Scottish Winter Equipment By Andy
The equipment that I use in Scotland has evolved a lot since I first started going there to winter climb. On my first trip I remember having some old straight shafted DMM venmon ice axes and a set of really old heavy solid gate carabiners. The only thing that I brought that was cutting edge at the time was some Scarpa Frenzy Boots which at the time were super light but by today’s standards are pretty heavy.
Scottish winter equipment requires a rather large range of equipment as what I carry with me will change drastically depending on the route that I intend to do. If it was a technical mixed route in the Cairngorms then I need a large rock rack, if it is a long ice route on Ben Nevis I will need a lot of Ice screws or if it is an easy gully climbing or long ridge route I may be able to get away with a short 30m rope and a handful of nuts.
What I have listed here is everything that goes in my duffle when I head north and then the situation I would use it in.
I only carry one pair of boots with me up to Scotland and that is the La Sportiva Batura 2.0, these are a super gaiter boot that are super warm and waterproof. I have tried more traditional leather boots like La Sportiva Nepals or Scarpa Mont Blancs and while they are super durable I find that if you are out for a long time they are just not warm enough. They are heavy as well. I have also experimented with Super light weight alpine boots such as the La Sportiva Ice cubed or the Scarpa Rebel Lite and while these are great for climbing in they are not really warm enough for Scottish winter.
New generation super gaiter boots give you the benefit of being both super warm and super waterproof the only downside being that they are not quite as durable as the traditional leather boots. As mentioned I am currently using La Sportiva Baturas 2.0 but other similar types are just as good like the Scarpa Phantom Techs. When it comes to foot wear I am loathed to give recommendations as it is so dependable on the foot. I have very long and narrow feet which Sportiva fit very well. If you have wider feet then Scarpa will probably fit you better. Make sure you try them on.
The other thing to discuss with boots that sometimes confuses people is the B1, B2 and B3 rating systems that are often cited on websites. The system was a measure of how stiff a boot is and what “crampon compatibility” they have. The system was developed by Scarpa in the 1980’s however I believe that it is now a little obsoleted as boots and crampon compatibility have evolved and the UK are the only country that spout these B ratings. I have put the same crampons on running trainers as I have high end mountaineering boots. The real thing to look at is wether the boot has a front toe welt. If it does it will be a very stiff boot designed for steep ice and mixed climbing. If it doesn’t and only has a back heel welt then it will be more flexible therefore better for walking and less extreme climbing, up to about Scottish 4. You can also buy crampons that will fit normal walking boots or trainers however normal walking boots are going to be a bit too cold for Scottish winter climbing and would not allow you to climb, although would be fine for just walking. Make sure you test you boots and crampon compatibility in the store before buying.
So I usually take two sets of Ice axes up to Scotland and a walking axe. Currently I use Petzl Nomics for hard ice lines and technical mixed routes, Black Diamond Vipers for mid grade technical routes that may require some long snow gullies and then a hardwearing walking axe.
All ice axes have a slightly different swing to them due to there design and angles. If you are interested in the maths of how these are worked out then I would suggested reading the “Art of Ice Climbing” published by “Blue Ice”. Because all ice axes have a different swing then try you best to borrow or use friends before buying. Sounds funny but if the swing or weight is off for you and you spend 4 or 5 hours swing it over your head it can tire yourself out pretty quickly. This is why I have both Comics and Vipers as Nomics are much more comfortable if you are swing them over your head for hours but useless for staggering up long snow slopes hence the Vipers.
I have climbed leashes know for over 8 years and has become the standard, I wouldn't even entertain the idea of using a hand leash as it just restricts your movement so much. I do however use a Black Diamond spring leash to get over the insecurity of dropping a tool.
For a walking axe just make sure you find one that is the right length for your body, general rule of thumb is that when you are stood up right and your arm hang down by your side holding the axe it should just touch your ankle. I also recommended staying away from perfectly straight axes. One with a slight bend in the shaft is much more useful as it allows you to dagger up a snow slope much more effectively.
Crampons can be broken down into four main categories, Steep Mixed, Classic Mountaineering, Classic Walking and Ultralight.
Classic walking are things like Grivel’s G10 or Petzl’s Irvis crampon. As the name suggests these tend to have 10 points and either a Plastic Front and back bail or a plastic front bail and heel lock. They are designed for walking and very low grade climbing, maybe up to grade 3.
Ultralights tend to be Classic walking crampons made from Aluminium rather that steel which is quite a bit lighter. These can come with an array of binding systems and tend to be used by ski mountaineers as aluminium will wear down super quick if used on rock so are only really useful on snow. If you need a pair of these, you will not be reading this article
Classic Mountaineering Crampons are one of the most useful crampons available. Great examples are the Grivel G12 and Petzl Vasak. These crampons traditionally have 12 points, with long horizontal front points. They can come with a verity of Binding systems. Petzl know even sell the components to allow for all three binding systems on one crampon. Out of all the crampon types these are the once that I use the most as they are perfect for walking but also allow a good level of technical climbing, up to about Grade 5 or 6. Black Diamond have also released the Snaggle tooth crampon which has offset front points to allow for more technical climbing.
