“2016 was my first experience of the full power of Scottish winter. As a complete beginner, I headed into the mountains for some training with my friends and colleagues. To say the least I learnt a lot. And from their combined advice and experience I was taught how I should pack for a real winter.”
Steph Heeley talks us through her top tips of what to pack for a successful day out mountaineering in winter.
Packing for a Scottish Winter Day Out
Packing for a cold winter day in the Mountains should be split into two categories:
- The car
- The bag
Preparing things you will need for when you return to your vehicle can be nearly as important as a well thought out backpack. Looking after yourself at the end of a long day will become key in making sure that you can head outside day after day.
Let’s get started…
What to Pack in your Pack
1. Gloves – a set in, a set out
I have a normal set to use while walking, worn over the top of a thin pair of gloves liners. This means that if I need to take my gloves off for whatever reason my hands will stay slightly warmer. I also carry stashed in a dry bag a large pair of winter mitts and fleece glove liners. It seems to me that no matter what gloves you have, they get wet to a certain extent, which means cold hands! Hot aches is the last thing you want while trying to use a compass. Having a full spare set in your bag just in case you need to change half way through the day is a must.
2. Hat – wear one carry one
As with gloves I wear a hat (unless it is too warm while walking) and I carry a spare hat in a dry bag in my pack. And remember, if you are going to be wearing a helmet, ensure that both of your hats fit inside of the helmet.
3. Buff or Balaclava – have one spare
Different people like different things. If you are purposefully heading out into some horrible UK winter weather you probably want a balaclava. And as with the hats and gloves I generally have a wear one spare one policy with buffs.
4. Poles – remember snow baskets!
I have found my poles so useful in keeping me upright in deep snow. Take them even if you are carrying an axe, as they help with stabilisation on easier terrain and in powder. Knowing when to switch between poles and a walking axe though is invaluable. Also remember your snow baskets! They make a huge difference, stopping your poles plunging deep into the snow and helping you stay more stable.
5. Goggles – you need to see where you’re heading
Goggles mean that in the worst of the weather you can at least attempt to see clearly.
6. Headtorch – & spare batteries
The winters are long and the days are short in the UK, especially if you are heading into Scotland. You may have a well planned out day but anything can happen on the hill so take a torch! Topping out on routes at dust is beautiful, but you still have to get down the mountain.
7. Synthetic warm jacket – down doesn’t work in wet
This winter I got fairly wet when changing layers. Because of this I ditched my down jacket and left it in the van for my return. At least with a good synthetic jacket you know that its effectiveness won’t be ruined by water. The heat-retaining properties of a down jacket are lost when the ‘loft’ gets wet, so in the average Scottish day out walking or mountaineering, you’re much better off with a synthetic alternative.
8. Maps –
You can’t get anywhere with out a map and knowing how to use one. If your map work is a bit rusty in summer, remember it needs to be top notch in winter. If you are struggling with switching from summer to winter navigation, get yourself booked onto a winter nav course! They are never a waste of money considering the consequences of getting lost.
9. Flask –
Even if you are not a hot drink kind of person just a flask of hot water can help in a lot of situations. I tend to drink herbal tea as it doesn’t ‘taint’ the flask. Even if this is just used to unfreeze the lid of your water bottle, if I hadn’t had my flask with me that day I would not have had a chance of opening it.
10. Food and Drink –
Easy food to eat with gloves on. You want to be keeping your gloves on as much as possible, meaning that any food you pack should be full of energy and manageable with gloves on. The same goes for your water bottle. If you generally use a hydration pack with a tube, think about changing this for winter as the plastic tube can freeze solid.
Crampons, Helmet and Axes –
You should only be packing these if you know how to use them. If you are new to winter get booked onto a winter skills course. They are worth every penny and you will progress much quicker.
What to Pack in the car
1. Layers – Warm = Happy
A huge down jacket for the end of a long day (or something just as warm), you will thank yourself for it later. Dry socks, dry shoes, dry everything to store in your car for when you are cold. There’s no ‘if’, you will be cold and wet!
2. Water – Hydrated = Happy
Even though it is cold you will still need to re-hydrate at the end of a winter day. Keeping a bottle of water or squash for when you finish means you can top yourself back up straight away.
3. Cake! – Fed = Happy
Who doesn’t like something sugary at the end of a good days exercise? Keep spare food for your hungry tummy tucked away in your car. It is the perfect little boost before the drive back to the bunk house.
Have a safe winter out there!