Top Tips for Winter Mountaineering with Hero Douglas
Written By: SportsShoes
- KEEP YOUR HANDS WARM
- GET A GRIP
- PROTECT YOUR EYES
- ALWAYS LAYER UP
- CAREFULLY PACK YOUR PACK
- STAY ENERGISED AND HYDRATED
- ALWAYS PLAN AND PREPARE
1. KEEP YOUR HANDS WARM
- Find a glove system that works for you, like a thinner pair, a warm mitt that can go over easily when needed and a technical glove for doing things like opening karabiners, tying in, etc.
- If your hands get cold put your arms straight down along your sides and hold your hands perpendicularly (penguin style) and shrug your shoulders up and down. This increases circulation and pumps blood back into your hands. If you watch ski racing, you’ll see them all doing it at the top while waiting to start.
- My friend Jenny Dart, who is an MCI, recommends stuffing a pair of gloves down the front of your jacket so they’re pre warmed and easily accessible.
- Always pack a spare pair of gloves.
Photo credit: Montane
2. GET A GRIP
- Put crampons on before you think you’ll need them, ideally on a level area. Don’t wait for a slippery slope!
- It’s crucial to make sure your boots fit because if they are too small it cuts off circulation and your feet will get really cold.
- Make sure your crampons are compatible with your boots. For example, a B1 boot isn’t compatible with a C3 crampon.
- Practice with crampons and make sure your shell pants aren’t too flared as it’s easy to catch your pants on your crampon and then trip which can be very dangerous on exposed ground.
- For extremely cold conditions when camping try to use a double boot system (like ski boots with an outer layer and liner) at night you can keep the liner on to sleep in which really keeps your feet warm and the bonus is this allows the boot to dry out.
3. PROTECT YOUR EYES
- Take googles for the right conditions. If climbing in Scotland, choose a low visibility lens with a yellowish tint often people go for a sunny lens, but I’d say low vis is more important.
- Always take a backup head lamp but not a cheap one, at least 350 lumens or more and make sure you have fresh batteries in each.
Check out our tips and recommendations for The Best Running Head Torches 2022
Photo credit: Montane
4. ALWAYS LAYER UP
- Take a belay jacket suitable for the conditions your climbing in. So, if it’s likely to be a damp cold (or you are prone to sweating) then use a synthetic insulated jacket as this retains more warmth when wet. Down can be a bit useless when wet.
- Use a moisture wicking base layer like Marino wool because it moves the moisture away from you skin and dries quickly and therefore retains more warmth.
- Really check your gear works together; So, goggles with helmet, liner gloves with thicker gloves, socks with boots, etc….
- Make sure your jacket isn’t too small as if the jacket arms aren’t long enough you will get snow entering at the top of your gloves.
5. CAREFULLY PACK YOUR PACK
- A good rucksack packing tip is to have the heavier stuff at the bottom of your pack and put it closest to your back as this will keep your centre of gravity lower and avoid your bag throwing you off balance. This is important on technical terrain.
- Ear plugs and eye mask for huts or camping with mates that snore!
- Take more socks than you think you will need
Photo credit: Montane
6. STAY ENERGISED AND HYDRATED
- I always bring extra food and a warm drink to keep my energy levels up.
- Take some sachets of sport gels (fast acting carbs) as often when you are cold it’s not due to what you are wearing but occurs because of a crash in energy and when you energy is low, even if you put layers on, you’ll stay cold.
- Drink enough water as being hydrated helps keep you warm.
- Ditch the hydration bladder as the pipes can freeze or burst with winter tools for example if you stand on it with crampons.
- If you have a little stove with you you can boil snow and fill your Nalgene bottle to keep it in your coat or sleeping bag as a hot water bottle
- A compact stove like a pocket rocket is also great if you run out of water as you can melt snow to drink. Obviously, you can’t eat snow to hydrate as your body uses too much energy converting it to water and this lowers your body temperature.
7. ALWAYS PLAN AND PREPARE
- Practise self-arresting (there are some great tutorials on YouTube)
- Make sure you have the right axes for the objective, don’t get caught out on steep ground with a walking axe or be on mellow terrain with a technical climbing axe.
- Front pointing is a killer on your calves, so train before a winter trip.
- Practice long and short roping with your crew as people have different techniques. You need to all operate from the same page.
- Take an avalanche rescue course and carry appropriate kit (beacon, shovel, probe if moving through avalanche terrain). It’s vital to be avalanche aware and make sure you don’t fall into heuristic traps.
- Always ask others about route conditions and be prepared to change plans if needs be.
Photo credit: Hero Douglas
Hero Douglas is an all-round outdoor adventurer, a member of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team and a qualified Mountain Leader.
You can follow all of her wild adventures here
Find out more about hiking and trail running on our Hubs, or head to our Outdoor store and Trail store to make sure you have all the kit and advice you need to get started. If you’re a trail runner, then you should check out our guide to what to wear when running in winter, where you’ll find plenty more tips and advice.