It's that time of year! The mountains turn white, water freezes and we get to go Winter Climbing :) Winter Climbing is one of the most satisfying, inspiring and incredible things that we do in the mountains. But it is also one of the most dangerous activities and as such, we need to ensure that we have the right kit for the job. Below, I have highlighted what I carry in my bag for a day's Winter Climbing.
It is worth noting that some of this is a personal choice etc, and will differ slightly from what I carry when teaching or guiding in Winter. If you have any questions at all, please leave them in the comments below.
What to pack for Winter Climbing
Personally, I prefer light, simple bag that is thinner than my profile. I don’t like lots of faffy straps or pockets on the outside. These just tend to get caught, or flap around in the wind.
As a general rule, a 30 – 40L sack is an appropriate size for Scottish Winter Climbing. Try to ensure your sack has a removable hipbelt, or one that is low profile enough to be fastened out of the way whilst climbing.
I love the Arcteryx Alpha FL series, and have both sizes of this. I also love the Blue Ice Warthog, which, although smaller than mentioned, has a helmet strap on the outside which reduces the need for so much space inside!
Waterproof Jacket AND Trousers
Fully Waterproof Shell Outfit is essential in Winter. Despite the numerous and well-advertised benefits of Softshell fabrics, the weather can change fast in winter, and you need to always be prepared for the worst.
You will hear lots of contradicting recommendations for Hardshell garments (I only use Gore-Tex Proshell). Whatever you decide to get, make sure it fits and it works. There is no point in wearing it if it a) leaks or b) lifts out of your harness every time you raise your arms.
Most climbers prefer full salopettes for winter, due to extra warmth and protection they provide.
I am a fan of carrying a big, warm jacket as my belay jacket, rather than a “mid warmth” jacket like many others carry. If it all goes wrong and I end up sitting still for hours, I want to be confident that I will be warm.
I LOVE the Black Diamond Stance Belay Jacket. This is one of the best belay jackets on the market. Honourable mentions go the Patagonia DAS and the Mountain Equipment Citadel.
Scottish Winter Climbing can be very gear intensive, so ensure you have a harness with lots of gear loops. A well padded harness is less necessary, as all the layers you are wearing will pad you out! I love the Arc'teryx Harness and currently wear an AR-395 A. I use this all year round for everything, the only exception being big-walling.
Although considered a matter of personal choice in Rock Climbing, a helmet is an absolute necessity in Winter Climbing. Bits of snow and ice will fall on you!
Lots of opinions with this: I wear a light helmet that doesn't get in my way; a Black Damond Vector. Some will tell you to wear a hard-shell as you get hit more in winter. Whatever you choose: WEAR ONE!
Preferably clear or orange lenses, when the wind picks up, these are often to bit of kit that saves you, as it enables you to see.
I carry a small repair kit in case my crampons etc break. Normally it contains: A Crampon Spreader Bar, Some Cable Ties, A spare bolt for Crampons, Some Duct Tape and a Small multitool.
First Aid Kit
Hopefully you will never need this, but you will be glad of it if you do! Most package first aid kits are full of superfluous “stuff” that you do not need. Keep it simple and appropriate, you need something to absorb blood and some painkillers. Unless you know what you’re doing, you won’t be able to treat anything else on your own anyway. Army Issue Field Dressings are great for a “leave in the bottom of your bag” piece of kit.
In my first aid kit is a mobile phone, fully charged, switched off and waterproof.
More often seen in the packs of instructors or guides, this is a real lifesaving piece of kit. A two-man group shelter weighs next to nothing, lives in the bottom of your bag but will save your life if you get caught out! It also makes a great lunch stop on a blowy day…
Joe Brown;s currently have a 2-Man Lifesystems Group Shelter for just £27.00! At that price, theres just no reason not to carry one. See Here:
Joe Brown: 2 Man Group Shelter
Map and Compass
Never venture into the hills without these tools, and the knowledge on how to use them. GPS is great until it fails. I carry two maps and two compasses, as once one os ripped out of your hand in the wind, or a compass breaks, your scuppered!
Absolutely essential, it gets dark quickly! Make sure you have spare batteries and/or a Spare Torch.
Hats and Gloves
It is common to go through at least 3 pairs of gloves on a winter climbing day, so I carry at least this. Also two hats, one to wear and a spare.
High energy days require high energy foods! Don’t just survive the day on a flapjack from the petrol station, fuel yourself properly and well and you’ll be ready to go again the next day as well. Keep coming back for a post on Winter Nutrition, coming soon.
Just because it’s cold does not mean you cannot be dehydrated! Bring a drink and make an effort to keep sipping it all day.
An old trick is to add a slice of fresh ginger to some undiluted cordial in your flask the night before. In the morning, top up with hot water. Ginger is known to aid circulation (and flavour) and it certainly seems to stave off the Hot Aches!
12 or 14 point step in crampons, relevant to your objectives. Strap on Crampons are next to useless for Winter Climbing and have no place. Post to follow on choosing crampons!
Again, stay tuned for a post on choosing a pair of axes.
Single Rope or two 1/2 Ropes, appropriate to your objectives. Whatever you bring, it should be Dry Treated, wet ropes are heavy!
60m is much better than 50m in winter, as the belays are often far apart.
Relevant to your objectives. I will often carry:
2x Set on Nuts size 1 – 11
BD Camelots Purple – Blue (doubles of Green and Red!)
4 x 120cm Slings on Screwgates
3 x Screwgate
Note that Hexes are MUCH better than Cams in Iced up Cracks!
When Ice Climbing, I will bring between 3 and 10 screws and an Abolokov threader depending on the route. I also bring less Rock Gear.
Warthogs and Hooks are often “Get you out of Jail Free” pieces of kit when nothing else goes in!
Shovel and Probe: Sometimes!
I will also commonly carry a Shovel and Avalanche Probe. I decide whether to carry this based on a number of factors: where I am going, the show conditions, and my objectives. I nearly always carry this at work. When in doubt: it does occur to me that if I witnessed someone caught in an avalanche, and could do nothing to help them, could i live with that afterwards?
Now, writing a blog regarding what to pack or carry in the mountains will always be an opinion piece and as such, not be perfect for everyone. I would encourage you to think critically about your needs and objectives regarding what you carry. There is often a fine line between "Light and Fast" and "Light and Stupid" and it is important to stay the right side of this.
Consider especially how many clothes you need: if you tend to run cold you will need more! Often it is a case of experimentation and while you are dialling your systems, spend a little time at the end of each day evaluating what you carried and why. Do not venture into far-flung, remote crags until you know you have you kit dialled!
Be Safe out there!
Stay tuned for Posts on the following:
What to Wear for Winter Climbing
Nutrition for Winter Climbing
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