Mountaineering Essential Gear Guide

First steps, or thinking or upgrading, this is your guide...

Whether you’re buying kit for your first steps on snow and ice, or upgrading ready for your next Alpine adventure this is your guide to some of the vital pieces of kit you’ll need.

Ice Axes

Whether you are walking in winter conditions or climbing on snow and ice, an ice axe is an essential tool for any winter mountaineer. Axes can be used to brake a fall if you slip whilst walking, or help you ascend a vertical wall.


As a general rule, shorter axes are best for climbing and longer axes are designed for walking. For many winter adventures you can use your axe for both. The shape of an ice axe handle (shaft) and head section (pick) is a better clue to its use.


There are two types of axe ratings, B-rated and T-rated. B-rated or Basic Axes are designed for walking but strong enough to belay on if you need to. T-rated or Technical Axes are designed for mountaineering and climbing with a much stronger shaft and pick.

Walking Axe

  • Use to stop you falling, supports you when walking.
  • straight shaft, nearly straight pick
  • Longer handle

Mountaineering Axe

  • Used for Walking, Climbing & Belaying
  • Shorter, straight shaft with grip
  • Reversed pick less than 90° to handle

Technical Axe

  • Ideal for steep climbing on snow and ice
  • Bent or curved shaft
  • Longer handle


On any winter adventure, there is a risk of injury. Your head can be vulnerable to the danger of slipping and falling, banging your head or being hit by falling debris such as rock, ice or snow.


A helmet can manage the impact of a collision and stop sharp objects from damaging your skull. Most climbing helmets have a robust, hard shell with internal foam cushioning.


When investing in a helmet, there are a few important qualities to look out for…

A Good Fit

A helmet will only offer enough protection if it fits. Your head should be held securely by the helmet and not slip around. Different helmets suit different head shapes so it’s worth finding your local Cotswold Outdoor store to try some out.

Well Venitilated

A hot head is uncomfortable and can reduce your performance. Make sure your helmet is breathable enough to keep your head cool, but can fit a buff or balaclava underneath for extra warmth when you need it.


You want to be able to wear your helmet all day without thinking about it, so getting one that’s comfortable is really important.

Buffs And Hats

In winter conditions, snow and penetrating winds mean that you can lose body heat from any exposed area very quickly, and your head is no exception.


Buffs can be worn as a scarf, beanie or full head and face protection, helping to keep those easy to forget areas insulated with their unbeatable versatility. There are a wide range of buffs available from Merino Wool and Micro Fibre to Polartec lined fleece construction.



While a buff will offer a degree of insulation, it is always useful to have a hat at hand to add layering to your head should the temperature drop. A hat worn under your helmet will ensure your head stays warm.

Gloves And Mitts

Tackling winter conditions can be demanding and exposed areas such as the hands need to be protected to avoid losing body heat or worse suffering frost bite. Choosing between a glove and a mitt can make all the difference.


  • Closer fitting
  • More dexterity and versatility
  • Suitable for technical winter climbing


  • Fingerless design makes them warmer than gloves
  • Less dexterity
  • Suitable for non-technical ascent

Outers And Inners

Outer gloves can be waterproof, insulated and windproof offering a great deal of protection in alpine conditions. Some gloves come with an outer and an inner. The inner is constructed from a thin material designed specifically to sit inside a glove and can be worn on their own for much milder conditions. When the cold really sets in these are an essential part of your glove system. If your gloves don’t have a removable liner, you might want to invest in a merino wool liner for extra warmth.


To combat the harsh conditions that you might face in the mountains, a flexible clothing system is essential – and your choice of jacket is key to staying warm, comfortable and dry.


Most mountaineers choose a combination of jackets to protect them in changeable conditions – an outer jacket with an insulating mid layer. Think of the outer layer as your skin, protecting you from the elements such as rain and snow, keeping you dry. The insulating mid-layer is more like your body fat and its primary role is to keep in the heat, so you don’t suffer the wrath of the cold.

Outer Shell

Your outer jacket (waterproof and/or windproof) is potentially the most important piece of kit you will invest in as this will be your protective layer against the elements. It will keep you comfortable and protected as well as keeping the rain, snow and wind out.

Insulating Layer

A decent mid-layer is an essential part of the layering system. It can either be down, synthetic or fleece, but its principle role is to offer you additional insulation where you need it most while still being lightweight and of minimal bulk.


Trousers And Salopettes

Durable, protective legwear that won’t let you down in testing conditions is essential. Worn over your thermal layers, the right legwear will keep you comfortable and protected from the elements.


When you are choosing mountaineering legwear, there are some important features that you can look for

  • Re-inforced durable knee and seat patches – to avoid scuffs and scratches from rocks and ice
  • Stretchy material or articulated knees for essential freedom of movement
  • Waterproof/windproof fabric – depending on the weather conditions you’ll be facing
  • Kick patches on the ankles – to avoid crampon puncture
  • Braces – for a secure and comfortable fit
  • Full length or ¾ length vented zips for ventilation or comfort breaks
  • Minimal pockets or accessible pockets for when you are wearing a harness
  • You will also need to decide whether you want trousers or salopettes – but this is down to personal preference!



For mountaineering, boots with stiffer midsoles and uppers that provide extra support are essential. Most mountaineering boots feature a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry, underfoot cushioning to absorb shock and often some insulation to keep you warm in winter conditions.


Mountaineering boots are rated from B1 to B3. The boot rating you require will depend on what you intend to use them for and in which seasons.

B1 – More solid than low-level walking boots, ideal for winter hill walking.



B2 – Stiffer and more rigid for winter mountaineering.


B3 – Fully rigid climbing boots for snow and ice climbing.


Most importantly, finding a great-fitting boot that suits your foot shape means that you can make the most of your winter adventures for years to come. Make sure you head to one of our stores for a free expert boot fitting.



Crampons are made of hardened steel or aluminium, with forward angled spikes to help you grip onto snow and ice. They are fastened to your boots with a binding system or straps.


The crampon rating you will need depends on your boot rating.

C1 – Flexible and ideal for winter hill walking, to be used with B1 rated boots.


C2 – Less flexible for general winter mountaineering to be used with B2 rated boots.


C3 – Stiffer for winter climbing, with longer more aggressive spikes, to be used with B3 rated boots.


Certain crampons suit different boots better than others, so it is worth visiting your local Cotswold Outdoor store to find the best fit.

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