Written by Kevin
This is long overdue - but here you go, hopefully this can help someone looking to climb Denali.
This summer on the start of our year long road trip adventure I climbed Denali with a good friend from Salt Lake. Interestingly as we were preparing to leave on our trip I went home to Evanston Wyoming to see my folks. I stayed in my childhood bedroom and looked through some things I had left there. I came across a bucket list I had created as a freshman in high school. Sadly I din’t take a picture of the list so I can’t itemize, but I do remember that I wanted to run 50 marathons, do an ironman triathlon, and climb Mt McKinley. I remember thinking, man, I’ve already done most of these items and I’m climbing Denali in a few weeks.
So with that in mind here’s my guide to climbing Denali on a budget.
Before proceeding I would like to disclaim that saving money at the expense of your health or enjoying your experience is not a wise tradeoff. You don’t want to loose any toes or fingers so make sure whatever gear you take will keep you safe. My gear list might not work for you.
My number one tip for climbing on a budget is to have good, generous friends willing to help you out.
But you’re going to have to buy something so here’s the stuff I brought with me and what I spent on the items. A lot of this stuff I already had for winter activities. Long story short I spent about $2,100 for the trip, $1,000 for the climbing permit and glacier flight (unavoidable expenses) and another $1,000+ for gear and food I didn’t already have.
Here’s my gear list and what I spent:
Socks (4 pairs) 2 pairs that I had used for skiing for years, one thin and one thick. I purchased 2 additional pairs of socks with high merino wool content.
Socks (thickest pair I brought) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B2A9UM6/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s03?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $18.99
Heated Insoles (I didn’t end up taking these - I lost the charger for them, also I was a little worried about the comfort of hiking in these, they have a very different profile than the stock insoles)
Boots - Scarpa Inverno (purchased on ebay, they appeared to be new when I received them) When I tried them on for the first time they felt very uncomfortable out of the box. It turns out the insoles were in the wrong feet. After that adjustment they were fine, my shins at the top of the boot tongue got a little rubbed and I have a black toenail on my right foot from going downhill. All in all they were great boots, no blisters and they kept my feet warm-ish. $109
Overboots - Savage Mountaineering - I can’t find any info on these, they were an eBay purchase. These looked brand new when I got them though they were advertised as used. They were great for wearing around camp with down booties inside. I only climbed in them on summit day. I get cold feet very easily and they kept me warm on the coldest day, but I can’t say they had a thorough test. There are so many variables to consider it’s hard to know what kept you warm, was it elevated heart rate, mild outside temperatures, extra warmth from the sun, less heat loss from legs, head or hands allowing warmer blood into your feet? I was glad I purchased them and took them. If for no other reason they are good camp boots and good insurance against cold feet if conditions get ugly. $41.38
down booties - Ali Express purchase - link not available - I would get something better, get a bootie with a good sole that can walk on snow without getting wet or cold - $18.78
Gators - Granite Gear gators I bought about 15 years ago for hiking in WY and CO in snow. They are pretty beat up at this point, and I broke a zipper while on the trip, but they worked really well and kept snow out of my boots and kept me from snagging my pants with crampons.
Wool base layer (merino) I talked to people that said they already had lots of base layers from skiing and other winter stuff. I too had thermals but wanted to get something that was supposedly outstanding so I order a set (top and bottom) of extra thick (400g/m^2) merino wool thermals. I did wear these for a most of the trip and they worked fine, although I don’t know if I would have told a huge difference from the fleece tights I bought 15 years ago.
Merino Wool base layer (400g/M^2) https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Mens-Pure-100-Merino-Wool-Outdoor-Winter-sports-Long-Sleeves-fleece-Thermal-Underwear-Thicke-tops-bottom/1395897035.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.YddC1e - $117
Tights - I have a pair of fleece lined tights that I’ve had for 15 years that are absolutely destroyed. They sprouted huge holes (6-8” diameter) all over and I mended them which has more or less worked for the last few years. I don’t know the brand or what I paid for them, I think I got them at Sierra Trading Post in the bargain bin, probably $20 or less. I’ve used them skiing, biking, as a layer inside a drysuit, etc. and they have been bomber. I wore these the first part of the trip then switched to the wool when we got a little higher and colder.
