This list for for our Aconcagua Expedition - tailored to our specific itinerary. For more information about that itinerary, and to better understand the recommendations here, please read our page on planning and logistics. You can find that here:
Expedition Itinerary Information, and packing advice
The main challenge in preparing your gear for Aconcagua is finding the right balance between light weight and full, cold-weather protection. Aconcagua can be a very cold mountain. El Viento Blanco, the "White Winds" can blow for days, and good protection, from both wind and cold can be necessary to allow a successful summit bid, as well as prevent frozen fingers and toes.
Here are a few general points:
- Try to avoid duplicating clothing. Be sure that each item of clothing has a specific, necessary job, and one that can't be duplicated by other items you may want. For your cold weather clothing, for example, be sure that you are able to wear all of your layers at one time.
- Emphasize light weight as opposed to durability.
- Where possible, minimize items that create garbage, such as hand and foot warmers, and pre-moistened towelettes. Because we traverse the peak, all of this will have to get carried up one side of the mountain and down the other.
- Wind is often more of a problem than cold temperatures. Plan accordingly.
Clothing for town and the trek into Base Camp
You can divide the clothes you bring on the trip into two groups, those items you'll use on the trek in, and those things you plan to bring up to the higher camps. While one can be a bit casual in clothing choice for the hike in (where mules can carry most of our baggage) it pays to be quite careful in your clothing selection above Base Camp.
We have put together this list with the goal of minimizing both the weight and the bulk of the clothing you need up high. With only a few exceptions, you should be able to wear everything at once. If one piece of clothing can't be worn with another, try to determine if you have duplication and attempt to eliminate it.
Town and travel clothes — Bring what you would normally like for town and travel clothes. Remember that Mendoza is warm and sunny in the summer. Daytime highs are usually about 30° C. (86° F.) and nighttime lows about 17° C. (63° F.). We will leave these clothes in Penitentes while we are on the mountain.
Hiking shoes — These are the shoes you will use on the trek and the approach to Base Camp. A light weight boot is best. While the trails can be rough, our loads will be light and the days can be warm. Lower cut approach shoes are fine if they have an aggressive tread.
Socks for your hiking shoes — Two pair should be plenty.
River crossing shoes — On day three of the trek, we'll be crossing the Rio Vacas. You'll need some footware. One good option is a pair of old running shoes. They are light and reasonably sure-footed in the rushing water. Some folks like sandals or Crocs. Neoprene boating booties also work well, but maybe a bit more specialized than necessary.
Lightweight long hiking trousers — Bring a pair of synthetic lightweight pants for the trek into Base Camp. During the walk days can be warm, but you'll want protection from the sun. Lightweight synthetic pants with zip-off legs are not a bad choice.
Long-sleeved shirt for hiking — Also for the trek in, bring a comfortable light shirt for walking. cotton or synthetic. Again, we recommend long sleeves for sun protection.
Under garments — Each to his or her own here. In general, you don't need much. For example, one change for your travel kit, one change for the hike into Base Camp, and to wear until we begin to move up the mountain, and one or two sets for the higher camps.
Clothing to bring up to the higher camps
Under garments — These are the one or two sets you'll bring up to Camps One, Two, High Camp and the summit.
Light long underwear bottoms — one pair of lightweight wool (smells better) or synthetic. Smartwool Microweight Bottoms are a good example.
Medium weight long underwear bottoms — Not too heavy. You'll want to be comfortable wearing both your layers of long underwear bottoms, as well as a shell all at the same time. Example: Smartwool Midweight Bottoms.
Lightweight climbing trousers — Synthetic, example is Patagonia Guide Pants. The primary use here would be to use them when we carry or move up to Camps One and Two. If the weather is cool, then add a pair (or two) of long underwear bottoms. If the weather gets really cold (summit day, for example) we probably would not use these. However, they can be worn in a wide variety of conditions.
Primaloft trousers — These are insulated pants, usually with a light and compressible layer of Primaloft sandwiched between a liner and outer shell of very light nylon taffeta. You don't need side zips but finding a pair without side zips can be very difficult. Look for the lightest weight pair you can find. Examples: (unfortunately with side zips) Rab Photon pants, or Mountain Hardware Compressor Pants.
Note: Heavy fleece pants are a poor substitute for Primaloft insulated pants. Fleece is bulky, heavy and doesn't slide easily against other fabrics, making them much less comfortable to wear.
Windproof / waterproof shell pants — In general keep these light and simple. Full side zips can be handy here. You'll want them loose enough that you can comfortably wear them over both your pair of long underwear bottoms and your Primaloft pants. There are many examples of shell pants. But fit is sometime difficult, especially if you are buying them to fit over other layers, and it is best to try them on before you buy.
Synthetic T-shirt — Very light weight, and light in color. You can use this as a base-layer, or alone when hanging out in your tent on a hot day.
Lightweight long underwear tops — Matching your long underwear bottoms. Again, merino wool is recommended for comfort and less odor retention.
Mid-weight tops — A mid-weight layer that you can wear along with your lightweight layer. A zip-neck style is good. Don't get this too thick or heavy.
Light insulating layer — By far, the best choice for this layer is the Marmot DriClime Windshirt. This is an incredibly comfortable and versatile garment. If you don't own one, you are missing out. Note that Marmot makes a range of "DriClime" tops. All but the most simple "Windshirt" are too heavy and have needless added "features" that are best left in the shop.
"Big-guns" insulating layer(s) — For your upper body, you'll want to have something quite warm. Down is the answer here, for lightweight and compressibility. There are two strategies from which you can choose, 1) a couple lighter layers, or 2) a single warm jacket. For both of these strategies, check out the offerings at Rab. Currently they seem to have the best selection of lightweight down insulated garments for serious mountain use.
If you choose the former (2 layers) go for a lightweight, hooded down jacket / sweater (hoody style), and couple that with a down or Primaloft vest. A couple good examples for the jacket include the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket, or the Sierra Designs Gnar Hoody Jacket. For the vest part of this combo, most any lightweight insulated vest will be good. Again, we recommend down. Example: Rab Neutrino Vest. You'll wear this under the down sweater/jacket when it is really cold.
If you choose a single heavier down jacket, again keep it as light as you can. The key is to find one that has lots of down and a generous hood, but is made of very light fabric. A couple excellent examples are the Rab Neutrino Endurance or the Rab Neutrino Plus Jackets.
Windproof / waterproof shell jacket — Again, light and simple. As for sizing, you'll want to be able to wear this over all your insulating layers. (With the possible exception of your big down jacket above, if you choose that option.) A good example is the 260 gram Rab Kinetic Jacket.
Lightweight gloves — These will be your "everyday" gloves. Good when it is a bit chilly out, but not downright cold. Find something that is relatively windproof and also does not soak up water too readily (though all gloves can get wet). Mark's favorite gloves are $10 gardening/work gloves he found at Home Depot (view photo). They are lightly insulated with Thinsulate. Brand: Firm Grip, model Blizzard. Home Depot puts them out in the winter season. There are lots of other options out there, however.
Warmer gloves — These are what you are most likely to wear on summit day and if the weather is cold and windy when moving up to the upper camps. They should have synthetic insulation, such as Primaloft, be reasonably waterproof, and easy to get on and off. Try to avoid an excessive amount of leather, as it is heavy and dries slowly when wet. Example: Marmot's Randonnee Glove.
Warm mittens — Nothing compares with mittens when it is really cold out. If we are reasonably lucky with the weather, we'll never use these. However, if things turn nasty, having them may make the difference between frostbite and happy fingers. Look for the lightest, most compact mitts you can find that still offer down or Primaloft insulation. Examples: Black Diamond Absolute Mitt or, Rab Modular Mitt.
Warm hat — Nothing too complicated here. Wool, synthetic, etc. are all fine. Something relatively windproof is good. Be sure it covers your ears well.
