Absolutely-contained Climbing Swimsuit to Debut on Mt. Everest

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New mountaineering equipment and clothing is used almost every year in the Himalayas, but the 2022 Everest spring season promises to up the ante. A prototype of the AlpineComfortMAX, the world’s first closed climbing suit, is used on the mountain.

“Think ‘glamping’, but think of it as a Himalayan expedition,” said the suit’s inventor, Norton Oswald Barringer Climb from Everest Base Camp. Barringer is testing the prototype suit while attempting the 8,048m summit and it will be his third time on Everest.

So when we say fully enclosed climbing suit, what does that mean exactly?

Well, the entire AlpineComfortMAX (ACM) is temperature-regulated, with a pressurized spherical headpiece that offers 360-degree vision without letting in outside air (think inverted fishbowl).

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

“Climbers can easily catch their favorite TV shows from the comfort of their ACM, whether they’re queuing in fixed lines on the mountainside or huddled in their tent at night,” said Barringer. He added that climbers still need to download the content beforehand and that the ACM headpiece can currently only display 720p video.

The ACM is also fully heated, with the average internal temperature allowed to drop to no less than 60℉ regardless of altitude or outside temperature. “Obviously this isn’t ideal,” Barringer admitted, “as some people may find 60℉ a bit too cool for optimal comfort. In the near future we would like to guarantee our climbers a more reasonable 68℉, but this functionality is still a work in progress. The suit is quite power intensive, and we’ve found that 60℉ is a golden mean that still maximizes battery life.” In that sense, the ACM prototype’s battery is continuously charged via embedded solar panels, although Barringer said that the system is not yet fully self-sufficient.

In short, when wearing the AlpineComfortMAX, Barringer says, the climber is completely cut off from the hostility of the alpine environment and free to move about in comfort at their leisure.

An attached supply hose provides the climber with regular water and food supplies during the climb, all hands-free. Although this early prototype version will only provide Barringer with basic food and beverages such as energy gels, nutritional shakes and water, he is confident that the ACM will eventually be able to accommodate hot beverages such as coffee, soup or hot chocolate (the catering bar can currently only Offer drinks at 60℉ so you could have coffee or soup but it would be lukewarm).

Another minor downside, Barringer noted, is that this prototype suit still requires climbers to manually move their limbs, consuming life energy. However, limb support is in development and he hopes that physical exertion for Himalayan climbers will also soon be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, the suit’s built-in auto-scender allows the climber to climb effortlessly provided fixed lines are in place. The climber simply clips onto the fixed rope and presses a button, whereupon the auto-transmitter (rated for over 500 pounds) pulls them up the mountain. “The suit is strong and well padded,” said Barringer. “Even if you decide to sit or lie down for a minute, you can let the ascender pull you over rocks, ice and other debris without discomfort or damaging the suit’s exterior. As it sits, it is the best way for the modern climber to minimize the physical exertion and discomfort they must endure to reach the summit.”

It remains to be seen how ACM and Barringer will fare on Everest this season, but if the prototype works according to plan, he hopes his suit could hit shelves as early as 2024. He estimates a retail price of $12,000. “We think this is a steal considering what most people spend on commercial Himalayan expeditions.”

“If the ACM works as expected,” continued Barringer, “it could mean the end of complaints for high altitude climbers everywhere!”

Happy April 1st! – Ed.