Fast and Light: An Alpine Photographer’s Gear Guide

About the author: An Outdoor Gear Exchange contributor, Matthew Tufts is a freelance adventure filmmaker and photographer. After 18 years in Vermont and four more in California, he’s taken his life to the road, indefinitely.

I live in a 2008 Toyota Tacoma. (Laugh all you want #VanLife-ers.) I actually find it quite spacious. The imminent adoption of a dog may make it feel slightly smaller, but I think it’ll work out just fine.

I’ve been called a vagabond, a dirtbag and a transient (Hell yeah, mom, I made it!), and I’ll wear those monikers with pride. I live a frugal lifestyle on the road, no doubt. A big part of my ability to operate full-time on the road as a creative has been the consolidation of my belongings. I don’t own much—anything that could be deemed unnecessary or superfluous was left behind.

The result, of course, is that I’m very fond of my remaining possessions. These are things I can’t live without—kind of like oatmeal, peanut butter and the occasional package of cookies.

***

LAYERS

(Like onions—except these will keep you warm and don’t *always* smell bad)

Mid-layer: Black Diamond Coefficient Jacket

Black Diamond Coefficient in Homer Alaska

Homer, Alaska

I haven’t taken my Coefficient Jacket off since I got it one month ago. Okay, maybe I washed it once… maybe. It stretches and breathes when I’m active, but is comfortable enough to lounge in. The cool blue color looks great in town, too.

Puffy: Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody

My truck may not have insulation (yikes…), but I make sure my body has the best. Incredibly lightweight and packable to the size of a grapefruit, my trusted puffy served me well during the past two and a half months above 60° north latitude.

Shell: Black Diamond Liquid Point

Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell + Patagonia Puffy in Yukon

Yukon Territory, Canada

The Black Diamond Liquid Point – My most necessary layer for fast and light missions in the alpine. At about 14oz, there’s no reason not to pack it. It keeps icy wind and moisture at bay wherever I go.

FOOTWEAR

(These boots are made for climbing… and that’s just what they’ll do.)

Mountaineering: Scarpa Phantom Guide

Alaska Range Peaks + Scarpa Boots blog

The Alaska Range

Warmth, comfort and precision in the harshest of environments. I’ve spent the past three months exploring the mountains of British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska in Scarpa’s Phantom Guides and have been blown away by the performance. Pro-tip: pairs seamlessly with Petzl Lynx crampons.

Climbing Shoes: La Sportiva Mythos

La Sportiva Mythos + Trucker Hat - Joshua Tree blog

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

I love my Italian leather “loafers.” The Mythos are all-around shoes that will smear on slabs, wedge into cracks, and best of all, won’t kill your feet after 30 seconds of use.

CAMP

(Home away from home for the ultimate Type II Fun seeker…)

Tent: Nemo Tenshi

Nemo Tenshi + BD Raven Ice Axe - Mt Shasta

Mount Shasta, CA

Two words: bombproof protection. The Tenshi is an alpine fortress built to handle anything the mountains can throw at it. You can open up multiple vents to control condensation or batter down the hatches for a storm. This isn’t your family’s “glamping” tent: its 2P design isn’t built for comfort—it’s built to keep you alive.

Sleeping Bag: Nemo Sonic Zero Degree

Nemo Sonic 0 Denali blog

Denali, AK

A down, cold weather sleeping bag is essential for the alpine. Lightweight and uncompromisingly warm, the Sonic Zero Degree once got me through a -35 F degree night in Eastern Alaska. Just make sure to pair it with a waterproof stuff sack like the Sea to Summit eVent—down doesn’t handle moisture very well.

Stove: MSR Windburner

MSR Windburner + Yeti Rambler blog

Alpinist meets backpacker. Lightweight enough for long treks, but wind-resistant and fuel efficient enough to melt snow at altitude, I cook everything in the MSR Windburner. The only downside is its inability to simmer at a low setting—good thing I stick to pasta and oatmeal.

ACTIVITY-BASED GEAR

(Toys for the backcountry)

Skis: Black Diamond Convert

B_W Mammoth Skiing Blog

Mammoth Mountain, CA

A wide, lightweight ski optimized for touring and powder. You’re not going to charge down Alaska spines in these, but if that’s what you’re going for, you’re a lot gnarlier than me. Perfect for earning your turns in those deep, gladed pow stashes.

Bindings: Fritschi-Diamir Vipec 12

Tech bindings can be finicky. I learned that the first day. And the second. Okay, probably the whole first week. But once you get used to the toe-pins, the Vipec 12 rocks. It’s extraordinarily lightweight on the up, solid on the downhill and features a front lateral release with adjustable DIN just like your alpine bindings, so you can charge as aggressively or cautiously as you want. (Just do NOT lock-in the toe piece on the way down unless you’re riding some serious “ride or die” lines…)

Pack: Black Diamond Mission 45

Black Diamond Mission Pack - Hazelton Mountains BC

Hazelton Mountains, BC

Perhaps my favorite piece of gear, the Mission 45 has taken me from Patagonia to the Brazilian jungle to the Icefield Ranges of the Yukon. As a climbing pack, there’s room for all your gear—ropes, tools, axe, crampons—you name it, there’s a spot. But the real beauty comes in the versatile design: SwingArm and ReActiv technology allows this pack to stay balanced with your body so whether you’re toeing a knife-edge or slogging through the long approach, it won’t hold you back.

ACCESSORIES

(Like peanut butter in oatmeal—not absolutely necessary, but sure to improve the experience!)

  • Yeti 18oz Rambler: “over-engineering” isn’t just a catchphrase for the famed cooler makers—it’s a way of life. This is the only thing that hasn’t frozen in my truck when overnight temperatures dropped to thirty below. (Now if only they could make a human sized one…) It’s a bit heavy for backpacking, but if you’re going on a ski tour or anywhere you expect temperatures to plummet, it’s worth its weight in liquid warmth.
  • Trucker Hat: Rep your brand, your state, your school—whatever floats your boat. I’ve lost trucker hats in a river, seen one blow off a peak and worn another to shreds, but I always have one handy. It’s comfortable, breathable and looks damn good. (Well at least that’s what I tell myself.)
  • CRKT Drifter Knife: I take this EVERYWHERE. Whether it’s slicing up salami in the backcountry, making tripod adjustments in the cold or tucked in my pocket just in case a “127 Hours” situation arises (please no…), it’s small and light but burly enough for just about all my needs.

***

Now, I need to stress that in the end, your gear is only as good as your experience. I try to put all my gear through its paces so I know exactly how it will handle any and every condition. That comfort level can’t be learned through reading reviews and gear guides, so get out and use your gear for what it’s meant for!

Stay stoked,

Matt

Questions, comments, or just want to talk adventure? Reach out! You can contact Matthew Tufts by email or dropping him a line on his website or Instagram.

Matthew Tufts | E: [email protected] | W: matthew-tufts.squarespace.com | IG: @matthew_tufts

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Published:December 9, 2016

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