Tips for fast and light multipitch climbing: Ditch the backpack


Words by: Emilisa Frirdich

On countless occasions I have cringed at the sight of climbers weighted down by large expedition style packs dangling on the rope unable to make upward progress. Their multipitch climbing experience would be more enjoyable, less tiring, and more likely to succeed without the pack. In addition to being awkward, packs throw off your centre of gravity, get stuck in chimneys and make you sweat on hot days.

One of the first things one of my climbing mentors taught me was that neither the leader nor the follower climbs with a backpack (even a small one) unless the climbing is easy. If a lot of extra gear or food is required we haul the pack.

Here are some tips that have helped me stay pack free during most of my climbing career:

  • Shoes

    If you have to bring shoes because you’re not rappelling the route, clip one on each side of your harness and not together. They will sit flatter and not form a cumbersome bundle. With the modern low profile approach shoes I barely even notice I have shoes clipped to my harness. You can also stuff your shoes with food which is an added bonus.

  • Pants

    Pants with lots of pockets including thigh pockets are key. Zippered pockets are a bonus so you don’t lose your lunch or your phone. I also like pants with an adjustable pant cuff with a drawstring that way I can cinch them down to keep the cold air out or pull them up on hot days. (Gamma LT)

  • Jacket

    A jacket is always useful on a multi pitch climb. Even on a hot day it can be cold up on the wall when the wind picks up or if the sun goes down. There are numerous windshell and insulated jackets that have a stuff sack or stuff into a pocket and have a loop that fits a carabiner to clip it to your harness. (Squamish Hoody, Nuclei SL or AR)

  • Water

    Use water bottles that can clip to your harness by either making your own with a plastic bottle, cord and some duct tape or by purchasing some. I like the malleable plastic bottles with a clipping loop that compress when they are empty. I’ve started to put electrolyte tablets in my water to increase water absorption, so I can get away with a bit less water.

  • Chalk Bag

    I always get a chalk bag with a big pocket to store my headlamp, phone and/or power bars. I also replace my chalk bag belt with either webbing or cord to use to make anchors in case I have to bail on a route. The cord can also be used as a prussik. (C80 chalk bag)

  • Food

    I need to eat a lot to keep my energy levels up so I fill my pockets with powerbars and snacks. I usually bring 1-2 sandwiches too. Real food fills me up a lot better than bars and I’ve come to appreciate that squished sandwiches, even though they look unappetizing, taste pretty good.

  • Headlamp

    Unless I’m really sure that I won’t be benighted I won’t bring a headlamp. As mentioned above, you can put a headlamp in your chalk bag or pant pocket. I’ve also seen people clipping their headlamps to their harness, climbing with a headlamp around their neck or having their headlamp already attached to their helmet.

  • Harness

    A harness with big gear loops and a haul loop is beneficial. When approaching or descending a climb, hiking with only the harness waist loop on (with the leg loops hanging to one side) is much more comfortable.

  • Rack gear on shoulder length slings

    I split up the rack on slings (draws and belay devices, large cams, and small cams) to make it easy to carry over my shoulder to the base (if you’re not bringing a pack to the base). I include a carabiner for each sling so that they can function as an extendable draw.

  • Phone or SPOT personal tracker

    I always bring a method of communication in case of an emergency. If you’re bringing your phone make sure to face the touchscreen away from the rock in your pocket.

  • Backpack

    Coil the rope.

  • Light weight carabiners

    Light weight gear reduces fatigue on a long route.

To get more climbing insights firsthand, take a look at clinics and seminars at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy and the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy: