top of page

12 Essentials You Need To Climb Big Walls

Big Wall Episode #2 - Preparation

Big Wall Bible


The lightest but most useful thing you can take up a big wall is knowledge. Welcome to a resource that will help you be successful in getting up big rocks. Big walling is a big topic so we broke it into bite-size "pitches" with a video to START each one. The aim is to have lots of videos, photos, and written content in each section, not just of our stuff but your stuff as well. See HowNOT2 contribute your beta below.

Our courses are A-Z content in blog format, glued together with an overarching blog we call a textbook. A blog format is easy to read, easy to update, and easy to translate. Be sure to begin at the TEXTBOOK and at the end of each episode we'll point you to the next.

I know you are excited to get on the rock but you have a LOT of prep ahead of you in order to live in a vertical world for several days. This is your 2nd NON-SEXY big wall topic but if you get this wrong, you're coming down early. This might not be in a logical order but it's the order in which we pack things. How much water we take determines the hiking strategy which determines the haul bag prep etc.

  1. Water

  2. Getting the gear to the base

  3. Prepping Haul Bags

  4. Food

  5. Sleeping

  6. Pooping

  7. Electronics

  8. Clothes

  9. Toiletries

  10. Free Carabiners

  11. Knife

  12. Spare car stuff

Pissing Blood


The first ascensionists up The Nose had rations of 1 quart/liter per person per day, and apparently weren't in great shape by the time they got to the top. These days we are getting soft and take 3x-4x that! But water is a double edge sword. Take too much, and you are not getting up the rock, and take too little and you're pissing blood at the top.


In nice weather, 3L per person per day. Hot is 4L or about a gallon per person per day. Some cold winter projects can be 2L per person per day. At about 2lbs per 2 liters (yes, mixing metric with freedom units is fun, try it), a 2 person x 3-day ascent at 3L rations is 18 liters or 36lbs. A 3-person x 5-day ascent at 4L rations is 60 liters or 120lbs!!! Don't forget you have to hike to the base and hike off the top, but it weighs a lot so only take what you need. If you climb The Nose in under two hours, just take a drink before starting, and you'll be fine. Also consider your meals, if every meal is freeze-dried, you may have to take more water for that. If you do Lurking Fear, El Cap in 2 nights 3 days with 2 people in 70F degrees with freeze-dried meals, 3L is a good ration (18 total liters) plus 2 extra liters for food and the hike down.

There are two main methods of transportation. 2-liter bottles or gallon jugs. 2-liter bottles are easier to pack without gaps at the bottom of your haul bag creating a solid base. They are also easier to clove hitch or barrel knot the neck for an attachment point. If you buy 10 bottles, get the generic tonic water for $1 each and it doesn't have syrup at the bottom that takes forever to rinse and wash out forever tasting like coke. Unless you like tonic water, pour it out, cut off the labels so you don't risk littering, and give it a paracord attachment point around the neck. If you want gallons, don't buy the milk jug-looking kind!!! The lids are NOT bomber and can break in your haul bag. Also, like any bottle, cut the labels off these before you go up - don't litter. Gallon jug necks are not prominent enough, especially for size and weight to just paracord under it. The safest way to make it so you can clip them in is to run webbing under the entire thing. Duct taping it in place can be nice because you have duct tape if you need it. Jeremiah's Nalgene he climbs with is also covered in duct tape so it's ready at a moment's notice. Just make sure your attachments are bomber or they could kill someone if you drop them.

Humping Your Loads

Hiking Strategies

Young and dumb. 90lbs up Half Dome's death slabs is not a good idea

Are you a one-load wonder or do you like to do two loads over more time? If you are under a total of 120lbs, just carry 60lbs each up the wall. Above this, you got options. Carrying 60-90lbs each makes you slow and you have to decide if two "lighter" trips to the base are worth it. If you are carrying 100+lbs then you might get away with it if you are just hiking a short wall like the nose. Remember, you have to hike it all back down except for the water, so be careful not to take too much stuff if you do the two-load strategy.

1 Bag: If you do one load and one haul bag, one of you carries the pig (nickname for haul bag), and the other carries the two ropes mountaineer style and all the gear on their harness and chest harness. Without pitons, this could be approximately 45-55lbs. With water, the haul bag could be 60-80lbs. This can be nice if rappelling later to just be managing one haul bag without water, assuming there are no fixed lines, then each person could manage a bag, otherwise the first person down is generally bagless.

Multiple Bags: Each person having a haul bag can be nice for hiking or staying organized on the wall. This could be one large and one medium or just two mediums. Or 9 bags if you plan on doing something gnarly or silly. See our Hauling chapter on how to haul multiple bags and Rappel chapter on how to go down with multiple bags.

Multiple trips: Now with the permit system, you might as well run a load super early in the morning, come back to get the permit right at 8 am, grab some biscuits and gravy at Degnan's when you pass it, and then run back up with the rest of your shit. Another idea is to hike up with water and all your climbing gear and fix pitches. You can fix all the way to the Sickle Ledge on The Nose with two ropes knocking out 4 pitches. Leave your rack at the high point, your ropes can stay hanging there for 24 HOURS, and leave the stuff to haul at the base. Just don't yard sell like it's your dorm room, keep it tidy, and out of people's way. Since you are probably going to take your haul bag back down empty, take a weightless Ikea bag to leave your items in and put a note on the handle. DON'T LEAVE FOOD, bring that up the day you start.

A common strategy on Salathe/Free Rider is for climbers to go up the fixed lines up to the base of the heart, haul their bag(s) up there and come back down. The next day they start the Free Blast which is awful to haul and then meet their bags halfway through the day and keep going with them up to El Cap Tower.

Plan this part of the trip well for the best momentum on the launch day of your climb.

Wrangling Pigs

Haul Bags

They don't come out of the bag ready to go, get it? Haul bags come in the mail in a bag... never mind. How will you dock it, where do you plan on storing the loose straps, and do you need a bottle to protect your knot? If your bag is new to you, practice pulling it all apart and putting it back together. Do it in the dark. Get good at it.

There is enough detail about this that Chapter 3 is literally dedicated to the topic.

Planning the Menu


Bag your bags. Have every meal pre-bagged so you know your ration and it stays organized. It's also easier to pull out your daily ration before you start climbing for the day so the stuff you don't need can live safe-r near the bottom/middle of the haul bag. Put those bagged bags in another bag for your haul bag - tripled-up grocery bags have bomber handles and you can place your trash in between layers keeping the core compartment clean. Put tape labels on the handles so you don't have to open the bags to see who's stuff or what stuff is inside. Don't bring rigid containers like round apple sauce packaging, but the squeezy baby food type packaging. Don't bring a large trail mix bag! Pre-bag it in zip locks.

Freeze some of your bottles of water to make a refrigerator in your haul bag. This can take days to freeze solid but keep in mind it could take that long to melt too. Plan accordingly so you don't have to bail because you are thirsty and then rappel with 80lbs of frozen water.

This isn't the time to experiment with new recipes, flavor