Weekend Mountaineer in Mount Fuji: 30 Must Bring Items
“Climb Mount Fuji at least once in your lifetime!”, this is a saying that you hear among Japanese. It seems more people are saying that since Mount Fuji has been registered as a world heritage site.
Also, with the popularity of the Yama Girl (Mountain Girl) growing, it seems like the mountains have become closer and more accessible than ever before. FYI, Yama Girls are young women who enjoy mountain climbing and hiking as a hobby. It’s also important to note that their fashion as it’s important to look cute in colorful, mountaineering outfits while they climb.
It is the tallest mountain in Japan so if you have the energy, mentality and the right timing, it is definitely something worth the try! For me, all these elements came together and fell into place at the end of August. I wanted to climb to the top of Mount Fuji and see the Goraiko (sunrise) from the top of the mountain!! With the right preparations, even someone like me who does not have much experience in mountain climbing can try for Japan’s No. 1 mountain.
This first article is about preparation. I did lots and lots of online research before I went…but what do you really need and what can you leave behind? I want to offer you a full report from the perspective of a super beginner alpinist who has actually recently gone to Mount Fuji.
Below is my list of what is needed to climb Mount Fuji in the order of importance. I’ve also included reasons to why they are important so you can judge for yourself if it’s really necessary for you or not. In any case, climbing Mount Fuji is a test of your physical endurance. Bringing too much stuff and having a heavy load can be a real strain on your body. Therefore, it’s very important to have the right balance between having the bare necessities and being fully prepared for anything!
*Mountaineering Backpack (+ Water Resistant Cover)
I recommend a backpack for mountaineering; one with external pockets. If you are trying for the summit and plan to stay overnight in the mountain lodge, a 30L to 35L size should be perfect. It’s best to have one with relatively thick shoulder straps and one that you can buckle at the waist. Since you will be walking for long hours with a heavy load on your back, it will be less burden on your body if you can evenly distribute the weight between the 2 points on your shoulder and at support the weight with your back. Make sure to adjust the length of the shoulder straps so that the weight of the backpack is well balanced. Keep the water resistant cover in one of the pockets you can easily reach if it starts raining.
Some people say that regular sneakers will do the job, but for me, I was glad that I had thought to bring Trekking Shoes. If you compare the soles of the sneaker and trekking shoes, you will see that sneakers for running have more flexible soles to support smoother movement from the heel to your toes. On the other hand, trekking shoes have more rigid soles that support a stable landing whether the ground is gravel, dirt or rock and thus, there is less strain on your entire leg. Additionally the high-top style supports your ankles. As for the shoe laces, you want your ankles to move comfortably when you climb up so you can tie your laces in a looser knot on your way up. On your way down, you want your ankles to be secure so make sure the knot is tight and then but on your spats over them.
*Rain Gear (Jacket and Pants)
Rain gear is an absolute must. When you pack your things in the backpack, make sure that the rain gear is on top where you can easily get out as soon as it starts raining. You may be thinking “A little rain won’t hurt, there’s no need for all that rush”, but if your body gets wet, then gets cold from the cool mountain temperatures, it can be very dangerous. In fact I was told that in the mountains the rain not only falls down, but it rains up as well. Therefore, a poncho-style raincoat is quite useless. Also, you have to be able to keep both hands free so definitely no umbrellas. Luckily, when I went, it only rained at the 5th station after I came down and right when I was getting on the bus to get back. But while in the mountain, I wore both the jacket and pants to keep warm.
*Head lamp (+ extra batteries)
The night mountain is very dark. If you do not have a head lamp, you might as well give up climbing after dusk. I wore the headlamp not around my head, but on my neck to shine my footing as I climbed. It was also useful in organizing my belongings in the mountain lodge since it was dark in the sleeping area.
The walk down Mount Fuji is mostly gravel. The gaiters prevent small pebbles from getting inside your shoes.
Fleece Jacket/ Light Down Jacket
It’s mid-August so it should be mid-Summer, but when you go to the summit it can be as cold as winter. You need clothes that you can layer to adjust your body temperature. For me, the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket was perfect. It’s light, and comes with a small bag that you can roll the jacket into. Yet it’s warm so it was great! I was told that the day I went was a particularly warm day on the summit, so I wore the Ultra Light Down jacket, rain gear on top of that, a beanie and a neck warmer and it was just right. In fact, I saw some people in short sleeve t-shirt and short pants around the 5th station, getting ready to climb up, but don’t expect to be able to get past the 7th station in that attire. I would recommend that you start with a thin long sleeve shirt and long pants from the start even if it feels a little warm; it can help you from getting sunburnt, any injuries or insect bites.
The climb down can be a real strain on your knees. The trekking poles can alleviate some of the strain on your knees and can give you a stable footing. My knees hurt even with the trekking poles…so I’m afraid to think what would have happened if you didn’t have them.
Copy of your ID/Insurance Card
For any emergencies, because you never know… I kept it close to my body when I was in the mountain.
