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World’s First Fully-Contained Climbing Suit Deployed on Everest this Season

Ever wanted to climb an 8,000er while watching Netflix and sipping hot cocoa? The AlpineComfortMAX is bridging the gap between luxury and alpine adventure.

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New mountaineering gear and apparel is employed in the Himalaya almost every year, but the 2022 Everest spring season promises to up the ante. A prototype of the AlpineComfortMAX, the world’s first fully-contained climbing suit, will be deployed on the mountain.

“Think ‘glamping’ but on a Himalayan expedition,” the suit’s inventor, Norton Oswald Barringer, told Climbing from Everest Base Camp. Barringer is testing the prototype suit while attempting the 8,048-meter peak, and it will be his third time on Everest.

So, when we say “fully-contained climbing suit” what does that mean, exactly? 

Well, the entire AlpineComfortMAX (ACM) is temperature-regulated, with a pressurized spherical headpiece that provides 360-degree visibility without letting in any outside air (think of an upside-down fishbowl).

An integrated oxygen system continually pumps high-flow oxygen into the headpiece, allowing the climber to breathe normally, as if at sea level, throughout the duration of their expedition. The headpiece itself is even designed to offer augmented reality functionality. A variety of apps can be programmed into the headpiece and viewed on the heads-up display, from useful utilities like Gaia GPS and The Weather Channel to leisure applications like Netflix and Hulu

“Climbers can easily binge their favorite TV shows, whether they’re queuing in fixed lines on the side of the mountain or huddling in their tent at night, all right from the comfort of their ACM,” Barringer said. He added that climbers will still need to have the content downloaded beforehand and that currently, the ACM headpiece can only display video in 720p.

The ACM is also fully heated, with the average internal temperature capped to drop no lower than 60℉, regardless of the altitude or external temperature. “This obviously isn’t ideal,” Barringer admitted, “since some individuals do find 60℉ a bit too cool for optimal comfort. In the near future, we’d like to guarantee our climbers a more reasonable 68℉, but that functionality is still in the works. The suit is quite energy-intensive, and we’ve found 60℉ to be a happy medium that still maximizes battery life.” On that note, the ACM prototype battery is continually recharged via embedded solar panels, though Barringer said that the system isn’t entirely self-sustaining as of yet.

In short, when wearing the AlpineComfortMAX, Barringer says, the climber is completely cut off from the hostility of the alpine environment, able to comfortably move at their leisure. 

An attached sustenance tube regularly supplies the climber with water and food as they climb, all hands-free. Although this early prototype version will only supply Barringer with basic food and drink, such as energy gels, nutrition shakes, and water, he is confident that eventually, the ACM will be able to accommodate hot beverages, such as coffee, soup, or hot chocolate (the sustenance tube is currently only able to offer drinks at 60℉, so you could feasibly drink coffee or soup, but it’d be lukewarm).

Another slight drawback, Barringer noted, is that this prototype suit still requires climbers to move their limbs manually, expending vital energy. That said, limb-assisted functionality is in development, and he hopes that very soon, physical exertion will also be a thing of the past for Himalayan climbers.

In the meantime, the suit’s integrated auto-ascender does allow the climber to climb without effort, so long as fixed lines are present. The climber simply clips into the fixed-line and presses a button, at which point the auto-ascender (rated to 500+ pounds) will pull them up the mountain. “The suit is burly and well-cushioned,” said Barringer. “So even if you want to sit down or lie down for a minute, you can let the ascender pull you over rocks, ice, and other debris without discomfort or damage to the suit’s exterior. As it sits, it’s the best way for the modern climber to minimize the physical exertion and discomfort they have to undergo to reach the summit.”

It remains to be seen how the ACM and Barringer will perform on Everest this season, but if the prototype operates according to plan, he is hopeful that his suit could hit shelves as soon as 2024. He estimates a retail price of $12,000. “We think that’s a bargain, considering what most folks shell out for commercial Himalayan expeditions.” 

“If the ACM operates as expected,” Barringer continued, “it could spell the end of discomfort for climbers in high-altitude conditions everywhere!”

Happy April 1st!—Ed.