The mountains on the Earth are full of challenges. Large mountainous areas can be explored by just walking, equipped with more or less hiking accessories, depending on the duration of your hike, weather conditions, and difficulty. But other places in the mountains can’t be explored just by hiking, they require climbing. For this, you need additional gear– for your climbing assistance and security. So, read this guide about the mountaineering equipment, and be ready to attack alpine snowy peaks, rock walls, canyons, and other challenging formations on the mountains of the Earth!
About the mountaineering equipment
Probably you have seen climbers on rocks, or have watched mountaineers attacking Everest? Yes, they bring a lot of equipment, which may look inconvenient and heavy, but obviously, necessary. All these things- helmets, ropes, carabiners, axes, crampons (many of them used by building workers on the walls of the high buildings) look like a complex set of gear.
The truth is that there is no “whole set of mountaineering equipment” (or if there is, it includes only some accessories, not all of them). All the mountaineering accessories are meant to be bought independently. One of the reasons is that different terrains require different equipment. For example, crampons are used for ice or another slippery surface, but not for solid rocks.
So, you can buy all the mountaineering accessories, but you don’t need to bring all of them unless you are going on an expedition that has to cross all kinds of terrain. It means that you using mountaineering equipment requires knowledge and experience on when and how to use it. Now, let’s take a look at the main accessories for mountaineering.
Alpine equipment list
First, let me say something about climbing. You are who climbs the rock, ice, or a steep slope, not your gear. In other words, the mountaineering gear is not arranged to replace a “stair”, or to turn your climbing route into a hiking trail. Instead, climbing remains climbing, and the equipment only helps you and secures you.
During the decades, a lot has been changed in the alpine climbing, hence in the used gear. There are various schools and styles of climbing, and various kinds of gear are applied. In general, there are two types of climbing accessories. You climb using your feet and hands, and there is a gear designed for the contact between them and the climbed surface. And the other types of accessories are designed to secure you as much as possible.
Now, let’s start from the first type of climbing accessories- those designed for the contact between you and the surface.
Mountaineering equipment for the contact between you and the surface
You contact the surface by your feet and your hands. So, these accessories include proper shoes for rock or steep dirt climbing and mountaineering boots with crampons for ice climbing. For your hands, you need proper gloves, because the rocks can be enough sharp to wound you. And for ice, a necessary accessory is the ice axe, helping you to climb stable and fast. Let’s start one by one.
The climbing shoes are designed to provide the best possible contact between your feet and the surface. They are special and can’t be used for hiking or normal walking on the street. Instead, they are lightweight and made to be tightly fit on your feet. You can even feel a bit uncomfortable, but you can appreciate them when you start climbing.
One of their main features is that their toe tip is inclined downward, at the same time they are rigid and don’t twist. Thus you can step on very narrow protrusions on the rock. Also, they are designed to provide a better cohesion with your foot. Some climbers even don’t wear socks for better control of the shoes. And although these shoes are “not normal”, they are still made different for men and women. Let’s see some examples below:
These shoes are low, so they are not designed to protect you from cold. If you go on a mountaineering expedition which includes both hiking and climbing, you have to bring hiking and climbing shoes and change them when you stop hiking and start climbing, and vice versa. But if you go to a cold place, you likely have to climb on rock, ice, and snow. For this purpose, you need another kind of footwear- mountaineering boots and crampons. Let’s start with the boots.
First, let me explain what is mountaineering boots. They look quite similar to hiking boots, but they are different. Mountaineering boots are designed especially for rock and ice climbing, and they are not so comfortable for “normal” hiking on grass, dirt, or stones. For this purpose, mountaineering boots are made specially for adding crampons, while you can’t add crampons on hiking boots (at least not automatic crampons).
Mountaineering boots are harder than hiking boots and often taller than them. Most of them are made with shank. Besides, there are two main types- “single” and “double” boots. The double ones are made with two layers, and are more proper for a very cold environment, providing better insulation.
Let’s see some good examples of mountaineering boots:
And now, once you are equipped with mountaineering boots, you can add crampons on them for climbing on ice and snow.
