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Scottish winter mountaineering covers everything from winter hillwalking to technical winter climbing. The footwear and equipment changes depending on whether you’re climbing or walking. 


Scottish winter weather can consistently vary in the space of a single day, so it is always best to be prepared for the worst!


This gear guide is aimed more at people planning easier routes and those who will or have done a Scottish winter course with an accredited guide or instructor (something we strongly recommend).


Winter climbing or hillwalking can be dangerous, and every individual should be responsible for their own safety. This is not a definitive guide, and part of the fun is the gaining the experience of what works for you!


Getting the right boots is the difference between a relatively comfortable day and a very uncomfortable, if not painful one.


Depending on what you want to do, normal winter walking boots may not be sufficient. As a bare minimum you will need to consider a pair of general mountaineering boots like the Scarpa Manta Pro GTX (pictured).


However, if you’re getting into winter climbing you should consider warmer, stiffer options like the Sportiva Nepal Extremes (pictured) or newer equivalents.


Ideally, you need to come into one of our stores and try as many boots on as possible to find the best fit. Expect to start at least a size up from your normal shoe size.


We may have to try footbeds or make use of other boot-fitting techniques to provide as good a fit as possible. There are not as many options available as there are in walking boots.



Almost as important as the boots. 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 or not, i.e. Scarpa Phantom Guide boots. 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 Neostretch or Mountain Equipment Glacier XCR are good options.


CRAMPONS A pair of 12-point general mountaineering crampons are ideal: Grivel G12 (pictured), Petzlcharlet Vasak Leverlock and Black Diamond Serac Clip are all good options.


When moving, your body generates heat. Many people make the mistake of wearing too many layers or clothing which is too warm. This results in getting hot and sweaty within a short time frame, which can leave you feeling cold.


Ideally, start out cold with the bare minimum of clothing. Experiment and find out what works best for you!


BASE LAYERS- This is the layer next to your skin. Base layers do two things: help move sweat away from your skin and help provide warmth. Good choices include the Arc’teryx Phase AR (pictured), Icebreaker Oasis 200 or 260 if you run cold. 

FLEECE - Cost-effective, quick-drying, lightweight and preferably with Polartec Power dry high efficiency or Power stretch fabric. 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 – This is a great alternative to a fleece which provides wind and water resistance.


There is a wide variety of options on the market, but things you should consider are whether you want more breathability or better wind and water resistance, less weight or more durability.


As a general guide, anything with a membrane will be less breathable but provide better weather resistance.


WATERPROOF JACKETS  -Recent developments have added a wider range of waterproof jackets to the market.

The easiest way of working out what is good for you is to consider the following six points: use, fit, price, durability, weight and breathability.

As far as the fit goes, 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. Good options are Gore Pro jackets. 

Lighter, more breathable Neoshell or Gore Tex Active shells will be fine for winter walking but might get trashed when climbing as the fabrics are not as hardy as Gore Tex Pro jackets.

SYTHETIC HYBRIDS – These either combine light synthetic insulation with soft shell fabrics or stretch fleece. There are also new synthetics like Polartec Apex and TNF Thermoball, which provide warmth, breathability and wind resistance.


A fantastic choice is the Rab Strata Hoodie (pictured), which uses Polartec Apex for fast-wicking insulation and Pertex endurance for wind resistance.


Other good options are The North Face Thermoball Hoodie (pictured) or the Verto Micro 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 will be warmer than just a base layer. 

WATERPROOF TROUSERS – If you are using soft shell trousers, a good valye full or ¾ zip option carried as a ‘just in case’ option should be fine. Some people prefer heavier, hardier trousers and don’t use soft shells. The draw back is that they are less breathable and more expensive. A good compromise are the Rab Neo Guide Pants.


This will keep you warm when you are not moving. There are two types of static insulation to choose from:


SYNTHETIC INSULATION  These are normally better priced than down jackets, but they are bulkier and have a lower warmth-to-weight ratio.


DOWN JACKETS – For most people, a down jacket should be considered. The higher the down quality, the lighter and more expensive the jacket. It is now possible to get Hydrophobic down, which sheds water and dries quicker.


Advantages of down: Better weight-to-warmth ratio, packs smaller.


Disadvantages of down: More expensive than synthetic insulation, especially the hydrophobic options. Not as warm as synthetic when wet.


GLOVES  There is no glove system that works for everyone. You will need a few options: liners for walking, a pair of warmer climbing gloves and a back-up pair of mitts. 2-3 pairs of light or medium liner gloves or fleece gloves are a good idea just in case you lose one or get them wet! Think about wearing them in your other gloves when deciding what to buy. Compressed hands are cold hands!


Climbing gloves need to be dexterous enough to fiddle with gear and warm enough to keep ‘hot aches’ away. What works for you will depend on your metabolism. Unfortunately, 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 glovesare a great addition. They are wind/weather resistant, reasonably breathable and more dexterous than heavy gloves, but not as warm. If you suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome then CLICK HERE.

BEANIE/BALACLAVA – 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 a great addition as it provides essential insulation around the neck. A balaclava can be worn as a neck gaiter or rolled up as a beanie!

GOGGLES If you do get caught out by strong winds you’ll be glad you have them. It’s rather 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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