Duct tape, for all-purpose jobs, if desired. It’s useful for blisters, torn clothes, torn tents, fixing snowshoes, etc. I generally carry athletic tape – you probably don’t need both duct tape and athletic tape. You can store duct tape wrapped around a water bottle or hiking pole - you don't need to bring an entire roll.
  • Watch with Alarm. Very important for mountaineering! We’ll need alarms to wake us up in the morning, and in general we’ll need to know the time so we can plan accordingly. Not everyone needs a watch, but every subgroup should have at least one.
  • Ear plugs (optional) for more restful sleep at night (unless you’re responsible for waking up to the alarm).
  • Pee bottle for use inside the tent at night (definitely optional). Some people like to use a bottle so that they don't have to go outside.
  • Cell Phone (optional). Cell phones can be very useful, although coverage in the mountains is very limited. With a large group, only a few people should take phones.
  • Iodine for treating water. Many people don't treat alpine water in the Sierras, but many people do. The risk is up to you. You need one or two full tablets to kill giardia; you only need a small fraction of a tablet to kill everything else, except cryptosporidia (which isn't killed by iodine at all, although it isn't much to worry about if you have a healthy immune system). Note that iodine degrades over time, and you should get a new bottle after 6 months to a year. Storing it in the fridge or freezer slows the degradation.

Items NOT to take

  • Webbing, carabiners, rope, etc. The leaders will have what we need.
  • GPS is probably unnecessary on this trip and just adds weight.

See Also