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Winter Mountaineering gear question


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I have been hiking and climbing during the summer for a while now, and now I want to get into climbing in the winter. But I know nothing about winter clothing. I went down to my local Eastern Mountain Sports and they were no help. So I will be climbing Mt. Washington in January and need to pick up a few things, I'm hoping you guys can make some suggestions (links to suggested gear would be great).


Insulation layer: 300 weight fleece, heavy weight soft shell, or primaloft sweater?


Uninsulated waterproof/breathable shell, recommendations?


Over it all ("puffy") jacket, recommendations?


Thanks for your help. I am new to this forum so if I posted this in the wrong forum can a mod please move it to the correct one. Thanks



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My experience in winter climbing tells me that you can never plan to climb a certain mountain at a certain time (washington in Jan) as you never now what conditions will be like and it is extremely hit-and-miss on the Coast.


As for Puffy Jackets I like my Westcomb Himalayan, and I also like my Westcomb Mirage Shell, very light.

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you sound like you're planning on climbing the wrong coast's mt washington? for taht in winter you'll want the full-on himalayan kit - goggles, balaclava, 2nd hat, down mitts, fleece gloves, expeition long underwear top'n'bottom, goretex shells top n' bottom, fleece sweater, 8000 meter style down parka, plus plastic boots n' gaitors.


no recs on puff jacket, just make it long on you and affordable - a gps and/or alti watch is critical for washington, where the visilbity is often 10 feet :)


oh yeah, and it goes w/o saying, watch for avi conditions - plenty of folks killed on that hill.

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Since you mentioned EMS and Mt Washington in the Winter, I am assuming you are talking NH Mt Washington.


I grew up in NH and did Washington a few times in the winter. The banana is right though, it depends on the weather. I have been close to the summit with a single layer on in Feb.

Here is what I would wear and bring on a typical winter trip up Washington but keep in mind, other layer systems also work, this is just what i use:

-heavy weight base layer, top and bottom.

-Winter hiking socks - thickness depends on boot warmth and fit - make sure the socks don't constrict the feet.

-light weight fleece top

-warm snow/ski pants(side zips for ventilation are a must)

-down jacket

-winter shell or parka with a hood

-winter hat

-light weight ski gloves

-heavy duty mitts

-large and thick gaiters to keep out the snow

-ski goggles and neck/face warmer in case the wind gets nasty (as it so often does up there)


how i use them:

-puffy goes on for breaks to stay warm.

-shell should be... well... your shell or outer layer.

-snow pants side zips should be used regularly to regulate body temps.


** most important thing to keep in mind when hiking/climbing in the extreme cold... regulate your body temp! do your best not to sweat at all. sweating will just make you freeze from the inside of all your layers, rendering them useless! take your time and adjust your layers as needed.**

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also, don't be dumb, make sure you know your route up and down very well and bring a GPS, map and compass.

Listen to your gut, don't press on if the weather is getting too "wicked" :)

obviously, crampons are a must above tree line. snowshoes might help down low depending on recent storms.

plastic boots might be necessary depending on temps but i never used them. The nice thing about doing washington is that its a fricking weather station! get your forecasts straight and go when weather looks manageable.

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For what it's worth, here's my winter kit for around here:


MountainHardwear 800 fill parka (Phantom?)(1 lb)

Feathered Friends Volant is also a nice model

Feathered Friends snap on down hood

Montbell down sweater (for under your windshell)

12 oz Activent shell (NorthFace)

Softshell jacket

long sleeve T

short sleeve T

Windstopper balaclava

REI Acme (Schoeller fabric) pants

Patagonia's lightest rain pants with full zip (or just a wind pant)

silk weight long john bottoms

Heavier weight long john bottoms if colder


OR Alti mitts

liner gloves

other gloves if your doing more technical stuff (that subject can get complicated)


double boots or a single boot equivalent

liner socks

smartwool knee length socks


If it'll be below freezing all the time, your shells can be on the lighter side. They should fit over your down sweater, but I often climb in those conditions with my down parka on the outside, which means you can get by with a better fitting (and therefore a bit warmer) shell. You don't really need the heavy stuff.


If it's wet and cold...well, I just stay home and read a book.


Edited by tvashtarkatena
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Tvash, reading up on some of the REI Schoeller stuff they say things like windproof to 18 mph or 23 mph, have you had issues with that, or do you just throw the Patagonia shell pants on when it is much worse that that?


Edit: Also functionality be damned will they match my red shell jacket?

Edited by JBo6
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For Mt. Washington in January, I would guess it will not be warm. You will want to be able to layer your clothing so that you can "strip down" if you are hiking and it is not windy, but wet weather is probably not likely to be an issue.


