What is the exact equipment I need for walking safely on glaciers? The route I will be taking is the Hvannadalshnukur ascend from the ring road and same path descend. From what I could find out the path is not challenging gradient is constant and small, and the crevasses are either non-existent or more like small holes. The roping is just precaution. We all have mountaineering experience, but no previous glacier experience.

From what I gathered from this answer and this one. I also read the safety research short rope PDF by Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, although I guess we will be long roping.

I need:

  • At least 10m distance between members (3 going total)

  • Thickness of the rope depends on how many times I expect to fall which is likely no more than 1

  • Straight hilt pick axe used for walking rather than vertical climbing

  • Harness each

  • Around 3 carbineers each

  • Crampons

Other non-climbing related items such as:

  • GPS with lots of spare batteries

  • Polarised sunglasses

  • Sun cream

  • Gloves/Hat/Waterproof clothes
  • Food/water
  • Mountain boots
  • Whistle/ Torch /Rear bicycle flashing light
  • Sheathed knife

Things which are unclear to me are about inventory:

  • How much excess rope should there be and should it be at the end or evenly divided between people. What is total recommended rope length for party of 3.

  • Would spare rope be necessary or useful

  • Do I need any other items such as quickdraws, belaying devices or figure eight

  • Any other equipment I may not realise is necessary

Any other things you believe I ought to know, manuals should read or any wrong assumptions I make please let me know.

  • 6
    Just to say that you need more than the gear - you need the skills to arrest the party and extract if someone goes in. I've had to do this for real, and it's harder than you might expect even with a skilled team (we were 4 experienced mountaineers). You might want to get in some practice in a safe and controlled setting before you hit the route. Commented May 12, 2016 at 12:16
  • See also: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/8897/… (incidentally also motivated by Iceland)
    – gerrit
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 16:07
  • 1
    "crevasses are either non-existent or more like small holes" Wait, what? A quick peek at summitpost notes "the glacier is riddled with hidden crevasses and even the guides say they won't go up alone there." I wouldn't go just by what the crevasses look like from above; they can be far larger than what little is visible.
    – requiem
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 20:33

2 Answers 2

  • about excess rope, rope length and how to split rope please see:


As you see on the picture, the two ends of the rope is devided evenly between the first and the last rope team member. If you don't know this, I guess you don't know how to rescue someone in case of crevasse fall. You should really learn it by professionals.

  • about spare rope (second rope):

It is not needed at all. Why should you carry a second one? You are not going to destroy your rope and if you will, you are most likely in a really bad situation whatsoever. You also don't need two half ropes which is done for climbing e.g. to be able to abseil longer distances and to have backup in case of cutting a rope over sharp rock edges. You have to know why you take a rope. And that is solely (if you are only hiking) to be able to survive and rescue in case of crevasse fall. Therefore you need one rope. Length depends on count of rope team. Impregnation is nice to have because you are in wet conditions on a glacier. Thicker rope means most likely to have a thicker rope coat only. To sum it up, that means it's more robust. You have to decide if you need that. Normally it's nice to have a more robust rope for rock climbing because of sharp edges too.

  • in your list you forgot to take:

    1. one ice screw per person so everyone is able to build an anchor and in case of crevasse fall, rescue the person
    2. a helmet to be unlikely to get knocked out in case of falls/crevasse falls or if you traverse in regions where rock/ice-fall is likely
    3. accessory cord, slings and maybe a rope clamp in case of crevasse rescue
    4. bivy equipment
    5. first aid stuff
  • quickdraws, belaying devices:

If you aren't rock and/or ice climbing and just "glacier hiking", you don't need it. You need belaying devices to secure a climber in case he falls or to abseil. If you have to rescue yourself or your friends in case someone falls into a cravasse, you need accessory cord and the knowledge to get him out.

That being said you really need the knowledge to do so! So read properly (e.g. this) but what's more important, train with experts and practice with your friends. If it's just very unlikely to fall into a crevasse then it might not be that bad to have mediocre knowledge. But in that case, why would you mind to carry all the heavy stuff like ropes and ice screws, if you don't know how to use it...

