This is a up-dated version of a post on clothing and equipment for Scottish winter walking and mountaineering first published in 2017. Not much has changed but some brands have some new kit that I have now included in this up-date.
Possibly your most important items of clothing and equipment for Scottish winter walking and mountaineering. These along with your crampons and ice axe are what attach you to the mountain. B2 or B3 rated boots are essential. I prefer B3’s because they are stiffer but it ultimately depends on what you are going to be doing. B2’s work well for winter walking and some grade I/II gullies, anything harder go for B3’s. Good brands include Scarpa, Salewa, Sportiva and Mammut.
Crampons The most important issue with any crampons is that they must fit your boots. Adjust them so they fit snugly without the straps done up. When you do up the straps tuck away any excess strap. Grivel G12s are a strong reliable all-round crampon.
Ice Axe Your utterly essential winter tool. Absolutely do not venture into snowy hills and mountains without an ice axe. You can use it for support, cutting steps, digging holes, making anchors and most crucially it will stop you if you slip. Go for a general mountaineering axe. DMM Cirque and Grivel Air Tech are good examples. 60cm is a good all-round length that works for most people in most Scottish winter mountaineering circumstances up-to grade II.
Socks I wear one pair of thick mountaineering socks. My current favourites are made by Darn Tough.
Gaiters Essential most of time in Scotland. Rab Latok or Mountain Equipment Alpine Pro gaiters are excellent and durable.
Hard Shell Waterproofs Your armour. You’ll need the wind and weather proofing properties of hard shell waterproofs for when the elements get interesting. For your top half go for a dedicated mountaineering jacket or smock with a big helmet compatible hood. Well fitting hard shells pants with braces make life easier. Mountain Equipment Lhotse jacket and Tupilak Pants are excellent examples. Other good brands for Scottish winter include Rab, Montane, Arcteryx and Paramo.
Soft Shell trousers or Power Stretch Pants In winter I tend to wear my hard shell trousers all day as its too much of a pain to take them on and off. Underneath I’ll wear Powerstreach leggings. If it’s unusually warm and dry I might wear soft shell pants for the walk in and put on the hardshell when I put on my crampons and/or harness. Add a thin base layer if it’s particularly cold.
Base Layer What you wear next to your skin will have a big impact on your warmth and comfort throughout your day. Your base layer needs to wick moisture away from your skin and dry quickly. I currently use a Merino wool and synthetic blend.
Mid Layers This is where things get complicated. The options are myriad. Fleece, pile, Vapour Rise, soft shell, Polartec Alpha etc etc. I get really hot on walk-ins and at lower altitudes so may just wear a Pertex windproof over my base layer. As I get higher and it gets colder or if I slow down due to technicalities I’ll add mid layers, usually a Rab Alpha Flux jacket or the Mountain Equipment Kinesis jacket.
Gloves There is no one glove that will do the best job all of the time. I carry a variety that will be used at different times of the day, at different elevations and in different weather circumstances. A thin wind stopper fleece works well for walking in at lower altitudes and when using trekking poles. Higher up and when I start using a ice axe I’ll change into a thicker warmer pair with leather palms. I’ll carry a couple of spare pairs of the thicker warmer variety to put on when the others get wet. I’ve been using the excellent Rab Guide gloves every winter for the last eight years.
Hats A simple fleece or knitted beanie is best. Check that it fits under a helmet. Carry a couple of spares. A Buff is handy as a light weight hat that will keep the wind off your ears when working hard and act as a face mask if there is spindrift.
Pack Dedicated mountaineering or alpine packs are best. A winter mountaineering rucsac needs to be a little bigger than a summer day pack. 40/45 litres is good. Simple is best, fixed length back system, one main compartment and not too many straps or buckles. The Mountain Equipment Tupilak 45+L or Ogre 42+L and the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L are good examples of the genre.
Map and Compass When picking clothing and equipment for Scottish winter walking and mountaineering its easy to concentrate on the sexier more expensive items but map and compass are two cheap items that are utterly essential. Ordnance Survey maps are widely available, accurate and practical. However the excellent British Mountain Maps are a great alternative. They are a collaboration between the British Mountaineering Council and Harvey maps. The maps are printed on polyethylene so they are durable, 100% waterproof and lighter than a laminated map. The Silva Type 4 is a good compass choice. A GPS can be useful for relocation but it is not a substitute for map and compass skills. If your navigation is weak take a course or pay for some instruction.
In the pack Small 1st Aid kit, small group shelter, a head torch and spare batteries, spare map and compass (maps blow away and compasses break), synthetic insulated jacket (Rab Nebula Pro or Mountain Equipment Fitzroy), emergency food (Clif Bar), googles, spare gloves and hat.
Food Its easy to get over scientific about hill and mountain food. I like to have something tasty to eat so mostly just take stuff I like. Cheese and humous sandwiches, nuts, maybe a chocolate bar. However energy bars and gels do work and can provide an amazing extra boost when the going gets tough. I like Clif bars and Clif Blocs.
Phone Another essential. I carry a iPhone in a Lifeproof case. Apps I’m using include Mountain Weather UK, Met Office, Grid Ref, OS Highlands and the utterly essential Scottish Avalanche Information Service app.
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