Water (1L to 1.5L)
It doesn’t necessarily have to be water. It can be tea or sports drinks, but you need to keep hydrated. It also helps to prevent mountain sickness. You should be aware that the price of water will increase as you climb higher up into the mountain. You may think, “What?! It’s 500 Yen up here? I can normally get that for 100 Yen!” so you may feel like you want to take more water with you, but the more water you bring, the heavier your backpack and the sooner your body will get exhausted. Bring just the amount you can without your backpack getting too heavy, and the rest you would have to buy at a higher cost. You will need water not just for drinking, but any other purposes such as brushing your teeth. For reference, I brought 1.5L in 3 x 500 mL bottles. Any trash that you have in the mountains, you will have to bring back with you. So personally, I recommend drinks that are bottled in softer plastic like ILOHAS so that you can crush them once you finish drinking from the bottle and they won’t take up that much space.
Thick Socks for Mountaneering
You should have 2; one that you will wear and one that you can change later. Be sure to bring the 2nd one in case it rains and the one you‘re wearing gets wet.
After around the 7th post, there are parts of the mountain you have to crawl up some rocky areas using your hands for support so it is better to have gloves to protect your hands. As I mentioned earlier, it did not rain in the mountain when I went. So I was fine with the cotton work gloves that you can get for 100 Yen. If you have water resistant gloves, it would be better in case it rains or to keep warm when you get closer to the summit.
Cash: About 12,000 Yen in Cash + About 10 x 100 Yen Coins
From the 5th post and beyond, there is a charge to use the bathrooms at Mount Fuji. The cost is about 200 Yen per use and there usually is not a change machine. It can be a little heavy, but it would be better if you bring about 10 to 20, 100 yen coins.
As for the cash, there is no ATM at Mount Fuji. Why is it that you need 12,000 yen when you’re going in the mountains, you may ask. This is for the unfortunate event when you may have to give up going any further; you have to secure a way to come back to the 5th post. Once you climb up the mountain, the only way you can get back is to climb down. If you decide that you have exhausted yourself and can’t climb any further, you will have the option of 1. Resting in a mountain lodge until you recover so that you feel comfortable climbing down the mountain, or 2. If you don’t think you can make it down the mountain on your own feet, you can ride a pony to get back. However, the cost is 12,000 Yen to get back from the 7th station to the 5th station!! If you have not experienced Mount Fuji for yourself, you may feel that 12,000 Yen is really expensive. When you’re in the mountains and you are exhausted, you feel like it’s not so bad…you almost want to say, “Here’s the 12,000 Yen, now bring me the pony!” Hence the 12,000 Yen so that you can get back down the mountain in any case.
This for sure is high priority! Chocolate! I love chocolate so the sugar really helped to revive my exhausted body! Japanese also say it’s good to eat Umeboshi, which is pickled plum. The sodium and sour flavor is supposed to help your tired body. I actually ate Umeboshi in the mountains and the sour flavor was really refreshing! If you like wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets, the Sports Yokan is also recommended. It’s a little strange, but it’s snack that resembles the traditional yokan (a soft azuki jelly) but it contains nutrients that help replenish your energy during exercise. This was actually good. I also brought dried mangos and dried pineapples and they were really good. In fact, I didn’t really crave cookies or potato chips or any kind of “dry” snacks…. I guess that’s enough about the snacks, lol. But you are burning more calories than normal and if you have a big appetite, the meals they provide at the mountain lodge may not be enough. Definitely bring snacks!
I actually brought 2 hats. When I was around the 5th station, I wore a cap with a bill to block the rays of the sun. The heat and brightness of the sun are harsher as you get closer to the sun. The second hat I brought was a beanie to keep warm as I got closer to the summit. The hats are small and they don’t take up a lot of space. Just keeping your head warm can keep your body temperature from rapidly declining. So for me, I was glad that I had brought 2 kinds of hats.
Sun Block and Chap Stick
As mentioned before, because the sun’s rays get harsher since you are closer to the sun.
Change of Inner Clothes
For your inner wear, I recommend an easy-dry material specifically designed for sports. Your clothes get soaked in your own sweat as you climb up. Once you climb up, the wet clothes get really cold taking away your body heat. No matter how many layers you put on top of cold wet clothes, you will not get warm. It’s best to bring a change of clothes to change into if anything gets wet.
You can use this to wipe off any sweat, drape over you neck to prevent sunburn, to cover the pillow when you’re in the mountain lodge, to drape over your eyes instead of an eye mask when you try to get some rest in the mountain lodge…etc. etc. I brought 2 traditional Japanese Tenugui (washcloth) instead of a towel as they are much thinner and lighter.
The gravel roads down the mountain are very dusty. I covered my nose and mouth with the mask and used sunglasses to protect my eyes when I climbed down the mountain.
The rays of the sun are harsher as you are much closer to the sun. Even when it is a little overcast, it seems like the light stings your eyes. So sunglasses are important. It can protect your eyes from the dust on your way down the gravel roads.
