Hill Walking Winter Skills 1 – Clothing for Hill Walking in Snow

Well, I’d like to think it was. I’ve been looking at the freezing levels since the end of August when there was a forecast for Yr Wyddfa to almost freeze. Since then, I’ve managed to wild camp 600m below the only snowline we’ve had this winter, the 3rd of October. Rain during the night soon cleared any that had fallen and the severe gales prevented us reaching the summit for the first time. That’s early for snow, but that was also about it so far.

So it’s time to get all the winter gear out and make sure it’s serviceable. I suppose the most important piece of kit is your waterproofs. Yes, I’m talking for winter here and not snow. There’s going to be much more cold and wet than lovely cold and dry. So I’ve forlornly sorted my’proofs out, put a few stitches here and there on my Paramo Cascada trews that you actually can repair yourself and remain waterproof. I reckon they’re on their last legs (oh, that was a bad pun, oops) and I’m greedily eying up a pair of proper Paramo Aspira Trews. Whatever pair I do get, they will definitely not be in School Navy Blue, I’d rather lick the pavement, or go out in Gore-tex…Second most important. Gloves. I’ll admit this is one area that always gives me a problem. I’ve got a great pair of Sealskins mitts, but I can’t use poles with them as they’re bulky. The same with my Darth Vader gauntlets, they’re bombproof and an old model by Berghaus, and great for the job. Of course, they’re all useless for doing anything remotely fiddly. So I’m trying a combo of waterproof sealskins (that are pretty poor on their own for keeping your hands warm) inside the mittens. Not ideal in middling conditions, so I’ve my eyes on a pair of seal skin gloves that look warm but without the bulk.

The real winter gear, or really the snow gear is the next on the list. Ice axe and Crampons. Ice axes are quite easy to pick (nope, this one’s not intentional either) compared to other items of gear. The Grivel Munro seems to be the one everyone I walk with owns, so chances are you’ll need to personalise it! Just make sure you get one suited to a walker not a climber, and that it’s the right length. Traditionally you should hold the axe by the’head’ and the point should touch the floor – but much of the advice is now towards shorter axes. If it’s sold as a par then it’s for climbers.

Crampons are more awkward. I’ve a pair of Mountain Technology crampons, but you can get decent pairs from Grivel and Black Diamond. The most important thing is getting a pair that fit your boots (you’ll need stiff boots!) and the activity you’ll be doing. So a decent pair of flexible walker’s crampons such as the Grivel Classic 10 Point Walking Crampon will be ideal for hill walkers. Of course, your boots might well dictate your crampon choice. I’ve got a pair of Brasher winter boots that are ideal for my flexible crampons, but I did use my summer boots (Meindl Burmas) with crampons for a while as they were stiff enough to use with a crampon for the snow I was seeing in Snowdonia. Whatever you do, make sure you waterproof them. Feet can get pretty cold walking through snow, and if they’re wet as well you’ll be miserable. Decent socks help too.

Most of the more technical gear (including ice axes) are designed for ice climbing and not ideal for the walker. I’m not even going into the specifics of choosing these as your best bet is to go to a specialist store and get them to make sure the ice axe is the right length and your boots / crampon combo is correct.

Second part, Skills and other gear, here.

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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