If you’ve been climbing for a while now you’ve definitely accumulated a lot of gear. You need rock gear, ice gear, ski gear, big wall and aid gear, and stuff to tote these things to the cliff. I have mountains of gear, some of it is new, some of it is really old, and most of it is in a some highly used state in between.
All winter long I talk with clients about gear. Many people ask questions about what gear to buy. I decided to come up with lists of gear that I use very regularly. This is my unbiased list. It’s worth mentioning that I really value simplicity and function over looks and I prefer softshell gear even if I’m going to get wet. As long as you stay warm you’ll dry once you’re done with the pitch. Gear has to work well or I just get plain frustrated.
All-around kit I use 90% of the time
Cold Cold World Ozone – The CCW Ozone is the simplest bag I’ve ever owned. It’s also the most functional. I use it year-round and manage to fit everything inside it during most days outside. In the winter I’ll wear my harness from the car if the approach is close. The rope goes on top. Everything else, including crampons and tools fits inside easily if you pack carefully.
Cold Cold World Chernobyl – For durability, simplicity and value this bag absolutely cannot be beat. Buy a piece of corrugated plastic from an art supply store and slide it in the back to increase stiffness, or use an old framesheet from another pack. This pack climbs well, accepts any tool and holds enough gear and food for a few nights out if you pack sparingly or for full days in the winter with a large kit (rope, rock and ice rack including pins, three tools, 2 L water, puffy, shell, etc.)
La Sportiva Nepal EVO or Nepal Extreme – Warm and durable, these boots climb pretty well and last a long time – which they should for $500. For what it’s worth, I prefer the original Nepal Extreme, which doesn’t have the gimmicky Gore-Tex insert. My EVO’s, which have the Gore-Tex insert, are always damp after a day of climbing. It takes weeks for them to dry afterward, making them quite stinky. The Nepal Extreme can still be purchased in Europe so most shops should be able to order them for you.
EMS Scrambling Gaiters – They’re inexpensive stretchy low gaiters that fit underneath trim pants for year-round use; just enough to keep your boots and socks clean and dry.
Patagonia Mountaineering Socks – Thick and durable, these socks maintain their shape after repeated wearing and will make it through a few seasons. Not cheap though at $40/pair. They’re the best socks I’ve ever owned.
Polartec Powerstretch Farmer John – A few companies are still making these one-piece long underwear suits(Mountain Hardwear, Marmot) and they are crucial for keeping your lower back from getting cold during the winter. I bought one from MEC about ten years ago and still wear it every single day during the winter.
Patagonia Simple Guide Pants – They climb well, dry fast and are really light and durable. I wear them year-round for climbing and add extra layers if it’s cold.
Patagonia Capilene Underwear – Any way you go here, you can’t go wrong. I don’t currently get a pro-deal on Patagucci, I look for sales. Yes, that means I have some bright orange underwear.
Outdoor Research Radiant Hybrid Hoody – I wear one of these hoodies every day. You can wear it next to your skin as a baselayer in the winter, or as a layering piece any time of the year.
Patagonia R2 Jacket - If it’s really cold I’ll add this as an insulating layer. It’s lightweight, warm and compressible.
Wild Things EP Jacket – A single layer of Primaloft mated with an Epic exterior make this jacket incredibly useful. On warmer days it’s a great belay jacket. On cold days it replaces the R2 as a mid-layer.
Patagonia Ascensionist Jacket - This softshell has a roomy fit.but keeps you dry and dries very quickly. It’s also the first shell I’ve found where my gloves stay tucked under the cuffs. The Rab Exodus is a very worthy snug-fitting alternative.
Patagonia DAS Parka – Another fine, simple Patagonia product. The DAS is warm, lightweight and reasonably priced as far as belay jackets go. Size it tightly for insulation and to climb well, or as a big overlayer for belaying. Plus you get obnoxiously bright Patagonia colors like orange and lime green.
Black Diamond Glissade Glove – Belay and rappel gloves get a workout. I’ve been using the Glissade, an inexpensive waterproof glove from BD for several seasons now. They get the job done and won’t break your bank. The BDry insert is very waterproof.
BD Punisher Gloves – Warm, very dry, durable and reasonably priced. You want to size these and most other gloves tightly (they’ll stretch a lot) so that you get a good fit for fiddling with gear.
EMS Work Glove - Find a deal on these gloves at Eastern Mountain Sports. They’re durable, grippy and inexpensive. If you wait until the end of the winter season you can buy them for 30%-50% off retail pricing
Petzl or Misty Mountain Harness – For function, durability, and price I’ve found these harnesses to be a best buy. I’ve had a handful of BD harnesses which work but always have some memorable flaw that makes me grouchy.
Petzl Caritool – The Petzl Caritool is more robust than the BD Ice clipper. It also has a clip over the top that helps hold it in place. The BD ice clippers spin around and get flipped upside down, which can be frustrating when you’re gripped and trying to get a screw off your harness. If you have a BD harness you may shave the sides down on the Caritool so that it fit through the slot properly.
Black Diamond Viper or Cobra – I’ve used many different modern tools. For all-around use I prefer the BD tools with a T-rated pick. Unlike Petzl tools, the BD tools have a longer learning curve. Once you figure out the swing they are amazing and have a stiffer more secure feeling. Forget the adze if you value your forehead, nose and eyes. These tools climb ice really well and climb mixed routes up to M7 pretty comfortably. Keep an adze head blank for the mountains and get Titan picks for greater durability, the Laser picks (although they’ve been improved) are quite thin.
BD Sabretooth Crampons – These are the best all around crampons, they climb everything from WI 6 to M7 well.
Petzl Elios - Foam helmets are light, but not durable. The Elios is a lightweight hard shell helmet. The newer design has a nice strap configuration.
Additions/Changes for Steeper, Longer Ice Routes
Petzl M-10 Crampons -These crampons have long sharp frontpoints for better penetration on consistently steep hard ice. They’re on the heavy side and snow will ball up underneath on warmer days, but they climb ice sooo well. Petzl Lynx or BD Cyborgs also work well.
Petzl Nomic – Nomics are great steep ice and mixed tools. Place them and you can quickly grab the upper grip, with very little pick shift, for longer reaches, saving vital energy on long pitches. They have a tendency to bounce a bit on lower angle ice but place amazingly well on steep, bulging ice.
BD Bullet Pack – Put a thermos, headlamp, your puffy and a snack in here for longer routes. The Bullet is going to last a lot longer than the lightweight, similarly sized BD Magnum.
Additions for Hard Mixed Climbing
Petzl Nomic – a great tool for steep mixed climbing, with a durable, aggressive pick (Astro or Rock Pick)
Petzl Dart – I have the Dart front that can be used with the M10 heel piece. You need the long link bar if your feet are larger than size 11. Darts are low profile and lightweight with a slightly shorter frontpoint making them precise for M-climbing. The frontpoints are so precise and effective they actually get stuck in the ice; a bit like a real dart.
OR Ferrosi Jacket – This lightweight softshell moves with you and works in almost all winter conditions. Great for mobility and some weather protection. Like the Simple Guide Pants the Ferrosi Jacket is a year-round must have.
OR Alibi Gloves – These thin, sticky gloves are great for drytooling, even better than bare hands. I’ve had mine for a few years, and they don’t get used all the time, but they’ve managed to last a while.
Mixed climbing boots – Get some fruit boots. They make mixed climbing so much easier.
Cold WEather Additions
La Sportiva Baruntse – For warmth in cold weather these boots work amazingly well. They also frontpoint better than any boot I’ve ever worn. For more information on these boots see the Cold Thistle review and comparison to the Spantik here.