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Climbing with a Pack for Newbies

By: Laurel Fan, WAC instructor

This is a really basic guide for people who are kind of new to alpine climbing. It's not necessarily specific to the Tooth or other Alpine climbs but hopefully there can be something you can think about for those climbs. Here goes:

Minimize your pack and climbing with it will be easier and more fun!

While weight is what people think of first, your priorities should be more like:

1. Clutter
2. Volume
3. Weight

For the routes we're trying to climb, the weight of your pack is not going to hinder you much, but even if there's not much in it, your pack can seriously get in your way, as you may have learned in such settings as the chimney at Spire or the ice axe arrest station. Conveniently, you can remove a lot of clutter without buying expensive ultralight gear and without leaving stuff you might need.

Things that are clutter on the pack itself:
- rain cover
- Waist belt (remove, or clip it around the 'back' of the pack)
- Extra straps
- Lid (if it's removable, you can take it off or put it inside)
- Framesheet/stays
- things strapped to the outside and in external pockets

To fit your pack for climbing (you want your pack to fit differently for climbing and hiking):

1. Put your pack and helmet on and look up. If your helmet is hitting your pack and constricting your movement, it's too tall. Removing the lid (put it inside the pack if you want to have it for organizational purposes) can help. If the pack has a removable framesheet or stays, you may be able to remove them and then mess with the load lifter straps to make it more compact.

2. Put on your harness and your pack. Can you reach all your gear loops? If your back gear loops are covered, maybe you just need to shorten the shoulder straps. If there are straps flapping all over the place, maybe you need to remove some of them or trim them to length.

There are things that you want on the approach but do not want on the climb, for example, the water bottle that you drank on the approach, extra socks, long underwear, ice axe, etc. If the route allows, you can leave those at the bottom -- but don't take forever doing this and don't scatter your stuff all over the base of the route. (approach == when you're walking; climb == when you're climbing -- sometimes the distinction is kind of blurry). Obviously, the more stuff is in your pack the more it's going to get in your way. Consider a smaller pack than you think you need, even if you have to strap a few things on the outside on the approach (but preferably not the climb). Of course make sure you can do that in a way that nothing will fall off, even if you glissade, throw your pack in the snow, etc. Or just carry a second small pack for the climb.

For the rest of your climbing career you will get a better idea through experience of what you actually need and what you don't need (pay attention to what stuff you're bringing and not using, how much of your food and water you're actually consuming), learn exactly where you want your stuff and where, various tricks for avoiding carrying a pack like hauling around a chimney, etc.

Bonus 3 climbing with boots tips:

1. Don't obsess over how much easier it would be with climbing shoes, take advantage of the benefits of climbing with boots (really good at edging, can be more comfortable, and you're half an inch taller)
2. Look at your footholds (all the way until your foot is established on them, not just before).
3. Silent feet (deliberately so they don't make noise).

Bonus meta-tip:

Practice what you want to do. If you're going to climb with a pack in the mountains, don't make the mountains the first time you climb with a pack. Climb with it at the crag or at the gym. If you feel self conscious, just remind yourself that alpinists are at the top of the climbing hierarchy and gym climbers are at the bottom (silently, of course).