Backcountry Rock Climbing Gear Guide
Drew Thayer goes over his kit for backcountry rock climbing in this gear guide.
Mammut Revelation Dry 9.2mm Climbing Rope
This slender, durable rope spans a large range of uses depending on which version you get. I’ve been cragging with standard-coating (Revelation “protect”) 70-meter rope all summer and have really enjoyed it; this rope has a soft hand and a soft catch, and is very durable. After 3 months of weekly use, it is hardly showing signs of wear. Mammut Revelation Dry Climbing rope 9.2mm $260
Mammut Revelation Dry – lighter
Considering the 9.2 mm width, I’m a recent convert to today’s skinnier ropes. These days, a fresh crop of ropes in the 9.0 -9.4 mm range are quickly becoming favorites amongst climbers (while the standard for ‘skinny’ has moved down to the 8.8 mm range – mostly for ice climbing). I used to always crag on 10.2 mm ropes for their durability, but that was largely because it was what we all did in the late 00’s. I was reticent to use such a skinny rope for sport climbing, but now that I’ve tried it, I’m not going back.
This rope only weighs 57 g/meter, and the weight compared to a fatter rope is really noticeable, especially on long pitches, and when lifting the rope to clip. Considering that ropes thicker than 9.6 mm often weigh 61 to 68 g/meter, it’s no surprise that you can notice the weight difference. A 9.2 mm rope also takes up less space in your backpack (or duffel bag if you’re flying, making a skinny rope like this a great choice for traveling). We used to be concerned about skinny ropes cutting on edges, but rope technology has improved over the years, and ropes like this one, with a sheath proportion of 36%, are very robust to edge cutting.
Mammut Revelation Climbing Rope 9.2mm
In the mountains, it’s nice to carry just 60 meters of rope, and the benefits of dry treatment can matter if you’re going to rap onto a slushy glacier or might get caught in a thunderstorm. I tested the 60 meter, dry-coated version of the Revelation in the Colorado mountains this summer. It’s a great choice for multi-pitch climbing in the mountains. The sheath does not absorb water and it’s very durable, however, the dry coating makes this rope much stiffer, and thus susceptible to more twists and snarls. Thus, I’d only recommend dry-treatment if you’re going to be climbing in alpine and/or wet terrain – if not, stick with the non-dry.
If your feet fit La Sportiva climbing shoes, then lucky you… they’re the best in my opinion. For years I’ve used the La Sportiva Katana Lace as my go-to trad and crack climbing shoe, so I was curious about the new Kataki shoe – it looks really similar to the time-tested Katana Lace. I climbed in the Kataki this summer on rock ranging from high-country gneiss and thin-edge quartzite in Colorado to grit-like granite in Index, Washington, and I’m super impressed with these shoes. They are my new go-to crack climbing shoes.
This shoe is very similar to the Katana, with a few notable differences. First, similarities: they share the asymmetrical toe box which focuses edging power on the big toe, and the offset lacing which protects the laces from cutting while jamming thin cracks.
Now differences: The Kataki is a bit more slender in the last and the toe box, which lets you get more purchase jamming in thin cracks (however broader feet might prefer Katana Lace). The Kataki is also both slightly more aggressively down-turned AND slightly softer than the Katana, some wizardry achieved by the combination of the P3 platform underfoot (which transfers weight to the point of the big toe) and the S-heel design which lets the shoe hold your foot in a natural down-turned shape.
The result is a shoe that edges extremely well, can be torqued into any shape of crack, and smears better than the Katana Lace because it’s a bit more soft and sensitive. In short – the ideal shoe for varied crack and face climbing found on most trad routes.
Review of La Sportiva Kataki Climbing Shoes
For super-tech bouldering or fierce 30-degree overhangs, there are probably more ideal shoes. That said, if you were traveling and only brought these, and happened to climb in a steep cave, I wouldn’t worry about it – these are very versatile. $175
For me, the La Sportiva TX2 Approach Shoes are the ideal light approach shoe. They are low-profile, hike really well, and climb as well I’d expect a shoe to climb (I’ve climbed up to 5.8 in them). I wore the burlier TX4 shoes for a few seasons, and these just feel like a lighter, more compact version – 280 grams instead of 370 grams.
