Expert Tips For Climbing Your Best This Winter

Stay warm and cranking when temps drop.

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It’s fall and we’re headed to winter. And I’m just going to say it: I don’t believe you if you say you don’t like pumpkin spice lattes. Same goes for the season at large. It always has a numinous quality to it, with vermillion leaves offering their elegiac wind dance one moment and then slapping you on the face en masse the next. They signal nothing in life is tenable, yet it all cycles in perpetuity.

And, of course, there’s the send temps.

My enthusiasm for autumn comes in stark contrast to my disdain for being cold. To combat the joylessness that comes with shivers and freezing hands, I’ve developed several strategies, listed below. The main thing is: layer up. Then send!

  1. Puff Pants. These are game-changers. I wouldn’t recommend climbing in them—your range of motion will be seriously limited—but they make all the difference while belaying. Staying warm while holding the other end of the rope is key to performing your best when it’s your turn to tie in. There are plenty of climbing-endemic brands which offer these down accessories, but I personally have a pair from Amazon that cost $67, and they get the job done.
  2. Leg Warmers. These are especially crucial if you’re climbing somewhere with knee bars and thus need to wear shorts and pads. Under those circumstances, my layering system is: shorts and leg warmers while climbing, the puff pants over everything before and after. Leg warmers are also excellent for adding warmth to your standard tights.
  3. Hand warmers and gloves. This one should be obvious. Keeping your hands warm may diminish the near inevitable numb out while climbing. If you don’t have hand warmers, then try the ever popular hot rock method: healing a small rock up over a JetBoil flame and then tossing it into your chalk bag.
  4. Hat + scarf or buff. It’s a myth that you lose more heat from your head than the rest of your body. It is not a myth that wearing head gear will keep you so much warmer than not.
  5. Boots. I’m so much more willing to put on cold shoes if my toes are warm to begin with. And speaking of cold shoes, remember to put them in your jacket while belaying.
  6. Indoor warm up. If it’s really cold out, I hangboarding at home prior to arriving at the cliff. It just makes the whole warm-up process go by much faster, which allows me to save energy.
  7. Warm beverages. I prefer bengal spice, as the cinnamon and other spices (known collectively as thermogenic spices) have a systemic warming effect. And, pumpkin spice lattes are a solid choice as well.

Stay warm out there!

Film: How Matt Cornell Free Soloed One of America’s Classic Hard Mixed Routes

"The Nutcracker" explores the mental challenges of solo climbing and the tactics Cornell used to help him send the route.