The weather is the Sierra is constantly changing and you do not know what you are going to encounter from day to day. We have hiked and backpacked in the Eastern Sierra in all four seasons and the coldest temperatures we have encountered were on the summit of Mt. Whitney...in August. On the other hand, we have been blessed with an absence of inclement weather when we have attempted to reach the summit here. In about a month worth of days we have seen 30 minutes of rain. This is not to say we have not had our share of thunder, lightning, hail, slushballs, snow, rain and whatever else God can think up for the Sierra...including 4 straight days of rain in July 2006.
Our experience tells us to bring some extra stuff to the trailhead because you just never know what you are going to encounter...like the four days of rain when the National Weather Service said there was a 30% of rain just the first day of the trip, the snowstorm up to Piute Pass on Labor Day Weekend or winter conditions in Bishop Pass on a 4th of July Weekend.
Come prepared for the worst.
Main Trail Gear Lists
Early Spring/Mid Fall Gear List | Main Trail Summer Gear List
West Side Gear List (5 to 7 Days on the Trail)
Base Layer...These are items against the body. Temperature determines what is chosen.
Penn State Baseball Hat...Your basic keep the sun and sweat out of your eyes hat.
Mountain Hardware Dome Perignon Fleece Hat...This is tight fitting heavy weight fleece hat with Windstopper because it's cold and windy at dawn, our preferred time to be on the summit
Ex Officio Air Strip Shirt...Button down front, button up sleeves equal a very versatile shirt.
REI MTS Boxer Briefs...Extremely comfortable and fast drying
Mountain Hardware Convertible Pants...I haven't found anything I truly like but these are demonstrably better than what I've had. My preference would be an affordable pair of soft shell convertibles
Outdoor Research Flurry Gloves...These wool-blend gloves are extremely warm even when wet
Lowe Alpine Warm Zone Zipper Top...This versatile reversible top is light or mid-weight baselayer depending on which way you wear it
Marmot Sharp Point Gloves...If you heading up to the summit for sunrise you will want an extra pair of gloves to replace those damp one you wore most of the night
MH Power Stretch Balaclava...If high winds are expected this lightweight head gear will keep you a lot warmer in your night time camp
Mid Layer...Tain't base or outside
Marmot DriClime Windshirt...I love it, my primary hiking partner hates it. Marmot claims this is the equal to Polartec 200
Arc'Teryx Gamma MX Hoody Jacket...If there is absolutely no rain in the forecast I'll dump the PreCip Jacket and DriClime Windshirt for this soft shell
Insulation Layer...The warmie layer
Feather Friends 800 Fill power Hyperion Down Jacket...It replaced a 300 wt. Polartec Fleece jacket and dropped pack weight by a pound with a gain in warmth and a luxe pillow
TNF Sentinel Windstopper or Patagonia R2 Fleece Vest...Usually in the winter or early spring when temperature barely reach above freezing during the day
Moonstone Uber Down Parka...Replaces the Hyperion Jacket for winter backpacking trips or if we expect the night time temperatures to get into the teens
Outer Layer...The stuff that stops rain and Wind
Marmot PreCip Jacket...It's marginally breathable but it's never let us down. We use it more for wind than rain.
Marmot PreCip Pants w/ Full Zips...Great in wind and rain. The full zips allow for easy on and off and allow the pants to be vented between cloudbursts
REI Mistral Soft Shell Pants...I used these pants to glissade from Trail Crest. My butt got cold but not wet. My primary late fall/winter/early spring pants
TNF Mtn. Light GTX Pants...Only in winter when staying dry is job #1.
