Winter Climbing Gear List
Weather conditions in the mountains of Ireland can and do change extremely rapidly especially in the Autumn, Winter and early Spring and conditions on the tops and the higher you climb will be hugely different to that in the valleys. The following items are regarded as essential for high-level Winter hill walking, Mountaineering and Climbing in Ireland and it is vital that clients be fully prepared for and have the necessary gear to deal with the extreme and at times severe conditions experienced in the harsh Irish mountain environment. Your guide will carry a group shelter, basic first-aid kit, technical climbing gear, navigation equipment and provide any ropes if needed.
A 30–40 litre backpack is recommended and should have a waist and a chest strap. Backpacks are generally not waterproof and the rain covers that come with them are not that dependable (they blow off, are not that waterproof either and in strong winds act like a kite) so it is best to just use a dry bag inside your pack. Special purpose dry bags are available in various sizes but a cheaper and simpler option is a black refuse sack to line the inside of the entire rucksack and individual luncheon/zip lock bags for keeping car keys, wallet and phone giving extra protection to these vulnerable items. Check out our review of the super Lowe Alpine Aeon 35 >>
Waterproof / windproof jacket and over trousers
Wet is the enemy of warmth, so decent waterproofs are essential to keep you dry. For Winter it is highly recommended that both tops and trousers are of a breathable fabric such as GoreTex or EVent or similar comparative fabric which allows breathability/venting and as a result allows sweat vapour to escape, otherwise you’ll have the potential of being wet from the “inside out” as condensation builds up on the inside. Make sure over trousers they have a full length or ¾ zip so you can get them on over your boots.
Make sure you choose trousers that are stretchy, comfortable and allow enough space to move your legs freely. It is advisable that they are not too thin and possibly contain a warm insulated layer. Denims are NOT acceptable, they dry very slowly once they get wet and in turn extract vital heat from the body.
Warm inner base layer
A sports type base layer of moisture wicking material works best such as a sports jersey, jogging or gym top. This will help evaporate off any sweat and stop you feeling the chill when you stop. Cotton is best avoided as it traps moisture and hence doesn’t allow this to happen and when damp, stays damp!
Mid Layer/Warmth layers
It is better to wear several relatively thin layers than a single thick one so you can more easily adjust your temperature. The Mid Layer absorbs the moisture from your base layer and generally this layer can be wool or fleece which both stay warm when wet, fleece being lighter and quicker to dry. Like the base layer, various fleeces are available to suit different seasons or activities. Micro fleeces are very popular as are windproof fleeces which have the advantage of keeping a chill wind off the body. All are available in crew or zip top neck, this is a personal choice, and fleeces with zips allow more temperature control than crew neck types.
Since you will probably become inactive at some point during the day we may need to add another insulation layer to cope with the reduced heat output of the body at rest. This can be done by adding another mid layer under the shell layer, or by adding an insulating layer over the top of all the other layers. This latter approach is commonly called a belay jacket, since it’s often worn when static on a belay… Ideally, this layer will be very weight efficient, using down or a good synthetic down equivalent, so that it’s light and compact to carry, but adds a lot of insulation. It might usefully be water resistant, or even waterproof, depending on where and how you intend to use it.
See detailed notes below.
A good pair of hiking socks can make all the difference between an enjoyable hike and an uncomfortable one. The best walking socks are non-cotton and high wicking, meaning they move moisture away from your feet to help regulate temperature and keep them dry, prevent blisters and avoid ‘hot-spots’.
Warm hat or beanie. Neck gaiters / ‘buffs’ can be also be useful. Consider sun protection/ lip balm as it is still possible to get burnt during Winter.
Gloves should be insulated, waterproof and long enough to cover wrists. It is advisable to take more than one pair as well as a thinner pair of liners. Consider mitts – they are warmer than gloves, but at the expense of dexterity.
Gaiters provide protection from water and snow, add some insulation and guard against crampon snagging.
Adequate amount of drink
You will require at least a litre. A sweet sugary drink is always a welcome treat and perhaps a flask of hot drink in colder weather.
Lunch and snacks
Bring enough but don’t over do it as remember, you have to carry it all! When packing your lunch it doesn’t have to be a slapdash effort, you deserve to feast well on slow releasing carbohydrates that replace the energy you use. It’s important to bring something you will really enjoy and can eat easily. A lightweight lunch box is recommended as it will help avoid your food getting squashed! Consider the temperatures and avoid chocolate goodies if it is warm as these will just melt, while chewy sweets can be a dental nightmare in cold conditions. A trail mix combination of nuts and dried fruit, is a great source of energy.
A vital piece of standard Winter kit. Don’t skimp but no need to break the bank either! + Spare batteries
Boots can be categorised into 4 categories – trail shoes, hiking boots, backpacking boots and mountaineering boots. In winter only consider the use of mountaineering boots. This type of boot can be made of leather, fabric, plastic or a combination of any of the three.
There are in turn four categories of mountaineering boots: B0, B1, B2 and B3 with the higher the number relating to the amount of insulation as well as the stiffer the sole of the boot.
Climbing over rock, scree, snow and ice demands an aggressive tread with deep lugs and solid, sharp edges which can cut stabilising steps into soft surfaces underfoot. These won’t be as flexible or as comfortable as your regular walking boots, but they will enable you to make ascents and descents with confidence.