Lightweight balaclava — Thin synthetic. Something you can wear at the same time as your warm hat above.
Buff — Neck gaiter, headwear, blindfold, pirate garb, you name it. See the Buff website for more info. We like the Original Buff. Check out their collection and go wild. Kathy always brings at least two of these whenever she leaves the house.
Socks — A couple changes should be plenty, one change to get you up to High Camp, and the second in reserve for the summit day. Smartwool is quite nice.
Climbing boots — You'll need warm boots. Aconcagua can be a very cold mountain. The best choice is a pair of the modern climbing boots designed for colder weather (but not 8000 meter peaks). As examples see Sportiva Spantik, Baruntse or Batura Evo boots. In the Scarpa line look at the Phantom 6000, or the Phantom Guide. Or Scarpa's somewhat less expensive range of plastic double boots, the Omega, Inverno or Koflach Degre.
You could also use a good single mountaineering boot, such as the Sportiva Nepal Evo, if you also include an insulated supergaiter (see below). Be careful, however, as frostbite is a common and serious issue on Aconcagua.
Insulated Supergaiters — Supergaiters are gaiters that come down all the way to the sole of the boot, but do not cover the sole. You'll need these only if your boots are of similar warmth to the Sportiva Nepal Evo. Mountain Tools makes one such gaiter. Be warned, however, that supergaiters are difficult to get on your boots, and also tend to pop off the toes with use. They are not an ideal solution. A better solution is to simply buy a warmer boot.
Note that overboots, which cover the sole of the boot, are not acceptable, as most of the time we are walking on rock and you'll need your rubber lugged soles exposed.
Regular gaiters — Many of the boots mentioned above have integral gaiters. If your do, then you don't need regular gaiters, if not, then you'll need a pair of normal knee-high regular gaiters.
Crampons — A regular alpine steel crampon is ideal. Examples: Petzl Irvis or Vasak.
Ice axe — The sad truth is that if conditions are good, we'll probably never use the ice axe, and simply carry it to the summit and back. But if the long traverse on the west side of the peak is very snowy, then we may need them. With this in mind, go light! A 50 to 60 cm lightweight axe is appropriate. Look for something that weights less than 500 grams.
Harness — This is another item we hope not to need. But again, we just might, so we'll need to bring them. The Black Diamond Couloir Harness is quite light at 230 grams and packs very small as well. However, if you really want to "go light" check out the offerings at Cilao. They have a couple harnesses that weigh in at less than 100 grams!
Locking carabiner — Some carabiners are very heavy, and other quite light. Our favorite tiny lightweight locker is made by CT (Climbing Technology) and is know as the Aerial SG. It weights a negligible 38 grams - amazing. If you are looking for something a bit bigger, the Petzl Attache 3D is a great choice at 55 grams.
Small travel bag for town and travel clothes, with lock: A small bag can be useful for storing these items while we are on the mountain.
Large duffel bag — This will contain all of your kit, as well as a few other odds and ends when the gear gets loaded on our mules. It needs to be large and durable. Avoid wheels, extending handles, or any kind of frame or stiff panels. It needs to be flexible to load easily on the mules. Look for something with a capacity of at least 100 liters. Examples: Bad Bags Duffel #8 STD or the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 120 liter.
Plastic trash bags — Bring a few large (100 liter plus) bags to help keep your gear dry in the unlikely event of rain on the trek into Base Camp. Large trash compactor bags work great if you can find them.
Lightweight day pack — (optional) You may like to trek into Base Camp carrying only a light pack, stowing your big pack in your duffel on the mule. Some folks, however prefer to simplify life and bring only one big pack. If you do bring a light pack be sure it is large enough for your lunch, extra clothes and lots of water. Don't plan on carrying this pack above Base Camp.
Large pack — When we move up to higher camps, and also when we descend back down after our summit climb, our loads will be quite heavy, perhaps as much as 25 kilos (55 lbs). You'll need a sizable pack to deal with this. Unfortunately a pack's quoted capacity (usually expresses in liters) tells you little about how capable it really is for carrying a big load.
