Ice Climbing Gear: Must Have Equipment | List & Guide

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Specialized discipline, sport, recreational fun: ice climbing can take on many roles and also releases many feelings. A tremendous adrenaline rush can be found here as well as the feeling of freedom. Climbing on ice formations of breathtaking mountains and glaciers, you can also feel directly connected with nature. No wonder that ice climbing has become a real trend sport in recent years.

One thing is clear: ice climbing represents an adventure in which a lot of experience, a good physical condition and, above all, the right equipment play main roles. Without ideal equipment, the adventure can quickly become a danger. To avoid this, we have compiled a detailed packing list – including a checklist – for your ice tour and provided you with useful tips.

What Exactly is Ice Climbing?

Ice climbing is a special discipline of alpine climbing and mountaineering. It involves climbing on various ice formations – for example, frozen waterfalls or pronounced icicles. The ice walls are mostly located on glaciated mountains and have an inclination of 40° to 90°. From time to time, overhangs may also occur, which can be the case, for example, with free-standing icicles and ice columns.

This special kind of climbing has become very popular in recent years, especially in the Alps. The Stubaital is a hotspot for ice climbing. There you will find many waterfalls, of which about 20 are regularly climbed. These have meaningful names like “Snow White”, “Grawa Ice Gardens”, “Ice Age”, “Curtain”, or “Men without Nerves”.

Ice climbing is a pure nature experience, which therefore brings all the beauty – but also the dangers of the mountain world. Especially in winter, many alpine dangers such as avalanches are omnipresent. Therefore, local knowledge and general knowledge regarding safety techniques and the installation of belays in the ice should be present. Ice climbing requires full concentration, know-how and above all absolute safety. To ensure the latter, you must use good protective equipment and some tools – such as ice axes and crampons – when ice climbing.

Ice Climbing Equipment

You should definitely take the topic of equipment seriously when planning an ice tour. You must be able to rely on it in every situation, otherwise, your adventure on the ice will quickly become a danger that can even be life-threatening. So, for all your experience and climbing skills, every ice climber is only as good and as safe as his equipment.

To determine the appropriate equipment, you need to take into account several factors. Besides the things that must always be there, the following questions are also important:

  • What are the snow and ice conditions? 
  • Does your path lead through deep snow? 
  • How steep is the terrain? 
  • Is there an avalanche danger in the region? 
  • How good is the visibility?
  • What temperature is waiting for you at the coldest point of the trip?

The answers to these questions will determine the equipment you need for your ice climbing adventure. However, you should definitely plan for a backpack with a volume of around 35 to 40 liters, because even in the best conditions, ice climbing requires a whole range of equipment.

Clothing & Shoes

Sure, you’ll get warm while climbing. But you should never underestimate the cold of the ice. Especially the cooling after the effort in the ice is a danger, which you can banish with the right clothing. Functional clothing is ideal for sports activities and is therefore also a good choice for ice climbing. However, you must also absolutely rely on waterproof clothing – why is self-evident.

Depending on the terrain, hiking poles, gaiters and avalanche transceiver equipment may also be useful for the approach. Practical tip: You should always have gaiters with you, because they not only prevent snow from penetrating, but also protect the trouser legs from damage by the crampons.

Your clothing packing list:

  • A sporty backpack (ideally climbing backpack). 
  • Mountain boots (crampon proof – category D is ideal). 
  • Windproof jacket and pants. 
  • Anorak with a windproof and waterproof hood or warm insulating jacket. 
  • Windproof and waterproof overpants. 
  • Down jacket, hardshell jacket or Primaloft jacket. 
  • Fleece or functional sweater. 
  • Functional socks. 
  • Functional underwear. 
  • Warm and especially waterproof finger gloves. 
  • Warm hat or balaclava. 
  • Rain cover for the backpack. 
  • Sunglasses (yes, really! The glare of the sun can be dangerous in the ice). 
  • Telescopic hiking poles. 
  • LVS equipment. 
  • Gaiters. 
  • Change of clothes. 

Special Equipment for Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is becoming increasingly popular as a sport and leisure activity. However, everyone must be aware that an ice tour is not a simple hike or a “normal” climbing tour. Rather, it is an exciting and complex sport. This should become clear to you at the latest with the special equipment that you need for ice climbing.

You should not go on an ice climbing tour without having completely checked off this checklist:

In order for you to become an absolute expert at these different pieces of equipment, we have explained the most important ones in detail once again below.

The ice tools or ice axe

The ice tools make ice climbing possible in the first place. They are often referred to as ice axe*. You drill the so-called hews into the ice to guarantee a secure and firm grip. In addition, a curved tube and a good grip belong to an ice tool – the handle should be equipped with a finger guard, but this should actually have long been standard. A double grip can also be useful, which is especially true for icefall climbing. When it comes to the handle, you have to pay attention when buying: Not every grip fits every hand, which is why you should test all available grips before deciding on one.

