—> Updated Sept 9th, 2018
I love the mountains as you can see on my instagram feed @valerieorsoni but because I am on the short side (5’2″ and a half 🙂 I always struggle finding the right gear.
After having looked, tried, researched, asked around, read countless blog posts on mountaineering gear for women, I give you my fave list. You can use those for winter alpine climbs, expeditions with temperatures going as low as -35F), winter camping, long ski trips or simply to survive in the cold winter weather.
Important note: Good technical equipment is pretty expensive. It is impossible to find a technical jacket to summit a 14,000 ft summit for $50 or a -20F sleeping bag for $100. However, if you maintain your equipment seriously (some brands like Patagonia offer repairs) it will last for a long time. You can also go on gear exchange websites and stores or rent your equipment to keep your costs down.
Sleeping bags : Valandre. I use the Shocking Blue sleeping bag. It is perfect for low temperatures (even -35F) if you use it as part of a sleeping system (see hereafter). It is way lighter and of a smaller volume than the Neo or Thor. Note that the Valandre website is often down and it is hard to find their sleeping bags online. Also, end of 2017 their manufacturing was delocalized from France to Tunisia and it seems their down is now not from France any longer. The day I will need a new sleeping bag I will get a Triple Zéro (down, conception and manufacturing 100% French) but for now I am totally satisfied with my Shocking Blue.
Sleeping pad : Sea To Summit with 2 valves. Very important! If one side gets punctured and you cannot fix it you always have the other side. Discover it here: Sea To Summit
Because I am scared, based on my very own personal experience, that my inflatable pad might get punctured I also bring a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Ultralight Foam Backpacking Mattress
Pillow: No need! Put your parka jacket in a smaller, zipped up jacket, and voila ! You have a pillow.
We always bring too much when we go climbing, mountaineering or hiking. I have learned to bring less items, to favor multi-tasking clothes, those which don’t get dirty easily, dry fast and don’t smell even after a few days of use. I call this my “Napoleon cake approach”. I am a biiiiiig fan of the Icebreaker brand. They use merinos wool but fret not as their clothes are not itchy. Note: These clothes are pretty pricey but the quality is excellent. Do not buy cheap first layers. Being cold is the climber’s, hiker’s and mountaineer’s worst enemy.
I bring two of those: one 200 for very physically intense activities which will make you hot and sweat, and a 260 for less demanding times but still in a very cold environnement. Discover them here: The 200 Icebreaker – Crewe Top Everyday Long Sleeve Tee Shirt and the 260 :Icebreaker Bodyfit 260g Thermal Merino Wool
Leggings: IceBreaker again ! And again a 260 fabric. Discover it here : Icebreaker Winter Zone
Socks : I used to think that cold = heavy socks. I was wrong. I used Icebreaker socks (and before you say it, I am not sponsored by the brand!). I wore them for 4 days non stop. They are warm, they dry fast and they don’t itch. I spent 5 hours in the snow up to my knees (with the Scarpa Phantom 6000) and I never got cold. I did some ice climbing as well and did not get cold either. Discover them here: Icebreaker Ski+ Medium OTC
Light fleece : I like it with a zipper to put it on and remove it easily and with a hood to replace my hat (my last guide taught me that part, no hat necessary!). I love the Patagonia light waffle fabric jacket: Patagonia W’s R1 Techface Hoody
Super light wind stopper : Arcteryx is my fave brand with their Squamish jacket. Discover it here : Squamish Hoodie
Down jacket for high altitude, winter alpine and simply very cold temperatures: This is where I struggled the most. I settled for the Men’s Fitz Roy Patagonia in XS. Discover it here: Patagonia M’s Fitz Roy Down Parka. You can keep on at night to sleep in very cold temperatures with your Shocking Blue sleeping bag.
Note: This parka is NOT waterproof however I really love it because it is very warm and compacts very well in its lil’ bag.
Puffy pants : For your base map at night or to sleep with when it is very cold. I got the Volant Pants in XS from Feathered Friends and I loved it! You can also go for the Nano Puff Pants from Patagonia in XS as well. Discover it here: Patagonia Nano Puff Pants.
There is also this French gem from Triple Zero: The Antza Trousers. Amazing manufacturing and customer service.
Down booties : Because I am always cold I love those little booties which I can wear in my sleeping bags when it is very cold or at base camp to relax my feet. They are very light and highly compactable.
They are 100% made in France with a great customer service. Discover them here: Antza Booties and if you live in the USA you can get the same thing from Feathered Friends.