Assuming you don't go when some kind of warm weather event is predicted, I would take a light weight base layer that includes some kind of wool or synthetic long underwear, a wind shell for both top and bottom, and full on down for the top half. Maybe some kind of sweater garment would be good as well and if it were me it would be a thin wool sweater with a low or v-cut neck. You might also want some kind of pile pants or similar garment for your legs, but I bet you'd get away without.


I'd also bring a scarf, and a serious balaclava type hat and ski goggles. Serious mittens, too, should not be overlooked. You want some light weight gloves, some real insulating mittens (I like wool), and some shells.


You don't need expensive gear: army surplus or discount long underwear and a jogging suit, combined with the cheapest down coat you can find are sufficient. But it better be thick. A down "sweater" will probably not cut it.


Good luck. Mt. Washington can be tough!



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Mt WA has (or used to have) the highest recorded winds anywhere in the US (>200mph). It just takes seconds to freeze parts of yourself in those conditions, or even much milder conditions (50mph plus cold). Don't let the relatively low elevation fool you. People definitely die on that mtn when they make bad decisions.

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I am well aware of the conditions on Mt. Washington. I live about an hour and a half away from the mountain. I'm actually doing a 3 day long mountaineering course on the mountain, so I will be with experienced guides/instructors. They gave me a gear list, but didn't give me any suggested brands, and the selection EMS and REI has in there stores is somewhat limited which is why I was looking for suggestions. Thanks for the help everyone

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mont-bell make some of the best puffys.


I have climbed Washington and surrounding white mountains quite a bit in winter in the 90's.


layers layers layers!!


I had EMS and NF clothing. It is not Denali and you live there so you are used to the winter cold. I had base layer with two more fleece type layers (when it was -20 i had a huge wool sweater i would haul around :blush: )A good puffy would be about the same as my heavy ass wool sweater. then a heavy NF mountain jacket that i still have to this day. It was a great wind proof, water proof, insulated outer shell layer but 15 yrs ago they made them VERY heavy!!


I had base layer, with a fleece pant and a outer shell similar to ski pants.


oh and north face down mitts with a thinner glove under for when you have to use your hands out of the gloves for a minute.


I wore asolo plastics. The inner booty was great to save my toes.


The Whites in winter are awesome have fun!!!

Edited by tazz
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If your in the area (north conway), Wild Things has stuff in all your categories--and they're small and local (bonus). IME is up there, too, and has a great used selection.


I like primaloft over fleece not only for its warmth-to-weight, but its packability. (i.e., Patagonia puffball)


(If money matters) For shells, I've gotten away with cheaper jackets, sacrificing breathablity (like paclite or similar), but have found high-end pants to be worth it for the durability (mine are XCR, but could be any of that good stuff--eVent, proshell, H2No). Might seem counter-intuitive, because your core is maybe more important. But your pants take a TON of abuse, they're always close to, or in, the snow/ice/water, AND there's usually less of a "system" going on down there--just one or two layers--so you kinda need it all to work. (i.e., Marmot Minimalist Jacket, Arcteryx something-or-other pants)


About the puffy coat--it doesn't count if it doesn't have a hood. Instant warmth, on demand. (i.e., Patagonia DAS) There are lots of cool, shelled puffys floating around now, too. (i.e., OR Chaos)


Cheers, N

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A lot of good info above. I started my climbing on mt washington and spent many a horrible day there battling the winds and snow. The advice I would give is to not have any exposed skin, at all. It is always windy there and it will make frost nip in a hurry. Since you are going on a fixed days, chances are the weather will be blowing hard and you will be suffering, which is why it is such a cool place.


so based on your questions I would answer.


The primaloft sweater is the best idea when compared to the 300 weight fleece and soft shell jacket. complete windproof.


I am not a big fan of goretex jackets but they are the best in the high wind enviroment.


Puffy? Anything big enough to fit over the other bulky layers and with a hood of course. I am fond of the pataguchi stuff but you got wild things right there. If I remember right, it is fairly dry there so down would be a good choice. If not dry but wet like around here, synthetic may be a better choice.


what I think are essential small things:

real serious balaclava that covers all skin like the OR gorilla balaclava


goggles to cover the eye balls. I froze my eyelids once and that is not fun.


thin, med and thick gloves with a mitten to fit over these. You can't carry to many gloves as they get wet and then worthless.


good boots with the overboots over that. There can be some wallowing in the snow and overboots can help keep your feet dry.


light or medium weight thermal tops and bottoms with some kind of nylon windshirt and pants for getting around in kind conditions.