Final there are technical ice and mixed crampons. There are a lot of variation on these and this has seen the most development in the last couple of years. So the main difference hear is that the front points of the crampons are vertical rather than horizontal (like the ice axe head) which allows for better penetration on ice and the ability to place the points more precisely in cracks. You also get the choice of weather you have them in a dual point or mono point configuration. Mono Points allow you to climb much more like you are on rock as it gives you much more options when it comes to the angle of your foot wear as dual points will give a more solid precise.
Originally these types of crampons where complete ridged and these still exist today in the Grivel Rando. These are still useful if you are doing nothing more than climbing road side ice as they are super stiff giving a solid platform to stand on and are heavy to really penetrate the ice. However, they are a pain to adjust the size and for most purpose really heavy and a pain to walk in.
Moving on from these you get a more useful option wear they have taken a Classic Mountaineering Crampon then bolted on vertical front points. These are great as you can walk in them and you have the choice of mono or dual point and you can replace the front points if or when they wear out. However due to the bolting system they do tend to be heavy. Grivel G14, Petzl Lynx and Black Diamond Stingers (although these ones are permanently mono points) are great examples.
Finally, you get the Light weight Ice climbing crampons like the Petzl Darts and Dartwins, Grives G21 and G22. Unlike the once mentioned above these crampons have fixed front points making them a lot lighter but means that you cannot replace the front points if they wear out. Personally I accept the fact you cannot replace the front points as the weight saving is so great. I am currently using the Petzl Darts for most of my Scottish climbing over grade 4.
I am going to assume for the purpose of this article that people are aware of the different rope types (single, half, twin, lots of info on rope types just google), and focus on what I use when.
When heading north I take 4 ropes with me. One set of skinny 7.9mm 60m half ropes, an 8.9mm single rope and a 8.5mm 30m Half rope.
A majority of the time I use the skinny 7.9mm 60m half ropes as I am trying more technical line over mixed terrain where rope drag would be an issue. I always go for the skinniest half rope I can get to get the weight down on the walk in, Remember the ropes will probably be the single heaviest item you are carrying so trying to get the lightest once possible helps.
The 8.9mm Single rope I would use on a direct Ice line such as Point Five Gully as the route is one straight line from bottom to top. If I can get away with using one rope, I will as it means less faff at belays. The only downside of this is if you have to bail, as you can only make 30m abseils. As I tend to only use a single on ice routes then just take a bit more tat for Ablockva threads.
Lastly there is the 30m 8.5mm Half rope, I tend to use this on long alpine style ridge routes where you would be moving together like Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. I find this works really well as firstly it is really light and secondly you don’t have too much rope to deal with which means you can move faster. However, this does have one major problem. If you have to bail you are really going to struggle as you can only make 15m absails. You can combated this by taking a 30m 6mm tag line so you could make 30m abs but setting this up is a pain and you need to know exactly what you are doing. Unless you are pretty confident you will get to the top with out to much issue I would take a 60m.
I always take two harness to Scotland with me. I traditional harness, and a mountaineering specific harness.
I take two because it gives me the option of drastically reducing my load depending on the type of route I am going to do.
The traditional harness is the one that I use year round for rock climbing however when purchasing a harness like this I also look for a few things that make it suitable for winter climbing most importantly Ice screw clipper attachment points. I also go for fixed leg loops which most people think is silly if you want to use it for winter, however after years of having an adjustable leg loop harness I never adjusted them once, summer or winter so cut out the weight of those metal buckles seemed like a good option. I would use my traditional harness when I am attempting a technical route which requires carrying a lot of gear and may involve me hanging at the belays.
My mountaineering specific harness is one that I can put on standing up or with skis on, these tend to be quite a lot lighter and pack a lot smaller than traditional harness. The down side of these harness is that they usually only have two gear loops and are not really comfortable to hang in meaning for anything technical they are not great. I would use this harness if I was trying to move quickly in Scotland on a non gear intensive route for example Tower Ridge.
Rack in a hard one in Scotland as there are so many variations of routes that you can attempt. You have pure mixed lines like savage slit in the Cairngorms, Pure Ice routes like Point Five on the Ben or big long ridges like Dorsal Arete in Glen Coe. Each one requiring slightly different rack. I have therefore split the my rack in to three groups. Basic Rack/Fast and Light Rack, what I would carry on all routes or if I was doing an easy ridge route. Ice Rack, what I would add if I was doing a pure Ice route. Mixed Rack, what I would add if I where doing a mixed route. Basic Rack/Fast and Light Rack - So this is what I take on ever climb regardless of the type of objective. Another key point is all the gear I buy is the lightest I can get for example all of my quick draws are DMM phantoms which are 19g. People often scoff and say what is the difference between a DMM aero at 32g but if you are carrying 20 plus of them it makes a difference. Remember Scotland has just as much walking as climbing.
