How to Dress for Mountaineering & Ice Climbing

It’s nearly winter, and I have started to gather my equipment together for my annual migration to New England for ice climbing and mountaineering.  It’s second nature now, but packing for a mountaineering objective was overwhelming when I was first starting out. I’m gonna share my systems with you all- I hope to clarify and simplify all the stuff that’s needed to be comfortable in the mountains.(let’s’ be honest- there are plenty of ways to suffer. Poor kit choices shouldn’t be one of them)

new hampshire ice climbing

One important note when you are assembling your kit: Have your detective hat on when looking at gear. I’ve noticed a trend in the mainstream outdoor gear industry-street style is now being integrated into the design ethos of the kit. Ask yourself, Is it designed for the mountains or is it designed for Starbucks? Speaking of trends, Some of these same companies are also using the bleeding edge of climbing to influence design choices. The $900 ultralight Dyneema backpack or tent may be super useful for a trip to the north faces of the Himalaya, but for a first time kit that’s nowhere near necessary. All that happens is the high speed kit wears out and breaks fast! DO you need BD’s ultralight cams? Probably not. Sure, they’re sexy, but they wear out faster, are more expensive, and weaker. Fitness and intelligent kit selection play a bigger role than buying the latest and greatest toy.

Okay. With that soapbox out of the way, let’s dive in.

I roll with a 5+3 layer system for my clothes(not including underwear): Baselayer, Fleece, Sweater, Shell, Parka on top, and baselayer, softshell, hardshell on the bottom. I’ll cover extremities later.

Each Article of clothing has a specific job, and my goal is to have it all work together in a bunch of combinations- whatever kit gives me the most options is my best option. Let me describe it to you:

Baselayer(LJ top)- primary roll- moisture wicking and next to skin comfort. I keep this layer as light as possible, and i need it to be synthetic. I rock a hooded shirt for this layer in my system. I am slower to have a Merino wool top; it doesn’t dry off as fst as I’d like it to.

Fleece- active, breathable insulation that keeps me warm when moving in moderate conditions. Keep the fleece light; I especially like the gridded fleece options for active fleeces. I like a hood on this layer. Patagonia R1, or the like. My wife has a New Balance hoody she got from TJ Maxx. It’s just as good as the high end brands, and it was 16 bucks.

Sweater-Light, insulated jacket(I prefer hoods) that works in 3 roles- active outer layer in cold, dry temps, heavy midweight insulation layer under a shell in cold weather, and a micro parka for stop and go activities in mild weather.  Without going to deep into specs, 60g-80g synthetic insulation or down baffles 1-1.5 inches apart.  Having a hood on this layer let’s it work as that micro parka.

Shell- 1 of 2, either a softshell or a hardshell. I reserve hardshells for whenwind is blowing above 25MPH, or it’s actively raining/snowing. If I need a shell in any other context, I’ll use a softshell/windshell. Windshell is great for running, backpacking, and dryer activities(living in my pack for most of the trip). The softshell comes into its own when it’s my primary outerlayer- think ice or mixed climbing, alpine rock climbing, or anywhere subject to abrasion. I’ve used The Patagonia Houdini, but any running wind shell will work well. Softshells- I’ve used several, the old OR Ferrosi is a good choice; my current winter softshell is an Arcteryx Gamma Hoody

Hardshells have a pretty significant downside- Internal moisture. I run pretty warm, and I sweat through hardshells if i’m moving at all. I tolerate the Gore-tex if I actally need it.  They are also more expensive, and fragile compared to a softshell.  They hold a lot of heat, and no matter what the marketing department says, they don’t breathe very well.  However, when I need it, I really need it. No other tool will do the job like a hardshell. I’ve used options from Rab, Outdoor Research, and Arc’teryx in the past. They all perform similarly; the biggest difference is the fit of the garment.  I use the forecast and the duration of my objective to determine whether I bring one or both of my shells in my pack.

Parka- This layer is probably the most specific piece to alpine climbing and mountaineering, and it’s one place not to comprimise on performance. The parka is both a particular type of jacket, but it’s also a role that any of my jackets can occupy, depending on my activity.  Climbing has a stop and start rhythm to it, and I need to dress such that I don’t overheat when moving, but I don’t freeze as soon as I stop. The parka is the solution to my mountaineering woes: its a fully insulated, oversized jacket that can A. fit over any of my other layers and B. keep me comfortable (thus safely functioning) once I stop moving.  Insulation can be either synthetic or goose down. I prefer synthetic insulations for most of my techical parkas for their ‘knock-around’ durability. I have a down parka that was essential on the West Buttress of Denali a few years ago, but I’m not often encountering -25*F temps in the lower 48. Back to synthetics- sure, they are a bit heavier for a given warmth, but they still insulate when they are damp, and if I tear them on a branch, I don’t lose all my insulation to the wind (It’s happened to me. Things got very serious very fast when I lost a bunch of feathers to a branch). Its also cheaper than Down. 

