Gear Guy

What type of headlight should I bring on a Denali climb?

What do you recommend for mountaineering in places such as Mount Rainier and Denali as far as headlps and bibs or pants? Would an LED light be better than a regular headlp? I know LED lights last much longer, but what about lighting up the trails? Also, are there any three-layer bibs that you would recommend that are warm, durable, and inexpensive? I like the description of the Marmot Alpinist but it's quite expensive. Are there any less expensive options? Charleton Churchill Pine Grove, California

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First, I’ll give you a tip: if you’re trying a summer ascent of Denali, you can skip the headlight. From May through July, it’s pretty nearly daylight round the clock. When I was there in early June five years ago, I took to sleeping with a bandana wrapped around my head and over my eyes. Otherwise it was just too bright.

Anyway, for hiking and trail use, I generally recommend a halogen-type headlamp, rather than an LED. They’re brighter and better at lighting things in your path. But the fact is, new-generation LED headlamps such as the Petzl Tikka ($35), which I talked about here a few weeks ago, are perfectly fine for, say, those pre-dawn hours on Rainier when you’re marching up the mountain from Camp Muir.

There also are some hybrid lights out there that combine a halogen bulb for trail with (usually) a single LED so you can find your lip balm inside the tent at 2 A.M. Black Diamond makes one called the Gemini, which goes for $38. It actually has three lighting options: The LED, a standard halogen bulb, and an extra-bright halogen bulb. It’s still very compact, although not quite as tiny as the petite Tikka.

Bibs are expensive. They’re hugely complicated to make, so what you’re seeing in large part are labor costs. But they’re also great pieces of mountain apparel. The Alpinist bib from Marmot is made with Gore-Tex XCR fabric, reinforced at the ankles for scuff protection, and has built-in gaiters and chest pockets. If also costs $369, which in the scheme of things is not unreasonable.

There aren’t a ton of options, as this is definitely a niche product. L.L. Bean makes a perfectly acceptable bib that also uses XCR, has reinforcements, gaiters, and the rest for $299. And if you’re really on a budget, REI makes a bib called the Liberty Ridge Bibs that uses REI’s proprietary coated fabric. They won’t breathe quite as well as bibs made with XCR, but for $200 they’re a great buy.

Keep in mind, none of these bibs is “warm”—they’re all uninsulated. On Rainier, a par of midweight or heavyweight long johns makes a good base layer. On Denali, Polartec 200 or 300 will be the ticket once you get above 14,000 feet or so.

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