How can I protect my climbing rope? How to treat your climbing rope right!Climbing ropes are pretty durable and abrasion-resistant. Most of the time, you won’t have to worry about your climbing rope, as it can take beatings and rough treatment. But as it is a textile product, made from chemical compounds, and has ingredients in it like nylon there are some things climbing rope doesn’t like at all. Treat it as if your life depended on it – oh wait, it does. So better make sure to keep these things away from it!
Better safe than sorry: Keep this in mind when handling climbing rope
Some things are bad for it, think of acids, etc. But what about common other substances that you commonly bring when you go outdoors – think of insect repellants, suntan or hand sanitizer? Read on; I’ll do my very best to answer these questions. I’ll also give you a verdict if you should retire the rope immediately or if it is just questionable to use, and should be monitored. Note: In case of doubt, I recommend to retire, as I’d instead buy a new rope than take the risk of a broken rope when climbing.
Avoid at all cost – keep these things away from your rope at all cost
Avoid sharp edges, especially under load. Keep your rope mechanically intact, don’t step on it
Try to never step on your rope. If you have stones etc. on or in your shoe sole, you will accidentally cut the outside mantle of the rope, and your weight will also squeeze and grind the core of the rope. This can cause internal abrasion inside your rope.
No brainers – these chemicals should be avoided around your climbing rope
Of course, you don’t want to keep your climbing rope next to an acidic substance like car batteries, cleaning detergents or solvents. Car batteries in the back of the trunk next to climbing have caused numerous accidents in the past, where the effect of the car battery leads to the climbing rope dissolving from the inside out. That’s especially bad as you can’t visually inspect these types of material failures beforehand.
Keep rope away from Acids & Alkalis
Any harsh chemical, like compounds with acid, alkalis, bleaching substances or oxidizing agents are harmful for your rope. By the way, urine is containing acid, so don’t pee on your rope for extended periods – should be a no brainer for other reasons too right.
Keep your rope in a bag and in doubt keep it away from chemicals
To avoid exposure to mechanical damage and the mentioned chemicals, it’s best to store your rope in a rope bag or backpack. That way, you have the first line of defense. You could also just aim to keep it away from unidentified chemicals – a simple rule is to net let something go on the rope where you don’t know if its a problem or not.
Keep dirt away from the rope, wash it if it’s dirty using this method
Always keep your rope as clean as possible; dirt will wear down your rope and shorten its life. Dirt and rock crystals can cause damage to the mantle of the rope. If you wash your rope, put it inside a pillowcase or washing bag, and wash it in the machine (front loader) with cold water. Don’t use hot water! Don’t use harsh detergents, but instead use a mild soap to remove oil and grease. NEVER BLEACH YOUR ROPE. Rinse good and thorough, don’t use softener. After that, dry the rope away from sunlight in the air, do not use a dryer. Sunlight damages your rope, so keep in shadow. Water is no problem for nylon.
Don’t mark your rope with a pen
Felt tipped pens could damage ropes, so don’t start marking your rope. There have been experiments that showed that even markers made for rope marking can damage the rope. UIAA warns to not mark ropes, as their investigation showed that sometimes rope strength was decreased by about 50%. Source: http://theuiaa.org/upload_area/files/1/About_Ageing_of_Climbing_Ropes.pdf
High heat: Don’t cook your rope, keep fire away and never leave your rope in your hot car during summer
High heat is the Nr. 1 enemy of ropes, they all will melt at 428°F (220°C). Campfire, stove, oven, dryer etc., will destroy your rope. Anything above 350°F (150°C), including boiling the rope should be avoided. You should also not keep your rope in your car when you’re finished climbing. Cars can get really hot inside during summer, and the prolonged exposure to heat is known to weaken your rope as it increases material fatigue.
These things are potentially okay for climbing rope, but it’s still better to limit exposure
The following substances are either not tested or have been tested with no effect. If you ask me, it’s still better to keep them away from the rope if possible. But if I sanitize my hands, for example, I wouldn’t worry too much about handling a rope afterward, as it’s no big deal.
Ropes are lab-tested to withstand these chemicals
There have been lab tests that showed that salt water, acetone, benzene, chloroform (why the heck would someone put this on his or her rope?), freon, gasoline, kerosene, motor oil, mineral oil, paints as well as pine oil had had no damaging effect on nylon ropes. It’s still a good idea to keep any chemicals away from your rope. Source: https://www.bluewaterropes.com/faqs/
Insect repellent is not a problem for climbing rope
The laboratory tests also showed that insect repellents containing DEET had no measurable effect on the nylon fibers of the rope.
Sunscreen and hand sanitizer: Probably okay, but don’t drain your rope in it
There are no specific tests of these substances with their effect on the climbing rope. If your sunscreen or hand sanitizer doesn’t contain the substances above, it should be okay. Hand-sanitizer typically uses alcohol compounds, moisturizers, and fragrance. None of these substances poses a thread. Sunscreen usually contains UV inhibitors like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, then moisturizers, and also fragrance. UIAA doesn’t list them as problematic. But you shouldn’t drain your rope in sanitizer or sunscreen, also because it makes a mess.