Footwear...Lot'sa big pebbles on this trail
Kayland Contact Rev...Junk,this is the 2nd pair that the eVent sock has leaked. Other than that they are a well constructed mid-weight backpacking boot
Smartwool Hiking Socks...Thickness depends on the boot I choose. The only negative to these socks is they dry very slowly when washed at the end of the hiking day
Ultimax Sock Liners...The best liners we have found but it appears they have been discontinued
La Sportiva Trango S EVO GTX...Have worked well on Mt. Whitney trips in February and May 2007, when there was snow around
Smartwool Sock Liners...Exclusively in the winter when I am not washing things
Pack, Hydration and a few other things
Osprey Aether 60 Pack (Modified)...Best pack under 4 lbs., it will handle about 35 pounds comfortably...including a Garcia Machine bear resistant canister. Cinches down to a manageable summit pack. The current model of this pack is about 1 lb. heavier than the one I use
Equinox Silnylon Pack Cover...a little heavier but a lot easier to use than a trash can liner
Platypus 1.8 L Hydration System...Take a 2nd bladder for you trip from Trail Camp. Much lighter than a Camelbak but less durable...we own both
Steripen Water Purifier...The water along the MMWT very clear lending itself to the use of this 4 oz. purifying system
Black Diamond Spire Trekking Poles...BD has replaced Leki as the premier manufacturer of trekking poles
Bucci Denali Glacier Glasses...My headaches are gone since I've gone to glacier glasses. I keep a microfabric cloth in the case to keep these clean during the trip
Nalgene Bottle...For the Cytomax and purifying water
Platypus 1 L Bladder...You have to keep the wine somewhere other than a heavy bottle...no corkscrew required
Nalgene 12 oz. Lexan Flask...The Kahlua goes here for coffee. We don't do roughing it too well any more...my hiking partner usually brings the Jack
Osprey Day Lite Pack Summit Pack...For a stash and dash trip from Lower Trail Crest after a night at Guitar Lake or thereabouts
Sleep System...Feathers and air are the only way to fly
Black Diamond Lighthouse...Used as a one person tent. Very stable in high winds when guyed...much better than the other tents I own and have owned
Marmot Pinnacle 15° F 800 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bag...Heavier than comparable new bags but a great bag nonetheless.
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Mattress...The most comfortable mattress on the market today, especially if you sleep on your side. More delicate than a Therm-a-Rest. Be careful!
Therm-a-Rest Pillow Case...Throw in the down jacket for very luxe pillow
Ear Plugs...These things come in handy if you a tent partner who keeps the marmots up at night or if the wind is howling and the tent is flapping in the breeze
EMS -20° F Mountain Light Sleeping Bag...If the anticipated temperature approaches 0° F
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Foam Pad...as a 2nd pad, for on snow camping or expected low temperatures below 20° F
Cooking Gear and Food Storage
Soto Outdoor OD-1R Stove...Works as advertised, water comes to a boil very quickly at ~11,000' and near freezing.
Evernew 1.3 L Pot with Anti Gravity Gear Pot Caddy...The non stick coating isn't the best. This is now REI's house brand. The caddy keeps you meals nice and warm when it's cold
Clean up Kit...Scouring mesh, Wet Ones, Campsuds and Purell
Lighter...Just your basic Bic Lighter I have been using for the last 4 or 5 years
Light My Fire...The backup
Orikaso Flat Bowl...Takes up absolute no cube
Insulated Mug...You will need something to keep the hot chocolate hot
Seattle Sports Water Bucket...Purely for convenience and worth every extra ounce
Ursack TKO...The Inyo National Forest requests you use, "A container designed to prevent access by bears". This 6 oz. container is designed to prevent access by bears. If you go into the Parks see high price spread at he bottom of the Maybe if below
MSR Whisperlite Stove w/ Base and Mouse Pad...If we've got to melt snow for water this stove goes
Evernew 0.9 L Pot...If a meal requires a couple of pots
Wild-Ideas Bearikade Weekender Bear Resistant Canister...If the route takes me where an Ursack is not legal
Land Navigation Stuff...Almost Irrelevant
Suunto M-2D Locator Compass...Adjustable declination does away with guessing and figuring but with the crowds here it's really just a security blanket
Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley 7.5' Quads...The best format of maps. Easy to read and easy to figure out when you wander into geographic ambiguity
Suunto Vector Wristop Computer...Basically an altimeter. This is the tool I use the most for location when trail hiking. Don't count on the alarm to wake you up.
Garmin GSMAP 60CSx...Out of the GPS Dark Ages. Added a 2 gb card with all California and Southern Nevada Mapsource Maps.
