As an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certified alpine and rock guide and provider of the AMGA’s Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) courses and exams I am often asked what’s in my climbing kit. Then more importantly I was asked “why?” My guide service office is inside a climbing shop in Durango, CO. The climbing gear section is immense. I get overwhelmed looking at the variety of carabineers and slings. Somebody with less training or a new climber just beginning their vertical career would certainly be overwhelmed. With so many options and climbing gear not being inexpensive, there better be a good reason for everything I bring.
So, let’s pick apart my kit, piece by piece. The kit listed below would be for a day multi-pitch climbing in a venue such as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The climbs we typically guide are grade II to IV, 5.8-5.10, anywhere from 600 to 1,800 ft, and typically 6-10 pitches. These include classics such as:
Ground Control to Major Tom (Grade III, 5.8), Maiden Voyage (Grade, III 5.9) Escape Artist (Grade III, 5.10) Russian Arete (Grade IV, 5.9+) Journey Home (Grade IV, 5.10b)
- Harness – Laser CR Harness: 1 per kit. During the summer months, I pretty much live in my harness. From single pitch trips around Durango to multi-pitch lines in the Black Canyon. I want a harness that can do it all. At $119 retail (no, I do not pay retail, but this is still a great reference point) the Laser is a higher priced harness built for all pursuits. The gear loops comfortably hold a full rack of cams climbing, but pack flat against the harness when I have a pack on an approach. The No-Twist belay loop is probably one of my favorite innovations on Camp harnesses. From a guiding perspective this feature is great. It gives me more security when short roping and short pitching clients such as on the final pitches of the Russian Arête. It also helps facilitate tying a carbineer on a rope. (you’ll have to hire us for a day to learn that one…) The laminate construction is extremely comfortable (or as comfortable as a harness can be after 1,600 + feet) but still packs down small. I like a harness that can roll up and fit inside my helmet for approaches and descents. If you have one harness that goes sport clipping today, multi pitching tomorrow, and will send San Juan ice this winter, the Laser is the harness for you.
- Belay carabiner – HMS compact: 1 per kit The name HMS or : ‘Halbmastwurfsicherung’ derives from the German term for half Clove hitch belay, or Munter hitch belay. This carabiner excels at the Munter. It is a round stock carabiner that will allow for rope to smoothly flow over it. I like to have one of these on my harness at all times. It works great for: a master point carabiner on an anchor, belaying with a munter hitch, belaying off the belay loop with a tube device, acting as the rope bearing carabiner when belaying with a Piu2 in guide mode or Ovo, and as the haul point in a mechanical advantage system. It’s a great all around carbineer and comes with me regardless of the climbing mission.
- Carbines – large lockers – HMS nitro: 2 per kit Now this is my favorite At 55 grams it is an incredibly light-weight HMS carabiner. Similar to the HMS compact, but over 30 grams lighter this carabiner rocks. It will function flawlessly doing everything listed above at 34 grams less per carabiner. This carabiner also has a smaller nose profile than many comparable carabiners. Many climbers don’t consider the nose profile when purchasing a carabiner. A narrow nose profile carabiner will fit through smaller chain links.
- Carabiners – small lockers Photon Locker: 2 per kit. A great all around locking carabiner with an extremely narrow nose profile. This is the carbineer I choose to use as the “hanger” carbineer when belaying with a plaquette/ guide style belay device or Ovo. This is a great carabiner for anchor attachments as well, again given the tiny nose profile it fits well in chain links, providing me more working space. I often use this for my personal tether attachment on multiple rappels.
- Wire Carabiners – Photon wire straight gate. 1 per cam, color coded: These are my go-to wire carabiner. They are on all my cams, most of my slings, and anywhere else I need a wire-gate carbineer. These carbineers are the lightest full size carabiners on the market. They have an extremely narrow nose profile. It is also a great carbineer for use with a Garda Hitch/ the alpine clutch, used in a hauling scenario. This sometimes happens when somebody hs trouble pulling a crux move, such as the roof moves on Journey Home or Maiden Voyage. They don’t need to be hauled far, but just need a boost through a tricky few moves.
- Belay device – Piu 2. 1 per kit: This is a great all around belay device. It is less expensive than either the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4. It is heavier than the Reveroso 4, but lighter than the BD ATC Guide. The top hole, (the hole used to clip to the anchor when in plaquette/guide mode), is oriented in a manner that allows for cleaner ropes when compared to the Black Diamond ACT Guide (which is oriented the other direction). The Piu2 can be slightly “clutchy” when belaying with fatter ropes. That being said, I tend to avoid fat ropes these days, especially on multi-pitch climbs. Fat ropes are heavier, bulkier, and tire out the belayer & climber more due to added weight and friction.
- Extra Belay Device – OVO: 1 per kit: The Ovo is the choice when belaying up a second. It has larger vertical slots than the Piu2, Reverso 4, or BD ATC Guide. This provides an easier pull and lessons the strain on my elbows. Many climbers end up with tendentious in their elbows due to pulling ropes with high friction through a plaquette or guide style device.
