Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter Bouldering Gear

A winter send of The Turning Point, V8 from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.

I'm not usually a big fan of the cold, and before this winter I'd never spent much time bouldering in sub 50 degree temperatures. As it turns out, I was missing a lot. Even here in Boulder, where January temperatures can reach the mid 60s, 35-45 degrees truly means sending temperatures. The low humidity and cold temps mean no sweaty hands and great friction, but the cold brings other challenges. With that in mind, I present an outline of my winter bouldering gear.

Baselayer: I find this is the key to winter bouldering and it's worth buying some nice wicking long underwear and a thermal top. If it's colder than ~45 degrees I'm usually glad I wore long underwear pants, otherwise I may leave those at home. Wicking is super important, especially if you have anything more than a 5 minute approach. The best way to end up cold is to wear cotton and sweat up your clothes at the beginning of a session. I usually wear some Patagonia Capilene pants and a snug fitting Under Armour ColdGear top. Make sure the top is long enough to tuck into your pants and tight enough to hold itself down, overlapping your long underwear. This prevents any chilly drafts and seems to help a lot with warmth.

Pants: The pants you wear over your baselayer aren't as important in my opinion. I just wear whatever pants I'd usually wear while bouldering.

Top: I typically layer another wicking long sleeve shirt over my base layer. Again, Capilene is my usual choice, but take your pick. This layer should not be as snug as the base layer, but provides a bit of extra warmth while your not wearing a coat. Speaking of which...

Coat: Go warm here. Bouldering is an anaerobic activity that leaves you sitting around between attempts most of the time. A good jacket is key to staying warm while you're not climbing. I recommend a nice down or synthetic puffy jacket. The Mountain Hardwear Phantom Down is my jacket of choice. It weighs less than a pound and has nice fleece lined hand pockets. Typically you'll take your jacket off for a climb and then put it back on right away to stay warm between attempts. I also don't wear my jacket for the approach, you'll just overheat. If it's less than 65 degrees I'll bring the down. I've never once thought "If only this big pad I'm carrying didn't have that extra 15oz. from my down jacket I totally would have sent my project", but there have been several times I left the car in a tshirt only to end up shivering in my softshell and wishing I had brought the down.

Hat: Get a decent windproof hat. Even if your jacket has a hood (which is awesome), bring a hat too so you can keep it on while you're climbing.

Footwear: Socks and shoes should just be chosen according to the approach conditions. If you have to hike through snow dress accordingly. If it's dry I just wear my regular shoes. Obviously your climbing shoes have probably already been chosen. One tip, before you put them on (perhaps during the approach), put them under your shirt to warm up for 5 minutes or so. You can also exhale a few deep breaths into each shoe before pulling them on. It makes the whole business much less painful, trust me.

Misc: A rag or two is always a good idea for soaking up any seepage from melting snow. This can also be used to help brush off the top of a boulder. Also, one of my favorite pieces of gear is a nice big thermos. A thermos full of hot tea helps with hydration and can seriously warm you up. Just try not to burn your mouth! I always go with some green tea and honey, hot chocolate is just too rich and sugary to drink much. Several cups of tea is better for hydration and warmth than a cup cocoa. Also, I usually don't bother bringing gloves. You can't climb in them and my hands go in my jacket pockets between attempts.

Last tips: Warming up is super important. If the approach is at least 15 minutes, that's a great way to get the blood flowing. Also, warming up the fingers on easy problems doesn't quite do it for me. It's a good start, but the rock always just feels freezing until I start getting on some smaller holds. Don't be surprised if your fingers numb out the first try or two on your project, mine always do. Just wait a minute or so and, assuming you're dressed well and otherwise warm, you'll soon feel the burning warmth of some serious blood flow. Sending temps!

I know it's been a long time since I've posted so I'll have another post up soon on the projects which have gone down this winter (the video above is one) and others that have been started.

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