Climbing in the Cold

Grab a bonus pack of hand and foot warmers to keep you toasty from November through March.

It’s November, which means only the oak trees still have leaves, it gets dark at 4:30 p.m., and everyone gets excited about eating pumpkin pie with their relatives. It also means it’s cold, with air and rock temperatures routinely dipping into the 30s. Sure this supposedly makes crimps “sticky,” but it also makes my hands numb, my rubber slippery, and my closet empty of coats. Yet there is no way I’m going to stop climbing, so I’ve adopted some tricks—many quite obvious—to keep me warm, or at least prevent full-on frost bite.

As a small female—females do get cold faster than males—with little natural insulation, I have learned that staying warm often requires more than just the heat generated as one climbs. Though climbing = using your muscles = heat generation = you getting warmer, sometimes you need a little extra to get you started or going again after a break.

Here are some stay-warm tips:

General advice:

  1. 12233109_10206975404757675_1002070547_n.jpg
    Find that your down jacket isn’t enough? Try investing in some down pants too.

    Keep moving. Do sets of pushups, squats, jumping jacks, and tree-limb pull-ups.

  2. Do core…obsessively. Find a flat section of ground and do planks, pushups, Russian twists or throw down a jacket or crash pad to do crunches (to keep your back from losing heat to the ground).
  3. If you’re just sitting around, lean back to engage your core. This is a great low-profile warmth technique; you can pretend you’re just leaning back to get a better view of other climbers when really you’re warming up (and getting a mini-core workout in).
  4. Bring a thermos with hot water, tea, chocolate, or soup. This will keep you hydrated, warm, and give you energy (through calories) to continue climbing.
  5. Eat. Calories = warmth, especially healthy fats. Anything slathered in peanut butter (or my new go to: SunButter) is great.
  6. Hydrate. The water might be cold, but if you’re dehydrated you’ll be colder. (See number 3 for warm hydration options).
  7. Use the “outdoor facilities” when necessary. You don’t want to be keeping extra “water” warm.
  8. Wear a hat always and all your hoods between burns.
  9. Zip up all your pockets and zip all your jackets up to your neck. Wear a scarf or neck warmer for extra coziness.
  10. If you can fit them, wear socks in your climbing shoes. I always wear two layers of socks: a thin, synthetic wicking layer that I can fit in my climbing shoes with a thick pair of Smartwool socks over them for between burns.
  11. Bring a dog to cuddle with.
  12. When all else fails, go for a run, provided you’re not on a belay ledge.

Special tips for warming up one’s hands:

  1. Wear belay gloves. Wear gloves on the approach. Wear gloves between burns. Still cold? Try mittens.
  2. Put hand warmers in your chalk bag.
  3. Put your hands on the back of your neck, in your armpits, on your stomach, or down your pants for insta-warmth.
  4. Swing your arms in large circles to force blood back into your hands. Try 20 full circle swings on each arm to start.
  5. Keep your core warm (see numbers 2 and 3 in the general advice above). It will help keep your extremities warmer.

If these tricks don’t help, then either you need to invest in a bigger puffy and a onesie snow suit or consider taking up ice climbing, alpinism, or hitting the gym for a few days when it’s below 0°F.

Originally published November 23, 2014, on

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