11 Winter Mountaineering Essentials

As winter sets in many of you are going to want to head out to conquer some peaks covered in snow.  Some peaks are even more accessible during winter months as snow allows more or faster routes to the top.  There are a few things other than your typical 10 essentials and an extra jacket that you need to keep in mind however.  The following post covers 11 winter mountaineering essentials you need to consider and or carry with you on your snowy trek into the mountains.

  1. Insulated boots. – These don’t typically need to be hardcore insulated but some is a good idea.  Also look for boots with a stiffer profile and have a specific design for addition of crampons and use with snowshoes.  These Oboz Bridger 8in Insulated B-Dry Boots are a great starter winter hiking boot and allow the attachment od crampons or snowshoes.
  2. Ice ax –  If there will be snow deeper than your knees, you should have one of these and learn how to self-arrest.  Go here now and learn!
  3. Crampons/nano spikes/microspikes/snowshoes –  Here is my rule on snowshoes, does a recent trip report state there is at least knee-deep snow?  Then you need snowshoes and be sure to look for ones with a step-up heel raiser to make climbing up a slope much easier.  I will say unless you are actually ice climbing, know a route has an excessive amount of ice, or you will be in glacial conditions then crampons are probably overkill.  Nano and Microspikes should serve you well just about anywhere else.  Here is a great pair of microspikes that will get you through just about anything you might typically encounter.
  4. Beanie AND a Balaclava –  You need the ability to completely cover up any skin that might be exposed to ward off frostbite.  When you are on a ridgeline with a -20 wind-chill you will thank me.  Here is a great option from Mountain Hardware that will fit well under a helmet.
  5. Goggles –  Again, winds tend to be nasty and frozen contacts and or eyelashes are no fun so sunglasses won’t likely cut it.  Goggles will allow you to send it even when the weather gets bad.  Your ski/snowboard goggles of choice will do just fine.
  6. Helmet – A helmet specifically designed for mountaineering and climbing is best.  Be sure to check that your beanie fits under your helmet before venturing out.  I personally use the El Cap helmet by Mammut as it transitions great from summer to winter climbing.
  7. Layering clothes –  Proper layering, base: wicking and temperature regulating long sleeve. Next Layer: Light fleece or microfleece.  Next Layer: Hard-shell.  Layering is always important but making sure you can keep warm, dry and also dump heat is very important when climbing mountains in the winter. To learn more about that see my post on 4 layers and 7 Essentials that can save your life in the backcountry.
  8. Water bottles – Not a reservoir because a reservoir will freeze.  Try to insulate your water bottle or keep it close to your skin.  Something like this YETI Rambler Bottle should keep your water from freezing.
  9. Map and compass – Yes one of the 10 essentials but more important in cold weather as batteries in electronic devices die quicker in the cold, GPS, Phone, Armbit. Let me restate this…BRING A MAP AND COMPASS.
  10. Headlamp w/ extra batteries –  Another one of the classic 10 essentials but again you need to take into consideration that you should be starting long before sunrise and you may come down after sunset.  Headlamp allows your hands to be free and extra batteries are good in case the cold drains the first set.
  11. More time – “I can’t bring more time WTF Marty…”  You need to figure it will take you double the amount of time to climb a peak in winter conditions than it would normally in summer weather.  Allow yourself more time to get up and down the peak and plan as such.

Also, consider taking an Intro to Mountaineering course from Colorado Mountain School.  They are to credit for our featured image.

-Martin Upton

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