The Perfect Climbing Kit: Interview with Outdoor Research Athlete Shingo Ohkawa

The Perfect Climbing Kit: Interview with Outdoor Research Athlete Shingo Ohkawa

Humble and reserved, you’ll rarely catch Outdoor Research Ambassador Shingo Ohkawa spraying or talking about himself. Which means he might not tell you that since moving to Salt Lake City in 2007 from the east coast, he has – among many other things – been at the center of revitalizing the exploration of his local haunt Little Cottonwood Canyon. What’s more, he has established first ascents and explored not only this backyard goldmine, but also areas all over the world.  With numerous first ascents ranging from routes in the Lone Peak Cirque and Hogum Fork to routes in Pakistan, Ohkawa’s fun-loving and laid back attitude is backed by a deep appreciation of climbing and its history.

“Context…” says Ohkawa in an earlier Verticulture interview, “… is an essential tool to interpret the evolution of our favorite mountain pastimes. After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants each time we repeat a route or visit a storied range to climb a chunk of rock.”

A man with a kind, ever-present smile and infectious energy, Ohkawa’s carefree attitude isn’t his only virtue. His tenacity and what fellow Outdoor Research athlete Beth Rodden has called his “endless psych” have helped keep him trucking when climbing’s sometimes unavoidable epics are white knuckled on his day.

“A recent jam I was in – and I try my best to forget them,” says Ohkawa, “happened on the first and every subsequent rappel off a tower we climbed in Pakistan’s Charakura Valley.”

Out of water, cold, under dressed and running very late, Ohkawa and his partner, Jesse Mease, barely made it back to the bivy with only a tag line left and a much lighter rack.

Despite the grueling descent, Ohkawa jokes, “We'll buy a six pack if anyone retrieves our stuck rope!”

When asked how long he has been climbing, he answers, “ I’m embarrassed to say.” But Ohkawa says he has been at it long enough to know, “if you don't like easy climbing – and the joy of moving efficiently over stone – then you just don't like climbing!”

A trad climber at heart, Ohkawa is inspired by opening new long alpine routes. His trip to Pakistan in 2012 ranked pretty high for this very reason.

“Although,” says Ohkawa, “each trip is special.” And after a serious accident in 2013 that left him injured but recovering, Ohkawa keeps this in perspective.

“These days, I remember more about the people I'm with than the climbing – or lack of – that went down,” says Ohkawa.“My memories of partners – as well as basecamp cooks and porters – are always the best souvenirs from expeditions.”

Ohkawa is graced with a kind and positive outlook and an almost uncanny luck at finding the strangest things stranded mountainside.

“In every major range I've ever visited – and here at home in the Wasatch, too – I always seem to find spent birthday balloons,” says Ohkawa. “I even stumbled on one just outside K7 basecamp in the Karakorum.”

With endless rock to explore at home and many adventures to come, for Ohkawa there is one thing that is certain, “Pursuing the climbing life means one never stops learning.”

Ohkawa has been an Outdoor Research athlete for eight years, which means he’s been in it long enough to see the Outdoor Research team's design input become production reality. Between work at International Mountain Equipment, being part of numerous climbing events and causes in the outdoor industry and his personal pursuits in the climbing world, we caught up with Ohkawa for a few minutes to see what was in his ideal climbing kit.

What’s the most important thing when selecting your apparel to kit out a trip?

“Everything I own has to be versatile,” says Ohkawa. “It has to be multi-purposed. It warms my heart to see dirtbags washing up at the local grocery. Like this, the Growler Shirt™ is awesome…it can be worn climbing and still go out in town. It’s kind of my uniform. Same with the Deadpoint Pants™. These pants are like a stretchy utility pants. They move well and they’re totally rugged and I don’t mind being seen in them after climbing. They’re perfect for climbing and I can wear them to work.”

Any other favorites?

“Another favorite is the Astroman Shirt™. This shirt is new and it’s the bee’s knees. It’s like a love child of the Echo, a super lightweight layer, and the Growler.”

What other items do you take with you or wear that fits your idea of multi-purposed?

The Handbrake Gloves™ are awesome belay gloves, but I’ve also been wearing them lately for descents…Going down is cruxy, and coming down with a pack in talus – wearing them help so you don’t cut or bruise up your hands. They’re also awesome for cleaning cracks out.”

What about an insulating layer for cool mornings or shady belays?

“I need everything I take with me to be super compressible and, like everything else I wear, multi-purposed. The Transcendent Sweater™ is a down sweater, but what’s especially nice is how compressible it is. It takes up about the space of a grapefruit. It has good insulation for its weight…put it this way, I never regret taking it with me.”

Anything else?

“Hats. To stay warm or protect from the sun. For this time of year, the Firetower Hat™ is awesome because of the bill. I hate wearing sunscreen, so this one’s perfect for extra protection, like cragging in the harsh sun.”