Have you ever woken up to snow in the middle of your climbing trip?! On a trip to Bishop, Nick and I opened the van door to find a fresh blanket of unexpected snow! Cold temps can make finding motivation to climb challenging and sometimes down right miserable. Here are some tips and tricks to help you enjoy climbing in the cold.
1. Layer up!
Rock climbing can be a challenging sport to prepare clothing-wise because there is so much variation of activity! It is often very warm when you are hiking in for the approach and carrying all your gear. In contrast, it will likely be cold while you are belaying as there is not much movement happening and you may be sweaty from climbing or hiking the approach. Due to all these variations in body temps, being prepared with layers can help bring comfort.
On the approach: Be bold, start cold! To stay warm throughout the day, try to minimize your sweat on the approach. Resisting the urge to throw on those extra layers will help keep you dry and comfortable while climbing and belaying. If you are in an area that snows, be mindful that there could be snow on the approach. Waterproof boots, gators, or a bib may be necessary to stay dry on your hike.
Climbing: Choose layers that are lightweight and allow you to move freely. Start with a baselayer, merino wool is amazing option and will help keep you warm even if you are wet from sweating. If your skin is sensitive you can also opt for a synthetic baselayer. On top of the baselayer, a lightweight fleece is a good option. We love the fleeces with the waffle grid pattern, they are designed to help regulate body temp. If you need to, a light wind breaker can also be worn or a thin synthetic or down puffer jacket. For pants, layer your climbing pants on top of the base layer pants. A softshell pant can be nice if it is extra windy or conditions are wet. For fans of leggings, there are fleece lined leggings that are cozy and stretchy to allow for movement. If your feet are cold and if your climbing shoes allow, try wearing a thin merino wool sock or liner. Lastly, a beanie can make a huge difference in overall body temp.
Belaying: It's amazing how much colder it can feel while belaying! Be prepared with some warmer layers. It is a good idea to plan for dressing for weather about 10 degrees colder than it actually is. Be sure to bring a much warmer puffy jacket to wear while belaying. Down jackets are amazing for their packability but don't hold up as well if there is precipitation. Synthetic jackets typically don't pack down as small as down jackets but are preferable for wet conditions. Wind can also play a major factor, it can be beneficial to bring a wind or rainshell. And for your feets: bring extra warm socks or down booties/slippers. Don't forget to bring warm gloves.
2. Hand warmers are life
Hand warmers can be a lifesaver on a climbing trip. You can put them in your gloves and any and all of your clothing pockets. Some folks like to keep hand warmers in their chalk bag for a little relief from the cold when chalking up. Hand warmers are cheap and packable, bring extra to share with friends and you will be the hero of the crag.
3. Check the weather and sun position
When planning your trip, look at the averages for the time of year that you are visiting so you can prepare for all variations. Continue checking the weather in the days leading up to the trip and during, it can be crazy how fast things can change, especially in winter. If possible, talk to a local to get tips on the specific area you are visiting. Park or climbing rangers can be a great resource for this!
Being in the sun vs shade can make a world of difference for the temperature. Plan your day around which routes are in the sun and sheltered from the wind to stay warmer and save the all day shady climbs for a warmer day.
4. Bring a warm beverage
If you have room in your pack, bring a insulated water bottle or thermos with something warm to drink. If you need some extra caffeine, coffee or tea are great options. For those with a sweet tooth, hot chocolate or apple cider would be enjoyable. If you are like me and often bring a lot of sweets in the form of bars and energy chews, you might want something salty to sip on. In this case try miso soup for a warm, delicious, and savory option. You can get the "just add water" version or any of these drinks so they are easy to prepare; just boil some extra water when you are preparing your morning coffee or tea.
5. Splurge worthy gear
Totally unnecessary but nice to have are mittens with battery powered hand warmers built in. These are ideal for those who get extra cold fingers to throw on in between climbs. Look for the ones that are rechargeable so you won't have to worry about bringing extra batteries with you. These types of mittens are pricey but are worth the splurge if you can afford it.
A down quilt can also be nice to have in between climbs. Share it with your friends or keep it to yourself for your own private little warm cave.
6. Bonus tips
Zip your shoes up in your puffer jacket in between climbs. Sometimes it can feel like our climbing shoes have shrunk in the cold. Zip up your shoes close to your body to keep them warm so your feet will be more comfortable.
Hope you enjoyed those winter climbing tips! If you have any additional tips we would love to hear it, leave your advice in a comment below.