7 Ice Climbers Share How They Pack Their Bags

Packing for an ice climbing expedition or even an ice climbing day trip can be a bit daunting.

There are lots of gear to consider – and at the same time you need to worry about both weight and things getting frozen 🙁

To improve how we pack and prepare, we have talked with 7 experienced ice climbers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (they have all been ice climbing for years, so they know what they are talking about!).

The 7 Ice Climbers

We are from the Chicago area in IL. Still there…. Have been a rock climber for 30 years and came late to the party for ice climbing. Started ice climbing about 8 years ago. Do a little sport climbing but mostly top rope.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

Ice tools, of course, for ice climbing they are a must. Hand warmers for those extra cold days. Ice screws for setting anchors and possibly leading an ice route when conditions allow. Hot tea also can be a great thing to have along with jerky.

How do you bring things with you?

We have a Mountain Smith bag. Typical internal frame bags. Osprey too. Many brands work well.

Usually organize with heavier weight at the bottom as well as placing items in order of use as you pull them from the bag. For instanced, anchor items at top, gloves to put on while setting, biners, etc.

We have just the right amount of room in our packs as planned. For the amount of weight we like to carry.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

Go with just what you need. Do not bring alot of extra ice screws, webbing, too long a rope, or tools if you usually do not use them.

Many ice climbers over pack for a simple trip.

If you dream about ice climbing go get a Guide to take you out and try it! You will be hooked for sure!

Born and raised in southern OH I started climbing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. I have been living in Bozeman, MT for the last 18 years. I started ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon, which I now realize is the best ice climbing venue in the entire US! The ice season here lasts from December 1- April 1 and often longer. I have been climbing for 19 years, ice climbing for 18 years. I like to dabble in all of the climbing disciplines from ice and rock to bouldering and big alpine routes. As I write this Im in the desert gearing up to climb a 1,000′ of spectacular sandstone cracks.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

  • Extra base layer: Once at the base of a route I strip off my sweaty base layer and put on the fresh dry one. This keeps you warm, as standing around in a wet base layer cools you down very quickly.
  • Gloves, glove, gloves. I often bring three pairs. Super thin pair for climbing the hardest pitches, mid-weight pair for easier pitches, and a heavy weight pair or mittens for belays.
  • Food/drink at the car: I like to get back to my vehicle after a long day to a bottle of water/hydrating drink, protein rich food, then a beer. This helps with a more rapid recovery and really raps up a great day. If traveling a longer distance Ill have cotton to change into.

How do you bring things with you?

A simple climbing pack around 40-50 liters that can be taken on route if desired for multi-pitch climbs. I use a plethora of makes and models. Mammut makes some really nice packs. I organize my gear in the order that it will be used. At the bottom I place my medical kit as I am hoping that won’t be needed, then I layer the pack from the bottom up according to how it will be used. After the med kit I typically pack in this order: extra gloves, belay puffy, climbing gear, rope, harness, crampons, helmet, snack in the lid with headlamp.

I feel I have enough space, if not I will place the rope on the outside draped under the lid with half of the rope hanging off each side.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

Don’t take more than you need. Talk with you partner so you don’t carry two of the same items. Ideally you can fit everything inside your pack. If items aren’t inside of your pack make sure you clip them in, as well as strap them down.

Take a climbing course to get into the sport then get after it on your own. We (Montana Alpine Guides) offer courses through out the ice season.

I’ve been a climber and Mountain Guide for three decades, a career path that took me far from my childhood home in central New Jersey, USA. For the past 17 years, I have lived outside Telluride, Colorado in the southwest part of the state. In 1987 I took a two-day rock climbing course and fell in love with the vertical world.

Two years later, I owned my first set of ice tools and began picking my way up frozen flows in the northeastern USA. Over the years I have pursued virtually all types of climbing, from multi-day big wall ascents on Yosemite’s El Cap to multi-week expeditions up 7000m peaks. Climbing has enabled me to visit six of the world’s seven continents and I’m headed to #7 (Africa) this July.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

I always bring a communication device appropriate for the area in which I am headed to climb. That might be my cell phone, if I know I have coverage or it could be a GPS satellite communicator, such as the Garmin inReach, which enables me to connect with rescue assets in areas of no mobile coverage.

