Want some tips and advice on how to choose your mountaineering gear?
Click on the mountaineer on the left to find out more about his gear
On any winter adventure, there is a risk of injury and your head is particularly vulnerable.
The danger of slipping and falling, banging your head or being hit by falling debris such as rock, ice or snow is real.
A helmet is essential for protecting your head – it 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. Activity-specific helmets offer more targeted protection; they are designed to protect you head from the dangers that you might face in a particular sport. Some helmets can be used for multiple activities, so if you love climbing, skiing and even white water rafting, a multi-activity helmet might be a good option.
When you are thinking of investing in a helmet, there are a few important qualities you should look for. The ideal helmet is:
Tackling winter conditions can be incredibly demanding and exposed areas such as the hands need to be properly protected to avoid losing body heat, or worse, suffer frost bite.
Depending on your activity, one of the first things you should consider is whether you need a glove or mitt. Both have their advantages, and choosing the right one can make all the difference to your chosen application.
Outers and inners
Outer gloves can be waterproof, insulated and windproof offering a great deal of protection, especially in alpine conditions.
Some gloves and mittens tend to come with an inner and an outer glove. The inner is constructed from a thin material designed specifically to sit under the outer glove. They can be worn on their own for much milder conditions, but when the cold really sets in, these are an essential part of your glove system. If your gloves do not have a removable liner, you might want to invest in a simple merino wool liner for extra warmth.
To combat the harsh conditions that you might face in the mountains, 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. Try to think of the outer layer as your skin. This is going to protect 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.
Your outer jacket (waterproof and/or windproof) 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 and protected as well as keeping the rain, snow and wind out.
Insulating mid layer
A decent mid-layer is an essential part of the layering system. It can be either 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.
Features to look out for
When you are choosing a mountaineering jacket, there are a few features that you will need to consider:
Durable, protective legwear that won’t let you down in testing conditions is essential for any winter mountaineer. 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 that you can look for:
You will also need to decide whether you want trousers or salopettes – but this is down to personal preference!
Choosing the right boots
For mountaineering, boots with stiffer midsoles and uppers that provide extra support are essential. Most mountaineering boots feature a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry, underfoot cushioning to absorb shock and often some insulation to keep you warm in winter conditions.
Mountaineering boots are rated from B1 to B3. The boot rating you require will depend on what you intend to use them for and in which seasons.
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.
Once you have found the right boot, you will need some crampons. Crampons are made of hardened steel or aluminium, with forward angled spikes to help you grip on to snow and ice. They are fastened to your boots with a binding system or straps.
The crampon rating you need will depend on your boots.
Certain crampons suit different boots better than others, so it is worth visiting your local shop to find the best fit. Find your local store.
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 when you slip whilst walking, or help you ascend a vertical ice wall.
Which type of axe?
As a general rule, shorter axes are best for climbing and longer axes are designed for walking. For many winter adventures, you will use your axe for a mixture of both. The shape of an ice axe handle (shaft) and head section (pick) is a better clue to its 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.
Features to look out for:
In winter conditions, snow and penetrating winds mean that you can lose body heat from any exposed area very quickly, and your head is no exception. Don't forget to invest in a buff or hat to keep both your head and ears warm.
The versatile buff
A Buff helps to keep those easy to forget about areas insulated with its unbeatable versatility. There are a wide range of buffs available from Merino Wool and Micro Fibre to a Polartec fleece lined construction. Most Buffs tend to be wickable, breathable and wind resistant, keeping perspiration away from your head and keeping you insulated.
Wear a buff as a…
While a Buff will offer a degree of insulation, it is always useful to have a hat at hand to add layering to your head should the weather get particularly cold. A hat worn under your helmet will ensure that your head stays warm - choose microfleece for warmth or merino wool for its comfort and wicking properties.