Supposedly 700 Fill with 160 grams of fill. I can’t speak to the veracity of that claim. Western Mountaineering pants are $250 with 60 grams of fill (850 vs 700) I can say they were a little short for me (I’m 6’3” with a 34-36 inseam) but they kept me warm when I wore them, my leg layers were more than enough. These were super warm. http://www.ebay.com/itm/BlackIce-ultra-light-outdoor-camping-warm-thermal-white-goose-down-pants-FP700-/201676236997?var=&hash=item2ef4d728c5 $99
Eider Gore-tex ProShell ski bibs (really more of a pant with suspenders) I got these years ago from the local classifieds for about $85 for skiing. They match my coat (neon yellow green) and make me look ridiculous. they are also a little short if used without tall boots or gators (if you’re 6’3” with long legs) but they are good pants that kept me very dry and did a decent job of keeping out wind and holding in a little warmth. I wore these every day and were a key part of my kit.
underwear - these were good but since I don’t wear a lot of normal underwear I don’t really have a good point of comparison
Merino Wool unswear https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Free-Shipping-Men-s-Midweight-Underwear-Wholesale-Hot-Sale-Male-Black-Boxers-100-Merino-wool-Panties/1410623555.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.YddC1e $25.00
garments (1 pair) I took the spandex style bottoms and wore them for about 4-5 days.
Base layer (see leg wool - top and bottom came in a set)
Long sleeve synthetic (2 - I gave one of them to my partner) Thin long sleeve shirts to keep sun off and wick, a lot of travel is pretty warm and just a thin top layer works well.
Thin down coat (got from work) Patagonia Down Sweater, I wore this mostly in the tent and hanging out in camp - I did layer with it a couple of times, I probably could have gotten away with only taking a single thick down coat
Thick down coat - Mountain Hardware storm light ($50 used at a gear swap) I wore this in camp, especially at higher camps. I brought it on summit day but didn’t end up putting it on, although this item is a must I didn’t really use it that much. With this coat and a shell on I felt pretty bulky.
Shell coat - Eddie Bower Summit Series with some synthetic lining (gear swap $15) I wore this every day, this was a key part of my kit. I don’t know what water protection this coat offers, it appears to be pretty water resistant but I would’t want it in a rain storm. It has a lining that makes it warmer, and comfier, than just a plain shell. This was great for all conditions as it offered some warms, sun protection, a hood, and had good venting. This gear purchase was the biggest bang for the buck.
I brought one mesh garment top that I wore the first 4 or 5 days
Balaclavas - this was a thicker fleece balaclava that I wore as a stand alone hat (or combined with the hood from my coat). It covered my face and worked well for a mid-cold hat. I used the merino wool liner style with a hat or helmet when it got colder. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0091CC1OG/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $10.63
Balaclava (merino wool - thin) I wore this only at camp 4-5 and summit. I do believe in natural fibers but I don’t have any conclusive proof other than my opinion, so maybe I could have gotten by with just a single balaclava, but it was nice to know I had a dry one that was thin enough to fit comfortably under another hat or hemet. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LXUQ5X0/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $15.75
Down Hat - my big down coat doesn’t have a hood so I had this down hat and another that can be converted into a neck warmer that functioned as my down hood. I wore this a lot more in camp than while hiking, but I did wear it on summit day under my helmet and it worked well. This is a super warm super light hat. The downside is that it looks ridiculous. You look like the mushroom guy from Mario Bros. Also it makes it hard to hear when you’re wearing it over your ears. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Blackice-Outdoor-Hikking-or-Climbing-Goose-Down-Bucket-Hat-for-Male-Female/32595881800.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.YddC1e $16.76
Down neck warmer/hat - I love this piece of equipment. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/LMR-ultralight-50g-white-goose-down-filling-comfortable-warm-cold-wheater-adjustable-size-carry-cap-hat/32496674387.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.hPNSum $15
Glacier Glasses - These were a gift from the young men in my church, I wore these almost all day every day and only took them off when it was really foggy and snowy (when I wore ski goggles) These have the added bonus of looking pretty rad. They have that classic mad scientist look you’re after. I didn’t have a nose guard so I made one out of a manilla bubble envelope. It worked well as my nose didn’t get messed up, but it did look pretty silly. https://www.backcountry.com/julbo-vermont-sunglasses-spectron-4-lens?CMP_SKU=JUL0241&MER=0406&skid=JUL0241-BK-ONESIZ&mr:trackingCode=2A4C456D-5CFA-E411-BDDA-BC305BF82376&mr:referralID=NA&mr:device=c&mr:adType=plaonline&CMP_ID=PLA_GOc001&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PLA&k_clickid=53b21fc3-ca7b-4b97-9b98-c013939659f4&gclid=Cj0KCQjwwqXMBRCDARIsAD-AQ2g0PblSRlaAlDgG99ghChcchTzFDyK5J48TuH1wX1o1hyCXEQzhgrAaAq7oEALw_wcB
Sun shield shirt - this is an invention of my own device. I did this for an ultra marathon a few years ago. I took an old white t-shirt (actually a garment top) and cut in half (left what would be the back - retains the profile of a shirt but is only a single thickness) the back goes over your head and neck and the arm sleeves go over your ears and can be tucked under your glasses for a full face cover. It works well to block sun, it’s light and breathable, it’s free, and it helps you get rid of a shirt you probably need to get rid of anyway.
