With autumn temperatures really starting to drop and winter around the corner, it’s tough to say goodbye to bouldering outdoors. The good thing is, you don’t have to say goodbye completely over the next few months if you pick your days right and come prepared with the proper gear and tactics. Here are 15 tips to make sure your next cold weather trip to the boulders is a successful one.
1. Choose your days and boulders wisely
To state the obvious, choose the appropriate days to go bouldering outside in the late fall, early spring, or winter. The warmer the temperature, the better. For most people, anything colder than around -5°C will be unmanageable. Wind is also not your friend in frigid temps. Try to choose boulders that get lots of sun and protection from wind. If it has snowed recently, consider whether your boulder will be damp or seepy from melting snow or ice.
2. Layer up
Wearing layers is a good idea because you’ll likely be taking clothes on and off as you go back and forth between climbing and resting. A stretchy merino wool base layer is the best way to start. Consider one or two layers on top of that, all covered by a warm jacket. Insulated pants may sound extreme but they work really well to help keep you warm. A thick pair of socks or two will go a long way, as will a toque and neck warmer. Mittens are often better than gloves at keeping the fingers warm.
3. Keep moving
Lazing around on crash pads is one of the great joys of bouldering. Unfortunately, it’s not a good idea when the temps are low. The clothing you wear helps you retain the heat your body produces through activity. If you stand or sit around for long, you will inevitably lose heat. Try to keep moving as best you can between attempts.
4. Get extra warm before climbing
If you need an extra long rest between tries and find yourself getting cold, a great approach before having another attempt on your problem is to get extra warm. Do jumping jacks, run on the spot, or go for a brisk walk or jog up and down a hill. Do all of this while wearing all of your layers. Once you feel like you’re approaching the point of being too warm, it’s time to get ready to climb. As you put on your climbing shoes, take layers off, and chalk up, your body temperature will drop rapidly, leaving you at the perfect temperature for performance.
This tip actually applies to all attempts while bouldering in the cold. Just because you feel decently comfortable standing around in your big puffy doesn’t mean that you’re at the right temperature to perform at your best. The moment you shed layers and pop off your boots to put on your climbing shoes, your body temperature may drop below what is needed for optimal performance. Getting extra warm beforehand fixes this problem.
5. Bring an additional set of base layers
If you do start sweating from climbing, moving around, or the hike in, this moisture can make you cold later on. Bring an extra set of base layers to change into in case your first set gets damp.
6. Bring a hot beverage
It can be tough to stay hydrated while bouldering in the cold. It’s not fun to drink near-freezing water when you’re trying to stay warm. Instead, bring a hot drink in a thermos. A warm snack goes a long way too.
7. Snack regularly
Staying warm in the cold burns a lot of energy. Keep your energy levels up by eating small snacks throughout your session. Try to avoid eating one big meal as this will divert a lot of your energy towards digestion, potentially making your extremities colder.
8. Take your climbing shoes off ASAP
When you’re finished with an attempt, take your climbing shoes off immediately and switch back into your socks and boots. The less time you keep your cold feet cramped in climbing shoes with poor circulation, the better.
9. Keep your climbing shoes warm
After you take your climbing shoes off, don’t just leave them out in the cold. This will make them stiff and cold for your next attempt. The rubber won’t perform as well and your toes will numb out. Instead, keep your shoes close to your body inside your jacket.
10. Bring something to warm up your hands and feet
Consider using chemical hand and foot warmer pouches in your mitts and boots. Your heated ski socks are another option. Depending on your local rules and regulations, consider bringing a camp stove to warm your hands and extra beverages. A portable gas-powered heater works well for warming hands between attempts too.
11. Warm up at home or at the gym
Do your best to warm up thoroughly at home or at the gym before going out. In a perfect scenario, you reach your project with muscles, tendons, and ligaments ready to go from previous exercise, and your body warm from the hike in. If you can’t warm up beforehand, or if the drive or approach are so long that you’ll cool back down, make sure you go through a full warm up at the boulders. Climbing in the cold without warming up is perfect recipe for getting injured.
12. Bring a portable finger board
To get your fingers ready to climb, bring a portable finger board/block. This can be used to warm up when you first arrive and also between attempts to keep your fingers warm and well-circulated.
13. Consider skin conditions
Cold, dry conditions can leave some people with their skin feeling glassy or slippery. This is a shame because the cold season potentially offers some of the best skin to rock friction all year. Problems that feel desperate in the summer can feel grades easier in the winter. To get rid of this dry, glassy skin, consider using a non-oily moisturizer, such as Spit Skin Hydration by Rhino Skin Solutions.
14. Bring a tarp
If there’s snow on the ground, boulder bases can be very damp, especially in sunny conditions. To protect your crash pads from getting soaked, bring a big tarp to throw down on the wet ground or snow below.
15. Watch out for additional hazards
Bouldering in snowy, icy conditions brings additional hazards that aren’t present in the late spring, summer, or early fall. Be mindful of falling snow and ice from treetops and cliffs. Approaches to and from the boulders may require extra care. Downclimbs that are straightforward in other seasons might be downright dangerous when wet or covered in snow.
Follow these 15 tips and you’ll hopefully have a great time bouldering in the cold. If you still find it a little miserable, you can always head south!