Photo: Kirk Scheidt/Shutterstock

7 Mountaineering Essentials

by David DeFranza Aug 8, 2009
Once you have the gear for winter camping and the essentials for backcountry travel, there are only a few additional items you need to get started mountaineering.
1. Plastic Double Boots

Boots featuring a waterproof plastic shell and soft insulated inner-bootie have become the standard for mountaineers around the world.

While these boots tend to be stiff and heavy, they are very warm, provide adequate support for climbing glaciers, snow slopes, and ice walls, and allow you to dry the inner-boot in your sleeping bag at night.

When buying plastic boots, make certain that they fit comfortably in the store. Because the shell is stiff, they do not conform to your foot, or “break in,” like other boots and shoes will.

Wear the thick socks you plan to wear while mountaineering and make sure the boots do not constrict your feet or have any edges that rub or pinch uncomfortably.

2. Mountaineering Harness

There may not be any technical climbing planned for your mountaineering trip, but a basic harness is still a common necessity.

Mountaineers use ropes to protect themselves on exposed sections where a gust of wind or a slip on the snow or ice could be catastrophic, and you need a harness to tie into these ropes.

A rope and harness is also necessary for any sort of glacier travel.

If you have a climbing harness, chances are you can just use that for mountaineering. If you don’t, or your normal climbing harness is missing a few important features, you can get a simple mountaineering harness for under $40.

Features to look for include adjustable leg loops and a long waistband to accommodate bulky winter layers.

Price: $37.95 | Black Diamond Alpine Bod Harness

3. Crampons

Ice is slippery. To safely travel up a frozen mountain, you need more traction than the typical boot can provide. That’s where crampons come in.

For general mountaineering, 12-point crampons with a flexible instep are ideal.

They allow you to use every part of your boot when stepping, but bend to make walking easy.

Horizontal front points, as opposed to the vertically oriented ones used on ice-climbing crampons, are best for snow and low-angle ice travel.

Price: $159.95 | Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro

4. Piolet

The piolet is the classic mountaineering ice ax. Climbers use it as a support on steep terrain, to self arrest in the event of a fall, and to chop steps in snow and ice.

Ice climbers have become fond of short, radically-curved, leashless ice tools, and for good reason: They are carefully engineered for the extreme demands of vertical ice climbing.

Mountaineers, however, are better off with a traditional straight-shafted ax, tethered to their wrist with a long leash to protect against dropping.

Price: $69.93 | Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

5. Helmet

A helmet is absolutely necessary while mountaineering to protect your head from falling ice and rock, as well as dropped gear.

Because it needs to protect you from falling objects and not the force of impact, it isn’t a good idea to use your bike helmet while climbing.

Instead, look for a specialized helmet with a hard shell and adjustable suspension system that fits when you’re wearing a winter hat.

Price: $59.95 | Black Diamond Half Dome Climbing Helmet

6. Goggles and Sun Protection

Sun, wind, and reflective snow all combine to create a dangerous environment for your skin and eyes. A good pair of UV-protective goggles, matched with sunscreen and SPF lip balm are important tools to prevent snow blindness and painful sunburns.

Price: $85.00 | Around Excel Goggles by Julbo

Price: $9.78 | NO-AD Maximum Sunblock Lotion, SPF 45, 16 Ounces

Price: $9.95 | Dermatone Skin Protector Maxi Tin SPF23 (0.88oz)

7. Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills

Though it’s probably too heavy to bring up the mountain, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is the ultimate reference for novice mountaineers and experts alike.

Offering over 500 double-columned pages of mountain wisdom, this book will become your go-to resource for every question that pops up along your journey towards alpine mastery.

Price: $19.77 | Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills

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