This is a foot frame with several sharp spikes, designed especially for climbing on icy slopes, including icefalls (or frozen waterfalls). The spikes are large to avoid slipping on the slope. Usually, there are 10 to 12 spikes. They are attached to the mountaineering boots by metal or plastic straps.
In general, there are three types (grades) of crampons, depending on their flexibility, from relatively flexible to high-technical, corresponding to the different kinds of mountaineering boots. But all kinds of crampons require stiff boots. No crampons are proper for soft boots or shoes.
Let’s see some good crampons that you can choose:
Now, let’s see what you need for your hands.
In general, climbing gloves are designed to protect your hands from the rugged rock surface. But at the same time, they decrease your finger’s control and sensitivity. For this reason, a good solution can be using gloves with semi-covered fingers. And this issue makes gloves a bit controversial accessory.
However, if you go climbing high alpine peaks with glaciers, snow, and extreme cold, climbing gloves are a must. Needless to say, in a freezing cold environment, touching rocks and ice with the naked hand would easily result in frostbite and amputation of your fingers. So you need some good climbing gloves that can provide not only good protection but also to not dull your sensitivity. Let’s see some good examples below:
And there is another important mountaineering accessory, specially designed for climbing on the icy or snowy surface- the ice axe.
This is a very useful accessory for ice and snow climbing. Its main purpose is to provide stability and prevention from slipping and falling. You can also use it to make steps in the ice and even dig holes for protection against snowstorms.
The ice axe is usually 60 to 90 cm long, with a pick and a head, and a spike on the other end. Some ice axes are straight, while others are curved. Those which are curved are often shorter and more proper for vertical ice climbing. You use the pick to stick into the ice, and the spike on the other side can be used as a peak of a trekking pole when the slope is steep, but not vertical. The shorter curved ice axes are also called “ice tool” and are preferable by the climbing mountaineers.
Let’s see some ice axe choices below:
This is in general what is used for climbing upward and downward. And since it is a dangerous activity and the possibility of falling or another accident is quite big, there are many other accessories for security. Although they can’t guarantee 100% safety, at least they can help a lot with accident prevention and life-saving.
Mountaineering equipment for secure and accident prevention
This group of mountaineering equipment consists mainly of ropes, harness, alpine anchors, carabiners, and other additional accessories. They can’t be used separately, but all together they form a whole system. Apart from this, a very important accessory is the helmet, to protect your head from falling stones or bumping your head on the rock.
Let’s start with the first one- the harness.
The harness is an important accessory, which provides the main contact between your body and the ropes. It is made of straps, forming a system of loops and additional connections. There are three kinds of harness- sit harness, chest harness, and full-body harness. For mountaineering, usually sit harness is used, so we will focus on it.
The sit harness consists of one large loop around your waist and two smaller loops around your legs. These loops are connected by straps and usually can adjust, depending on your size. The modern harness is designed to provide maximum stability and comfort at the same time. And the loop connection of the harness’ front, between the waist and the legs, is the place where the rope is connected to your body by a carabiner.
Let’s see some good harness examples below:
Now, once you wear a harness, you are ready to be connected to the rest of the system. The next important element is the rope.
Climbing rope is the main connecting accessory. It is designed to provide security and important assistance in ascending and descending. The most common type of alpine rope is the single rope. It is designed to be used alone, mainly on trad (traditional) climbing. And the other type is a twin or half ropes, usually used in lead climbing.
Most climbing ropes are 50 m long, but some mountaineers use 70 or more m long ropes. According to its flexibility, there are two types of ropes- static (with low elongation) ropes, and dynamic (with high elongation) ropes. For climbing, dynamic ropes are better, because if you fall, the rope can stretch and soften the hit.
Now, let’s see some of the best dynamic ropes for mountaineering below:
The next important element of the mountaineering gear is a whole set of small accessories, providing a convenient, safe, and flexible connection between your rope and your harness. These accessories are carabiners, slings, and belay devices
Carabiners are the main connectors between the rope and your harness, and between various rope segments and knots. By using carabiners, you can connect or disconnect these segments according to the situation.
There are two types of carabiners used in mountaineering- standard and locking carabiners. Standard carabiners are designed to open and close easily while locking carabiners (or “lockers”) are made to provide better protection against opening according to the situation. Usually, a mountaineer brings at least several standard and 2-4 locking carabiners.
