SCOTTISH WINTER CLIMBING EQUIPMENT GUIDE: PART ONE
Scottish winter mountaineering can mean anything from hillwalking to technical climbing, and the footwear and equipment requirements are different for every activity.
Not only that, but Scottish winter weather can vary in the space of a single day, so it is always best to be prepared for the worst.
This gear guide is for those who are planning less challenging routes, and those who have done/will do a Scottish winter course with an accredited guide (which we strongly recommend). However, it is not exhaustive, and every individual should take responsibility for their own safety.
Getting the right boots is the difference between a comfortable day and a very uncomfortable, if not painful one.
Depending on your activity, standard walking boots may not be sufficient. You will most likely need to consider a pair of general mountaineering boots like the Scarpa Manta Pro GTX (pictured).
For winter technical climbing you should consider warmer, stiffer options like the Sportiva Nepal Extremes (pictured).
We always recommend coming into store and trying pairs of boots to find the perfect pair and the right fit for you. It's very unlikely that the pair of mountain boots you buy will be your regular shoe size!
Socks are almost as important as boots here, as they keep your feet warm and dry, and are therefore essential to your comfort. Smartwool Mountaineer are the best option.
If you suffer from blisters or are concerned about cold toes, use them with Smartwool Liners. Take at least three pairs of each and don’t use them for more than two days.
This depends on whether or not your boots have an integral gaiter. Ideally get a Velcro-only closing system, as having a zip can be fiddly.
Make sure the gaiters fit over the boots as securely as possible. Rab Alpine Latok or Rab Hispar are good options.
A pair of 12-point general mountaineering crampons are ideal: Grivel G10 New Classic Crampon or Climbing Techonology Nuptse Evo Semi Auto are great options.
Many people make the mistake of wearing too many layers or too-warm clothing, forgetting that the body generates a lot of heat when moving. This results in getting hot and sweaty before long, which can leave you feeling cold when you stop moving.
This is the layer next to your skin. Base layers help move sweat away from your skin and provide warmth. Good choices include the Arc’teryx Phase AR or Arc'teryx Covert.
Lightweight and insulating, fleeces make great mid layers. For somebody who really feels the cold, a lightweight synthetic hybrid top can be used, however these are not as breathable as a fleece or some soft shells, and can be a bit sweaty.
SOFT SHELL JACKETS
A great alternative mid layer which provides windproofing and waterproofing. Things to consider when choosing a soft shell are whether you'd prefer to have more breathability or better wind and water resistance, and whether weight or durability is a bigger concern, as there are lots of different jackets available.
The best way to choose a waterproof jacket is to consider the following six points: use, fit, price, durability, weight and breathability.
In terms of fit, the hood should be able to go over a helmet, the hem and cuffs should not ride up and the pockets should not be blocked by a harness or backpack hip belt.
The ‘traditional’ Scottish winter waterproof would be something tough for skiing as well as climbing, such as Gore-Tex Pro jackets. Lighter, more breathable Gore Tex Active shells will be fine for winter walking, but might not survive when climbing as the fabrics are not as hardy as Gore Tex Pro jackets.
These combine light synthetic insulation with either soft shell fabrics or stretch fleece. Newer synthetics like Polartec Alpha Direct and The North Face Thermoball provide warmth, breathability and wind resistance.
A fantastic choice is the Rab Vapour-rise Alpine, which uses Vapour-rise technology for fast-wicking insulation and Pertex Equilibrium for wind resistance.
Other good options are The North Face Thermoball Hoodie or the Verto Prima Hoodie and Arc’teryx Atom LT. These work well as an outer layer and as a warm, quick drying mid layer.
SOFT SHELL TROUSERS
Middleweight options provide a good balance of weather resistance and breathability. The lightweight options are more breathable, but less warm and less water resistant. If you feel the cold easily, then Rab Power Stretch Pants underneath another pair will be warmer than a base layer.
If you are using soft shell trousers, a good value full or ¾ zip option carried as a ‘just in case’ is wise. Some people prefer heavier, hardier trousers, which are already waterproof but are less breathable. A good compromise are the Mountain Equipment Karokorum Mountain Pants.
Insulated jackets will keep you warm while you're not moving. There are two types to choose from:
SYNTHETIC INSULATED JACKETS
Synthetic insulation is normally lower-priced than down and can withstand getting wet, but jackets tend to be bulkier and have a lower warmth-to-weight ratio.
Down jackets are often warmer than synthetic (the higher fill power, the warmer). They have an excellent wamth-to-weighr ratio and pack down smaller. However, down jackets do not perform well when they get wet, and can be ruined beyond repair, so it's essential to keep them out of wet conditions.
HANDS AND HEAD
You will need a glove system to keep you warm effectively, but there isn't a system which works for everyone. Bringing options with you is the best approach: liners for walking, a pair of warmer climbing gloves and a back-up pair of mitts. 2-3 pairs of light/medium liner gloves or fleece gloves are a good idea, just in case you lose any or they get wet.
Climbing gloves need to be dexterous enough to use fiddly gear and warm enough to keep ‘hot aches’ away. What works for you will depend on your metabolism, however, a general rule of thumb is the warmer the gloves, the less dexterous they are.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more and will use them for other things like ski touring, then a pair of soft shell gloves are a great addition. They are wind/weather resistant, reasonably breathable and more dexterous than heavy gloves, but tend not to be as warm.
A lightweight, low volume wool or fleece beanie is essential. Make sure it fits comfortably under a helmet and covers the tips of your ears.
A buff or wool neck gaiter is also great to have as it provides essential insulation around the neck. A balaclava can be worn as a neck gaiter or rolled up as a beanie!
If you do get caught out by strong winds you’ll be glad you have goggles - it can be surprising how painful rain/sleet/snow can be if the wind is howling! Orange lenses are good for low light levels.
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