Planning a glacier camping trip this spring? Get prepped with essential glacier gear: axes and crampons, outerwear, a tried-and-true tent, and more.
Day trips only get you so far, especially on a glacier. Camping, however, turns limits into possibilities. Whether you’re piecing together a tricky alpine route or ticking off ski lines in a remote range, establishing a livable base camp amplifies your adventure potential. And with the proper gear, your base camp can become even more comfortable, dialed, and efficient.
But glacier camping isn’t just a pragmatic tool in the alpinist’s arsenal — it’s also downright paradisical. Nothing beats waking up at dawn in a powder-cloaked tent, miles from civilization, fixing coffee at the feet of pink-tinged peaks. Your only concerns? Where to explore, and how to do it safely.
From bombproof tents and apparel to lightweight crampons and sat devices, the gear below is well-suited for glacier camping. That said, a caveat: Don’t pigeonhole these primo products exclusively to glacial duty — most are handy in a range of winter camping, mountaineering, and backcountry ski scenarios, too.
We mainly tested this gear on a spring splitboard trip to Alaska’s Denali National Park with In the Company of Guides, but we also put it through the paces closer to home: on hut trips in Utah’s Wasatch and backyard backcountry trips in California’s Sierra this winter.
For strike missions in your local range, international dream trips, and everything in between, this glacier-ready gear is well worth considering.
Glacier Camping: Must-Have Gear, and Our Favorites
Our recommendation: Mountain Hardwear Trango 3
Mountain Hardwear’s Trango four-season tents are commonplace from the High Sierra to the Himalayas thanks to the brand’s livable yet durable designs. The Trango 3 ($950) is a breeze to erect with two people, although the clips are somewhat painful to operate with cold fingers.
With 48 square feet of floor space, the Trango 3 comfortably fits three and feels palatial with two, but the main vestibule could be more spacious, especially if three people treat the tent as a basecamp.
The curved profile and DAC poles withstand high winds and heavy snow. And while we’ve read reviews citing rainfly issues, we were impressed by waterproofing during our test.
With a packed weight of 11 pounds, 5.1 ounces, the Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 isn’t the lightest four-season tent on the market, so it’s better suited for basecamp-style expeditions than fast-and-light ski traverses.
Winter-Rated Sleeping Pad
Our recommendation: Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XTherm
Even the warmest sleeping bags are insufficient in winter camping scenarios without an insulated sleeping pad. We’ve tested Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XTherm (from $230) extensively over the last few years, from winter camping trips in the Wasatch to fall backpacking trips in Colorado and splitboarding sojourns in Alaska. And it’s our go-to whenever the mercury drops. While the bulk of the award-winning, winter-ready pad remains the same, Therm-a-Rest updated the valve for stress-free inflation and deflation.
The pad itself is still 2.5 inches thick, reasonably comfortable, and extremely warm with an impressive R-value of 6.9. However, the heat-trapping “ThermaCapture” construction is quite noisy and crinkly, which can be bothersome for tentmates.
Pro Tip: Bring a closed-cell pad, like a Z-Lite or RidgeRest, in addition to the XTherm. You can use the foam pad as a bench in dug-out camp kitchens and slide it underneath your XTherm at night for extra warmth.
Our recommendation: Petzl’s Gully Ice Axe
Unsurprisingly, most skiers and splitboarders on our Alaskan adventure relied on Petzl’s Gully Ice Axe ($170) — among them In the Company of Guides founder and IFMGA guide Todd Passey. The 45cm length is ideal for climbing steep couloirs and safely jump-turning down no-fall zones.
At 280 g, the lightweight Gully is hardly noticeable when strapped to the pack, yet the steel head and curved, tapered pick are more than capable of technical mountaineering. Available with either an adze or hammer, the Gully is a smart pick for backcountry travelers eager to climb and ski more aggressive lines.
Our recommendation: Petzl Irvis Hybrid
Ski mountaineers and splitboarders on glacial adventures will appreciate Petzl’s 10-point Irvis Hybrid ($190), which balances a low-weight, low-volume design with confidence-inspiring uphill performance.
While skinning across glacial terrain, you want a packable, lightweight crampon that’s hardly noticeable in your pack. The Irvis Hybrid ticks those boxes thanks to a light aluminum heelpiece and a Cord-Tec system that links toepiece to heelpiece with a thin yet durable cord.
This innovative system allows you to fold the crampons in half. While many traditional, nonfoldable crampons boast the approximate footprint of a Subway footlong sandwich — give or take a bite or two — the foldable Irvis Hybrid is more akin to an apple.
When it’s time to kick steps up a formidable couloir or scramble across rocks en route to your line of choice, steel toes with wide horizontal front points offer both durability and reliability. Our favorite aspect of the Irvis Hybrid — aside from the packability, of course — was the versatility.
