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Expedition style/ Heavy Haulin'

I have been thinking about a pet project for quite some time now. As I get into alpine mountaineering I am constantly faced with the logistical problem of getting stuff out in the field. I really only want to climb big mountains with guide services and only enlist their help when I need greater depth in my skill sets. This means I have to find a solution for getting all my gear out in the field. All of my backpacking stuff plus my harness, ropes, cams/anchors, carabiners, runners, helmets, axes etc... also have to come with me. How do I get it out there? I thought about getting an external frame pack and then looked into 85L + internal frames but the solution I think I like is much simpler: Expedition Duffel.

Most expedition duffel bags come with portering straps to carry the bag like a back pack (Patagonia black hole duffel and TNF Base camp). Ive seen countless mountain flicks where porters carried these packs. I tried it out on a short hike with 90 pounds in my 90L duffel and I think it might just do the trick. In short I would load the duffel up with all the equipment and a summit pack. More than likely my Arcteryx Cezro 35 because it is collapsible. I can effectively take all my gear to a base camp and carry a large enough summit pack for a multi day climb if needed. But I am talking about carrying this much weight and this poorly supported pack for 20-60 miles over any given trip where I intend to spend time at the base camp.

I know it is a far distant concept from the Ultra lite world but we all have our own unique problems to handle out in the field. I think this might be a solution to mine. Any thoughts?


Mountain bike and trailer?

I would consider this to be an act of masochism and a potential accident waiting to happen.

If, you need to carry large amounts of heavy whatever into mountainous territory and I did that as a regular part of my work for quite some years, then, you NEED a genuine "expedition" pack.

The best are Mystery Ranch and McHale, for what is available here in North America and there are Norrona, Bergans and some other Euro. models available by online ordering. I would start with a Mystery Ranch NICE 7500 combo, with added pockets and doubt that you will ever need another pack in your life, at least, for this kind of endeavour.

Google them and start learning about what they have to offer.

find a good sled, put two pieces of rope on either side, put PVC pipes over the ropes so that the sled doesn't slam into your heels on downhill sections, put carabiners on the ends of each rope, and clip them to your harness or your pack somewhere. Fill your pack as much as you need to, and also drag more equipment in your sled.

the old grey one can give more info about this, as he has used sleds on many expedition style climbs. I have used them also, but not for such long periods like he has. I will be using sleds on Denali, no doubt, when I climb there in years to come. 

I agree with Dewey, get a hauler that provides back support.  You haven't spent your life under a porter's hard toil, so do not have the strength and toughness to pull this off, trying to schlep a big ol' unsupported duffel.

Sometimes you just have to advance to your destination in stages, taking several loads over the same trail until all your kit is there.  Be wise and don't try to carry more than you can safely shoulder over the given terrain.  Back in the day I could carry 150 pounds for miles - over paved surfaces.  But a rough trail or off trail demands lighter loads for safety considerations, especially when going solo.  Though conditions and weights can vary, typically ninety pounds is about the limit on trail with an external frame pack; while sixty five pounds in a internal frame pack off trail is my tops in this realm. 


...typically ninety pounds is about the limit on trail with an external frame pack; while sixty five pounds in a internal frame pack off trail is my tops in this realm. 



Unless your name is Tipi and ya explore triple digit loads with your internal. ;)

I've done 90lbs. If you are not prepared I don't advise it.

First point is that, unless you are putting up new routes in the Karakoram, FitzRoy, or Baffin Island, you do not need 90 pounds of climbing gear. Second point is that if you are doing climbs of that magnitude, your partners will be sharing the load with you. There are virtually no climbs anywhere in the world that require that much gear (remember - Leave No Trace). The climbing world has been using cams and chocks for about 40 years now, which you place and retrieve on each pitch. Even if you are carrying a big Bosch drill and putting in hundreds of bolts (is your real name Maestri, by any chance?), you won't be carrying that weight of gear. Yeah, Maestri hauled a 200 pound compressor up the Cerro Torre (and failed to complete the route, at that). Maybe you plan to place several thousand feet of fixed rope?

