Gear Guy

The Icefall Parka     Photo: courtesy, Feathered Friends

Q:

What’s the best puffy coat and boot set-up to climb Denali?

I already own the Mountain Hardware Woman's Sub Zero SL Hooded Jacket and understand that this is not warm enough for Denali. Can I pair this with a lighter 800 fill down sweater to get the warmth that I need? Or must I buy another pricey parka? And on the boot front, my feet get cold. I would like a boot that will get me up Denali, toes intact, but that I can also wear on other climbs in the Lower 48 (and maybe someday in the Himalaya). Is this asking too much? I had a pair of Spantiks but their size made me feel clumsy...
—Abi
San Francisco, CA

A:Well, Abi, here is what I want you to do. I want you to take off your shoes and socks (I assume you are not wearing gloves). Then, hold your feet and hands out in front of you, where you can see them. Now, for each digit, assign a dollar value. Take your time. What’s that pinkie worth? $100? A big toe? $250? Think hard.

Don’t think this exercise odd—you are doing it right now. You are hoping to save a few hundred dollars on gear. And in doing so, you are weighing those dollars against body parts. Do you think I am kidding? I have been to Denali, summiting in two weeks in very benign conditions. And it was so fricking cold my internal thermostat was red-lined for two full weeks after I got back to Seattle. You live in San Francisco? You can’t even imagine, young lady.

So, no, your Sub Zero—while a fine piece—is not adequate. Layering a down sweater under it is only a marginal gain (although the down sweater might be a great thing when in the tent). You need a full expedition parka. At least Feathered Friends’ Icefall Parka ($569). The Rock & Ice ($779) is even better—ask me, and you can rent mine, which I bought for the Denali climb and never regretted. Really, nobody makes anything comparable.

And if your feet get cold, then get out the credit card again. At the very least, you need a pair ofScarpa Invernos ($319), an excellent cold-weather boot at a good price. Add a few pairs of expedition-grade socks (SmartWool Expeditions for $20 a pair) andOutdoor Research’s Brooks Ranger Overboots ($160).

That setup will work for you in the Himalayas. It’s not a real Lower-48 setup—you have to size the boots for high-altitude foot-swelling, and layered socks.

I dunno what you have for a sleeping bag, but a minimum of a -20 bag is mandatory.Marmot’s CWM Membrain bag (-40, $679) is the ticket. And two pads—a self-inflating pad, and a closed-cell foam pad. Trust me on this.

No, it isn’t cheap. But go ahead, start putting dollar figures on those digits.

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