Design is critical. We prefer simple top-loading bags with one giant compartment over other designs. Unfortunately, pack manufacturers continually try to add bells and whistles, compartments, pockets, straps and other useless doo-dahs. Who needs "Hominid Construction", "Dog-Bone Suspension" or "Self-equalizing Bat-Wing Zipper Garages"? Osprey is particularly guilty of senseless "innovation", though they are not alone.
Our advice is to look for something that is comfortable, allows you to stuff ever more things under the top lid, is streamlined (lacks excessive protruding back pockets), and weighs in at something close to 2 kg or less.
If you pack carefully, and don't bring a lot of extras, then a 70 liter (4300 cubic inches) pack might work just fine for you. Examples are Cold Cold World Chaos or the GoLite Terrono 70 L. Note that 70 liters is smaller than you'll find on many Aconcagua equipment lists. Most say get something in the range of 80 to 110 liters (5000 to 7000 cubic inches). While it can be nice to have a bottomless bag that consumes everything, most of these behemoths weight over 3 kilos empty One attractive alternative is the GoLite Terrono 90L which still is only 2 kilos.
Trekking poles — You'll want a pair of poles that can be collapsed or disassembled into a short length. Be sure you poles have a relatively sharp carbide tip. And take off the little tip protectors with which they are sold. Avoid those with "anti-shock" systems. There are a number of new, very light poles on the market designed for trail running or Nordic walking. Raidlight, based in France, offers a number of good poles that weight less than 200 grams a pair. Leki's new Carbon 4 or Dural 4 poles are also attractive. Last, be sure to bring baskets. They can be small but you'll need something.
Sleeping bag — Down, rated to -20 C. (-4 F.). Again go for lightweight. The lighter down bags also are the most compact. A great example is the Lynx MF from Western Mountaineering.
Sleeping pad(s) — We like to bring two pads and use them both at the same time. For comfort, we'll use a Therm-a-rest pad such as the NeoAir (lighter) or the ProLite Plus (warmer). And in addition we'll usually bring a three-quarters length piece of closed cell foam. The foam pad weighs almost nothing, and adds a bit of insulation and also is something to sit on outside your tent, protecting the more fragile Therm-a-rest from damage. You don't need a big piece 24 x 48 inches is plenty (trim a bigger pad to these dimensions). REI sells them.
Headlamp — A light LED headlamp is fine. The Petzl Tikka XP2 is a good example. We also recommend Lithium AAA batteries. They are lighter than alkaline and last nearly forever.
Cup — Should hold 12 - 16 (0.3 to 0.5 liter) ounces, insulated plastic commuter mugs are handy and keep things warm longer.
Bowl — Plastic and not too small! Should hold 2-3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liter).
Plastic spoon — Soup spoon style.
Swiss Army Knife — You certainly don’t need an orange-peeler-manicure-tool, saw, fish hook remover, or magnifying glass! Our favorite model for climbing is the Spartan. It has 2 blades, one big, one little, can opener, bottle opener, awl, toothpick and tweezers, and of course the required cork screw.
Sunglasses — These should be suitable for climbing. We like some of the new photochromic lenses, which adjust light absorption as intensity varies. The Julbo Zebra lenses are a good example. Choose glasses that have good side coverage.
Ski Goggles — If the weather is really nasty, with blowing snow, nothing beats ski goggles. If we are lucky we will never need them. Most any ski goggle will be fine.
Prescription glasses or contacts — For those of you that need them. If your uncorrected eyesight is really pretty bad, be sure to bring some sort of back-up if you lose or break your primary pair, or the blowing dust is too much for your contacts.
Sunscreen — At least 60 SPF or higher.
Lip balm — With sunscreen.
Skin moisturizing lotion — Aconcagua is a very dry environment. A small bottle of lotion will make you happy.