Cold temperatures: Can weaken rope temporarily
Cold can make your rope weaker for the duration of the cold. So, don’t worry if your rope freezes during wintertime, but make sure to thaw it before you use it. Never go climbing with a frozen rope, unless it’s rated for ice and winter climbing.
Conclusion: Keep your rope clean and away from chemicals and heat
Climbing ropes are pretty durable as it turns out. Things like sunscreen, insect repellent, and sanitizer should not be a problem for your climbing rope. However, acidic, alkaline, or bleaching chemicals are a problem, so make sure to keep any questionable chemical substance away from your rope. I would also keep it clean from gasoline, fuel, and oil, as these chemicals are not necessarily damaging it but better safe than sorry.
I also advise you keep your rope in a dry, cool place in a rope bag, away from sunlight. And: Don’t leave your climbing backpack in your car during summer, the heat is increasing material fatigue.
Lots of people on Reddit and climbing forums ask how to get started with mountaineering. I’ve been asked it several times too. There is a ton of info about mountaineering online and offline, but most of it is very specific and detailed. While the focus on one topic is good, I think it’s time for a general guide. I’ll explain when do learn what, what to learn first and what to be careful with. This is all information coming from my personal outdoor and climbing experiences and that of my friends and people i know. I’m no pro, but i do know some coaches and guides and picked their brain for a while now.
How to begin mountaineering? Follow these step-by-step tips to begin mountaineering
Become a backpacker, do multi day hikes.
Try winter camping.
Learn how to rock climb.
Go trekking in foreign countries.
Take a mountaineering class.
Buy mountaineering gear: Crampons, double boots, etc.
Mountaineering takes time and effort to learn, and this guide should put you on the right track with easy to follow steps. Take it slow! Trying to become a pro while not even knowing the basics is super naive, and especially in the area of mountain skills can be super dangerous too. So take it slow and start small.
We’re going to cover the necessary skills, some advice on picking the right course if you want to join a class (and by the way, I highly suggest you to), and tips for finding right mountaineering partners.
The Basics: What is Mountaineering?
Mountaineering is very exposed hiking off marked routes in challenging alpine territory. There are three main areas of skills involved you need to learn to get started with mountaineering. Mountaineering consists of alpine climbing, hiking and orientation, and general outdoor backpacking skills.
And it can take place on snow, rock ice or glacial ground. We’re going to have a closer look at the individual skills now!
Learn These Essential Skills To Start Mountaineering
If you wonder how to get started with mountaineering, you should to acquire at least necessary skills in these disciplines.
General outdoor skills: Orientation, emergency planning, and map reading
This is your essential skillset. No matter if afternoon hike or expedition, if you wonder how to get started with mountaineering, this is your basepoint. You need to be able to orientate in mountainous terrain and find your way with compass and map. You’ll also need to develop a mindset of emergency planning as much of mountaineering is focused on safety. Always keep a backup plan, and never panic. Learn these skills by packing your boots and roam the woods and hills around your home area, preferably leaving the marked trails and exploring on your own – but make sure you start in an area where you have a safety net, aka a Park surrounded by roads or railways. You don’t want to wander off in rural Alaska and disappear unless you’re already proficient at orientation.
Hiking and backpacking
Mountaineering comes down to dangerous hiking on big mountains with weird and challenging terrain. So get used to dragging a heavy backpack with gear on hills for hours. This way, your body’s ability to withstand discomfort and pain is increased, and you become used to the idea of doing this for days on end.
You’ll also want to practice building tents, shelter and things like outdoor cooking, fireplace building, etc. As you will need to master them at high altitudes, it’s worth your while to practice in easy mode.
Go camping in the winter
Start backpacking and hiking in summer, but then evolve into winter camping. Start with easy nights out, sleeping by your car. This way, you have a safety net, if you start your feet freezing, you can always rely on the warmth of your vehicle to avoid a disaster. If you feel comfortable enough, go and hike for 30 minutes in an area with cell phone coverage, then spend a night in the snow. This way, you can still return back to civilization if things go terribly wrong, 30 minutes are always doable, and you have the safety of your cellphone in case of emergency. DO NOT go out and remote in winter if you haven’t done this safe style of winter camping at least a couple of times.
Learn to climb, belay and rappel
Learn climbing, read my article about climbing training and my guide for climbing preparation. A mountaineer needs climbing skills, so you need to practice them. Start Toprope and indoor, work your way to outdoor lead climbing and traditional climbing. Read our guide for different styles of climbing. You should also practice belaying and rappelling on some smaller rocks first until you become proficient.
Scramble, climb and do via Ferrata
Once you are comfortable with hiking, you want to start scrambling. Hiking a marked path on steep routes and tackle summits is useful to build up endurance and power, but finding your own way over steep ledges and rock fields is super important. It will teach you to read maps and plan your approach. Route finding is crucial for mountaineers, and you need to be able to do it while tired, exhausted, soaking wet, and cold.
