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Welcome to this page explaining all about Alpine equipment
We get lots of enquiries from people about what equipment they should consider buying, especially about boots, crampons, ice axes, and rucksacks. This page answers many of these questions. All clients who book on a course receive a Course Info Booklet which gives equipment selection advice, and a course specific equipment list. In addition look at the Kit List (click to link) page for further details on different types of equipment.

- Quick links to the equipment advice pages...
This page has been written and updated by our guiding team, to give you unbiased information from people who use the kit every day. The format of this page is to review some of the most popular types in each category, and then to provide further advice on fitting at the base of each section. We hope it will answer your queries, and help you avoid making any expensive mistakes. To jump to a section that you wish to read about, click on an option below...


Mountaineering Boots

Good mountain boots are probably the single most expensive piece of mountaineering equipment, and they often determine your chances of success, as well as your comfort. Selecting the right type of boot is crucial, and the table below explains the different types that are on the market.

Expedition B3
Alpine 4 season B3
Alpine 3 season B2/3
UK 4 Season B2
Trekking B2 boots
E.g. Sportiva Spantik, Olympus Mons E.g. Sportiva Nepal Extreme, Scarpa Freney E.g. Scarpa Charmoz Pro, Sportiva Trango Ice Cube E.g. Scarpa Manta, Zamberlan Expert Plus E.g. Sportiva Trango, Garmont Tower
Info: These styles of boots are the softer and warmer version of the B3 plastics. They too have a separate inner boot, but the main feature is the integrated waterproof and thermal gaiter which is built into the sole unit so is always attached. Info: This type of boot has a solid sole unit, but a more flexible upper section. There is built in insulation, so it can be used in the summer or winter, and. It accepts all crampon types so is versitile from rock to snow & ice. The one boot solution for Alpinists. Info: These styles of boot have less insulation than a full B3, and so are lighter in weight, and have slightly more flexible uppers. This makes them more precise for more technical climbs, but they still have a very good sole unit for new matic crampons. Info: Designed for winter hill walking and so can accept crampons. It is not really an Alpine boot due to the comparative lack of insulation, so cannot be safely used at altitude (eg Mont Blanc), and the flexible sole unit causes metal fatigue in crampons. Info: This style of boot can accept crampons, but is not very rigid. It is useful for glacier approaches, or easy grade rock routes and via ferrata. It does not offer as much ankle support as a B3 boot (see above), and is far too cold for courses such as Mont Blanc.
Uses: Only for expeditions to high altitude such as Acocncagua or Mount Elbrus. Not for the Alps. Uses: For all our Alpine courses, this boot is perfect. It can be hired in Chamonix for c.£5 / day. Uses: These are perfect for our summer Alpine courses, but their limited insulation means they aren't the warmest. Uses: Whilst the boot is popular in the UK, it is only suitable for trekking and introductory level courses. Uses: These boots are ideal for all our trekking and snowshoeing courses as they are lightweight.
Alternatives: The models featured below are also in this category of boots. Alternatives: The models featured below are also in this category of boots. Alternatives: The models featured below are also in this category of boots.


Podcast author
Icicle


Podcast date
29/10/2010
Podcast on boots
In this podcast we explain the choice of boot types and styles, and which are the best for activities from trekking to ice climbing. We look at crampon compatability, insulation and flexibility of the different boot types are considered...

Download the podcast
Asolo
AFS plastic
Scarpa
Phantom Lite
Scarpa
Freney XT
Scarpa
Cumbre
Sportiva Trango Cube
Sportiva Trango Extreme Evo GTX
Only consider this type of boots for expeditions, Alpine winters, or for cold ascents after fresh snow. If the La Sportiva boots do not fit your foot shape, then these models are equally good for Alpine courses. These Sportiva boots suit a foot shape with a narrow heel / ankle, and are some of the lightest in this category.