Basic Rack/Fast and Light Rack
1 x Set of Nuts 1 to 11
1 x Set of4 Hexs (Mid sizes - DMM torque set is the best example of size to carry)
6 x Extendable quick draws (can be used as slings to hook horns)
3 x 120cm slings with snap gate (don't use screw gates as they are heavy)
1 x 240cm sling with snap gate
2 x Lightest HMS screw gate I can get
3 x Light weight snap gates (can turn 120cm in to quick draws plus extra for belays and can be left if needing to bail in a hurry.
1 x Light weight screw gate with 3 prussic loops.
1 x Reverso (Guide style) Belay Plate with Light weight HMS screw gate
If conditions or the route indicated it I may also take a 13 and 16cm Ice screw.
Pure Ice route - If I was going to do a pure Ice route like Point Five on the Ben then all I would add to the Rack above would be.
2 x Ripstop Quickdraws
2 x 16cm Quickdraws
10 x Ice Screws of different lengths (2 x 13cam 6 x16cam and 2 x 19cm) - Note that this would be 8 if you include the two in the “basic rack”
1 x Abalakov Threader
Mixed Routes - This is the hardest of the 3 to plan for as you really don't know what to expect. But I would usually add.
1 x Second set of nuts 1 to 11
4 x Quickdraws (maybe 6 if it was known to have long pitches)
5 x Camming Devices - 0.5 to 3 Black Diamond Size, If it was really hard maybe a 0.3 and 0.4 as well. You do need to be really careful using cams in Scotland as if there is any verglass in the cracks then then can just slide out. I will always try to get a hex in before cams however in certain situations nothing else really works.
1 x Bulldog for frozen turf and cracks\
1 x Set of assorted pegs, I try not to use them but there are certain situations when nothing else works.
These are something I see as a must. I always find brits scoff at walking poles and see them as something old people use. However spend any time in Europe and they are used by everyone and I can see why. They can take 30% of the weight of you legs which when you weight 80kg can spiral in to tons of weight taken of you legs over the course of a long days walking.
That being said I always make sure that the poles I buy are lightweight and most importantly pack down small. The original poles I owned where the classic three piece telescopic type but you had to strap these to the outside of your pack and then they would always catch when climbing. A better option is the tent pole style designs that not only break down small but also ten to be lighter than the telescopic type.
Helmet is easy. I just go for the lightest most comfortable helmet which I can find which I can fit a hat or hood under, Currently I am using the Black Diamond Vapour helmet.
I always take two packs up to Scotland wth me, a 30l pack and a 40l pack. I always strive to use the 30l pack especially if I am going to be forced to climb with it on as it is lighter and has a smaller back length allowing for easier movement. However if I was going to do a hard route that requires lots of gear then I would take the 40l and leave the pack at the bottom.
Another option that me and Lucy have been playing around with is to take a 25/30l pack that can be rolled up small like the old Patagonia Ascensionist 25l and a bigger 40l pack. You can role the smaller pack up and put it in the 40l which the second carries. This is great for the leader but can be a pain for the second.
I would also recommend trying to find bags with good hip belts. More and more Winter climbing bags are getting lighter and lighter which is great but a lot have done this by ditching a proper hip belt. Without the hip belt you end up taking all the weight through your shoulders which becomes tiring after a few days.
Other essentials for the Bag are googles and head torch. trying getting out in the dark or a white out without these. Don't scrimp on the headtourch, make sure it is bright, has a long battery life and is durable. Googles again don't scrimp make sure they are double lensed other wise they fog up really bad, I also tend to use clear once as there isn't much sun in Scotland.
Food and Water, For food I always go for Bagels filled with Peanut butter and Jam and c utter in to quarters that I can eat on the go. They don't get squashed, don't freeze and are tasty. I do also take traditional chocolate bars etc. Goal here is not to take to much. I always have a big breakfast and dinner. Are your really going to sit down in a blizzard and try and eat sandwiches?
Water is water but what to carry it in, do not take a camelback/hydration bladder, they always freeze even with the “winter kit”. I take a one litre wide mouth bottle with an insulated sleeve over it. Lots of people new to scotch winter have always questioned me about only taking a litre and have hiked out with 2l plus however like food, lot in the morning and lots at night.
Last thing is the first aid kit or survival/repair kit. Over the years I have built up my own first aid kit with all the bits I think I would need for my eventuality I can imagine. The only thing that I can say that if it cannot be fixed with plasters or tape you are going to need a rescue at which point it is about surviving until you can be recscued. Top piece of gear is the SOL survival Bivy, weighs nothing and will keep you warm and dry until rescue can arrive.
Remember Scotland is mountaineering so try and keep it light and only take the kit you actually need.
Here is a video I made for Up and Under a few years ago on Scottish winter equipment, a little out of date know but still worth a look. Most has stayed the same apart from have moved to super gater boots and my backpack has gotten smaller mainly because ropes and rack have gotten lighter and smaller.