Want to head out into the white stuff this winter? Kit yourself out with our guide to the best winter gear for walkers
Deuter Guide 45+ pack
The Deuter Guide 45+ pack is a versatile and durable rucksack. At 45 litres it is mid-size in capacity and ideally suited for winter mountaineering, as its flexible configuration means that a variety of kit can be stowed externally, from crampons and ice axe to a helmet. The pack also has an extension collar that provides an extra 10 litres capacity, ideal for carrying extra clothes, supplies or safety equipment. The large main pocket has a folding internal panel that creates a separate sleeping bag compartment (with an external bottom zipper), while the main compartment also has a side access zipper which lets you reach in and pull out gear without having to open the top of the pack. However, the curved design of the pack actually makes this a little difficult to use, and similarly reduces the useable space inside the pack – at 45 litres it does feel slightly smaller than other similarly-rated packs. The top lid has both an outer top pocket and an inner pocket for storing gloves and hat or a GPS.
The Guide 45+ has an internal aluminium frame, which is quite stiff although very stable, aided by the contoured, body-hugging design. The rigidity of the pack frame is offset by a pivoting hip belt, while the shoulder straps and back panel are covered with a breathable padded mesh to increase comfort and aid moisture flow. The hip belt does not have pockets, but does have twin gear loops. Unusually in a pack of this size and design, it boasts a removable seat pad, which can be used for rest stops. This is a useful feature in snowy or wet conditions, although if removed it is difficult to stash away again without repacking the main compartment. Still, overall it is a good option for a winter pack, being robust, well-built and resistant to weather – although not fully waterproof, so a rucksack liner or stuff sacks are still required.
Black Diamond Vector helmet
The Vector helmet from climbing specialist Black Diamond is an ideal option for winter mountaineering, providing security and safety in difficult conditions without feeling cumbersome or restricting visibility. It comes in two sizes, enabling a precise fit to be achieved, and is easily adjusted with a rear wheel ratchet mechanism alongside a moveable chin strap. There is also a dedicated women’s version. The helmet is well ventilated, allowing perspiration to escape, without compromising on coverage thanks to its foam and polycarbonate construction, which provides full protection – although it is prone to damage, so be careful not to throw it about too much. There are also secure moulded plastic clips to enable a head torch to be fitted in low-light. All in all, it’s a solid and reliable helmet, although not the cheapest option available.
Grivel G10 crampon
The G10 is Grivel’s classic semi-rigid ten-point crampon, intended for general mountaineering use. The tried and tested design comes in two binding options, the New Matic clip binding for B2 or B3 graded boots (requiring a stiffened sole and heel lug) and the more versatile New Classic strap binding (for any B1-rated boot). The latter, which we tested, is very easy to fit and release 0 you simply open the hinge of both front and rear plastic harnesses, slide your boot inside and then close them securely around your boot, pulling the strap tight. This makes them ideal for winter hillwalking anywhere in the UK. Adjustment is very easy thanks to a sliding, flexible steel bar with a spring-loaded locator, which will fit boots from EU size 35 to 46 (UK size 2.5 to 12). This also means that the fore and heel sections of the crampon slide together, so they pack down relatively small for easy carrying on the outside of a rucksack, for example. However, the crampons also come with a robust fabric case, which means if stashed away inside a pack they won’t snag the rest of your gear.
The G10 crampons are constructed from steel rather than lighter alloy, making them both strong and durable. The points are fairly short, aiding balance on packed ice, but are still sturdy enough to kick in on steeper snow slopes – although as a ten-point crampon, not that they’re not designed for climbing or front pointing techniques. Despite the rugged construction they’re still relatively lightweight, making them an ideal choice for winter mountain walking.
Grivel G1 Plus Ice Axe
The Grivel G1 Plus is well suited for general mountaineering use. With its straight shaft and neutral pick design it looks and performs like a classic alpine ice axe. The angle of the pick isn’t particularly aggressive, but bites into a range of snow conditions very well, including when self-arresting. The adze chips away firm and icy snow fairly well, and feels safe in self-arrest mode thanks to its rounded corners. It is comfortable in the hand when walking with the axe in standard self-arrest position (adze forward), while the carbon steel point at the end of the shaft feels stable when plunged into snow on uphill slopes. This axe comes in three lengths (58, 66 or 74 cm) and is supplied with a single-spring leash with a rota carabiner, helping to keep you and the axe secure and prevent leash tangles. Its only noted drawback among climbers is that the hole in the head of the axe is fairly small, which makes it difficult to clip some carabiners into – although this is only likely to be an issue if using the axe as a belay anchor. So for most mountain walking conditions it is an excellent option, being fairly light at 475g, easy to carry and hold in the hand, and performing well when called upon for either general mountaineering or emergency use, such as a self-arrest.
Merrell Capra Glacial Ice Mid Waterproof boots
Merrell’s newest winter boot incorporates a variety of technologies designed to provide the blend of warmth, waterproofing, comfort and traction that makes the ideal winter footwear. They certainly perform on the first two counts – the rear part of the boot has a fleece lining for added warmth, along with 200g of insulation further forward to stop toes getting cold. Similarly, the coated leather upper keeps water out effectively, and the mid-height design prevents water finding its way over the top of the boot. There is a bellows tongue to keep debris out, although this does not extend all the way to the top of the laces. A padded ankle cuff and good arch support give high levels of comfort, although the boots seem quite wide in the forefoot (and only come in a single width fitting), so may not suit those with narrower feet. The lacing system is relatively traditional, with five reinforced lace holes and twin lugs – although the supplied flat fabric laces seemed to slip loose easily. A nice touch is the metal D-ring near the toe section, which makes fitting gaiters very easy. The boots have a small heel welt and a moulded nylon arch shank which is fairly stiff, although the boots are only rated B-1, so they are not stiff enough to take a rigid crampon. They could be used with Grivel’s G10 crampon in its strap binding configuration. They are also very light for a winter boot, tipping the scales at just 1474g, which makes them well-suited for long walks.
However, the main claim of this boot is its Vibram Arctic Grip sole, which purportedly provides up to three times more traction on wet, icy surfaces compared to standard rubber soles. The technology relies on a polymer blend in the outsole, which is paired with Vibram Icetrek rubber to yield good grip in a variety of icy conditions. In addition, a ‘thermochromatic lug’ on each sole turns from white to blue as the temperature nears freezing point to indicate that the temperature is low enough for ice to form. It is hard to tell whether the grip system works in practice, although the boots seemed to hold well on a variety of surfaces, from bare rock to slippery mud. The sole lugs are nice and deep at 4.5mm, which aids traction on softer ground, but we’d need to try these on sheet ice to assess the effectiveness of the Arctic Grip technology. Call us cynical, but the thermochromatic lugs seemed slightly gimmicky – we’re doubtful whether walkers would check their soles to see if it was likely to be icy underfoot. Surely it is better to look at prevailing weather and ground conditions.
Our only other reservation with the boots related to breathability – in thick socks they feel very warm and tend to get sweaty. This problem was mitigated with a lighter weight sock, so although most walkers would habitually don heavier socks in colder months, we’d recommend trying these with light or mid-weight socks in the first instance.
Overall, we enjoyed wearing the boots for their comfort and light weight. They kept our feet dry effectively, although in full winter mountaineering conditions we’d probably still opt for a heavier, more robust option. However, for the majority of UK winter walks they are an excellent choice.