B0 boots are 3 season boots and are not designed for winter use. The sole is not stiff enough to prevent them moving differently to the crampon with the result that the crampons will move around and may come off altogether. They are also not very stiff in their upper section and may not provide enough support to your ankle or enough rigidity to allow ‘edging’ of the boot in snow when not using crampons.
B1 boots are 4 season with a semi-stiffened mid-sole to take crampons and a more supportive upper. These boots do not have the toe or heal lips to take mountaineering crampons, therefore can only be used with type C1 crampons (see below).
B2 boots have a near fully stiffened mid-sole, higher ankle profile, thicker upper. Suitable for general winter walking, glacial terrain and mid-grade climbing. These boots are designed to take crampons with heel-clip bindings, but they can also use C1 crampons. Our favourite is the Meindl Jorasse GTX & Mammut Kento GTX >>
B3 technical boots are totally rigid, synthetic and sometimes even plastic and have the facility for heel clips and wire toe balls. These are suitable for general walking, hard ice climbing, glacial terrain and high altitude mountaineering.
A good example is the La Sportiva Nepal>>
Choosing the stiffness of a boot depends on the technical difficulty you are interested in pursuing.
The most rigid boots, such as plastic, synthetic & extremely stiff leather boots, are most at home on technical ice routes. When your entire body weight is reliant on two front points shoved an inch into a flow of ice, your calves will appreciate the stiffness of a rigid boot. Hiking across boulders and along other rugged trails is, of course, possible in the most rigid boots, but takes some getting used to. You will have to learn how to heel-toe up to the technical bits. Not ideal, but the choice of many climbers.
These boots are best for less demanding snow and ice routes. They will provide enough support for climbing cracks and lower-angle ice, while allowing for an increased degree of comfort. Both leather and synthetic boots work well in these situations, as long as the sole is firm and the upper provides support above the ankle. These boots can also be used on alpine rock climbs, where you’ll be jamming your foot into cracks.
The most flexible boots are not suitable for snow and ice.
Ice-Axe & Tools
There is a huge variety of ice-axes with different shapes and sizes. They can be divided into three broad categories – walking, mountaineering and technical. In general ice axes comprise of a shaft with a head at the top and a spike at the bottom. The head on most axes will have a pick at one end and an adze (small shovel or scoop) at the other.
A walking ice axe is typically 55-75cm long, with a straight shaft and basic adze. These axes will have a ‘B’ (for basic) branded onto the adze or elsewhere. Better quality walking ice-axes may have a rubber grip on the lower shaft. Axes can come with a leash which when connected to the wrist avoids accidental dropping down a slope.
Mountaineering axes are slightly shorter than general walking axes. Most have a straight shaft, though some do have a slight bend in the upper part of the shaft which aids swing when cutting steps in ice. The pick is more curved and the shaft is stronger than a walking ice-axe, therefore better suited for use with ropes and hooking. This type of axe may have a ‘T’ (for technical) branded onto the adze or elsewhere.
Technical Climbing Axes
Technical ice axes, which may have curved shafts, are strong enough to be used for steep or vertical ice climbing and belaying. Specialised ice axes used for vertical ice climbing are known as ice tools. Ice tools have shorter and more curved shafts; stronger, sharper, and more curved picks which can usually be replaced, and ergonomic grips and finger rests.
Crampons are classed C1, C2 and C3
C1 flexible crampons have typically 8-10 points and are fully strapped or have a flexible cradle/strap combination. For general winter walking C1 crampons are fine and can be attached to most boots.
C2 articulated crampons tend to have 10-12 points and likely a cradle/heel-clip attachment. C2 Crampons can only be used with B2 or B3 boots. With more pronounced front points than C1s, C2 crampons are fine for steep walking, scrambling or mid-grade climbing, but are also acceptable for walking on easy angled terrain.
C3 rigid crampons are technical crampons for winter climbing and can only be attached to B3 boots. Due to their weight and stiffness, this type is not recommended for general winter walking.
All new crampons come with anti-balling plates. These are flexible plastic sections designed to prevent snow build-up on the underside of crampons. Check the size of crampons before buying, if you have large feet, you may have to buy an extender-bar.
Click here for more information on Crampons>>
The following are also highly recommended for Winter walking and mountaineering:
- Trekking Pole/Poles: Assist forward movement, reduce impact on your knees, and help with balance in difficult, uneven and boggy terrain. A pair is best but many hikers also just use one.
- Re-sealable plastic bags to keep equipment/phones dry
- Sun Glasses
If you are Winter Hillwalking, Mountaineering or Climbing with us and don’t have the full complement of gear, we can help you out with some of the kit. We can hire you C1 & C2 crampons as well as Walking and Mountaineering axes for €10 per item per day. Helmets & Harnesses’ if required are provided free of charge. We also have a limited number of sizes of boots.
If you don’t have any of the above essential items in time for one of our events, no need to fret ! We can help with some of the gear, just give us a call and we will try our best to arrange to bring along spare if available. Please note that if you do turn up without the appropriate gear and haven’t arranged for us to bring spare, your guide may refuse to lead you on the hills.