Exploring the mountains on your own? Here is what to take in your backpack

Exploring the mountains on your own? Here is what to take in your backpack

The mountains are the perfect place to unwind and distance yourself from the daily grind. Here you really can get some distance to civilisation and enjoy the outdoors. But caution is recommended as the mountains have loads of perils. Too many people get themselves into unnecessary danger each year with a lack of upfront preparation and the wrong equipment most – unfortunately not all – alpine dangers can be avoided with the right equipment.

We compiled a basic assortment in this article which should belong into every backpack for a mountain hike. Some people might find the amount of equipment exaggerated and would leave some of it at home. We on the other hand prefer to carry a bit more weight and feel better prepared for almost all kinds of situations.

The right clothes

The weather can be unpredictable in the mountains. You might be climbing up at a balmy 20° C under a steel-blue sky but the weather could change within an hour and you could have to face stormy conditions and 8° C or less on the way down. This might sound dramatic but quick weather changes are very common. That’s why you have to be prepared for all kind of possible weather conditions.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t head off in Shorts and T-Shirt on your hike. On the contrary – temperatures at the bottom of a mountain might not allow any more clothing. But considering that it will automatically get colder and windier the higher you climb you should take these items with you. That way you will be sufficiently prepared for all kinds of weather.

Trekking boots

Robust Trekking boots will offer efficient protection and stability for every mountain hike (consider the compatibility with your crampons for alpine climbs!).

Hiking socks

Socks are not just socks. The right socks will keep your feet dry, odorless and blister-free.

Robust Trousers

A robust trouser will protect you from low scrub, bugs and weather. Even if you decide not to wear one you should have one in your backpack.

Functional underwear

It warms when it’s cold and cools when it’s hot. Functional underwear is not a must-have but rather pleasant in changing weather conditions.

Gaiters

Gaiters offer protection from snow, ice, scree and dense undergrowth.

Hat and scarf

Wind and cold can make you miserable and cool you down quickly. It might be worthwhile to consider taking one thick and one lightweight scarf depending on weather.

Gloves

Depending on your kind of mountain hike you might need lightweight, robust or warm gloves. For very cold fingers you might want to consider very thin functional inner gloves that are available in specialist shops.

Lightweight scarf

Wind and cold can make you miserable and cool you down quickly. It might be worthwhile to consider taking one thick and one lightweight scarf depending on weather.

Warm undervest

When the temperature drops and the wind picks up a warm undervest made out of i.e. down feathers or fleece can work wonders.

Light rain jacket

A light rain jacket offers protection from wind, storm and rain. One of which you will most likely encounter in the mountains.

The right equipment

A successful mountain hike won’t only depend on your clothing but also on other additional equipment. Here we are listing a few items that we always take with us. Of course some people might feel that they rather keep the weight of their backpack as light as possible and omit some of these items. Out motto is that we prefer to ‘have something than to want somethig’. Some of these will make your trip a lot easier.

Camera

the mountains can offer the most spectacular scenery that you want to capture. We do recommend taking a shoulder strap to avoid losing the camera.

Walking sticks

They save the knees and make walking easier in impassable territory. It is of course a matter of taste if you want to take them with you – they are not a must.

First-aid kit

Take it for the little injuries, blisters and scrapes that might happen. It should also contain an emergency blanket. Alternatively you could take a bivouac sack with you.

Sunscreen

Sun has a lot more impact the higher you get on the mountain. Higher UV radiation increases the risk of sunburns considerably - so better don’t forget your sunscreen.

Sunglasses

Same reason as for sunscreen – higher UV radiation will require you to protect your eyes with sunglasses.

Mobile phone

If you do get into serious trouble the mobile phone might be the only option to call for help. Emergency calls work without a PIN or network. Tipp: Don’t leave it switched on the whole time as the battery might be low when you really need it. Look up the emergency number before you head off (in Europe: 112).

Map

Don’t go without. Even people with the best sense of direction manage to get lost sometimes.

Thermos bottle

It is very important to drink enough! It doesn’t have to be a thermos bottle, but in cold weather (especially if the temperature drops below Zero) a warm tea can be very helpful. A normal water bottle will also do the trick.

GPS device

Not a must-have but a nice help for navigating. A nice side effect is the possibility to track your tour and have a look at it afterwards. Most smartphones offer the same functionality.

Backpack

Of course all the equipment has to be stored and carried –impossible without a backpack. Without climbing equipment you will need about 35L backpack capacity and with about 40-45L.

Flash light

If your tour takes longer as expected you might get into the dark evening hours. Tipp: Use a head lamp to keep the hands free.

Alpine climbing on rock and ice

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If the normal mountain hiking is getting too boring you might want to try combined tours that involve rock and glaciers. This will require additional climbing equipment. As above you should give it a good thought what to take with and what you might be able to do without.
First of all – if you are unexperienced with alpine climbs you should organize a mountain guide. He will tell you what equipment you will need or might even be able to provide you with it.
For everyone else with some experience and keen to go on their own account this is the equipment we would recommend:

Ice pick

An absolute must for crossing glaciers, climbing on ice and walking on steep snow slopes.

Ice bolt

You can use it to secure yourself or build a stand at the glaciers. Be careful to ensure the quality of the ice bolt!

Helmet

Every mountain poses a danger of rockslides and falling. So always wear a helmet when the terrain is getting steeper.

Crampons

Without crampons for ice climbing or glacier crossing you will be sliding all over the place.

Climbing harness

As soon as something poses a threat of falling i.e. into a crevasse you should wear a climbing harness and secure yourself (rope, via ferrata brake etc.).

Climbing gear/via ferrata set

Attached to a fixed rope or via ferrata you will definitely need a via ferrata brake to stay on the safe side.

Gloves

For walking in rough terrain, on a glacier or along a wall it would be recommendable to wear thin but robust leather gloves to protect your hands.

Climbing sling

You should always carry at least one sling with you. It will help you to build a stand at rocks or for securing/recovery.

Belay rope

Always take a short and a long sling. They can help you with securing yourself when you abseil or for building a hitch.

ATC / Tube

Very helpful to abseil or to secure climbing partners.

Carabiner

You will have a hard time getting where you want to without Carabiners as they are invaluable links. You should take 2 or 3 with you.

Rope

A rope is a must have for alpine climbs and for climbing along rock and ice. You will need it to walk in a roped party, to abseil or to secure yourself while climbing. We recommend a 50m climbing rope.

You won’t need all of these items on every tour. If your tour proceeds smoothly you will probably be fine with a lot less equipment. Unfortunately you won’t really know before you head off what issues you might encounter. This assortment will make sure that you are prepared for all kind of situations. Falling into a crevasse won’t really be a big problem with the right equipment. A fallen climbing partner can be easily retrieved with the Z-pulley or single-pulley technique. If you lack the equipment for these techniques this situation might turn into a big issue quickly that will require outside help.

Conclusion

Choosing your equipment will decide if your tour in the mountains will be a success or a failure. Depending on weather, difficulty and length you can decide what to take with you and what to leave at home. But never risk your health just because you feel lazy.

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