Extreme Survival: 7 Tools Used By the World’s Toughest Mountaineers

Aug 28, 2017

Extreme Survival: 7 Tools Used By the World’s Toughest Mountaineers

There are few experiences in this life more exhilarating than trekking thousands of feet up the side of a mountain.

For my money, it’s the best adrenaline rush you can get.

It’s quintessential man versus nature. You’re climbing one of nature’s most impressive creations, and facing off with the elements while you do so.

On a single mountaineering trip, you could face off with snow, ice, rock slides, crevasses, storms and even avalanches.

On top of all that, every step you take up the mountain brings you one step closer to potential altitude sickness.

Depending on where you go, mountaineering can be one of the most dangerous activities in the world.

There’s no money in mountain climbing and the toughest mountaineers aren’t doing it for a huge paycheck...

They’re doing it for the heart-pounding experience of it, and the rush of reaching heights few people will ever know.

But just because those mountaineers are willing to take risks to do something they love doesn’t mean that they’re reckless. Every one of them makes sure they have the right gear packed before a mountaineering expedition.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to choose the right mountaineering tools...

On the one hand, you want to be well-prepared for anything Mother Nature throws at you. If the weather turns bad and you’re stuck on the side of a mountain without proper supplies, it could mean the end of your life.

But you also need to take your pack weight into account...

With too many heavy items, you’ll move up the mountain slower and get tired more quickly. Your climb will take longer, which means there are more opportunities for something to go wrong or you may not make it.

What are the must-have mountaineering tools? Here are the seven the world’s toughest mountaineers swear by.

1. Emergency Sleeping Bag

Life Bivy Emergency Sleeping Bag

If you’re going up a tall mountain, it could be a multi-day climb, and that means you’ll need a form of shelter.

Even if you’re planning to climb up and down within one day, you never know when the weather will turn bad, and you're suddenly ice climbing. You should always have an emergency shelter and a Sol emergency blanket with you just in case, and an emergency sleeping bag is a great option.

Emergency sleeping bags have several features that make them perfect for cold nights on the side of a mountain. Their material reflects up to 90% of your body heat to help you stay warm and the edges are sealed to keep out wind, snow, rain and other elements you face sleeping outside.

Since emergency sleeping bags are made with mountaineers in mind, they are lightweight and compact, adding little for you to carry.

And to top it all off, they are often made of a high-visibility orange color that you could use to signal to a rescue team if necessary.

If you only bring one form of shelter with you on a climb, you should make it an emergency sleeping bag. Even if you have a tent in your climbing gear, an emergency sleeping bag can still come in useful.


2. First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kits Field Trauma With QuickClot

Hopefully, you never need to use your first-aid kit. The goal is always to avoid injuries in the first place.

But, as the saying goes, we prepare for the worst and expect the best. 

Mountaineering carries the potential for all kinds of injuries. One false step could result in a cut, a sprained ankle or a fractured bone.

Your first-aid kit should be waterproof and compact, with plenty of gauze and bandages. Even seemingly minor lacerations can result in a significant amount of bleeding. Other items your first-aid kit should have are tape and cleanser or soap for cleaning wounds.

Remember that depending on where you are, help could take hours or even longer than a day to reach you. Having some basic medical supplies with your mountaineering equipment could make all the difference.

3. Mountaineering Helmet

There’s always the risk of a blow to the head when you go mountaineering. You could be in an area with falling rocks, or you may slip on a patch of ice and take a fall.

You’re already going to be dealing with the effects of the altitude, and the last thing you want to add to that is a concussion.

The good news is that the technology used in mountaineering helmets has improved quite a bit, and you don’t need to wear a clunky, awkward climbing helmet anymore. There are plenty of helmets available that fit well and don’t weigh much.

Shelled-foam helmets are particularly popular among mountaineers because they’re lightweight and they have plenty of ventilation, which is another important feature to look for.

If possible, try to find a helmet that you can strap up using one hand. You may want to adjust your helmet when you don’t have both hands free, for instance, when you're rock climbing. Helmets with magnetic buckles are great for this.

It’s also a good idea to get a climbing helmet in a bright color, such as red, yellow or orange. Every bit of visibility will help if a rescue team is ever looking for you. If you’re climbing with a team and there are whiteout conditions along the way, your teammates will be able to see you more easily when you have a bright helmet on.

