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The Complete Guide to Packing for an Ice Climbing Trip

So you've dumped the gear bin out on the floor and started putting together gear for ice climbing. You look at the pile of equipment with a confused look and scratch your head. Not sure where to start packing?


Getting ready for an ice climbing trip can seem daunting. The sheer amount of gear required can be overwhelming and you definitely don't want to be cold or have gear that is from the stone age. I've been climbing for 21 years and guiding ice for the last eleven years and love taking people out to swing the tools. Over that time, I've really honed in on the gear necessary to have a great day out.


Why Is Having the Right Gear So Important?

Don't know where to start packing? I've got you covered!

Psyched on Ice and Ready to Climb Something Epic?


Ice climber swinging an ice tool at Lincoln Falls

Why is having the right ice climbing gear so important?


Having the right gear makes a world of difference, whether you are just getting into the sport or have been ice climbing for a long time. Ever hear that old saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear"?


Given the fact that ice climbing takes place in the dead of winter on shady north facing slopes, this saying has always resonated deeply with me. I know from experience that not being prepared for the elements can make a fun day out turn into things only nightmares are made of.


So what does having the right ice climbing gear do for you?

  1. Having the right layers lets you focus more on the fun and physical aspect of ice climbing without worrying whether or not you are going to lose your digits to frostbite.

  2. Unexpected things happen in the mountains and being prepared can be the difference between un uncomfortable night out and something much worse.

  3. Proper preparation prevents poor performance! I mean...you can ice climb with lots of different gear, but having the right stuff makes it so much easier and more fun!


Climber cleaning an ice screw


What Should I Pack for Ice Climbing?


Here is my recommendation on what gear to pack for ice climbing.


Good socks for ice climbing

Socks

Wool socks are my go to for ice climbing. In Colorado, I typically prefer thinner wool socks. Some people use liner socks, but I have always found my feet get colder if I choose to wear one. My absolute favorite socks are Smartwool. For routes with longer approaches, I bring an extra pair to change into before climbing to keep my feet warm and dry. Don't bring cotton!


Good top baselayers for ice climbing

Top Baselayers

I always wear two different baselayers of varying thickness. I wear a tight fitting layer close to my skin and a looser fitting layer on top. One layers wicks moisture away while the other insulates! Synthetic baselayers work the best. Any sporting goods store will have layers that will work great.




Bottom baselayers for ice climbing

Bottom Baselayers

Unless it's well below zero, I normally wear one pair of thermal underwear. I've found that with a weather resistant layer on top, I stay plenty warm on even the coldest days. Of course, if I was climbing in Alaska, I might choose to wear another thicker pair of thermals in addition. Any sporting goods store will have layers that will work great.



Softshell pants for ice climbing

Softshell Pants

My go to pants for ice climbing have got to be softshell! Pants like the Arc'teryx Gamma MX are awesome and hold up to the day to day beating of ice climbing while keeping a slim fit to prevent crampon snags. It's important to remember that you need these pants big enough to accomodate other layers.



Winter hat that fits under a climbing helmet

Hat

This one's pretty easy. Choose a hat that has a slim fit and can easily fit under a helmet. Hats with big poof balls on the top don't work great.







Neck buff or gaiter for ice climbing

Buff or Neck Gaiter

This is arguably one of the most versatile layers you can bring into the outdoors. It can double for a hat, work as a gaiter to protect your face, or keep the sun off your neck. On really cold days, I wear this under my hat to keep my head a little warmer.





Midweight fleece layer for ice climbing

Midweight Fleece

I love a lot of the new athletic fleece type jackets and they do a great job at trapping heat. Jackets with softshell stretchy material for the arms are key, especially because we use our arms a ton while swinging our tools. My absolute favorite has got to be the Rab Capacitor Hoody.




Down vest for ice climbing

Down Vest

A warm down vest is essential on the really cold days. If it is below 15℉, then you can bet I'm wearing this 650 fill oven! This layer goes over my midweight fleece and keeps in a ton of heat. When my core is warm, my toes are warm! I found this super lightweight and packable Eddie Bauer down vest at an outlet store for less than $50.



Synthetic midlayer for ice climbing

Synthetic Midlayer

Anytime the temps begin to dip, you can bet I have this layer on or packed in my bag. Any layer like the Arc'teryx Atom Hoody makes a great choice when layering. This incredibly light jacket is normally my last insulating layer before my shell. Oh, and the color is cool too!




Softshell jacket for ice climbing

Outer Shell

As the first line in defense against the elements, it's imperative that the shell you choose can stand up to the job. My go to is normally a softshell jacket. I don't normally bring a hardshell jacket unless the weather is really looking poor the day. The athletic fit of a jacket like Rab's Kinetic Alpine 2.0 keeps all your layers tucked neatly under your harness and close to your body.


Belay puffy coat for ice climbing

Belay Puffy

Bring on the warmth! A super puffy coat is just the ticket to keep you from shivering at the belay or while learning how to build ice anchors. Down puffies are always preferable as they have a higher insulating value and tend to pack down smaller. My favorite for most days out is Rab's Zero G coat.



An assortment of gloves for ice climbing

Gloves

I normally bring four different pairs of gloves with me. From L to R > thin gloves for mixed climbing, all around leather work gloves for rope work, thicker sticky palmed ice gloves for when the temps start to drop, thick belay gloves. Each glove has progressively more insulation than the last.




Ice climbing boots

Mountaineering Boots

Having the right boots is critical to a fun day out ice climbing. I size my boots up by about a full size to ensure I have adequate wiggle room for my toes. Make sure the boots have both a front and back welt for automatic crampons. In the lower 48 states, you can get by with single boots. As you get higher in elevation or colder in temps, double boots are nice.


Ice climbing crampons

Crampons

Sharp pointy things on your feet! Choose an automatic style of crampon for the most secure attachment to your boot. For pure ice routes, I prefer dual points. Only when the route demands mixed climbing will I swap out for mono points. The Petzl Darts are my favorite crampon on the market right now. They just climb so well!



Ice climbing tools

Ice Tools

The quintessential piece of ice climbing gear! Modern ice tools make climbing easy with features like offset handles, pommels and curved shafts, and picks with head weights. For pure waterfall ice, I choose the Petzl Nomics.





Climbing harness with ice clipper slots

Climbing Harness

Any harness designed for rock climbing will work, however, some harnesses made specifically for ice climbing have slots where you can attach ice clippers. Ski mountaineering harnesses aren't a great choice because they don't have any padding around the waist. Adjustable leg loops can be nice to accomodate all those extra layers!


Climbing Helmet

Climbing Helmet

There is always some sort of falling debris while ice climbing and choosing a helmet that keeps your head safe is key. Make sure it is adjustable to accomodate your hat and or buff. Many new helmets like the Petzl Sirocco are so lightweight it's easy to forget you're wearing one!