Alan Hinkes takes
you through his clothing system for High
What does it take to scale the world's
Mountaineering expertise, plenty of bottle
and stacks of gear. Alan Hinkes takes you
through it layer-by-layer, from top to bottom.
8000m peaks is dangerous. One of the dangers
is the cold - extreme cold. 40 below is
common. In fact, extremes of temperature
are possible at altitudes of up to 7000m,
and it is possible to get a 'false ambient
temperature' of +40C, which is more than
On extremely rare
windless days, the sun can burn and heat
up the surface air in sheltered locations,
making it feel like an oven in the rarefied
air. But generally the problem at altitude
is protection from the cold. The best way
to keep warm is to layer up. Layering also
gives versatility - as it becomes colder
you can put on more layers - 'the way to
keep warm is to keep cool'. Don't over-heat,
strip layers off if you become too warm
- I'm often stripped down to my base layer,
which then becomes an outer layer. The layering
principle traps air, and still air insulates.
Sweat cools, so a wicking layer next to
the skin is best, to transport the moisture
to the outer layers. The middle layers insulate
- for 8000m peaks, I use a combination of
Polartec and down garments. The outer layer
cuts out the wind and anything windproof
works - I use Activent at the moment, but
have used Gore-Tex and Pertex in the past.
All the layers I wear are available from
outdoor retailers, except the one-piece
down suit, Neoprene overboots and 'Hinkes
Suit' (a one-piece oversuit).
is waterproof and breathable, it regenerates
and lasts forever. It does go wrinkly
with time, soft and wrinkly if wet
for too long, and it's easily rubbed
off and burns in the sun. This layer
can be worn in the bath, on the beach
or in the office.
Watches (left wrist): Casio ALT6000
- alarm, date, stopwatch, temperature
and altitude to 6000m. The alarm's
useful for those pre-dawn starts,
but it works better with the watch
dangling above my head in the tent
- on my wrist, buried in my sleeping
bag, it's not possible to hear the
alarm. I use the stopwatch to monitor
my heart rate, to check my acclimatisation
- the slower my pulse the more acclimatised
I'm becoming. The temperature reading's
interesting because it has to be hung
in the tent to get an air temperature
- on the wrist it gives wrist temperature.
The date helps me keep track of time
as the weeks pass by at altitude!
Watches (right wrist): Avocet Vertech
- takes over as an altimeter when
above 6,000m and up to 10,000m. But
how do you test it goes that high?
swimming trunks - tough-wearing, useful
for a quick dip (I also wear ordinary
M&S cotton 'shreddies'). Around
my neck is a Buddhist Puja necklace,
a piece of cord with a knot blessed
by a lama or monk - mine has an extra
tassle, allegedly blessed by the Dalai
Lama, and I must get round to taking
it off as I'm neither superstitious
is the next-to-the-skin wicking layer
which keeps you warm by keeping you
dry. It also acts as a protective
layer against the sun. I use high
protection sunscreen, at least factor
15, usually 20-25 plus. Worn up to
5500m, possibly 6000m in very good
weather. Berghaus ACL Shirt and Berghaus
ACL Pants - I generally wear these
two items next to the skin, under
other layers. It has a soft feel and
a loose enough fit to make it comfortable.
It can get smelly when I've worn it
a long time - fresh smelling clothes
are not the norm on Himalayan expeditions
- and I sometimes wear it for two
weeks or more, but usually try to
wash it at 7-14 day intervals. Even
in base camp, hot water for washing
is a luxury, so I often use cold water.
Sometimes when I hang my ACL out to
dry it just freezes, even in the sun.
I take at least two sets of ACL on
an expedition, sometimes three and
I may even wear two layers of them
at times. Loopstitch socks - I only
wear one pair of loopstitch (Berghaus
Mountain or Terra Nova Toasties) but
take five or six pairs on an expedition.
Clean socks are warmer so I do wash
them out, as with the ACL, and ensure
I keep a new, clean pair for the summit
layer is worn up to 6000m, possibly
6500m-7000m in very good weather.
Up to 6000m, I may be moving relatively
quickly, and creating heat, so this
layer can be enough in good weather.
This layer isn't windproof so I would
wear my Berghaus Extrem Gore-Tex jacket
and salopettes up to 6000/6500m, or
my one-piece 'Hinkes Suit'. Berghaus
Activity Jacket (Polartec 200) and
Berghaus Microfleece Pants (Polartec).
High altitude inners for Scarpa Vega
plastic boots - made from a closed
cell foam called Alveolite. This is
light, with good insulating properties
(the little bubbles in it trap air),
but it's a vapour barrier non-breathable
material so my socks and feet get
wet with sweat. I carry spare, dry
socks to put on at night; the wet
ones are put under my arms to dry.
I mark my inner boots and outer shells
'L' and 'R' with a permanent marker
(see Layer 7) - I used to get ribbed
for doing this, but I notice more
and more mountaineers are copying
me. Ordinary plastic boot inners can
be a little heavier and some absorb
sweat. I would then have to dry out
the inner boot as well as the socks.
6500m, it's still very cold, even
in good weather. The air is very thin
and blood gets thicker with dehydration
caused by gasping in the rarefied
air. This layer can be worn above
6500m, up to 7500m, in good weather.
Scarpa Vega plastic boots - I wear
one size bigger than I would in Scotland
in winter, or in the Alps. This is
to allow for swelling (oedema) at
altitude and so I can wriggle my toes
to keep my circulation going in my
feet to help prevent frostbite. Berghaus
Mountain Spire hat (Polartec) Terra
Nova Thinnies gloves - gives basic
protection when handling cameras and
also protects from the sun. Mountain
Equipment down vest - this is very
light and compact, packing down to
the size of a pint pot. It keeps the
main body core warm, and there's excellent
freedom of movement. Vuarnet sunglasses
- essential glacier-type eye protection.
Michelin man, but its all essential
above 7500m and into The Death Zone
(8000m+). I need all these layers
above 7500m because extremes of cold
are the norm, even in good weather.
One-piece down-filled suit (Pertex
covered) - this is light because of
the down and cut loosely for freedom
of movement, with zips under the arm.
These full-length zips allow the side
of the leg and body to completely
open for ease of putting on and getting
off, and for going to the toilet.
No need for a 'crap flap' zip opening
at the back.
Mountain Spire hat (Polartec).
Smith goggles - sunglasses can freeze
with vapour from my breath, even in
good weather. In bad weather, at high
altitude there is still a lot of UV.
Goggles are essential to protect my
eyes from the radiation and spindrift.
Sometimes I use goggles with clear
lenses in Scotland in winter to protect
from the stinging spindrift.
I also use Vuarnet goggles and Extremities
Berghaus Yeti Gaiters - not insulated
but give an extra layer and prevent
snow entering the boot. Marked with
'L' and 'R' so it's easier to see
which is which without using too much
brain power - I also write 'Hinkes'
on mine in case I forget who I am.