Ice cragging sure isn’t much like rock cragging. The shirts are back on, flip flops are stowed, and the crag dog is left at home. The crag during a cold New England winter is an entirely alien scene by comparison: Belayers are bundled, cold brewskis are replaced by hot cocoa and soup, and nose icicles are commonplace. How could we be enjoying ourselves when the temps drop so low?

Obviously being the climber is advantageous: You get to climb, try hard, get warm, and keep moving to battle the cold. Things are colder for the rest of the party on the ground, securely tethered to their ‘post’ and diligently keeping you safe while reminding you to breathe as the pump monster starts catching you. 

Luckily, for those of us stationary on the ground there are plenty of other techniques to help keep us from freezing solid:

Credit: Keith Moon

1. Bring Hot Liquids

A cold beverage doesn’t quite satisfy the same way in the winter. Bring a thermos filled with your favorite hot drink or soup to keep the spirits high. Hot drink mixes such as Gatorade, lemonade, and Tang are also a surprisingly good treat. 

2. Layer-Up

This should be obvious, but bring enough clothes to stay warm even while standing around in cold temps for a while. Take the warmest layers off when climbing to keep from getting sweaty, and put them back on when you get down. A super warm jacket is mandatory, but puffy pants can also be key. Puffy skirts are also a great invention, and work well for those who get cold bottoms. 

3. Group Your Fingers

Wear the biggest gloves or mittens that you can while still able to safely belay when you’re on the ground. Cold wet gloves make cold wet hands, so the climbing gloves go for a bake inside the jacket and the big mitts come out for the belay—By enclosing your fingers together, they’ll more efficiently stay warm and comfortable. 

4. Eat Up!

Keep the metabolic furnace stoked to keep yourself stoked. Foods high in simple carbs and sugar will burn hot, but also snack on plenty of fat to keep your internal heat going all day. Snacking throughout the day will be more effective than stopping to eat a big lunch.

5. Pack Handwarmers

These handy little heat packs can be a ray of sunshine on the coldest days. Put them in gloves, internal coat pockets, and hats to stay toasty at the belay. Avoid putting them in boots if you can, and instead do a dance every now and then to keep your feet warm.

Credit: Mark Meinrenken

6. When Nature Calls, Listen

Staying hydrated will keep you warmer, but remember to keep going to use the restroom throughout your day, or else you’ll feel colder. Do the “go” a little further away from the flows and you can gain some warmth by moving as well. Bring wag bags in case the need should arise—You’re going to have a hard time digging a cathole with the ground is frozen. 

7. Insulate, Insulate, Insulate!

Even in warm mountain boots, standing around in crampons in the snow robs you of quite a bit of warmth. Bring a foam pad or yoga mat if you will be standing in one place for a while to insulate from the ground up. Keep in mind that crampons will tear a pad to shreds. 

8. Bring The Kitchen Sink

When at the crag with a larger group on the ground, you can really get luxurious. Camp stoves, sleeping pads and sleeping bags can keep the send train rolling in even the coldest conditions. Be respectful of other climbers and hikers when deciding to set up shop like this, and keep plenty of distance from the ice. 

There is plenty of room to get creative here, and while these ideas are a good place to start, there are plenty of things you can do to keep even warmer. Next time you’re climbing with the EMS Climbing School, ask your guides what they like to do, and share your own “hot” tips here or on our Instagram page!