Characteristics that make a parka, a parka: 

1. An insulated hood. It’s essential to trap all the heat leaving your neck.

 2. Oversized (either by design, or you buying a size up from your regular clothing size) to trap the heat coming off of you. 

3. Ideally, a double separating zipper. This is especially useful if you are belaying with it on, it enables access to one’s tie & clip in points for partner checks.  

4. Big internal pockets to store spare gloves, snacks, and other odds ‘n ends (ski skins for you skimo freaks out there) out of the cold. 

I’ve used a bunch. I have a Patagonia DAS parka that’s eleven years old and still going strong. I use an Arcteryx Nuclei SV for technical objectives, and a Feathered Friends Khumbu parka when things get arctic.

Below is a sample matrix of how I layer for different temps and levels of activity. This all assumes fairly good weather, without heavy/wet preciptation. Your mileage may vary.

Ambient TempWarmBaselayerBaselayerBaselayerBaselayer
Mild chillBL+FleeceBL+SLBaselayerBaselayer
Moderate ColdBL+ fleece+SweaterBL+FLBL+SLBL+shell
Considerable ColdBL+Sweater+PKABL+FL+SLBL+FL+SLBL+Fleece
Extreme ColdBL+FL+SW+PKABL+fleece+Sweater+shellBL+SweaterBL+Fleece+Sweater

My lower half is similar, but simpler:

LJ bottoms- I only bring these out if the temps are below 20* F, or if I’m going to be stationary for most of the day (toproping ice on a north facing crag), synthetic or wool. I’m a fan of Icebreaker merino stuff. I like wool on my legs, less so on my top. 

Softshell pants:  something synthetic, with pockets, and maybe a reinforced kickstep for crampons. Find what fits; trim legs work better to avoid catching a crampon.  I avoid insulated pants for this active layer. The OR Cirque is a reliable choice. 

Hardshell pants- Often, I bring the lightest hardshell pant I can find; it stays in my pack most of the time anyways. Key note: I want them to have full length or ¾ length side zips so I can put them on over my softshells and boots. OR Foray pants are what I’ve used for a decade or so.

Parka pants- I have a pair of synthetic puffy pants, but these are by no means necessary for an entry level mountaineering gear list. Once you buy them down the road, get synthetic. They are gonna get caught on things.

It’s a lot, and we haven’ even covered gloves, head layers, or footwear.  

Buying new stuff is fun, but it’s expensive. Dig through Ebay, Geartrade, your local outdoor consignment store, or last years colors for deals.   Assembling a kit takes time; trust the process. It’ll pay dividends once you find the right tool for the job.  Climbing brands are relaible, but don’t be afraid to look towards other outdoor(think running/fitness brands) for your fleeces, shells, sweaters and baselayers.  There aren’t too many non-climbing companies that offer a parka. That’s a bit of an investment, and I’d save money other places to throw down for the best tool for the job.

Once you have this stuff, USE IT. Mountaineering isn’t an A+B=C sport. It requires nuance, self knowledge, and anticipation of the next leg.  Go for a hike with your stuff and see how it all works together- look at the air temp, and pay attention to what layers are needed to move without sweating. You may be surprised.  Do the work beforehand, so that when it’s nuking on Mt. Washington, and we are taking a five minute break at Split Rock above treeline, you don’t have to wonder what to wear. You can grab the correct layer, get it on and zipped up, with mental bandwidth to focus on other important things-like hydration and fueling yourself.

Dan Riethmuller, AMGA Certified Ice Instructor and Apprentice Alpine Guide

Communication in Rock Climbing

Communication is an essential component of rock climbing. For decades now climbers have been using a system of commands to manage the inherent risks of climbing. Paul Petzoldt a legendary mountaineer and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) developed this system of voice signals sometime during the mid 1920’s to 1930’s. He had come to the realization that it is difficult to understand and hear the human voice in mountainous terrain. So, instead of trying to use sentences, Paul came up with a system that is brief and utilizes syllables which can be counted. For example, “Tension” vs. “Slack.” Tension has two syllables while slack has one. So, even if one can’t hear the words clearly, they should be able to distinguish the syllables. While this system works well it still has its limitations. Additionally, climbers have developed other commands over the years which can be unclear in their meaning and aren’t cohesive with Petzoldt’s syllabic system. It’s also important to recognize that climbers may have differences in dialect, may not be able to hear, speak, or see, yet they are still able to communicate. So, for this blog we want to explore a communication system based on principles instead of a specific set of commands. 

