Mountaineering Equipment and Their Uses
Mountaineering is not simply about hiking to a peak. It involves fighting fierce weather, navigating technical climbing routes, and traversing high-altitude landscapes. All these factors require a proper set of mountaineering equipment to tackle effectively.
To the untrained eye, mountaineering gear can seem like a very daunting thing. Even experienced hikers may not have held an ice axe or tied a climbing harness before. Knowledge of these pursuits takes time to amass and often lessons or special training are required. As an introduction to mountaineering equipment, here are the most popular climbing kit items and explanations on their use.
1 . Helmet
A climbing helmet is a crucial piece of safety equipment worn by mountaineers. It is even recommended for challenging scrambles. Helmets protect your head from being struck by hard objects. Pebbles, rocks, and boulders can all drop from above without warning. Wearing a helmet protects you from the worst damage and it’s an essential part of mountaineering equipment. Before buying, make sure it fits comfortably and has an attachment for a head torch!
2 . Climbing Harness
Rock climbers will be most familiar with using a climbing harness. A harness is tightened around your legs and waist before being secured to a length of rope. This provides support for any climber ascending a rock face. Should you slip, the rope will stop your fall. A mountaineering harness will differ slightly from a climbing harness as it will have a smooth profile with plenty of clips and loops for holding mountaineering equipment.
3 . Rope
A climbing rope comes out when the going gets tough. During the hardest sections of your mountain climb, ropes will be your allies. They can provide support when rock climbing, ice climbing, belaying, and rappelling. Mountaineers use ropes to link together when crossing glaciers to provide support in case of a fall. They can also assist when crossing a ridge or ascending a challenging scramble section. Dry-treated ropes are the best for mountaineering. Select a rope with the correct diameter to support your weight and the ideal length to suit your climb.
4 . Crampons
Unfortunately, mountains aren’t just covered in rock and soil. Often, near the summit, they are dominated by ice and snow. These surfaces are slippery and unstable which makes them very challenging to walk on. Crampons are a set of steel or aluminium clip-on spikes that can be attached to your boots to give you purchase on the ground. They range from micro spikes up to fully-fledged crampons used for ice climbing.
5 . Gaiters
Hiking through snow has its challenges. If it’s a deep layer, your trousers may be pushed up forcing snow into your boots. This will melt causing you to get cold and uncomfortable feet. Gaiters are a waterproof sleeve that attaches over your boots and tightens around your shin. They are designed to prevent any foreign objects such as ice, snow, pebbles, and dirt from getting into your boots.
6 . Mountaineering Boots
Boots are another specialised bit of mountaineering equipment. You can use standard hiking boots for some alpine expeditions; however, you may need special mountaineering boots for technical summits that require mixed climbing. Mountaineering boots need to be warm and waterproof. They must support you through many miles of hiking, often up steep gradients and across challenging terrain. You may have summer (non-insulated) and winter boots (insulated) for mountaineering. Winter boots have an inner bootie and an outer layer for climbing in cold conditions.
7 . Belay Device and Carabiners
Your harness and lengths of rope aren’t going to be much use without the clips and carabiners to link them all together. These are very specialised pieces of mountaineering equipment. Depending on the style of rock climbing, ice climbing, abseiling, or mixed mountaineering you intend to do, there can be dozens of different clips, loops, latches, and supports that are required.
Their purpose is to act as a fastener between your harness and the rope. They are then used to secure your rope to another person, rock face, or ice wall, allowing you to climb safely. An ATC belay device with a set of carabiners should cover most of your routes when mountaineering.
8 . Ice Axe
Although this may sound frustrating, an ice axe is another bit of mountaineering equipment that has different models which are used in various scenarios. For example, if you are ice climbing up a frozen waterfall to reach a summit, you will need two curved axes designed for scaling. If you are ascending a snowy ridge and need to use your ice axe for walking, it must be longer with a straighter handle. They are a piece of mountaineering equipment designed to securely grip to ice when hiking or climbing.
9 . Hiking Clothes
You can’t go mountaineering without having a base layer of clothing. Hiking socks, hiking trousers, an activewear shirt, and mid/base layers are essential; as are down jackets and waterproof coverings. Your clothing must also reflect the cold weather in the mountains. Thermal underwear, gloves, and hats are important. On top of these basic hiking clothes, you can purchase specialised mountaineering equipment such as alpine suits, glove liners, inner socks, and climbing sunglasses – although these are seldom required in the UK.
10 . Camping Gear
It is rare to summit a big peak in one day, even in the UK. Most alpine ascents occur during the early hours of the morning, often starting under cover of darkness. This is the best weather window, and it provides the longest amount of time to reach the summit. As such, you need to have a full set of camping gear with you. This includes a backpack, tent, camping mat, sleeping bag, headlamp, and stove.
Final Mountaineering Equipment Tips
It’s important to remember that not every piece of mountaineering equipment will be required on each trip. On some alpine climbs, you can make it to the top using only basic hiking equipment.
On other expeditions, you will need the whole kit and caboodle. Do your due diligence and research your trip before you depart. This will help you when packing and it’ll ensure you carry the correct mountaineering equipment to complete the task.