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Mountaineering Essential Kit Guide


Winter can do incredible things to mountains. With a coating of snow, even British hills can morph into awesome Alpine-like spectacles. From gentle ridge scrambles to multi-day winter epics steeped in history, trust us - there’s endless potential here in the UK. Make no mistake, though, British mountains in winter can be a challenge. However, with the right kit and skills, coupled with a healthy dose of respect for these challenging environments, you can find yourself atop a UK peak feeling as exhilarated as if you were high in the Alps on a perfect day.

 

Whether you’re buying kit for your first steps on snow and ice or upgrading ready for an Alpine adventure, this is your guide to some of the more technical pieces you’ll need in your kit list.



Boots

For mountaineering, boots with stiffer midsoles and uppers are essential, for extra support. Most mountaineering boots feature a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry, underfoot cushioning to absorb shock, and insulation to keep you warm in winter conditions. Most importantly, finding a great fitting boot that suits your foot shape means that you can make the most of your winter adventures for years to come. Make sure you head to one of our stores for a free expert boot fitting.

 

Mountaineering boots are rated from B1, B2 or B3. The boot rating you need depends on what you intend to use them for and in which seasons.

B1 – More solid than low-level walking boots, B1 boots are all-round four season walking boots ideal for lightweight winter hillwalking. They combine with C1 strap-on crampons, and B1/C1 boot/crampon combinations, which are adequate for many UK winter fell walks and gentle snow plods.

 

 

 


B2 – Stiffer and more rigid for winter mountaineering, these are best suited for regular winter hill walkers, tackling long days in snowy conditions. There will be a heel ledge to allow fitting of a C2 or C3 crampon for the most secure fit and versatile performance.

 

B2 boots are ideal for low to mid-grade climbs in Scottish winter conditions, bagging Munroes in winter, as well as the summer alpinist.

 


B3 – These fully rigid climbing boots are designed for high-level winter mountaineering and technical mixed and ice climbing.

 

B3 boots have the stiffest soles and uppers available, giving solid lateral and medial support for front pointing, step-kicking, and traversing on steep terrain. Heel and toe ledges allow the fitting of C3 crampons to take advantage of the easy step-in attachment system of heel clip and toe bar.

 

Crampons

Crampons are made of hardened steel or aluminium, with forward angled spikes to help you grip onto snow and ice. They are fastened to your boots with a binding system or straps.

 

Crampon ratings range from C1, C2 and C3, and the type of crampon you need will depend on compatibility with your mountaineering aspirations and your boot rating to ensure the correct fit.

 

C1 – Flexible and suitable for UK winter hillwalking and glacier traverses. Compatible with B1, B2 or B3 rated boots.

 

These crampons have a webbing tape tether that pulls flexible cradles around the heel and toe to create a secure binding. They are usually a lower profile 10-point crampon, with less aggressive points.


C2 – Suitable for technical winter scrambles, winter climbing and alpinism. Compatible with B2 and B3 rated boots.

 

This type of crampon uses a plastic heel lever and a flexible toe cradle to create a secure binding to B2 or B3 boots and tend to be mid-profile with longer secondary spikes and sharper front points. 

C3 – Stiffer with longer, more aggressive spikes, these crampons are suitable for ice climbing and technical mountaineering. Compatible with B3 type boots only.

 

 

High-end crampons for high-end boots, these crampons combine a plastic heel lever and a step-in system that gives a solid fit and offers precise performance on steep ice climbs or highly technical mixed routes.

Ice Axes

Whether you are walking in winter conditions or climbing on snow and ice, an ice axe is an essential tool for any winter mountaineer. Axes can be used to brake a fall if you slip or help you ascend a vertical wall. As a general rule, shorter axes are best for climbing, and longer axes are better for walking. For many winter adventures, you can use your axe for both. The shape of an ice axe handle (shaft) and head section (pick) is a better clue to its intended use.

 

There are two types of axe ratings, B-rated and T-rated. B-rated or Basic Axes are designed for walking but strong enough to belay on if you need to. T-rated or Technical Axes are designed for mountaineering and climbing with a much stronger shaft and pick.

Walking Axe

  • Used to stop you falling, supports you when walking.
  • Straight shaft, nearly straight pick
  • Longer handle

Straight shafted walking axes are a good choice for winter Munro bagging, Welsh or Lake District fell walking, alpine glacier crossings and non-technical snow ascents.


Mountaineering Axe

  • Adaptable across a range of walking, mountaineering and low to mid-grade climbing routes
  • Shorter, straight lower shaft with slightly curved upper shaft
  • Reversed pick less than 90° to handle

These axes cover the broad spectrum of mountaineering that lies between snowy walking and full-on technical climbing. Suitable for Scottish winter mountaineering up to grade II or III or alpine routes to around grade AD. 