- Rock Pro – Tri Cam evo, Dynema: 3-4 Tri-Cams per kit: These are classic and almost always come with me. I tend to take the three mid sizes, pink red, blue, brown. They are bomber, versatile, and light. What more could I ask for? Additionally, if we had to bail and leave some gear (there are no permanent anchors on any of the Black Canyon routes listed above) Tri-Cams tend to be more versatile than nuts alone. I prefer the dyneema over the normal nylon because they are lighter and I find they place better than the nylon.
- Rock Pro – Nuts: A must on any multi-pitch climb. One set of the Camp Pro Nuts always goes with my kit. They tend to fit a similar range as other brands of nuts on the market with only seven, when other brands need nine.
- Belay Gloves – Start Fingerless belay gloves: 1 pair per kit: What can I say? I like belying with belay gloves. Having a pair of gloves also gives me more control when short roping a client as well as more control when rappelling. Additionally, the Black Canyon is known for poison ivy. While I have never (knock on wood….) had an issue with it, I prefer to rappel the permanent fixed lines that the park puts in wearing gloves.
- Helmet – Speed 2.0: 1 per kit: Super light, super comfortable CE rated helmet. Some of the helmets on the market are centrally lighter, however I prefer a fully rated helmet. I could wear a blue napkin on my head and call it a helmet, but what good would it do? Given the nature of the Black Canyon (long routes, possible loose pegmatite rock, possible chos climbing) I prefer the Speed over lighter weight counter parts. In addition, when wearing a helmet all day, having something that is light weight strains my neck less and makes for a more comfortable day. Lastly, it is lower profile than many other models out there. If the wind picks up and I want to wear a hood, the Speed 2.0 fits under most hoods of wind jackets well.
- Chalk bag: 1 per kit: Big routes require a chalk bag. Nothing super crazy or special about this.
- Chalk ball. 1 per kit: Can’t have an empty chalk bag.
- Quad length Dyneema sling – Express Dyneema 240. 2 per kit: This thing rocks. It is the perfect blend of light weight and small size. I have drifted from constructing anchors with cordoletes. While I still cary a chunk of cord, the 240 dyneema is my preferred method these days. It is lighter, packs smaller, has less stretch (IE, my master point stays where I want it even when weighted). I like the Camp version because it’s not quit as dental floss looking as some of the other manufactures versions out there. When clients get to anchor on a long multi-pitch route they want to see something that gives them the warm and fuzzies. Something confidence inspiring. Just the slightly beefier prefer it over the skinnier versions some of the other seems to make clients more comfortable. In addition, the slightly larger size makes the knots easier to get undone than anything skinnier. See picture of quad attached.
- Double length Dyneema sling – Express Dyneema 120: My go to if there are bolts. Smaller, faster, and more maneuverable. Just like the enemy migs….
- Double Shoulder length nylon sling. Camp Express 120 CM: A plain old fashioned nylon double length runner is preferred for use as a personal tether given the properties of nylon VS dyneema. Nylon is more dynamic and therefore preferred when it is the main attachment point between the climber and the rope. The double length size works perfectly for rappel tethers.
- Single Length Dyneema Slings – Mach Express 60: 10 per kit. I tend to rack my cams, nuts, and Tri-Cams on my harness with slings over my shoulder. I pull the Nano 22 off all but four slings and just leave the Photon. Since all my cams are racked and color coded with Photons I do not need the extra carabiners. However, I do need full “draws” for the nuts and Tri-Cams.
- Quick Draws – Photon Mixed Express KS. 4 per kit: I like to have several quick draws on my when multi-pitch climbing. They are great for extending gear, and if there are bolts or some sort of bolt ladder, the nylon dogbone is easier for my second climber to grab than a dyneema alpine draw. The clipping action of the Photon goes without saying.AMGA Assistant Rock Guide & Apprentice Alpine Guide Gary Newmeyer standing on the top of the Black Canyon classic, Russian Arete (grade IV, 5.9+, 1,800 ft) in his Camp Speed 2.0 helmet and Camp Laser CR harness.
- Prussic loop – Sterling Hollow Block:I’m typically not a fan of pre-swen slings, but the Sterling Hollow Block curshes. This little sling is awesome for my conditional belay or “third hand” when rappelling and the perfect size for hauling.
- SLCDs (Cams) – Black Diamond Camalots: There are a multitude of companies on the marklet that make SLCD’s. I’m still a fan of the Black Diamond Camalots. They seem to the be the most universally used, which means the easiest to swap back and forth between leaders. I rack color coded and individually on the Photon carabiners.
- 1 x green C3
- 1 x red C3
- 2 x .3 Camalot
- 2 x .4 Camalot
- 2 x .5 Camalot
- 2 x .75 Camalot
- 2 x 1 Camalot
- 3 x 2 Camalot
- 2 x 3 Camalot
- 1 x 4 Camalot
- 1 x 5 Camalot or #3 Big Bro
- Nut tool: A must have for any multi-pitch climb. Great for cleaning stuck gear, cleaning cracks prior to placing gear, and for opening beers post climb.