The Principles of Communication in Rock Climbing(CAP):


The team should have an agreement on what commands will be used and the actions they indicate. 


All commands being used should indicate a specific action or the completion of an action.  


When communicating, climbers should keep the communication simple and precise.


Some people say “take” while others say “tension” or even “up rope.” While all these commands are familiar to most climbers, they each can have their own meaning. Therefore, it’s important that the entire climbing team has agreed upon a set of commands they will use as well as the actions they define. While it may seem inconvenient to establish an agreed upon set of commands with new partners, the time it takes is diminutive compared to the confusion and increased risk you incur for not.    


I’ve heard many climbers say things like “I’m in direct” or “I’m safe.” These phrases tell the belayer that the climber is attached to the anchor, yet they don’t communicate that an action needs to be taken. So, it is imperative that the phrases we use to communicate imply a specific action. For example, we use the phrase “off belay” to indicate that belay can be removed from the system. Because the action of removing the belay has high consequences often the response to “off belay” is “belay off” which lets the climber know that an action was taken. 


Along the same lines of communicating specific actions, we should also be precise with how we communicate. Often, people confuse good communication with more communication. I’ve heard many climbers narrating what they are doing. Instead of saying what you are doing, ask for what you want. For example, a climber arrives at the top of a pitch on a multipitch climb and says, “I’m in direct.” Instead, they should communicate that they want to be taken “off belay.” Another example is when a leader is clipping the rope to a piece of protection, and they say “clipping.” Instead, they should just ask for “slack.” Words and phrases such as “clipping” or “I’m in-direct” are either redundant, ambiguous, or both, while the terms “slack” and “off belay” have precise meanings.  

CAP in Action

Let’s look at an example of how a team climbing at a single pitch crag puts CAP to action: John just led a single pitch sport climb and his belayer Mark is going to follow the pitch and clean the anchors. Mark ties into the climbing rope while John puts him on belay. Mark then explains to John that he wants to remain on belay while he cleans the anchor. They agree upon Mark using the commands, “slack”, “tension”, and “ready to lower.” Before leaving the ground, John and Mark do a thorough partner check and then Mark asks John “On belay?” John replies with “Belay on.” Mark then asks “Climbing?” and John replies “Climb on.” Mark begins climbing removing the quick draws as he makes his way to the anchor. Once at the anchor, Mark secures himself and asks John for “slack.” Mark threads a bight of rope through the anchor rings, ties a bight knot, and clips it to his belay loop with a locking carabiner. Mark asks John for “tension” while he inspects his new system. Mark then unties his original tie in, cleans up the anchor, and tells John he’s “ready to lower.” John affirms Marks command by stating “lowering.” John then lowers Mark to the ground. 

rock climbing in north carolina

In this scenario you’ll note that Mark and John developed a contract and agreed on what commands they would use before Mark left the ground. The commands that were used were both actionable and precise. They kept communication to a minimum which in turn minimized confusion. If the two were at a busy crag it’s important that they add each other’s names to the commands and affirmations. For example, when Mark arrived at the anchor and asked for slack he would say “John, slack.” By using each other’s name, we can reduce confusion for other climbing parties nearby. 

Climbing will always be inherently risky, and one of the reasons we all do this sport is to engage with those risks in a way that gives us fulfillment. However, to continue to climb for years to come we must take responsibility in managing the risks of climbing appropriately. Communication is one of the most important risk management tools we have. So, it’s vital that we can communicate well. The next time you go out climbing try to utilize CAP. Develop that contract or agreement with your partner and make sure that the commands you agree on are actionable and precise. And don’t forget to have fun!    

Forrest Stavish, AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, WEMT-B

“Plus Clipping” to Manage Risk in Multi-pitch Climbing

Having a factor 2 fall is a concern unique to multi-pitch climbing. As we teach students in our Rock 401 course, this situation occurs if the leader leaves the anchor and falls before placing gear. The scenario creates the highest possible forces an anchor can see and can lead to a host of problems. Plus clipping is a way to mitigate this risk.

First, a primer on fall factor (FF): fall factor is the ratio of distance fallen to amount of rope out. The largest possible fall factor is 2, and it creates dangers for the leader, the anchor, and the belayer because of the forces generated. This would occur if the climber fell before placing any gear. Ex: A 10ft fall on 5ft of rope-10/5 is 2; we know that as a FF of 2.  Larger forces on less rope puts more resultant force onto the belayer. This is a concern when there is hard climbing right off the belay. It only takes 3-4 kN to displace a belayer; and at a cramped stance, that displacement can get violent – violent enough to cause them to lose control of the brake strand of rope (due to their displacement into the rock).

Introducing more rope into the system can alleviate this problem – it’ll reduce the fall factor, protect the belayer and anchor, and give the fallen climber a softer catch. I typically introduce rope through a technique called “plus clipping.” It’s similar to the idea of stick clipping in a single pitch sport climbing, something climbers are likely familiar with.

When I arrive at an anchor in a multipitch context, I clip it and climb past it into the next pitch.  I’ll keep climbing until I can get a good piece/pieces of protection in(8-12 ft or so, if possible).  I’ll then downclimb/lower back to the established/determined belay station, build my anchor, and attach myself as usual (clove hitch).  When it’s time for me to lead the next pitch, I’ll go back on belay, but I now have a top rope for the first 8-12 feet of the next pitch.  If I fall, it’s reduced force on the belayer, me, and the gear in the system.  I dig it. 

example of a plus clipping about the anchor

Other benefits: 

-if it’s tricky, i can leave my pack at the anchor to pull those moves with tons of rope in the systems, rehearsing the moves so I can send with my lead pack on.

– I can omit clipping a leg of the anchor, a strategy people sometimes use to avoid factoring the anchor. I typically try to avoid doing this, and I see a lot of people overuse this technique. Remember that belayer displacement? Belayers can be displaced right into that clipped leg of the anchor: A. impacting the anchor[ouch], B. potentially defeating whatever sort of ABD they’re using [you belay with an ABD, right?], and C. putting significant force on half (or ⅓) of the anchor. Don’t we use master points for a reason?  If you’re tied to clipping the anchor, use a different system like the fixed point lead(banshee) belay.

 Remember, climbing is dangerous. Even on a good day, things go wrong. Place good gear, practice good rope management and stance organization, and practice this down low before you commit to it up high.

Dan Riethmuller, AMGA Apprentice Rock and Alpine Guide and Certified Ice Instructor

The Munter Mule Overhand (MMO)

The munter hitch or Italian hitch is a foundational tool that can serve many purposes in the rock and alpine climbing environment.

belayed rappel with MMO know

It can work as a belay tool in the off chance that you accidentally drop your device, and it can be used to lower a climber or even rappel. When tied off with a mule hitch and backed up with an overhand, the munter-mule-overhand or MMO becomes a great releasable hitch that is integral to effecting any rescue involving a rope.

The MMO is material efficient, requiring a single HMS style carabiner and a rope, and it is easy to construct with some practice. 

Tying the MMO is simple yet should be practiced many times before being used in an actual scenario. You’ll start by tying a munter hitch in the loaded position, or lowering position, instead of the belay position. Next, you’ll use the brake strand to create a mule hitch around the load strand. Once you’ve created the mule hitch, you’ll need to pull enough slack through to then finish with an overhand around the load strand.

Now you have a MMO which essentially fixes the load strand of rope but allows that fixed strand to be released under load. This ability is what makes the MMO invaluable for rope rescue systems. Since the MMO is primarily used for rescue, it is important to learn how to construct it under the supervision of a trained professional.

Now, let’s imagine a scenario where you’re a couple pitches up a route and you’re belaying from a plaquette style device attached to the anchor. Often people refer to a plaquette style device as a guide style device. These devices work great for belaying from above because they automatically block the brake strand of rope. (Please note that these devices are not meant to be a hands-free device and if you’re taking your hand off the break strand for longer than a few seconds you should tie a knot in the brake strand to back it up.) So, you’re belaying from above and your partner gets hit by rockfall and is unconscious. While there are many ways to release the device to effect a lower, let’s remember that we are more than a rope’s length from the ground, and our partner is unconscious. So, what do we do (after calling for rescue assistance)? Well, the first thing we need to do is get the device out of the system. How do you do that when your partner is not able to unweight the rope? Here’s where the MMO shines.