Advice on buying and trying on boots
: When buying some new boots, ask which types of crampons will fit them. Grivel and Charlet-Moser crampons dominate the market. For the Alps in summer Grivel G12's are ideal choice for all the classic routes (eg Intro, Summits, Matterhorn, Classics courses), whilst Grivel Rambo's are good for the more technical courses (eg Extreme and Winter Ice). Wearing more technical crampons than is necessary for a route, can actually slow your progress, and is always much less safe. Ask us for advice if you are in doubt. Wear a normal thickness pair of socks when trying on the boots, walk up and down stairs and kick the wall (or a step) hard, to simulate crampons use on ice. If you feel your toes on the front, go up another size. Shops will not accept used boots back, and it could affect your course. Think how you will use the boots after your course, and try to achieve a balance. A pair of plastics for use on an Intro course is no use if all you will do on return is to walk in the Lake District, but would be useful if you were going to get into ice climbing in Scotland, or return to the Alps again. Also consider how you will need to maintain your boots, such as the regular waxing / treating that leather boots require to keep the leather supple. If a sales person is pushing you to getting a particular pair, ask if they have used them.

Mountaineering & Technical Ice Axes

Classic Mountaineering Axe

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Grivel Air Tech, Black Diamond Raven

GENERAL INFORMATION: This type of axe is the classic Alpine form, with a curved pick and a straight shaft. The rubber grip at the base of the shaft is not always necessary, but is a good feature. A leash is not needed for this style of axe as you could trip up over it.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: For all summer courses from Intro level to Mont Blanc / Matterhorn, this is perfect.

Curved Classic Mountaineering Axe

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Grivel Evolution, DMM Cirque

GENERAL INFORMATION: Several manufacturers have started to produce a slightly curved shaft on classic axes, to emulate the very curved shafts of technical axes. This feature does not really save your knuckles as the curve is so slight, but it handles quite well.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: This is only slightly better than a classic shaped axe, but could be used on all the same Icicle courses.

Technical Ice Axes (pair)

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Petzl-Charlet Quark, Black Diamond Viper

GENERAL INFORMATION: This type of axe comes in a adze (shown) and hammer form, and is used in pairs on technical routes including ice climbing, mixed routes and technical alpine. It can be used with a leash, or leashless (by using a spur / cup at the base of the shaft).

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: For all ice climbing courses, and for Advanced Level courses, and Tech "Ice & Alpine" courses.

Leashless Technical Axes (pair)

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Petzl-Charlet Nomic / Ergo, BD Fusion

GENERAL INFORMATION: These types of axes are for very high level ice and mixed / dry tooling routes, and are leashless. They normally only come as hammer versions, and are used in pairs. The tools were developed to conform with Ice World Cup regulations.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: Only for ice climbing courses where you are climbing grade V, or for dry tooling / mixed routes.

Dry Tooling Leashless Axes (pair)

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Grivel X-Monster

GENERAL INFORMATION: This type of axe is not classified as PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), as it is not strong enough to survive the tests, as it is so lightweight. It is purely for expert level climbers on technical dry tooling or mixed routes of a very high grade.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: Not suitable for any ice courses unless you are booked on a specific dry tooling course.


Advice on buying ice axes
: Once you have selected the most suitable type of boot from the list above, the next most important thing to consider is the handling of the axe. This does not mean swinging the axes all round the shop, but how the weight and shape of the axe suit you. Always test an axe wearing the kind of gloves that you would use on the course, as different brands and models have varying forms of shaft and head. In terms of the length, for a technical axe, 50 or 55 cm is best. For a classical axe, the length that is ideal for ice axe arrests and general mountaineering is between 50 and 60 cm. There is a current trend for slightly shorter axes, as they are more versatile, whilst long axes can only really be used on snow plod type routes. Although it was mentioned above, it is worth mentioning again; you do not need a leash on a classical axe in the Alps. It is common to see people using them say in Scotland, but this is generally because they are less skilled hill walkers, not mountaineers, and more importantly the use of a leash on snow climbs restricts the ease of swopping your axe immediately to the uphill hand as you zig zag up a snow climb, so could make you unsafe. The leashes are also a trip hazard. Another point to note is that all axes sold in Europe are stress tested by the UIAA, and are awarded either a B (basic) or T (technical) rating. Basic axes will meet the needs of snow mountaineering (self-arrest, boot-axe belays, glacier climbing, chopping steps, etc.) but may not have the strength to withstand high-impact forces like those generated during ice climbing. Technical axes can withstand these greater forces, and so are awarded the T rating.

