The mountaineering gear guide
A introduction to mountaineering kit
Much of the mountaineering gear needed has already been described in the realbuzz.com section on hiking. Some additional points to bear in mind for mountaineering gear is to make sure that you have freedom of movement for swinging your arms, legs and ice axes around!
Ensure jackets and trousers have adequate reinforcement on areas that will take constant abuse, for example the shoulders, elbows, knees and seat. Waterproof over-trousers should always have a full length zip to allow easy donning over boots and crampons. Finally, ensure that a jacket has chest pockets that you can still access when wearing a climbing harness.
Mountaineering gear will include the following ...
Essential to protect the head from rock and ice falls.
The primary function of a rope is to hold a fall, should one occur, whilst climbing or glacier crossing. A rope can also be used for direct support when abseiling (rappelling) or when ascending a fixed rope.
Prusik loops are short lengths of climbing cord tied into small loops. They need to be carried on all mountaineering routes as they are essential to ascend a fixed rope in the event of a fall as well as providing security when abseiling.
A harness is worn to provide a quick, safe and comfortable means of attachment to a rope for sustained periods of climbing. The harness also enables large amounts of protective climbing equipment to be carried on gear loops around the waist band.
A metal spike with an eye at one end driven into ice or a rock crevice and used for securing a rope when climbing.
An oval or D-shaped metal ring with a spring clip that allows it to be attached to ropes, pitons, and other items of mountaineering equipment.
For anything other than summer mountaineering a rugged pair of mountaineering boots is essential. Mountaineering boots have semi-rigid or rigid soles designed to accept crampons for snow and ice work. The type of boot (and crampon) you select will depend on the type of mountaineering routes you will be doing. Always seek expert advice from a reputable mountain boot stockist.
Semi-rigid crampons allow walking over snow and ice and the ascent of gentle slopes and are ideal for Scottish winter and alpine style ascents. Fully rigid crampons are ideal for technical routes as well as climbing on sustained steep ice routes by the use of ‘front points.’ As with boots, seek expert advice from a reputable outdoor equipment retailer.
Protective climbing equipment
Mountaineering requires the use of protective equipment to provide security to each member of the party. To the novice mountaineer the array of equipment can be bewildering but each has its own specific function. There are different types of equipment for summer and winter routes including … karabiners, belay device, slings, nuts, hexes, friends, quick-draws, nut-key, pitons, ice-screws, dead-man, pulleys and mechanical ascenders.
An ice ax is essential for winter or alpine mountaineering routes, providing stability for safe progress across snow and ice covered terrain. For most general mountaineering routes an ax with a shaft between 60 and 70cm (23.6 to 27.5in) will be ideal, but your final choice will depend on your height and intended routes.
Other mountaineering equipment that is not essential but should be considered ...
Navigating and determining your exact position in mountainous terrain can be extremely difficult, especially when compounded by the effects of snow which hides footpaths and many useful landmarks. Whilst the ability of any mountaineer to be able to navigate on their own is essential, GPS receivers do have their uses, especially in an emergency situation (consider the highly affordable but feature packed i-Finder GPS receivers by Lowrance).
Altimeter and barometer
An altimeter can be a very useful tool to aid navigation on the mountain. In calculating your altitude, you can determine exactly where you are on the mountain. A barometer allows you to keep an eye on changes in atmospheric pressure giving an early warning of approaching bad weather, allowing you to either get off the mountain or to seek shelter.
Many GPS receivers have built in altimeters and barometers or you could consider an ADC (Atmospheric Data Centre) by outdoor specialists Silva.
Distress beacons are small, lightweight and inexpensive but can prove invaluable to help steer rescue parties towards your position in low light and at night by emitting a powerful flashing light signal.