This scenario and many others are reviewed and practiced during our Rock 402, Rock Climbing Self Rescue course. This course focuses on all the fundamental tools needed to perform a “self-rescue.” While calling for a rescue is often a good idea, it’s also important to know how to get yourself and your partner to ground.   

Forrest Stavish

Assistant Rock Guide, Wilderness EMT,  AIARE Level 1       

Belaying Two Followers: Split Rope Technique

As an ice climbing guide, I often use a split rope technique for belaying two followers (primarily to keep two climbers climbing simultaneously far enough away from each other to avoid being hit by ice). Recently, I’ve been using it while guiding rock as well, as I’ve found it to be a useful technique to streamline my systems.

For context, let’s first discuss belaying two followers at a time, in a parallel fashion, on rock. Typically, we as guides (and competent climbers) have used a plaquette style device (Reverso, ATC Guide, GiGi, etc) with both strands through one device. Simple, right?  It’s straightforward, until you need to manipulate the system in any way. That’s why I consider it a contingent system. Both ropes rely upon a single blocking carabiner that holds both of them in place within the device. In order to remove one rope, we need some sort of terminal closure to keep the other climber safe while removing a strand of rope.  The system gets complex quickly, and there is space for error in the potential mess. On top of this, the two-ropes/one-device system has a significant failure mode if used on a traversing pitch. The self-braking advantage of these devices are defeated if the ropes are spread too far apart. 

This is where I find the split-rope technique useful. To rig it, I typically use one rope in a plaquette device, and one rope in a Grigri style device.  I already have both of them on my harness, and it keeps those ropes separate (and organized.) In addition, it saves my elbows. Pulling rope through a single plaquette over a dozen pitches destroys my joints. It’s a lot of friction, and my body knows it. 

climbing anchor showing the split rope technique for belaying two followers.

This system also frees me up to have my followers climb on two separate routes. This is invaluable in places like Looking Glass Rock, where the wall is a sea of climbable eyebrows, and multiple contiguous routes are plentiful.

Two climbers being belayed using the split rope technique.

Each device (and rope) gets its own route, and I don’t need to worry about a falling climber compromising the other person’s security, which could happen if I was using a plaquette device.  On top of those solutions, escaping the belay is straightforward. I can release or haul or whatever on each device, and the other system is untouched.

To recap:

  • Two ropes in one device: more friction on elbows; complex belay escape; necessitates detailed rope organization,
  • Two ropes in their own device: Less elbow friction; each device can be escaped independently; and stance organization can start when you put folks on belay, rather than when they get to the anchor. 

Sure, it requires another device to use on the wall, and you need to manage both brake strands (but you were already doing that with a reverso, right?) This isn’t alpine climbing; we can afford to bring along an extra device, especially if that means simplifying a rescue or assist. Let’s face it, most people don’t practice rescue skills like they should, and I want to make those situations a little bit less stressful should you find yourself in one.

Is split rope technique a tool for every route all the time? Maybe, maybe not. It IS, another tool to have in the toolbox if you find yourself dreading belaying that long, wandery pitch you just led.

If you want to learn more, hire a competent instructor who can show you the ins & outs of this technique.

Dan Riethmuller, Certified Ice Instructor, Apprentice Alpine and Rock Guide

Layering: How to Dress to Stay Warm in the Winter

Whether you are ice climbing, skiing, or hiking, the key to staying warm outdoors in the winter is layering. With so many options these days for technical outdoor wear, it can be daunting trying to figure out how put it all together. As long as you keep in mind the types of layers you need, you easily can find pieces that will help you stay comfortable in even the coldest temps.

In this cheeky video, AMGA Certified Ice Instructor Dan Riethmuller shows you a typical layering system for ice climbing. Critical layers include the following:

  1. Baselayer to wick moisture away from skin. It should be wool or synthetic. Absolutely NO COTTON! You also want to make sure it’s not too heavy given the conditions, or you’ll end up too warm.
  2. Midlayer, which is a light insulative layer too keep you warm while you’re moving. Fleece and lightweight puffy sweaters work well.
  3. Shell layer to protect from wind and moisture. Depending on just how wet it is, you can choose a “soft shell” or “hard shell.”
  4. Belay parka for maximum insulation during long periods of inactivity.

These same principles apply to your hands, feet, and head! For the hands, a lightweight glove liner under a heavier pair of gloves or mittens; for feet, thin socks under a heavier pair in boots appropriate for the conditions; for your head, a beanie under a hood (or three).

example of layers of clothing

For additional tips on staying warm during winter sports, check out this post.

