“Down and Up” Packing Tutorial for the Black Canyon

Multi-pitch routes traditionally are approached from below with the technical climbing beginning and ending in more or less the same place thus allowing parties to stash gear at the base while on route. It’s convenient to hike in with a larger more comfortable pack containing extra water, extra layers, and so on to have a mini base camp at the start of the route. However, routes where the descent takes a different path necessitate an “up and over” kit. The only functional difference is you don’t get to leave anything at the base with everything you need on the route remaining unchanged.

In the Black Canyon this norm of approaching from below is literally flipped on its head. The approach starts on the rim on the canyon, often in the dark, and ends at the bottom of the canyon before getting on route and climbing back to the rim. We’ll call this page the Black Canyon “down and up” packing page and dive into the various strategies for climbing with the kit you need to get to the base on your back or on your harness.

Choosing a Pack / No Pack

There are two schools of thought here. Many climbers eschew the bulk of a pack for the minimalist strategy of clipping approach shoes and a water bottle to their harness. You’ll see your guide (and a lot of others) climbing with a small “bullet” pack in the range of 15 to 30 liters. For us leading a party on a longer route, the ability to take extra water, a first aid kit, and have everything stowed away is a priority. It’s also partly a function of the fact guides are used to climbing with a pack. Our pick for an on route pack is the Petzl Bug (18 liters). The Black Diamond Bullet (16 liters) is also a great choice and certainly the time tested (and namesake) on route rock climbing pack. Peak provides on route packs for guests if you don’t have your own.

black canyon with peak guides

Technical Equipment

Here is a basic list of the technical equipment a FOLLOWER would want for a day in the Black Canyon. This equipment is included on a guided day in the Black with Peak if you don’t have your own:
– Helmet (UIAA approved)
– Climbing harness (must have a belay loop)
– Belay device w/ dedicated pear shaped locking carabiner
– Nylon 120cm sling w/ locking carabiner
– One large pear shaped locking carabiner to clove to the anchor with (Petzl William or Attache)
– Optional: chalk bag
– Optional: belay gloves

What would the gear list for a leader be? It depends. Feel free to contact us to ask general questions about a leader’s kit but be advised, you’ll get a lot more “it depends” on your movement skill, risk tolerance, and general preferences.


The approach we’ll take in this format is a list of layers to add as the temperature decreases. Temperature guidelines are provided to give the following recommendations some context but don’t take them too literally:

  • Base layer: cotton (or synthetic) T-shirt and synthetic climbing pant
  • Temps in the 60s add a fleece layer
  • Temps in the 50s add a lightweight puffy
  • Temps in the 40s or below add base layers
  • Rain in the forecast – add a rain shell

In dry, high elevation climates like Colorado being in the sun or shade makes all the difference in the perceived temperature. Layers are key to adjust as you move in or out of the shade or as the day warms up in general. Here’s the bottom line: if it’s gnarly out there take a bigger pack and be prepared.


Rock climbing shoes: Comfort is key and there is no one climbing shoe that is best for every application. The La Sportiva TC Pro is by in large one of the best climbing shoes ever conceived. Sized to wear with thin socks this gets pretty darn close to a quiver of one – at least for all day climbs.

Approach shoes: Many of the canyon descents (if not all of them) require technical scrambling and/or rappels. Footwear you can confidently move through 3rd and 4th class terrain is essential. Ideally, the shoe you bring to the Black is on the lighter weight end of the spectrum since you will need to carry it on your back. Check out the Arc’teryx Acrux.

Food / Water

Sandwich or other solid food for lunch that isn’t 100% sugar combined with candy bars, Clif bars, Gu, or fancy organic blocks of dried ambivalence will get you through. Minimum of 1 liter of water and maybe up to 3 liters if the temps are higher (~70 degF or above and you’re in the sun). The Platypus collapsible bottle is the guides’ pick. Rigid Nalgene bottles are difficult to cram into a 16-18 liter pack with shoes, kit, and everything else.