Some type of illumination is a necessity for mountaineers. The nice thing about a helmet is that you can put a headlamp on it and avoid carrying a flashlight.

4. Compass and Map

Yes, technically these are two items, but they’re both used for navigation and you wouldn’t want to have one without the other.

When you’re on a mountaineering expedition, it’s important that you always know where you are, how to get where you want to go, and how to get back down the mountain if necessary.

A topographic map of the mountain you’re climbing is a worthwhile investment.

A compass is important because you can’t always rely on landmarks or your sense of direction, especially in whiteout conditions where it’s difficult to tell which way is which. A compass is a trusty tool in these situations.

Your map and compass won’t take up much space, especially compared to some other mountaineering equipment, but you should make sure that you have a case or cover over the map so that moisture can’t ruin it.

Some mountaineers opt for additional navigational aids, such as GPS units and route markers. If you want to carry these, go for it, but make sure you have the basics covered first.

5. Bear-Defense Gun

This is another one of those situations you want to avoid at all costs, but you should be prepared for it all the same.

Mountains are often grizzly bear territory, and as much as I love animals, if I run into one of those, I want a gun by my side.

When two mountaineers in the Canadian Rockies encountered a grizzly bear, it effortlessly picked one climber up by the leg. Incredibly, he managed to pry himself free, and then he and his fellow mountaineer escaped. They got back to their car in three hours, and the attack left him with several deep puncture wounds in his leg, once again demonstrating the importance of carrying a first-aid kit in your climbing pack.

There’s really no comprehending how strong a bear can be. You need to be prepared in case you do run into one on a mountaineering trip.

As important as bear defense is, you probably don’t want to tote a heavy 12-gauge shotgun up the side of a mountain with you.

That’s why I recommend a .357 Magnum revolver. It’s light, but it packs a mean punch. If you need to use it, you’ll likely be able to at least deter a bear from attacking you.

I suggest you go with either the Ruger Redhawk Alaskan or the Ruger GP100, which are two of the best .357 Magnum revolvers on the market. Both of them are very powerful, and the Redhawk Alaskan is known for its durability, whereas the GP100 has a more compact design.

Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you get some practice in at the range so that you’re comfortable shooting it even in stressful situations. Keep it with your climbing gear, so you don't forget it during your time of need.

6. Ice Axe

Think that you only need an ice axe if you’re going to be ice climbing? Although that is the most obvious use for an ice axe, it’s a tool with many uses, making it a vital piece of equipment on any trip.

An ice axe can help you traverse many different conditions, including snow, ice, streams, and brush without falling. If you fall and start sliding down the mountain, you can use your axe to self-arrest, which is when you dig the head of the axe into the ground to stop the slide and pull yourself back up.

Shovels aren’t exactly common with mountaineering, which means if you need to dig in the dirt or ice at any point, you’ll need to improvise. An ice axe can make that job easier.

Ice axes are available at different lengths, and you should choose a length that fits your height. If you’re checking out ice axes in person, one simple trick is to hold the ice axe while you stand normally. An ice axe that’s the right length for you will have its spike just skimming the ground.

It’s also important that you have an ice axe to match what you’re doing. Different types of ice axes are best for different tasks. To choose the right one to add to your mountaineering gear, consider where you’re going and how steep the climb will be.

7. Survival Whistle

The Life Bivy Includes A Built In Survival Whistle

A whistle is usually the best way to signal to others that you need help and give them an idea of your location.

If you’re stranded somewhere while mountain climbing, you could have a rescue team looking for you. Or you may just find yourself separated from your team after a whiteout. Either way, you’ll be glad that you have a whistle to get their attention.

Whistles are another one of those items that take up barely any space and that you may go several climbs without using. But if you ever need one, you’ll be happy that you brought it along in your climbing pack.

Make sure you get a whistle specifically for signaling, not just some toy whistle from a dollar store. The best whistles will have a very audible noise and will work no matter what the weather is like.

Getting Your Gear

This is by no means an exhaustive list of every piece of mountaineering gear you should have with you on a climb.

You still need food, water, clothing, boots, and other climbing equipment, like a rope, carabiner, and climbing harness, to name a few things. The items listed above are simply the seven essential tools that any serious mountaineer is going to have. Pack them first, and you’ll be off to an excellent start for your technical climbing expedition.


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