The Ideal Ice Climbing Kit

Ice climbing season is upon us and it’s time to gather the gear that makes a killer ice climbing kit. We asked Nathan Smith, author of Beehive Ice, A Guide to Utah's Ice and Mixed Climbs, climbing photographer, and Liberty Mountain employee to show us what’s in his ice and mixed climbing kit.

Photo by Nathan Smith.

1. Gloves: Outdoor Designs XCountry glove
“I usually have a lot of pairs and change regularly. The Outdoor Designs XCountry glove works well for mixed or ice climbing and dries reasonably quickly. I can rock climb well in them when I need to do so. The glove does a good job at staying dry in super wet conditions. I also carry a heavier glove for belays and thinner fleece gloves for approaches. Keeping your hands warm and dry will reduce the likelihood of getting the screaming barfies.”

2. Outdoor Designs Powerstretch Scoop helmet beanie
“The power stretch fleece fabric is low bulk and form fitting, making it perfect for wearing under a helmet.”

3. Glasses
“Falling ice is not something you want to hit your eyes, so a pair of sunglasses with shatter resistant/proof lenses can be a huge help. Look for good ventilation in the lenses and low tint. The Julbo Trek are my favorites. I have yet to have them fog up in any activity and have taken baseball sized chunks of ice on the lenses with no damage.”

4. Camera
“If I’m not taking my DSLR for a photo-shoot, I still take a good lightweight, compact point-and-shoot so I don’t miss anything. The Sony RX100 III is amazingly sharp and produces great files.”

Nathan Smith on Sundial Falls WI3, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. Photo ©Heath Christensen
5. Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Carbon ZPole
“For long approaches with a heavy pack, poles can make a huge difference. They are also extremely helpful for river crossings. Super light and easily packable when collapsed, the Ultra Mountain Carbon ZPole are a nice choice.”

6. Ice Axes: Grivel Tech Machine
“The swing on the new Grivel Tech Machine is great. Good head weight without being too much. The picks are great, and look much better than I thought they would after long days of constantly dry tooling and punching through thin ice to hit the rock below. The handles are very comfortable and insulating from the cold.”

7. Fruit Boots
“I generally use lightweight boots and crampons for moderate mixed, but when the climbs get steep, fruit boots can make a huge difference.”

8. Ice Axes: Reparto Course – Carbon Force
“When there is more rock than ice, the Force climbs like no other. All carbon, these tools are super light and provides an amazingly stable placement without much rotation of the shaft when choking up.”

9. Crampons: Grivel G20
“Still the lightest technical ice crampon and my favorite. I use these on everything from low angle WI2 to WI6 to M8.”

Nathan Smith on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks M5 WI6 R/X, Reid’s Peak, Uintas, Utah. Photo ©Scott Adamson
10. Grivel Candela
“A great tool for finishing V-threads and cleaning ice from screws, I always have the Candela stashed inside my “old man screw”, a 20cm Helix.”

11. Ice Screws: Grivel 360 and Helix
“Depending on the climb or day I generally carry a good assortment of screws. Most are in the 12 or 16cm range, but I’ve had a handful of Helix screws custom modified to go from 10cm down to a scary 6.8cm for those thin ice horror shows. The 360’s narrow hanger allows it to fit deeper in places others hang up on.”

12. Belay Device: Grivel Master Pro Belay
“In regular belay mode or guide mode for belaying from above, the Master Pro does a good job. I like to use skinny ropes (7.3mm) so the device needs to be able to handle these thin lines well and the Master Pro does a great job.”

13. Outdoor Designs Stretch Gaiters
“I don’t use gaiters often but they are helpful in the early season when I use trail runners to approach backcountry routes. When starting out on ice climbing, they can also help protect your expensive pants from snagging them with your crampons.”

14. Kahtoola Micro Spikes
“Early season ice often involves long distance hiking on trails with little ice. Crampons are overkill but a pair of micro spikes can keep you from taking a big fall on the trail. They fit over trail runners or boots and don’t take up much space or weight.”

Nathan Smith on the first ascent of Can’t Work a 9-5, The November Wall, Utah. Photo ©Jake Hirschi
15. Harness: Singing Rock Midi
“Light with lots of room on the gear loops and slots for ice clippers to rack screws, the Singing Rock Midi harness does a good job.”

