Winter Gear Prep Part 1- The Essentials (2017)

It’s that time of year again! The leaves are falling and it’s time to start planning for all the snowy and icy adventures that await! Thanks to reader Paul for reminding me I never finished this multi-part gear prep series from last Fall! I’ve gone through and edited Part 1 to reflect what is actually in my pack this season. I will update Part 2 this week and finish Part 3 & 4 in the next two weeks!

Winter Gear Prep
What’s in your pack? photo by Brent Doscher

(Originally posted October 2016, now updated October 2017)

Every year around this time I start getting excited about the arrival of my favorite season, Winter! To help fuel the stoke I go through my gear closet and take stock. What’s worn out and what needs replacing? What’s good to go for another icy season? I thought it might be helpful to provide a gear checklist with recommendations on what I use in all categories. In this first segment I’ll cover “The Essentials” a personally modified list of the classic “Ten Essentials“.


The Essentials

Maps– I use the free online mapping software CalTopo for all my mapping and trip planning needs. This powerful software has so much potential every outdoor adventurer should familiarize themselves with this tool! If you’d like to take a course that covers survival navigation and these advanced navigation skills go here!

Compass– I love my Suunto MC-2 compass which I reviewed in full detail here.

Buy on Backcountry   Buy from EMS   Buy on Amazon

If you’re looking for a smaller more affordable compass I also highly endorse the Suunto A-10 Compass.

Buy on Backcountry   Buy at REI   Buy from EMS   Buy on Amazon

Headlamp– I recently upgraded my headlamps and currently carry the Petzl Zipka 2 and the Petzl Actik. You really can’t go wrong with a Petzl headlamp.

Buy the Petzl Zipka 2 on Backcountry, Amazon, REI

Buy the Petzl Actik on Backcountry, Amazon, EMS, REI

Batteries– I put fresh lithium batteries in my headlamps every Fall. Days are shorter and I am much more likely to need a headlamp. Lithium easily out performs alkaline in cold weather so the Energizer AA’s and AAA’s are always on hand. The best deal I can find on these batteries is on Amazon which is linked here.

First Aid Kit– I start with the Adventure Medical Kit .7 then modify it a little. I add more gloves (acquired from visits to the hospital) and a bottle of iodine tablets (for emergency water treatment and wound irrigation), and a small refillable bottle of Advil.

Knife– Colonial makes dozens of great models like this one.

Bivy Sack– I carry a AMK Heatsheets Emergency Bivy on every single outing. It only weighs a few ounces and is worthwhile the extra insurance!

Handwarmers– I always carry 6-8 hand warmers in my winter pack. Pro-tip: If you need to use them… place them under your glove on your wrist, right where that artery is. Much more effective than placing it in the palm of your hand which reduces grip on ice axes/ski poles. Usually the glove can hold it in place though sometimes I’ll use a little athletic tape.

A “Buff– A very versatile clothing accessory! I have a few so I can wash them occasionally and always have one ready to go.

Glove Liners– I usually need to purchase a couple pairs of these because I do wear them out within a year or two. Totally worth the cheap price though!

Dermatone Sunblock– I always have a tin of this stuff with me in the winter.

Neoprene Face Mask– I like this simple style. It works well in combination with the Buff and my hat/hood. Bigger “fancier” ones make it difficult not to over heat. Pro-tip, if you have fogging issues when used with your goggles take a pair of scissors and enlarge the mouth holes.

GogglesRevo Capsule with the Green Water Lens. The one “essential” category I don’t skimp on. I need quality breathable goggles for the mountain work I do and this pair has not disappointed. As a Revo ambassador I’m able to extend a 20% discount on these to any of my readers! All you need to do is order them directly from and enter promo code “ALPINESTARTF&F” and you’ll get 20% off the purchase!

Well that’s it for my “Essentials” list. Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below!

Part 2 will focus on my various clothing systems specific for ice climbing, mountaineering, and back-country skiing.

Part 3 will focus on ice climbing gear and maintenance.

