Ice climbing tools, gear, and equipment
Guide to buying and finding the best essential ice climbing tools, gear and equipment.
Several sporting goods companies have come forward to respond to the demand of the modern alpine ice climber. The surge in new technologies in this area provides ice climbers with the newest and most state-of-the-art gear on the planet. Ice climbing is one of those sports when specialized equipment and clothing are a must for both safety and survival.
As far as clothing is concerned, most ice climbers desire a body suit or set of bibs specifically for winter travel. These suits are designed to retain warmth while keeping out moisture and debris. Most of these suits are made for the articulation necessary for ice climbing. They are often reinforced at the knees and the ankles. If wearing bibs or separate snow-pants during a climb, a coat that hangs past the waist is a must. As an ice climber reaches, and stretches, the longer coats cover the midsection and ensure that the climber is not exposed to the elements.
While focusing on clothing, it is important to mention that a hat that accommodates a climbing helmet is also a necessity. Gloves with rubberized palms, designed for gripping ice tools, are the best bet for hand coverage. Gloves should always be attached with wrist straps to avoid becoming lost. An ice climber without gloves can find him/herself in a bad spot battling frostbite without this simple precaution.
Boots used by ice climbers are often designed out of synthetics such as plastic. Hard shell boots are the rule in alpine regions as they provide rigid soles for the attachment of crampons. More sophisticated models also allow for good foot rotation, necessary in "flat-footing", and still provide excellent ankle support. Lastly, gaiters, to go over top of footwear, are also a good idea. Gaiters keep the ankle free of ice, snow and debris while, at the same time, protecting bootlaces. They also provide extra warmth and make moving through deep snow more pleasant.
The tools of ice climbing are, like the clothing, highly specialized. Crampons are the mainstay of this activity. These metal spikes make it possible for the ice climber to safely traverse icy landscapes and scale vertical ice falls. Crampons attach to the climber?s boots and can easily be removed when no longer necessary. The two main types of crampons are rigid and hinged. The type chosen by the climber is based on the activity at hand. Front-pointing, a technique used in scaling vertical ice, is most easily accomplished with rigid framed crampons. These are more technical, and more expensive, than hinged crampons. Hinged crampons, however, are sufficient for moderate ice travel.
The next most important piece of gear in the ice climber?s arsenal is the ice axe. These devices are usually fitted with an adze or hammer opposite the axe?s blade. They come in many varieties; curved, reverse curved, technically curved, or straight. These tools have numerous uses from aiding in scaling ice to stopping a climber who has slipped on steep ice and is sliding out of control. Most ice axes are fitted with wrist leashes to keep the climber from loosing the device and also to facilitate in holding and swinging the axe. These leashes are bound close to the axe shaft so that they do not get caught or tangled on any other equipment while they are in use.
Ice screws are important pieces of equipment for setting rope placements. Ice screws come in several designs and, again, the type used depends on the type of climbing being attempted. Some screws are hollow, allowing for less ice fracture, while others are solid, for harder more stable ice. Some ice screws are made to be quickly placed by screwing in with an attached ratchet or other device (read: hand) and some are hammered in and "screwed" out. All are designed for removal and to be used more than once, depending on the condition of the device after the climb.
Another piece of gear for ice climbing includes the holster. Holsters for carabineers, screws and other ice tools make it easy to carry a large quantity of these items while at the same time keeping them well organized. Ropes for ice climbing are standard 10 ? 11 millimeter climbing rope. While the standard length is 50 meters (165 feet) some climbers prefer longer ropes for longer pitches. It is also worth looking into the newer, water repellent ropes that are designed to keep from freezing.
With all the gear covered, the final thing that needs protection is the eyes. It is often underestimated how quickly one can become blinded by the reflection of the sun?s rays off of freshly fallen snow. Heavily tinted and specifically designed glacier goggles are the answer to this problem. No brand is cheap, and it is worth noting that when dealing with one?s sight, think quality over price. Even temporary blindness in such extreme conditions can lead to disaster.
The fundamental tools and equipment of this alpine sport have been covered in their most basic form. It is always best to personally try on and inspect all gear prior to purchase and prior to every trip. Each climber will have unique needs and tastes. Always remember that this equipment should be used only after receiving proper instruction in its use. A little training can go a long way to make this adventurous sport enjoyable for a lifetime.