Via Ferrata: Tips on planning ahead and equipment

Just by taking proper consideration of a few important points, you can have one of the best alpine experiences on a via ferrata. Essentially, your advance planning and the equipment you need should depend on three factors.

The right equipment for via ferrata

©Sportalpen

Created by Elisabeth Frontull

©Sportalpen

#1 Weather

The Alpine Association offers several online options to help you plan, as do the mountain weather reports of the ZAMG. Knowing the general weather forecast is important, but so is your assessment of the outlook when you arrive at the via ferrata. If, at the start of your climb, it looks like a storm is approaching, it is a good idea to postpone your tour, even if the via ferrata is open. This is especially important when climbing in exposed areas such as the Schlegeis reservoir, which can act as a natural lightning conductor. When planning longer via ferrata tours be aware of the short-term forecast. Weather changes during the tour can be dangerous. They are one of the most frequent reasons for mountain rescue missions! Always make sure you have easy access to suitable clothing for changes in weather in your rucksack.

 

Specialist shops in the area and local alpinists are also very useful sources of tips and information. In the end though, the final decision and the responsibility lies with the climber – which links nicely to factor #2…

#2 Know your level

One of the most important factors in via ferrata is the ability to accurately assess your own level. The difficulty level must match your ability. If in doubt, go for a lower difficulty level (e.g. A or B with some C sections). Underestimating your ability does not mean taking a step backwards but rather demonstrates a smart approach: by starting with an easier climb, you prepare yourself for more challenging routes and gain valuable confidence.

The majority of mountain rescues have to be carried out as a result of a climber overestimating their ability. This includes both physical condition and psychological frame of mind. Quite often people have to be rescued from the middle of a via ferrata after having a panic attack. These cases also frequently require a helicopter, which carries a high price tag. 

This scenario is unlikely to occur when climbing the Schlegeis dam, as its possible to abseil down in just a few minutes at any time. However, if you have any doubts during the planning phase, it is best to take a guide with you. 

 

Sicher am Klettersteig
©Sportalpen
Sicher am Klettersteig
©Sportalpen
Sicher am Klettersteig
©Sportalpen

#3 Equipment

The Helmet

Whatever the via ferrata, even the Schlegeis 131 on the dam in Mayrhofen, a helmet is an absolute must. There may be no threat of a rockfall, but mobile phones or other objects can still fall from above. Unfortunately, this happens only too often. There are many good value and lightweight models of helmet with good ventilation. 
 

The Shoes

Ever climber has their preferred shoes for a via ferrata. The rigidity (flex) plays as important a roll as do the form and the sole. The grip of the shoe and its fit is also very important. Firm, low shoes with a rubber half-sole (e.g. Vibram) are very popular.  

 

The Harness

Specialist manufacturers such as Salewa offer harnesses which, compared to others, save unnecessary weight by removing cushioning and gear loops. A lightweight harness without all the bells and whistles will make your via ferrata experience more fun whilst still offering total security. 
 

The Set

There are two systems used in via ferrata sets, which primarily vary in comfort and price category. The classic set – e.g. the Salewa Ergo Tex –uses the usual loops. If you’d prefer to carry less material in front of you, then take the Ergo Zip. Both varieties are completely secure. 

  

Sicher am Klettersteig
©Sportalpen
Sicher am Klettersteig
©Sportalpen
Sicher am Klettersteig
©Sportalpen

The Carabiner

The piece of equipment which you will notice the most on the via ferrata is the carabiner. The smallest piece of equipment has the biggest influence on the climb up. However, you will only realise this when you are actually using it. The size of the opening and the ease of use in different grip positions make a big difference during the climb.
 

The Band Loop

Also important: a rest loop or band loop with a carabiner.  This allows you the possibility of taking a break, gathering strength or waiting for a friend. 
 

The Rest

Drinks, a first aid kit, a change of clothes, rucksack – and that’s it. There’s not much else you will need for your via ferrata adventure. But, on the other hand, anything less is a false economy: every gram of extra weight is an important part of your equipment, even if you don’t have an accident.