What to Wear Ice Climbing

Text by: Kelsey Begg

Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Helly Hansen, Icebreaker, Mons Royale, Norrona, Patagonia, Rab, Scarpa, The North Face. What to Wear Ice Climbing

For the thrill seekers and adventurers among us, ice climbing is yet another seasonal activity that fulfills adrenaline addictions and opportunities to discover new heights and personal limits. Most commonly done over the winter months for obvious weather reasons, ice climbing is an exciting sport that deserves great respect and proper knowledge of the techniques, safety and gear. Like any activity you do, the appropriate clothing is just as important as the tools you use.

When it comes to ice climbing, you are often climbing in cold temperatures and in locations that can be very dangerous. For this reason, dressing safely and bringing along the appropriate tools are crucial. Unlike regular rock climbing, ice climbing calls for dressing in well thought out layers with one of the main focuses on keeping your body warm without overheating. When you get cold, your muscles tense up which is not ideal when you need to be nimble and agile. 

Climbing involves a lot of “stop-and-go” action so it can be hard to maintain a constant body temperature throughout the activity.  Just like dressing for any outdoor activity whether it be for skiing and snowboarding or hiking, the same layering system applies. 

Base Layers

Like layering for a day on the mountain, your first layer known as your base layer is the most important layer of your layering system. This is your moisture-wicking layer on the top and the bottom which will help keep your body temperature regulated.

For your base layers, you want to choose materials that are exceptionally breathable and will efficiently wick the moisture away from your body keeping you feeling dry and warm. Cotton is your enemy so opt for synthetic or wool materials. 

oasis long sleeve crew

Icebreaker

Oasis LS Crew

Shop

mons royale womens bella tech long sleeve

Mons Royale

Bella Tech LS

Shop

rab merino+ 120 long sleeve tee

Rab

Merino+120 LS Tee

Shop

helly hansen lifa base layer crew

Helly Hansen

Lifa Base Layer Crew

Shop

Mid-Layers

Warmth is key for ice climbing because you are often climbing in sub-zero temperatures. There are multiple options for mid layers and each will depend on the climate you are climbing in as well as the severity of the temperatures. For colder dry climates, a down mid layer is a perfect option. If you are climbing in a damp and humid location, something with synthetic insulation will be your best bet and keep you warm even if there is moisture lingering in the air. For those cool days that aren’t as frigid as others, you can get away with a fleece as your mid layer which often offers slightly more breathability than the latter. 

the north face women's summit l3 down hoodie

The North Face

Summit L3 Down Hoodie

Shop

norrona womens trollveggen warmwool1 zip hoodie

Norrøna

trollveggen WarmWool1 Zip Hoodie

Shop

arcteryx mens proton lt vest

Arc’teryx

Proton LT Vest

Shop

black diamond mens coefficient hoody

Black Diamond

Coefficient Hoody

Shop

Another option is to layer a fleece with a down or synthetic vest of\ver your base layer. This gives you the warmth you need for your extremities and the additional warmth for your core provided by the vest. 

Outer Layers

An outer layer is your protective layer that keeps the elements out and traps body heat inside. This is most often a jacket with pockets located slightly higher on the coat so that you can access them while wearing a harness. Another important feature of this layer is having a helmet compatible storm hood. Wearing a helmet is essential for your safety while climbing so when the weather really tanks, you want to be able to zip up the coat with the hood on to get the most coverage as you can.

the north face summit l5 gtx pro jacket

The North Face

Summit L5 Gore-Tex® Pro Jacket

Shop

norrona trollveggen gore-tex light pro jacket

Norrøna

trollveggen Gore-Tex® light Pro Jacket

Shop

arcteryx mens alpha sv jacket

Arc’teryx

Alpha SV Jacket

Shop

black diamond helio gtx shell

Black Diamond

Helio GTX Shell

Shop

While Gore-Tex® shells are the most common choice for outer layers, a technical softshell jacket can do just as good of a job although does not provide as much protection if you are climbing in wet weather.

The pros and cons of each

Waterproof Shell Pros :

  • Durable
  • Weatherproof
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable

Softshell Jacket Pros :

  • Comfortable & malleable
  • Exceptionally breathable
  • Highly abrasion resistant
  • Provides minimal warmth ideal for milder temperatures

Waterproof Shell Cons :

  • Noisy material when you move
  • Provides no additional warmth
  • Often times less comfortable

Softshell Jacket Cons :

  • Not complete weatherproof (wind & water)
  • Less lightweight than a waterproof  shell

While most ski shells will have helmet compatible hoods, they are designed for skiing or snowboarding and may not offer the optimal cut or features that an ice climber would need. Shells designed for climbing will have an articulated design that allows climbers to climb without restrictions and conveniently located pockets that are accessible even while wearing a harness. The sleeves will also be designed in a way to eliminate having a wrist exposed even while reaching for a hold.

Accessorize for Succes

No, it doesn’t mean handbags and scarves. Accessorizing for a day of ice climbing means helmets, gloves, harnesses, neck warmers and more! Certain brands carry collections dedicated to climbing and mountaineering and will have all the products you need to be equipped for a day of ice climbing. Other brands like Icebreaker, Buff or Smartwool offer versatile products like neckwarmers, headbands and socks that can easily be worn for a day of ice climbing.If you choose to wear a headband or toque under your helmet, it is important to choose a slim fitting toque or helmet liner to avoid unnecessary bulk and ensure your helmet is fitting safely.

Other brands such as Black Diamond, Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear and Mammut are outdoor brands inspired by climbers with collections dedicated to climbing.

  • Glove & Mitts

When it comes to choosing gloves or mitts, you want to choose climbing specific options because these products will be designed for climbing and offer the dexterity needed in order to operate your tools and equipment while wearing them. Some regular ski or snowboard gloves or mitts will be too bulky and may cause more danger than convenience. 

norrona unisex trollveggen dri primaloft170 gloves

Norrøna

trollveggen Dri Primaloft170 Gloves

Shop

arcteryx alpha sv mitten

Arc’teryx

Alpha SV Mitten

Shop

arcteryx alpha fl glove

Arc’teryx

Alpha FL Glove

Shop

the north face summit g5 proprius gloves

The North Face

Summit G5 Proprius Gloves

Shop

  • Backpacks

Backpacks designed for climbing will have features that accommodate climbing gear such as ice axes and ropes. Large straps located on the outside on the front, top or sides can easily accommodate large bundles of rope keeping it easily accessible for when it’s needed. Straps on the outside also offer safe places to hold an ice ax securely where it won’t pose a hazard 

norrona trollveggen 45l pack

Norrøna

trollveggen 45L Pack

Shop

arcteryx unisex alpha fl 30l backpack

Arc’teryx

Alpha FL 30L Backpack

Shop

the north face Summit 50L pack

The North Face

Summit 50L Pack

Shop

Other accessories needed for a day of ice climbing include a helmet and harness so ensure you are choosing one that is the correct size and fits you properly.

Footwear

Finding the right climbing footwear can be a challenge but not impossible. You want to search for mountaineering boots and pair them with a warm pair of tall wool socks. The wool will wick away the moisture keep your foot warm and dry and the mountaineering boots provide the traction you need underfoot. In some instances, the crampons are part of the boot but in other cases, they will attach to the boot separately. 

arcteryx acrux mountaineering boot

Arc’teryx

Acrux AR Mountaineering Boot

Shop

scarpa unisex phantom 6000 mountaineering boots

Scarpa

Phantom 6000 Mountaineering Boots

Shop

scarpa rebel ice mountaineering boots

Scarpa

Rebel Ice

Shop

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *