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Climbing Layering System for Aspiring Ice Climber
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Nov 5, 2012
I’m new to ice climbing this year. I’ve been using the dry tool routes at our local gym to practice on and plan on climbing at a couple locations in Michigan this winter (Munising and Peabody in Fenton). I’ve been picking up ice climbing gear over the past few months and already have some clothing and gear I can use. I currently have BD Vipers, helmet, boots, merino base layers, Patagonia Pluma Hardshell, various softshells and fleece. I’m looking at the OR Cirque’s for softshell pants. I don’t have an unlimited budget and am having trouble determining how I should proceed.

I’m also a little confused on how I should layer and what layering system I should use. I’m a little more concerned when I’m not climbing. So I’m reaching out to you folks for advice. I know this is a broad question but I’m wondering what some of your layering systems look like. I really think I’ll need to pick up a belay parka, gloves and some additional layers. Any suggestions or any examples of your layering system will be warmly appreciated.

sauggie AA
From Ohio
Joined Sep 28, 2011
76 points
Nov 5, 2012
I'd suggest doing a search, but here's a a great site and link to get you started.
Scott McMahon
From Boulder, CO
Joined Feb 15, 2006
1,432 points
Nov 5, 2012
Scott McMahon wrote:
I'd suggest doing a search, but here's a a great site and link to get you started.

Thanks Scott.
sauggie AA
From Ohio
Joined Sep 28, 2011
76 points
Nov 7, 2012
All day I'm taking stuff off, putting stuff back on. So, I go with having a lot of layers that are packable and lightweight.


For the baselayer either Patagonia Cap 4 (coldest) or Under Armour Cold Gear Mock Turtle Neck (cold). Next layer is usally a heavy sweatshirt or if it's really cold, the Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover. So, that's the first two layers.

My "Ice Jacket" is Outdoor Research Mithril. Light, waterproof, breathable. When I climb it's usually the base layer and ice jacket, sometimes base layer-mid layer-ice jacket.

If I need to throw another layer on top, say while belaying or hanging out, EMS Titan Jacket (compressable puff).

For pants,

For the baselayer I have Duofold Bottoms (mid weight). Outer layer, I have the EMS Endo and the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants. They are water resistant, so I gave them a spray of nikwax.

I carry at least three pairs of gloves. One is always inside my jacket (under the pits) to be kept warm. And definitly a second or even third hat because sweat happens.

Just writing that out once again made me realize how ridiculous and expensive ice climbing is. :)
Michael C
From New Jersey
Joined Jun 9, 2011
353 points
Nov 7, 2012
R1 type top
Patagonia nano puff vest
Rab fusion soft shell

And in the pack I keep my arc'teryx atom hoody and my rab momentum super light 3 layer event shell

For bottoms I do Patagonia cap 2 or r1 type (depending on temps) and Patagonia guide soft-shell pants.
From Sheridan, WY
Joined Dec 13, 2009
25 points
Nov 13, 2012
All the above advice is excellent - if you have the money. The best place to start is your thermals, I go wool, marino and ive gotten 5 years out of 1 set, but walmart or sports authority do affordable options - no one is going to see your skivvies on the crag. then a lightish fleece, mine is a cheepie from an european fashion chain and has a hood, fits close and works well. But I have seen similar at Old Navy etc. Over that I wear a very nice Montbell down jacket: This one (as long as I can get it off of my wife) its on special right now - then a waterproof over the top. I also have a big down jacket for belays. And for pants I wear patagonia alpine bibs.

Now you dont need to go that far, army surplus/goodwill is your friend - recently I bought a pair of swiss surplus wool pants that I tele in. They rock and cost me $15 plus $10 to get them tailored to me. The other day I noticed they had padded 3/4 pants for $14 - ugly yes, warm, yes.

Costco/walmart have disposable hand warmers in big boxes, I place a set between the tongue and outer of my boots, and another set in my gloves.

Gloves are a problem...

