12 Must-Pack Items For Winter Mountaineering

It can be tricky to know what to take out into the hills, especially in the unpredictable winter weather and as you head into high altitude. Here are our 12 essentials for winter mountaineering to help you strike the balance between being safe and overloading.

1. Rucksack

Winter packs are usually larger than the average summer daysack, as they need the additional space to hold the bulkier kit that the cold weather demands. A capacity of around 45L will usually be enough for a day in the hills, and you should consider the size and accessibility of the buckles as you will likely have limited dexterity. For your safety and comfort, it's essential that the pack fits you correctly, with properly-adjusted hip and sternum straps to distribute and stabilise your load. 


Visit us in-store for a free rucksack fitting with one of our experts, who will also help you choose the best pack for your winter adventures. Alternatively, if you already have a winter pack, read our guide to fitting it here.

2. Synthetic Outer

Synthetic insulation makes for a great mid-layer, but some synthetic jackets are also designed to be worn over a waterproof jacket when stationary. These trap lots of warm air and stop you from getting cold during rests or at a belay station. It must be a synthetic jacket rather than down, as synthetics can get wet and still keep you warm. When on the move, store this jacket in your pack (even if wet) ready to put on again at the next stop.

3. Dry Bags

When the weather is against you it often feels like, no matter what you do, water will inevitably creep into your rucksack. Some choose to use a rucksack liner to protect the entire contents of the pack, whilst others prefer to have many, smaller dry bags. Colour-coded for convenience, dry bags enable you to rummage around and locate specific items whilst keeping everything else in the rucksack nice and dry.

4. First Aid Kit

Falling ice, loose rock and slippery ground; the mountains can be a dangerous place. We therefore can't recommend strongly enough that you bring, and know how to use, a first aid kit. Even the simplest piece of first aid can be crucial, and modern kits are light and very effective. 

5. Headtorch

It's important to get an early start when you're heading into the mountains in winter, to ensure you make the most of the limited daylight. However, you also need to be prepared for possible delays on your route and the early sunset. Headtorches are a great choice for this as they provide plenty of light while still keeping your hands free to deal with tricky terrain and grab any other equipment you might need. Always be sure to check the batteries before you leave, and always bring spare batteries with you.

6. Water

Hydration is necessary during high-intensity activities like mountaineering, even in winter. Bladder packs are useful as the hose keeps water constantly at hand, however, in really cold conditions they have been known to freeze, so you may want to bring some water in a flask as well. A warm drink and a caffeine boost at the summit might also be welcome, so remember your flask of tea or coffee!

7. Compass, Map and GPS

Whether you've fully embraced GPS or are proudly standing by your more traditional map reading skills, one thing that is vital on the hills in winter is a firm understanding of navigation. Maps and compasses are a must, but if you want the added security and certainty provided by a GPS unit, a working knowledge of these devices can be a brilliant additional skill. 

8. Food

Nothing works up an appetite like a long, cold day out in the hills, and you should eat enough food to keep up your core temperature, energy and concentration. Bring a good variety of sugary snacks and more substantial carbohydrates and proteins to keep your energy up. There is also a wide range of high-energy foods specifically created to help overall sporting performance.

9. Emergency Shelter

Getting caught out in bad weather isn't a problem if you're prepared. You should always check the weather forecast before heading out, but if a passing patch happens to stop you in your tracks then bunkering down in a group shelter is a great way to keep up morale, stay warm and sit it out. They are so small and light, you only really need one per group. They also make great rest stops for a more enjoyable lunch in less than idyllic weather.

10. Emergency Whistle

Like the first aid kit, an emergency whistle is one of those pieces of equipment that you take out in the hope that you will never have to use it. However, for such a small and unobtrusive object, they can make a huge difference to your safety. In poor visibility they are perfect for helping a rescue team or group member pin down your location.

11. Spare Hats And Gloves

Almost always guaranteed to get wet, misplaced or blown away, the British mountains in winter go through gloves at an alarming rate. Waterproof membranes such as GORE-TEX® can help to keep your hands dry, but in order to be completely safe it's important that you keep a spare pair or two in your rucksack. Hats, too, are likely to get wet or lost, and a dry hat at the right time can make a huge difference to your day.

12. Mobile Phone and Waterproof Case

The mountains are still a place of relative technological isolation, but this doesn't mean you should leave your phone at home. Kept secure in a waterproof case, a phone can be the best and quickest way to call for assistance in an emergency. Signal may be patchy, but a walk to some higher ground or an exposed ridge can often give you enough signal to call for help.

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