Visor - I have an old running visor that I used with my sun shined shirt, this combination worked well when it wasn’t very cold out and kept me well protected from the sun.
Wool liners - I think I liked the cheaper ones a little more, they were a bit more roomy and agile, but both worked fine and kept my hands pretty warm when wet and dried out pretty fast. I wore these a lot when hiking as my only had protection. I also wore them under my mittens on summit day but didn’t like wearing them with regular gloves as I felt like they didn’t fit well and made the gloves hard to get on and off. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0065P1PT4/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s03?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $17.99
Down mittens (to go inside shells) I didn’t love these. The were a little sticky getting on and off and seemed to ride up my hands a bit. They also seemed to get wet pretty easy. I wore these for the second half of summit day and in camp, but otherwise not much while hiking. I preferred gloves with hand warmers as I had more dexterity. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B019RM6NNY/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $40.99
Gloves - Kinco leather gloves treated with snow seal. I had a new pair of these that I bought at Smithfield Implement for about $25 (that’s the ultra deluxe version with extra lather on the palm and it’s own waterproof treatment packet - they caught on that a lot of skiers were buying the gloves) but I lost these fancy gloves right before the trip and ended up taking an older $7 version. The snow seal was pretty worn out, as were the gloves so they didn’t stay super dry, but they did keep my hands pretty warm, especially when combined with hand warmers. These got a lot of use on the trip, they were the most worn hand items.
I also had a very old and very worn pair of Cabellas gore-tex gloves with lots of holes that I wore some when the Kinko’s were extra wet and frozen.
I had a pair of OR gore-tex mitten shells (XL - these are huge) that a former roommate gave me 15+ years ago that I almost never use. They are monstrous and forget about any sort of fine motor skill movements, but they are great insurance against really gnarly conditions. I pretty much only wore them on summit day.
I used quite a few hand warmers on the trip. Lots of people were giving these away on their way down, these are must haves for the trip in my opinion. I probably spent $10 on these at sportsman’s warehouse in Anchorage.
Helmet - Petzl (not sure what model) loaned to me by a friend, I wore this from camp 4 up while hiking.
Harness - webbing - slings - rope - ATC - carabiners - prusiks -
If you’re thinking about doing this you probably already have all this stuff. I haven’t itemized what all this stuff cost me, you don’t really want used gear that you don’t know the history of. We didn’t take ascenders, that might have saved us some time when climbing and descending the fixed ropes. You really only need 1 ascender if you’re going to take one. You can use prusiks for getting out of a crevasse.
I believe I took the following
4 pre-tied prusiks knots
3 quick draws
3-4 loose carabiners
3 locking carabiners
4 slings, 2 long 2 short
20-ish feet of webbing
500 feet para-cord
We took a super thick super old 50m rope. We spaced ourselves 50 feet apart with knots tied every 10-ish feet. I’m not sure about the knots, but I’m assuming it’s for extra friction if someone does fall in a crevasse (keep them from falling very far). This rope was too long and too thick, but it was free (a friend that was getting married and decided she was done with climbing gave it to us) and was only good for top roping, rappelling, or this kind of protection at this point in it’s life. I think it’s an 11mm or 12. If you’ve got a thinner rope you’ll like not having to deal with a big fat frozen rope, but the big fat frozen rope worked fine, though a little heavy.
Tent - Big Agnes Battle Mountain 3 Person. This was loaned to us by a friend. This was a good tent for the trip. It would have been very crowded with 3, like our Irish friend said, it’s only a 3 man tent if 2 of them are making love. with big bags and lots of gear you can assume any tent is going to be 1 person less than the listed value.