When mountaineering most of the terrain is technically challenging and exposed. So you need to develop a head for heights and get used to climbing via ferratas. Get some experience with hiking class 3 and 4 terrain. If you don’t know about the british terrain grading system, class 3 and 4 is the hardest level of terrain that can still be approached without wearing a harness and safety belay. Read more about it here.
Work on endurance and strength
Go running regularly, and hit the gym. You don’t need to be a powerlifter, but you need to have the heart, lung, and muscular strength to carry a pack through steep terrain in high altitudes for long hours. And running and strength training will give you the needed power and endurance to keep doing it for hours on end.
Train and hike in caloric deficit
Get used to the sensation of low blood sugar and hunger. While planning a mountaineering tour should not involve purposely going on a caloric deficit, weather changes, accidents, and emergency can quickly put you in a position where you need to be able to keep calm and going even when running on fumes. Developing a feeling for this and resilience is something you can and should try in a controlled environment. You can be an excellent trail runner, but it’s a different story to scramble down a ridge on foot if you’re on low blood sugar and shivering from cold rain while wearing a 50 lbs backpack and have been hiking for 6 hours already.
These experiences you should acquire before you start specific mountaineering training
These things you should master first and collect knowledge:
– Hike for longer than 10 hours with a pack in one day
– Experience blisters and pain during hikes
– The feeling of becoming lost, including rising panic
– Become cold and wet during a storm or rainfall and continue walking
– Become cold in winter, and/or soaked in freezing rain
– Be in the mountains and experience how fast weather can change, witness a thunderstorm in the mountains from a safe point (Thunderstorms can be extremely dangerous above treelines)
– Do more than one via Ferrata and climb and scramble steep terrain with the potential of accidents
– Go on a backpacking trip longer than 3 days for three times
– Learn to belay and rappelling
– Be confident in lead climbing french grade 4/5 sport climbing routes in bad weather, know basic knots
Once you have the experience – take a course
There are tons of videos on YouTube about this topic, but a video goes only so far. You need to try these skills out in a guided environment. It’s best to find a course over a week, as it teaches you efficiently and gives enough time to practice and build confidence. There is a lot that could go wrong when mountaineering, and learning from a pro goes a long way. Don’t even worry about gear yet. Do a course first, then decide which equipment to buy. Best courses usually end with a guided tour at the end to try out the newly acquired skills in the wild.
What a Good Mountaineering Beginners Class Should Teach You
A good course should cover the following skills to prepare you for mountaineering. If you take or book a course, make sure to check the contents of the package you buy, and compare it to the list. If you can find tick off most of these points, that’s a good sign. Keep in mind to only book courses from accredited professionals!
Safety and protection techniques for snow and ice
How to use an ice ax
Using and setting up crampons
Building anchors in snow and Ice
Safe traverse of glaciers including crevasse reading and glacial terrain
Spotting hazards and dangers on a glacier
Planning a route through a glaciers
Ice climbing in alpine terrain
Planning and orientation
Navigation in the mountains
Finding effective routes
Intro to tools like GPS Navigation systems, compass, barometer
Using topographical maps, triangulations and getting bearings from a map
Following a course and bearing while roped up
Finding a bearing without plans and map
Accident and emergency response
How to evacuate when emergencies happen
How to travel safely on rocky alpine terrain
Protection against rocks
Building anchors on rocks and natural features
Rappelling in alpine terrain
Beginners Gear For Starting Mountaineering
If you’re serious about mountaineering, you will need gear for both winter camping and of course rock climbing. Get these very basics first, before you buy more sophisticated gear:
Harness for mountaineering
You can use any rock climbing harness for mountaineering, but it needs to have enough room and size, so it even fits when you’re wearing insulating winter pants and jacket. It should also be comfortable, as you’re going to wear it for possibly hours on end
If you want a good all-round harness under 60$, I use a Petzl Corax, and it works really well on rock climbing, via Ferrata and mountaineering. Plus it’s really comfortable.
You definitely will need crampons at one point. 12 point semi-rigid ones will work well, and as they have enough flexibility, they will work well on all-mountain types. This is important as glacier walks are different from ice climbing.
A typical modern mountaineering boot has a hard plastic outer body and a soft inner boot. It might seem overkill and too technical, but once you have wet or damp feet, you need the inner boot to be removable to dry and warm it up in your sleeping bag while at basecamp or biwaque.
A lifesaver. These aggressive and curved ice tools are not only used when ice climbing, but also for all sorts of tasks when mountaineering. The standard ice ax is the piolet shape. Its length ranges from 60 to 100cm. And you can use to get stable on steeply sloped approaches and even to arrest yourself when sliding or falling. Plus you can use it to punch steps into snow and ice or even as a makeshift pivot when you drill it into ice.
How To Find A Good Partner For Mountaineering When You Just Get Started
Everything is better together. In the case of mountaineering (and climbing for that matter), this is especially true. A partner in the mountains can be your safety net, and there have been many stories of people who had their partner rescue their lives in case of accidents. Climbing alone where you belay yourself is also an advanced skill you shouldn’t even think about as a beginner.
Where To Search For Mountaineering Partners
But how to find a right and reliable mountaineering partner? Mountaineering is not only climbing, you don’t just spend 2 hours on the crag together, but probably days on days, in cold and terrible weather if you go for multi-day tours.