- Pack – Patagonia Ascension 25: 1 per kit: This is a great multi pitch pack for full days. It can easily fit everything inside on the approach. I am not a fan of dangling climbing shoes off my harness for the approach. I can think of multiple occasions where folks get to the bottom of a climb in the Black Canyon only to see that something critical (like climbing shoes) has fallen off a harness. If this were anywhere else like Castleton Tower in Castle Valley or Ancient Art in the Fisher Towers, one could just turn around and go back to the car. Unfortunately, with the Black Canyon your exit strategy is climbing the route out. You need all the gear to be with you when you get to the bottom. I know other folks who hike to the bottom of the Black Canyon in their climbing shoes. I’m not a facn of that either. I also like how tiny the pack can get once I pull out all the gear. The lack of zippers means less to break or blow out.
- Climbing Shoes – Red Chili Spirit VCR or La Sportiva TC Pro: For all day climbing I need all day comfort. Both of these shoes climb at a high level, yet are still comfortable. A shoe only performs well if you are willing to wear it. Super tight sport shoes should stay home when you head to the Black Canyon. The TC Pro covers my ankle bone which as awesome when jamming my foot into cracks all day.
- Headlamp – Black Diamond Spot: Good all use light weight headlamp that can be locked in the off position. That way it doesn’t turn on in my pack. I want a light weight headlamp that can still give me some ample light in case we end up climing in the dark. At 200 lumens, the Spot works great.
- ROPE Sterling Nano 9.0 Bi-color 60 M: 1 per kit: Once you go bi-color, you’ll never go back. They rock. The Sterling Nano 9.0 is no exception. Ropes tend to be like cars. Ford VS Dodge? Toyota VS Honda? Everybody has their opinion. IMO, Sterling ropes handle better and are less cable like than many other brands on the market. They are supple, feed awesomely through belay devices, and with the 9.0 is lower bulk and weight while still being a full rated rope. I also don’t like to go under 9.0 for multi-pitch climbing. While there are certainly ropes that are skinner, on a long multi-pitch climb I prefer something 9.0 – 9.2. That seems to be the sweat spot for durability and weight. While some folks like a 70 M rope in order to link pitches, I prefer a 60. Lengthening pitches makes communication between belays that much more difficult. This can be a problem somewhere like the Black Canyon where the river is raging below you. A longer rope also is more difficult to deal with at belays, heavier, and can lead to more rope drag issues while leading. Most routes in the Black are very doable with standard 60 m pitches and a 60 m rope.
- First Aid Kit: 1 per kit: This is an entirely other topic. Come take a wilderness medical course from one of our Paramedic or EMT instructors. If the lead climber takes a fall and hits his/ her head you need to know the seriousness of the situation. Could you determine the difference between a critical head injury with increased intracranial pressure (ICP) that requires an urgent evac and just a bump on the nogen? Could you stop a critical life threatening bleed? Could you tell if the bleed was in a critical location? If you are climbing anything without a single pitch gravity fed rescue solution, let’s hope you can determine the difference.
- Emergency Communication Device: This varies, but typically I cary a Spot Global Phone as well as a Yaesu VX-7R VHF radio. I need to be able to call the Black Canyon emergency services by sat phone and then communicate with them via radio. Again, if something critical happened half way up a route in the Black Canyon, even just a small fall that resulted in a blown out knee where climbing was no longer possible, how would you communicate with the climbing rangers and rescue services? Just yelling is not an acceptable answer commercially, or privately (IMO).
- Food & Water: Have enough for the day. The North Rim routes, where the bulk of the popular climbing is can get very hot in the summer. I tend to carry 2 liters of water for the day as well s hydrating heavily before the climb. Bonking 4 pitches up the Russian Arête because I didn’t bring enough food and water don’t work. That being said, I do not like to bring much more than two liters of water. A liter weighs in at over 2lbs. I find that bringing more water just weighs me down, making me need to drink more. Two liters suffices. The MSR Two Liter Dromlite works great. It is durable but still packs down tiny. For food, I bring comfort food. I this tends to be a mix of bars, a sandwich, and some candy. Haribo Gold-Bears seem to be really good sending food…
- iPhone: This is my camera, notebook, guidebook, and toons all in one. I download the Mountain Project route beta and pictures prior to the climb. A great light weight piece of gear that is super versatile. Make sure to get the LifeProof case for it though. I like the Apple Airdrop to share photos taken with my clients immediately when back at camp. No more emailing. If I have the opportunity to take a picture of the climb prior to getting started, IE like the Russian Arête is visible from the North Rim camp ground, I do that. It becomes my own little topo route and gives me the most up to-to-date beta.
- Wind Shirt: 1 per kit: Some sort super light wind shirt/ jacket. This is likely going to stay in the bottom of my pack for the majority of the day. Therefor I want it to be low bulk, light weight, and free of bells and whistles. I don’t need extra pockets or zippers. The Camp Magic jacket fits this category. The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody also fits into this category well.
Posted by: Josh Kling –
AMGA Certified Alpine Guide, Certified Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide, & IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide