Climbing requires good and high-quality equipment. Clothing for climbing in the mountains should not be too heavy, but it must be warm. In this article we have tried to consider the most important nuances of the choice of clothing, because it is thanks to the right equipment you can make the ascent.
There is such an expression – “to fall ill with hiking, mountains”… Usually it means that people having started to go hiking, get so much positive from it that do not want to stop. Many of these inveterate tourists wish to develop not only the geography of their travels, but also their complexity – they are enticed by more and more difficult peaks, routes “not for everyone”, the use of special equipment, adrenaline and sensations, inaccessible in other cases.
Many people know that mountaineering involves ascents of varying degrees of difficulty, and that even the simplest climb for a beginner requires much more serious preparation than most hikes. In this article we will try to understand the basic principles of choosing clothing for climbing and traveling in the mountains. Here are the basic questions that we will deal with:
For people not yet very experienced in mountaineering, the peaks can be divided into several categories – trekking, technical, high. Depending on the relief of the slopes, we can distinguish grassy or unpaved, rocky, snow-ice and combined.
Trekking peaks are the easiest and are not directly related to mountaineering. You do not need special equipment or special skills to climb them. Clothing, footwear and equipment for such mountains are the same as for normal trekking.
Technical peaks are usually not very high, but have steep slopes, difficult terrain – rocks, steep snow, ice. To ascend and descend you often use mountain equipment. On climbs usually wear specialized clothing. The main requirements to technical mountaineering clothes are minimum weight and volume packing, ability to perform complex movements, and reliable protection against wind and precipitation. Usually for such routes (in warm seasons) special equipment of pro, light and ultralight categories is used.
Climbing on high peaks led to the emergence of a separate field – high-altitude mountaineering. As a rule, these are mountains of 5000 meters and higher, and climbing them is associated with the risk of mountain sickness due to low pressure and lack of oxygen in the inhaled air. Even during the warm months of the year the climbers are exposed to low temperatures and other vicissitudes of weather for a long time due to the need of gradual acclimatization to an unfamiliar environment of high altitude for the body and psyche. The main requirements to clothes for high-altitude ascents are maximum level of protection from adverse weather conditions. Clothing must be uncompromisingly warm, lightweight and comfortable. The moisture protection at high altitude is of secondary importance, because the precipitation here, even in summer, falls mainly in the form of snow. The selection of clothes necessary for climbing in high mountains requires understanding of the fact that clothes for climbing Elbrus and clothes for climbing Everest are not the same.
How and where to buy clothes for climbing? First things first. You need a list! It hardly makes sense to buy clothes for the mountains “in general”. It is more convenient to do it for the specific project. For the next one you will need to buy only some missing items, and maybe nothing. So it will be especially difficult only in the beginning – the clothes for ascents are usually high-tech and very expensive. And the more difficult and higher the mountains, the more expensive everything is. So get your list ready. It’s easiest if you go to the mountains with some club, like Kuluar. In the program description, as a rule, is the list of clothing (and equipment) you need, and there is an opportunity to ask clarifying questions to the manager of the program online. With that list, it’s best to go to a good outfitter’s website and see what they have. If the items you need are available, have patience and go measure. You have to measure carefully, very carefully. This is why I do not recommend beginners to buy clothes and shoes for hiking and climbing on the Internet. An additional advantage of buying in a specialized center is the presence there of competent and experienced consultants. As a rule, the entire staff of the store is engaged in extreme sports, and advice in most cases is really helpful. If you think that the prices in such stores a little overpriced, then remember that the Couloir customers in many of them are entitled to a discount! Nevertheless, you should not rely in everything on websites and the experience of consultants. After all, man – a subjective nature and it is difficult to expect that an unfamiliar salesperson, even an expert in his business, will be able to pick the perfect set of clothes just for you, because we all differently tolerate heat and cold, humidity and wind, have their own habits and preferences. So now we’ll look at the basic rules that will make it easier for you to communicate with consultants and choose the right things just for yourself.
There are several basic principles for choosing clothing for climbing and challenging hikes. The principle of basic layers implies a certain specialization of clothing. Each layer of clothing has its own function and is used for certain conditions. It is very important to feel what clothes to wear for the given weather conditions. Without considerable experience, this is difficult to achieve. Therefore, it is extremely useful when the group has an experienced guide or participant, who can suggest the best, in his opinion, the composition of clothing for you. Over time, personal experience will allow you to intelligently and independently select the clothing.
The principle of clothing combination calls for choosing your kit so that if necessary you can wear almost all your clothes in the maximum number of combinations – up to the situation when very cold weather will force you to wear all your clothes at once. In order to ensure that the many layers worn on top of each other do not restrict movement, clothes should be a special anatomic cut and be chosen in appropriate sizes, namely:
Base layer – strictly in size or a size smaller (on serious climbs, climbers lose from a few pounds to more than 10 pounds of weight, so that what originally “fit” over time will no longer fit you).
