Cold-Weather Cragging Essentials
While no one will argue that climbing in a T-shirt and shorts isn’t awesome, the fact of the matter remains that the best rock climbing conditions aren’t found on the year’s hottest, sunniest days.
They’re often found late in the fall, when the friction is high, leaves are falling, and the temperatures are doing the same, or even in winter in more southern latitudes. But chilly weather doesn’t have to equal a numbed-out sufferfest. Below are a few tips to help you keep climbing comfortably when the mercury drops.
Layers, Layers, Layers
This one might seem obvious, but the value of extra clothing can’t be overstated. While more clothes might mean bringing a heavier pack, the maxim of “It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it” definitely applies.
A lot of which clothes you bring depends on your preferences, but I like a form-fitting midlayer for climbing, a comfortable hoodie for milder days when I can climb in a T-shirt, and the four-season climbing essential: a puffy jacket. A warm down or synthetic jacket is as important as climbing shoes on a chilly day, and it will help regulate your body temperature during belays and in between intense periods of climbing.
Consuming warm liquids throughout the day not only helps keep your body temperature up and your blood flowing, but it can be a great morale booster when the weather turns or your hopes of sending your project are looking grim. Choose a large-capacity double-wall insulated bottle or Thermos—it’s better to have too much and share with your climbing partners than to run out after two pitches. Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate are great choices, and sometimes I’ll even dump a few packets of instant miso soup into a bottle of hot water for added calories.
When the hot beverages just won’t cut it, be sure to pack along a little flask of whiskey. It’s like a sweater that you wear on the inside.
Even on the hottest summer days, a beanie should be a fixture in your climbing pack. On a cold winter day, you won’t leave the house without one on your head, but when an unexpected breeze or summer cold snap moves in on your day of climbing, a toasty beanie can be as good as a jacket. I keep one in the lid of my pack and don’t even think about it until I need it.
Instant warming packets are another item that may seem obvious but that pay off in a variety of seasons and situations. While they’re a go-to in winter sports for putting inside your gloves and boots, they’re just as useful during cold-weather rock climbing sessions. Stick a packet inside each of your rock shoes to keep them warm in between pitches or problems, and stash one in your chalk bag to help re-warm your fingers while you’re on-route.