Here are some examples of carabiners.
Slings are additional accessories, made of two carabiners looped by a short rope. They are used mainly to provide distance between the main rope and your harness, or between two rope segments. The main purpose of this is to decrease the rope friction and to make the rope to run straighter. Let’s see some slings below:
This is another additional accessory, designed to control the moving of the rope. When the rope passes through a belay device, its movement can be blocked if necessary. The most classical way of belay device used is in a two climbers team. One of the climbers is a belayer (i.e. controlling the rope movement), while the other climber ascends on the rock. If he falls, the belayer can easily control it, providing much more safety. Let’s see some belay devices below:
Everything sounds great, but how all of this connects to the climbing surface (vertical or almost vertical rock wall, ice, or other climbing formation)? Yes, you climb using your feet (supplied with climbing shoes, mountaineering boots, and crampons) and your hands (eventually with gloves and ice axes), but if you fall, all this system of harness, ropes, carabiners, and other things can’t help you unless it is attached firmly to the surface!
So, there are accessories for this purpose, called “alpine anchors”. Let’s focus on them now.
Alpine anchors are designed to provide safe and stable attachment to the climbing surface. There are three main types of anchors- nuts, cams, and pitons. Two of them- nuts and cams are made for attaching on rock cracks, and pitons are made for all other kinds of surface. Let’s look at these accessories.
Alpine nuts and cams
These accessories are made of a metal attaching element and a wire with a loop for the rope. Both are designed for rock cracks, the main difference is the type of the attaching element. Nuts are made with a metal wedge (usually in trapezoid shape), while cams are made by two, three, or four metal blades (cams) which lock within the rock crack. Also, usually, the cams use a metal stick rather than a wire, so they are more complex and advanced.
Both nuts and cams are used in various sizes (and are selling in sets with various sizes), so the mountaineer can choose the corresponding size fitting for the size of the rock crack. Let’s see some examples of climbing nuts below:
And some cams:
Climbing pitons (called also pegs) are different. They are designed to be hammered and thrust into the rock. If there is a crack, you can hammer a piton, or you can use a nut or cams. But pitons are also used for places where nuts or cams can’t work. For example, they can be used for ice surface, or rock without cracks. In such cases, pitons have to be hammered or even drilled into the rock.
However, this is an issue raising an ethical question, because when you hammer or drill a piton on a rock, you leave traces, a kind of destruction on the surface. Because the ethical standard is “leave no traces” where you go, no matter whether you hike, climb or do another activity. Yes, there are some certain rock walls with fixed pitons on them, but in general, you have to avoid destroying the rock surface.
Anyway, let’s see some climbing pitons below:
Finally, for better protection, you need a helmet. Let’s see more about it.
While the other security accessories are connected in a whole system, and also help the climbing process, the helmet is not a part of it. But it doesn’t make it less important. The danger of accidents is not something to be neglected. Small stones can fall over your head (especially if you are in a chain of climbers, and those above you unintentionally push a stone), or you can fall and bump your head on the rock wall.
A good helmet has a high level of security. According to the standards, helmets pass a test in which they drop 5 kg stone from 2 m height. At the same time, it should be comfortable and stable on your head, and should not disturb the climbing process.
So, let’s see some good helmets below:
Important tips: course training strongly recommended!
This is your mountaineering equipment. Of course, there are many other things like a proper backpack, proper clothing, a tent, a sleeping bag, a cooking set, even your photo camera, etc., but they are more universal and you can use them for many other kinds of traveling in the mountain, like hiking, biking, and many other activities.
And while we mention hiking, let’s remind an important difference between hiking and mountaineering: you don’t need a special course for hiking, unless you want to learn some special skills. But for mountaineering- it’s different. A mountaineering course is strongly recommended.
You can buy all of the accessories above, but if you don’t know how, when, and where to use them, they can’t help you too much, and in some situations can be even dangerous. There are various climbing styles, which can be applied to various kinds of terrain, in various weather conditions. Which style will you choose, where and when- these are important questions, depending on your skills and experience. Then you will be able to choose your best mountaineering equipment accessories, and with them, you can enjoy a fantastic journey in the wildest and most beautiful places in the mountains!
Get some impressions from the video below:
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