It is true that on expeditions on mountains like Denali that you are looking at 3 to 4 weeks of food needed (at a kilo per day, that's maybe 50-60 pounds of food, but you normally do double carries for the first week or two and leave caches for the return). In terms of the climbing and camping gear, you are unlikely to have more than 40 pounds total (plus your food) for each member of the party. You share the tents, cook gear, and technical gear. On big mountains, like the Alaska Range, Baffin Island, the Antarctic mountains, you haul stuff on sleds, and usually double carry. Yeah, I have done single carries on approaches, where the glaciers were pretty level, with a total load in pack plus sled of 100-120 pounds. But hauling in a sled is not like carrying it on your pack (look at my avatar - I only had about 50 pounds total between pack and sled on that expedition with 2 weeks of food, and limited technical gear was needed). Even when I am doing the climbing instructor courses, where I have to carry several ropes and a large assortment of cams, chocks, biners, etc for the 10-15 students, the pig is less than 100 pounds. And that's only when schlepping it from the garage to the car, then out of the car in the parking lot, where the students divide it among themselves.

Oh, about those huge duffles? They are to contain the food and gear on the sled, not to carry.

Sorry to disillusion you. I'm afraid that climbers are less of "superheroes" than you are imagining.


One of our porters in Peru, carrying all the scientific gear (in the TNF duffle) plus all of his and the cook's tent and cook gear (in the other duffle). These guys have been doing it all their lives (and have life expectancies of 40-50 years).


Now, you could carry your gear like the required porters on Kilimanjaro do - on your head (same thing as Peru - these guys have been doing this all their lives, and have life expectancies in the 40-50 year range - you really want to pay that price?)

Thanks for the feedback guys, yall have hit on some major problems I have come up with myself regarding this type of packing. I was worried about carrying that much gear over longer distances and the dangers it presented. Even just doing it with 90 pods over 17 miles with 2500'Ft of gain there were some points where it got a bit risky.

Bill S said:

First point is that, unless you are putting up new routes in the Karakoram, FitzRoy, or Baffin Island, you do not need 90 pounds of climbing gear...

...Oh, about those huge duffles? They are to contain the food and gear on the sled, not to carry.

Sorry to disillusion you. I'm afraid that climbers are less of "superheroes" than you are imagining.


Bill thanks for putting some things in perspective for me. I am not a real rock climber and have very little experience on any type of wall, so one of the things I am most oblivious to is the weight of climbing gear.  My entire goal here is to be able to do 14ers - stuff in the 18,000's with2 people. For most climbs this would be unnecessary and only ad to the long list of contributing factors of my death in 2012s list of Alpine fatalities.

I was really unsure of the use of the expedition duffles that I always see in the mountain flicks.

Yeah I do get a bit disillusioned sometimes, especially when its something new, (and Im really excited about it) but I do like to think I have the ability to accept my ignorance and learn from it. You guys have certainly helped with dispelling my ignorance on this matter.


I was speaking in reference to a 21 day trip I did years back with an external. But for most people one would not need to hump that type of load.

You may need this type of load if ya have no pickup or drop off points like I did for food etc(different kinda trip than the op.)

I was just speaking in terms of what the experience was like in general.

70lbs(winter) is around where I hover now.

I must be getting old and perhaps losing what mind I had left as I do not "get" what it is that seems to make essentially urban people from large American cities in flat country want to pack HUGE loads in the mountains.

Doing so, is NOT "fun", even when you are 21, were born and raised in the mountains and are in superb condition. It just baffles me as I always try to keep my pack as light as possible, relative to the situation I am dealing with.

It is EASY to carry a GOOD pack a short distance, even when loaded with 90-100 lbs, at 65, I do this for fun around the hills of my neighbourhood and it keeps me spry.

