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  • Writer's pictureAlex Moran

Winter Climbing and Winter Mountaineering Kit List

WINTER MOUNTAINEERING

KIT LIST 

This kit list has been compiled from years of experience and mistakes made in kit choice and kit use. I have included some top tips for getting the most out of your gear and making your winter adventures safer but also much more enjoyable! These are lots of gear recommendations, most of which are from Mountain Equipment, DMM and Petzl. For me, these brands have been the most consistent in functionality and durability whilst not costing the earth. However, there is a huge market out there in mountain kit and everyone has their personal favourite. My only true recommendation is that you buy kit which is designed for mountaineering and, in the case of hardware, is fully up-to-date with safety regulations (more on this below). If you want to learn more about the use of any of the equipment below, you can check out my online courses or get in touch!


CLOTHING


Clothing is the most important element of your winter kit list. Each person will have to find their own layering system and the clothing you choose will be very personal. The more experience you gain in the mountains the more you will adjust your clothing to suit your needs. This is an area where investing some money in high quality equipment will pay off in the long run. One top tip is to buy bright colours, this will give you increased visibility to rescue teams in the event of an emergency and other members of your team in bad visibility.


GAITERS

Some boots these days have built-in gaiters so whether you buy separate gaiters will depend on your boots and also what conditions you will find underfoot. If you are out on a very cold day where the snow is solid and the ground frozen, there will be less need than on a day where you are wading through bog or deep snow drifts. To keep the snow, rain and bog out of your boots, they should be knee length.



HARDSHELL CLOTHING

Keeping the rain and wind out and ideally letting the moisture escape. Depending on the conditions you will face, you may choose a heavier duty shell. The extremes of Scottish winter often mean you need some armour plating! With the waterproof trousers you may choose salopettes, which go over your shoulder; this will stop gaps between your top and bottom which would let the wind and elements in. These should be a wind and waterproof jacket with hood and over trousers with long side zips. Fabric is key: it must be as breathable as possible without compromising on waterproofing. I recommend Goretex or other breathable fabric. 


Recommended: Mountain Equipment 

Men: Jacket -  Tupilak, Makalu or Lhotse;  Pants - Tulipak, Lhotse, Makalu or Odyssey;

Women: Jacket - Manaslu, Shivling or Makalu;  Pants - Tulipak, Makalu, Odyssey


TROUSERS

A key layer which will allow you to have versatility in your layering. If you have heavy-duty shell trousers, then go for a lighter weight trouser, and vice-versa. This way you can adapt to whatever the ever changing weather conditions throw at you. They should be stretch softshell material.


Recommended: Mountain Equipment

Women: G2, Chamois or Epic Pants.

Men: G2, Ibex, Mission Pants.


 

THERMAL UNDERWEAR

Base-layer vest (long sleeved). Your choices in this layer will depend again on weather conditions on the day and your own preference; you may need leggings and a top or just the top. Some people generate more heat than others! I will often just use a thermal top and then wear thicker trousers and waterproofs if it is cold. A good tip is to take two thermal tops so you can change into a fresh dry one if you get sweaty. Avoiding any wetness near your skin is a key to staying warm.


Recommended: Mountain Equipment

 


WARMTH LAYERS

The layering system you use here will be key to allowing you lots of flexibility during your day, meaning you can minimise sweating during more active periods and maximise warmth when moving slower. I recommend three warm layers, each with their own merits and on those days when the weather throws it all your way, just wear everything!


  1. Light fleece Mid-layer. 


Recommended: Mountain Equipment

 

  1. Thicker Fleece or Softshell Jacket. Softshell will be for dry days where you don’t expect to get wet.


Recommended: Mountain Equipment

 

  1. Lightweight insulated Jacket – down (warmer but not good when wet) or synthetic (still insulates even when wet) – as extra warmth and for emergency use. 


Recommended: Mountain Equipment 

 

SOCKS

The key with your socks is to get maximum warmth without getting blisters. Often, people will wear two pairs of socks, a thin inner and a thick outer. Personally, I feel this decreases the amount of insulation by reducing the amount of trapped air around the foot and can often lead to blisters as the two layers rub on each other. I would recommend one really good thick pair of socks.


Recommended: Bridgedale

Women’s: Heavyweight Women’s  

 


GLOVES/MITTS

Keeping your hands functioning is an absolute must in winter; if you lose the use of your hands then things can quickly spiral downward from there. I always carry at least four pairs with me. This allows good flexibility in warmth adjustment and also means you can change gloves if they get wet. Always keep your gloves in a waterproof bag near the top of your sack for ease of access.


Recommended: Mountain Equipment


  1. Thin pair. These are ideal for when you are on the move and the weather is kind. I usually wear my thin gloves at the start of the day so my hands can acclimatise to the cold. Often they will get wet on the walk in so this saves my thicker gloves for later in the day.



