What is Mountaineering?


Want to learn more about the sport of mountaineering? Whether you're an amateur hiker, experienced rock climber or total outdoor sports newbie, we've got everything you need to know, as well as top tips for essential equipment.

What is mountaineering?

Mountaineering is ascending a mountain. Also known as mountain climbing, mountaineering exists on a spectrum from hiking up mountain paths, scrambling up rocky gradients through to more extreme, challenging climbs requiring specialist equipment and experienced guides. 

Many consider Sir Alfred Wills’ ascent of the Swiss Wetterhorn in 1865 as the birth of mountaineering as a sport. Over the years many offshoots of mountaineering have developed, such as indoor climbing, sport climbing and bouldering.

When to go mountaineering

As a general guide, from late spring to early autumn is the best time for mountaineering. During this time of the year, the weather is generally fairer, with reduced snow and higher temperatures. 

Mountain weather is unpredictable and winter climbs should only be attempted by experienced, well-equipped mountaineers. Temperatures drop as you climb, so pack clothing that can handle changes in climate, even in the summer months.


How to get into mountaineering

Mountaineering can be physically and mentally demanding, involving long hours on difficult terrain, and often carrying a heavy backpack. Not only does the sport require strength and physical fitness, but you'll also need a number of technical skills to make your climbs safe and enjoyable.

If you’re just getting started with mountaineering, start with easier mountain hikes as part of a group. As you gain experience, the difficulty can gradually be increased. It’s important at each stage to be part of a group with an experienced guide or instructor, to ensure your safety as you increase the level of challenge.

How to prepare for mountaineering

To prepare for mountaineering, make sure you are equipped for your ascent. Sturdy boots are essential. Choose clothing combinations that can be layered with a waterproof, insulating jacket. Select a backpack that can handle all your gear. Additional equipment, such as crampons, will depend on the difficulty of your climb.


A high-quality pair of hiking or climbing boots are your most important piece of equipment. Rugged soles are used to achieve maximum traction on uneven terrain. Uppers should be durable and breathable. Highrise boots provide additional ankle support for challenging ascents. 

The North Face Summit Series Footwear is engineered to handle the toughest terrain and most challenging conditions. With technical innovation and premium fabrication, these are boots to equip the modern mountaineer.



Clothing layers allow you to adapt to changing conditions and maintain a comfortable temperature. A base layer is closest to the skin and should be lightweight and breathable. A fleece or shell mid layer adds extra insulation without adding bulk and a waterproof outer shell will keep you dry in inclement weather. 

The North Face layering guide can help you select clothing that works well in combination for your next adventure.


An insulating jacket is essential to keep you warm at high altitudes and dry when you encounter snow or rain. Synthetic or down insulation traps a layer of air close to the body to retain heat while technical fabrics aim to keep water out while allowing air to circulate when you sweat. 

The North Face Futurelight™  collection is the pinnacle of high-performance alpine jackets, with lightweight, breathable, waterproof fabric creating a durable barrier against the elements.


A good mountaineering backpack will be spacious enough to carry your clothing, equipment, food and water, and comfortable enough to wear for long periods while covering difficult terrain. The size of the backpack will depend on the length of your trip and the amount of gear you need.

Backpacks up to 30 litres are usually classed as daypacks, while a capacity of 30-50 litres can handle an overnight trip. Colder weather increases your capacity needs due to the extra clothing layers required, and a bag for technical climbing may need to carry additional equipment such as ropes, crampons and ice picks.

The North Face range of climbing and snow backpacks are packed with features for mountaineers and skiers. From ultra-light but incredibly durable Spectra® ripstop fabric and reinforced hip belts, to compression straps and tool-carrying systems, these hard-wearing bags are designed for a comfortable fit when carrying heavy loads. Try The North Face backpack finder to select the perfect bag for your needs.


Longer expeditions may require a tent. Balance the need for space with the additional weight that you'll be carrying. Consider the number of people staying in the tent, but don't forget the space you'll need for bags and equipment. 

The Summit Series tent range exhibits the premium features associated with camping in extreme conditions. Using technical fabrics that combine durability with lightweight strength, the welded reinforcements, snow stakes and dual entry systems mean that you are prepared for whatever the elements throw at you. 

Named after the coldest, unforgiving side of the mountain, The North Face has equipped elite athletes and amateur enthusiasts for five decades. Through technical innovation and relentless development, we are proud to provide clothing and equipment that can handle outdoor adventures of every kind.