Staying Warm for Winter Sports

It’s officially winter now, and many people are eager to get outside to enjoy the beautiful winter scenery, either by skiing, ice climbing, or just hiking. No matter the activity, staying warm is essential to an enjoyable outing. With a little bit of planning and diligence we can turn what could have been a cold, miserable day into a fun, memorable experience. By following a few basic principles, we can begin to develop good habits which will help keep us warm while out ice climbing or enjoying any cold weather activity. For this blog I’m going to talk about ice climbing, but again these principles work no matter what cold weather activity you are doing.    

clothing for staying warm ice climbing dracula in New Hampshire

To keep it simple and easy to remember, I’ve broken it down into three principles or guidelines: 

  1. Maintain calories and hydration
  2. Dress appropriately: layer & stay dry
  3. Anticipate conditions

Maintaining Calories and Hydration

To efficiently produce heat, your body needs to be well nourished and hydrated. Before a day of ice climbing, I like to eat a dinner high in protein along with some carbohydrates. I also try to drink plenty of water to get ahead of the hydration curve. The day of, I eat a breakfast high in fat and protein of at least 1000 calories, which is much more than I would typically consume. This gives me a nice foundation of fuel for the day. I also try to consume a liter of water before hitting the trail. 

Throughout the day I will snack on quick fuel such as energy gels, bars, chocolate, or candy. My hydration goal is to drink at least ¼ liter of water per hour while I’m out. I will also pack a thermos of hot tea sweetened with honey as a nice warm way to hydrate and get a few extra calories. I leave one to two liters of water and some food in my truck for the ride home. This is what works best for me and everyone has their go-to snacks and drinks, but the key point here is that if you’re dehydrated, undernourished, or both it will be harder for your body to produce heat. 

Dress Appropriately: Layer & Stay Dry

The goal when dressing for winter activities is to stay warm but not so warm that you sweat, because sweat will quickly conduct heat away from your skin. Any winter sport enthusiast knows layering clothing is a key staying warm because heat from your body gets trapped in between each layer of clothing creating insulation from the cold. By having several layers of various weights, you can add and subtract a layer as you warm up and cool down throughout the day. You want to stay warm enough to be comfortable, but you also want to stay dry.

Staying dry is simple, avoid sweating. When you leave your vehicle and begin the approach you should be slightly chilly, but as you begin hiking, you’ll quickly warm up. It’s hard to step out of a warm car into the shock of the cold and not want to put on all your layers, but as the saying goes “be bold, start cold,” and it’s true. 

staying warm hiking through the snow to ice climb

I’ve noticed that most people don’t want to start off cold but once they begin hiking, they quickly get too warm and need to shed a layer. Often, they don’t want to stop mid approach to shed a layer so, they end up sweating out their base layer and getting cold. This leads to a potential case of hypothermia or at best, a miserable day out. So, throughout the day I’m adjusting my layering system based off the conditions and my activities. It’s ok to sweat a little, but you should wear a base layer that will wick sweat and dry quickly….more on that in an upcoming post. 

Anticipate Conditions

Perhaps the most important principle is anticipating conditions so that you can best implement the previous tips. For any type of mountain sport, it’s important to be aware of the weather forecast, and there’s certainly no exception for ice climbing. The night before and the morning of I will be looking at forecasted conditions and planning my day accordingly. If it’s going to be brutally cold, I’ll pack more layers and bring an extra thermos filled with a warm drink. 

Once I’m out on the trail approaching the ice and while climbing, I will continue to monitor the conditions and adjust my layering system based on what I’m anticipating. Not only am I monitoring the weather, but I’m also anticipating what I will be doing next. Maybe I’ll be belaying the next pitch, in which case I will put on my warm puffy belay jacket and thicker gloves. Or maybe I’m leading the next pitch, so I shed the puffy in favor of a light soft shell over my base layer and a thin pair of gloves instead of my thick ones. Regardless of what I’m doing, I’m constantly anticipating the next move so that I never get too hot or too cold. 

appropriate clothing for staying warm ice climbing

Final Word

Maintaining warmth in the mountains requires a holistic system. We can have the best clothing possible, but it won’t matter if we aren’t regulating our temperature to avoid sweating too much. It’s also important that we maintain a healthy level of hydration and nutrition. If we are under-fed or dehydrated it will be much harder for our bodies to stay warm. With a little planning, you can set yourself up for a successful, memorable winter adventure.

