Short answer: a lot.
Ice climbing has a fearsome reputation as both physically and financially terrifying. This leaves a lot of people wondering: how much does ice climbing cost? Perhaps because most climbers set their sights on ice climbing after buying a full trad rack for rock, the aspect of acquiring a whole new set of specialized tools usually doesn’t sit well with people.
Unfortunately, there’s really no way around it: ice climbing is an expensive sport. Just as expensive as rock climbing, if not more so.
But for those set on becoming well-rounded alpinists, ice climbing is a necessary tool to have in your skillset. Handling icy terrain is a key part of tackling larger mountains.
And, honestly, climbing on frozen waterfalls is a lot more fun than it has any business being!
So what equipment do you need to start ice climbing?
You probably already own this equipment if you are coming from the rock climbing world.
If you’re starting totally fresh with ice climbing, almost any harness will do. Just make sure the fit is loose enough to go on over some winter clothing layers. Ice climbing is a cold, cold sport.
A harness with ice clipper slots like the Petzl Corax is useful if your primary purpose for the harness will be ice climbing.
If your harness doesn’t have ice clipper slots, the Petzl Caritool Evo Ice Clippers work without ice clipper slots. Again: almost any harness will work. Get a cheap one. There’s more pain to come.
A warm, stiff boot is essential for ice climbing. Mountaineering boots come in many varieties, and the model you choose will be dependent on your personal needs. For a boot to work as an ice climbing boot, it needs four main qualities:
- It fits you well
- It keeps your feet warm
- It can attach to a crampon
- It’s stiff enough to climb in
Fit is the most important of the four. Crampon compatibility, a close second. Warmth, in this sport, is relative. The sport is called ice climbing. I won’t lie to you: you will have some very cold days. Good jackets help.
Since the action of waterfall ice climbing involves standing vertically off your toes, a stiff boot is essential. You couldn’t ice climb in most hiking boots — but a ski boot works perfect.
Although ski boots work, if you don’t ski, or want something more comfortable, mountaineering boots for ice climbing are plentiful. Your choice of boot will depend on your budget, climate, and desired intensity.
On the low end, you can get a lightweight boot, like the La Sportiva Trango S Evo, which accepts semi-auto crampons for $150 or so.
Mid-range stuff like the Scarpa Mont Blanc costs $300-500, new.
A 6,000 or 7,000-meter double-boot will serve you in just about any mortal realm. The La Sportiva Spantiks, rated to 7,000 meters, cost $750 new. If anything, with boots like this, your feet could be TOO warm in some situations.
Crampons are spikes attached to your shoes, used to create traction on ice and snow. You’ll never slip on ice again, but you will probably put some holes in your pants, at least while you’re learning.
The cheapest ice climbing crampons are glacier crampons.
This is the undeniable truth. Glacier crampons work fine for climbing beginning and low-angle ice. They will serve you easily for your first 10-15 outings on ice. That will probably take a season or two — unless you are incredibly stoked.
Ice Climbing Crampons (Vertical Front Points)
Dedicated ice climbers use what are called “vertical front point” crampons, or more colloquially, “ice climbing crampons”. These have more aggressive forward points, designed specifically for climbing and sticking in vertical waterfall ice.
Ice climbing crampons do help, but are considerably more expensive and specialized. You shouldn’t use your ice climbing crampons for general glacier travel and mountaineering, because the points will quickly dull.
A pair of ice climbing crampons can cost from $200-$350, new. Models with interchangeable front-points are quite popular. Interchangeable front points allow the user to switch from a traditional, two-pointed setup to “monopoints”, which some climbers prefer for vertical ice and hard mixed climbing. Modular crampons of this type can also be fitted with replacement front-points, increasing their effective lifespan.
Below is a short video discussing mono-point versus dual-point crampons:
Examples of ice climbing crampons:
- Petzl Lynx Modular Ice Crampons ($250)
- Grivel Rambo Monopoints ($225)
- Camp/Cassin Blade Runners ($350)
Your ice-climbing rope needs a dry-treating. Dealing with a frozen rope absolutely sucks — and even your dry-treated rope will get frozen, sometimes. Luckily, dry-treated ropes are pretty common these days. 60 or 70m.
Some people ice climb with twin ropes, in order to mitigate risk of chopping a rope, and reduce the forces on ice protection (ice screws). Twin ropes need to be used in tandem, competently, to be safe. Twins are a bit more expensive, but are lighter, can be divided between partners, and provide the ability to do a double-rope rappel. Twin ropes tend to be a little more expensive than single lines.
You don’t need ice tools to learn to ice climb. For your first year or two ice climbing, you can borrow your partner’s tools. One pair of tools per rope is sufficient. Only one person can be climbing at a time, remember?
When you DO decide to buy your own ice tools, it’s gonna be expensive.
Ice tools cost $200-$400 PER AXE, unfortunately. They also tend to hold their value very well on the used market — even really old tools can be expected to command a resale value of $75-$100 per axe. Buying a used pair of tools for $100 is possible, but it’s a real steal.
If buying used, be sure to check out the condition of the picks. New picks look like the photo above. Used tools are likely to be dulled — often significantly, to the point where they may need to be sharpened or replaced.
Best tools for vertical ice climbing:
All-around ice tools for alpine climbing:
Dot not confuse technical ice tools for a more general mountaineering ice ax (piolet).