The first option is to join a club. There are tons of clubs, in North America alone you have the American Alpine Club and Alpine Club of Canada as well as the Sierra Club.
Google is your friend, so type in your region or area and mountaineering or climbing club, and you will find some results. After you finished a course, you can then join a trip organized by the club and see if you find friendly people there.
You could also team up with a friend a do a course together. However, it’s a better idea to partner up with a person more experienced than you if possible – that way, you can learn and get better.
Be a Good Team Member To Find a Mountaineering Partner
By the way, if you join a club and go on a trip with them don’t be an a**. Be respectful, bring good vibes, and help to keep them in the group. Prepare well and show that you’re motivated by taking action and responsibilities over like doing tasks when setting up camp etc.
It’s all about being a constructive member of a team here. After all, if you should end up in a situation where your lives depend on each other, it’s good to know someone will have your back.
What a Mountaineering Partner Should Bring to The Table
You joined a club, maybe even went on a couple of trips with them. And you made some friends, but now you’re planning your first trip alone, and you need to decide who to bring as a partner. Of course, a partner should be someone you feel comfortable spending days out in the wild with, so the very basic human interaction should feel natural, which means you probably need to be on the same wavelength. It’s also no harm to pick someone you feel comfortable having a more extended discussion than 3 sentences with – although this is optional if you’re more the silent type yourself.
But there are some other things you should keep in mind, after all, you’re not just planning a camping trip. Mountaineering can leave you to end up in a situation where your life depends on your partner. So make sure this person is
a) Someone with sufficient attention to detail.
Drilling ice screws, building anchors, etc. is stuff you don’t want to mess up. Sloppy work here means you die in the worst case.
b) Understands safety measures and redundancy.
I’ve personally met many climbers who were not aware of the implications of their actions. Leaving out redundancy measures when it comes to arresting, belaying and anchor building can be fatal. And the point of redundancy is not to be used all the time but rather to be a backup. If someone argues with you about a redundant measure with the argument “never happened to me, I don’t see the point” this is a surefire sign of him not understanding this concept. Ditch him as a partner!
c) Takes responsibility for his actions.
If you screw up, you accept the blame. It’s that easy. There is neither room nor time to argument about these things when you’re on a mountaineering trip. A good partner understands it.
d) Is a problem solver.
The last thing you need on difficult approaches is someone starting arguments about simple stuff. Your partner should be someone who solves problems instead of creating new ones.
e) Keeps a level head.
Yes, there are situations where panic is usual, but try to find someone who is calm and quiet. You can assess this by observing how a person reacts when belaying others, build anchors, arrest himself, etc. Is he calm and focused? Or does he fumble around, gets nervous, etc. Being tense and hectic can also mean he is inexperienced, in this case, you should also think twice about bringing him along – unless you feel confident enough to take a beginner. Beginners should not bring other beginners!
The other day I watched Free Solo, Alex Honnold’s movie, with a friend. It’s breathtaking and my palms were sweaty for 90% of the movie, definitely In the middle of the film is a scene where he starts the ascent but then bails out when he reaches the Freerider slab-pitch. Slab routes can be a bitch, and you have to be confident about your chosen path if you have a wet slab without many holds. To answer the question of down climbing, we split it into two parts:
How do climbers get back down when free soloing? When they climb long free solos like in Yosemite (Half-Dome etc.), they usually hike back down. These mountains are accessible via hiking routes. On shorter routes it is not uncommon for them to downclimb, there are videos where you see Alex Honnold do this.
Can a climber who’s not finishing the route climb down to “escape” from the route? Yes, this is sometimes possible, but in Alex Honnold’s case on El Capitan –
No, I am pretty sure Alex Honnold could not have climbed back down THIS particular part of the wall. But he could probably have done it on Half-Dome or one of the upper pitches of Freerider. It’s just the lower slab part of Freerider which is weird to climb down. You’d have to be stupid or suicidal to try climbing it down without a rope.
Alex probably knew this, and as he was unsure about the pitch, he bailed out on the first ascent in autumn. He rappeled down with an ATC which he borrowed from the camera team – so he did not actually climb back down where he came from.
They didn’t show these scenes in the movie, but he talked about it in a Q&A..here he also states that they had a 1000 foot fixed rope and that’s what he used. He is also pretty open about the fact that hadn’t he had an ATC he would have gone hand by hand or french free climbed (use and pull bolts) down.
Pretty badass I thought when I saw it. I have downclimbed the one or other easy route, and it was always way scarier than climbing up, plus I felt super uneasy every time. Now imagine this without belaying and a rope – something Alex Honnold has reportedly done before on certain routes. This is an actual video where he supposedly climbed back down a route.
So what if you cannot downclimb nor have a camera team? There’s only one option: Find a safe ledge and try to flag other climbers for help. This would probably have worked for El Capitan, but for other less frequented routes it could mean you will be stuck there for hours to days – without food and water unless you have a phone and call search and rescue services. So we mentioned the word downclimbing quite a few times now, what does it mean? Except for the obvious – that you’re climbing down instead of up.
