Friday, 1 January 2010

My winter loadout

I’ve been meaning to write about my winter gear and what I take with me winter climbing, so I decided that with photoshop reinstalled I would go through my gear (I’ve always wanted to have a bash at those cut away diagrams!). Below is all the gear I would personally take for the kind of routes I do in winter (I don’t bother with tough mixed climbing, I tend to stick to good condition grade I,II or at a push III and enjoy good mountain days!)

Please note: This is by no means a guide as to what to take, merely my explanation of what I take and why. If you are new to winter climbing or just want some additional reading, I recommend “Winter Skills, Chapter 1 - equipment” by Andy Cunningham and Allen Fyffe, a good read and a good basis for a new climber. Also worth reading “Winterising your rack” by Rob Jarvis (

So onto my gear! The cut away diagram (click to enlarge!) shows the various layers I would wear for a winter mountain day.

1. Helmet – essential if winter climbing to protect you from falling ice and rock, especially if you are belaying from belay, your leader will most likely kick ice and snow down onto you so having a comfortable helmet you can wear all day is important. I have a Grivel Salamader, it’s light and very comfortable, the headtorch elastics are excellent also. However at around £60 it’s not a cheap one!

2. Goggles – I picked these north face goggles up at TK Maxx for £20, however they are usually £90 so I got lucky! Good goggles will help you in bad conditions, and also help with the glare of the sun reflecting on the snow. Alternatively glacier goggles are a good idea. If using sunglasses then make sure you get ones with some wrap around on the sides.

3. Hard shell – My beloved mountain equipment kongur. In my opinion the best and most well designed hard shell on the market. A good winter hard shell is essential for protection against the elements whilst out. The Kongur MRT is excellent however you won’t find it cheaper than around £250.

4. Harness – Harness may or may not be needed depending on what route you plan on doing. Always a good idea to carry you harness if you are planning on doing a route you are unsure about. I have a black diamond Blizzard, with 2 ice clippers to allow me to rack gear closer to the front of my harness, given that I climb with my pack on and reaching to the back of my harness with a rucksack on is difficult. The blizzard is excellent, comfortable and easy to adjust. Can be found at around £50.

Picture above: Selection of ice gear is essential

5. Hard shell trousers – Waterproof trousers are my “weapon of choice” when it comes to winter climbing. Some people opt for soft shell trousers for the added breathability, however I use my waterproofs. My trousers are Mountain Equipment Matrix sallopette (no longer on sale), which are a combination of paclite Gortex and XCR Gortex, with toughened knees and crampon kick straps. I use sallopettes as they are more comfy and don’t ride up exposing my back.

6. Boots – I have both Scarpa Vega (B3) and Scarpa Manta (B2). I tend to use my Manta’s when out, as they are more comfy and less bulky. They do well on simple gully and snow climbs, however for anything more serious consider a B3 boot.

7. Crampons – I use Grivel G12 Newmatic fit. The newmatic binding is semi step in binding, allowing me to quickly fit my crampons when needed, the rear clip fits well on my Mantas, and will fit on any B2 boot because of the front plastic bail. These retail at up to £135 in winter and as low as £90 in summer. All depends when and where you buy them! At present the is doing them for £109.

8. Gloves – I wear lining gloves and my Millet winter gloves.

9. Ice axe – I used a Grivel Munro walking axe. The axe is excellent except for the lack of grip, however I used a tennis grip and some duck tape to fix this! I also have a set of DMM fly technical axes for use on routes that are steeper.

10. Winter rack – again this is my personal choice for the routes I do. However you rack should be as broad as possible when packing to go to an area. Make sure to read “winterising your rack” on Myself (and my partner between us) carry:

60 metre dry treated rope x 2 (Beal Iceline)
6-8 Runners depending on the route (Slingdraw)
Hexes (BD Hexcentrics)
Wires (DMM Wallnuts)
Slings (120cm x 2 and 240cm)
Ice screws x 3
Various screwgates
Belay plate (reverso3)
Prussik loops x 2

Picture above: Winter rack as described, minus 1 ice screw and sling draws

This is based on a generised rack, however I customise depending on what I am doing and where I am going.

The second half of my cut away diagram (once again very cool!) Shows what I have underneath my hardshell.

1. Softshell – I wear my softshell underneath, I use an ME Astron, an excellent and comfy softshell, however not ideal for wearing on its own in winter as it provides very little warm. The windproofness of it is fantastic however. Often I wear another mid layer underneath this, along with a base layer underneath that.

2. Leggings – I don’t bother with trousers under my waterproofs, just thermal leggings! I find it keeps me at a good temperature!

3. Gaiters – I wear my XCR gaiters underneath my waterproof trousers to provide a good seal against snow.

4. Socks x 2 pairs. I usually wear my Seal Skinz socks and a pair underneath. Seal Skinz socks and gloves are brilliant and definitely worth a buy!

Picture to the left: Layers that can be used, note the down jacket is underneath the hardshell and the belay jacket is above. This is because the down jacket is NOT waterproof

In additional to all this gear I carry a 38 litre rucksack (Osprey mutant) with the following additional gear in:

First aid kit – Stripped down version of my Mountain Leader First Aid Kit
Penknife – multi blade
Ground shelter bothy bag – 2-3 man
GPS – my Airo A25
Phone – my new Landrover S1
Insulated jacket – my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy OR my North Face Nupste Jacket
Spare gloves – Seal Skinz
Spare shoe laces
Headtorch – Petzl Myo 3

This is an indication of the gear I would take, however this gear is highly customisable depending on what I’m going to do. As I said at the start, do not take this as gospel and I would encourage you to do some background reading if at all unsure. I am not a winter qualified mountain leader (yet!) so what I write here I write as an unqualified winter mountaineer with some experience!

Happy climbing!

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