In my previous post, I wrote about my preferences for winter mountain walking clothing. This article is about the equipment I carry with me. There are lots of options out there and there’s no substitute for your own personal experience when choosing the equipment to carry with you. Here’s what I’ve arrived at so far…
There are lightweight packs that are not very durable and there are technical rucksacks made with expensive features. I prefer a simple, robust and good value pack that will last me for decades. The Aiguille Stratos is on my Christmas list this year. Not only do Aiguille make strong and functional packs, they will tailor the length of the back and the shoulder straps to fit you. A comfortable pack makes such a positive difference to your day. Try it on when it’s full of heavy kit before you decide if it’s the right rucksack for you.
Essential for keeping your kit dry. The more robust the better. Ortlieb make excellent products that last a long time, like this one.
I have had a Mountain Technology axe like this one for years and I love it! It’s light and strong, feels good to use and has a helpful rubber grip on the shaft. Sadly, Mountain Technology is no more but you can still find their axes if you look around. A classic alpine pick is best for walking and mountaineering and less aggressive for ice axe arrest on hard snow. In terms of size, the distance from my shoulder to my opposite hip is about right for the times when I need the ice axe most. Any longer and I feel a little cumbersome when swinging the pick, or rolling into a self arrest position when sliding head first, on my back, down an icy slope whilst wearing slippery waterproofs. Use it well, hold on to it with care and you shouldn’t need a wrist loop, which gets in the way of changing hands and has been known to trip people up.
Grivel clearly know a lot about making crampons and they have a wide range to suit the full variety of boots and mountain activities. The more flexible your boots, the more flexible your crampons and their bindings need to be, so pay attention to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Whilst you can get away with some latitude if you are experienced on your feet in tricky winter conditions, the general rule is as follows: B1 boots should have C1 crampons, B2 can have C1 or C2 and B3 can have C1, C2 or C3. On my Scarpa Mantas, I wear the G12 New-Matic crampons. They are easy to put on and remove, they work well for winter walking and they are great for mountaineering and winter climbing too.
First Aid Kit
Off the shelf kits are good but you could find a few extra items useful in worst case scenarios and you will not really need the little bits that make minor scrapes feel more comfortable. I would recommend taking the following items for one day trips into the mountains: CPR face mask, 2 large wound dressings, 2 large non-adherent dressings, 2 triangular bandages, 2 crepe bandages, a roll of fabric plaster, microporous tape, scissors and a SAM splint.
Terra Nova make a range of Bothy Bags in different sizes. Make sure your shelter is big enough for your group. These are invaluable in an emergency, to keep the group and a casualty warm whilst administering first aid and waiting for rescue services. They’re also great for keeping you warm when stopping for a break in bad weather and can be a lot of fun too!
These have a come along way since orange plastic bags. Hopefully, you’ll carry it in the bottom of your pack for the rest of your life and you won’t need it. If you ever have call for it, you’ll be very glad it’s always been there.
Petzl have been leading the way in head torches for years. They have got a lot smaller, lighter and longer lasting since the days of the Petzl Zoom. I find the Petzl Tikka XP excellent for walking and navigating at night. In addition, I like to carry a smaller Petzl Zipka, just in case I lose or break the Tikka. Always remember to remove your head torch before removing your hat, or it could well disappear rapidly downwards, into the mist and fading into the darkness, before stopping just within sight on the rocks below. That was very lucky! I won’t ever do that again.
Aside from being the right map for the area you are walking in (Yes, it’s been done before!) it’s important to be in tune with the scale. I have learned to navigate with Ordnance Survey maps with a scale of 1:25000 or 1:50000 and that’s where I stay to keep it easy and simple. A 1:50000 scale can sometimes be more simple in winter conditions, when so many of the 1:25000 features have been covered by the snow. The other question is paper or laminated: I have found that paper maps in a good map case last a lot longer than laminated maps, which begin to crack and deteriorate over time.
Ortlieb. Nothing comes close. I’ve seen cheaper options crack and split in just one day. This will keep your maps in good condition for a very long time. I still use my first set of Lake District maps (bought in 1993) thanks to these map cases which have lasted almost as long.