Part 4 will cover ski gear and maintenance.

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See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer- Every product mentioned above except the goggles was purchased with my own money. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Mount Washington, Willard, and Elephant’s Head… my winter guiding season finally begins!

This weekend kicks off the start of my winter guiding season. Yesterday I had the pleasure of leading a motivated father & son team from Connecticut up Mount Washington in some of the thinnest conditions I have ever seen this late in December. Despite the absence of snow we had a pretty enjoyable climb with comfortable weather and some great views.

Connor and his father, Thomas
Connor and his father, Thomas
Crossing the Cutler River for the second time
Crossing the Cutler River for the second time
Climbing through the clouds Boot Spur Ridge appears behind us
Climbing through the clouds Boot Spur Ridge appears behind us
Summer Lion's Head Trail
Summer Lion’s Head Trail
Just Below Lion's Head
Just Below Lion’s Head
A group ahead of us climbing up to Lion's Head
A group ahead of us climbing up to Lion’s Head
Reaching Lion's Head
Reaching Lion’s Head
Tuckerman Ravine looking pretty bony for mid-December
Tuckerman Ravine looking pretty bony for mid-December
Nearing Split Rock with Lion's Head below in the fog
Nearing Split Rock with Lion’s Head below in the fog

We made it all the way to the lower summit parking lot before needing to don our micro-spikes for the final 100 yards (that parking lot is an ice skating rink).

Clear skis as we reach the lower parking lot and for the first time need traction
Clear skis as we reach the lower parking lot and for the first time need traction
Obligatory summit shot
Obligatory summit shot
Our route
Our route

Today I had 3 guests for a Winter Climbing 101 Course. It’s no secret Mother Nature has dealt us a sub-par hand in terms of “winter” conditions, but John, Mitzy, and Tom were still enthusastic about what we could accomplish and with a little thinking “outside the box” we put together a pretty productive day. We started the morning off in our new conference room where I shared some of the online resources for trip planning in the White Mountains. Namely, HikeSafe, the Mount Washington Observatory Higher Summits Forecast and Regional Mesonet, and CalTopo.

We then had a gear shakedown looking at differences in ice axes & crampons before packing up and heading north to Crawford Notch. I knew Willey’s Slide & other usual early season standby’s would still be questionable but we had a backup plan in place. Our drive through the Notch confirmed my suspicions regarding “climb-able” ice and we parked at the Mt. Willard Trail parking lot. After shaving the technical gear from our packs we hit the 1.6 mile trail up to Mt. Willard. While non-technical in nature we were able to go into detailed conversations regarding mountaineering concerns. Heat loss, cold weather injuries, altitude illness, navigation, avalanche awareness, mountain weather, layering strategies, were all discussed in detail. About an hour later we arrived at a socked in summit, just in time for a clearing while we enjoyed our lunch.

John & Mitzy on summit of Mt. Willard
John & Mitzy on the summit of Mt. Willard
Tom on Mt. Willard with Mt. Webster behind
Tom on Mt. Willard with Mt. Webster behind
Love that view
Love that view

We opted to wear micro-spikes for the descent and headed back down to the car. With a couple hours to spare, and wanting a bit more “technical” end to our day, we made our way over to Elephant’s Head. This .3 mile trail brought us up to the top of this 120 foot bluff where we all rappelled during intermittent snow squalls.

Rappelling the Elephant Head
Tom rappelling the Elephant Head
Our route
Our route

While we seem to be off to a rough start this year I want to put a little perspective on the situation. It’s true we had a great start last year with freak powder skiing on Halloween and a personal 11/20 ascent of Pinnacle in great conditions. But then we had a big December thaw with 3 days of rain towards the end of December which essential pushed the reset button on our winter. We then went on to have one of the best winter & ski seasons I have experienced since moving here in 2001. El Nino or not, I’m holding out hope that just like last winter our season is simply going to begin a bit later, but still be quite epic. The two new pairs of skis sitting in my closet sure do hope so!


See you in the mountains!