How to

12 May 2016

Essential Sports Clothing: Ice Climbing

If you’re an ice climber, you’re probably a glutton for punishment as it is, but you still need to keep warm. Climbable ice doesn’t exist in manageable, comfortable conditions, although it will rarely be so utterly, overwhelmingly cold that you can barely function. Such weather will stop most athletes dead, let alone those facing hundreds of feet of vertical ascension.

The key thing to remember with ice climbing is that you’re going to be spending as much time belaying as you do climbing, so time spent mobile and stationary are going to be split down the middle. Your clothing needs to be able to account for that. On the one hand you need mobility and breathability, but on the other you need something that isn’t going to let the chill seep in while you’re stood still and your partner’s life is in your hands.

Base Layer

You need something with a tight weave here, either a mid-weight synthetic or merino wool, but not cotton, never cotton. You will be sweating, and you don’t want that to soak in. Weight is important to consider, but you don’t necessarily need to be worrying too much about it at this level.

Mid Layer

This is where it gets a bit trickier. The mid layer you choose will have a lot to do with the kind of weather you’re looking at. On clear, still days, lightweight synthetics will suit you better, but in higher winds you’ll want something a bit puffier, or even downy. For this reason, it’s best to have at least one of each available at all times.

In either case, you want something waterproof, you’ll be contending with enough moisture from your skin, you don’t want any more getting in from outside. Unless it’s extremely cold, it’s worth looking at vests in either case, since you’ll want freedom of arm movement if you’re climbing or belaying.

Outer Layer

Once again, this comes down to a particular choice – hardshell or softshell. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and in more difficult weather hardshell becomes the only option, as it is water and windproof. It’s better to own both, as a rule, and even in brighter weather, better to take the hardshell gear up with you as it’s lighter. You’ll also need another puffy coat for when you’re belaying.

Other things worth considering are having a hood that’s compatible with a helmet, scuff guards on your lower half and pit zips for better ventilation and a comfortable lining, preferably one that doesn’t make too much noise.



Down/Synthetic Down Coat:


This is vitally important. Climbing is so dependent on keeping the blood flowing to your hands, and being able to grip your axes. If you pick gloves that are too thick to hold onto anything properly, or handle the rope, you’re in trouble, but if they’re too thin to keep the cold out, equally so. Having a reasonably lightweight, grippy, waterproof glove is essential. A pair of warmer mittens or heavy gloves for the time spent waiting around is good to have just to keep your hands warm.


Your feet are going to be embalmed in heavy boots and crampons, so it’s important to make sure there’s a layer protecting your skin. If your feet are mired in discomfort, it’ll be that much harder to keep purchase on the ice. Again, you’re looking at synthetic or wool weaves, not cotton. You’re going to want mid-weight socks with at least some measure of softening on the sole and around the toes.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.