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How to Pack for a Southwest Climbing Trip
Longer days, rising temps, and the onset of spring all point to one thing: it’s desert season. And there’s no better place to scale desert cracks and explore tucked-away boulders than the endless cliffs, mesas, and canyons of the Southwest. (The stunning sunsets and stars from camp aren’t too bad, either.)
Climber Nina Williams recently pointed the camper van toward the Southwest for a road trip with climbing partner Kate Kelleghan. So if you’re ready to tie in for springtime sending, Nina has you covered with her top packing tips for desert climbing.
Spring Climbing Clothing
When in the desert, it pays to be prepared for anything. This time of year, rain, snow, and wind are all on the table, so packing for a climbing trip can be tricky. Be ready for all elements by packing plenty of warm weather-ready clothes.
“My desert closet covers everything from warm to cold, from short shorts to long pants,” says Nina. For a real cold-weather game changer, a pair of puffy pants is unbeatable.
Sometimes rain still wins out. In case the weather cuts your outdoor climbing plans short, it’s never a bad idea to toss in your indoor climbing shoes and gym climbing clothes, too.
Climbing For Any Style
From steep sandstone cliffs to enormous limestone caves, the Southwest is known for its incredibly varied geology. For climbers, this means there’s plenty of rock to choose from—no matter what style of climbing you’re into.
It’s not a bad idea to bring a stack of quickdraws for sport climbing and your rack of trad climbing gear—there’s ample opportunity to use both. If you have the space for it in your car or camper van (and even if you’re not planning a bouldering trip), a bouldering pad or two can be great for messing around on those close-to-camp boulders.
Camp Living Essentials
Even if you’re sleeping in the dirt (especially if you’re sleeping in the dirt), treat yourself by adding a few luxury items to your essential camping checklist. A comfy pillow is a must, and since desert nights can be downright frigid, it is wise to opt for your warmer sleeping bag.
If your coffee game typically takes a hit while you’re on the road, it’s time to rethink: Nina never travels without her full coffee kit of specialty beans, an Aeropress brewer, and thermo mug.
Also important? A first aid kit and a good book—or better, two: Perfect for those long and lazy mornings while you wait for the cliff to go into the shade, or sunny afternoon rests at the crag.
Camping Packing List
Since the majority of any climbing trip is spent at the cliff or at the boulders, Nina dials in her camping kit to prioritize comfort at the crag. That means making sure to bring her sunhat and, if the approach isn’t too long, a portable camp chair for relaxing between pitches. (For climbing areas that are truly roadside, you can’t do much better than the Dometic GO camp chair.)
And don’t forget comfortable clothes for belaying and hanging around: “I usually wear a lighter-weight performance shirt to climb in, and then have a cozy, comfortable long-sleeve for when I’m not climbing,” says Nina.
Organize, Organize, Organize
Nina knows how easily the back of the car, truck, or camper van can become a scattered mess of climbing ropes and camping gear. (Good luck finding your water bottle or missing sock in the middle of the mayhem.)
It is possible to avoid storage area chaos—it just takes a little work before you hit the road.
Nina organizes her climbing harness, rope bag, and belay devices in boxes like Dometic’s hard-sided storage and soft storage. Depending on the style of trip, she fits most of her climbing gear in a box or two. Additional boxes for her camp kitchen and food round out her storage setup.
The system makes it easy to separate climbing gear for different objectives, and lids keep gear contained on rough desert roads. Plus, the ability to stack crates goes a long way towards making more space in cramped storage areas.
Fuel Long Climbing Days
Perfect climbing days start and finish with gourmet meals at camp: Rather than being an afterthought, bringing along the right food is crucial for a successful climbing trip. An electric cooler makes it simple to keep meal-elevating foods like vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses fresh for days, and without any need for ice.
Nina also uses the Dometic Water Jug and Faucet for hassle-free water dispensing. “When I’m on climbing trips, I never thought I needed a water faucet for my jug of water. But it’s so nice to be able to run your hands under the water, or do dishes, and have everything be really contained,” she says.
A final camp kitchen consideration: Double-check that you’ve packed those often-forgotten items like lighters, corkscrews, and cutting boards.
Climb On With Camp Comfort
With the arrival of the spring climbing season, it’s the right time to rope in your road trip setup—which can evolve to suit your climbing and camping preferences. For Nina, years’ worth of climbing trips has helped her shape her perfect Southwest checklist, allowing more time to focus on exploring all the climbing the desert has to offer.
Some solid trip preparation means that comfort while camping is covered, leaving you free to focus on all the reasons you’re there in the first place: sun-soaked desert climbing, quiet camping hideaways, and evening hangs around the campfire to share all the epic tales from the day—and to make plans to do it all again tomorrow.