I've been thinking a lot, perhaps too much, about my winter kit lately. Between re-outfitting most of my gear with apparel generously provided by adidas Outdoor, writing an ice climbing manual for the University of Vermont Ice Climbing Leadership Development Program and helping students prepare for a short mountaineering course I have been helping organize, gear has been constantly on my mind. With ice season launching into full swing, I thought what better than to put together a list of the apparel that keeps me warm this winter.
Before getting into the nitty gritty, it's worth saying that having top of the line apparel isn't going to make you a better climber. While it does help to have the gear you use perform well when you need it, ultimately it is your own skill and ability, gained through experience, that creates valuable outdoor adventures. Use this writeup as a tool to help guide you in the direction of finding a kit that fits your needs.
So with that in mind, here's what I'll be wearing this winter!
- Beanie - Any old hat will do. Chose something comfortable that fits snugly under a helmet and won't shift around. You'll also want to make sure your hat fully covers your ears, especially on windy days.
- Sunglasses - Julbo MonteBianco with Zebra Lenses Having a good pair of sunglasses is especially important in the winter. Sunlight reflecting off snow and ice can do permeant damage to your eyes, especially at higher elevations. I prefer Julbo sunglasses for a number of reasons, mainly to do with the fit. The Zebra lenses are photochromic, meaning they change tint depending on how bright it is, meaning these glasses work in all kinds of weather. Definitely a worthwhile investment if your planning on spending a lot of time in the mountains.
- Neck Gaiter - This is one piece of apparel I don't often pack, unless I know it's going to be a particularly cold and windy day. While gaiters can be useful, I generally prefer zipping up a shell over my helmet, which I find makes it easier to breath and does an equally good job of keeping my face protected in high wind.
- Baselayer - I have a number of baselayers, but I have two in particular that I find myself reaching too more often than not. On warm days or high output days where I expect to be sweating often, my top choice is the Rab Aeon Long Sleeve this light baselayer wicks better than just about anything I've ever worn. On colder days, or days where I know I will do more standing than climbing, I love my Icebreaker Tech Top Long Sleeve Half Zip. Not only is wool extremely comfortable and warm, but it's also a great choice for multi-day adventures, as it tends to smell much better than any polyester layer will.
- Fleece - My top choice for a second layer fleece is the Terrex Solo Wool Hoodie by adidas. I'm starting to become a big fan of pullover layers. Having too may zippers just becomes unnecessary. This fleece is a combo of wool and polyester, breathes very well, and is light and comfortable. Pertex fabric on the chest blocks wind when this layer is worn with nothing over it, which often happens on warm approaches. If needed, the hood fits well under a helmet, a great bonus on extra cold days, as a helmet compatible hood does a great job of trapping heat around your neck.
- Insulation - My insulating layer is the adidas Terrex Ndosphere Flex Hooded Jacket This jacket is filled with Primaloft Gold, which is todays standard for lightweight, breathable synthetic insulation. I rarely wear any down mid-layers, and find that synthetic insulation is far superior for a number of reasons, but primarily its ability to breathe, and its ability to insulate when wet.
- Shell - I have two go-to shells this winter. The first, a softshell, is the Terrex Agravic Windstopper Hybrid Hoodie. I wear this jacket on warm, high-output days. This is a slim fit layer, and does not fit over my insulating layer. On days where I am wearing a softshell, I generally am skipping the insulation, and carrying just a belay jacket. For a hardshell, I use the Terrex Techrock GTX Jacket. This is a 3-layer Gore Pro shell built to withstand anything mother nature can throw at it. Goretex, or equivalent, is absolutely critical for winter recreation in the mountains.
- Belay Jacket - My final layer, a belay jacket, is designed to fit over everything. This goes on whenever I am standing still, and gets packed every time I go out for a day of ice climbing. My choice is the Terrex Climaheat Techrock Hooded Jacket. Key features here include double sized zippers, and a hood that fits over a helmet. I also like to have internal pockets so I can store my climbing gloves in between belaying and climbing.
- General Purpose Gloves - Flylow Tough Guy Glove very similar to Kinco's these are my workhorse gloves of ice season. I wear these almost 100% of the time I am not climbing. I chose the Flylow brand over Kinco's just because of the fit. These cheep leather gloves are on my hands for approaches, when I'm building anchors, or belaying at the crag. Treat your leather gloves with Snowseal or a similar treatment to maximize their lifespan.
- Climbing Gloves - My go to climbing glove are the Outdoor Research Warrant Glove. I've recently discovered, much to my dismay, that they have since been discontinued. Your primary climbing glove should be light, somewhat warm, but most importantly, have good dexterity. Look for something waterproof and made by a reputable brand like Rab, Outdoor Research or Black Diamond. On warm days, or for technical ice/mixed climbing, my choice for ultralight climbing glove is the Torque Gloves. Lightweight, softshells seem to be the best choice here. Primary driving factor would be fit in this case.
- Belay Gloves - Depending on how cold it is, my belay gloves will either be the Arc'teryx Lithic Glove (which also double as my ultra-cold weather climbing gloves) or the Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. At the crag, the flylow gloves typically suffice unless its quite cold. In any situation, belaying in a seperate pair of gloves that you aren't climbing in is a good choice. Belaying wears gloves quickly, as well as gets gloves wet. Reserving your climbing gloves just for climbing keeps your hands warm and dry throughout the day.
- Baselayer - adidas Climacool Single Baselayer Pants are my go to poly baselayers. Just like with my upper body, I also have a favorite wool pair that I add on colder days. The Minus33 Kancamangus Midweight Wool Bottoms are my favorite wool leggings. Minus33 is an awesome company, making great fitting merino wool products at a fantastic price. I would highly recommend checking them out if your looking for some wool layers!
- Pants - For pants the adidas Terrex Skyclimb Pant are my top choice. I almost exclusively wear softshells in the winter. Rarly is it cold or wet enough to warrant a hardshell pant for a day of ice climbing. The Skyclimb pants are simple, and flexible. Just about any softshell pant will work for this purpose, with the primary concern being the fit. Key features will include built in kick patches as well as zippered pockets.
- Socks - The best sock manufacturer in the world is Darn Tough. If you don't think socks make a difference, or if one sock could be better than another, you've probably never put a pair of Darn Tough socks on. The sock you chose depends on the fit of your boots. Personally, due to my high volume feet, I wear a pair of Ultralight Ski Socks. Many of my friends are a fan of the OTC Mountainnering Socks. Chose what fits your foot best.
- Boots - My go-to boot is the La Sportiva Batura 2.0. The most important factor in choosing a boot is always going to be the fit. In my case, I went with the Batura's because they are lightweight, warm, and nimble. Ultimately, choose a boot that meets your climbing needs based on what type of climbing you will primarily be doing.
That's all for now folks. Keep an eye out for the second part of this series: My Winter Kit Part 2: What's in my Pack.
***Disclaimer: While I do receive apparel from adidas Outdoor, I am in no way bound to wear what I am provided, and the opinions above regarding all apparel, are none but my own.