The insulating layer – is free to size, if there are several things, then half of them are a size bigger. For example, if you take a thin and a thick fleece, then the thin one is taken in size, the thick one is a little bigger, so you can put it on top of the thin one.
The top insulating layer – is exactly one size larger. This applies first and foremost to the warm jacket. It should fit loosely over all the clothes of the previous layers. Remember – it can get VERY cold in the mountains, and it can last VERY long!
Protective layer. Naturally, it should fit normally over all your clothes, so it’s definitely +1 size over yours. But still keep in mind a sense of proportion and the fact that you will often need to wear it just over your thermal underwear as well, so don’t go overboard with too much size. When choosing, measure each layer of clothing in “near combat conditions,” use store clothes to simulate this.
Now let’s briefly go over the functions and features of each layer.
In most cases, it is thermal underwear. Thermal underwear is a functional, wearable layer, whose main task is to keep the surface of the body as dry as possible. This is achieved through the implementation of two main mechanisms..
Moisture absorption from the surface of the body and transporting it outward. A special fabric structure in the areas adjacent to the body provides thermal underwear increased ability to absorb. There are versions of sports underwear with active absorption (withdrawal) of moisture. In this case, as a rule, capillary effect is used. It is taken from the living nature – it is due to the capillary effect that plants transport water from the roots to the crown. With such solutions you have to be careful – they work well under intense physical exertion, but they are not suitable for permanent wear. The specificity of mountaineering is the alternation of intense exertion and a state of rest. A mountaineer either climbs a vertical wall in seven sweats, or is waiting for his turn to climb a rope-rail for a long time. That’s why it’s better to choose universal solutions for mountain climbing. Well-proven thermal underwear that has in its composition merino wool. Somewhat inferior in functionality, it retains freshness longer, which is very important in conditions where body hygiene is difficult. Also such underwear has a great permanent warming effect, it is comfortable to sleep in, i.e., you can have it as a second set on long projects. It is very important to choose the right size of the first layer – only a well-fitting layer will satisfactorily handle the removal of sweat to the outside. It is worth bearing in mind that overly tight underwear will be uncomfortable to wear and, much worse, it may impede the blood supply to the superficial parts of the body and contribute to hypothermia (hypothermia).
Myths about the first layer. Beginners often have the idea of thermal underwear as some kind of magic clothing, which in the most miraculous way will keep the climber warm on its own. The brutal truth)) is that thermal underwear itself retains very little of your body heat. It is a “team player” that is most effective in interaction with outer layers of clothing or with a sleeping bag. Read more about thermal underwear in a separate article. The next layer of clothing is used to keep you warm.
This layer is used to protect against the cold and is a garment with a lot of air cavities, light and plastic. Thermal insulation can be artificial materials (for example, different types of polartec, primaloft, softshell, etc.) and natural materials – down of different origin and quality. For good mountain clothing is preferable to high-quality goose down with a coefficient of FP over 650, better 800 +. The higher this index, the better quality goose down, the greater the volume takes a unit of weight of down.
What kind of insulation is best for a climber’s clothing? It is better to have the first thing of the insulation layer made of synthetic insulation. Usually it is polartek or softshell. Such clothing perfectly helps the thermal underwear – to divert moisture from the body outside. Near the body air is still quite humid and the use of down is not desirable for physical activity. As a basic insulation it is difficult to replace down as a basic insulation in conditions of low temperatures in mountainous dry air, at high altitudes, where the probability of precipitation in the form of rain is minimal. In humid climates, it is better to use synthetic down substitutes as the top insulation layers, for example, primaloft. They are not as warm as good down, but absolutely not afraid of moisture and quickly dry right on you.
Often in the mountains, especially at altitude and in relatively good weather, the top insulation layer can combine the function of a protective layer. But in middle mountains and low mountains it is difficult to do without a specialized protective layer.
It is the top, final layer in the “sandwich” of clothing for climbing and mountaineering. Its main function is to release evaporation together with moisture and not to let wind and water into the middle. The best way to cope with this are special membranes. There are a great many of them, but the most famous are GORE-TEX and EVENT. They have excellent breathability and well protect the wearer from adverse weather factors. The membrane itself is a thin film, so it is applied to the fabric with the necessary characteristics. The most suitable for mountaineering are laminated membranes, the so-called three-layer. That is, the membrane layer is between two layers of fabric. Thus, the membrane is reliably protected, and the construction is as strong, lightweight, compact and monolithic as possible. 2 and 2.5 ply membranes are only reliably protected on the outside and are considered much less suitable for rigid use.
Sometimes the upper insulating layer is combined with a protective layer – and a warm jacket (pants) is covered on top of a dense fabric with a membrane. Such a solution violates the LEGO principle in clothing. The combination of layers becomes impossible, so it is difficult to recommend this solution as a universal solution for many climbs in the mountains. Rather, it is an option for alpine skiing and uncomplicated trekking mountains.
