Outdoor Gear Advice From Patagonia’s Master Tester Kelly Cordes

At 51, with a fused ankle and a few fused vertebrae—after decades spent in the vertical—Kelly Cordes is still going strong. He knows what works in the mountains and why, and he applies these skills to his profession as a full-time gear tester for Patagonia. With every climb, every backcountry ski outing, every hike or scramble, he’s noting what works and doesn’t work with his clothing.

A legend in the climbing world, Cordes’s career includes the first ascent of the Azeem (Great) Ridge on Great Trango Tower in Pakistan with Josh Wharton in 2004, a 7,400-foot route that is more than twice the size of El Capitan and tops out over 20,000 feet.

It’s the “biggest alpine rock route in the world,” says Climbing Magazine.

For the difficult climb, they carried a single 28-pound pack stuffed with too little fuel and too little food. They had just enough gear to get them through to the end. By day they climbed hard and boldly. By night, with all their layers on, they each found a rocky nook and crawled into their summer-weight sleeping bags. They didn’t carry a tent or even bivy sacks to keep out the elements. As the stars shined over the Karakoram mountains, they closed their…

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