However, a 55 lb. weeklong alpine hunting pack is DAMNED tough to hump all day in BC's mountains, fighting 8-ft. "Devil's Club", watching for bears and slogging across icy little streams that ALWAYS seem to be JUST over your boot tops.....

WHY anyone would want to carry more, except when packing out meat and horns/antlers (required by law-or, they would be left for Porcupine fodder by me) is simply more than I can fathom.

I can go for a weeklong deep winter solo trek with 40 lbs. max and be safe, clean and comfy and I do not see any reason to carry more. Well, whatever, we old geezers are just getting "soft", I guess......

Mumblefords said:

..My entire goal here is to be able to do 14ers - stuff in the 18,000's with2 people...

Not to worry.  There are a slew of 14ers, and up, the require at most an axe, crampons, rope, harness, and skis or snowshoes; otherwise duty rated gear for the expected temperatures is the only additions to whatever you currently tote.  No need to take the hard way up, many mountains can be summated on a scamper, or perhaps nominal French technique on a snow field.  If food is the weighty item, consider setting caches in advance of you trip, but make sure they are well concealed.  For starters some jurisdictions do not permit food caching, so you don’t want the authorities or other people spotting it.  Additionally the selected storage vessel and caching technique both need to be critter proof – bears are the obvious problem, but ravens and squirrels are also problematic, both capable of penetrating various materials used on storage containers.  

Some weight can be shaved with shrewd equipment selection and camp craft.  Route selection can reduce reliance on equipment.  Learning facts such as melted water takes less fuel to heat than ice, and ice less fuel than snow will reduce your fuel load demands.  In snow country 4 season pyramid tarps can trim three to seven pounds, or more, from shelter weight.  Retiring to your bag as soon as camp is established permits less insulating layers necessary when night time temps dip.  Snow caves enable you sleep warm with less reliance on the duty rating of your sleep system.  Nine millimeter ropes suffice for inclined snow fields where the need to arrest a vertical drop is unnecessary.  There are many such tips; the best way to school up quickly is signing on to a guided trip that travels a venue similar to what interests you.  You should be taking a few courses anyway.  Snow safety, wilderness first aid, and high aspect rescue techniques are all necessary skills, if you intend to secure safer passage and abide by the mountaineering traditions of self reliance.



2 trips ?

I know that some people hire guide services just to haul their gear in for them to their base camp. Thats another option.

90 pounds is a pretty monstrous amount of weight to carry.  i agree with the comments above that it would be worth figuring out if you can shave weight.  the most i end up carrying in the winter (northeast US) is about 60 pounds. 

using an expedition duffel isn't a bad idea, but you should consider incorporating some kind of frame if you want to go that route.  i have one of the small North Face duffels and occasionally use the shoulder straps while i'm walking through airports or in transit.  while it is reasonably comfortable and very durable, it isn't intended to support that kind of weight.  i can't imagine carrying the huge 150 liter duffel, loaded, with those shoulder straps and no hip belt.  bad for your shoulders and your back.

on the more expensive side, you could use the Mystery Ranch NICE frame with a load sling - load up your duffel and secure it in the sling.

or, you could spend the money and get one of their really large pack bags.  might be more convenient than the duffel. 


For a lot less money, you could use an external frame that performs the same function:


I put sandbags to 90 lbs. on my MR NICE and with the pack itself and water, that makes a load of almost exactly 100 lbs. You would be totally surprised at how comfortable this is and most men can do it without major trauma IF they use a pack of MR's quality.

To do this, start with a concrete block wrapped in old towels to about 45 lbs and work up, but, I can still do it without pre-training and I do not suffer unduely from an hour or two training on the trails near my home with such loads.

I would bet that younger guys here could do it with zero problems if they use the MR NICE pack, possibly the finest all-around packs I have ever carried.

funny, Dewey, i pack between 35 and 70 pounds of iron hand weights into my G6000, separated by a couple of old synthetic sleeping bags.  

Invite some friends and share the load

May 10, 2021
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