Here is expert winter gear guide with best winter camping gear for extreme cold weather. Guide to buy clothing & personal kit for winter day camping.
Climbing and mountaineering in the extreme cold winter can be a harsh and demanding experience. Unlike our continental cousins, the scale of our mountains and the frequency of bad weather mean that we go out in the hills in wild conditions, often combining cold, wind and moisture.
Anyone who has walked through the rain to reach the snowline will know exactly what we’re dealing with. The gear we use needs to be correspondingly tough, and we need to be completely self sufficient, meaning that extra safety kit needs to be carried.
We all do different things in the mountains in winter, and whilst much of the core gear used is the same, when we specialist we need different tools, so in our discussion below we use mountaineering to mean winter hill walking and easy pitched climbing, and climbing to refer to steeper pitches from Scottish grade III upwards.
Winter climbing requires a lot of gear, the weight of which can add up fast. Keeping everything light makes the walk in more pleasant, but it’s vital that important safety gear isn’t left behind when heading out into a tough environment where conditions change fast.
A versatile layering system is needed to keep you dry and comfortable during the different intensities of activity that a winter day will involve, from fast uphill walking to long sedentary belay sessions.
Clothing & Personal Kit
Best Winter Hiking Jackets
Worried about what to wear hiking in cold weather or what to wear hiking in 40 degree weather? Below is the list of best winter hiking jackets for extreme cold weather.
Belay Jacket: An extra warm, big insulated jacket, such as the Rab Photon Pro Jacket goes over the top of every thing whilst stood still. In damp conditions synthetic insulation is much better than even the latest hydrophobic down.
Shell: A quality water-proof jacket that allows good freedom of movement and has a hood that fits over your helmet, such as The North Face Summit L5 Future light Jacket (left) is needed. Make sure that it stays tucked into your harness when raising arms overhead, and that sleeves keep your wrists covered when reaching up. Waterproof salopettes offer great protection, meaning that you won’t get a cold gap between trousers and jackets. Softshell outer layers are great to climb in on nicer winter days, but the UK climate means that waterproof outer layer are often needed.
Best Base Layer For Winter Camping
Midlayer/Insulation: Worn as an outer layer when walking in on nice days, or carried in and then added under the shell in poorer weather, two lightly insulated layers are needed.
Combining an R1-style fleece and a lightweight synthetic insulation layer such as the Patagonia Nano Puff (right) works well. Hoods on these layers increases warmth and weather protection.
Base Layer: A breathable wicking layer for both upper body and legs, made from either synthetic or merino wool (or a mix), such as the Montane Priminorange. Long sleeved baselayers are more comfortable in bad weather condition. One of the best warmest base layer for extreme cold.
Best Boots For Winter Camping
Boots: For winter mountaineering a warm pair of semi-stiff B2 rated boots are perfect, allowing you to kick steps in hard snow and fitting crampons well.
For steeper technical climbing a stiffer B3 rated boot, such as the Scarpa Phantom Tech (below) will give more support to your calves when standing on small edges or kicking into hard ice.
Plastic welts on the heels and toes allow crampons to be firmly fixed in place. It’s important that boots fit well, as if there is room for heels to lift it makes climbing steep ice both difficult and uncomfortable.
Gaiters: Whether to go for boots with a built-in gaiter or use a separate pair, such as the Fjällräven Singi Gaiters, above, will be down to personal choice.
A modern boot with built-in gaiters probably makes more sense if you’re going to spend lots of time in the damp Scottish west-coast climate, with the gaiterless design more appropriate for the drier alpine summer.
Gaiters should be worn under-neath the ankles of water- proof trousers, not over the top.
Best Goggles / Sunglasses For Winter Camping
Goggles/Sunglasses: On windy days a pair of goggles such as the Julbo Airfl ux (below)can make the difference between an enjoyable day on the hill and an early return to the café, and is an essential item.
If your well being depends on being able to navigate off the hill in poor conditions. Pick a pair with completely clear lenses to aid navigation at night. On rare sunny days, sunglasses are a necessity.
Best Waterproof Bags for Winter Camping
Rucksack: Everything that you need for a day winter climbing should fit into a 40L (or thereabouts) rucksack, like the Arc’teryx Alpha FL45 (above).
It’s worth having a big enough bag to have everything, including the rope, packed inside so that in bad weather you arrive at the base of the route without soaked gear.
Your rucksack needs a way to attach ice axes, and a big enough lid to take a head torch, goggles, etc.
Waterproof bags: Roll-top waterproof bags, such as the Exped Fold Drybag (above) are useful to keep essentials dry inside your rucksack.
One larger waterproof bag should be used to keep dry things like spare layers of clothing and the guidebook separate from wet things like the rack, ropes, crampons etc.
Resist the temptation to keep each individual item in its own dry bag – this is a faff and wastes lots of time.
“The tools we use today in the winter mountains are very sophisticated, having been honed over literally hundreds of years – but matching the right model of axe and crampons to your activity is absolutely essential… “
Axes: There are a wide range of axes on the market, and the important thing when choosing one is to match the tool to the intended job.
For classic mountaineering a single straight-shafted axe with a curved pick is perfect. As things get steeper and two axes are used on easier climbing ground a pair of semi-technical tools such as the Petzl Sum’tec or DMM Fly’s are perfect.
For harder winter routes more technical tools will make life much easier, with handles either set on the shaft or dropped back from the shaft to give even better grip on steep ground.
Keeper leashes: When climbing steeper routes, elasticated tethers are clipped to the bottom of axes so that they cannot be dropped and lost.
Helmet: Some people choose not to wear a helmet when rock climbing, but when winter climbing there is no argument about wearing one: with falling ice and pointed axes swinging around above your head, wearing one is essential.
Modern expanded-foam helmets are super light and offer great protection in a fall but are more likely to suffer damage in the rough and tumble world of winter. A good choice is the Petzl Boreowhich combines a protective hardened plastic shell with a complete foam liner.
Harness: A simple, light-weight harness – such as the Arc’teryx AR-395A below – with a minimum of four gear loops for more technical climbs.
Make sure it’s easy to put on when wearing mountaineering boots. Always put your harness on before crampons when approaching a climb.
Ropes: A lightweight single rope for easier mountaineering routes, and double ropes for more technical routes. If climbing as a team of three, using a pair of skinny triple-rated ropes is safe and light.
Whether single or double ropes are used, the important factor is that they have a good quality dry treatment. Dry-treated ropes have a specially designed water-repellent coating added to their ibres, which prevents them from soaking up water
Winter climbing takes place in a wet environment and without this dry treatment ropes will soak up water, becoming heavy before freezing into unusable cables.
Crampons: The most versatile crampon for general winter mountaineering and climbing is a 12-pointed semi-flexible model such as the Grivel G12 (above) or the Petzl Vasak.
These work well on easy to mid grade winter routes, but on steeper ice and mixed climbs harder wearing and more precise crampons such as the Petzl Dart (right) allow for more effective footwork.
Emergency shelter: In the event of an incident, being able to stay warm and sheltered until help can reach you can make the difference between a good and bad outcome.
Every team should carry a simple group shelter – such as the Vango Storm Shelter 800 above – that can be sat inside. These are light and pack down to an impressively small size.
“Protecting mixed routes can require a large and diverse rack, with options to place gear in rock, ice and frozen turf. As in all types of climbing choosing the right rack for the conditions and the route is a skill that takes time and effort to master. “