  1. Midweight pair. Perfect for digging, plunging, scraping and burrowing into snow and ice. These are the workhorses of your winter days out.



  1. Thick pair. These are great for when conditions are more severe and also as a back-up for when your midweight pair get wet. 


Women: Couloir Glove 


  1. Mega Mittens. These are for emergencies where hands are getting seriously cold. Mittens allow you to put even the coldest hands inside them without having to fiddle numb fingers into small holes. Having these available to put on yourself or give to a particularly cold member of your party, could be a real lifesaver. Never pack your winter bag without them. 


Women: Cirque Mitt 


HEADWEAR

Contrary to popular opinion, we only lose 7 - 10% of heat from our head, however, this is still significant. Much like gloves, I carry a selection of these depending on the day and weather. If I am wearing a helmet for a lot of the day, a thin lid liner is great, accompanying this with a warm beanie for the walk in and out. When the weather really throws all it has at you, the balaclava provides the best protection.


Mens: Lid Liner , Beanie and Balaclava   


HARDWARE


With your climbing hardware, you should always make sure that you buy equipment from reputable brands, official websites and that is UIAA or CE certified. This label will be embossed on metal equipment and sewn into fabric equipment.



ICE AXE

For winter mountaineering, you will want a walking axe with a long shaft (55-65cm in length). This is so you can maintain an upright posture whilst walking. A curved pick with an adze and a wrist loop are essential. This is so you can dig and cut steps on steep terrain. The axe should fit comfortably in your hand with the pick facing backwards as this is how you will be carrying it the majority of the time. Weight is also important here, there is a lot of gear to carry in winter so cutting down on weight where you can will help make your day more enjoyable. To learn more about ice axe use check out my ‘Winter Skills’ online course.


Recommended: DMM Spire , Petzl Summit Evo

 

CRAMPONS

There are a huge variety of crampons out there, many are far more advanced than needed for winter mountaineering. Which type you choose will depend on what boots you have. Boots will either have no lips, a heel lip, or both a toe and heel lip, this will determine which you buy. If you buy a strap on crampons, then these will fit all boots and be perfect for winter walking; however, they will not be as good on steep technical ground. The best crampons for a variety of winter terrain have a toe strap and heel step-in, fitted tightly to boots.  Whichever you buy, make sure that they have 12 points and they are fitted with rubber/plastic anti-balling plates, essential for soft or moist snow. 


Recommended: Petzl Vasak or Grivel G12 

CLIMBING HELMET

Never leave home without it! Often you will see people crossing steep slopes and scrambling up rocky ridges in winter without a helmet. This is an unnecessary risk. Modern helmets are incredibly lightweight (170g) and there is no excuse to not have one with you when winter mountaineering. Your helmet size should be large enough to fit a hat or balaclava underneath. Learn more about helmets and their uses in my mini course ‘Become Safer in the Mountains’.


Recommended: Petzl Sirocco 

 

CLIMBING HARNESS

Depending on what your day will bring and, whether you are alone or in a group, you may decide to take a harness. When winter mountaineering, a harness will often be used when climbing easy snow or short roping across scrambly terrain. With this in mind, the harness should be lightweight and easy to put on while wearing crampons. If you are winter climbing, you may choose a more heavy duty harness which is comfortable to sit in for long periods. Make sure you have some gear loops available.


Recommended: Petzl Altitude 

 

CLIMBING EQUIPMENT

When winter mountaineering, you will need some pieces of hardware to allow you to move safely over any terrain you will meet in winter. Using the equipment below and your ice axe you will be able to construct snow belays, secure yourself, lower a partner and abseil if needed. If you would like to see all of these techniques in action, you can sign up to my ‘Winter Skills’ online course which covers these and many more essential skills for winter mountaineering.


Recommended:


1 x long sewn Sling (2.4m circumference, 1.2m flat length) DMM Dynatec 

3 x screw-gate carabiners Petzl Attache 

1 x abseil/belay plate ​​Petzl Verso 

2 x Prusik loops (3m of 5 or 6mm Cord needed) Petzl Cord 






ESSENTIALS




RUCKSACK

Your rucksack should be very light with minimal zips and buckles; around a 45-55 ltr capacity is perfect for days out winter mountaineering. I recommend a bright colour so you can see it easily in the event that it is dropped. Make sure you have a few dry bags of various sizes to store your kit and avoid your emergency warm layers getting wet. 



BOOTS

There is almost no end to how much variety there is in mountaineering boots. However, the best rule to follow is to have something warm, comfortable and with a stiff sole. You should look for fully-stiffened Leather/Synthetic boots with B2 rating. Always wear your boots around your house, office and on local walks before you head for the hills. This will help break them in and avoid a miserable day of blisters and pain.


