Ice Climbing Gear Checklist: Essential Equipment & Clothing

Daniel DawsonJuly 31, 2019

As the popularity of ice climbing increases, so too does the number of people specifically heading out to partake in the sport.

Once seen as an impediment on mountaineering expeditions, ice climbing has rapidly become a stand-alone sport with participants heading to nearly every continent to try it out.

As with every other outdoor sport, bringing the correct gear can be the difference between a successful expedition and a trip that doesn’t even get off the ground.

To make sure that you are properly prepared for your next ice climbing adventure, we’ve included a list of all the necessary gear below.

 

Ice climbing is commonly needed in mountaineering expeditions in Ala Acha National Park. Photo courtesy of Anastasiya Cheremnyh.

Remember to always check with your certified mountain guide to see exactly what you need to bring. Some guides will include technical equipment in the price of the trip, while others may not. Here, a few reasons why you should hire a mountain guide for your next adventure.

Technical gear

 

Technical gear is what you will use to help you climb on the ice. It can come in the form of things you wear and use to assist you in the performance of various ice climbing tasks.

Belay device

 

A belay device is a mechanical piece of equipment that allows the user to more easily exert tension on a climbing rope, which prevents a fellow climber from falling.

Belay devices are made out of metal and create leverage, lessening the effort needed to feed out appropriate amounts of rope for climbers to use.

Many guides who provide group climbing equipment will provide belay devices for the climb. Otherwise, they can usually be rented.

Carabiners

 

A carabiner is a metal loop, which is generally made out of steel and has a spring-loaded gate. In ice climbing, this is used to quickly connect and disconnect a rope to the harness.

Pear/HMS carabiners are most frequently used for belaying and rappelling since their size and shape accommodates the need to hitch with two strands of rope.

These can generally be purchased at most outdoor sports stores and are useful to have for other purposes as well.

Crampons

 

14 point crampons are the best option for ice climbers as they provide the necessary traction. Photo courtesy of Andreas Gassner.

Crampons are traction devices that are attached to the bottom of climbing boots. They are usually made of a steel alloy and have spikes on the bottom that help the wearer climb ice falls and keep traction on glaciers.

Crampons are generally attached to boots via a binding system, which differs depending on the needs of the user. The most common ones for ice climbing are semi-rigid ones with the step-in system and 14 points, as you will require as much surface area on the ice as possible to maneuver.

These can generally be rented from outdoor sports stores, although some guides will provide them if they include personal gear in their fee.

Harness

 

Harnesses are used to secure climbers to either a rope or an anchor point. They are generally made from a combination of cloth and nylon, which loop around each leg as well as the waist.

While harnesses can be improvised and made out of rope, it is much more common to use commercially provided ones, which generally have padding and attachment loops with which to hold other gear.

Harnesses can generally be rented from outdoor sports stores, although some guides will provide them if they include personal gear in their fee.

Ice axes

 

Not all ice axes are created equal. Technical axes are the ones you need for climbing icefalls. Photo courtesy of Pawel Karczmarczyk.

The ice axe is the most essential piece of equipment employed in ice climbing. At icefalls or on steeper glaciers, they serve as a way to secure yourself to the ice and pull yourself up to the top.

Technical (as opposed to basic) ice axes are used for ice climbing. They have curved shafts, which help support your weight better. They can also be used for self-arrest if you slip or fall on an icy surface, and in the improvised construction of an ice anchor.

Ice axes can generally be rented from outdoor sports stores, although some guides will provide them if they include personal gear in their fee.

Ice screws

 

Ice screws are threaded cylindrical screws that are used for creating a running belay on steep surfaces, such as ice falls or frozen waterfalls.

They are generally between 10 and 23 centimeters in length and are made out of Chromoly steel. Ice screws can also be used to secure climbers higher up on icy surfaces to help prevent falls.

When purchasing ice screws, be sure to get ones with replaceable tips, which increases their useful lifespan. Ice screws are sold at outdoor sports stores.

Quickdraws

 

Quickdraws are devices that are used on bolt anchors in order to allow the rope to run freely through them while lead climbing.

These devices generally composed of a straight-gate and bent-gate carabiner attached by a piece of plastic or leather. The straight gate is clipped to the anchor while the bent gate is clipped to the rope.