Forrest Stavish, AMGA Assistant Rock Guide

The Figure Eight Follow-Through Knot

Why do I choose to tie in with the figure eight follow-through knot? Well, that’s easy: it’s the knot we all know and can readily identify! The figure eight follow-through knot has many great attributes. It’s simple, strong, self-cinching; it takes two complete motions to untie; it’s fairly easy to untie after being loaded, and most importantly, it’s easy to identify and therefore double check! That ease of identification is my number one reason for using this knot.

Over the last eleven years of climbing I’ve dabbled with quite a few tie-in knots, and I always find myself coming back to old faithful. I’ve gone through the phases of finishing my eight with a Yosemite finish or even the Kentucky tuck. I’ve tied in with rethreaded bowlines and even the brotherhood knot. I’ve been told and heard all sorts of reasons why these knots are all better for sending or climbing above your limit. Things like, the bowline is much easier to untie after loading it versus an eight or, the “bro” knot is way more streamlined and keeps your tail out of the way when clipping. Yeah…..those things might be true to an extent, but do the pros outweigh the cons? 

I’ve never met an eight that I couldn’t untie, even some poorly dressed ones. I also have never clipped the wrong side of my eight while leading. With a six inch tail I find it almost impossible to miss clip my tail end instead of my lead end. With that said, a poorly dressed eight is a bad, bad eight. I recently saw a young lady climbing in the gym and her eight was so far from her tie in points that she couldn’t clip the lead end of her rope. My heart was racing watching her struggling to “not” take that whip! Don’t even get me started about why the “backup knot’ is a major concern as well.

Some of my experiences with other methods of tying in have led me back to the figure eight follow- through. For example, I have had a rethreaded bowline come fairly loose while climbing at my limit. Now that was terrifying! I once was a big Yosemite finish kinda guy but after many gym sessions struggling to get my eight untied, I had the realization that maybe this method of finishing is harder to untie than just tying the thing correctly  Let’s not forget about the brotherhood knot only being an overhand with a follow through. One motion to untie! Add to that the difficulty in being able to easily double check these other knots, and the cons of other knots outweigh any perceived advantage.

My climbing experience has led me to be an advocate for tying in with the figure eight follow-through. In my guiding experience I can’t imagine teaching guests to tie in with anything else. The ability for me to be able to double check with ease is invaluable. Fast, simple, safe!

Petey Guillard

AMGA Assistant Rock Guide

Fundamentals Fridays: A Back-to-Basics, KISS Resource for Rock Climbing Information

With the social media explosion in the last decade and the attendant perceived need to constantly create new content to stay relevant, we have seen post after post on Instagram with climbing “tech tips.” Some are solid, but more often than not, they are just “clickbait”–some new slick trick to make you like a post, but not something you should necessarily be incorporating into your climbing repertoire, especially if you are new to climbing.  Given the limits of the forum , you are not likely to get all the caveats of a particular application or appreciate the qualifications and motivations of the person posting. 

Our goal with our Fundamentals Fridays series is to introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) tried-and-true fundamentals of climbing: simple systems, redundancy, back-ups, and preparedness, rather than showy, slick-tricks designed to get clicks. The reality is, most people just want to have a fun, meaningful, and safe climbing outing. We seek to provide you with basic knowledge that will apply in most situations rather than esoteric techniques that have limited value at best and could be dangerous if misapplied. Call it the good old KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle.

For our first Fundamentals Fridays, guides Forrest Stavish and Dan Riethmuller showed a simple way to make sure your carabiner is oriented correctly in your master point. It’s what they call “clip and flip.” You can see their video here, and be sure to stay tuned for upcoming fundamentals.

pre-rigged rappel

We have also created a “Fundamentals Fridays” category on our blog so you can search through past posts that focus on climbing fundamentals. You see important topics like the tethering, first aid, rappelling, and more.

Climbing First Aid Kit

A climbing first aid kit should be one item that gets packed in your climbing kit no matter what……or your mountain biking kit, hiking kit, etc; basically a first aid kit should be an essential part of any kit for venturing into the wilderness. However, WHAT you put in your first aid kit can be tricky. There are plenty of kits out there that come pre-loaded with many of the essentials, but often there are items either missing or items that are not necessary.

The longer I have been climbing the less I want to carry to the crag or up the mountain. Over the years I have worked on dialing in my climbing kit which includes my first aid. I used to just buy one of those pre-loaded kits and throw that into my pack, but I started to realize that there were items in those kits that I didn’t need and they lacked items I deem essential. For this blog I’m focusing on a basic first aid kit for a single day out cragging or multipitch climbing. If you’re planning longer trips, the items below will provide a good foundation to add to. 