All the best.
From Colorado
Joined Nov 21, 2011
4 points
Nov 13, 2012
Base Layer (Wool ir Synthetic) -
R1/Fleece Type Garment - I recommend Arcteryx Acto MX
Hardshell Top - Make sure it is really breathable! Neoshell, Active Shell. I like the Alpha FL
Synthetic Belay (Better than Down when wet) - Atom SV, Patagonia DAS
Base Bottoms (Wool or Synthetic)
Softshell Pants
Socks - I wear smartwool but these are looking pretty cool
I think its a good idea for some kind of protective eye wear.
BD Punisher Pro and Enforcer Along with Mercury Mitts
OR makes some awesome gloves as well (Check Alibi Line)
Get a fleeve Glove and change of shirt after Approach
Josh Allred
From Salt Lake City, UT
Joined Mar 10, 2011
179 points
Nov 13, 2012
I wore Montbell for a long time. Great products for good price. Then I tried Arcteryx and never looked back. I am also selling Montbell Thermawrap guide if interested. Josh Allred
From Salt Lake City, UT
Joined Mar 10, 2011
179 points
Nov 13, 2012
You're gonna get as many different answers as climbers.

How cold and wet does Michigan get? I honestly have no idea.

Soft-shells will not be as warm as hard-shells, so you'll typically have to layer up more underneath them. On the other hand, softshells drape easier, so you can get away with integral insulation.

My standard ice climbing getup is (on the bottom) Capilene 2 long underwear, fleece-lined soft-shell pants. On top, I'll have a wicking t-shirt or a cap 1 crewneck, then a cap 2 zipneck, then a cap zipneck, then my softshell jacket.

If I expect wet conditions, I'll switch to cap 2 long underwear, cap 3 long underwear and shell pants, then swap out the cap 4 top for a cap 3 top, and put my hardshell on instead of my softshell.

Bring a belay parka. If you are warm at the trailhead, you are wearing too much. Likewise if you're comfortable at the belay without the parka, you're wearing too much. You want to be comfortable on the climb without having to add or subtract anything other than your belay parka.

Note also that if you have to adjust layers in windy conditions, you will get very cold when you take off your shell, so try to layer on top of the shell in windy conditions.
From Laramie, WY
Joined Mar 12, 2002
1,246 points
Dec 2, 2012
I've struggled with this for many years. Like the previous poster said, you will get as many answers as there are climbers. I too will be climbing in the UP this winter by way of Chicago. The key is to have a fairly light. breathable, stretchy "action suit" made of baselayer, fleece, and softshell with a big puffy to go over top of all of it when you are belaying or sitting around. You don't really want to be stripping layers and redressing, especially when wearing a harness. Your harness should go over your shell layer and the shell should be breathable enough to stay on all day. You can consider modifying this approach by replacing midlayer fleece with a light puffy and using a non-insulated hardshell on top of that. Perhaps too warm when climbing but depending on conditions you may not need an over-puffy (belay jacket).

My set-up - used with great success at Lee Vining Canyon many times.

Baselayer - Cap 1 (long sweaty approach) or Icebreaker 200
Midlayer - R1 Hoody
Shell - TNF Valkyrie (Polartec WindBloc)
Puffy - Patagonia DAS (probably will get a down - maybe new TNF Summit)

Baselayer - Icebreaker 200 or R1 (depending on cold)
Midlayer - N/A
Shell - Patagonia Guide
Puffy - Patagonia Micropuff (only if really cold)

Liner -TNF Powerstretch
Shell - OR Arete GTX
Puffy - Patagonia Micropuff Mitt (for belay)

Sock- Patagonia or Darn Tough mountaineering
Boot - La Sportiva Trango Extreme EVO Light GTX
Gaiter - OR GTX (usually not necessary)

TNF fleece + hood of R1 (no balaclava necessary)
Daniel Wade
From Oakland, CA.
Joined Jan 29, 2012
59 points

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