I’ve used them to approach climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and to ramble around the Enchantments in Washington and my feet were happy the whole time. At one point we got mired in a bog and I totally soaked my feet, but these have mesh uppers like a running shoe and dried out after an hour of walking. I’m comfortable wearing these shoes on 4th class and low 5th-class ‘approach pitches’ and feel that they edge, smear, and jam as well as any approach shoe I’ve worn.
The big plus for me is that these shoes have enough tread and cushion to feel good on long hikes with a loaded backpack, but can hang as a compact package on your harness. In fact, they have a unique system of built-in elastic straps that you can use like rubber bands to attach the shoes together and hang them as one item on your harness – AWESOME. There are a few other low-profile approach shoes on the market, like Evolv Cruzer Psyche ($80), but they don’t have enough substance to be comfortable for me for 10+ miles of hiking.
Review of La Sportiva TX2 Approach Shoes
The TX2 shoe is probably not ideal if you’re going to be walking through lots of snow and/or covering lots of ground with crampons on, like in the Bugaboos. For more alpine travel I wear TX4s, which fit better in strap-on crampons and treat the leather with snow-seal. But for 3-season use that’s not on glaciers or steep snow, TX2 is the best approach shoe I’ve yet owned after trying shoes from La Sportiva, Five Ten, and Scarpa. Note that La Sportiva tends to run narrow, so folks with really wide feet might not prefer them. $130
Clothing for backcountry climbing – Backcountry Rock Climbing Gear Guide
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
This is the best climbing windbreaker I’ve ever owned. It hits the magic balance between minimalist design, low bulk, durability, and weather resistance that make a single piece of clothing cover a vast range of conditions. It’s really light (210 grams), and you can shove it in your pocket or stuff it into its chest pocket and hang it off your harness. But lots of windbreakers do that.
Where this jacket really shines are the fit and the fabric. In size M, this jacket fits just slightly loose over a t-shirt, but also fits over a light puffy, so I can use it in any combination of layers that I might find myself in. The hood fits really well over a helmet and lets me articulate my head up and down, side to side with complete freedom, but the hood also adapts to a bare head with a quick adjustment to the elastic strap and works just as well.
This piece is cut a little longer with rock climbing in mind: the sleeves are long enough to still reach my wrists with my arms extended overhead, and the lower hem is low enough to stay tucked into a harness – not always true for smaller windbreakers.
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody materials
This jacket really stands out because of the Schoeller Nanosphere fabric, which gives it the weather resistance of a softshell with the lightweight of a windbreaker. It blocks wind and rain like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi softshell (424 grams, $129), but is way more compact. This stretchy fabric is durable like a softshell and can withstand the abrasive nature of scrappy trad climbing much better than light windbreakers. I used to wear my Patagonia Houdini (105 grams, $100) for all kinds of climbing, but I ripped the sleeves too much. I’ve grovelled up off-widths and ground my shoulders against corners in this Alpine Start Hoody and it shows no signs of rough wear.
I don’t know what kind of special sauce they used to make this fabric, but it totally works – it completely blocks wind, and water seems to just bead up on the surface so you can flick it off. I’ve found it has enough water resistance to keep me dry during aerobic activities in light rain, which is better than my other windbreakers.
I took an early morning run in Tacoma, Washington this summer and within minutes the pre-dawn sky was dropping steady showers. After an hour of running in constant rain, I was still generally dry, the fabric of the jacket was barely wet, and my shirt underneath wasn’t even soaked since this jacket is so breathable.
The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody is such a versatile piece, I’m wearing it for everything – climbing, running, mountain biking – and I’m looking forward to touring in it this winter. $165
These are excellent 3-season climbing pants – they breathe well, dry quickly, are fairly durable, and are cut in an athletic fit. Those four qualities are pretty much what makes a pair of pants adequate for climbing, but the Traverse pants include some subtle, thoughtful features that give to make them particularly well adapted to rock climbing.
First of all, the fit is excellent for climbing (although the inseam could be longer for lanky guys, see below). A gusseted crotch, articulated knees, and a cut that just hugs my hips, without being tight, allows for unrestricted high-stepping and stemming.
It’s nice to climb without a backpack, but I often want to carry small items with me. The Traverse pants have five pockets – two in the hip crease, two on the thigh, one behind – and they all close with low-profile zippers. Not only are the zippers secure (can’t be dropping things up on the wall), but their slim design avoids the rub spots that form on pants with thick zippers and pockets.