Down climbing – a lost art?
Downclimbing used to be pretty normal, like 100 years ago, when most climbs where solos and people were forced to climb down afterward. Just have a look at some of the old photos of climbers in the Alps.
But since sports climbing and one pitch routes took off, most people stopped focusing and training downclimbing. Nowadays we all just climb lead, build an anchor, your buddies follow toprope or lead again, and when you’re done you rappel down or just lower (if you’re top-roping).
Why down climbing might be still good to learn
Down climbing might still be a nice skill to have. Just imagine you’re climbing lead and at some point in the route you realize you cannot finish it, now down climbing is a nice skill to have, if just to remove your protection step by step. So if you’re getting into traditional climbing, down climbing is definitely worth to practice.
Navigating dangerous descents is good when you are able to down climb, even if you’re rappelling, as it can save you from injury.
It’s also good to practice it, as it trains you unexpected situations – some multi-pitch routes actually have sections where you need to traverse and/or down climb short sections. Just watch Alex Honnold’s movie again to see what I’m talking about.
You never know when you have to do it and trust me it feels VERY weird and is different from normal climbing. So, maybe take some time and practice it next time you’re on the wall.
How to down climb
Find your center of gravity
Do this before you start. Once you have established your Neutral Balance Point (NBP) you can start the down climb. The NBP is crucial, it allows you to rest, get in a comfortable position, and assess the situation. You should always try to establish Neutral Balance Points along your down climb, as you can use these position to calm down etc.
Prepare mentally by breathing right and having a quick checklist
Being prepared mentally is another important step when climbing down. You need this mindset as you’re in reverse gear now. Communicate with your buddy belaying you, stay positive but alert him. I like to have two things when I feel panic: A good deep breath, controlled in and out that is, and a checklist, something I learned by heart to focus on. It’s like a mantra. And usually, when you’re in a dicey situation, try to think how you got there, it will help you find your way down.
Go over these questions:
What was the last move you made?
Can you reverse it?
Is there a resting hold or ledge somewhere under you? Or will you need to climb down in one whole sequence?
Can you remember some of the holds? If yes, visualize them, as you need to find them looking down
Technique of down climbing
Standing on your feet and your footwork is as important as on the way up. Most footholds will be easier to use, thanks to gravity and the fact that your weight will be shifted from the movement down. This means that some smears and little edges might now be good footholds, while they would not have worked when you were ascending.
Holds like leverages, laybacks and opposition holds can be all used when down climbing, and you make reverse high steps into low steps. Always keep in mind to achieve your neutral balance once you made a move. Down climbing is one move at a time, no hurry.
How to position your body
If you climb down, you need to keep in mind that there are two positions that use almost no energy.
One is the lockoff, where you have your hands placed on holds which are chin high, with elbows in. This position looks like if you just completed a chinup. The other position is the lockout position where you have straight, extended arms and weight distributed on every bone.
While you descend, try to stay in these positions as much as possible while you plan your next move. Sometimes you have to compromise, as the structure and geometry of the route leave you no other choice.
Generally, though, you should minimize time in half-cocked arms. To increase your line of sight, you can also lower yourself from a lockoff into a lockout when planning the next move and eyeballing possible holds. This will increase your range of sight. After you plan your move, you can then go back to lockoff, regroup and move to the hold from a neutral balance. It’s like a transition from balanced on feet to a lean and back to balanced.
Training makes perfect – also if you climb down
There’s nothing better than practical training. Go indoors, lead climb a route and instead of rappelling down, climb down. It’s great training to increase hand and eye coordination as well. You will be surprised by how often your eye, which is trained to climb up and judge distances when ascending, fools your brain and a foothold that looks miles away from up is actually just a short step away.
Trust your buddy and stay smart
Always have someone belaying you when you down climb. He or her needs to not only bring in the rope when you climb down but be extra cautious and alert in case you fall. In case you climb down do end the route, and you remove quickdraws and protection, definitely consider hanging to some of the quickdraws or make stops to rest up – you will need your physical and mental power!
And always keep in mind: Gear is replaceable. If you feel unsure, it’s better to spend 20$ on two new quickdraws, build an improvised top rope anchor and just top rope the down climb than to fall and get injured or even die. Beats paying hospital bills for sure!
Want to get better at technical sections? Make sure to read my guide on climbing endurance.
I love camping, it’s the perfect combination of adventure and relaxing. I used to only go camping during spring and summer, but last year I started winter camping. It’s a little bit more advanced, you need to prepare better, but it’s really rewarding too. There’s something about being outside in the rain or snow in the forest, building shelters and camping outside during times when most people enjoy sitting inside behind a cozy oven. A typical problem is how to warm up cold boots when winter camping. The answer in short: Either avoid letting them go cold altogether, or make sure to carefully use a fire or heater to warm them up. Just walking around won’t work a lot of times, especially when it is really cold and the shoes are still damp.
Winter camping – an adventure but best with dry warm feet
Winter camping is primitive and exciting, like a little mini expedition or adventure to spice up your daily routine. And nature is beautiful in winter too, you will see weather phenomena, feel a vibe and atmosphere you never experienced before. Last year I woke up during the middle of the night when almost freezing cold rain that tapped on the tent had turned slowly into snow as the temperature was dropping.
