With temperatures dropping and winter just round the corner, you might be planning on getting out in the cold to make the most of our fleeting encounters with the white stuff. So, with these adventures in mind, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the kit you’ll need to ensure you stay warm, comfortable and safe in our Winter Top 5 series.
In this article we’re looking at winter walking in the hills and breaking this down into 5 bits of technical kit you’ll need to do this safely and effectively. These pieces of kit should equip you to navigate the varying terrain of our British hills in winter with suggestions that should suit low level Lake District walkers through to higher level Cairngorm walkers and scramblers - the equipment in this article is not intended for alpine mountaineering or technical ice climbing. As with all winter activities, enjoying the hills in winter comes with its own risks and this technical equipment list won’t guarantee your safety - make sure you have the necessary clothing and skills as well as the correct technical kit to navigate mountainous terrain in winter.
Having a supportive pair of boots with a stiffer platform is essential in winter. Not only will these winter specific boots be crampon compatible but they’ll also offer more precision in foot placements across technical, icy terrain. Winter boots come with a B rating which classifies how stiff their sole is, they come in 3 categories:
B1: A B1 rated boot will feature them most flexible sole of the trio, ideal for use across multiple seasons and changing terrain. Whilst not specifically designed for winter use, a B1 boot will have slightly more rigidity than a standard walking boot or approach shoe and is compatible with packable micro crampons, traction spikes and lightweight C1 crampons.
B2: Our recommended rating for UK winter walking. B2 boots are intended for general winter use and are compatible with C2 crampons. With a stiff platform, a B2 boot is the most versatile choice for winter terrain, capable of everything from regular walking through to ice climbing and scrambling.
B3: The stiffest rating of the trio, a B3 boot is designed for the most technical winter outings in high alpine environments. Compatible with C3 crampons, a B3 boot is great in the alps, but a bit overkill in the UK.
Our recommendation are:
- La Sportiva Aequilibrium Boot Series - B2 rated, the Aequilibrium is more than equipped for UK winter walking and functions perfectly with a C2 crampon. Where the Aequilibrium boots really stand out is in their Double Heel technology which allows the heel to roll more naturally than standard B2 boots, enabling you to walk with more comfort and freedom on ascents and descents. The Aequilibrium comes in Leather or Synthetic versions in both men's and women's.
- Scarpa Ribelle Lite HD - Built on the popular last of Scarpa's Ribelle family, the Ribelle Lite HD boots are perfect for technical winter walking. Featuring Scarpa's HDry (HD) technology, the Ribelle Lites are touted as being the most waterproof boots on the market - perfect for snow and ice. Available in both men's and women's.
Like boots, crampons are an essential part of navigating icy, snowy terrain in the wintery hills. Featuring a set of spikes that attach to the bottom of a boot, crampons allow walkers to gain traction on even the slippiest of terrains and, in extreme cases, allow climbers to ascend ice and frozen rock. Crampons are rated C1, C2 or C3 - these correspond with the equivalent B rating of boots with the same number being compatible - I.e B2 rated boots require C2 rated crampons.
Crampons are lightweight and packable so it’s highly recommended that you carry crampons with you on any winter walk in the hills if snow and ice are a possibility.
Our recommendations are:
- Grivel Explorer Micro Crampons - The ideal choice for walkers and runners who might encounter ice and snow on lower angled, non-technical terrain. The Micro Crampons will fit to any walking boot or running shoe with no B rating necessary.
- Grivel Monte Rosa New Classic Crampon - A fantastic C1 crampon compatible with B1 boots, the Monte Rosa offer excellent value for money for the walker who’s going to get occasional use out of their cramps.
- Blue Ice Harfang Crampon - On the more technical side for a winter walking crampon, the C2/3 rated Harfang comes in as one of the lightest and most versatile crampons on the market. Built on a textile spine, the Harfang is able to fold up into a minimal little package, making it the ideal packable crampon that stays in your sack until it's absolutely necessary. the usual ISPO 2022 award winner, the Harfang is perfect for the most technical winter walks and scrambles.
Whilst used relatively infrequently compared to the boots on your feet, a walking axe can be an essential accessory for those walkers tackling particularly sloped snowy terrain in British mountain ranges like the Scottish Cairngorms. A walking axe is designed as a safety aid for winter walkers with a straight shaft that acts as a steadying aid with a pick head that’s used in the case of a fall arrest. Although not designed to be weighted like a dedicated climbing axe, a walking axe can be an important tool to navigate more technical, challenging terrain, especially on tricky scrambles. The adze attachment at the rear of the pick (as opposed to the hammer attachment found on more technical, climbing axes), is an ideal tool for cutting steps in the snow and clearing ground like a shovel.
Our recommendations are:
- DMM Spire - With an aluminium construction, the DMM Spire is a lightweight, no frills, no spills option perfect for the UK.
- DMM Flux - Although a more technical option with the hammer attachment, the Flux deserves a special mention being the lightest and shortest rated axe on the market. This makes it an ideal, packable option for walkers and runners.
For lower level winter walkers, the humble walking pole acts as a nice walking axe alternative and will be more than enough to traverse snowy ground safely. Giving you 4 points of contact, walking poles can be used to steady you on both ascents and descents as well as making a good snow probe to test covered ground.
Our recommendations are:
- Helinox Ridgeline LB135 Poles - This lightweight offering from Helinox features a larger-diameter shaft for robust support on challenging terrain.
- Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z- The lightest 4 season poles on the market.
Carrying winter walking kit can be a challenge in regular rucksacks so a dedicated winter pack is a must, especially in more challenging environments. A dedicated alpine rucksack will feature lashing points on the exterior of the pack for items like your axes whilst the materials of the bag should be more robust and glove friendly. Size wise, 20-30L is ideal for a day out.
Our recommendations are:
- Summiteer Crag Rocket II 30L - Made from robust Cordura, the Lake District made Crag Rocket has all the features an experienced alpine walker could ever need.
- Blue Ice Dragonfly 26L - Ideal for lighter days out in the hills, the discreet Dragonfly comes packed with features and functionality but keeps it simple and comfortable thanks to the Aerolight suspension system.
For More Information:
- Still unsure on your winter kit list? Get in touch.