These are usually provided by mountain guides who include group equipment on their trip. Otherwise, they can be rented at most outdoor sports stores.

Rope

 

You will need to take both dynamic and static rope with you on an ice climbing expedition. Photo courtesy of Alberto del Castillo.

Ice climbing expeditions require the use of two different types of rope: dynamic and static.

Dynamic rope is best for climbing as it is more elastic, which helps in the case of a slip or fall. A static rope is stiffer and better suited for rappelling. Ice climbers will generally want to bring about 60 meters of rope that is between eight and 10 millimeters in diameter.

Ropes can be purchased at outdoor sports stores, although most guides will provide rope to use on the expedition.

Clothing and kit

 

Ice climbing is considered an extreme sport since it usually takes place at temperatures well below freezing. Therefore having the proper clothing and kit is essential to a successful ice climbing endeavor.

Gore-tex Gloves

 

Ice climbing requires a lot of hand manipulation and dexterity, from placing ice screws to tying knots with rope. Therefore gloves that keep your hands warm and dry, while allowing fine movement are necessary.

Gore-tex is a waterproof and breathable fabric that is also good for temperatures that are well below freezing. While it is a bit pricey, Gore-tex is well worth the investment, especially when you will be in a situation where dexterity is key.

Helmet

 

A helmet is an essential piece of safety kit for any ice-climbing expedition. It helps protect your head against falls or falling objects from above, generally ice or rock, in an ice climbing context.

Hardshell helmets, which are made of a thick plastic outer shell with a thin foam liner inside, are preferable for ice climbing. While they can be a bit heavy, they will be more effective than their shelled foam counterparts at protecting you from falling ice.

You can buy ice climbing helmets at most outdoor sports stores.

Insulated ice climbing boots

 

A good pair of boots will make ice climbing more comfortable and safer. Photo courtesy of Takao Miyashita.

The type of boot you purchase for an ice climbing expedition is essential. You generally want a stiff leather (or plastic or synthetic) boot with a high top and removable inner liner.

Stiff boots made from these materials will help you distribute your weight evenly, so it does not feel like all the pressure is on the part of your foot on the ice, usually the toe. The inner lining keeps your feet warm and dry and can be removed easily to be dried at the end of the day,

Ice climbing boots can be purchased at most outdoor sports stores.

Sunglasses and sunblock

 

Ice is extremely reflective and, even in the heart of winter, it is pretty easy to be burned or blinded by the glare.

Sunglasses will help you see exactly what you are doing when the sun is shining. Sunblock will also keep you from getting burned right away. Nothing impedes the enjoyment of your outdoor adventure like a sunburn.

Miscellaneous

 

Along with the technical gear and clothing, there are a few other important things to carry with you when you are on an ice-climbing expedition.

Backpack

 

Most guides will ask that you bring a 30 to 50-liter backpack, even on a single-day ice-climbing expedition. All the gear you will use can be stored in the backpack and you’ll want somewhere to keep snacks, water, and a camera as well.

Water bottle

 

It is always a good idea to bring a one-liter bottle of water with you on an ice climbing adventure. Staying hydrated is important, especially in the cold. Slightly insulated water bottles are best for the sport, so your water does not freeze while you’re out climbing.

Other

 

What you need to bring on an ice climbing trip varies depending on where you are climbing and how long you are heading out for. Always be sure to check with your guide prior to heading out to your destination what you need to bring. Listed below are a few other items that are always useful.

  • An identification card or passport
  • Insurance policy
  • Cash in local currency and credit card
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Camera and extra batteries

 

Akadake
There is no feeling quite like climbing to the top of a frozen waterfall. Photo courtesy of Cveto Podlogar.

Most popular ice climbing destinations will have places to rent gear and many guides will provide technical gear in the price of their trip. However, if you plan on doing a lot of ice climbing, it may be worthwhile to invest in your own gear.

Keep the above information in mind when you are selecting gear to purchase and remember to try everything out, especially the clothing before you make a final buying decision.

 

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Keep learning about ice climbing and check out some of the best places to head for this incredible outdoor sport!

Looking for an ice climbing trip? Take a look at all the guided programs available at Explore-Share!

 

 

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