A paired down first aid kit is always in the bottom of my ice climbing pack. I leave much of the basics at home, but bring items to manage wounds and help mitigate ugly fractures. Lastly, I carry a “WAG Bag.” Weighing only a couple of ounces, WAG Bags enable me or my climbing partner to remove our human waste from the ice route, rather than leave it in situ for the next party. It doesn’t get used much and it’s not fun to carry our when filled, but it is the right thing to do.

How do you bring things with you?

My bag choice depends on the route or venue where I plan to climb. If I am climbing one pitch routes, I’ll carry all my kit in one bag, typically a Black Diamond Speed 40L. If I am planning to climb a multi-pitch ice route, I’ll often carry a smaller, lighter Black Diamond Blitz 28L with my rope strapped across the top.

Regardless of my chosen pack for the day, my First Aid kit and WAG Bag go into the bottom, in the hope that neither comes out during the day. A warm, puffy jacket goes on top of these, with my water bottle and/or thermos of coffee slid down the sides, into any voids left from my jacket. Climbing rope and ice screws go in next, the latter generally in a pouch to protect other items from their sharp points, followed by any other climbing protection, such as cams, nuts or even the occasional piton, along with carabiners and slings. My folded harness then goes on top of the pile, with any additional clothing layers that I think I might wear at the very top, so I can put these on before pulling up my harness. Hopefully, my helmet can fit inside the pack, but if not, it gets strapped on the outside along with my ice tools.

If I have taken a smaller pack for a multi-pitch route, I’ll strap my rope and helmet on the outside, top of my pack, in a fashion that contains the rope and prevents my helmet from swinging around. The goal is to have as tight a package as possible, with as little on the outside as is absolutely necessary.

If I have planned well, I have just enough room and little to no more. If I have plenty of room, then I am just carrying a pack that is too big (and therefore too heavy) for the day.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

Pack the minimum amount of clothing that you’ll need for the day. One light, but thick puffy layer might be all you need atop your climbing layers in order to maintain warmth when belaying.

I often see climbers carry Gore-tex layers because they have been taught to bundle their insulating layers under a hard shell. Personally, I prefer to wear breathable layers and insulate on top of my soft shell. I rarely carry waterproof clothing unless the weather forecast is for very warm temps or if I know a route has a propensity to drip. I find breathable soft shell fabrics to be more comfortable across a range of temperature and exertion levels, so I run them on my torso and legs.

Don’t strap items onto you pack. They can fall off and get lost, swing and cause you to lose your balance at the wrong time or get snagged on a branch during a particularly nasty approach.

Lastly – pack your pack the night before, so you can focus on coffee in the morning. I will often leave my climbing rope in the car overnight, so it is cold in the morning, making it less likely to melt into the ice and subsequently freeze, but otherwise I try to have my pack ready to go for the early morning departures often required to climb an ice route.

I am from Greenville, SC. and went to school at University of Vermont, where I learned to ice climb. I currently spend spring and fall in Castle Valley (near Moab), Utah and winters and summers in Ouray, CO. I have been climbing rock, ice, and alpine for forty years. Also, I am an owner of Chicks Climbing and Skiing.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

The most useless things are boiled eggs (when they get frozen, they become rubber-like and you could probably bounce them off the floor).

The top 3 things are: V-thread set-up (cord, knife, threader), headlamp, lighter. Back in the day, there were stories of a team who topped out on the Black Dike at night with no headlamp. They had a lighter and burned sticks for lighting as they hiked down the trail. When they couldn’t find any more sticks, they started burning their underwear. I would carry a lighter to make a fire if I was lost in the dark.