The Silva Ranger compass has done everything I’ve ever needed it to do. The important features are quality, accuracy, reliability, simplicity and durability. A lanyard (attached to the zipper of your pocket) prevents you from dropping or loosing it and a large base plate enables you to measure bearings and distances across a greater area of the map.
6 blasts every minute to call for help. 3 blasts a minute means help is on its way. Keep on blowing 6 blasts until they find you!
Important for timing navigation legs and keeping an eye on how much time you have until sunset. Any watch will do but the Citizen Eco Drive Tough is the best I’ve worn for durability, visibility in the dark and reliability. It’s been re-marketed as a Royal Marines Commando watch at some time after I was given one for Christmas 14 years ago. The face is a solar panel so it never loses time and it’s covered with sapphire scratch-resistant glass, that didn’t receive a single scratch in the 10 years I had it before losing it in Mongolia. It was worth it.
Important to protect your eyes from bright sunlight reflecting off the snow. Make sure you get a wrap around variety that stops light getting in from the sides. The Julbo Sherpa are an example of good quality glasses at a reasonable price. There are more trendy options too. I like the old skool look myself.
When a blizzard is blowing sharp snow crystals directly at you, at speeds over 40mph, goggles protect your eyes and skin so that you can confidently face into the wind and look where you are going. An essential bit of kit for really bad weather, the most basic model from a reputable manufacturer should be more than adequate. Here’s the Oakley E Frame. Any tips on goggles are most welcome as I am still using the first ones I bought, 20 years ago! Maybe I’m lucky with the weather…
Aside from taking pressure off your knees, poles are great for your balance and stability, whilst giving your arms a good workout too. My Leki Makalu poles (pictured) are still going strong after many years but, when the time comes, they may well be replaced by Pacer Poles. I tried them once (Cheers Mark!) and they feel so much more comfortable and efficient to use. They get some great write-ups too.
Water Bottle & Hot Flask
I always go for a bottle over a bladder with a tube, as the tubes have a tendency to freeze. You can put your water bottle against your chest to warm it up. You could do that with a bladder and tube too but that could go very wrong and rather wet, followed by very cold and rather frosty. That aside, I just make sure it’s strong and leak proof. Currently, I’m using a Nalgene bottle with a wide neck. It certainly makes me stop and rest while I drink, otherwise it slops all over my face and down my beard. A hot drink is a real bonus that warms me up from the inside on cold winter days. Lifeventure make a good range of vacuum flasks for this purpose. I really enjoy a dash of whiskey, rum or Baileys mixed in with some hot coffee. Then there’s hot lemon and honey with ginger… just avoid the garlic if you have a cold. My flask hasn’t been the same since. I won’t do that again either.
There are some other bits of equipment that I sometimes carry. A snow shovel is great for digging emergency shelters and would be incredibly useful if you ever had to dig someone out of an avalanche, so long as you weren’t buried first. Combined with the snow shovel, an avalanche probe is handy for testing snow depth when preparing to dig a snowhole and very helpful when searching for people buried in an avalanche, so long as you weren’t buried first.
The thing I have not yet tried but would consider carrying, in an ideal world where budget isn’t an issue, is an avalanche transceiver. There’s no substitute for good avalanche awareness and safe decision making. However, rare avalanches do catch experienced parties out. If every group member carries a transceiver, anyone not buried will have a much better chance of rescuing buried group members in the crucial first 15 minutes or so. At a cost of at least £100 each, it could be well worth it for groups on multi-day expeditions, travelling through mountain terrain with large accumulations of snow. It will be interesting to see if they catch on in the UK, if the relative cost reduces and the focus on outdoor health and safety increases even further.
On that note…
I have just bought the cheapest and most simple phone I could find, to carry instead of a smart phone. It has a long battery life, seems reasonably robust and I won’t be tempted to look at it when being in the beauty of nature.
Once again, get in touch if you would like any advice on equipment for the mountains this winter. Enjoy the snow!
PaulPosted: December 5th, 2013 | Author: Mountain Magic | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »