Feel

A thin synthetic wicking sock transports moisture away from the skin and should be layered under a heavier synthetic or wool insulation sock. Terry-knit provides more cushioning, making blisters less likely. (To inhibit sweat, an antiperspirant may be used on the feet.) Add high gaiters with overboots or super-gaiters for colder conditions.

Boots specifically designed for ice climbing are quite specialized. They may be made of plastic or leather, and they may be one piece or of double construction with a removable inner boot. (Plastic is used here as a catch-all term for the wide variety of polymeric compounds that boots are made of.)

Plastic boots—currently the most popular due to their low maintenance and waterproof characteristics—are commonly of double construction. As yet, no manufacturer has offered a plastic boot with sufficient ankle flexibility to suit my taste, nor are most of the standard inner boots very well made or very warm. Expensive special closed-cell foam inners are available for some models,- these are indeed warm, but the foam breaks down quickly. Many plastic boots also suffer from an ill-fitting shape that sacrifices control and an overall rigidity that makes graceful movement on ice about as easy as dancing in ski boots. On the other hand, many leather boots are nearly as stiff in the ankles, and no leather boot maintains its water repellency without frequent treatment.

A good single leather boot allows better feel on pure rock sections of mixed routes. Combined with an overboot that can be removed anytime crampons are not being worn, or with a supergaiter (an overboot that leaves the boot sole exposed), a single boot is warm enough for most people under normal ice-climbing conditions.

Plastic boots really come into their own in conditions of extreme cold or high altitude—or both. In these situations the need for an absolutely waterproof and reliably insulated covering is greater than the need for ankle flexibility and sensitivity. The best plastic boots available perform nearly as well as leather boots on technical ground and are often lighter.

The choice between plastic and leather, then, depends completely on whether or not you can afford two pairs of boots—a pair for summer alpine climbing (leather), which can be used in many winter conditions with the addition of a supergaiter, and a pair of plastic boots for expeditions and the coldest winter conditions. If you can have only one pair and you are going to climb mostly summer alpine routes, a pair of leather boots will probably suffice. If you are climbing mainly in the winter, then plastic boots are probably the right choice.

1 look for these features in an ice boot: a very stiff but not rigid sole; a good quarter-inch lip at the heel and toe to accept crampon bindings,- a rigid, roomy toe that will stand up to Step-kicking in hard snow,- a flexible ankle that allows full range of motion with little resistance or irritation at the boot top; light weight,- and a fit that holds the heel firmly in place. A good fit, with no pressure points and plenty of room in the toe area, is crucial to maintaining good circulation and is the key to warm feet in single or double boots.

Whether leather or plastic, ice-climbing boots are designed to prevent moisture from getting inside, so they also effectively prevent the escape of perspiration. Thus your socks may eventually become moist and lose some of their insulating value. Putting a plastic bag or waterproof nylon sock between a thin liner sock and a thick insulative sock will keep the outer sock dry. Surprisingly enough, your foot does not end up drenched in sweat, since the body regulates perspiration according to the humidity of its immediate environment. This so-called Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL) theory contends that a waterproof layer worn over socks (or long underwear or inside a sleeping bag) limits the cooling effect created when perspiration evaporates into the atmosphere. In practice, I find vapor barrier liners to be uncomfortable, but others have used them successfully.

tower Body

Synthetic underwear transports perspiration away from the skin surface to help keep you dry. Over this first layer 1 wear a medium-weight, single-sided fleece, farmer John-style stretch suit, but pants or siriofiettts of the same kind of fabric are equally appropriate. Stretch fleece allows excellent mobility, sheds snow quite well, and offers considerable warmth, while permitting moisture to freely escape.

Choosing underwear with a windproof crotch panel extends the viability of your inner layers, making it less necessary to add a windproof outer layer. For very cold conditions or for standing around while on belay, fleece or down trousers with full side zips provide an easily donned (or doffed) final insulating layer. A "rainbow" zip in all layers that extends from the side o( one thigh up and around to the small of the back and down to the opposite thigh makes answering natures call much easier, even in a harness, Windproof/waterproof siilo/xltrs, or pants, or a one-piece suit with full side zips should be the final layer

Left: Synthetic moisture-transporting long undwwear constitutes the ice climber's bose layer. Center: Synthetic fleece mid-layers cm be wont a» outerwear in good weather with the gap between the boot-top raid lower pant [eg protected by high gotten. Right In foil «torn conditions the Integrity of the insulating layers Is maintained by coated or waterproof, breathable jackets, bibs, and mitts. A helmet and dark glasses prated the head and eyes. (Photos: Greg Lowe)

Left: Synthetic moisture-transporting long undwwear constitutes the ice climber's bose layer. Center: Synthetic fleece mid-layers cm be wont a» outerwear in good weather with the gap between the boot-top raid lower pant [eg protected by high gotten. Right In foil «torn conditions the Integrity of the insulating layers Is maintained by coated or waterproof, breathable jackets, bibs, and mitts. A helmet and dark glasses prated the head and eyes. (Photos: Greg Lowe)

of protection against the elements. You might find insulated down or synthetic-fill overpants necessary for alpine winters or Himalayan climbs

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I prefer to wear a full, long-sleeved underwear suit under the farmer John-style fleece suit, which automatically gives me the same initial layer over my entire body, Other garments can be added or subtracted as required for warmth: a light windshirt and/or fleece jacket with a high zip collar,- a wind-proof/waterproof jacket or one-piece suit; a down or synthetic-fill parka for extreme cold.

Hands

A good combination for hands is a thin, stretch-synthetic liner glove inside a fleecc glove or mitt, covered by a windproof/waterproof shell, Neoprene "wet suit" gloves work well in extremely wet conditions, while ski gloves provide decent protection and good dexterity in dry conditions Wool gloves, when slightly damp, offer an amazing grip on ice in cold temperatures. Down or synthetic insulated mitts are best for the coldest climbs.

Head and Fate

As much as 40 percent of the body's heat loss occurs through the head. Your shell parka should have a secure neck-closure/hood combination with a visor to protect the eyes from wind, snow, or rain. The hood should allow a complete seal around the face, without restricting your vision in any direction. On sunny days, a visor, cotton golfer's cap, or baseball cap provides shade, while a synthetic fleece balaclava is the traditional and best head insulation. If it is cold enough for a down or fiberfill parka, it is cold enough for a hood of the same insulation. Waterproof/wind-proof hats lined with fleece or insulated with fiberfill, complete with ear flaps, cheek protectors, and visor, are perhaps the most versatile of all head coverings.

An insulated face mask of windproof material prevents frostbite in high winds and is very light.

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