Paring it Down to the Essentials: A Guide’s Gear for a Three-Day Mountaineering Trip

As a guide with the American Alpine Institute on Mt. Baker, I often end up working with clients who try to bring all the appropriate gear but end up bringing just a tad more than necessary. In this post, I will talk about the gear I bring with me on a 3-Day Baker Skills and Climb trip and how I pared it down to its current amount. I hope this will help you on your fast-and-light adventures!

mountaineering essentials

58 Mountaineering Essentials

To start out, here’s a standard list of what I bring on a Baker 3-Day…

Climbing gear:

  1. Crampons
  2. Harness
  3. Ice axe
  4. 1 ice screw
  5. 4 locking carabiners
  6. 6 non-locking carabiners
  7. 20-foot cordelette
  8. 2 double-length slings
  9. 2 pickets
  10. 1 rope
  11. Waist and foot prusiks
  12. Helmet


  1. 1 pair soft shell pants
  2. 1 pair hard shell pants
  3. 2 pairs Smartwool socks
  4. 2 pairs underwear
  5. 1 sports bra
  6. 1 t-shirt
  7. 1 Patagonia R1 pullover
  8. 1 lightweight synthetic puffy jacket with hood
  9. 1 large parka (skip this for late-season trips)
  10. 1 hard shell jacket
  11. 1 soft shell jacket
  12. 1 Buff
  13. 1 wool hat
  14. 1 pair lightweight liner gloves
  15. 1 pair mid-weight gloves (I like Kinco wool gloves, which you can buy for $15 at your local hardwear store. Wool works great in the Cascades as it still insulates when wet).
  16. 1 pair heavyweight gloves with removable liners


  1. Tent
  2. Inflatable sleeping pad
  3. Sleeping bag (Anywhere from 0-degree to 30-degree depending on when in the season you go and how warm or cold you sleep.)

Getting around:

  1. Trekking poles
  2. 1 65L Cilogear Worksack backpack (The Cilogear packs are perfect for climbers. You can remove the lid and the back suspension so it turns into a lightweight rocket pack for summit day. Part of the suspension is also just a foam pad, which you can remove and use to sit on or for extra insulation under your sleeping bag at night. They also have convenient attachment points for your ice axe and crampons.)
  3. Boots (Double-plastic boots for early season, single boots for late season to shave weight and to keep you from roasting.)

Food, eating and hydration:

  1. MSR Reactor stove with 1.7L pot
  2. Fuel (8oz. for early season and 4oz. for late season when you no longer have to melt snow for water.)
  3. 1 MSR folding spork
  4. 2 breakfasts
  5. 3 lunches
  6. 2 dinners
  7. Assorted tea and hot drink packets
  8. 2L Platypus Hoser Reservoir
  9. 1 half-size Nalgene water bottle


  1. iPod and headphones
  2. Glasses
  3. 1 magazine (I started bringing magazines as they are lighter than books and I’m not scared about trashing them.)

Other Mountaineering essentials:

  1. First aid kit
  2. Lighter
  3. Knife
  4. Sunscreen (Dermatone with Zinc oxide works best.)
  5. Chapstick with SPF protection
  6. Trash bag
  7. 2 Biffy Bags (For packing out human waste.)
  8. SPOT Locator
  9. GPS
  10. Baker map
  11. Compass
  12. Small notebook and pencil or pen (For keeping a trip log/guide’s notebook. I use this to make notes on what to bring or skip for future trips as well as to track how long it takes to get from one point to another on the route with clients.)

Oftentimes, as I help climbers load and unload their gear from AAI vans, my immediate reaction to their packs is, “Whoa, what on earth do you have in here?” I’m often surprised by how much gear clients end up bringing and how my pack ends up being lighter even though I’m carrying the rope, pickets, and emergency communications equipment on top of my personal gear. Part of this difference comes from having had so many trips to refine my systems. While up on Baker I actually keep a trip notebook with notes on what to bring (or what not to bring) with me on future trips. This is a great strategy for refining your own gear systems!

4 Mountaineering Packing Mistakes to Avoid

Whether you’re looking at a Baker trip or an awesome adventure elsewhere, here are a few mistakes I often see that you might try to watch for:

  1. Bringing too many clothes. You don’t need clothes to sleep in and a separate pair of clothes for pajamas at night! Just bring pants, a t-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt for your base layers and call it good. You’re going to get scruffy up there and no amount of changing your clothes will prevent it.
  1. Bringing the wrong amount of food. Climbers often end up either way over-caloried or way under-caloried on Baker. Think through exactly how many meals you need—two breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners while you are on the mountain. Extra dinners or breakfasts will only add unnecessary weight to your pack.
  1. Failing to identify multi-use items. Figure out what in your pack can be used as more than one thing and take advantage of it. I can eat directly out of the pot for my MSR stove so I no longer bring a bowl. I can drink tea out of a half-size Nalgene (which also serves as a water storage container) so I no longer bring a mug. My iPod has a camera on it so I no longer bring a separate digital camera. Figure out what items can serve more than one purpose and try to trim out any extra gear you don’t need. All the little things add up!
  1. Bringing excessively burly tents and sleeping bags. You don’t need a super heavy Mountain Hardwear Trango tent or a -20-degree bag for Baker. You need 0-degree to a 30-degree bag and a good, solid double-or single-wall tent appropriate for the size of your group (i.e. don’t bring a four-person tent for two people). Early in the season, err on the side of a warmer sleeping bag. Some of this will depend on how cold you sleep—I’m a cold sleeper so I bring a 0-degree bag in the early season and a 15-degree bag in the late season. I know other guides who are warm sleepers who get by with a 40-degree bag for late-season trips, and thus cut down on bulk and weight. If you are blessed with a powerful internal furnace, you may be able to do the same. 

Many of these gear choices are about trimming down weight in tandem with figuring out what works for you. Sometimes you have that one item you just can’t live without—whether it’s your morning coffee or your extra warm sleeping bag. Just make sure you don’t have too many of these “comfort” items and you trim down your pack as much as possible. The lighter your pack, the easier your life will be in the mountains.

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Story and photos by Shelby Carpenter