oddly this post has generated a huge amount of traffic and feedback, well beyond the rather narrow audience that iceclimbingjapan is aimed at. with feedback comes distortion, and much of what has been said is tweaked by a mix of my laziness (writing on an iphone encourages short cuts) and an inability to read whats writtten here correctly. many thanks to those who contacted me directly with clear, experiential and quantifiable data, you have helped confirm much about what the sector wants and does.

as an instructor, rescuer and product developer I get the chance to see behind the curtain of what makes much of the climbing scene tick. I get to see people set off to climb and the choices they make, then get the chance pull them off mountains when its all gone wrong. I get to see what the industries have to offer climbers and how they choose or ignore whats before them, and why they decide what they do. I get to pick up the pieces ans sift thru the remains of things that go wrong, as much as I get to do what I can to direct what seems to be the right way to go.

looking at all this I see the same factors rise time and again that lead to the same problems, and are brushed off or ignored with the same scripted responses. all are things ive done myself, and all are things ive seen direct results from resolving

light is right

no, light is relative to your skill as a climber – and that includes everything from your diet to your bivvies. this is the single reason above all others that I have pulled people off mountains for, summer and winter.

steve house’s version of light differs from that of the weekend warrior in both reason and application. if you are reading these words you are a long way from his style of climbing.

going light is about greater efficiency, and standing at belays shivering but saving 50gms is not efficient. better rest, better fueling, better time management and better technique all come before weight on any efficiency scale – yes, weight matters, but only in relation to other factors, not as a stand-alone. ‘light’ as a general philosophy is nothing special – no one intends to make things heavier. and its also a philosophy easily exploited by companies to sell you cool stuff, much of which really isn’t all that light.

to elite climbers, ‘light’ is backed up by supreme physical condition, massive experience, incredible focus and vast amounts of research. a 90gm shell jacket works differently on a guy with 7% body fat than it does on a guy with 17%.

if youre serious about weight, cutting grams thru training and diet will be far more efficient. ‘light’ being a relative term, its in ratio to strength and time.

heat loss thru the head

another misunderstanding that leads to rescues and unrequited goals. people thinking they lose 50% of their body heat thru the head so they get away with just a good hat is a myth so embedded its not even questioned.

the head loses the same amount of heat as any other part of the body does in ratio to its size – in this case about 9%. meanwhile, somewhere often ignored but which does have a surface area approaching 35% is the legs.

think about it next time you dress for the cold.

crampon patches

crampon or ‘slash’ patches do little to protect your trousers, and do a lot to make your feet cold.

20 years ago when crampons had 20 teeth and fabrics stretched less and had more abrasive textures they were a big deal. now, the seam that joins them and the difference in fabric properties are more likely to catch a crampon than deflect one.

of course bad footwork will create the odd nick, but a thick layer of unbreathing cordura or, worst yet – absorbent Kevlar – is trapping more moisture around your ankles than the odd nick will let in.

internal gaiters

just as bad are snow gaiters. if youre pushing thru snow either wear a breathable gaiter or tie down your cuffs with a cord under the boot. even better wear boots with integrated gaiters and tuck your cuffs in.

internal gaiters are a throwback to the ski industry, used by climbing companies because they are scared of trying to sell ‘climbing only’ trousers.

like crampon patches, they don’t work, but without them people complain they are missing.

upper body training

climbing anything is all about upper body strength, that it isn’t is bred from the ‘I don’t train’ mentality that never seems to include ‘I climb hard stuff’ as well.

the term ‘upper body’ is misunderstood by most, who think it means endless pull ups, bicep curls and bench presses. ‘upper body’ means everything from the waist upwards. it overlaps with the ‘core’, whatever that means, and includes the diaphragm, back and forearms.

you may not climb hard overhanging stuff, but ‘upper body’ is the same part of you that carries a pack, pulls on approach poles and gets cold due to slowed circulation.


the layer against your skin is your baselayer, despite what it says on the hang tag. like a wetsuit, its job is to create a stable environment against the skin, and in winter that means keeping it dry.

a thick baselayer does this less efficiently than a thin one because it has to hit a higher moisture threshold before moving the moisture onwards. that a thick baselayer keeps you warmer when worn alone is because its acting as a midlayer as well. for the weight, 2 light layers will better than one thick one because the one against your skin is pulling moisture away faster.

a way I use to illustrate this is getting trainees to jump into water, strip their clothes off then roll in the snow – they warm quicker than jumping about trying to warm their clothes (whatever they are made of) simply because the snow, tho colder, absorbs the water off their skin.


go back to the point about heat loss thru the head, now rethink the value a hood has to your ensemble.

yes covering from the head is important, but hoods are not the best way to achieve that. most of a hoods value is in its wind cutting properties, which can be boosted in ways other than half a meter of flapping fabric hanging from your shoulders. consider too, the best bit of insulation you are carrying is probably the stuff your helmet is made of – closed cell foam. then think why you are not utilizing it to keep your head warm.

think how light your jacket would be if it didn’t need a hood on it. think that if this is all about trapping radiation and reducing convection from 9% of your body then how better can it be achieved…

ideas are not too hard to come by. most other ‘helmeted’ sports have addressed this. have a look. you will find we are back to the same issues we have with slash patches and internal gaiters…

stuff sacks

the single best way to waste space in a pack is to have everything in hard little balls.

jamming everything into little bags wastes time and energy

think of your entire pack the stuff sack and get on with life, at most you may need a dry bag to keep half the contents safe from rain and snow (sleeping bag, mat, jacket in a single large sack), but does your belay jacket need jamming into a tiny sack every time? does your tent need a special bag? a single layer of silnylon isnt going to protect against anything sharp so don’t kid yourself there.