Gift Guide for Everest Climbers

Everest Gear

When you’re climbing Everest, the right gear can make the difference between ending the expedition celebrating at Kathmandu’s Rum Doodle or at the hospital with a few toes less. The outfitter supplies the collective equipment, such as tents and O2 systems, and advises on the most technical gear, such as crampons and down suits.

But some of the lesser items are up to you. ExplorersWeb has asked seasoned Everest climbers and guides what they would recommend for the would-be summiter on your gift list.

Small items, big help for 8,000m mountaineers

Fluorescent duffle

A duffle bag gets tossed of planes and helicopters, carried on the backs of yaks, dropped in the mud (between the legs of the yaks), piled mercilessly, and left out in the rain and snow on sketchy terrain. You need one that protects your gear and is big enough to hold everything but not too big to carry, at least for short distances. Chinese-made counterfeits of the most popular brands are easy to find in Kathmandu, and confusion about whose duffle is whose is rampant. Thus, our tip: Get one that doesn’t look like everyone else’s, so you can identify it quickly amid the heaps of collective baggage. This bright orange model, made by Sea to Summit, is a standout in more ways than one. $200 for the 130-litre model.

Giving the boot to cold

You’ll need everything from lightweight trail shoes and sturdy boots for the trek into Base Camp, plus high-altitude boots for further up the mountain, but what about the (many) slow days in Base Camp? Working as a reporter, I learned the hard way how unpleasantly cold Everest south side BC can get, especially early in the season, since the tents are pitched right on the glacier. Hiking boots don’t suffice on the cold mornings or once shade hits the tents. These Sorels keep your feet warm just sitting around and they have a rugged sole for venturing onto the rock/rubble/ice/mud around camp. $150.

Anti-cough mask

Have you heard of the “Khumbu cough”? It’s a relentless, irritating hack caused by the cold and hyper-dry air of higher altitudes. It affects many visitors in the Valley, not just the Everest climbers, and it’s not to be taken lightly. These spasms of coughing can lead to throat infections, worsen shortness of breath (which may develop into AMS), induce headaches, and even crack a rib. The solution is an air-filtering, humidifying mask developed by Swedish cross-country skiers and used by a number of smart Everest climbers: Jost Kobusch wore it during his solo attempt on winter Everest and confirmed that it prevents coughing. “It’s also useful in reducing heat loss through breathing,” he told us. $65.

Jost Kobusch.

For the ultimate selfie

Summit selfies are cheesy, and you can’t trust a teammate to shoot a good portrait of you. You don’t want the only proof of that scary ladder climb over a giant serac in the Icefall to be that of your Primaloft-padded bottom. Moreover, closeups miss the spectacular scenery, and if the photographer tries to include the Valley of Silence in all its majesty, you’ll be nothing but an ant-sized speck in the scene. A drone will make you the king of YouTube — and Base Camp. Just make sure you get a cool one (below is the top-of-the-line DJI Mavic 2). Before hitting the ice, check its altitude limits and how long the batteries function in the cold. Oh, and stay tuned for a future ExWeb story on how to obtain the necessary drone permits in Nepal. $1,350.

COVID-proof balaclava

Despite our impending vaccinations, safety measures will remain mandatory for some time. Protocols in Nepal include wearing a mask, especially in closed, crowded, poorly ventilated places — the precise description of a BC mess tent. This tubular balaclava is comfy, warm, elastic, and also features disposable filters. The certified filter guarantees 98 percent filtration and is recyclable. Buy it quickly, because this model is nearly sold out. $30.

For girls only…

Let’s be honest: Peeing at -20ºC in a blizzard at a higher camp, wearing several layers of clothing AND your down suit is uncomfortable and potentially messy. Ideally, it’s done inside the tent, into a wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle. (Please, don’t mix this one up with your water bottle.) Such a task requires good aim, since any liquid spilled on clothes instantly freezes. For obvious reasons, it’s easier for guys to aim well in these circumstances than girls. But if nature doesn’t provide, technology will supply. Consider the clever, made-in-Britain device below — available in 10 colors! — and guess the rest. Just bear two things in mind: First, practice makes perfect (and practice is best acquired at home, in the shower). Second, if this is intended not for you but as a Christmas present to be given over pudding and champagne, make sure everyone around the table has a sense of humor.