Mountaineering & Technical Crampons

12 point Mountaineering Crampons

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Black Diamond Sabretooth, Grivel G12

GENERAL INFORMATION: The twelve point crampon is the classic type for mountaineering, as it provides far more security than the 10 point walking crampon. There are many bindings options, but the one shown here is the most versatile, with plastic toe bail and heel clip.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: For all mountaineering courses this is the best option, but not on most technical or any ice courses.

Hybrid classic-tech Crampons

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Grivel G14

GENERAL INFORMATION: This crampon is essentially the back 10 points of a G12 (see above), with some technical front points. It is a good entry level ice climbing crampon, and can still be used on snow routes, though note the front points get worn on glacier travel / mixed.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: For Intro and Improver ice courses, and for Technical "Ice & Alpine" or Advanced courses.

Technical Ice Crampons

EXAMPLE
TYPE: Grivel Rambo, Petzl-Charlet Dart

GENERAL INFORMATION: These vertical front points and agressive second and third points are designed for hard ice or mixed routes. Generally they all have metal toe bails. Often technical crampons are unsafe for classic mountaineering, due to balling up with snow.

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: For all ice climbing courses, but not for any other non Advanced level mountaineering courses.


Advice on buying crampons
: Apart from choosing the correct type of crampon, the next stage is to find one that suits your boots. Some retailers use a C1, C2, C3 system to mirror the B1, B2, B3 boot system. This does not work as it is often possible to strap any crampon to a B3 boot, and vice versa to strap a C1 boot to a rigid crampon. The results are not always ideal, but in some cases can work. The best manufacturers of crampons are Grivel, Petzl-Charlet, and Black Diamond. Take your boots to the store to check the fit, so the crampon should match the shape of the sole of your boot (ie. no gaps on the edge, or any points other than the front and possibly second rows of points protruding outside the footprint of the boot).

Mountaineering & Technical Rucksacks

EXAMPLE TYPE
: Alpine climbing rucksack, Lowe Alpine Attack, Grivel, Deuter, Back Diamond, Karrimor

GENERAL INFORMATION: The ideal size for an Alpine rucksack is between 30 and 40 litres, if you are doing day climbs, or are staying in a hut. A larger pack is required for technical routes where a lot more kit needs to be carried, or you require a bivouac. If you plan it right, on the summit (or coldest part of the day), you should only have food, water, and a spare layer of clothing in your bag, so a large bag is not necessary. In the Alps the key is "light is right".

SUITABILITY FOR ICICLE COURSES: Suitable for all Alpine courses, but for expeditions a larger bag will be required. Also note that for ski touring it is essential to have ski straps on the side of the bag, which all the featured models above offer.

Mountaineering Trousers
Do you really need to be told what to wear? Hopefully not, but we do get a lot of queries each season about what type of trousers are suitable for Alpine climbing, so here you are! Any lightweight trekking or soft shell style climbing trousers are fine, but if you are buying some anyway, opt for lighter colours (not black) so you do not get too hot in the sun. Internal features such as snow skirts are good, but an optional bonus as you normally wear gaiters over the top of the trousers for the majority of the time. Also check that the waist buckle / fastening system is comfy to wear under your climbing harness, so it does not rub. Other features to look for are crampon / scuff patches on the inside leg at the base, as this area is usually where Alpine tousers get the most wear.
  You do not need full on shell trousers or salopettes, except for in the rain, and if it is raining, it is snowing up high, so the chances are that the avalanche risk will limit climbing anyway. Also they are too heavy and lack flexibility and breathability. Lightweight water-proof overtrousers are fine to put over your climbing trousers in case of rain. The climbing trousers featured in the photos here are all recommended for our Alpine courses, so clockwise from top left the Mammut Courmayeur, Quechua Bionassay, Patagonia Guide, and Patagonia Rock Pant.
  Most suitable Alpine trousers are not lined, as this is too hot, but have flexible and durable knees and often no braces or bib so as to keep them light. For winter climbing the same trousers are often fine, but with thermal leggings underneath, or water-proof trousers over the top. In the Alpine summers the temperatures in the valley can reach mid 30's°C, and the freezing level is often above 4000m, so these trousers are generally all you are wearing on your legs for the vast majority of the time. Your quadraceps are doing a lot of hot work as you climb the mountains, so keeping cool is normally more of an issue that keeping warm.
 
 

 
 
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