The Irvis Hybrid’s ALPEN ADAPT system allows you to swap out a wire bail (for boots with toe welts) for a flexible style (for boots without toe welts). This is a massive benefit for indiscriminate mountain lovers who often swap between boot types. For instance, we brought both a hardboot and softboot splitboard setup on our trip to Alaska, yet only needed a single pair of crampons.
Not only that, but the Irvis Hybrid system is modular, and it’s easy to replace a toe, heel, bail, strap, or anti-balling plate as needed. Lastly, while we didn’t come close to pushing the limits of the Irvis Hybrid in technical terrain, this crampon is much better suited to ski-mountaineering and splitboarding than pure mountaineering or mixed climbing.
Our recommendation: Patagonia Black Hole Duffle 100L
When you’re hitching a ride via air taxi into a glacial basecamp, you need a duffel that’s both waterproof and durable. Patagonia offers a simple-albeit-elegant solution with the Black Hole Duffel 100L ($179). Black Hole duffels range from a carry-on-friendly 40L size to mid-size 70L version to the gear-swallowing 100L. And they come with various carry options.
Common threads between the sizes and configurations? Remarkable durability, and premium, recycled materials. Patagonia coats its recycled polyester in waterproof polyurethane, ensuring that if your bag is left out in the elements, you won’t be left with soggy clothes and wet gear.
Multiple handle options maximize hauling potential, while lash points enable you to secure the duffel to a sled, snowmobile, or pack animal. For international travel and longer adventures, we recommend you put your faith — and a startling amount of gear — into the Black Hole 100L.
Our recommendation: Arc’teryx Alpha Parka
We didn’t get the Arc’teryx Alpha ($999) in time for our Alaska trip, but we’ve tested it since in the Sierras and have fallen absolutely head over heels. No doubt, it will be the first article of clothing we pack for our annual pilgrimage to Alaska this spring.
Why? You’re at the whim of weather on any glacial adventure — and an ultra-warm parka like the Arc’teryx Alpha is perfect for frigid trips to the latrine, cold mornings fixing breakfast, and shoveling snow.
Designed for alpine expeditions and frosty belays, this wearable sleeping bag is stuffed with enough 850-fill, RDS-certified down. Then, wrapped in two-layer GORE-TEX Infinium and a liquid crystal polymer ripstop.
It’s one of the warmest puffies we’ve ever tested, and while it’s overkill in many situations, it’s potentially lifesaving in extreme conditions. While this puffy isn’t the most packable, it’s worth bringing if belays or bivys are in the cards. All told, the Alpha is an insulated insurance policy worth toting on most glacier trips and winter camping expeditions.
Patagonia claims the Storm Stride is their “most active waterproof shell,” and after testing the Fair Trade-certified outerwear during warm spells in Alaska and cold snaps in Utah, we’re inclined to agree. It crafted the three-layer armor from an exceptionally stretchy yet waterproof fabric, which fuses the weatherproofing of a hardshell and the tactile feel and breathability of a softshell — ideal for long slogs on the skintrack and bootpacks up couloirs.
Patagonia kitted the jacket ($499) with skin-stashing chest pockets, an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, and pit zips. The pants ($429) sport outer thigh vents, a nifty yet straightforward adjustable waistband, front cargo pockets, and reinforced, boot-fit cuffs that withstand accidental, ancillary contact with sharp crampons. Pair the two together for a cohesive, comfortable kit well-equipped to handle high-output efforts on high-alpine objectives.
Thermal Base Layers
Base layers are your second skin on a glacier camping trip — depending on temperatures and weather, you might wear them 24/7. The wrong base layers can, at best, cause discomfort. Worst case scenario, subpar base layers increase your chances of hypothermia. Assuming you have room in pack or plane, we recommend bringing along two pairs of base layers for a multiday trip.
On the other hand, the Capilene Air is lighter and crafted from a responsibly sourced merino wool and recycled polyester blend. Merino resists odors and supplies warmth, while a 3D knit structure lets the Air breathe like you’re touring in your birthday suit. On chilly tours, we love the Capilene Air Hoodie ($149) — it’s got a built-in balaclava that’s comfortable underneath a hat or helmet.
If you’ve got room for two pairs, you can’t go wrong with the Capilene Thermal Weight and the Air. If you’re limited to one set of base layers, we’d go with the Air for versatility’s sake.
Our recommendation: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Pants
Almost every outdoor enthusiast has a puffy jacket in their arsenal, but precious few possess puffy pants. On a glacier camping trip, insulated pants like Mountain Hardwear’s packable, 800-fill Ghost Whisperer ($249) are essential for staying warm and comfortable.
