Top 10 Pieces of Ice Climbing Gear

Top 10 Pieces of Ice Climbing Gear
Ice climbing is a great way to enjoy the winter season, but it also requires some very specific gear. There is plenty of climbing gear that you can re-purpose if you are already a rock climber, but this list is designed to give you the ten essential pieces of ice climbing gear so you can safely enjoy the sport. Keep in mind that much of the gear designed for vertical ice climbing does not translate well to other sports and vice versa. The investment is worth it to enjoy not only a safe climbing experience but one that gives you the opportunity to improve your skill set.

Climbing Harness

Most climbing harnesses will work fine for ice climbing but many, especially those manufactured by Black Diamond, offer additional functionality specifically for vertical ice. Black Diamond harnesses are compatible with their Ice Clippers, which are harness add-ons designed for both holstering ice tools and hanging ice screws. Ice Clippers can be used with other harnesses as well, using the rubber insert for attachment. In general, use a climbing harness for ice climbing that allows for a proper fit over your winter layers without compromising the secure fit. Many climbers opt for harnesses with detachable leg loops, which make both using the bathroom and donning your harness over layers and crampons an easier task.

Ice Climbing Boots

Boots designed for ice climbing will give you good walking comfort as well a moderate level of insulation. Generally lined with Primaloft or Thinsulate, they are not only lightweight but fully crampon compatible. They will include grooves built into the boot for both the front and rear bail of your crampons. When looking for ice climbing boots, they can generally be found under mountaineering boot classifications and will provide you with full specs on weight, insulation and crampon compatibility. Heel fit is especially important with an ice boot, as a lot of play in the heel region will cause blisters.

Ice Tools or Ice Axes

Technical ice tools or ice axes are designed to be used in pairs and specifically for vertical ice. Names you recognize like Petzl and Black Diamond manufacture a wide variety of styles and there is sure to be a favorite for your climbing style. Tools also come in leashed and leashless versions. Leashed versions come with a strap-like attachment that secures around the climber's wrist, which prevents the loss of the tool if you lose your grip. Leashless tools are a more recent innovation, used most commonly for sport ice climbing, top roping or mixed climbing applications, where you need to be able to switch hands on the tools with ease.


Crampons designed for vertical ice differ from those designed for mountaineering applications. Ice climbing crampons have more aggressive front points and more tailored spikes for greater vertical traction. Ice climbing crampons are available in both mono and dual front point designs. It is not advised to use crampons designed for glacier travel for vertical ice climbing. Before you leave for an ice climbing trip with new crampons, make sure you take the time to adjust them to fit your boots.

Belay Device

When choosing a belay device for ice climbing, it is recommended to not use a grigri. This is even more important if you are using a dry-treated rope as the surfaces of dry ropes are more slick and can cause a grigri to not auto-lock properly. You best bet is to choose a standard belay rappel device like an ATC or Petzl Reverso. Many companies make them and there is a wide selection from which to choose.

Dry-Treated Climbing Rope

Climbing ropes come in two varieties: standard and dry. You should only use dry-treated ropes for ice climbing due to their tendency to get wet from the ice and snow. The dry treatment helps the rope preserve its dynamic nature when wet. It is also a good idea to purchase a 70m dry rope, as many routes for ice climbing are quite long and a longer rope than a standard 60m will allow you greater access without having to use two ropes.


Gloves that work the best for ice climbing will allow you to comfortably grip your ice tools while preventing overgripping (as overgripping can lead to extremely cold hands). Many companies like OR make gloves with materials that enhance your grip on the tools (like their Alibi glove), but they do not provide much insulation. Keep in mind that many ice climbers will use different gloves for belaying and climbing as well. Your gloves for climbing should let you grip your tools comfortably, provide adequate warmth and let you manage any hardware on the route with ease.

Softshells - Pants and Jacket

Softshell pants and jackets will let you pursue ice climbing while not hindering your movement. When shopping for softshell attire for ice climbing, make sure that the fabric is water-resistant, wind-resistant and breathable. Brands such as North Face, Arc'teryx and Mountain Hardware make softshell apparel designed with ice climbing in mind, so you may want to consider exploring those brands. Many of the softshell jackets designed for ice climbing are also helmet-compatible, meaning you can pull the hood up over your helmet in more extreme conditions.


Gaiters protect your softshell pants from being snagged by your crampons. This happens often in ice climbing. Protect your investment in your pants by finding a good pair of gaiters (an example would be the OR Expedition Croc Gaiters) that will take you through the entirety of your winter season pursuits.

Climbing Helmet

Climbing helmets for ice climbing, like the Petzl Elios, have a removable face shield to help protect your face from falling ice. You can use the helmet year-round by removing the shield. However, any climbing helmet will work for ice climbing, but if the one you choose lacks a face shield, additional eye protection (like goggles) is recommended.

Article Written By Erika Napoletano

Erika Napoletano is a full-time professional writer and social media consultant based in Denver, Colorado. Her skills include experience as a formerly licensed securities professional and extensive real estate work including over 18 months in hard money lending. Recently featured in the Denver Business Journal for her social media expertise, Erika is a prominent figure in the Denver and Colorado social media communities.

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