Dirtbag Tricks: How to Stay Warm When It’s F****** Cold

The days are getting shorter and temperatures are getting sendier. Unfortunately, the cool weather that’s so conducive to good climbing is not always comfortable, especially once the sun dips below the horizon. To keep your cold-weather climbing days bearable, here are a few tricks:


Crag trick: stay hydrated with warm beverages

Forget about bringing a cold-water Nalgene and instead, take something hot with you climbing. You might opt to down coffee all day or alternatively, consider boiling up tea. If you can’t be bothered with the frills, plain hot water does the trick.

In doing so, you probably shouldn’t use plastic.¬†Instead, consider using a Hydro Flask, Stanely Vacuum Bottle, or another vessel designed to keep hot drinks hot.

Both of these bottles will keep your beverages toasty for 12 hours, meaning you can boil up tea with breakfast and enjoy it during sunset. Sipping from a hot drink throughout the day will keep you stoked and warm enough to send.

Dirtbag alternative

Get yourself a real flask, ideally from a thrift store. Fill it with Fireball. Nothing warms the palate like cinnamon and the soul like whiskey. Keep warm responsibly.


Crag trick: keep your hands warm

I assure you: climbing with cold hands is a quick way to take the fun out of your trip to the crag.

Yes, using belay gloves can help, but nothing keeps you warm like radiant heat. The Zippo Hand Warmer works for 12 hours and is completely reusable; it puts disposable hand warmers to shame! This product is designed to give gentle, consistent heat and it will keep your fingers warm enough to pull hard on cold rock.


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Dirtbag alternatives

Suck it up

Being a dirtbag means sometimes giving up things like warm fingertips. Warm yourself with thoughts of the sunnier crags you can drive to because you saved money forgoing the use of a handwarmer.

DIY belay gloves

If the cold is truly intolerable, find cheap gardening gloves. Cut holes in the cuffs to attach to a carabiner and you’ve made yourself dirtbag belay gloves!

Hand-neck trick

Place your fingers on the backside of your neck, then look up to create a cocoon-like warming space. Do this before chalking up and you’ll be ready to send.


Crag trick: use a great jacket

Every cold-weather climber needs a good puffy and the right outer layer is worth its weight in gold. It will shield you from the biting cold and pack down when you don’t need it. A couple climber favorites include Patagonia’s Down Sweater Puffy Hoody and at a slightly higher price, the¬†Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody. Follow Outdoor Research’s tips to make your puffy last!

Bonus trick: the puffy pass-off

Mentioned in the comments below, try climbing with the strategic use of the puffy pass-off. That is, climb with one puffy, where the belayer wears the puffy belaying and following, then hands it over.

Dirtbag alternative

Everyone needs a puffy, even a dirtbag. Try to get one secondhand and make yours last longer by pairing it with a cheap oversized jacket from a thrift store. Not only will this keep you warmer, but it’ll also prevent wear and tear on your prized puffy so that you can use it for years to come.


Crag trick: use a neck gaiter (it’s not as goofy as it looks)

Understandably, you don’t want to be the one person at the crag with your neck bundled up looking like a turtle. But¬†sacrifice ego for comfort and you’ll have everyone¬†feeling a little underdressed. Peter Croft, Sierra climbing legend, explains that he only recently started using a neck gaiter but it has made¬†all the difference.


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Dirtbag alternative

You might be able to find a nice garment like this at your local Goodwill.


Camp trick: make your sleeping bag warmer

A sleeping bag liner will serve two wonderful purposes: 1) keep your sleeping bag clean; and 2) keep you warm … very warm. It’s worth looking into the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme, which ups the temperature rating of your sleeping bag by 25¬įF.


Dirtbag alternatives


Start sleeping in your baselayer and if it’s really cold, your puffy. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to shower more frequently and wash your baselayer more often.

Embrace car camping lifestyle

Buy a car camping sleeping bag. They’re thick, durable, and cheaper than backpacking bags.

Create a mini-furnace for your sleeping bag

Boil water before bed and fill your Nalgene with it. Put it in your sleeping bag to keep you warm as you fall asleep.


More tricks to sleep warm while camping


Pee before you go to sleep and keep an emergency pee bottle nearby. Your body expends extra energy to keep your pee warm, energy that is better spent warming your body. When nature calls in the middle of the night, don’t hold it in! Use the bottle in the comfort of your tent. Just make sure that bottle is well marked; this is not a lesson to learn through trial and error. Female climbers, your mileage will certainly vary.

Keep fresh socks on-hand

Dry (or simply warm) your socks at the campfire and wear a fresh pair to bed. When you wake up in the morning, you want to wake up already wearing (relatively) clean socks rather than having to put on new ones in the cold. Make your sock changes at night and your toes will thank you.

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  • Ben Hoste

    Hi Dirtbag Joel. Another idea, which a partner recently turned me onto, is to share a puffy with your partner while climbing. Whoever is belaying keeps the puffy on and wears it while following, handing it over on the change over. By the time you reach the belay your piping hot and want to get that thing off, and then you’re ready to cruise up the next pitch on lead. You’re warmth will start to wane once you make the next belay and wait for your partner to ascend, but as long as they don’t take their sweet as time you’ll be okay. The only catch is, who gets to wear the puffy on the descent?

    • Joel Ryan

      Thank you so much for the suggestion Ben! It’s been added to the tips in the article.

  • Alec B

    Lately, when it’s really cold out, I’ve been putting hand warmers in my chalk bag. That way when I chalk up on route I get a miniature finger heat wave. The Zippo hand warmer would probably work great for this!

  • payd1rt

    Instead of boiling water and putting it in the Nalgene to fall asleep, take an old towel camping with you and while you’re sitting around the fire at night, place 1-2 cantaloupe-sized rocks in (or very close to) the fire. When you’re done with the fire, tightly wrap up a hot rock or two in the old towel and put it in the bottom of your sleeping bag – it stays warm nearly all night!