The steady tapping all of a sudden stopped, but you could still hear a very soft swishing sound on the side of the tent, almost as if little leaves were falling on it. It was a very eery night and in the morning we were completely snowed in.
And since I left my boots at the end of my sleeping bag they were cold as ice and frozen solid. I ended up putting them on, walking around with what felt like solid blocks of ice and warmed them up on the fire we started quickly to cook some coffee. Ever since then I have been looking for tips to keep boots warm during a freezing night in the tent how to warm up cold boots when winter camping.
Keeping your boots warm is better than warming them up
Never leave them outside the tent! A lot of beginners do this, but it’s a surefire way to have frozen, damp boots in the morning. Worse, even when in a warm climate, boots outside the tent is a no-no: Creepy crawlies etc. can just crawl right inside if you leave the shoes for hours outside without attention.
Keep your boots on when it really counts. It sounds bad, but if it’s really cold and you need to stay warm, it’s better to dry your boots before you go to bed and keep them on. It’s a weird feeling to keep them on when you snuggle in your sleeping bag, but it will keep them warm, dry and make a difference.
Put them inside a garbage bag, and the bag inside your sleeping bag. Your sleeping bag is the best place for stuff you don’t want to be frozen. So if you don’t like the thought of wearing your shoes overnight, just stuff them in a plastic garbage bag and place the garbage bag at the end of your sleeping bag.
Alternative: Put them under your pillow. If your boots are clean you can also place them under your pillow – in case you don’t like the feeling of having them inside your sleeping bag. This way they are close to your body and they can even be used to have a higher cushion.
Sweaty boots outside when it’s below zero mean frozen blocks of ice in the morning. If it’s above zero, aka not freezing, your boots will be tough and cold, but you can rethaw them no problem. But when the thermometer falls below zero (or 30 Fahrenheit), forget about that. The sweat built up in them during the day will freeze them solid overnight. And even worse: When you thaw them on the fire or in your tent they will still be really cold and damp – which is not good either.
Try to keep your boots dry as long as you can. If you cross a river, take your boots off, even if the water is low and you jump some rocks.
If the snow is deep, definitely wear some gaiters and wear Goretex boots. Goretex is super reliable in keeping stuff dry. And you want to keep your hiking socks dry inside your shoes.
Leather boots are easier to fit on whenfrozen. But you need to unlace them and spread them apart. The reason they work better when frozen is that synthetic material often shrinks when frozen, leaving your rigid shoes a size smaller than normal.
Remove liners and/or soles from the boots to keep those dry and warm with you in your sleeping bag at least. It’s not as good as having the boots in the bag, but it’s a start. This way at least you have dry and warm soles and liners. It will make thawing the frozen outer shell of the boots easier too.
If you must warm them up – use a fire
When it’s really cold, your boots won’t warm up from running and jumping. Trust me, when the weather is really cold you can walk and jump around all you want, your boots will stay frozen. The sun in the winter is not really strong, so setting them outside in the sun will not work either. If you are isolated and have no way to warm up, frozen boots can be a risk of cold injuries. So don’t put your money on thawing them by walking in them. You need a fire, and keep in mind: Don’t leave them near the fire too long or they will melt.
Don’t wear cold and damp boots for long periods. If you thaw your boots and they’re still damp – don’t keep wearing them in this state. Trench foot and cold injuries can be caused by prolonged exposure to cool and damp conditions. Unless you’re in a life and death situation, it’s better to stop your trip and go home and dry your boots and feet than to risk lasting issues due to cold injuries.
The heavier the boot the harder to put on they become when frozen. If you have really heavy duty boots, possibly soaking wet from snow, it can be really hard to put them on when truly frozen. You probably know this if you’re a snowboarder and ever forgot your damp boots in the basement or outside and tried them on in the morning. In this case, no way to fit in them – you need to rethaw.
Some good tips
Plastic socks trap moisture from your feet and keep the boots dry and not frozen. It’s actually a technique some people use with their sleeping bag too. It’s called a vapor barrier and it keeps your boots dry and warm but it makes miserable squishy feet. But hey, better squishy than cold right?
Pro tip #1 – Put a plastic bottle with hot water inside your boots during the night: This way you can extend or even hinder your boots from freezing. Just make sure to stuff the bottle in as far as possible. You can also use hand or toe warmers – you know, these little chemical pads you can buy at Outdoor stores, Walmart etc. It will make boots warm up quickly and will leave them cozy warm.
Pro tip #2 – Keep socks on your body during the night: Keep your socks on during night or at least keep them close to your body and dry. It’s a good idea to just drape them over your shoulder so they directly touch your skin. This way they will be warm and dry in the morning. You can also wear booties made from downs, which will keep your feet warm and toasty. Remember: Keeping warm is easier than warming up.
