Once, just the once, I did a same-day loop up and down Mt. Whitney. At 14,505 feet, it’s the tallest mountain in the continental U.S., and in 2011, when I spontaneously hopped on a last-minute lottery permit with five other people (three of whom I’d never met), I was hardly prepared to spend 18-ish hours in slow, angled motion.
In June. But also in the snow. (Hey, it had been a pretty bountiful winter.)
Luckily, a more experienced friend offered up some of her alpine gear to make the part-dirt, part-snowfield trek more comfortable. The following pieces are great investments for anyone interested in casually passing through the frozen, muddy and wet this winter in pursuit of bagging a peak. Or just checking out an early sunset.
Patagonia Simul Women's Alpine Pants ($139)
Functionally, the Patagonia Simul women's alpine pants are very similar to what carried me through those 22 brutal miles. They're made of a lightweight polyester stretch-woven fabric that has plenty of give and is waterproof. Multiple pockets that all zip shut keep the essentials handy; the thigh one's even placed perfectly so it won't interfere with a climbing harness.
A high waist makes sure your torso's totally protected when raising your arms above your head for a handhold. Lower down, the cuffs cinch snugly around your boots with a locking shock cord, which helps to keep gunk out of your socks, and tie-down loops let you attach an under-the-heel cord for use with ice boots if you're not running gaiters.
Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiters ($49)
Speaking of gaiters, if you've ever had the luxury of wearing them out on a super-wet day, you know they can be a game-changer. Waterproof, permeable and tough, the Hillsound Armadillo LT Gaiters are also so whisper-light that you don't even notice you've got an extra layer on. The lower is a super-durable, 1000D high-density nylon, while the upper is three-layer Flexia fabric that conforms to your shape and wicks sweat.
They zip right on, cinch at the top with an adjustable buckle and have a super-stiff nylon instep strap that goes under your boot (or microspikes, or crampons). At $49 a pair, they’re just affordable enough to banish gear guilt, too.
Fjallraven Women's Pak down vest ($250)
Fjallraven means "Arctic fox" in Swedish, the company name "honoring the small and highly adaptable predator that lives in the Swedish mountains under the harshest conditions," the brand explains.
I'm gonna go ahead and say you'll straight feel like one if you slip this on. It’s lightweight, incredibly compressible (complete with its own stuff sack), deceptively simple and next-level sustainable when it comes to its goose down.
Basic features are all you need for a piece that will keep your core warm and arms free, like a hook inside the collar for hanging, a fabric barrier between the top of the zipper and your chin and simple pockets (two inner, open; two outer, zippered) that hold just the basics.
Kora Women's Shola 230 Zip ($160)
Once I made the jump to sheep’s wool for my base layers, I’ve rarely looked back. And what with the down vest, merino socks and, now, yak’s wool top I’ve got in the gear closet, it’s like a happy, cozy little zoo in there.
But how can you argue against using materials sourced (humanely and sustainably) from animals who thrive in the environments you want to play in? The Kora Women's Shola 230 Zip is one of a small, carefully curated selection of offerings from the still-young brand, but with the warmth, low profile and smart cut, I can’t see the company needing to design much more.
The snug-fitting half-zip features flat-locked seams placed off your shoulder’s pressure points, a long line to keep your belly and back covered while stretching or reaching and a UPF rating of 40-plus — perfect for lounging on that warm rock while you hammer down some calories in the winter sunshine.
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