If I was guiding, I would make sure I had a first-aid kit and a SPOT/Delorme. The other thing one might consider essential is a small Grabber space blanket – they are only the size of a pack of cards. Finally, I have lots of Snickers bars stories (though now I use GU) to warm me up when jumping jacks wouldn’t do the trick.

How do you bring things with you?

I use a 45L Patagonia Ascensionist pack. It is a light pack with minimal features and is just the right size. I put the heaviest things like rope or rack in the bottom of the pack and stuff all my clothes in the extra spaces.

On a multi-pitch climb, I have used the Patagonia running pack, which comes with a water bladder. I can also stuff my belay jacket in it and a snack, and other top 3 things.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

I am a minimalist, so only bring what I need and nothing more. I eat the same thing every day, so I know what and how much I need. I also stick to the same layering system with clothes – a wicking base layer (Capilene wicks better than wool and Patagonia makes Capilene sport bras), an insulating layer such as the new Patagonia Micro-puff jacket, a shell layer, and a belay jacket. On bottoms, I usually just wear a wicking layer (thickness depends on temps) and a shell layer. So the only extra clothes I pack are an extra pair of gloves and my belay jacket.

The most important thing for getting out the door is making a plan and sticking with it. Go with someone that you enjoy spending time with, have fun, and be safe.

I’m a Scottish based Mountaineering Instructor and run West Coast Mountain Guides, based in Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK’s premier mixed and ice climbing venue.

Winter climbing felt like a natural progression from rock climbing and mountaineering, and given the long winters we have in Scotland, it made sense to pursue it in order to make the most of the prevailing conditions all year round.

I attended an Intro Winter Climbing Course back in 2004 and haven’t looked back since. I enjoy climbing and mountaineering in all its forms, from bouldering, to sport climbing, trad climbing, alpine and expedition climbing.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

Wrist gaiters! I use wrist gaiters to cover up my wrists, however, I’m quite picky about how thick they are, as too thick, and you’ll find yourself getting pumped quickly.

So many folk turn up with plastic protectors for their ice picks and spikes. They really aren’t worth it. I’ve yet to damage any thing through not using them. Ditto with crampon points.

So many people turn up with litres of fluid, and then find themselves carrying much of it back to the car at the end of the day. All that additional weight isn’t going to help your climbing. Try and limit the amount of fluid you carry. You can easily make up for it by drinking plenty of fluids before heading out and when you’re down.

How do you bring things with you?

I am a brand ambassador for Lowe Alpine, so use their brilliant packs exclusively. My favourites are their Lowe Alpine Ascent 32 and 40-50, depending on the nature of the route I’m climbing. I’m fairly careful with what I pack and how I pack it, with everything as light (yet as functional) as possible. I like to stuff things into lightweight dry bags, and squash them down as best I can to reduce bulk. Things I don’t plan to use, such as group shelter, first aid kit and belay jacket stay right at the bottom of my pack, whereas things that I know I’ll need, such as my harness, crampons and helmet stay close to the top. Map, compass and a headtorch always live in the top pocket.

I’ve not ever found space an issue, but as mentioned above, I do choose my pack depending on the route.

Trekking poles are great for the approach and descent, but try to buy a set that collapse and can fit inside the pack.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

With spare layers, avoid fleece, as it’s bulky. Instead choose more modern synthetic tops, which compress down really well. Stick them in their own 2 litre dry bag, which will help with reducing the amount of space they take up. My Rab Alpha Direct (yep, in its own dry bag) fits really well inside my helmet when walking-in.

Think about the order in which you pack your bag. You don’t want to have to dig everything out, especially when it’s windy, in order to get your flask or snack.

I always use trekking poles in Scotland, but I make sure that they can collapse enough to put them inside my pack. Far too many climbers have poles on the outside of their packs. This can cause issues when climbing a ice filled chimney or narrow gully. The rope can also often get caught on the poles when on easier ground.

People often forget that it’s not just the ability to climb well that’s important. Safely getting to the foot of a climb in winter, as well as being able to navigate from the top are also vital skills that are sometimes overlooked by folk. Avalanche awareness and being happy to ascend steep icy approach slopes unroped are also important skills.