Winter Stuff...Well, spring and fall stuff
Black Diamond Sabertooth Crampons...Much better than Grivel G10 I was using
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe...Your basic rated ice axe, the price was right and it replaces a very heavy BD Arc Light
Petzl Elios Climbing Helmet...See rock trails on the slope...put helmet on head
OR Crocodile Gaiters...They do a great job but they do get really warm
MSR EVO Ascent Snowshoes...Much easier to pack and more secure on traverses than aluminum tube shoes
Kathoola Microspikes...These do not replace crampons, they are for trailwalking and they are a must have if you are going in the spring
Sierra Designs Booties...Walking around on snow in cold damp heavy boots once you are camped ain't whole lot of fun
Sierra Designs Solomente Tent...Great one man 4 season tent which comes in at just over 3.5 pounds. Only if there is snow in the forecast and the skeeters aren't anywhere to be found
Sea to Summit 50 L Pack Liner...To keep the sleeping bag and the gear at the bottom of the pack dry
Miscellaneous This, that and essentials not previous mentioned
Toilet Kit...Here, that includes a WAG Bag...don't worry, the Ranger will tell exactly what this is. Our bag includes TP, baby wipes and a trowel
Pack Towel...Lightweight and quick drying
Black Diamond Spot Headlight...A hybrid light, 1-watt LED for night trail use and 3-Super Brights for around camp. This is the best headlight I have ever owned
Petzl E+Lite...an 1 ounce security blanket
Repair Kit...All sort of stuff to fix things that break
First Aid Kit...Pretty heavy because the government spend a lot of money training me to use this stuff
Itinerary...Leave it at home. If you are a solo backpacker stick to it and don't deviate from it.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5...Great point and shoot camera for the backcountry
Apple iPod Nano...This thing really helps you get up the 90 whatever damn switchbacks
Stuff Sacks and pouches...All make from silnylon
Dry Bag...If there is inclement weather in the forecast so, I might have a place to store the expensive electronics if it rains or there is creek to ford
You may have noticed the mention of layers at top of this list. This is the preferred way to go into the backcountry. They are generally referred to a base layer, mid-layer, insulation and shell/outer-layer. During a trip to the summit you might put on every piece of clothing you have or just your base layer, it just depends on the time you plan to summit and the ambient temperature.
What you want to do is wear as little clothing as possible and remain comfortable to a bit chilled. I have reached the summit when it was ~9°F in a howling wind with just a base and mid-layers on and I was just starting to chill. If you start to chill the first thing you add is a fleece hat because 85% of heat loss is through your noggin. You will be amazed how quickly this one small piece of clothing warms you up.
Once you stop, pile on the layers to maintain your warmth. This will be difficult because of a damp base layer and gloves, this is why you might want a second pair of gloves if you intend to be on the summit at dawn.
Group Gear vs. Self Contained
If have done a 180° turn around on this issue. We use to assign different items to each of our hiking partners and something would always go wrong. Today, we go out as self contained hikers. This means, if something fails or someone has to cut the trip short we have a lot of options. We have had stoves go bad, people forgetting gear and bringing the wrong thing for conditions but we have never shorten a trip because of it.
Some will find the above gear list excessive, the mid-weight hiking boots, the large pack and some of the redundancy, and to some degree we agree with these critics. This is what works for us...period! We are not ultralight backpackers, do like some creature comforts and don't mind hauling them up any hill, such as, an air mattress, water bucket, bottle of wine and full featured sleeping bag.
The forest service in their infinite wisdom believe weight equals safety, we base this on a scale and sign they've had at the trailhead last few years. Do not get caught up in this game. Just make sure you take the gear and clothing up the trail that you feel will keep you safe and warm in the conditions expected. We can head up this trail with a 25 pound pack and be safer than most heading up with twice that much weight. The formula is you trade comfort, knowledge and skill for a lighter pack weight. This is our choice, you most likely will make many different and equally good choices.
The New Stuff
The things we bought in the last year and why
Kayland Contact Rev Boots...Junk, 2nd pair where the eVent sock leaked. Kayland is pulling out of the US market
Outdoor Research Flurry Gloves...I figured these glove to be warm but I did not figure they stay warm even when they got slightly wet
Kathoola Microspikes...It took me a while to buy them but there has been a winter or spring trip they have not been in my pack. A great piece of gear
Suunto M-2D Compass...It rarely get used but functions perfectly when asked for directions
MSR EVO Ascent Snowshoes...Brand spanking new, I'll find out how they work next season
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