16. Pitons
“I carry a small selection of pins and specters for thin ice and those unprotect able stretches.”

17. Hammer: Kong Speleagle
“Some of the modern ice climbing tools no longer have a hammer which makes alpine ice difficult as you need to bring pitons for protection. You can destroy your axe and get poor placements trying to use your tool without a hammer. I choose to bring the Kong Speleagle with me. Light and compact, the Speleagle is great for pounding in pins. There is nothing better than the ping of a well-placed piton when your partner is 150’ off the deck with virtually no protection and the belay will probably not hold if they take a fall. Added bonus, it can also tighten 1/2” bolts.”

18. Stoppers: Cypher Huevos
“Simple. Easy to place and they can’t ice up like cams. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the cracks…you often have to chip the ice out of them to get a placement.”

19. Gore-Tex trail runners
“Although todays boots are amazingly light and comfortable, nothing beats a comfortable pair of trail runners for long early season approaches with low to no snow coverage. I prefer to put the boots in the pack and hike as far as I can in trail runners.”

20. Cams
“Alpine terrain and thin ice cannot always take a screw and even the best screw placement can’t give the reassurance a bomber cam in good rock can.”

21. V-Thread and anchor replacement
7mm Edelweiss Accessory cord with Omega Rap Rings are a lightweight set-up for descents via a v-thread or replacing that ancient tat on the tree at the top of the climb. Always carry a knife to cut the old webbing and hike it out with you.”

One month’s worth of replaced tat on Utah ice climbs. Photo by Nathan Smith.
22. Rope: Beal Gully 7.3mm
“Superlight and thin, yet still durable. I used a set all last winter putting in more than 60 pitches of ice in Utah, Wyoming and Canada. Great to use in sets for backcountry days or as a tag line for belaying when climbing in a party of three.”

23. Pieps 30 Degree Plus
“The 30 Degree Plus gives the angle of slopes which is useful for evaluating avalanche conditions. The additional benefit is the thermometer that helps when evaluating pillars and thin daggers. Knowing the temperature also can help you build a mental reference of temps and conditions in areas that can help in guessing on conditions before making that long hike for ice.”

24. Backpack
“Light and durable cannot be overstated. Light alone is not enough, durability is still necessary.”

25. Headlamp: Petzl NA0
“Always carry a headlamp. You never know when you might need it.”

26. Helmet: Beal Atlantis Helmet
“I’ve been wearing one of these since they hit the market. Although I have not tested it’s impact resistance or protection yet…and hopefully will not have to…I really like the comfort and fit. It's my favorite lightweight helmet.”

27. Quickdraws: Cypher Mydas
“I just replaced my “light” draws with these even lighter draws. Holding a rack of 12 of these is just amazing! They are so light. For long distance objectives and long days, this is one of the lightest draws out there. To make the ideal alpine draw, combine the Mydas carabiners with the Edelweiss 7mm Dyneema 60cm slings.”

Nathan Smith on the first ascent of Tiny Daggers M5, Maple Canyon, Utah. Photo ©Simon Fryer

28. Summit Pack: Peregrine Flight 18+
“Perfect for a summit or daypack. I use it as a summit pack to carry extra water, food, gloves, belay jacket, and camera. It packs really small and weighs nothing, making it easy to throw into your main pack.”

29. Boots
“Utah generally does not get too cold, so super-light boots are a great option. Every ounce counts and your feet are a great place to save weight if you can. The most important feature to look for in a boot is fit. Just because it is light or the one your buddy climbs in does not mean it will fit or work for you. Once you determine fit, look for a boot that matches your needs, weight, temperature, and type of climbing.”

30. Survival kit
“I use a waterproof bag to hold fire-starting material, an emergency blanket, and a light first aid kit.”

31. Nalgene Bottles
“Yes it’s winter but the outside temp doesn’t change the fact that you still need to hydrate. Drink lots of water.”

32. Edelweiss Performance 9.2mm
“With Supereverdry and Unicore, this rope does a great job on the ice, snow, and fully running water. This has been my go-to rope for a while now and has been through almost every condition out there.”

33. Pieps DSP
“When in avalanche terrain, the fact that you are not wearing skis doesn’t change anything. Wear a beacon and know how to use it.”

What do you have in your ice climbing kit? Let us know in the comment section. 

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