top of page

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 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


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.