Outdoor Gear Advice From Patagonia’s Master Tester Kelly Cordes

At 51, with a fused ankle and some fused vertebrae—after many years spent within the vertical—Kelly Cordes continues to be going robust. He is aware of what works within the mountains and why, and he applies these abilities to his occupation as a full-time gear tester for Patagonia. With each climb, each backcountry ski outing, each hike or scramble, he’s noting what works and doesn’t work along with his clothes.

A legend within the climbing world, Cordes’s profession contains the primary ascent of the Azeem (Nice) Ridge on Nice Trango Tower in Pakistan with Josh Wharton in 2004, a 7,400-foot route that’s greater than twice the scale of El Capitan and tops out over 20,000 toes.

It’s the “biggest alpine rock route in the world,” says Climbing Journal.

For the tough climb, they carried a single 28-pound pack filled with too little gasoline and too little meals. That they had simply sufficient gear to get them by means of to the top. By day they climbed arduous and boldly. By evening, with all their layers on, they every discovered a rocky nook and crawled into their summer-weight sleeping baggage. They didn’t carry a tent and even bivy sacks to maintain out the weather. As the celebrities shined over the Karakoram mountains, they closed their eyes and exhaled into the tops of their clothes to maintain hypothermia at bay.

He displays on the Nice Trango climb in his 2016 New York Instances article, The Pleasure and the Pain of the Climbing Life.

To succeed, the 2 climbed in “disaster style,” a time period Cordes and his climbing companions got here up with 20 years in the past whereas he was dwelling in a 7-by-11-foot “chicken coop” in Estes Park, Colorado.

“Disaster style, it’s a philosophy of life and how you interact with the world, not cowering in fear and throwing yourself out there. It means being willing to take a significant risk,” Cordes says immediately from his 560-square foot house in Estes Park, overlooking Rocky Mountain Nationwide Park (RMNP). “It sounds haphazard, but it comes from a place of personal importance and things I take a stand about.”

Cordes - 2
Richard Siberell

His home could also be a large number however is aware of the place his priorities stand: making the proper margarita, writing, climbing arduous, whether or not it’s on rock, ice, or a little bit of each, and utilizing the best gear. That’s why he’s “the world’s best gear tester,” Patagonia says in its tongue-in-cheek video of him in On the Brink, the place Cordes takes his outerwear and private discomfort to the restrict.

Simply as Cordes takes gear critiques significantly, he additionally rigorously considers every thing he brings to the mountains. He additionally is aware of the place to save cash—utilizing $20 gloves as an alternative of $100 ones and he is aware of when to spend cash on nearly indestructible gear. This contains the Metolius Safe Tech Comp harness, at $119, about twice of many others, however it’s bolstered and stands as much as abuse within the alpine.

Kelly Cordes
Cordes, giving his gear a better look Patagonia

Cordes follows the identical philosophy utilized by legendary climbers Yvon Chouinard and Renan Ozturk; this saying by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Perfection is achieved, not when there’s nothing extra so as to add, however when there’s nothing left to remove.”

Right here’s what the Cordes—the grasp gear tester—appears to be like for:

  1. How he retains his fingers heat

“Gloves are the last great problem of the alpine kit,” Cordes says. The place his friends typically carry three pairs up a route—lead pair, backup pair for after they get moist, belay pair, he typically brings one pair. “Gloves are tricky with ice climbing because they get wet, but you need dexterity and warmth,” he says.

As an alternative of gloves by Black Diamond or Arc’teryx, Cordes carries a single pair of $20 Japanese fishing ones known as the Showa Best 282 Atlas TEMRES Insulated Gloves. They’re constructed with micro-ventilated polyurethane and acrylic insulation with an anti-perspirant coating. They’re heat, they breathe, and are dexterous sufficient in order that Cordes doesn’t over-grip his ice instruments. He modifies the cuff to present them a snow skirt and clip-in level. He does this by slicing off the opening-end of a stuff sack and stitching that on. This permits him to regulate closure on the wrist with the grommet. He additionally sews on a Velcro patch to regulate the match. “These are the only pair I wear all day. These gloves are the best,” he continues. They’ve phenomenal dexterity and so they’re heat.”

This product comes with a warning from California stating well being/most cancers dangers.


  1. What he skips

Making one layer work for a lot of purposes is essential for Cordes throughout his climbs. Simply how he goes from three pairs of gloves to at least one, he does the identical by making an lively insulation jacket his main high layer. Whereas climbing, he wears the half-zip Patagonia Nano Air Mild jacket that’s a part of the High Alpine Kit. To maintain the warmth in when belaying, over high he layers that with the 3-ounce Houdini windbreaker.

Extra time on route means extra publicity to the weather and a better likelihood of being caught by a storm. However between carrying solely the requirements, he saves time and power. “It’s the difference between being benighted or being back at the beer cooler.”


  1. What he splurges on

In terms of first ascents, like Cordes and accomplice Kevin Cooper’s “Cannonball” on 14,295-foot Longs Peak in RMNP—300 toes of 1- to 2-inch thick ice positioned hours deep within the backcountry—Cordes must be match. For approaches requiring post-holing by means of waist-deep snow, crawling over boulders and shimmying by means of tight areas, he hikes or ski excursions a number of hours a day. “I get out as often as I can,” he says. “It’s required that I get out; this gear isn’t going to test itself.”

In terms of sneakers, he chooses consolation over minimalist. “Hokas rule for an outdated man with a worn-out physique,” he says of the utmost cushioning Hoka One One sneakers.

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  1. Creature comforts

To get electrolytes and hydrate within the mountains, some climbers use sizzling powdered drink mixes. Cordes brings bouillon cubes.

“In your thermos, rather than something wimpy like tea, go with a bouillon cube. I like veggie, and I drop it in with my hot water, and with all the salt and flavor, I feel like I’m drinking a hearty stew, even in subzero temps.”


  1. The extra you recognize, the much less you want

Cordes likes to nitpick about three issues: his writing (he’ll combat over whether or not to chop or maintain a comma); what to usher in the mountains; and, how one can make an incredible margarita. For gear, “I look for equipment from established companies with good reputations, things that have been around and proven themselves. I rely a lot on my friends’ opinions, too, because most of them are more dialed than I am.”

For his drinks, he chooses the tried and true over the pre-packaged: contemporary lime squeezed over ice, and 100 p.c agave tequila, “the good stuff,” he says.

The identical is true for what he carries within the vertical. “There are no shortcuts to knowledge and experience. And you learn to get by with a little less, to be more routine and not bring needless stuff.”

“After a while, ‘light is right’ becomes a philosophy,” he says.

Along with his work as an expert gear tester, Cordes can be an award-winning creator. Since April 1, he’s been releasing (free of charge) each day readings of his e book The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre. Go to his website to hear Cordes read, full with ice clinking in his margarita glass within the background. 

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