Sleeping Bag - Big Agnes Crosho -20. The same person that loaned the tent loaned me this bag. It features Downtek (treated down supposed to work well when wet) and was pretty tough. This is a big expense that I didn’t incur. I made a down quilt years ago and was about to make a second to take on the trip (using both, a smaller inside of a larger - both 850 fill with 8 inches total loft) but I was loaned this bag and didn’t have to go trough the mess and frustration of making a second bag. https://thru-hiker.com/projects/down_quilt.php The -20 bag did great. If you put a hot water bottle in the foot of the bed at night it’s super comfy.
Sleeping pads - I bought this pad for my primary pad, specifically for this trip. This pad was very big and very comfy for exactly one night. The second night it sprung a leak(s?) and was flat the rest of the trip, despite multiple efforts to detect and patch the leak. It was a big bummer, but thankfully some climbers headed down gave me some extra padding they were looking to ditch. I would NOT recommend this pad.
Insulated Sleeping pad https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N9QZY2N/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1
ThermaRest Z-lite - My wife had this before we got married and loaned it to me for the trip, this helped a ton, especially since my mat was flat.
backpacking pillow - This worked well, however AFTER the trip it appears that it has sprung leaks and is no longer staying full throughout the night. This is the second of these pillows to go flat on me after pretty short lives so I’m going to have to advocate getting something else. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LW4CRSM/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $12.99
2L Water Bottle - I had a 1L of this same bottle that I brought but ended up being converted to the olive oil container when the oil’s bottle lid broke. I had 3.5 liters total that I tried to fill up and drink once a day. I liked the large capacity and flexibility of this bottle. My partner had a camel back bladder with hose. My experience is that the hose almost always freezes and is a pain to use. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000J2KEGY/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $12.95
Insulate thermos - Despite making endless fun of my wife for her hydroflask, I purchased one of these assuming it would work well at keeping water from freezing. It was a great purchase, and sadly fell out of my pack and into oblivion on our way to high camp. But up to that point it kept hot cocoa hot all day. I could put in hot water in the morning and it would be warm in the evening. I would strongly recommend something like this. Water freezing is real, and a little bottle cover will more or less take care of that, but one of these will allow you to drink something warm-hot later in the day when you’re feeling cold. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01D2AN9A2/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $28
My other water bottle was the old classic 1L wide mouth Nalgene bottle with a water bottle jacket that my landlord loaned me for the trip. The lid holder strap broke on the trip, and it got a bit warped when I pored in very hot water, but otherwise it worked well.
Trecking poles - I used my wife’s black diamond adjustable ski poles (no cost). You’ll want collapsable poles, but pretty much any pole should work.
Snowshoes - MSR Lighting Trail - loaned to me by the tent and sleeping bag guy
These were MUCH better than Costco snowshoes. My partner had the latter and constantly struggled with them coming off and buckles not working well. The MSR’s had Voile style polyurethane straps that held nicely and had a thin sharp edge wrapping the snowshoe that bit into hills and added to traction. I don’t know what these cost so I can’t say if it’s worth the cash vs cheepo’s, but if you can borrow a pair I would highly recommend it.
Crampons - Ice Axe
I purchased these 13 years ago, it was a package deal and I think I paid $100 for both. They are Raveltik brand, I never see anyone else with this brand so I don’t know if it really caught on, but they haven’t failed me yet.
Voile Straps - I had 4 of these with me and they were awesome as a backup to keep crampons from falling off (that’s always a hassle because they’re going to come off in an inconvenient place). Those little dudes are a little pricey, something like $6-8 per strap, but they are real handy for holding gear on a sled or on a pack, so I would recommend something like these.
Picket - These cost about $20 for a piece of aluminum, I borrowed 2 from the tent sleeping bag friend, so another big thank you for the use of these.
Shovel - I have several (maybe 4?) of these collapsable shovels that I use for ski touring and having in the car for emergencies. I think they cost about $15-20, this is a must have on the trip, you’ll have to dig a lot, the cheap shovel seems to do just as good as the fancier versions I’ve used.
Snow saw - a friend loaned me a couple of G3 snow saws, we never had to use them as we had access to pre-made camps and blocks from climbers headed down. I don’t know what these cost, and I can’t comment on the ease of use or necessity, we didn’t have enough snow and wind, and our campsite were already ready for us, so this didn’t get used.
Stove -MSR Whisper Light - My dad gave me this 20 years ago - I bought a new pump for it for the trip
Stove Fuel Pump https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BBF2SS/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $34.95
We were told over and over NOT to use an isobutane stove (jetboil) but that turns out to be partially true. If I were doing it again I would do the isobutane and just make sure the gas canister stays warm (keep in sleeping bag and place in bowl with standing unfrozen water when cooking.) We purchased 2 gallons of white gas and this was way too much. Because we were there late in the season almost everyone was trying to get rid of gas. I would take a jetboil and bring a whisper light, or similar, as a backup and rely on gas from other climbers headed down.