  • 1
    Most of this answer is pretty good, but there are a couple of things I disagree with. Belay devices are a very basic tool, and I would always bring one. One of the most common ways to solve the problem of a crevasse fall is that the person climbs back out while on belay; while doing this, it would be convenient to have a belay device (although of course you could use a Munter or something if you had to). Also, a second (rescue) rope can be extremely helpful in certain situations, e.g., if the climbing rope becomes entrenched in the snow and can't be extracted.
    – user2169
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 20:38

As already stated several times: If you know what you need to do on a glacier, you know what material to take. The other way round does not work: Just having the necessary gear will not insure proper crevasse rescue. So your first step is to take a course or find someone experienced to show you. This is the only recommended way to do it, but that is of course meager for Q&A, so I will try to give some information, but they should only be supplemental.

The questions How to walk as a roped party on a glacier? and How do I rescue someone out of a crevasse? have already much information in them. E.g. rope length is explained in the first question. For three persons it is 12m in between, excess ropes equally distributed to the two persons at the ends. Now how much rope you need is determined by your worst case scenario. If you just want to hold a fall, build an anchor and rely on the fallen member to self rescue (which is always the fastest and easiest way if this member is not injured) 24m of rope is just fine. If you need to pull the fallen member out, it gets much more complicated and there are several systems with their benefits and drawbacks. The maximum rope required in all the pulley systems known to me (for crevasse rescue) is three times the distance between the final anchor and the member in the crevasse: One third the initial rope to the fallen member (obviously), two thirds for the pulley (as the first section will have cut deeply into the snow). So assuming you can build the anchor at the position of the member in the middle, you would need an extra 12m, so realistically 40m (36m rounded up). What kind of rope is really not important for glaciers, as there is no rock and thus sharp edges. A very good and tested but somewhat advanced option is using aramid/dyneema ropes. These are suited for glaciers, light and do not take up much water. But you need to know how to handle them, some knots do not work the same as with traditional ropes.

In your list there is nothing about materials to self rescue and/or build a pulley. For self rescue one safety biner and two slings are the minimum required. For a pulley it again depends on the system, but one progress capture/one way blocking device (I do not know the English word, Ruecklaufbremse in German) e.g. a Petzl Micro Traxion, a Garda know with two biners, usw., two slings and three biners are again the minimal equipment that work in all known systems. I repeat myself: Know your method and you will know what gear to take.

For anchoring it depends on the conditions: If there is blank ice, you need one long ice screw at least for the members at the ends. In case of a totally (and deeply) snow covered glacier your ice axes will be sufficient for T-anchors (make sure the shafts are T-rate, not just B-rated). Here you do not only need to know the method, but also the conditions.

Additional gear: Emergency bivy material (also covered in questions on TGO), first aid material, some kind of rescue beacon (assuming there is no cell phone coverage). As for helmets: Traditional mountaineering/climbing helmets (hard shell) are of little use if there is no danger of rock or ice fall. A foam helmet will offer some protection against bumping your head while falling into crevasses, but usually it is not your head that is mostly endangered in glaciers, as you fall with feet down.

  • 1
    +1 good answer, especially the description of specific situations with/without pulleys and the rope length part. I don't know why someone gave you a downvote (without explaining)...
    – Wills
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:43
  • 1
    OP wrote that he will bring crampons and I think this is in nearly all glacier hikes (alpine tours) the way to go. Most likely we don't know if there are snow-free ("aper") regions, so for the case we wanna have our crampons with us. Same with the ice-screws. I learned to always bring one per person. So if someone falls into a crevasse and there isn't lot of (good, that means hard) snow, you need to anchor in ice. Even if there is powder, you have to clean it and get to the glacier to be able to place the screw.
    – Wills
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:48
  • @Wills Thanks for the correction on the crampons. I do not know Iceland, but there are definitely alpine conditions and regions were both crampons and ice screws are useless due to flatness and lots of snow. Granted, this is (mostly) in winter/spring ski mountaineering and then crevasses are usually well filled as well. So I do not know Iceland and this particular glacier, but it is not impossible that there is lots of snow as well. Of course I agree: If you do not know for sure (i.e. you have information from a knowledgeable and trustworthy local), take ice screws!
    – imsodin
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 19:25
  • "Ruecklaufbremse" as used here would be "progress capture device" or "progress capture pulley".
    – requiem
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 20:00
  • @requiem isn't that a rope clamp?
    – Wills
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 20:12

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