Which shoes to wear? If it’s just a thin layer of snow of a few centimeters or less, traditional hiking boots with warm socks will work perfectly. If the snow is deeper you should get some winter mountaineering boots – their additional waterproof and insulating layers will keep your feet warm and dry. Put on some gaiters too to stop snow from moving inside your boots and socks if you move around a lot. Gaiters have another nice side effect: They put an extra insulation layer around your lower leg – nice!
Conclusion & Call to Action
Try out winter camping soon, it’s a blast. Best take your buddies with you, I promise you, you will have an awesome time sleeping outdoors when it’s cold. Just make sure to prepare and bring a good tent and sleeping bag. It’s also smart to try it first in a controlled environment, meaning having a car close by to stop things from getting worse if you made a mistake preparing etc. Also, read my guide on finding the right climbing shoes if you like climbing too.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert – if you climb you need to know your ropes. There are four essential rock climbing knots you definitely need to learn. Whenever I introduce friends and family to climbing a big part of is just showing them how to tie solid and safe knots.
You should learn a double Figure 8 Loop Knot to tie in, a clove hitch to secure the rope to the carabiner, the double fisherman’s knot to make two ropes into a loop and the European death knot to tie two ropes together.
I’m not to say there aren’t more, but these ones you need to know 100%.
You are literally hanging by the ropes and knots you ty, especially if you start lead climbing and build top-rope anchors for the following climbers, so make sure to practice knots.
Keep in mind that when it comes to climbing, there are numerous ways of tying knots, hitches and bend. Learning them all is impossible, and what I show you is just my way of highlighting the details.
1. The Figure 8 Loop Knot
The Figure 8 Loop knot is one of the most popular knots used in climbing and is mainly used for tying the rope into a harness. It’s also known as double Figure 8 Knot. The knot resembles the number 8 and is relatively easy to tie and also has clear symmetry. The instructions are as follows:
Take the open end of the rope in one hand, and then extend your arm along with the rope. The length of the rope to be taken should be between your fist and the opposite shoulder.
Take a bight from the rope near the shoulder area and then twist it for a full rotation, allowing the stationary part of the rope to cross the working part. After which, perform the same rotation again so that it is back to its original position.
Now the working part of the rope should be passed through the loop from the front to the back, after which the knot will resemble the number 8.
For the follow through, the end of the rope should be passed through the tie-in points of the harness, and then the knot should be pulled close to you.
The next step is feeding the rope through the knot, by tracing the original knot. While doing this the working part of the rope should be parallel with the standing part of the knot.
After completing this see to it that the strands of the rope are neat and they are in parallel.
The last step involves tightening the strands individually by pulling it. One thing to keep in mind is to keep at least five inches of tail.
2. The Clove Hitch
This Clove Hitch is mainly for securing the rope to a carabineer and is a very simple yet strong knot. This knot can be tied within a matter of seconds, and adjusting it is also very easy. One unique thing about the Clove Hitch is that it can be tied using one hand only. Let us look at how to tie a Clove Hitch.
Form a loop by holding the rope in both hands and then crossing it over, and then form a second one similarly.
The next step involves placing the second loop behind the first one and then clipping them with a carabineer.
The Hitch can then be dressed by pulling both the strands tightly.
To tie the clove hitch, with one hand to a carabineer, the instruction is as follows.
Hold the rope in your fist with your fingers directed down the rope.
And then bring your hands up allowing your fingers to point upwards facing you.
The next step involves clipping the rope to the carabineer.
For the rope which is below the carbineer, the same method should be applied and then clipped to the carabineer.
The final stage is to dressing Clove hitch by pulling the strands tightly.
3. The Double Fisherman’s Knot
This Knot is one of the most secure and reliable ways to join two ropes in a permanent loop, and untying it after it gets tightened is quite a challenge. The Double Fisherman’s knot just as its name suggests consists of two fisherman knots tied together. Tying a Double Fisherman’s knot is as follows.
The first step involves bringing both ends of the rope together and overlapping them.
Next, hold one end of the rope with your fist with the thumbs over it.
The next step consists of wrapping the working part of the rope over the thumbs and the first rope, and then bringing it under, and then wrapping it over again to make an X.
Slide your thumbs out, and then put the rope through the X that has been formed, and then pull it tightly.
You will be able to see an X and two strands running parallel on the opposite side, while the other end of the rope is inside the knot.
The other end of the rope should then be pulled, and the process repeated, after which the rope that is pulled will be the working end.
Now you will have to form another X with your thumb, and then push the rope’s end through the X.
You will then be left with two knots that have two strands between them. Now pull the knots tightly, and then pull the outer ropes which will bring both knots together.
In the end, you will be left with a Double Fisherman’s knot, which will have two X and four parallel strands.
4. The European Death Knot
The European Death Knot is a popular knot used by many climbers for tying two ropes together. Also known as flat overhand bent, this knot is robust, simple and flattens out under load, thus reducing chances of it getting stuck. This knot is most commonly used when rappelling. The instruction for this knot is given below.
The first step is to bring both ends of the rope together and then tie an overhead knot with both the strands.
See to it that both the ropes run in a parallel manner throughout the overhead knot.
The final step is dressing and tightening the knot, by pulling all the four strands individually. It is recommended to have at least 18 inches of tail left to ensure safety.