On difficult climbs, climbers use special equipment for insurance, ascent and descent. Therefore, clothing must be able to interact with it. So specialized clothing has a special cut and technical details that make it part of the overall system called “climber on climbing”. Let’s touch on some of the details.
Outerwear has active ventilation – special opening areas, usually in the armpit area in order to dramatically increase the output of heat and moisture under considerable strain without the need to remove a piece of clothing, because it can be difficult to do with safety equipment worn on top. The pockets on the jacket are placed in such a way as to allow access to them with the harness on. The hood of considerable volume and a special cut sits comfortably on top of the helmet. All zippers have special extensions so that they can be handled while wearing gloves or at least gloves. Pants also usually have the ability to actively ventilate with zippers on the thighs. Often designed on the principle of “self-drop” – this makes it possible to take off / put on pants without removing shoes. The mountaineer often uses crampons that can damage the lower part of the pants. Therefore, the latter are equipped with reinforcements and special ties. Sometimes the pants are equipped with special cuffs to prevent snow from getting into the shoes. Recently, however, the shoes themselves are more and more often equipped with a cuff on the cuff. Also climbers often use special protective leggings or shoe covers – fabric structures in the form of open sleeves with cuffs on top and bottom for complete protection of shoes and bottom leg from snow, dust or dirt, and sometimes for better insulation.
Mountaineering boots have a high rigidity sole, a climbing-friendly shoe, long laces for a secure foot hold, an anatomical tongue that prevents the squeezing of the foot during intensive movements, special tread for reliable climbing and often – improved thermal insulation. For mountaineering boots designed for very low temperatures, a sandwich construction is often used with the ability to remove the inner boot for drying out or use in a bivouac. The design of a mountaineering boot should allow for excellent compatibility with various types of crampons, including professional climbing models with a firm grip. For this purpose, the sole is equipped with rants (front and back for automatic cats) or only the back (for semi-automatic cats). Choose a model with a reserve of at least +1 size to the urban and comfortable for you personally shoe. There are a lot of manufacturers and there is a lot to choose from. Read more about shoes for mountains, hiking and mountaineering in a separate article.
Hand protection often follows the same pattern of layers as the rest of the clothing. Thin, comfortable gloves for relatively warm weather primarily serve the function of mechanical hand protection when navigating difficult terrain, setting up belaying points, and working with rope. In moderate cold it is convenient to use warm gloves with reinforcements. If considerable frost is expected, warm mittens with down or synthetic insulation of considerable volume are used. They are usually chosen in a large size to be worn over the gloves if necessary. Hand protection should be as impenetrable and waterproof as possible. This applies primarily to gloves. Warm mittens are usually used in very cold conditions and protection against getting wet is not as important for them as protection against wind.
Protecting your feet in boots involves a careful selection of socks. This is what you should not skimp on! Choose your socks carefully and exactly the right size for the conditions you expect in the mountains. On the ascent you will need socks with good moisture wicking and maximum protection against bacteria, and on the ascent they should be as warm as possible. It is also a good idea to stock up on special warm socks for sleeping.
Face and head protection. Carefully choose a comfortable balaclava and a few buffs. It is very easy to get frostbite on your face in the mountains, especially in the strong wind. The balaclava should fit you well, protect your nose, cheeks and lips from the wind and frost, and be compatible with your goggles and ski mask. A buff is an extra protection, a backup just in case and a protection when a full-fledged balaclava would be excessive. Also, in many mountains, the buff would help protect your face from dust on the approaches. This is especially true in Nepal and South America.
You have already seen that the mountaineer’s outfit is a whole system, a real constructor, mastering which you can protect yourself from the vicissitudes of weather even in the harshest conditions of expedition. Choose your clothing for ascents as thoughtfully and seriously as possible, as a lot may depend on it in the mountains. The approach to the choice of clothing should be comprehensive. Buying every single thing, think about how it will go with all the others. The main criterion of choice must be FUNCTIONALITY and FITNESS, and only then beauty, color, and even the cost.
It’s great if you are assisted in the selection of climbing gear and clothing for your first ascents by a knowledgeable, experienced climber, whose experience and opinion you trust. So you will save time and energy and, may be, money and you will not make the mistakes of beginners by chasing after beauty or fashion. If you have no one to turn to for help, that’s okay – read the available information and make the most of the support of the website and store consultants. Remember that man has not invented anything perfect and every thing is always a compromise. Do not spend too much time in specialized forums – there you risk getting the opposite advice and get confused. Dose the information. Use common sense and the advice of those around you. But whoever helps you choose clothes, remember that you have to wear them! Have a good choice and see you on your way! Anyway, what you are wearing is secondary compared to the beauty and grandeur of the mountains. Best wishes for you to get there as soon as possible!
Author: Sergey Lakhotsky.