Recommended models: 


EMERGENCY SHELTER

These are an incredible insurance policy to bring out when things have really not gone to plan. The idea is that you and whoever you are with can get inside one of these and have some extra protection from the wind and the elements. This could be used if benighted or awaiting rescue. There are a few options available for size and weight. They are not comfortable but they might just save your life!


 

HEADTORCH LED

In winter, we have long days out with little available daylight. Often we will be descending at night and therefore it is important to have the right torch to allow you to navigate off the mountain. I now take two head torches, both fully charged, as this means if one runs out or malfunctions, you are not fiddling around with batteries and cold hands in the dark.


Recommended: Petzl Tikka , Petzl Swift RL  

DRINK FLASKS

In winter, remembering to take on board the right amount of fluid is not easy, especially in cold temps and poor weather. I would recommend a thermos flask for hot drinks and a 1 litre water bottle with an electrolyte drink. The hot drink will help you stay warm and the electrolyte drink will help rehydrate you quicker.

 

SUNGLASSES/GOGGLES

A very, very important element to your winter kit list. You will need some snow goggles, these should be clear so that they can be worn at night and in thick fog. This way you will be able to navigate off the mountain in driving snow, sleet, hail and wind. On a number of occasions these have made my descents from the mountain a lot less life threatening! Alongside these, you should have a good set of good Cat-4 sunglasses with protection from glare and good face coverage for those sunny days.


Recommended Goggles: Julbo Airflux

Recommended Glasses: Julbo Shield  


SKI/TREKKING POLES

A set of telescopic poles is not essential but very useful on descents and in deep snow. I would also recommend these for those with a lighter body weight as they can really help stabilise you in high winds. I use a carbon fibre set to save weight but these may not last as long as a conventional set.



MAPS

You must learn to read a map and compass! Technology is amazing and incredibly useful for navigation, but technology has its limitations and in winter, with cold temperatures and numb hands, you can’t rely on it. Depending on your area, you will need to choose a map that has enough detail and is easily read in the dark. In the UK, the OS maps 1:25000 or 1:50000 are great and I personally love the Harvey Superwalker 1:40000 series as it gives a good overview of terrain with the ideal amount of detail. I would also recommend downloading mapping software to your phone as this will help a lot with your pre-planning and assessment of the terrain before you head out. If you need to brush up on or start from scratch with map and compass skills check out my ‘Intro to Navigation’, ‘Intermediate Navigation’ and ‘Advanced Navigation’ online courses.

 

COMPASS AND GPS DEVICE

Your compass should have a large base plate and be easily read in the dark. You should also carry a GPS device of some description as this will help you to relocate if lost and is an excellent backup. Many GPS watches can now be loaded with maps to give accurate grid references at the press of a button. 


Recommended: Silva Expedition 4 , Silva Ranger  

 

MAP CASE

A waterproof plastic map case is needed to keep your map dry and easy to hold in a small package. I will often print out my area on paper and put this in my map case to save weight.


Recommended: Silva Map Case A4 


FIRST AID

The first aid kit you choose to carry should reflect the types of incident you may find yourself in on the mountain. This will mean that treating hypothermia and exposure alongside possible trauma injuries are a priority. I go through my full first aid kit recommendations in my mini course ‘ Become Safer in the Mountains’. 


SHE WEE

We all know how uncomfortable it is baring our buttocks in the bracing winter wind. Getting out of all those layers is also difficult. For those who need it, I have heard very positive things about the She Wee, allowing you to stand up and relieve yourself without removing clothes. Just remember, don’t face into the wind!


Recommended: SheWee 


AVALANCHE KIT

I have deliberately left this until the end as there is a lot of debate around the subject of taking out an avalanche transceiver and kit for rescue when winter hillwalking, climbing or mountaineering. It must be stressed that as a winter mountaineer, hillwalker or climber you should be avoiding unstable slopes and terrain traps. Some people may choose to take out an avalanche kit but the best advice is, if you are at all unsure of the snow conditions don’t go onto that slope. There is always an alternative, even if that means going back home! Recommended: Black Diamond Avalanche Kit 


 If you have any queries about your kit or anything mentioned here - get in touch!

REFERENCES


  1.  Hypothermia and cold stress. E. L. Lloyd. Croom Helm, London, 1986 

  2. The UIAA, Certified Equipment https://theuiaa.org/safety/safety-standards/certified-equipment/ , accessed on 16/10/22

  3. The British Mountaineering Council, Climbing Equipment Standards, https://www.thebmc.co.uk/climbing-equipment-standards , accessed on 16/10/22

  4. Mountaineering Council Scotland, Avalanche Information, https://www.mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills/thinkwinter/avalanche#:~:text=All%20off%2Dpiste%20skiers%20should,ascent%20is%20safer%20than%20traversing, accessed on 17/10/22

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