This winter I’ve been making more of an effort to get up to Scotland to go winter climbing. A big part of Scottish winter is the suffering. Freezing belays, spindrift avalanches and generally being a bit wet, a bit cold and a lot tired. You know you’ve had a good Scottish weekend when on Monday you’re so haggard you don’t even know what to do with a cup of tea! Here’s a list of some of the kit I’ve been using this season to make the suffering a little more manageable.
After a couple of weekends this season I decided it was time to update my belay jacket. My old jacket was getting a bit too thin after several years of abuse in Scotland, year round cragging and generally being lived in. Most of the time the biggest decision when it comes to belay jackets is whether you want down or synthetic. For Scottish winter this is a no brainer - wet down is just useless so it has to be synthetic fill. With this decision out of the way my only choice was the 0Hiro and it just so happened to coincide with a new selection of colours coming out.
I’ve used my new 0Hiro jacket on my last couple of trips up north and I honestly don’t have any complaints. It’s nice and light and it packs down really well into my bag so it doesn’t take up loads of the room on walk-ins. It’s kept me nice and toasty on freezing ledges and in snowy car-parks alike and the outer fabric has been just great. So far it’s kept the insulation dry so it stays at its warmest. Thanks to the DWR, water and snow just roll straight off the jacket. It’s also really tough, I’ve rubbed up against super rough granite in mine and even thrutched up some mixed corners and it hasn’t got a mark to show for it.
In previous years me and my friends have just taken a bunch of little tents or slept in the car when we go to Scotland. When I was told I could borrow a Heksa from work it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. Since that first weekend with one I haven’t looked back and there’s been a demo Heksa drying in the warehouse most weeks since late December now. It’s the perfect solution for a car full of psyched climbers dossing in a car park. Plenty of space for for or five to sleep in and loads of storage for all the kit we amass between us. We’ve also had 7 people sat in the tent for an evening just socialising and planning what to do the next day and there was comfortably room for more.
After a long day on the hill you want to know that dinner will be easy. For that you need a stove that will work even if it’s absolutely freezing cold. I chose the Koro for my winter cooking because it has a remote gas canister and preheating tube. With these features, you can invert your gas canister and still have a controllable flame, perfect for when it’s too icy for your gas to perform. On top of this it has nice big pot supports so that you can fit a big pan on it with great stability, ideal for getting a big pot of food on.
A major part of Scottish winter is the early starts. Short days mean you have to get up way before dawn to arrive at the crag with the sun (providing there is sun). For this, and the long days you’re going to have, you need to get a good nights sleep. As I’m usually camping right out of the car I don’t have to worry about carrying my mat so I go for the Dirtbag XL. This is a big comfy mat that insulates you well from the ground. If I was camping further afield I’d go for a regular dirtbag just for a bit more packability.
Scotland in winter is generally pretty dark. Dawn is late and dusk comes early so a good head torch is a must. If you want to climb in the daylight you have to commit to walking in and out in the dark for most crags. I’ve really liked the Arc this winter. It’s main beam lets you see way ahead, the flood is great for seeing what you’re actually climbing up and the quick change battery system is just great. Fiddling with batteries when it's blowing a hoolie on top of the Ben is less than ideal so the pre-loaded cartridge system is a total God-send.
Kepler Base Layers
I’ve been using my Kepler long sleeve tops and boxers loads this winter. The soft merino wool feels great on the skin, wicks moisture really well and most importantly it doesn’t smell! My Kepler boxers have been great for the days climbing and I’ve loved having the long sleeve top to change into when I get back to the tent and for sleeping in. I don’t wear base layers when I’m out climbing as I use a system of fleece base layers straight under waterproofs but when it gets warmer I’ll certainly be using them a lot more.
I’ve loved having a Lampray for around camps this winter. Head torches are great on the move but when you’re sitting around in the tent then getting blinded every time someone looks at you, it is a bit of a pain. Having a Lampray to hang up in the tent has been great. On its medium setting, it easily lasts the weekend and I’ve even had some extra power to top my phone up too. The clip on the back is ideal for hanging up in tents and its magnetic base would make it perfect in vans or cars too. It doesn’t run on batteries too so you can just charge it on the drive up if you forget to before you leave home.
That’s the main Alpkit gear I’ve been using this season for my Scottish winter trips. It’s all been great and I honestly cannot complain about any of it. I’ve been kept warm, sheltered from the elements, gotten through the darkest walk ins and had some super cushy camps. There’s still a lot of suffering on the climbs, that’s the whole point, but I’ve also been really comfortable this season.