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Mountain + Peak + View

KIT LIST PART 1: MONT BLANC CLOTHING 

At 4,810m (15,781ft), Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe, sat between Haut-Savoie, France, and Aosta in Italy. Despite involving no technical climbing, it’s an undertaking that should not be approached lightly: it requires decent fitness levels, acclimatisation and glacier travel skills (including crevasse rescue techniques). Here, Rory McCrea from Snow+Rock Covent Garden lists the essential clothing (Part One) and equipment (Part Two) needed to summit the White Mountain.


Footwear

BOOTS

The right boots can be the difference between success and failure. If you are doing the trip with a guide or through a guiding company, find out if they have any minimum requirements for boots. Normal winter walking boots are not good enough. As a bare minimum, you’ll need to consider general mountaineering boots, however a number of guides prefer people to choose warmer, stiffer options (it can get below -20°C, especially in the early mornings).

 

Visit us in-store to try as many boots on as possible in order to find the best fit. Expect to start at least one size up from your normal shoe size. We may have to try footbeds and make use of other boot fitting techniques to provide the best fit (there aren’t as many options available as there are in walking boots).

Almost as important as the boots. If you suffer from blisters or are concerned about cold toes, then use them with liners. Take at least 3 pairs of each and don’t use them for more than two days to reduce odour and the risk of abrasion/blisters. Check out our blog on the benefits of technical socks.

CRAMPONS

12-point general mountaineering crampons are ideal. The best crampon is the one that fits your boot the best!

GAITERS

This depends on whether or not your boots have an integral gaiter. Ideally you want ones with a Velcro-only closing system (having a zip can be fiddly). Make sure that the gaiters fit over the boots as securely as possible.

The mistake most people make is wearing either too many layers or wearing clothing that is too warm. The result is getting hot and sweaty, faffing around removing layers and an unhappy guide (who might punish you by setting an even brisker pace). Speed and efficiency are both key to safety in this environment. Ideally, start out cold with the bare minimum of clothing, but there’s an element of working out what’s best for you. For most, a base layer and shell should be sufficient; others might require a very light fleece.

BASE LAYER

This is the layer next to your skin. Base layers do two things: help move sweat away from the skin and help provide warmth.

FLEECE/MID LAYER

You’ll need something cost effective, quick drying and light. For somebody who really feels the cold a ‘furry’ fleece will be a warmer option.

This is a great alternative to a fleece which provides wind and water resistance. Ideal for early morning alpine starts before the sun begins to warm things up. Consider whether you want more breathability or better wind/water resistance, less weight or more durability. As a general guideline, anything with a membrane will be less breathable but provide better weather resistance than most jackets without a membrane.

The lighter weight options are more breathable, less warm and less water resistant. If you feel the cold easily, thermals for the legs on summit day are probably a good idea. 

WATERPROOF JACKET

The ideal alpine waterproof is something as lightweight and as breathable as you can afford. The hood should fit over a helmet, the hem and cuffs should not ride up and the pockets should not be blocked by a harness or backpack hip belt. Overall the jacket should be a fairly close fit with enough room to wear a base layer and extra layer, with no tightness across the back or in the arm pits.

 

Tip: Raise your arms to test for rise/cuff drop and hunch your back to test the fit.

WATERPROOF OVERTROUSERS

A well-priced full or ¾ zip option carried as a ‘just in case’. Some people prefer heavier, hardwearing trousers and don’t use softshells. The drawback with this approach is that they’re less breathable than softshells as well as being fairly pricey.

This keeps you warm when you’re not moving. A fairly common mistake is assuming that an insulating jacket needs to fit underneath a waterproof. Instead, put it over the top of your shell when you stop moving so you don’t lose heat by taking off your shell. It also means less faffing!

 

There are two types of insulation to choose from: down jackets and artificial insulation jackets. For an alpine summer, a lightweight down jacket is normally fine. The higher the down quality, the lighter and more expensive the jacket. It’s possible to get hydrophobic down too, which resists water.

 

Down jackets have a better weight-to-warmth ratio and pack smaller, but they’re more expensive than artificial insulation. Artificial insulation jackets are normally better priced than down jackets, however they’re heavier and larger than a high-quality, equivalent-warmth down jacket.

 

Hands + Head

GLOVES

There is no perfect glove system that works for everyone. Light or medium liner gloves or fleece gloves should be fine. Take two pairs just in case you lose one! Softshell or leather gloves are a great addition. They are wind/weather resistant, reasonably breathable and more dexterous than heavy gloves, but not as warm. You will still need warmer gloves or warm mitts, just in case.

BEANIE/BALACLAVA/NECK WARMER

A lightweight, low volume wool or fleece beanie is essential. Make sure it fits comfortably under a helmet. A Buff or wool neck warmer can serve as sun protection and insulation and can be used with a beanie/balaclava.

 

Tip: a balaclava can also be used as a neck warmer!

 

This is just as important as a warm hat! Even if it’s cloudy, sunburn can be a problem. A broad brimmed hat is preferable to a peak hat, unless it’s the style that has a flap covering the neck.

The best option is category 4 sunglasses. Some may be fine with good category 3s, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. Whatever you take, ensure they fit well and let in as little light as possible. The higher you go, the more intense the light becomes. This is compounded by snow and rock reflecting light. Julbo do a great range of glacier glasses at varying prices, depending on the lens.

 

Tip: Take your normal sunglasses as a spare pair! Goggles are a ‘just in case’ bit of kit. If you do get caught out by strong winds, you’ll be glad you have them. It’s surprising how painful the elements can be when the wind’s howling! Choose orange or yellow lenses for low light conditions.

 

PLEASE NOTE: This kit list has been written with non-technical ascents in mind (like the Gouter route) and for those who will be either using a guide or at least the huts (there is a short list at the end of Mont Blanc Kit List Part 2 for those who plan on not using the huts).


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