On multi-pitch climbs, I usually fit a Gu packet or small bar in one of the upper hip-crease pockets, and a folded route description and another bar in the thigh pockets, which are easily accessible while hanging in a harness. The thigh pockets also fit an iPhone (in a case), which is handy if you’re using your phone for route info.
I didn’t think this would be a big deal, but the adjustable ladder-lock waist tightener is a great feature. It does the work of a belt, is quite easy to adjust, and 100% cannot slip over the course of the day, unlike elastic or toggle-style waist tighteners. As someone who needs to wear a belt, but forgets to move my belt between all my pants and shorts, I love this feature.
The Traverse Pants are constructed out of a lightweight, slightly stretchy nylon that is durable enough for what I’d consider a 3-season pant. Lightweight and breathability trade-off against durability, and these lean more towards the light side, which makes them suitable for summer temps, however, the tight weave of the nylon blocks wind quite well. The result is a pair of pants that didn’t feel too hot on a hot, muggy day at Index, Washington, but also kept my legs warm enough on a cold, breezy day in the shade on Mount Evans in Colorado 2 weeks later and 30 degrees cooler.
The only thing these pants aren’t well suited for is sustained abrasive climbing – if you wear these on off-width cracks in Vedauwoo or Utah sandstone, you will probably wear through them. The pants have a DWR (Durable Water Repellency) applied, but in my experience, DWR rarely lasts long on pants because they are always being abraded by the rock, scrubby brush, the rope, unfortunate cactus encounters, etc.
Black Diamond Traverse Pants sizing
My only disappointment with these pants is that BD doesn’t make a size that fits tall, skinny legs (e.g. 30” waist, 32” inseam). With only Small, Medium, and Large to choose from, I have to go with Small to fit my 30” waist, but the pants ride kinda high above my ankles. I would love to see a 32” inseam option next year for us scrappy guys. $149
Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket
My Patagonia Nano-Air jacket travels with me almost everywhere – it’s super versatile, dries quickly, and is warm for its bulk. Notably, it breathes really well, so you can wear it while hiking on a cold alpine-start morning without breaking a hard sweat. Often, if I’m chilly after a cold belay, I’ll just keep this jacket on while climbing the next pitch – I don’t tend to overheat while wearing it.
I was a little disappointed that the older version didn’t stuff into its pocket, but they just released a new version, the Nano-Air Light Hybrid, that does, which is very convenient for clipping to a harness during a pitch. On a trip to the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming to climb a sustained route up a broad face called Super Fortress, I brought this as an insulation layer along with a fleece long-sleeve shirt and a light windbreaker.
This jacket takes up very little room on the back of my harness so I had it with me all the time and was happy to have it at belays since a chilly wind was often whipping near 13,000 feet. After the colder belays, I left the jacket on to climb the pitch, and it’s so low-profile and athletically cut that I didn’t even notice it and could focus on the climbing.
Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket review
This jacket is my go-to layer for active pursuits in colder temperatures, year-round, and the new Light Hybrid version is designed even better for climbers (it comes in a hooded version as well). $249
Patagonia Nano-Air Pants
For those who insist on climbing in winter, or enjoy overnight backcountry ski tours, you may be excited to know that Patagonia is releasing Nano-Air pants! They are mega comfy… will definitely be coming with me on hut ski trips this winter. However, their utility in winter climbing may be limited, unless it’s REALLY cold; since they don’t have side zippers, you can’t really use them as belay pants.
Patagonia Nano-Air Pants review
It goes without saying that these are luxurious while hanging around camp, and are super nice for the chilly fall nights outside we’re starting to have. Pure luxury around the campfire! $179
This is a great belay jacket for climbs on shady north walls in the Rockies, where it always seems to be 50 degrees or below and windy no matter what the forecast. Being synthetic, it’s durable (can’t lose feathers), has a high loft for a synthetic jacket, and only weighs 15.3 oz (in Medium). The hood works great with a helmet and combined with the high neck zipper, really seals you in from cold breezes.
Two weeks ago I climbed a route on the Black Wall on Mount Evans, CO. Despite getting some sun in the morning, the early fall air was pretty cold above 13,000’ altitude, and once our route passed into the shade, I was really happy to have this parka. Each time I put it on, I felt really toasty within a minute. It’s easy to stuff into a small climbing pack, and it also comes with a stuff sack to hang off your harness, although I find the stuff sack they included to be curiously large…I actually found a smaller stuff sack in my gear closet that works better. It’s nice to keep bulk to a minimum for items hanging on the back of the harness.
