So you’re planning a mountaineering trip in the Hex, Swartberg or the top of the Drakensberg in July? The chances are good that you don’t have all the gear needed for such an expedition in your closet. So you’re going to have to go shopping. You most likely have an idea of the gear you should be purchasing but the question is what do I really need to buy? And what could I get away without? What is the essential gear for high mountain winter adventures?
When purchasing apparel for alpine adventures it’s important to avoid Cotton. Due to its propensity to hold water & cool the wearer down, cotton is considered a deadly fabric. For more on the subject read Why Does Cotton Kill?
Dressing in layers is highly recommended as it allows you to regulate your body temperature appropriately as conditions change. It’s therefore important to purchase garments that work together to effectively wick, insulate & protect.
The wicking garments are worn next to the skin & their job is to remove moisture that builds up during exercise, transferring it away from the skin before it can cool the body. Synthetic fibres like polypro and natural fibres like Marino excel at this function. Insulating garments should also be worn in layers so that you can take them off when heating up; or add more when it gets colder. Consider a thin 100g fleece topped with a thicker one, or waistcoat fleece. Next, a softshell layer is often useful; or a down or synthetic puffer jacket for colder environments. The final layer – or shell – must provide an effective barrier to water and wind.
- A sturdy pair of gaiters -Black Diamond Frontpoint Gaiter
- Breathable waterproof shell – Stromline Stretch Rain Shell or Highline Stretch Rain Shell
- Waterproof pants – Stormline Stretch Full Zip Rain Pants
- Warm shell gloves Glissade Gloves to Very warm mitts Mercury Mitts depending on the expected environment
- High quality down jacket – Approach Down Hoody
- Mid-layer Jacket – Factor Hoody
- Warm hiking pants – Alpine Pants
- 2x Base Layer shirts – LS Rhythm Tee
- 2x Baselayer pants – Solution 150 Merino Base Bottom
- Synthetic balaclava – Dome Balaclava
- Base layer gloves to be worn under your main gloves to allow you to do “fingery” tasks that require that you remove the main glove Midweight Screentap Fleece Gloves
- Synthetic beanie – Black Diamond Brand Beanie
- Wool and Synthetic Socks
(Sock choice depends on your preference but my choice configuration is a pair of Injinji liner Socks under a pair of wool socks)
Getting your footwear right can be quite difficult and may require trying a few different brands and sizes. A well-fitting boot will make your adventure a whole lot more enjoyable.
The suitability of boots for various mountaineering activities is rated in B grades. In short, this refers to the amount of support the boot will offer & its crampon compatibility. Read more here
Unless you are planning to do some ice climbing, B1 boots are suitable for most trips in the high mountains of South Africa in winter. Good options are the Boreal Zanskar, Zamberlan Vioz Plus, and the Scarpa Marmaloda Pro. These boots offer good support, and waterproofness and will take strap-on crampons for the occasional steep slope.
Should you be considering some proper ice climbing, then it will be better to choose a B2 boot that is compatible with semi-automatic (or “step-in”) crampons. B2 hiking boots are quite versatile because they work for both the hike in (flat dirt, rock, and mud) they also work well when the going gets steep. Good options include the Boreal Brenta and Scarpa Ribelle
There are three essentials:
FOUR SEASON TENT
The mountains in South Africa may not be as high as those in other parts of the world but they are quite capable of dishing out seriously extreme weather. The high ‘Berg is replete with tales of top-end tents being shredded – and when all that stands between you and death by hyperthermia is a shell of nylon & aluminium poles; it is best to ensure that your tent can stand up to the worst.
The key feature of all these tents is a solid structure of interconnected aluminium poles. The more pole crossing the tent has – the stronger it will be. A low profile, a fly with a high hydrostatic head (5000+) and at least one vestibule are also key features. Unless you are prepared to fork out big bucks for a Black Diamond Bibler Series single skin tent, these tents will always be a bit on the heavy side – durability requires some weight.
