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Climbing on a winter's day

Climbing on a winter's day

Posted by Allister Fenton on 25th Jun 2020

When I arrived at Bronkies last Sunday, the icicles at the drip were an obvious indicator of how cold it was. Nevertheless, people were climbing away and seemed pretty alright with the arctic conditions. If you’re anything like me and don’t like being cold, then this blog post is for you. I have a few tips and bits of gear that make life in cold conditions a bit more bearable, so I thought I’d jot them down here and hopefully they make life a bit more pleasant. To make things easier to follow, I’ve divided this into how to be warm and comfy while climbing and how to be warm while you’re not climbing.

A photo from Bronkies last Sunday.

A photo from Bronkies last Sunday.


A good warm up before climbing is important because you want your body to be producing its own heat before you start climbing. It’s easy to overheat midway up the route, so I often use my Ice Breaker thermal top as a base layer with a light-weight breathable fleece that I can unzip easily with one hand. This layering system breathes really well so if I do overheat I don’t get too sweaty. I’ve found it’s better to be a bit cold at the start rather than too hot at the top of the route and I factor in how hard the climbing is when I’m planning what to wear. I’m a huge fan of helmets and wear mine as often as I can when climbing outside, but climbing does make it pretty hard to pull a hoody off, so layers with full zips are very nice to have.

If it’s very very cold (and often for the first route of the day) I’ll put a buff on under my helmet but bear in mind that it’s not easy to pull off if you start overheating. I often keep my socks on, especially for the first two or three routes. When it’s so cold I want to do a few routes to warm up and I don’t need Sharma level performance from my (Evolv Shaman) shoes when I’m climbing five or ten grades below my limit. I also put my shoes inside my jacket (armpits are the best spot) to warm them up so they’re not cold to put on and I’ve found the rubber sticks a bit better when it’s warm, which is useful when you’re clutching on a jug you can’t feel because your fingers are ice cubes.

When it comes to belaying and being in nature when it’s cold, I think these three basic things make the biggest difference: 1) A belay jacket or big puffy jacket is a must have for when I’m not climbing. I’m often just sitting or standing around and it’s easy to get cold after 30 minutes of this, so a big jacket helps keep me warm. Mine has a double zipper which means I can belay with it on and open the bottom just enough to get to the belay loop on my harness which keeps my core toasty and protected. 2) Having a warm drink improves my mood a lot when I’m cold so I bring a flask of tea or coffee if I have a busy climbing day planned and my Jetboil if I’m going to be lazy and spend the day brewing tea and coffee. The Jetboil is great when there is water close by because you can have an endless supply of warm drinks for the day. 3) Belaying with gloves on is such a winner for keeping that little breeze off your hands while you’re belaying and I often wear mine while hanging around and watching other people climb. I use them year-round to save my skin for the important stuff, but they really come into their own in winter! You can use ski gloves, but belay gloves are up to the task of dealing with a filthy rope and all the dust around the base of the crag. Often it’s not so cold that ski gloves are warranted.

Some less basic and nice to have things are: Reusable hand warmers to keep in a jacket pocket, disposable hand warmers for inside your chalk bag, a buff and beanie or balaclava for if it’s extra cold, warm thick socks, and a foam sit pad to insulate your bum from the cold ground.

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