These puffy pants only weigh 9.6 ounces and pack down to the size of a ski goggle case. Though, you’ll likely leave these pants back at camp during high-output activity.
Of course, it’s a good idea to bring them along on missions when belaying or bivouacking is a possibility. That said, the bulk of a glacier camping trip is spent camping — cooking, tending to the tent, using the bathroom, sleeping — and for those moments, the Ghost Whisperer Pant shines. In fact, we’re such big fans of Mountain Hardwear’s puffy pants, we dedicated an entire review to them.
Gear for Safety
Static and Rescue Ropes
Our recommendation: Petzl RAD System
Petzl’s RAD System ($399) — which stands for “Rescue and Descent”— is a compact, ingeniously designed kit for everything from crevasse rescue to rappelling into couloirs. The RAD bag includes a 30m length of hyperstatic, 6mm cord, three screw-lock carabiners, a Tibloc ascender, a Micro Traxion progress-capture pulley, and a 120cm sling.
The compressed kit stashes easily at the bottom of your touring pack for emergency scenarios or, in hazard-heavy terrain, attaches to your harness — we recommend Petzl’s Fly — via two loops on the exterior of the bag.
The vast majority of our time on the glacier, the RAD system stayed stashed in the pack, except for a few sketchy traverses and bergschrund crossings. While many groups will opt for longer and thicker cords when traveling through glacial terrain, bulkier gear is often left at camp when tackling seemingly safe objectives, and the RAD kit is lightweight and compact enough to keep with you at all times.
Experienced alpinists may be familiar with the components of this kit, but it’s critical to read the instructions. And if you’re unfamiliar with these tools, be sure to take a crevasse rescue course or hire a guide.
Our recommendation: Bivy Stick
The Bivy Stick ($200) is a must-have for glacial travel or any remote backcountry expedition. This compact, waterproof gadget weighs only 100 g and connects to your smartphone through an easy-to-use app, allowing you to check in when off-grid.
If you don’t like to use your phone unless there’s an emergency, press the “check-in” button on the Bivy. This sends your location as well as a preprogrammed message to a list of phone numbers and email addresses.
The SOS button is also operational without your phone; it’s simply accessed in an emergency but difficult, if not impossible, to trigger accidentally. Coverage is remarkable — as long as you have a decent view of the sky. Although, you may have to wait a few minutes for a text to go through.
Between the carabiner loop and GoPro mount compatibility, it’s easy to have the Bivy Stick accessible at all times.
Best of all, Bivy Stick allows you to customize your coverage plan. As there’s no annual fee, but rather monthly packages, you can pay for coverage when you need it and opt out when you don’t.
Our recommendation: Uncharted Supply Triage Kit
During the craziness of COVID, Uncharted Supply’s survival systems have unsurprisingly been in extremely high demand. The safety-first brand stuffs its packs with everything you need to survive worst-case scenarios: from car breakdowns in remote places to an increasingly likely zombie apocalypse. The brand’s Triage Kit, however, takes a more streamlined route.
This ultracompact first-aid kit is small enough to keep in your touring backpack at all times. After interviewing over 100 outdoor guides and gear experts, Uncharted Supply fine-tuned the Triage Kit’s contents. Inside a water-resistant pouch, you’ll find:
- 5 yards of duct tape
- 3 safety pins
- 1 emergency Mylar blanket
- 8 fabric bandages
- 5 blister bandages
- 10 wound-closure strips
- 4 packets of lubricating jelly
- 4 aspirin
- 2 feet of 22-gauge baling wire
- 10 storm matches
- 4 7-inch zip ties
There’s a little bit of extra space inside the pouch, too, so you have room to add personal touches. For basecamp use, you may want a bigger kit, like Uncharted Supply’s First Aid Pro, but it’s a smart idea to keep the Triage with you on the skintrack or bootpack.
Our recommendation: Goal Zero Sherpa AC 100 + Nomad 20 Solar Kit
Outlets on a glacier are hard to come by — if you want juice, bring your own. Unless you’re a professional photographer or hoping to hammer out computer work on down days, Goal Zero’s Sherpa AC 100 + Nomad 20 Solar Kit ($460) should charge all of your electronics during a weeklong glacier trip.
The battery is about the size of two iPads stacked on top of each other. When topped off, it can charge a GoPro up to 19 times, a smartphone up to seven times, and a laptop up to one and a half times.
On our trip to Alaska, we’d plug in a GoPro and smartphone and wake up to fully charged gadgets without fail. With two USB outputs, two USB-C input/outputs, and an AC inverter, this efficient battery can charge devices while simultaneously soaking up the sun through the paired Nomad 20 solar panel.
While we reserve the solar panel for outdoor adventures, we’ve taken the portable power bank on international flights and work trips as well. It’s a great accessory.