 

 


Technical Axe

  • Ideal for steep climbing on snow and ice
  • Bent or curved shaft
  • Longer handle

As well as clearing obstacles, the curved shaft allows you to present the pick to the ice at an ideal angle for stable placements, making winter ice climbs easier. 


Helmets

On any winter adventure, there is a risk of injury. Your head is vulnerable to the danger of slipping and falling or being hit by falling debris such as rock, ice or snow. A helmet can manage the impact of a collision and stop sharp objects from damaging your skull. Most climbing helmets have a robust, hard shell with internal foam cushioning.

 

When investing in a helmet, there are a few important qualities to look out for:

A Good Fit

A helmet will only offer enough protection if it fits. Your head should be held securely by the helmet and not slip around. Different helmets suit different head shapes, so it’s worth visiting us in-store to try some on for size.

Well Venitilated

A hot head is uncomfortable and can reduce your performance. Make sure your helmet is breathable enough to keep your head cool, but can fit a buff or balaclava underneath for extra warmth when you need it.

Comfortable

You want to be able to wear your helmet all day without thinking about it, so getting one that’s comfortable is really important.



Jackets

To combat the harsher conditions you may face in the mountains in winter, a flexible clothing system is essential – and your choice of jacket is key to staying warm, comfortable and dry.

 

Most mountaineers choose a combination of jackets to protect them in changeable conditions – an outer jacket with an insulating mid-layer. Think of the outer layer as your skin, protecting you from the elements such as rain and snow, keeping you dry. The insulating mid-layer is more like your body fat, and its primary role is to keep in the heat, so you don’t suffer the wrath of the cold.

Outer Shell

Your outer jacket is potentially the most important piece of kit you will invest in as this will be your protective layer against the elements. It will keep you comfortable whilst keeping the rain, snow and wind out. When mountaineering, quality fabric is the first thing you should consider. It should be highly waterproof, breathable and durable, without being too heavy. Look for a jacket with a waterproof rating of 20,000mm or up for protection all day in extreme weather. GORE-TEX Pro fabric, used by many brands, is an example of a fabric that offers an excellent combination of durability and performance. Check out our Waterproof Buying Guide for more info.

Insulating Layer

A quality mid-layer is an essential part of the layering system. It can either be down, synthetic or fleece, but its principle role is to offer you additional insulation where you need it most while still being lightweight and of minimal bulk. Have a read of our guide on How To Choose An Insulated Jacket for more info. Carry a spare layer or two,

 

Trousers and Salopettes

Durable, protective legwear that won’t let you down in testing conditions is also essential in winter. Worn over your thermal layers, the right legwear will keep you comfortable and protected from the elements.

 

When you are choosing mountaineering legwear, there are some important features to look for:

  • Re-inforced durable knee and seat patches – to avoid scuffs and scratches from rocks and ice.
  • Stretchy material or articulated knees for essential freedom of movement.
  • Waterproof/windproof fabric – depending on the weather conditions you’ll be facing.
  • Kick patches on the ankles – to avoid crampon puncture.
  • Braces – for a secure and comfortable fit.
  • Full length or ¾ length vented zips for ventilation or comfort breaks.
  • Minimal pockets or accessible pockets for when you are wearing a harness.
  • You will also need to decide whether you want trousers or salopettes – but this is down to personal preference!
  • Look for a fit that lets you layer thermal leggings underneath in the coldest weather.

 



Gloves and Mitts

Tackling winter conditions can be demanding and exposed areas such as the hands need to be protected to avoid losing body heat - or worse suffering frostbite. Choosing between a glove and a mitt can make all the difference. Or better still, carry both or some spare pairs.

Gloves

  • Closer fitting
  • More dexterity and versatility
  • Suitable for technical winter climbing

Mitts

  • Fingerless design makes them warmer than gloves
  • Less dexterity
  • Suitable for non-technical ascent

Outers And Inners

Outer gloves can be waterproof, insulated and windproof, offering a great deal of protection in alpine conditions. Some gloves come with an outer and an inner removable liner. The inner is constructed from a thin material for extra warmth that can be worn on its own in milder conditions. If your gloves don’t have a removable liner, you might want to invest in a merino wool liner for extra warmth.


We've covered some of the more technical kit essentials for winter mountaineering here, but there are a few other items you'll want in your kit list before heading out safely into the hills in winter.  For more information, check out our guide on the 12 must-pack items for winter mountaineering and this advice from our friends at the BMC to make your next winter adventure a memorable one.


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