Portable Phone Battery Charger
Generally, they do not allow you to charge your phones in the mountain lodges. Even in everyday life, I get nervous when my phone battery gets low. Because my phone acts as a camera, GPS, watch, flashlight… the battery dying is a critical issue. Therefore, I brought a battery charger. If you turn the power off while you’re climbing, you may not need this. FYI, other than the summit, I had reception almost the entire time.
The neck warmer was also a compact solution for adjusting my body temperature in the mountain weather. It was good that I could take it on or off as needed. Once you go higher up in the mountain, the air is very chilly. It feels really nice when your body is warm, but you’ll soon see that the more cold air you inhale, the lower your body temperature becomes. So once I started getting cold, I pulled the neck warmer up to below my eyes. That way, I could inhale warm air, heated from the heat of my body, and exhale out of my mouth and it really helped to keep warm.
Kleenex, Body Wipes,Hand Wipes, Antibacterial Gel
I hope you don’t think that you will be able to shower in the mountain lodge as if you were in a hotel! Water is very scarce in the mountains and you only get a trickle of water in the sinks in the bathroom. After using the bathroom, I did a very quick rinse under the tap and used hand wipes or antibacterial gel to clean off my hands. I used the body wipes to freshen up at least a little before resting in the mountain lodge. I brought them in packs of 10 sheets of each. But I guess if a little dirt doesn’t bother you, it’s not entirely necessary?
It’s useful to have a waist pack for anything that you may need while you’re walking. 100 Yen coins, small pieces of candy you can pop in your mouth as you’re climbing, phones, camera… I used the SPIBELT, which is what I usually use when I go running. It’s a little pouch on a belt. Super lightweight. If you have a lot of pockets, this may not be necessary.
Band Aids, Any Medication
In order to make my backpack as light as possible, I took out what I potentially may use during the course of the mountain climb and put it in a small ziplock bag. I was worried that I may get blisters on my feet, but luckily I didn’t get any so didn’t need to use them.
Can of Portable Oxygen
I really debated until the end whether I should take this or not. The reason is you can get it for like 300 Yen at a drug store, but it will cost you about 1,000 Yen up in Mount Fuji. In fact, if you pace yourself and walk slowly up the mountain, you will not get altitude sickness and so you will not need to use it at all. If you have space in your backpack, you may want to bring it just for peace of mind. It really will give you peace of mind just to know you have it. But be careful of how you use it. If you use it the wrong way, it can worsen your condition. I can explain in more detail in the next article.
Tooth Brush (No Toothpaste)
If you want to brush your teeth before taking a rest in the mountain lodge or after you wake up, take a tooth brush with you. Just be careful because you’re not allowed to use any toothpaste, and the water you use to rinse your mouth will have to be the water you bring with you. Don’t drink the tap water in Mount Fuji!
For putting in any trash. Any trash of yours, you must take back with you!
Heat Reflective Aluminum Sheets
These are those sheets that look like aluminum foil and keep you warm. If you want to see the sunrise on the top of Mount Fuji, you must get there some time before the actual sunrise and save yourself a spot; it gets that crowded on the summit. To give you an idea of how crowded it gets, it’s kind of like trying to save a spot at Tokyo Disneyland waiting for the parade. Waiting for long hours in the cold is very harsh on your body. If you sit directly on the ground, the cold ground will absorb your body heat and your will feel colder and colder. In order for that not to happen, I saw many people placing the aluminum sheets on the ground for them to sit on, or wrapping them around the body. FYI, I didn’t bring this. I wore the water resistant pants and sat on my backpack to prevent my butt from getting cold. If you are aiming to see the sunrise, the mountain gets really cold overnight but once the sun starts rising the temperature quickly warms up. Once that starts to happen, any of this stuff that you brought to keep warm is just things that weigh you down. Keep that in mind when you decide what to actually take on your trip.
Must have to take some pics with your buddies and get a sense of perspective in your photos.
… And Other Things You Want to Take and Stow Away in the 5th Station Locker are…
Towels if you want to go to the Onsen (hot springs) after your climb
Change of clothes for your trip back (loose-fitting relaxing clothes and shoes are good)
So looking at this entire list, you may feel like you have to buy a whole bunch of new gear. I initially thought the same…that I didn’t want to get a whole bunch of gear for my first (and probably last) trip of Mount Fuji. If you’re like me, and you’re a Yama Girl for just the one weekend, and you don’t think you will go mountaineering any time soon, I recommend renting your gear. In fact that’s what I did. Anything marked on this list with a *, I rented and was able to return after I got back at the 5th station. You don’t have to clean it or anything, just return as-is. Makes your bags lighter for your way home :)
So, now you’re all set to go to Mount Fuji!
Will Kimi really make it to the summit? Will she be able to see the sunrise? And what makes Japanese want to climb Mount Fuji at least once in their lifetime?
Keep an eye out for the next article when Kimi actually goes into the mountain!
Update: Weekend Mountaineer in Mount Fuji: Aiming for the Summit for a View of the Sunrise