Proper Winter Clothes
Ice climbing is cold. The sport takes place in a winter environment, and climbers need to be prepared to deal with extreme cold, snow, and the possibility of getting wet.
Each person’s layering system is different, but a good starting list of clothing for ice climbing would look like this (click for an example item):
- Waterproof hardshell jacket (Gore-Tex)
- 800-fill down jacket mid-layer
- Softshell alpine pants
- Synthetic base layer (3/4 zip)
- Long johns / long underwear
- Thin liner gloves (for climbing)
- Heavier winter gloves (for belaying/waiting around on the ground)
Ice screws are down the line a few years for you as a beginner, but if you’re unfortunate enough to catch the bug and decide to start LEADING ice climbs, you’ll eventually need some ice screws.
What are ice screws?
Ice screws are leader protection for ice climbers. Where rock climbers use stoppers and ‘friends’ to prevent dangerous falls, ice climbers put ice screws into the ice.
Ice screws cost $60-$90 per piece. If you own more, you can lead longer routes. If you own less, you can afford to eat well. Your choice. Some options:
- Black Diamond Express Ultralight ($85)
- Petzl Laser Speed Light ($80)
- Petzl Laser Speed ($60)
- Black Diamond Express ($60)
Give Me a Number!!
The absolute-lowest reasonable cost of entry into ice climbing:
- Alpine Crampons (used or new): $100
- Mountaineering Boots (used): $150
- Clothing: $100 (buying used)
I’d say, if you are already a rock climber and have a harness and helmet, you could expect to add ice climbing to your repertoire for $350. That cost includes buying boots and crampons (maybe used), and includes $100 to buy snow-pants, gaiters or a mid-layer — whatever clothing you might be lacking. Know that this number could be zero for you, or it could be much higher.
So, I’d say, reasonably, to get started, ice climbing you need $250-$500.
If you have ski gear and ski boots, all you need are the crampons for $100.
(This number assumes you have a partner with a rope, ice tools, and maybe some screws. But you SHOULD have that partner, if you are getting into ice climbing. Learn from someone who knows. Ice climbers will be happy to teach you, I promise.)
What’s the “Full” cost?
Buckle up boys and girls (and all you non-conforming folks).
- Ice tools (new): $600 / pair
- Vertical front-point crampons (new): $250
- Mountaineering boots (used or new): $400
- Rope (new): $150
- Helmet (new): $70
- Harness (new): $80
- Ice Clippers x 2: $30
- Ice screws x10: $700
- Quickdraws x12 (new): $150
- Alpine Pants w/ abrasion resistant cuffs: $150
- Down Jacket mid-layer: $150
- Waterproof hardshell: $200
That total excludes gear like carabiners, slings, belay/rappel devices, and prussik cords, as well as some more basic clothing items. I think we can safely inflate our total figure to $3.3K, to account for some of this small stuff, which does have a tendency to add up (especially if you’re buying new).
COST TO GO FROM ZERO TO HERO: ~$3,300
Oh, by the way: all of this stuff is consumable, and wears out over time, OK?? So be sure to budget for some repairs and replacements over the years, too.
The bottom line:
There’s no denying that ice climbing is really expensive. The good news is, it’s possible to try the sport out and see if you like it before needing to buy all the gear.
If you’re a skier and a rock climber already, all you need to start ice climbing is crampons and a friend who can lend you their tools. Entry cost: $100 or so
If you need to buy mountaineering boots and maybe some clothing, you can get started ice climbing for $250-$500.
If you just want to try ice climbing out for a day with a guide; you don’t need to buy any gear, as the guide will provide you with rentals. A guided ice climbing trip costs anywhere from $200-$500, depending on which outfit you choose, where you are, and whether you get a private or a group class. Don’t forget to tip your guide!
If you’re obsessive (or rich), and want to get totally equipped to do everything right away, you’re looking at an entry cost of more than $3,000.
Ice Climbing FAQS
Why is Ice Climbing So Expensive?
Ice climbing is a fringe sport with minimal mainstream appeal. It’s marketed towards a very small market of affluent climbers. Only a small subset of companies manufacture and distribute the equipment for ice climbing, all of which requires extensive testing and engineering.
Plus, as with all climbing gear, it’s easy to justify the price by asking: how much is your life worth?
Still, there’s absolutely no denying that it costs a lot to get into ice climbing.
For that reason, most ice climbers buy their equipment bit by bit: a piece here, a piece there, over the course of a few years. This will make the financial burden easier to bear.
Is buying Used Ice Climbing Gear Safe?
Good question! Generally, yes. Hard goods, like ice tools and crampons, can pretty easily be evaluated by eye. If they look extremely dull or cracked, time to sharpen or replace the points. Metal essentially lasts forever. Rusted crampons and axes are fine to use — the rust will usually be surface-level only.
Soft goods, like slings and harnesses, are a little trickier. Generally better to buy these new, unless you know what you’re doing.
Can I Sell my Used Ice Climbing Gear?
Yes! Ice gear holds its value really well. Crampons, ice tools, mountaineering boots and ice screws all can be sold, used, for 50-75% of the original purchase price, even many years later.
Craigslist and the Mountain Project Buy/Sell forum are good places to list used ice climbing gear for sale in the USA. Know of a good international marketplace? Comment below.
So, if you decide the whole sport isn’t for you, luckily, you can recover some of your investment.