You finally did it. The warm weather, massive mountains, and those pestering friends convinced you to finally go climbing with them. You may be hesitant, what with those sheer verts, steep inclines, and small handholds – but you are a BOSS. Ready to get after it, time to get rad!
Basically, you’re here because you took or have been interested in rock climbing. This isn’t going to give a full breakdown of techniques, routes, or best places to go climb…. it’s rather a collection of items you should have at your disposal if you are going to be tackling any sort of vertical rope-assisted ascent. I highly recommend taking a course (or going with trustworthy and knowledgeable friends) to get to know basics at your local climbing gym or reaching out to different climbing communities to gain some serious knowledge before you get out and do it yourself!
Essential – regardless of discipline:
Essential for providing the traction required on various footholds, rock climbing provide solid protection as well. The style of shoes are typically multi-purpose, but some can get specific so be sure to ask a sales associate prior to making a purchase.
Shoes will fit very snug, but you don’t want them to be tight. They should slightly curl your toes and help force them into the point for most pressure (think a ballerina). For more technical climbs, you want the shoe to be that much of a better fit to provide better control! As a special note, if you haven’t worn these shoes before, they are NOT designed for long distance travel on foot, so bring a pair of sneakers or approach shoes to get yourself to the route.
Pretty sure the gym rats stole this from climbs (or maybe the other way around), but chalk will help provide added friction between you and the wall. This will give you better adhesion on your route and help keep your hands dry. Sweaty hands are just about the worst thing for your grip, and could spell certain doom when trying to tackle a route. My personal favorite is Friction Labs: Unicorn Dust.
Probably not something you thought would be a big issue eh? Well, think of any sport you played as a kid. You probably had specific attire for that activity (unless of course it was soccer). The same can be said for climbing. Typically, you want either loose-fitting clothes or clothes that have plenty of flex and give. If you prefer climbing pants, be sure they won’t flow loose over your shoes (no boot cuts there cowboy). Another consideration for our fair skinned friends – UV protective clothing…
The most essential piece of tech for bouldering save for shoes – the crash pad is gonna be your only failsaif keeping you from going SPLAT! There are shorter routes where you may not need one, sure, but at the end of the day if you ARE challenging yourself you may inevitably fall, and even with a spotter you still want to protect your body from undo damage with a crash pad. Plus, they make pretty solid beds if you want to nap in the great outdoors.
All Other Outdoor Climbing
Composed of leg loops and a waistbelt, this is your safety net when climbing. The harness ties you in to not only your rope system, but also allows you to store extra climbing gear.When climbing outdoors, you will need a second individual to ‘belay’ you, but that adds to the fun and can help push you further than you originally planned! If you want more on how to choose a climbing harness, REI has a great one over HERE
My go to brand is Mammut – but Petzel and Black Diamond both produce solid gear as well.
If you fall, you are at the mercy of gravity and a rope. You can flail about and possibly smack your head. If you belay, rock or ice can come crashing down… and possible deter you from your duties of safety. There’s a lot to helmets, and in case you hadn’t read it, here’s my early article on Choosing a Climbing Helmet.
No doubt you’ve seen and probably used these handle little devices. they are great for storage, clipping, and basically holding anything with a loop. They’re lightweight, sturdy pieces of metal that come in various shapes and sizes for tasks, but typically connect climbing rope to various pieces of gear such as cams, nuts, bolts, etc. They’re also used for quickdraws in lead climbing and rack up the devices onto your climbing harness. If you’re new, I recommend buying a locking-gate style ‘biner for belaying.
Used to control rope for the climber, a belay device with increase friction to help the belayer catch a falling climber, rappel the climber, or pay out the rope as a climber advances. Two common styles are the assisted-breaking (shown below) and tubular.
Ok, you were probably thinking “This guy is talking about all this random crap – but I am NOT climbing without a rope!”
Well, fear not, as the rope is essential for any climbing outside bouldering (unless you free solo but that’s a topic for another day). The type of climbing you are doing will dictate the type of rope you need, but there are two basic categories to start; Static and Dynamic.
Dynamic rope is just that – dynamic. It will provide some stretch/flex down the length of the rope. This will also assist in prolonged rope life, and is typically used in any event where a large fall can be expected. Static rope is like your typical braided hemp – it will be stiff and unwavering. This kind of rope will typically be used to repel and for rescue where more direct rope control is required.
As this is an essentials guide, pro won’t be high on your list of priorities. Once you determine if you want to be a serious climber, your knowledge of how to use and set pro will become invaluable to becoming a well-rounded climber.
Pro is typically used in Traditional (trad) climbing. This will be climbs that various in pitch and often won’t have any set anchors or safety devices. You will be placing these devices yourself to be able to continue up a desired route, and ultimately complete the climb. Pro falls into two categories: Active and Passive
Active: These devices have moving pieces to fit a variety of different situations.
Passive: These devices have no moving parts, and are typically made of a single piece of metal.
Backpack: They make climbing specific packs that’ll keep your stuff organized better. Chalk bag: Holds your chalk. Literally that simple – clip it to your belt or harness. Ice Axes: Required for mountaineering or Ice Climbing. Not inexpensive, but essential. Tape: Good for cover up nasty flappers or rips on your skin, they also allow for better grip when you’re making your way up some sneaky cracks. Gloves: Kinda like tape, will allow for added protection when you climb. They are also essential for cold weather climbs. Black Diamond and North Face produce climbing specific gloves that are top of the market (from what I’ve read)
As always, be sure to shop around and do your research on the gear you’ll need. Building a kit is NOT a simple task, ad acquiring gear may even just come from borrowed hand-me-downs from buddies as you progress your skillset. The biggest and most influential items I’d recommend starting with are a solid pair of climb shoes, chalk, and a harness. These will get you bouldering and doing top-rope at a local climbing gym. This is a great way to gain entry into the climbing community and meet some like-minded individuals.
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