We purchased 2 pots at Walmart - one 12 quart and one 8 quart. They were WAY too big. I thought it would be nice to melt water once and be done for the day, but it just took way way too long because of the huge volume, so for the future take a smaller pot. I think the pots cost about $20 for both.
You’ve already got a bowl, knife, etc. I bought a plastic bowl at Fred Meyers as well as 2 plastic knife/fork/spoon combos. I brought a leatherman and a knife, that was unnecessary, I would just bring the leatherman in the future.
Kindle - I bought this for the trip and it was nice. I loaded something like 8-10 movies on it and watched about 4 on the trip. I think this is a good $50 investment. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B018Y229OU/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $49.99
Solar panels -
2 x 7Watts - one was a Goal Zero borrowed from a friend, the other was from China 7 Watt Solar Panel (link is no longer available - I would advise Amazon and going for a higher efficiency higher wattage panel) $21.46
We were constantly doing the solar panel dance to get all our stuff charged. I only had my phone and my kindle. My partner had his phone, GPS, and iPod and seemed to struggle keeping them all charged. I would bring a good sized battery pack and either 2x7 Watts or one larger panel and use the battery when the sun isn’t out.
GPS - Delorme InReach - my partner purchased this. I was skeptical about needing this but it turned out to be very valuable. It allows you to send and receive 140 character text messages via satellite. It also sent 10 min position signals to our friends and family so they could see exactly where we were and send us messages. I think he paid about $250 for the device and another $40 or something like that for service. He was planning to sell it after he got back and recoup all but about $50 of the investment (although I think he lost it). With the app you can use your phone to send the messages so it’s not so time consuming to type them out. This was another key piece of kit, I would strongly recommend getting one of these, much cheaper and more reliable than a sat phone.
Backpack and duffel bag -
I had an old Gregory Osprey pack, I read online that fully extended it’s about 85 liters. I purchased the backpack when I was in school, I think I paid $100 for it, it had been in a musty basement for years so it needed a little washing, but it functioned okay. Fully loaded it gets a little wonky (wants to fold over on itself) but it did the trick and I didn’t have to buy anything for the trip. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend 85-100 liters.
Duffel Bag - I bought this on AliEpxress - I really liked having one big bag that everything fit into and filled the sled nicely. It got real beat up over the course of the trip, but hey, it was cheap and I don’t really need a big long bag like this in regular life. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Lightweight-Water-Resistant-Heavy-Duty-Duffel-Gear-Bags-Hiking-Camping-free-shipping/32755820447.html?spm=a2g0s.9042311.0.0.YddC1e $23.10
Zip locks - trash bags - etc. This stuff is intuitive and cheap.
Food - I probably spent $300-350 on food. I had way too much of it. There’s no secret here. I looked closely at calories per gram for the lightest calories, and that’s not a bad metric, but if you’re sick of eating stuff it won’t matter much how calorie rich it is. As it turns out olive oil is one of the highest calorie per gram foods with something like 15 calories per gram, but I added liberal helpings to freeze dried meals, hash browns, mashed potatoes, etc. and very soon grew tired of eating it. We went late in the season and were offered all kinds of food from descending climbers. It might be kind of sketchy to rely on food donations, but it’s very likely people will be trying to give you food. If you REALLY wanted to save a couple hundred bucks you could bring very boring cheap food and hope you are gifted some better stuff, but I would recommend just biting the bullet and getting food you’ll be excited to eat. Sausage and cheese tasted good to me throughout the trip, as did most candy bars. Cooked stuff like powdered potatoes, hash browns, noodle dishes, got pretty old pretty fast. If you know what you can keep eating for 2-3 weeks and it’s easy to prepare in the cold, bring it.
The climbing permit is $365, the glacier flight is about $600-650. So you’re into it $1,000 no matter what. The extra expense is going to be gear and food. My gear purchases came to about $800-900 and another $300 on food. So my trip cost me $2,100-ish. I drove to AK so I didn’t pay for a flight, I was also able to drive to Talketna and stay in my van, so I didn’t have those travel expenses (at least directly attributable to the Denali trip). So the $2,100 doesn’t include any travel. That’s about as cheap as you can do the trip and still have enough food and gear to be safe. That also assumes you already have a bunch of winter stuff for other types of adventures that you can use for Denali.
Let me know if this is useful info.