Essential Ice-Climbing Clothing and Equipment List

A man riding on top of a mountain

Ice climbing is a very gear-dependent sport. Technical, athletic movements in a harsh, unforgiving environment demand a delicate balance of precision and protection from the elements.  Having unsuitable equipment for ice climbing can quickly turn a great day into the mountains into an epic.  Below I’ve listed the ice climbing packing list that I follow every time I’m packing my bag.  Please note I have not included ice climbing clothing systems as this is a topic for another post unto itself.   Every effort was made to include variances and the rationale for their inclusion.

Mountaineering Boots

A couple of people that are sitting in the snow

Warm, stiff, insulated mountaineering boots are the most essential component of your technical gear, with fit being paramount.  They must be voluminous enough so as not to restrict blood flow whilst ensuring your heel remains firmly planted.  Make sure your have enough space that you do not bash the front of your toes when kicking.  


A person riding a snowboard down a snow covered mountain

Your crampons must be purpose-built for ice climbing and fit well to your boots. This means a firm pressure is required to latch the heel lever, minimal space exists between the heel posts and the forefoot of the boot is in complete contact with the front piece of the crampon.  While it is possible to use hybrid style crampons, fully automatic are the standard.

Ice Axes

One of the most vehemently debated topics of gear discussion are ice axes.  People tend to chose their favorites and argue their merits without reserve.  While all tools have their unique pro’s and con’s, generally speaking, they can be divided into two broad catagories:  All-round or alpine ice tools and steep ice tools. While both will work well on a variety of terrain they are each optimized to excel under certain conditions. All-round or alpine ice tools can be characterized by having a slightly bent shaft, moderate pick angle and a plunge-able spike.  It is not uncommon to see tools of this sort equipped with one hammer and one adze attachment but for pure waterfall ice it is preferable to remove the adze for safety reasons.  


A non-negotiable.  You must wear a helmet certified for climbing.  There is no ice specific helmet and a if you already have a rock climbing helmet it will suffice.  As there is often pieces of falling ice, a hardshell style helmet like the Petzl Elios or Black Diamond Half Dome are excellent choices.  Others prefer lighter styles like the Petzl Sirrocco or the Black Diamond Vapor. Ensure it is sized appropriately to fit over a hood or hat.  You should be able to see the front of your helmet when you look upwards and it should not move about when you shake your head front-to-back or side-to-side.

Harness and Ice Clippers

Where a rock climbing harness and an ice/alpine climbing harness differ lies in the construction and the inclusion of ice clipper slots.  Modern harnesses designed specifically for winter use will use materials such as dyneema or spectra to reduce weight and prevent water absorption.  While these are certainly nice enhancements they are not mandatory for ice climbing and a rock climbing harness will suffice.  However, having the small loops built into the harness to allow for ice clippers is very handy.  This allows for easy access to screws, both for placing and racking.  The new Petzl Caritool clippers allow the user to place them anywhere on the harness, essentially nullifying the need.

These is the essential ice-climbing clothing and equipment list.

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