First Aid Kit — We will be supplying a major kit for the expedition but you should have a few personal items such as:
- blister kit: include some Spenco Second Skin as well as moleskin and/or Mole Foam;
- a few assorted band-aids; -a small roll of adhesive tape;
- pain reliever and analgesic, such as aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen;
- cough drops; -
- Imodium, for diarrhea
- any prescription drugs you normally take, of course, in ample supply in case of return flight delays etc.
- The following drugs require a physicians prescription. Be sure to discuss their use with your doctor.
- Diamox , for prevention and treatment of acute mountain sickness
- Antibiotic for gastrointestinal problems. Consult your physician for the best choice.
Repair Kit — Again we will supply a major kit for the expedition, but you should bring a few personal items, such as a Therm-a-rest repair kit, perhaps a bit of adhesive nylon repair tape.
Personal Toiletries —
- Small amount of toothpaste
- Dental floss
- Contact lens fluids
- Pack towel
- Bar of soap
- Comb or brush
- Shaving kit (optional, but you'll want to look your best!)
- Toilet paper. We'll bring TP for the group, but we also recommend taking a roll of TP, pulling out the paper core and stuffing it in a Ziplock, just to have "handy"
- Handi-wipes. A few of these can help keep you clean at the higher camps.
Hand sanitizer — Bring a small bottle of alcohol based hand sanitizer.
Ear Plugs — For noisy hotels or windy nights in tents.
Hand and foot warmers — (optional) If you think you might have cold hands and feet, consider bringing a very few of these. You'll only need them on summit day.
Water Bottles — Enough to carry 2 liters of water. Hydration bladder systems are fine for trekking days, but not recommended for the climbs as they freeze so readily and are hard to manage. You may want to substitute a half liter Thermos for one of your water bottles above Base Camp.
Water Purification — This is another area where technology is moving quickly. Choose your system: tablets, "Steripen" type UV purification (consumes a lot of batteries, use Lithium), MSR MIOX system, or a purifying filter.
Snack food — We all have our favorites, and you might want to bring a small private stash of yours. Keep to less than about a kilo if you can.
Zip-lock plastic bags — Bring an assortment. Useful for all sorts of things.
Extra stuff bags — Bring a few extra stuff bags for organizing.
Passport and other valuables — Make a photocopy or two and keep apart from your passport. We normally get cash from ATM (Bancomat) machines.
Camera — A small camera that you can keep in an outside pouch is best. Find a carrying case that you can access easily while you are walking with one hand.
Extra camera battery and memory — It is a good idea to bring two camera batteries.
Entertainment — This category is a bit tricky. While we do want everyone to be well-entertained, we also want to minimize the weight and bulk of such entertainment. So here's the scoop. Go crazy with what you bring up to Base Camp, after all, our friends the mules get to carry it. Bring your solar charger, your DVD player, iPad, books, chess sets, pool tables, whatever.
But when it comes time to move up to Camp One, leave nearly everything behind. What we do recommend bringing higher on the peak is your MP3 player. Preload it up with some good books, music, or whatever you like. A few considerations however. Models that use a hard disc for storage, such as the classic iPod tend to have all sorts of nasty problems at high altitudes. We have destroyed at least one of these by using it at altitude. So be sure whatever you bring uses Flash memory storage. Also, consider battery life in your selection. Your iPhone or iPod will burn through its batteries if you watch videos. Forget watching videos. Listen to books. You can bring an external battery pack, but even these don't last forever.
Solar charger — (optional) Life seems to get increasingly electrified these days. If you have enough electrical gizmos to justify it, you may want to bring a charger. The small ones don't usually have enough amperage to do a decent job. You'll want something with some "ummph" to it. One example is the Brunton Solaris 12 portable panel. Remember to bring all your various charging connectors. And yes, please don't bring any of this higher than Base Camp.
A note about electricity. Argentine electrical outlets use 220 volt 50 Hz. They use a rather odd looking "I" plug, along with Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. However, many outlets are also compatible with European style plugs.
You can buy adapters if you need them. If you are coming from the US or Canada, by sure that whatever you plug in can handle 220 volts.