A tip: You can wrap the tube above the handle with vulcanizing grip tape. When ice climbing, it often happens that you grip the ice tool directly under your head. The tape prevents the heat from being dissipated.

It is worthwhile sicht that a hammer is also integrated with your ice tool. It should be a functional and solid hammer, because you need to use it to hammer wedges and hooks. A shovel at the head of the device can also make sense, which is especially true for high alpine terrain. When climbing waterfalls, however, one is usually annoying.

A must: a hole in the handle – or even a dimensioned spike – to be able to integrate the ice tool into the safety chain. Not all ice tools are designed for the use, which, however, is of great importance. To be prepared for all situations in ice climbing, you should inform yourself about these functions and features of ice tools when buying. An “all-rounder ice tool” is recommended in any case.

The crampons

Next to the ice tools, the crampons* are probably the most important pieces of equipment. Here, too, the following applies: nothing works in ice climbing without them!

First, there is the question of how many front teeth your crampons should have. We recommend models with one frontal prong, as these normally penetrate better and, above all, further into the ice. However, if you are traveling in a rather soft terrain – where snow predominates – then crampons with two frontal prongs might make more sense. So your feet can be better stabilized in the corresponding terrain, a deep penetration of the prongs into the snow, however, is not mandatory.

Many crampons are equipped with an automatic binding. The grip at the front through a bracket and are provided with a rocker at the back. If such a binding can be combined with your mountain boot, then you should also perceive this.

Here, too, we can only recommend good quality. A few euros more are nothing compared to an unsafe start on the ice. For even more safety, we have two small tips for you:

Sharpen prongs: If you’re climbing frozen waterfalls, the prongs of your crampons should be sharp. This is generally true for difficult icefalls. So before your trip, you should sharpen them thoroughly.

Remove the metal strip: Many crampons have a metal strip attached to the binding. You can remove this without further ado, because it has no important purpose and in certain situations it can interfere. In modern crampons, the metal strip is therefore usually no longer attached.

The ice screws

Ice screws* are an important factor for a safe climbing trip in the ice. Ideally, an experienced ice climber goes ahead, turning screws into the ice into which he hangs the belay rope. This is called lead climbing.

The ice screws are typical mainly in two standard lengths: in length 16 to 17 centimeters and in length 12 to 14 centimeters. In addition, a few longer screws are recommended to drill for ice anchors. These are another safety factor in ice climbing. We recommend ice screws with a length of 19 centimeters for this purpose. Shorter screws – for example, in the length of 10 centimeters, can be a good addition for difficult tours. Especially in places where the ice is not so thick.

With the ice screws you should make sure that they are very biting. It is also useful that they can be sharpened well. This way you can ensure that your ice screws are like new before the new adventures in the glaciers of this world.

The climbing helmet

Ice climbing is like a dangerous construction site or Formula 1 – a helmet is a must. A climbing helmet* is recommended, as these offer good protection from falling icicles and the like. 

When buying, you must be able to answer a few questions with “yes”: Does the helmet fit like a glove on your head? Does the helmet still fit well on your head when you wear a cap? Does the helmet not sit too flat to be able to perform its function as a crash helmet?

The harness

The harness must also fit perfectly on an ice climbing tour. It is important that you test a climbing harness* in full gear beforehand – so that it does not fit properly when you are wearing warm clothes. All gear loops must be easy for you to reach.

Of importance is the positioning of the ice clippers. The plastic material carabiners are attached to the harness for the transport of ice tools and ice screws – so they fulfill an important function. In order to attach them well, there should be grommets on your harnesses through which the Ice-Clippers can be securely and firmly fixed.

Normally, you do not need more than two Ice Clippers. 

You should place them on the left and right sides of your hips – at the point where your pants have a seam. If you attach them further back, then you might have problems to have them always in view. Then it can quickly happen that your ice tools and ice screws go bye-bye without you noticing it. The ice clippers also pose a danger if they are too far forward: they can then stab you in your thigh.

The climbing ropes

Single ropes* are suitable for most types of ice climbing. A length between 50 and 80 meters turns out to be ideal in most cases – but depending on the area, longer ropes can also be useful. For simple foot descents, thin ropes with a diameter of around 9 millimeters should suffice. For difficult climbing passages, however, thicker ropes are recommended.

In demanding terrain, twin ropes and half ropes are also an option. It is always important that you pay attention to a good impregnation of the ropes. In use on the glacier this is of great importance and after difficult trips it can often suffer a little. Before ice climbing, you should definitely check whether the impregnation is still in the target, or whether you should rather resort to a new rope.

