5 bits of alpine kit that could save your life

Posted by Peter Burnside on 11/01/2016
Alpine climbing on snowy slopes. Photo: Shutterstock. Copyright: Vixit.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous this winter and can’t handle a few months without climbing, then jumping onto Alpine territory might seem like the next option. Of course, we can’t just rely on our summer racks to see us through these tough environments, so what should we consider bringing?

Helmet

There are much higher risks of falling debris in alpine territory, so taking a helmet along is essential to safe practice. Loose rock is more plentiful on a mountain compared to down at a crag, especially considering the massive freeze-thaw action that occurs in winter. Furthermore, there’s the added danger of falling ice – watch out below when the leader clears out placements for protection and make sure you have an appropriate lid. 
 
Climbing helmets come in three different variations – hardshell, foam and hybrids. In general, foam helmets are best for rock climbing, hardshell best for winter and alpine, whilst hybrids are good all-rounders. Always secure the straps correctly and make sure the helmet is correctly worn to obtain maximum protection. The best helmet is the one that fits and is comfortable enough that you want to wear it.

WATCH: Checking a helmet for damage on BMC TV

Alpine harness

While you might be thinking about just taking along your regular rock climbing harness, there are a few key differences to be found in a true alpine harness. 
 
The first is that they are usually compact and lightweight, often being worn from the start of the day until the finish. The lack of padding is rarely an issue as your winter clothing should provide more than enough.
 
Secondly, the leg loops should be adjustable and incorporate a quick-release system. This makes it easier to adjust the size of the loop when wearing a number of bulky layers and allows the user to don the harness while still wearing their boots and crampons.

Crampons and boots

Crampons generally fall into three groups (flexible, semi-rigid and rigid) and the more flexible your boots then the more flexible your crampons will have to be. If your boots and crampons are not compatible they’ll part company very quickly.
 
Really stiff boots are categorised as B3; while B1 boots are the most flexible boot category able to safely accept a crampon. Approach shoes and boots which are too flexible to take a crampon are called B0. Crampons also follow a matching scale; flexible walking crampons are C1 and rigid technical climbing crampons fall into the C3 category. 
 
Flexible boots and crampons can be comfortable enough to hike for hours in, but you generally pay for the comfort by expending more energy when you encounter steep territory.

WATCH: Choosing winter boots and crampons on BMC TV

Ice axes

Safe travel in wintery mountains will eventually force you to pick up an ice axe, as this tool becomes essential once snow and ice have been laid down. When walking and mountaineering, its primary role is to prevent slips and slides turning into a long fall by using it to self-arrest. 
 
Ice axes come in a variety of styles and you’ll find most seasoned alpineers will double-up on these tools. Technical axes for climbing have curved shafts and hand rests, while the axe pick will have more teeth for digging in when pulled on. 
 
Many modern tools are modular, meaning it can be broken down into parts. This allows you to customize your axe for different uses and also means you can replace broken bits separately.

WATCH: How to ice axe arrest on BMC TV

Ice screws

Ice screws are vital equipment that shouldn’t be scrimped on, as you’ll regret fiddling about with blunt screws when climbing at your limit. Essentially, these are tubular screws of varying lengths that can be used to create protection on icy terrain.
 
If heading to pure ice climbs, you’ll want at least two screws per belay and around seven or more for your runners. On mixed routes, you can manage with a few less. It might be a significant financial investment but it could be the most important you’ll ever make.
 
Dry the screws well after use as they’re prone to rust, keep the teeth sharp with a file, and store them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Don’t forget to look up how to make a V-thread (Abalakov thread) and to take along some spare tat/cord.
 
If you're in need of further advice and guidance, check out the BMC's range of winter skills videos on our channel on BMC TV.

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Years of experience

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WATCH: BMC Insurance: built for the #mountains on BMC TV

Want to know more? READ: 5 reasons why you need BMC Travel Insurance

*Policy details: insurance is from £136.34 for annual multi-trip European Alpine & Ski cover up to age 69. Offer ends 1 April 2017. 


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