I often see people gearing up far too late, once they are committed on said steep icy approach slopes. It’s important to plan ahead and gear up sooner rather than later. You’ll not save any time by leaving it late, and often you’ll put yourself in potentially more danger by doing so. Ditto with taking off crampons and putting away the axe on the descent. I often think that the 80/20 rule applies to accidents, I.e. 80% of accidents happen in the final 20% of the day. It may not be exact, but it’s a good reminder not to switch off until you’re safely down.

Plan your descent before setting off for the day. Daylight is often against you in winter, and so having a robust plan for descending safely after you achieve your climb is key.

Learn about ‘Heuristic Traps’, when it comes to avalanche avoidance. This is so important, and being aware of falling into one of these many traps can mean the difference between a safe and enjoyable day, and one that is potentially highly risky or even worse.

In terms of recommendations, build it up steadily. People are so keen to get those big ticks in way before they really should, and fail to serve what should be a steady apprenticeship. The routes will be there next winter, and the winter afterwards, make sure you’re there to enjoy them. Getting away by the skin of your teeth regularly isn’t a good recipe for a prolonged career of climbing!

IFGMA climbing and ski guide from the South Island of New Zealand – Te Waipounamu, Aotearoa. Started ice climbing many many moons ago with a background in alpine climbing here in the Southern Alps of NZ.

NZ Operations Manager and senior guide for Adventure Consultants.

Currently enjoying the local rock climbing crags in our Autumn months…waiting for the winter ice to form…

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

  • Sweet and milky Rooibis tea in a thermos – motivational drink for standing around in cold shady spots.
  • Spare gloves and more spare gloves – warm and wet is one thing but cold and wet sucks majorly.
  • Bit size snicker bars – kept in jacket pocket so they don’t freeze, gobble down with the tea.

How do you bring things with you?

Currently still using my trusty yellow The North Face Prophet 52. Plenty of room for day tripping to the ice crags.

Easy to use for attaching tools and sleeve for crampons. strapping skis on the sides under the compression straps is simple with the strap clips.

Nothing worse than having a pack that is too small with stuff spilling out the top. you could say this is a bit oversized for a day pack but simply stuff the lid into the pack and it all cinches down nicely. This pack is light enough for an overnight excursion then there is still enough room to add in a bulky sleeping bag and pads on the outside.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

Keep it tidy, bundle your gear neatly and take the time to pack your pack with care and attention. Try not to leave all the heavy equipment of ropes and hardware at the top of the pack. For long walk-ins make sure your pack is nicely balanced. Your back will thank you… Recommendations for getting out the door on a cold winters day to go climbing…a hearty breakfast, tripple espresso and get out there.

Canmore, Alberta. In Denver, Colorado, on the way home from a speaking event for Backcountryzero.com in Jackson Hole. I’ve been climbing for 35 years, rock, ice, sport.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all climbers bring?

One big belay jacket, insulated pants for the belays. Makes ice climbing a lot more fun! Scarpa 6,000 boots if it’s cold.

Warmth is good. Dressing well at belays is critical to climb well.

Most people bring heavy thermoses. Waste of energy, you can bring insulated pants for less weight and more warmth. Plus more food. Food is good.

How do you bring things with you?

Arc’teryx 100L rolling duffel for expeditions/long trips.
The smallest pack I can get away with the rest of the time. Usually an Arc’teryx FL 30 or Black Diamond Speed 40 depending on the climb.

The right bag is the lightest one you can fit everything into, and that makes you think about what you’re taking not just take it because you have space.

Same for travelling. I fly a lot, so I’ve got it down to a science. Bring less, always… I can go for a week with an ICU that also has a harness, rock shoes, running shoes, etc.

What are your top tips for other ice climbers?

Go climb a lot. Toprope 100 pitches before leading.

Take less stuff. Stay warm by climbing and moving, no pitch should take more than 30 minutes to lead, staying safe in ice climbing is all about having good judgement and technique. Ice climbing is not rock climbing…

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