How to layer for Scottish winter climbing

Layering clothing for Scottish winter climbing is really difficult. Very changeable weather and stop/start activities like climbing and belaying mean that clothing has a really hard job to keep you warm and comfortable. Also, the worst weather is often found a long way from the safety and respite of the car or civilisation: this isn’t the Alps where a hut or lift might be just round the corner!

There are plenty of different approaches on what to wear for Scottish winter climbing layers. Some people forego the traditional layering systems altogether when climbing in Scotland but most people have a pretty simple system that combines a baselayer, midlayer(s), a shell jacket, and a belay jacket; whilst on their legs they’ll wear baselayer tights or slightly thicker legwear, and then shell pants. The damp weather of Scotland is worth particular consideration, and so down jackets are generally not recommended as belay jackets, and you are usually better off with a synthetic jacket.

Scotland is not a training ground

“I don’t know what’s a good day in Scotland?”

“A good day I suppose is finding the crag, finding the climb, finding the new route, finding something that really inspires you.” – Nick Bullock

Dave MacLeod's Scottish Winter Layering Guide

“Get your layers right and it can make the whole experience of Scottish winter climbing so much more enjoyable.”

The goal is to have maximum storm protection, without sacrificing freedom of movement, but also at the minimum weight possible.


The primary job of the baselayer is to wick sweat away from your skin; this works to keep you feeling warmer as cold sweat next to your skin quickly leads to feeling chilled.

A baselayer pant worn underneath Soft or Hard Shell pants is the standard climbing legwear system, though some will wear baselayer pants, Soft Shell pants, and waterproof pants. Fleece leggings are ideal baselayers and we make some of the best available.

Featured Products

Mid Layers

A midlayer is there to keep you warm, but not so warm that you overheat. Which midlayer or midlayers you choose will depend on the conditions and whether you tend to feel the cold or not.

Deciding between a fleece midlayer or synthetic jacket as a midlayer is a key decision: fleeces are very comfortable and breathable but they’re not very effective if they get wet and provide very little wind or weather resistance. A synthetic midlayer provides more wind and water resistance, but they are often not quite as breathable as a fleece, and for some people provide too much insulation.

Featured Products

Shell Layers
The job of this layer is to keep the weather out while letting you move freely, and it must also survive the rough treatment of winter climbing. Shell legwear must keep out the weather while surviving the rough treatment that results from wearing crampons.

Featured Products

This is the layer that keeps you warm while you stand in a blizzard belaying your struggling climbing partner, it’s the layer that must be small and light enough that you always pack it, and it’s the layer you climb in when the cold gets too much. This is your heaven from the storm.

Featured Products

What are the best gloves for...?
Searching for the ideal pair of Scottish winter climbing gloves, or the perfect gloves system for winter mountaineering or summer trekking? Read our blog for expert advice about the ideal gloves for your specific needs.