This does not pretend to be an exhausting piece on all the best gear out there. You can go to Backpacker or Outside magazines for that. Rather, it tells you my preferences and gear choices I have made over 38 years of toughing it out in the African bush, and more recently, the Altai Mountains.
The Gore-Tex patent was issued just a few months before my first Kilimanjaro climb in 1977. The boots I climbed in back then wouldn’t have known Gore-Tex if they stepped in it. I climbed in good old steel-toed Redwing construction boots, wearing Levi jeans, a cotton sweatshirt and a cotton army surplus jacket. This broke all the modern rules of outdoor clothing. But I survived, and there are many tales told around a blistering campfire as a result. In those days, anyone wearing anything more than that was pure sissy, not that there were any other real choices. Things have come a long way since then. Nowadays, if anyone tried to climb Kilimanjaro with me wearing that gear, I’d tell them to leave it at the airport. I now wear the best boots and gear that money can buy, because it’s usually the best you can get.
The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” couldn’t be truer when it comes to outdoor gear. One of the side effects of getting older and tougher in this game is that you turn into a bit of a sissy, so I’ve found. That may be true, but at least I’m a comfortable, warm and dry one.
Here’s my packing list:
Head and Face
- Nepali wool “ski” hat (or “toque” in Canadian)
- Cap or hat with brim (On Tusker climbs you get a Tusker Cap – no better!)
- Sunglasses that wrap around, or have side shields (Bucci or Julbo)
- Buff (All Tusker climbers get a custom Tusker Buff!)
- 1-2 lightweight T-shirts (Merino Wool – Ibex)
- 1-2 lightweight long sleeve shirts (Merino Wool – Ibex)
- 1 midweight long sleeve shirt (Merino Wool – Ibex)
- Lightweight down jacket (Mountain Hardwear)
- Down jacket with hood (Mountain Hardwear)
- Waterproof shell jacket (Mountain Hardwear)
- Thin gloves (Outdoor Research or Marmot)
- Thick windproof gloves or mittens – (Outdoor Research or Marmot)
- Waterproof shell mittens (Outdoor Research)
- 4-5 pair underwear (Under Armour)
- 1 pair lightweight long underwear (Merino wool – Ibex)
- 1 pair expedition-weight long underwear (Merino wool – Ibex)
- 1 hiking shorts (Ex Officio)
- 1-2 Hiking pants (Mountain Hardwear guide pants)
- Waterproof shell pants with zip-up sides (Mountain Hardwear)
- 4 sock liners (Bridgedale Coolmax)
- 5-7 thick socks (Darn Tough or Smartwool)
- Hiking boots – waterproof & mid-weight (Lowa Zephyr GTX)
- Gaiters (Outdoor Research)
- Soft-soled running shoes or light hikers (Lowa Tempest)
The outdoor clothing industry is built on the same premise as any other industry – that there will always be a newer, better model next year, and you’re an idiot if you don’t buy it. My philosophy is to buy the best gear you can afford – when you first need it, and use it until it breaks; or until something substantially better comes along. After using your gear for a few days, you’ll know when something is substantially better. But outdoor products don’t change that much from season to season.
I go through at least 2 pairs of boots a year. However, after 50 Kilimanjaro climbs, clocking thousands of kilometers in the African & Mongolian bush on foot, 4×4 and horseback, I’m still trying to find the perfect boot. Every pair I’ve tried (not counting my Redwings) is Gore-Tex lined, waterproof, gives great support and practically climbs the mountain for you. Yet still, there’s not one boot that works perfectly in all terrains. Since last year, I’ve become a LOWA guy. They’re stiff, built tough, and give your feet great support. For more rocky and uneven terrain when I need more flexibility, believe it or not, I wear the poorly made KEEN boot. Because it’s poorly made, the boots become very soft and lose their support very quickly; they allow my feet to “grip” the uneven terrain.
Also, inside every boot or shoe I wear, you’ll find a pair of SOLE custom foot-beds. A pair of these makes the difference between happy and sad feet at the end of a 25-kilometer day. I’m still looking for the perfect do-everything mountain boot. So are my feet. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
I like a snug fit in my footwear. For extra snugness, warmth and comfort, I wear a pair of BRIDGEDALE COOLMAX sock liners, inside a pair of expedition-weight Merino wool socks.
On my head I wear a $2 fleece lined wool hat, handmade in Nepal. They’re so warm, that I’ve provided 600 of my Kilimanjaro porters with one each. This wool hat has become Tusker Trail’s signature on Kilimanjaro. On my upper body, I prefer a light layer of Merino wool. Merino wool has supplanted Polypropylene as the material that best keeps you warm and dry, and it doesn’t smell after a week in the wild. In windy or wet weather I wear a 6-year old MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR rain shell. Shells have come a long way since then, but this one has kept me dry for 6 years, and it’s paid for.
The biggest change I’ve made over the past couple years has been from a windproof fleece jacket to the newer “down sweater,” some of which are not down-filled. Actually, it’s a very lightweight down or synthetic-fill jacket which keeps the wind out and the body heat in. All the big outdoor clothing giants make them. I’ve tried them all and have settled on the MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR versions. Mountain Hardwear uses heavier zippers, which on the more flimsy styles are the first things to break. In a 60-kilometer wind, at minus temps, broken zippers not only render the jacket unusable, but can be dangerous as well. I also layer up with an heavyweight hooded MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR down jacket for ultimate warmth.
Below the belt, when I’m not in shorts, I swear by my MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR guide pants. When the zippered pockets are closed, these are incredibly windproof, and work great on horseback as well. When summiting Kilimanjaro, I’ll put a pair of MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR waterproof Gore-Tex shell pants over the guide pants.
So that’s what you’ll find in my Tusker duffel. I wonder what the 20 something Eddie would think of me now.