Ice climbing’s popularity is growing, as is the number of people who participate in this extreme sport. Ice climbing has quickly become a stand-alone sport, with enthusiasts flocking to nearly every continent to test their skills.
Bringing the right gear, as with any other outdoor activity, can mean the difference between a successful expedition and a trip that never even gets off the ground.
We’ve included a list of all the necessary gear below to ensure you’re properly prepared for your next ice climbing adventure.
You will use technical equipment to aid your ice climbing. It can take the form of items that you wear and use to assist you with various ice climbing tasks.
A belay device is a piece of mechanical equipment that allows the user to exert tension on a climbing rope more easily, preventing another climber from falling.
Belay devices are made of metal and create leverage, which reduces the effort required to feed appropriate amounts of rope to climbers.
Many guides who supply group climbing equipment will also supply belay devices for the climb. Alternatively, they can usually be rented.
A carabiner is a steel or metal loop with a spring-loaded gate. In ice climbing, this specific equipment is used to swiftly connect and disconnect a rope from the harness whenever required.
Because their size and shape allow for a hitch with two strands of rope, pear/HMS carabiners are most commonly used for belaying and rappelling.
These are generally available at most outdoor sports stores and are useful for a variety of other purposes.
Crampons are traction devices that are worn on the soles of climbing boots. They’re usually made of a steel alloy and have spikes on the bottom to help with climbing ice falls and maintaining traction on glaciers.
Crampons are typically attached to boots via a binding system that varies according to the user’s needs. The semi-rigid ones with the step-in system and 14 points are the most common for ice climbing, as you will need as much surface area on the ice as possible to maneuver.
These are typically available for rent at outdoor sports stores, though some guides will provide them if the personal gear is included in their fee.
Climbers use harnesses to connect to a rope or an anchor point. They’re usually made of a cloth and nylon blend that loops around each leg and the waist.
While rope harnesses can be improvised, it is much more common to use commercially available ones, which typically have padding and attachment loops for holding other equipment.
Harnesses are typically rented from outdoor sports stores, though some guides will provide them if the personal gear is included in their fee.
The most important piece of ice climbing equipment is the ice axe. They are used to cling to the ice and pull you up to the top of icefalls or steeper glaciers. Ice climbing requires the use of technical (as opposed to basic) ice axes. They have curved shafts that aid in weight support.
They can also be used to self-arrest if you slip or fall on an icy surface and to create an improvised ice anchor.
Ice axes are typically rented from outdoor sports stores, though some guides will provide them if the personal gear is included in their fee.
Ice screws are cylindrical threaded screws that are used to create a running belay on steep surfaces such as icefalls or frozen waterfalls.
They are typically 10 to 23 centimeters long and made of Chromoly steel. Ice screws can also be used to prevent climbers from falling higher up on icy surfaces.
When purchasing ice screws, look for ones with replaceable tips to extend their useful life. Ice screws are available at sporting goods stores.
Quickdraws are attachments to bolt anchors that allow the rope to pass freely through them while lead climbing.
These devices are typically composed of a straight-gate and a bent-gate carabiner joined by a piece of plastic or leather. The straight gate is connected to the anchor, while the bent gate is connected to the rope.
Mountain guides who include group equipment on their trips usually provide these. They can also be rented at most outdoor sports stores.
Ice climbing expeditions demand the use of two types of rope: dynamic and static.
Because it is more elastic, the dynamic rope is ideal for climbing. This is advantageous in the happening of a slip or fall. A static rope is stiffer and better suited for rappelling. Ice climbers should bring 60 meters of rope with a diameter of 8 to 10 millimeters.
Ropes can be purchased at outdoor sports stores, although most guides provide the rope for the expedition.
Clothing and kit
Ice climbing is considered an extreme sport because it is usually done at temperatures well below freezing. As a result, proper clothing and equipment are essential for a successful ice climbing adventure.
From placing ice screws to tying rope knots, ice climbing requires a lot of hand movement and dexterity. Gloves that keep your hands warm and dry while still allowing for fine movement are therefore necessary.
Gore-tex is a waterproof and breathable fabric that performs well in temperatures well below freezing.
While Gore-tex is a bit pricey, it is well worth the investment, especially if you will be in a situation where dexterity is required.
A helmet is a must-have piece of safety equipment for any ice-climbing expedition. It protects your head from falls or falling objects from above, typically ice or rock, in an ice climbing context.
For ice climbing, hardshell helmets with a thick plastic outer shell and a thin foam liner inside are preferable. While they can be a little heavy, they will protect you from falling ice better than their shelled foam counterparts.
Most outdoor sporting goods stores sell ice climbing helmets.
Insulated ice climbing boots
The type of boot you choose for your ice climbing expedition is one of the top critical concerns of ice climbing. A stiff leather (or plastic or synthetic) boot with a high top and removable inner liner is ideal.
These stiff boots will help you distribute your weight evenly, so you don’t feel like all of your weight is on the part of your foot that is on the ice, which is usually the toe.
The inner lining keeps your feet warm and dry and can be easily removed and dried at the end of the day. Ice climbing boots are available at most outdoor sporting goods stores.
Sunglasses and sunblock
Ice is extremely reflective, and the glare can easily burn or blind you even in the dead of winter.
Sunglasses will help you see what you’re doing when the sun is shining. You will also avoid getting sunburned right away if you use sunscreen. A sunburn can ruin the fun of an outdoor adventure.
Along with technical equipment and clothing, there are a few other items you should bring with you on an ice-climbing expedition.
Even on a single-day ice-climbing expedition, most guides will ask you to bring a 30 to 50-liter backpack. All of the equipment you’ll need can be stored in the backpack, and you’ll also need somewhere to keep snacks, water, and a camera.
On an ice climbing adventure, it is always a good idea to bring a one-liter bottle of water with you. It’s critical to stay hydrated, especially when it’s cold outside. Slightly insulated water bottles are ideal for the sport, as they prevent your water from freezing while you’re climbing.
What you need to bring on an ice climbing trip depends on where you’re climbing and how long you’re going to be gone. Always check with your guide before leaving for your destination to see what you need to bring. Other items that are always useful are listed below.
- An identification card or passport
- Insurance policy
- Cash in local currency and credit card
- Personal first aid kit
- Camera and extra batteries