New socks rock

What could be more boring than socks for Christmas, except maybe a tie? But guide and serial Everest summiter Kenton Cool recently wrote that he always wears new socks, right out of the wrapper, on summit day. “New socks that have never been worn give you the best opportunity to avoid losing toes to frostbite,” he says. We have also followed his recommendation and picked a mid-calf model from Icebreaker, New Zealand’s top purveyor of merino wool clothing. $30.

Sunglasses or goggles?

Top-quality sunglasses and goggles prevent not only snowblindness but also dehydration, frostbite, and eye damage in driving blizzards. A good pair of sunglasses serve from the airport to the higher camps and even the summit, as long as they have excellent optics and lateral protection to keep the unfiltered UV light at 8,000m from hitting our eyes from the side. The photochromic lens adjusts automatically with the light, from 2 on cloudy days to 4 for maximum protection. Still, most Everest climbers choose more protective goggles for summit day, especially if conditions are less than ideal. However, remember that most of the summit day is uphill, and bitter cold alternates with sweaty moments. The aerospace goggles featured below allow a half-centimetre of separation between lens and frame to avoid condensation. There are several lenses to choose from, but the Reactive Performance High Contrast model below ranges from 1 to 3 and is ideal in low visibility. Alpinists will be especially grateful for them if the summit day lasts longer than expected or if they have to descend in a whiteout.

Face mask or superhero cowl?

Yet another mask? Well, this seems to be the year to go incognito. Anyway, this model comes in handy above Base Camp, when the cold grips harder. It covers the head, neck and — rare for balaclavas — the shoulders, so cold air has nowhere to leak in. $80.

Shedding light on the summit push

One of the most impressive memories of any Everest expedition is stepping out of the tent in Camp 4 at midnight and setting off into the freezing darkness toward the summit. Maybe there’s a full moon bathing the slope in ghostly light, maybe not. To light the way and see well enough to maneuver at the fixed ropes, you need a reliable headlamp, well-adjusted for your helmet. The model below gives off a dazzling 350 lumens and has a red light option, if you want to get out of the tent at night without disturbing your partners. It runs off three AAA batteries (lithium, of course, for Everest) but is also compatible with the CORE rechargeable battery, which can be topped up from the generators in BC. $50.

Stay in touch, anywhere

The “no news is good news” motto is hardly adequate for family and friends who wait at home while you bravely venture above the clouds. Stay in touch with an Iridium-based location device. There are several types and models which track your position as you move up the mountain and can send an SOS in case of trouble. The Garmin InReach models, however, go a step beyond. You can text family, friends (and sponsors!) from anywhere, at any time. The system is compatible with apps and software which locate you on a map so that others can watch your progress. The pocket-sized unit functions as a GPS, digital compass, altimeter, and barometer. Garmin offers plenty of info and tutorials, so you can get familiar with it ahead of time. Once you’ve done Everest, you can even take it to the South Pole: Iridium works anywhere on earth. $442.

Pack for warm digits

Simple, light, and effective for toes or hands, the chemical, air-activated pads give off heat for hours. Try more than one brand in advance, to make sure they fit well in your boots or gloves. Also bear in mind that on Everest, they need more time to get going in the thin air. You may also have to shake them for a while or pre-warm them inside a jacket. Note that foot warmers may fail more often than hand warmers since there’ll be little O2 entering your boots above 7,000m. $8.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Steve Jones
Steve Jones
4 months ago

Thanks Angela, for the useful round up. I don’t entirely agree about having bright shiny duffel bags for travel to developing countries as they shout ‘worth stealing’. Wild Things, Mountain Tools, and others sell durable, reliable duffel bags that are much lower key. A minor quibble, but I wish you would spell duffle as duffel as it is the original spelling named after the town in Belgium that gave the duffel bag its name. ‘New trip, new socks’is good advice. It’s great that there are some solutions to goggles steaming up, the Abom electrically heated goggles are also good, but… Read more »