This jacket is filled with a ‘pluma fill’ fiber that Patagonia developed to mimic the spirality and loft of down, but it retains loft really well when wet. This is a great bonus on excursions where you expect rain, and this jacket was tested in cold rain this summer on a bike-packing trip in the Crested Butte high country and a jaunt into the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming to climb alpine rock. Both times I was caught in light rain wearing this and the inside of the jacket stayed dry despite the outside getting wet. Since this jacket is relatively low-volume compared to a winter-weight down parka, it fits comfortably under raincoats and even windbreakers, so you can add a shell layer and really be storm-proof and warm while wearing this, and not worry about the inevitable water dripping down your sleeves, etc ruining your down insulation.
I found this jacket (and many Patagonia items) to run large. I ordered a medium initially based on the sizing chart but ended up having to exchange for a small (I’m 6 feet tall, average-length arms, slender).
Backcountry.com recently started branding their own clothing, and while some of it is a great value, this jacket isn’t the best value considering it’s features and price compared to other options on the market.
This jacket makes a solid, durable belay jacket that’s suitable for 3-season temps in the Rockies, or shorter periods outside in winter (maybe not long belays while ice climbing). It’s really similar to Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody ($280, 15 oz) or Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket ($280, 17 oz), with horizontal baffles and a helmet-friendly hood. This jacket weighs 18 oz, heavier than the others because it’s filled with 750 fill down instead of 800 fill and is cut a bit roomier. Given the lower quality materials, I think it should be more than $10 cheaper, however, the nylon is thicker, making a very durable, long-lasting option for a down jacket.
Lightweight camping gear for backcountry climbing – Backcountry Rock Climbing Gear Guide
Backcountry climbing packs are heavy. There’s only so much you can pare down the rope and rack (are you going to run it out to save some cams?), so it’s a real win if you can save weight on camping gear, and there is a lot of potential to save weight by choosing a light sleeping bag.
For summer use in the Rockies, I’ve been super impressed the Thermarest Hyperion 32 degree sleeping bag – it’s truly warm down to 32 degrees if you’re inside a tent or bivy sack, and it’s crazy light! It only weighs 17.6 ounces (less than a lot of down parkas) and takes up about as much space as a Jetboil. The compression sack really lets you squeeze this thing down to minimal volume, which I really appreciate for packing a climbing pack. It’s a minimalist bag – narrow foot box, short zipper – but that’s the whole point.
Some people may be wary of the 32-degree rating (Thermarest also make a 20-degree version), but I sleep cold and have found that this bag is fine as long as I wear long johns, warm socks, and a lightweight puffy jacket, which I usually do anyway. This is my usual strategy on backcountry rock climbing trips: carry more weight than I can wear around camp or on the climb (i.e. a warm parka) and less weight in the sleeping system.
I brought this bag on an excursion into the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming, where the night temps were always below 40, and we woke twice to frost on the grass. I slept just fine, and I also slept well in this bag in temps in the 30s in Colorado inside a wind-proof bivy sack. I consider this to be the tradeoff to carrying such an insanely light sleeping bag: I need to sleep in some warm clothing too and to be comfortable near-freezing temps I need to be protected from the wind (tent, or bivy sack). An open bivy in this at 32 degrees on a windy ridge would be cold. Consider your options and make your own choice – if you want a little more warmth, the 20-degree version weighs 20 oz in size regular. $340
Sleeping pads are really light these days, and you don’t need to sacrifice weight to carry a pad that will keep you warm on snow. The Exped Synmat Hyperlite (R-value of 3.3) weighs 12.3 oz and is bomb-proof durable, it also doesn’t make the annoying crinkle sounds when you move around at night. Big Agnes makes an AXL Insulated pad that’s even lighter (10.6-15.9 oz depending on size – comes in Mummy or Regular) and just as warm, but it will creak and crinkle even if you just move your foot – let along a full roll-over. Imagine sleeping on a pile of bubble wrap. My wife instructed me not to move. That said, if you’re good at sleeping in one position, it’s worth the weight savings. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We hope you have found this Backcountry Rock Climbing Gear Guide helpful. Drew put a lot of time and effort into this guide. Thanks to the awesome companies that helped make this Backcountry Rock Climbing Gear Guide happen!