Winter is arguably the most spectacular time of year to be in the mountains - but only if you have the right kit. Forget something essential and you could find yourself in serious trouble. Mountain Training's Bryn Williams takes us through the gear choices he makes to ensure that a cold day on the hill is still a good one...
Autumn into winter is my favourite time of the year to start heading out to the hills, as the colours are changing and the end of the day is sometimes rewarded with stunning sunsets. The clothing and equipment choice become a vital part of venturing into the hills during the winter months, so here's an idea of what I'll be taking with me.
Start cold and avoid getting too warm and sweaty early in the day. My choices would generally be:
Start of the day:
- Long-sleeved base layer with high neck
- Light windproof layer
- Insulated (synthetic) gilet/vest
- Thin gloves, Bu , thin hat
- Soft shell trousers
As height is gained or it starts to cool down or rain:
- Soft shell jacket (with hood)
- Lightly insulated gloves (not too bulky)
- Waterproof trousers (with ful-llength zips and ideally high waist/bib style)
- Waterproof jacket (fixed hood that can be easily adjusted with gloves on)
- Synthetic insulated jacket (slightly larger size, which allows it to be worn over the top of all other layers, plus fixed hood)
- Big insulated and waterproof gloves
- Thicker beanie hat
During the winter months you'll end up carrying more equipment and clothing than in the summer months, so for starters think about the size of your rucksack. A 40 litre pack is ideal, especially with compression straps (for holding an ice axe and walking poles), supportive waistbelt and a pocket within the lid to stash snacks and random bits and pieces. The equipment I use in winter will differ from summer - always remember that you might need to use it with big gloves on and in the dark.
In my rucksack:
- Map (including spare and a case or lanyard)
- Compass (with large base plate)
- GPS (to assist with the map and compass)
- Flask (0.5-1 litre with hot drink)
- Water (0.5-1 litre)
- More food than summer (mix of slow-energy-release snacks and some sugary quick hitters)
- Headtorch (brighter and more robust than the one I carry in the summer)
- Phone within a waterproof case
- First aid kit
- Spare gloves or mitts
- Spare hat and Bu
- Group shelter (big enough for your team to get in)
- Blizzard survival vest (one per team member)
- Walking pole(s)
- Sunglasses and lip cream
- Clear goggles (that can be used in darkness)
Essential Winter Kit
Most of the equipment above will be carried within the autumn months, and as winter arrives I'll then add some further essential kit to the list:
- Winter boots: I use fully rigid winter boots (B3 rated). I like the extra support in winter, and they make kicking steps on short snow patches much easier and far more stable.
- Crampons: Must be compatible with the boots you use, and robust. A mountaineering crampon would be ideal for most journeys, and if using a B3 boot it will allow a 'clip-in' style that gives a snug and secure fit. Stash them in a crampon bag rather than using point protectors.
- Ice axe: Essential kit for support when walking, cutting steps and ledges, aiding balance and arresting a slide should one occur. A longer axe will give more support when walking uphill, whereas a shorter axe will be more useful on steeper, rockier ground. A 'B' (basic) axe is fine for personal walking, and a 'T' (technical) axe is needed if you plan to do roped winter climbs where the axe may be part of a belay.
- Fix-it kit: The usual boot laces and duct tape, plus some zip ties and a multi-tool for fixing crampons.
- Knowledge: One of the main differences in winter is the knowledge required to use the winter equipment competently (ice axe and crampon skills) along with an understanding of the differences and challenges of winter navigation and avalanche awareness. A winter skills course can be a good way to take your summer walking skills into the winter environment.
To find out more about the Hill and Mountain Skills Scheme run by Mountain Training, including the course contents and registration details, visit www.mountain-training.org