When is a jacket more than a jacket? How about when it was your shelter from the rainstorm on day one of your first multi-day hike? What about when it kept you warm on that abnormally cold bivy last spring? Or even when it helped you stand out from the snowy background as your friends snapped shots of you launching off the kicker for your first – and failed – backflip attempt?
A jacket is more than just a jacket when it’s lined with memories. When it protects you. When it makes the difference between a good and a bad experience.
Athletes take this a step further. When climbing an 8,000-metre peak, a jacket – and gear more generally – can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful mission or, more extreme still, the difference between coming back with all their fingers and toes and losing a few on the way.
Alpinist and The North Face athlete, David Göttler, knows only too well the importance of his gear.
‘If one zip isn’t working this could mean the end of my expedition or, even worse, I could freeze my fingers. If suddenly I have a zip which isn’t able to open or a glove isn’t able to work or if your feet get cold in your shoes – it’s just so important the gear. It determines how far you can push. If your gear fails, then even if you’re super fit you can’t complete your expedition. Up there, when a zip doesn’t open and you have to take off your gloves to open it, your hands get cold and won’t be able to get warm again. Some athletes say they don’t mind losing a few fingers, but for me this is just crazy. It’s amazing how these small things make such a big difference.’
David is part of a growing group of alpinists that are pushing higher with less: less gear, less assistance and no supplementary oxygen. At that level, clothing takes on a whole new meaning. It can literally be the difference between life and death.
We wanted to help our fast and light alpine athletes get to the top of the world as safely as possible and this meant developing a whole new kit. The Advanced Mountain Kit (AMK), developed in conjunction with David and a handful of our other athletes, is designed specifically for fast and light high-altitude climbing; it’s basically Summit Series™ evolved. It’s made up of a system of layers, featuring new proprietary technology, each complementing each other to bring about the optimum balance of protection and weight.
‘For me, every piece of AMK is amazing. But I totally love the 50/50 Down Jacket it’s so light and compressible. But the thing with AMK is that it’s the whole system that works together.’
David used his 50/50 and CloudDown layers, pants and jackets, instead of a sleeping bag while resting at the South Col of Mount Everest during his summit attempt in 2019.
‘It wasn’t my warmest night ever, but it worked out pretty well and it meant I didn’t have to carry the weight of a sleeping bag. I was really proud of myself because I managed to unzip the pants and re-zip them in a different way, so it was like the lower part of a sleeping bag. And with the jacket I put the sleeves in, so it was like the upper part of a sleeping bag. It totally worked.’
David used to climb with the late Ueli Steck who, in David’s words, was always so ‘brutal’ about what you should and shouldn’t take in order to keep weight down. David thought of him as he left for the South Col, minus his sleeping bag. ‘I think he would be kind of proud that I left my sleeping bag, especially at the highest camp on Everest.’
The whole experience on Mount Everest in 2019 will go down as one of David’s favourites. He didn’t make it to the top. Achingly – but wisely – he turned back just 100 metres short of the summit, due to the crowding on the final ascent. But he said he was proud of his actions and learnt so much from that experience, including that it’s possible to sleep at the South Col without a sleeping bag if you have the AMK gear.