A good option is the Vango Mirage Pro
A PROPER SLEEPING BAG
A very Warm Sleeping Bag is essential. While new synthetic materials are increasingly capable – there is still no real equivalent to a good down bag in terms of warmth for weight & long term durability. The JR GEAR HELIUM DOWN sleeping bags are an excellent choice. They are available in three fill weights from 550g to 1050g.
A GOOD INSULATING MAT
It doesn’t matter how warm your sleeping bag is; if you are in direct contact with the cold ground – you will freeze at night. The cheapest option is a simple 10mm EVA foam mat
E3 GEAR INSULATOR MAT -10MM. However, if you value your sleep, investing in a quality sleeping mat with a high R-Value rating will be money well spent. Consider the JR GEAR PRESIDON. Also, consider the JR GEAR DRY BAG PUMP. Not only does this make it easy to inflate the mat, but it can be used as a dry bag for your down sleeping bag while hiking and as a pillow at night.
- Hiking Pack 75-100L Black Diamond Mission 75L
- Trekking Poles* Any of the Black Diamond Flick Lock poles will serve you well – but the Pro Series (with Stainless Steel flick lock) will be the most reliable Black Diamond Alpine Cork
- Headlamp – Black Diamond Storm 400, Revolt 350 or Icon 700
- Snow Goggles OR snow glasses (from my experience every mountaineer should have a pair handy)
In temperatures below 5 degrees C; most gas stoves start to lose power as the liquid gas in the canister is less inclined to evaporate. This issue becomes more significant as temperatures drop below Zero. As a result, it is prudent to choose a stove that has a built-in regulator to assist performance in these low temperatures.
- Regulated Gas Stove Jtboil MightyMo Stove
- Cooking Kit GSI Pinnacle Soloist (or Duelist)
- Gas canister stabilizer Jetboil Fuel Can Stabiliser
- Gas canisters Jetboil JetPower Fuel 230G
- Heat Shield FireMapel Heat Shield
- Jetboil Complete cooking system Jetboil MiniMo cooking system – Carbon
- Utensils GSI Folding Foon
- Gas Canisters Jetboil JetPower Fuel 230G
Winter climbing gear:
In South Africa, most winter climbing occurs on waterfall ice. As opposed to the hard-packed névé that one enjoys in higher altitudes and greater latitudes, waterfall ice is brittle and has the propensity to “dinner plate”. It is often more fragile – and more “wet” to climb. That said good conditions can still yield a very rewarding adventure experience
The following is a list of suitable kit for SA ice conditions
- Harness – options:
- Beal Snow Guide
- Black Diamond Technician
- Helmet – (here a few options)
- Black Diamond Vapor – Lightest
- Black Diamond Vision – Best
- Singing Rock Penta – Light and Cost-effective
- Black Diamond Half Dome – Heavier but very durable
- A pair of Half Ropes – Beal Cobra II
- Slings – Singing Rock Open Sling 150CM, 120CM, 80CM
- 6x Clipgate Carabiners – Black Diamond Lightwire Carabiner
- 2x Singing Rock Dyneema 30cm
- 4x Carabiners Black Diamond Hotforge Screwgate Carabiner
- 2x Prusik chords
- Ice Screws – Black Diamond Express Ice Screw
- Pitons are also often useful in iced-up cracks Black Diamond Pitons
- A slimmed-down rack of Black Diamond Camalots is also key
- Crampons : Options:
- Walking: Black Diamond Contact or Singing Rock Fakir
- Mountaineering: Black Diamond Serac Crampon
- Ice climbing: Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro or Cyborg
- Ice Tools: options
- Walking: Black Diamond Raven or Singing Rock Merlin
- Mountaineering: Black Diamond Venom Ice Axe – Adze
- Ice Climbing: Black Diamond Viper – Pair
Getting out into the mountains can be daunting, I hope that we were able to make your trip slightly less so. So pack your kit, get to the mountains, and have the adventure of a lifetime!
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Written By: Timothy & Simon Larsen