Always play it safe!

A wide variety of factors can make a difference in ice climbing. A significant one is, for example, emerging darkness or poor visibility. For these cases you should definitely pack a headlamp in your backpack. Below you will find a list of useful items for which you could still be happy during your trip through the ice:

  • Headlamp with spare batteries. 
  • A cell phone (you should always have it with you). 
  • A power bank for the cell phone (especially useful because cell phones often discharge quickly in cold temperatures). 
  • A Swiss Army Knife. 
  • A compass. 
  • Other navigation devices like a multifunction watch. 
  • A space blanket. 
  • A bivy sack (sensible contents follow in the next chapter). 
  • Tape. 
  • A cable tie. 
  • Lighter. 

Your emergency kit

That a bivy sack is useful, that you have already seen in the previous checklist. The reason is simple: in it you can transport things that can serve you well in many situations. It does not always have to be an emergency, but you should be prepared for all scenarios.

The following items will do well in your bivy sack:

  • A first aid kit. 
  • Plaster for wounds and bases. 
  • Deer tallow (against sore skin). 
  • Handkerchiefs. 
  • medicine cabinet (like aspirin and co.). 
  • Personal Medication. 
  • Sunscreen and lip protection. 

Useful provisions

An ice climbing trip usually lasts almost a whole day. A regular supply of energy is of enormous importance. A warm tea is always a good idea. A small checklist regarding useful provisions should not be missing in any case.

  • Water bottle with at least one liter capacity. 
  • A thermos flask with tea. 
  • A snack (preferably with an egg). 
  • Snacks for in-between meals such as nuts, fruit, glucose and granola bars. 

Important documents

Finally, something many climbers don’t think about before their adventure on the ice: documents that might prove important. Cash can’t hurt either, especially if you pass a hut.

Your document checklist:

  • Zip-lock bags or plastic bags. 
  • Cash. 
  • Health Insurance Card. 
  • Identity card and passport. 
  • Membership card in the Alpine Club (if available). 

Prepare for an overnight stay

Ice climbing is an activity for which you should plan a lot of time. Suitable spots are not to be found at every corner and if you have found one, then you should enjoy your trip to the fullest. Besides, time can pass very quickly when ice climbing. So if you notice that it’s going to get dark soon, you should consider stopping at a nearby hut and spending the night there. In the best case you make yourself before your trip smart, which huts in the region to come into question. It also doesn’t hurt to plan an overnight stay from the beginning so that you don’t run out of time while climbing.

Whether planned or not, it definitely doesn’t hurt to prepare for an overnight stay in a hut. We have also created a short and crisp checklist for this:

  • Reservation of a cottage. 
  • Accurate map of the region. 
  • Warm sleeping bag. 
  • Clothing to stay overnight. 
  • Comfortable cottage clothing & appropriate footwear. 
  • A quick drying towel. 
  • Paste for washing hands. 
  • Wash bag with toothbrush etc. 
  • Charging cables and powerbanks for electronic devices. 
  • Wet wipes. 

Our tip: Preparation & training is everything

Ice climbing is a highly attractive sport that differs from most other sports and leisure activities by many factors. You practice it in nature – including breathtaking scenery and a picturesque mountain world – and a sporting challenge and an adrenaline rush is guaranteed.

In order to enjoy an adventure on the ice to the fullest, you should be ideally prepared beforehand. In ice climbing, preparation and good training is everything!

When preparing your equipment, you should go through all the checklists above and check off all the important points. In addition, you should train ice climbing in not so dangerous terrain. This also applies to the use of ice tools, with which you can easily injure yourself. Before you venture to frozen waterfalls and glaciers, you should feel completely safe and well prepared – including the best equipment.

Ice Climbing FAQ

What do you have to watch out for when ice climbing?

In ice climbing, one thing is paramount: safety. If you have little experience, then you should look for experienced ice climbers as companions, who also know the region. When it comes to safety, your equipment is also paramount. Only with safe and high quality equipment can you minimize the dangers of ice climbing. When it comes to the type of equipment, the terrain and other factors also play a role.

What belongs to the equipment for ice climbing in any case?

Two of the most important pieces of equipment are the ice tools (or ice axes) and the crampons. Through the latter you have a firm and secure footing and the ice tools are hammered into the ice to pull yourself up on them. Unscrews also provide a secure grip. A climbing helmet is an absolute must and also many other things should not be missing.

Is a checklist regarding equipment useful?

A resounding yes! In a packing and checklist you can list all the useful equipment that you can use for your trip to the ice. You can then go through all the items in detail before you set off, ensuring that you don’t realize you’re missing anything until you’re already hanging from a frozen waterfall. If you notice during the check that something important is missing, then you should get the corresponding part, or postpone your trip.

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

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