Your feet are a critical part of staying warm. If your feet are cold, chances are the rest of your body will be too. Even more worrisome, if your feet are cold, you can get frostbite. Most boot companies offer a women's ice climbing model, but it's usually restricted to one option and focused on a lower volume foot. If you have wide feet or feet that are larger or smaller, the women's model might not work for you. The "unisex" options often are the models that are the lightest and have the most current technology, but they don't always go down small enough. This can unfortunately limit the options that are available to you. Before buying, try as many different options as possible. Try them all, women's-specific and unisex options. Check out multiple shops in your area if you can, and use online retailers that offer free shipping and returns so you can try numerous options without risk. Once again, ice climbing festivals can be a great resource to try things on.
When it comes to boots, the best boot is the one that fits, but weight and warmth are significant factors too. With limited options, you might need to look at aftermarket insoles to help with the fit. If the best-fitting option isn't warm enough for you, here are a few things you can do.
- Use heated insoles: either rechargeable or the disposable kind.
- Use heated socks. These have gotten more sophisticated over the years, with models that can be temperature regulated with your smartphone.
- Buy high-quality socks; merino wool is always a great option.
- For warm approaches, use a breathable glove (one without a waterproof liner) like the Unisex WindLab™ Gore-Tex Infinium Stretch Glove. If your hands sweat too much while hiking, they will get clammy and more susceptible to the cold. A breathable glove can help release some of the heat built up while continually moving.
- For cold approaches, try a pair of mittens like the Unisex Compressor™ Gore-Tex® Mitt Mitt or Unisex Absolute Zero™ Gore-Tex® Down Mitt. Mittens can keep your hands warm while hiking, and they can be great options for belaying if conditions are icy and you need to warm your hands up after freezing on that last pitch.
- Use disposable hand warmers inside your gloves. Keep them in your palm while not holding tools, or on the back of your hand while climbing. Some like to use wristbands with the hand warmers on their wrists. The idea is to help heat the blood before it goes into your hands.
While the cut of a jacket or base layer isn't super critical overall, it can still make a difference. Depending on your body shape, the cut of clothing can add or subtract bulk. This is important when you are adding layer after layer on your body to keep warm. Each layer builds on the previous, and unnecessary fabric can restrict movement or create spots that can cause chafing. Correct fit can also prevent dead air spaces, which keeps you warmer. Depending on your chest size or hip size, you may or may not need to use a women's-specific cut. Again, try layers on before committing if you can.
For base layers, try options with a built-in hoodie. This addition under your helmet is low bulk and can add a lot of warmth alone or in conjunction with an additional beanie like the Unisex Power Stretch® Beanie.
One item where design can be supercritical is alpine bibs, such as the the Women's High Exposure™ Gore-Tex C-Knit™ Bib. Once you have your clothing layered on top of your bibs, if they are not designed with zippers to allow you to quickly and easily use the bathroom, you will have to take all your top layers off to drop the suspenders. This can be a significant problem if a storm is raging and you need to limit your exposure to the elements.
While we are on the subject of using the bathroom in the alpine, here are a few tips from veteran alpinists.
- Check out devices like the Freshette or Shewee. These can be especially helpful when tent-bound, as you can more easily pee into a Nalgene bottle without leaving the warmth and shelter of your tent.
- After using the bathroom, some will drip dry. This can work well for day trips but could lead to infections throughout a multi-day trip. Some might wear a thin pad for the day to help keep your base layers clean.
- Use a Kula Cloth or pee rag to wipe. This is something you can keep outside your pack and wash when you get home.
- Regardless of your personal hygiene routine, make sure you practice unhooking the drop-seat leg loops on your harness. There’s a good chance you will need to use the bathroom while on route when you can't untie or take off your harness.