Pants : I bring 3. A light hiking/approach pair for temperatures not going under 45F, one that’s heavier for colder temperatures (and with which I can wear a warm legging) and a fully waterproof one to remain dry if caught in a massive storm
My fave for hiking/approach : Kühl Raid Pants
My fave for alpine routes and ice climbing: La Sportive Shiva Soft Shell. La Sportive stopped making these pants last year so if you know where I could find it you would make my day!
My fave wind stopper and waterproof : Norrona Falketind Gore-Tex.
I have 3 pairs because when one pair gets wet it is always great to have a dry backup. Because I get cold very easily I got the Outdoor Research mittens (a little bit overkill for a 14,000 ft peak since this is what climbers use on Mt Everest but hey I hate having cold hands!). Note that there is second pair of mittens inside the large black Anti Mitts. I also have a pair of basic warm Camp gloves and I tried the Outdoor Research Lucent heated gloves for ice climbing and loved it!
To this very efficient combo I had a light pair of gloves for when it is is not raining or snowing. Just to keep my hands warm. I love the Etip gloves from North Face.
I tested the Scarpa Inverno but they were too rigid albeit super comfy and practical for some steep ascent. I fell in love with the Scarpa Phantom 6000 (if you are going for a 8000 meter peak then go for the Phantom 8000). Made in Italy, super comfy and pretty flexible. I got zero blisters even though I had not used them prior to my big adventure. I stayed in the snow for 5 hours and I did not get cold. I am usually a 6.5 US and I got an 8UK in this model (or 40 in France).
Discover it here: Scarpa Phantom 6000
If you don’t have snow on your approach but if it is still pretty cold and you might need crampons go for the Lowa Mountain Expert. Made in Germany and very sturdy they finally come in girlie colors, yeahhhh. Of course I chose the raspberry ones! More info here: Lowa.
If you have no snow, it is not really cold and you dont need crampons then my super fave are the Salewa Rapace, also made in Germany. Discover them here: Salewa Rapace
Expedition and long hikes: my super fave is the Osprey Aura 75. It is a biggest I have found for short ladies like me. It comes with cool bells and whistles like a whistle in the main buckle or a small summit bag in the top pouch.
Short hikes : Osprey Aura 50
What I love about those two bags is that their belt can be molded (at no cost) to your hips, the back frame does not touch my sacrum (a very sensitive area for me) and since they are not too tight on the back a fall in the snow will not make your back wet. Lots of pockets.
Summiting pack: Osprey 36 liter (which I clip on my larger bag for the gear haul up).
To pee in difficult conditions I swear by the GoGirl thingie: Gogirl. I use it with a red Nalgen bottle (because we all know that in nature red = do not touch or here do not drink from it)
If your periods arrive unannounced then I use the washable cup from Blossom. Light and reusable it is also way better for the environment than the billions of tampons and pads we use every year.
Sun glasses for altitude sun: I love the Julbo which adapts pretty well to any skull shape. Check it out here: Julbo Explorer 2.0 Mountaineering Glacier Sunglasses. You can also look into running glasses, which will tend to fog way less than the others.
Helmet: Because I have a small head every time I rent a helmet it slides on the side and I end up looking like a crazy mushroom. So I finally caved in and bought my very own helmet. I got the classic: Black Diamond Demi Dome
Harness: Love my Pezl harness! Light and sturdy. Just what we need.
Crampons: There are several types of crampons but my absolute faves are the Air Tech Crampons by Grivel. They have a little something I truly love: An antibot plates that keep snow from building up underfoot. If you have very small feet make sure you try those on before heading to the mountain. It is highly possible you need to cut a piece of the sliding adjustable metal bar.
Camera : Of course our phones take amazing photos but for when you are in the snow, diving at 30 meters, in the rain or if you know it is likely you will drop your camera then you need to get a super strong camera. I chose the Coolpix W300 from Nikon. The image quality is not the best according to some articles I read BUT knowing that your camera will be with you and won’t let you down is worth losing a few pixels. I must admit that I have not noticed that the quality of my photo was bad. However its video quality is not the best.
GPS: I never leave without my Garmin InReach Explorer+. It allows me to track my progress, people can see me on a map, live and it has a very useful SOS button. The device is quite pricey but the membership starts at $39 per month so frankly my safety is worth that much.
Face and hand sun screen : Clarins UV Plus HP Anti-pollution Sunscreen Non-Tinted SPF 50. Its small format makes it a great hiking friend. Perfect UVA and UVB protection. Does not leave a white film on the skin like some others on the market.
Super rich cream: Clarins Multi Active Night Dry Skin Cream. The jar is way too big for a few days so I transfer a large dollop into a small container and voila!
I could add more to the list but I needed to stop at one point. If you have questions don’t hesitate to write them down under this article.
To your next adventure!