Prior to heading off to the Himalaya next week, Alison Culshaw shares her methodical approach to expedition kit preparation:
A mountaineering expedition can involve a huge financial outlay and countless days of physical preparation before departing. Having finished packing for heading off to Ama Dablam I thought I’d share a few thoughts on packing for that big trip away. I know many people can get away with throwing things in a bag at the last minute, but that doesn’t work for me, nor does it sit comfortably having invested so much in other aspects of the preparation not to do the same when it comes to equipment. I can get away with throwing things in a bag if it’s a place I’ve been to before and I know what is ahead of me; but not when it’s a first.
I’d recommend getting a kit list, or writing one, as far in advance as possible. Sit down and write it as soon as you’ve booked your flights. It is a good idea to get kit lists from various sources, to gather information so that you can then make informed decisions about what it is best to take. I combined kit lists from 3 sources and from there came to my own conclusions about what I needed. This was then supported, or changed, by asking other people. Avoid asking for information on forums; you don’t necessarily know where the answers are coming from. I tried to stick to reliable sources that were known to me; people that I knew and had been to the mountain before. Watching videos of people actually on the route was helpful to see what they were wearing and using. My kit list has many scribbles on it; every week something gets added or crossed out. It’s a work in progress right up until departure day.
Then it’s the fun part; time to start shopping. I started shopping for my expedition boots 6 months before the trip. This gave me time to try some on in the shops, look around for the best deal, get out on the hill and use them, and enough time to get others if they weren’t right. You need to try things beforehand. With that goes accepting that you might discover it’s not quite right. It’s not a cheap process to go through but it’s cheaper than having a bad trip because your boots don’t fit.
It’s best not to take any short cuts testing the kit out. Take my expedition mitts for example. They arrived in the post and I added them to the packing pile. As an afterthought I put them in my rucksack for a climb prior to the expedition. It’s a good thing I did as dropping one down the north face of the Midi is less consequential then dropping it off Ama Dablam... The wrists loops were a fixed size loop of elastic that was far too big for my wrist. They have now been swapped for the adjustable ones on my old gloves to avoid the same problem again! I like to have new and shiny things for a trip; but I’ve learnt the hard way that tried and tested is actually much better!
Have a think and ask around to see if there are any bits and bobs that you can leave to buy in country (the sort of stuff that doesn't need testing beforehand). You might well find it’s cheaper and it’ll save weight on the plane.
Everybody warns you about the time that needs to go into the physical and technical preparation before a trip, but for me kit preparation shouldn't be under-estimated. For almost every training run or climb I did I discovered something that needed changing with regards to my kit.
It’s time consuming and can be expensive to get it right; research it, source it, buy it, test it and repeat if required.
Alison operates Off Piste Performance, based in the Chamonix Valley, where she has been teaching and skiing for over 7 years. She delivers Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to the British Mountain Guides and works as a trainer on the BASI Mountain Safety Courses tutoring aspiring instructors.
We wish her success and a safe return on her forthcoming attempt on Ama Dablam's SW Ridge.