This gear guide is aimed more at people planning easier walking and climbing 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 gaining the experience of what works for you!

Single or double? For easier routes, especially ridges, a single is probably fine and is a little more affordable. However, routes can meander and winter protection can be tenuous. This is where double ropes are ideal to help prevent rope drag and provide more security. They also make abseils a bit easier.

Whichever you choose, it’s worth getting double dry treated ropes which will help keep them drier for longer and hopefully prevent them from freezing.


There are a variety of harnesses to choose from (the best-fitting will be fine). 

This is essential. There are a number of choices, but the best is the one that fits.

Walking Axe

I would suggest as light as you can afford with a slight curve in the shaft. There is no hard and fast rule about length. Some prefer shorter as they are lighter, some favour longer as a walking aid.

Some axes come with a wrist leash, however these can be inconvenient. A great alternative is a Grivel Spring Leash, which attaches the axe to your harness.

Climbing Axe

If you are just starting out, perhaps look at a pair of axes like the Petzl Quarks, Black Diamond Vipersor DMM Apexs.

They are good options for alpine and waterfall ice climbing, and Scottish mountaineering. The DMMs have a more radical curve but are still good all-rounders.

Tools like the Petzlcharlet Nomic, Black Diamond Fusion and DMM Switches come into their own on hard, steeper ice or mixed routes.

Play around with the options to see which you prefer the feel of.

Nuts + Wires

At least one full set like the DMM Wallnuts or Wild Country Rocks.

How many you need depends on the route and its condition, as does the length. For easier routes four should be fine: one short for thinner ice, two mediums for thicker ice and one long for belays and Abalokovs. It is always better to place nuts or hexes if you can.

Choose between DMM Torque Nuts or Wild Country Hexes. A full set gives you more options.

Camming Devices

These are not ideal for icy cracks! If you are going to use them be aware they are more likely to slip in verglassed rock.


Longer is better (18-25cm)! How many you carry depends on the route and how brave you are. Anything from 8-12 can also be added to by using slings as extenders.


Water bladder tubes sometimes freeze. The Nalgene bottles are one of the best options as they are not metal and have a wide mouth. A great tip is to carry two: one filled with boiling water (either herbal tea or cordial, sugar and a little salt).

Nalgene Insulation pouches (see picture) can prevent water freezing in the bottle and you can use them to carry your bottle on your pack hip belt, making it easily accessible.

These can be filled with hot water before going to sleep and a sock slipped over them to make a hot water bottle.

Using an electrolyte mix lowers the freezing point of water as well as replenishing vital salts lost through sweating. The SiS GO Hydro tubes of electrolyte tablets or packets are ideal. It will help prevent cramps and speed up the body’s absorption of water.


4 x 60cm slings, even more 120cm slings and at least 1 x 240cm.

An old school type of protection mostly used by aid climbers but carried as back up for winter climbs when nothing else will work.


Preferably an Alpine style backpack. These are generally lightweight, minimalist and reasonably durable. Anything from 30-45L will do in terms of volume.

Not essential, but they will make a massive difference. In the short-term they help with balance and load bearing. In the long term they minimise the impact on knee cartilage. We have many options from both Leki and Black Diamond.


Head Torch

This is a very important piece of kit with less daylight hours during winter. Always make sure your head torch is functioning. It is a good idea to get something fairly bright with a beam and floodlight option.

Carry spare batteries, preferably lithium, as they deal better with the cold and will last longer.

First Aid Kit

Lifesystems Fast and Dry (pictured) includes antiseptic wipes, blister plasters, wound closure strips, pain killers and dressings.

A couple of various sized waterproof stuff sacks are essential to keep your kit organised and dry. One big enough for your insulating jacket is a must. A smaller one for electronics is a really good idea too. 

Repair Kit

Some cable ties, safety pins and either a roll of electrical tape or gaffa tape.

Survival Kit

Either a two-man bothy bag or at least a foil bag. Not only is a bothy bag a potentially life-saving piece of kit, but it also makes a great shelter to have lunch in when the weather is foul.  

Keeping some high energy Clif Bars in your pack as an emergency snack is also a good idea. Having some food and something which blocks the wind and traps body heat can be the difference between an uncomfortable or horrific experience.


The Scottish winter isn’t always hard and grim! The winter scenery will take your breath away and make you glad you made the effort.

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