Before I get into discussing the contents of my first aid kit, I’d like to emphasize that prevention is the best first aid. Of course things happen, which is why it’s important to carry first aid supplies, but by maintaining a level of diligence we can prevent many accidents and illnesses. Outside of my first aid kit I will have preventive items such as sunscreen, lip balm, and electrolyte replacement tabs. I’ll also remind myself to drink water and eat throughout the day. Before long days out I try to get a good night’s rest and stay well-hydrated. These simple items and actions help prevent the need to pull out the first aid kit.

The Essentials

I like to divide my first aid kit up into categories of essential items and build from there. The categories I use are: bleeding control, medications, splinting, and tools. I find this system helps to keep me organized and covers everything I need without carrying excess. It’s also nice to pack items that don’t just serve one purpose. You’d be surprised by what you can do with just a roll of tape. For example, I can use a roll of tape to help stabilize an ankle or to make an improvised band-aid. However, there are some items I find are important to bring that are designed to do only one thing, but they do that one thing very well. 

Bleeding Control

This category needs to cover every end of the spectrum when it comes to bleeding whether it’s just a small scrape or a life-threatening arterial bleed, so this section of kit contains the most items. Here’s what I carry: 1 roll of athletic tape, a 2” roller gauze, a couple 2”x 2” sterile gauze pads, a couple 4”x 4” sterile gauze pads, a 4”x 4” pressure bandage, a CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet), and a couple pairs of nitrile gloves.

The gloves are important anytime you’re dealing with bleeding. It’s critical that you don’t touch someone else’s blood or other bodily liquids with bare hands. The CAT tourniquet is a specialty item, and sure, I could improvise a tourniquet, but I think when a tourniquet is necessary you should be able to just get it on without wasting time. The CAT is easy to apply and can even be applied one-handed if you need to put it on yourself. Arterial bleeds can be life-threatening, so having a way to stop it quickly is vital. As mentioned before, the tape can serve many purposes and is a nice improvised band-aid when combined with a small piece of gauze. 


The list of medications could change depending on the needs of you and your climbing partner. Think epinephrine for anaphylaxis, glucose for a diabetic, or any prescribed medicine that needs to be taken at certain intervals. However, my list of meds is very simple and covers pain management, cardiac related events, and allergies.

So, for medications I carry Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Aspirin. I may also carry Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain or headaches. If I’m with someone who got stung by a bee and turns out to be anaphylactic and we don’t have epinephrine, I can still give them Benadryl if they are able to swallow. This will help minimize the allergic reaction but it won’t reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis which are life-threating. So, if you do have access to epinephrine, I would encourage you to carry it as it is a lifesaving medication. The aspirin can be used for someone who is having chest pain or for someone who just has a headache. I don’t bring many of each of these medications, maybe one to two doses. 


There’s a lot that can be improvised when it comes to splinting such as using sticks laying around, extra clothing, slings, backpacks, etc., yet I still find it nice to carry a SAM splint, a triangular bandage, and a roll of elastic bandage. These items combined with gear already on your person go a long way. Do understand that we are just splinting to minimize movement of the extremity and reduce pain. Often, fractures are not life threatening unless a major artery has been severed (think femur), so focus on what the priorities are before spending a lot of time splinting. Also, be prepared with the training on how to splint appropriately. 


I carry five tools or instruments in my first-aid kit. The first is an emergency satellite communicator, in my case a Garmin inReach Mini. I also carry tweezers, trauma sheers, an emergency blanket, and a small headlamp. A lot can be achieved with these five items: contacting search and rescue, providing light, removing bee stingers or ticks, cutting away clothing to expose a wound, and offering a bit of shelter from the elements.  

Final Word

While carrying a first-aid kit is important, it is certainly more important to know how to use the items within the kit. You should seek the appropriate training in first aid before heading outside to climb and should consider a climbing self-rescue course particularly if you are doing multi-pitch climbing. There are many providers of wilderness first aid across the country. Courses range from Wilderness First Aid (Basics), Wilderness First Responder (Industry standard for guides), to Wilderness EMT. The Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course covers the basics over the duration of two days, while the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course is usually 7-10 days long, depending on the provider. 

Keep in mind that prevention is the best first aid. Having a solid set of technical, physical, and psychological skills as well as practicing good self-care goes a long way in preventing accidents and illness.

Forrest Stavish

W-EMT, Assistant Rock Guide