Are you doing the presidential traverse as part of the trip? That woudl be rad.


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As of now I'm just doing the 3 day course. If that goes well and I enjoy it as much as I think I will, then I will look into doing the range traverse. I also have family that live in northern Cal in the Grass Valley area, and I visit them every winter. So hopefully I can do some west coast climbing as well.


Thanks for all the help, lots of good info. I appreciate it

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I have experienced freezing rain followed by 30 below zero temperatures within twelve hours in January in the White Mountains. Down is nice and light, but I would carry enough wool or synthetic clothing to ensure survival in case you do get wet. Wind/rain shells should be big enough to go on over warm layers. 60 mph winds are the norm in the Whites, and I have experienced 135 mph winds there. Anything lashed to the outside of your pack needs to be fastened really well. If you encounter deep snow you may be unable to move without snowshoes. Once you are above tree line it can be very hard to find the way back down the mountain in winter.

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The usual conditions is windy and very cold in winter, which

means no exposed skin. I do not like down, don't use down

mitts. Your sweat will collapse the insulation in your mitts.

I don't like the ski goggle method of protecting your eyes from

the wind. When you sweat the inside of the goggles will freeze

up and you can't see. Better to take two balaclava's and make

a eye slit to see through. Or you take one balaclava and a ski

mask. You put the two on at once and make a eye slit to see

through, works much better than ski goggles. You can carry

the ski goggles and the gear I named and try both systems to

see what you like best. The weather rules on the mountain, if

you have to stop up high with no gear you will freeze to death

in bad weather. Even in relativity good weather you would freeze

to death in a night in winter if left out. You may want to

carry a snow shovel.


Practice self arrest, with ice axe, with ski pole and with

your body alone. Carry crampons of course, carry snowshoes

if you drop into a bowl the snow can be soft and really deep.



Edited by DanO
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Alright so I have taken everything you guys have said into consideration and this is a list of what I was thinking. Please critique this list. I just wanted to run it by some more knowledgeable people before dropping a bunch of cash.


Base layer (Top and bottom): Patagonia Capilene 3 or 4 (I'm not sure how thick my base needs to be)


Over base layer: Light weight mountain Design fleece half zip and REI fleece pants


Insulation layer: North Face Denali 300 weight fleece (I already own this so if this is sufficient that would be nice. If not I can pick up a primaloft sweater.)


Shell layer: Goretex jacket and pants


Over layer (puffy): Patagonia DAS parka


Also how serious of a balaclava should I get? Should I get something like the Talus coldavenger expedition balaclava, or something like the OR wind stopper Gorilla balaclava, or something really simple like the OR wind pro? I have a neoprene ski mask that I will also bring.


Thanks again for all your help

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If it's below zero you can shit-can the goretex for sure. Last winter was my first up here in AK and I learned a lot about keeping it together in the cold. A marmot driclime (or similar) is all the 'shell' you need. Best garmont I've ever purchased. Strech woven tops are great for cool weather rock climbing, but aren't windproof and weight more than a nylon jacket.


I love Pata Mixmaster bottoms for the deep cold, despite what I just said about stretch-woven jackets.


A neoprene face mask is worth its weight in gold, or at least in face-flesh.




Edited by Jake_Gano
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I just saw the ArcTeryx Duality Parka - despite being twice the price of the DAS, I was impressed!

Looks more packable and WARMER. I just wish I could justifie replacing my DAS.


I really like my MH Windproof Balaclava


Pata mixmaster pants = awesome.


And most of the time I find a silkweight base, 100 weight hoody and maybe 200 weight vest+shell is a great system.


Most likely whatever you get will be great. These are just items that are really great in the winter.

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If it's below zero you can shit-can the goretex for sure. Last winter was my first up here in AK and I learned a lot about keeping it together in the cold. A marmot driclime (or similar) is all the 'shell' you need. Best garmont I've ever purchased.

I like gortex for cutting the wind. It is better than anything else I have used but I have not used dryclime.

Jake, how do driclime and gortex compare for cutting wind? I really do not know.

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Also how serious of a balaclava should I get? Should I get something like the Talus coldavenger expedition balaclava, or something like the OR wind stopper Gorilla balaclava, or something really simple like the OR wind pro? I have a neoprene ski mask that I will also bring.


Think serious, two layers of anything should work fine if you

have a hood on a belay jacket that works well(or also good hood on gortex jacket). If no good hood on belay/shell jacket think really good balaclava and another layer like a thick ski mask. Remember the wind can gust over a hundred up there.





Edited by DanO
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