The goal of Scottish winter climbing is to have maximum storm protection without the weight penalty or sacrificing freedom of movement. Dave MacLeod takes us through his go-to layers, and the principles behind each one.
If you want to find out more about the ideal Scottish winter climbing layering system, you can read our in-depth guide.
Words by Dave MacLeod
The first proper snow is on the hills, and everyone is excited about winter climbing. I thought I would go through the layering that I use for Scottish winter climbing. Now if you get this right, it can make the whole experience of Scottish winter climbing so much more enjoyable.
The goal is to have maximum storm protection because we are climbing in some really poor weather a lot of the time, to have maximum freedom of movement so that you can enjoy your climbing, but also have minimum weight.
For my base layers I’ll wear the Ignis LS Zip-T, which is a high-wicking long-sleeve baselayer. Sometimes I will take a spare one in my bag if I’m going to leave my rucksack at the foot of the route, which I often do.
When I get to the foot of the route and I’m putting on my harness, my crampons and just gearing up I’ll switch to a fresh base layer, but again, only if I’m leaving a rucksack behind.
IGNIS LS ZIP-T
A long sleeve technical zip tee for aerobic mountain sports.
These fitted lightweight fleece pants are perfect for cold weather climbing and ski use.
Warm and light knitted beanie.
For my mid layer jacket I’ll wear a Mission Jacket, a warmer soft shell jacket. I do feel the cold a little bit, so I prefer to wear quite a warm insulation layer for the mid layer, and the reason I chose this jacket is for its stretch; it has really stretchy fabric so that I have total freedom of movement, I really feel like I can climb hard in this jacket, and that’s what I want to have. That’s almost the most important thing beyond anything for me in my layering system.
I do like to experiment with different layers, such as the Kinesis Jacket, which is a fair bit lighter and it’s also a stretch fabric; so I’m going to give this a test during this coming season and see how it feels. Obviously the lighter weight jacket you can have, the better.
I really feel the cold, so I often wear a second mid layer like the Arete Vest. It’s a down vest, really light but gives that extra insulation for my core, as well as still giving me total freedom of movement in my arms for climbing.
Now this is optional. On easier routes, where I am moving more, and spending less time on belays, and also if it’s a better weather day (especially late in the season) then I wouldn’t wear this. This is really for the nastiest stormy days, where I am expecting to be a long time on the belays and operating in really cold, nasty weather.
Fitting easily into even the smallest pack this close fitting and ultra-light down vest is a climbing and ski-touring essential.
The Tupilak Jacket is quite a stripped down jacket, it has minimum features, just the two chest pockets. It’s on the light side, around 500g. It has a nice balance between solid enough protection for the job it needs to do, but light enough in weight that it’s not going to get in the way of climbing at your limit.
The jacket doesn’t have too much extra fabric so it sits nice and flat across your chest.
The other really important thing is to be able to climb hard with your hood up. I know that if I am climbing in really bad weather, often with a pair of goggles on, I can put the hood from the mid layer and my Tupilak Jacket and zip it up.
A technical shell jacket ideally suited to winter and alpine climbing on the steepest lines and biggest faces.
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In my Scottish winter climbing rucksack I will have three pairs of gloves for the day. The main ones that I’ll have on for the bulk of the time are the Super Couloir Glove. It’s a GORE-TEX® glove, really well insulated. These are my main gloves for preparing for the route, for belaying and for the easy pitches and for the rest of the day’s activities.
I do carry two other pairs with me. Partly to keep a nice fresh dry pair, because inevitably when you’re taking these on or off you will get a little bit of snow.
For hard climbing I’ll wear the Direkt Glove. I love the Pittards Oiltac grip for a really relaxed grip on my tools for efficiency.
I also have one more pair which is an alternative pair, since Scottish winter climbing usually has more than one really hard pitch – so having a fresh, dry, warm pair of gloves is really nice.
The Terra Glove is new for this year. It’s the lightest glove that I would wear, but it’s suitable for the hard pitches where your body is working hard so you’re creating a lot of heat.
I would then switch back to the Super Couloir Glove on the belay.
The Fitzroy Jacket is my normal insulation jacket for Scottish winter climbing. It’s a synthetic jacket and it’s just absolutely solid. I’ve used it for many years, and I still absolutely love it.
I’ll put it on when I’m stopping on the walk in and I’ll just throw it on to stop getting chills in the wind. I’ll put it on when I’m gearing up and then I’ll put it in its stuff sack, or sometimes I use a small 5 or 10-litre rucksack that the second carries, and we can store it in that, and swap it between leader and second for wearing when you are belaying.
If you clip it to your harness in its stuff sack, then you can just whip it straight on when you arrive at the belay, so you maintain the warmth you’ve gained while climbing the pitch, for as long as possible.
That covers the layering I use for Scottish winter climbing. As you can see there are a couple of variations on the same theme, depending on the conditions. But in the main, I’ve experimented a lot, to find something that works really well and I’m really happy with.
Durable, warm and almost unaffected by wind, rain and snow, this is the perfect piece of modern all-weather insulation.