The above-mentioned knots and hitches are some of the most fundamental ones which a climber should be aware of. They will help a beginner climber to become accustomed to the world of climbing. For Beginners, it is highly recommended to take the help of a trained professional or a seasoned veteran before undertaking a climb.
I believe that few activities come close to giving you a sense of liberation, freedom, and excitement like climbing does. I started to climb when I was in my early thirties, and I immediately fell in love with it.
Climbing gave me an opportunity to break free from the bonds of society and travel to different places. And I got to experience new cultures and I have also made some friends along the way.
I didn’t always wear a helmet
My experience with climbing goes back 4 years when I started indoors in a very safe environment. Safety was priority number one, and as such everything inside was configured in a way, to prevent accidents and mishaps. We had foam mats, bolted holds, well-spaced bolts, and there was always an instructor nearby. That’s why the need to wear a helmet never really came up, and the indoor facility where I learned didn’t see helmets as a necessity.
I gradually transitioned from Indoor climbing to Outdoor climbing when I was in Colorado and got hooked immediately: I loved the outdoor experience and felt one with nature.
Even while outdoor climbing back then I never wore a helmet regularly. I thought safety was good. And I wasn’t undertaking any risky climbs, and most importantly no one around me was wearing a helmet. And compared to others, I would consider myself a pretty “safety oriented” climbers: Following all the safety checks, putting redundancy as a high priority etc.
And while i didn’t wear a helmet I was aware of the risks of not wearing it. Stories of people getting fatal head injuries were nothing new, and even professionals were not exempted. Climbing helmets have a rare distinction of not only making you look uncomfortable. They can also be pretty uncomfortable to wear. At least if you pick the wrong one.
Of course mine was wrong. I had a huge blue helmet from the 90s back then – a big, uncomfortable and suffocating plastic mountain. To be honest, the chances of sustaining a head trauma while climbing are relatively low, and I was willing to take the chances.
When rocks fly
When I met my girlfriend and now wife this all changed though, as we started picking up mountaineering and via ferrata. I finally decided to invest in a helmet and bought her a climbing helmet first to wear when doing via ferrata. But sports climbing without a helmet was still a routine. I was even kind of proud of my decision to forgo them. And somehow nothing terrible happened to me when I climbed without them.
The only rare occurrence of me using a climbing helmet was when going for mountaineering or via ferrata. Simple reason: there were higher chances of encountering falling rocks. As such the majority of my climbing hours were without helmets, and I was pretty confident undertaking any climb without wearing one.
However, my outlook towards climbing helmets changed, after I had a particular climbing session with my wife a year ago. It was one of these moments which could’ve gone incredibly wrong and I thanked god later that it didn’t.
It was just an ordinary climb, but we had some Spanish guys on the route to our left, who were pretty loud and clumsy. And I just had started what was like the 3rd climb of the afternoon, got ready to clip in and *woooosh*:
A piece of rock the size of my head flew by, loosened by the Spanish lead climber to my left. I was so surprised that I almost lost balance, but somehow managed to still clip in. My wife jumped to the side and was missed too – thank god. But I knew: Had this been 20 inches to the right it would have knocked me unconscious easily. And I would have fallen 12feet to the ground – I hadn’t made the clip.
I would have been dead or at least severely injured. Next day I bought a helmet. It’s that easy. I was stupid and lucky and in my ignorance, I had taken a gamble. I decided not to take that gamble anymore.
Not the most fashionable but better then their reputation
Climbing Helmets took a step in the right direction in the early 2000s, they are now much lighter and more comfortable. They’re not as ugly as the earlier models too. I bought a sleek grey Petzl helmet and I was taken aback by how light, comfortable and functional it was. With a new helmet and much more awareness surrounding climbing Helmets, I started to wear them and have never looked back. Climbing Helmets had now become a mainstay in my climbing gear, and they accompany me no matter what type of climbing I do.
Be it going on traditional routes or sports climbing, I have started donning them everywhere. I have now grown accustomed to having small pieces of rocks fall onto my head while climbing. And when it happens, I don’t even blink, my helmet just keeps debris away from me.
More than just skin protection
Many People tend to think that a Climbing Helmet is just to safeguard your head from falling pieces of rocks. However, the function of a good climbing helmet goes much deeper than that. It can save your head even when suffering a fall as well. Don’t listen to so-called “experienced” climbers who might have nothing positive to say about climbing helmets. Yes, helmets are not cool, but when the rock is loose I swear by them and they saved my head on quite a few occasions. I have seen people suffer head injuries that they could have easily avoided if they had just put on a simple climbing helmet.
Good thing is, I see more and more people wearing helmet nowadays. Helmets still don’t look super fancy. And they can probably never compete with a full head of long hair with a headband looking like an old climbing hippie. But at least they have come a long way from the clunky turtle shells they were in the past.
It not about looks mainly, and I know I will take a helmet over a head injury anytime. In the end, it’s up to you and your preferences. If safety is not your main priority, feel free to ditch the helmet. But if you’re a family father and try to be responsive with the rest of your life – do me a favor and wear a climbing helmet!