In rock climbing there’s quite a bit of gear depending on what type of climbing you want to do. If you’re just going indoor climbing at a local gym you’ll only need a few items, if you’re going trad climbing in Patagonia however, you’ll need a good amount of gear. Like anything else in the outdoors, rock climbing can be extremely expensive, or not too pricey, it’s all up to your style and how much you want to spend on your gear. One thing I’ll always say to splurge on, though, is the shoes. Rock climbing shoes will never be the comfiest thing you’ve worn, but some are certainly more comfortable than others. I bought the La Sportiva Katana for my first pair of shoes. The toe is pointed a bit more than most shoes I see, but I actually like that a lot. I feel it gives better grip on those tiny foot holds. The shoes are lace up which I like, the tongue wraps around the entire top of the shoe so there is no bunching, left untied the shoe still fits snug enough to climb, they grip well on indoor walls (haven’t tried them outdoors yet)and for me they’re very comfortable. I also have a pair of MadRock Flash 2.0 that I just got for free with a membership to Central Rock Gym in Hadley. These shoes are a pretty run of the mill. Nothing fancy about them but for a retail price of $82 you can’t expect them to climb for you right? They have two Velcro straps instead of laces which are needed because they don’t form to your feet very snug (if you have all around larger feet they might fit better but my skinny feet don’t fill the shoes). I absolutely hate the tongue, unlike my La Sportiva shoes the MadRock shoes have two flaps that meet in the middle for the tongue. This system isn’t very comfortable and it’s very easy to pinch the top of your foot which may not sound bad but when you pinch it and then have a seam digging into the same area, it’s a bit of annoyance. I noticed I was slipping off every little hold with these shoes but I’m hoping they just need to be broken in a bit. Something I do really really like about these shoes is the gel heal which makes walking very comfortable. Over all the shoes are fairly comfortable aside from the tongue issue. I think I’m going to end up using these shoes for mainly outdoor climbing, if I can find anything good around here. Another essential piece of gear for any climbing, in my opinion, is chalk. The purpose of chalk is to dry out sweaty hands and therefore provide better grip on holds. Chalk bags cost from $10-30 depending on size, style, and who makes them. My first one was a black diamond standard bag that was $15, my girlfriends bag is a very slightly bigger petzl bag that cost $25. I’ll never knock anything petzl makes because their stuff is phenomenal, but the chalk bag is overpriced. My new Camp chalk bag is almost double the size of the Black Diamond and was only an extra $5. If you want to get into top roping, lead climbing, trad climbing, sport climbing, mountaineering, or any other type of climbing you’ll need a harness. If you’re not sure what all these types of climbing are, look for my follow up article that should be up pretty soon explaining them. The harness I use is a Camp harness which is not a top name but works just fine for me, and my wallet. I like this harness a lot, it’s perfect for sport climbing, but probably not ideal for trad. It’s very lightweight, comfortable, and safe. It has 4 gear loops which can be used to hold various things such as; chalk bag, belay device, quickdraws, cams, stoppers, and other things. The above items will be explained in a moment so don’t feel intimidated if you’re lost. And again with harnesses you could spend $50 like I did or go for a nicer Petzl or Mammut that are nicer but sometimes have things you don’t need adding unnecessary weight.
Belay devices: These are used to safely stop a falling climber and to let them repel at a controlled rate. They are an absolutely 100% necessary piece of gear when doing any type of climbing with a rope and harness. If I could recommend one belay device it would be the Petzl GriGri 2. I however don’t have one yet because it costs $95 and I’m not ready to sink that much into a belay device. They are worth every penny however because they have an automatic brake in them and control descent for you. The first device I got was a Black Diamond ATC XP. It’s $20 and does everything you need it to, you just actually have to pay to attention with this one (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BE DOING!!!!). Along with that you’ll need a locking carabiner, the Black Diamond Big Air XP belay device comes with one for $30. The device I just recently bought is the Mammut Smart Alpine device. I absolutely love it! It’s a fairly big device but not really that heavy like you’d think. This device, like the Petzl GriGri 2, stops a falling climber automatically. If you look at the picture to the left you’ll notice it has a large side with a couple holes in it and a smaller side with no holes. The larger side is where you clip your locking carabiner. You use the smaller side to control a climber descent, with your hand off the side no rope with flow through, the more your pick up on the side, though, the more rope is allowed through. My friend and I were using it the other night for the first time and it took a little getting used to. I found it easy to use but if you’re not paying attention you can easily let out rope too quickly. Overall I’d recommend anyone get this device, and quick while it’s still on sale for $30 instead of $50 at Eastern Mountain Sports.
Quickdraws: A quickdraw is simply two biners with a runner in between. They are used to be clipped to either a bolt in the rock, your cam, or your stopper and then to your rope to catch you in case of a fall. I currently only have one because I don’t lead climb yet, but I will be taking the class at CRG within the next couple months.
Cams: A cam is a piece of active rock protection. It’s referred to as active because it has moving parts. Most cams have four lobes but you can also get tri-cams which have three lobes. The disadvantage of using tri-cams are they have less points of contact with the wall and they’re not as strong in general. But they are still good, especially for beginners, because they are much cheaper. A typical cam will run anywhere from $50 to $120 depending on size. Whereas you can pick up a tri-cam for closer to $30. For cams the best one you get in my opinion, and Climbing Magazines April 2013 101 Best Gear Tips Of All Time issues opinion, is the new Black Diamond Camalot X4. The other model I recommend is the Camalot C4. These cams are pretty similar, the biggest difference is the X4 being a full lobe size smaller. I know a couple people who trad climb a bit and they all love the C4’s.
Stoppers: A stopper is a piece of passive rock protection because it has no moving parts. It’s essentially a block with a piece of steel cable running through it and forming a loop at the opposite end to clip to. Stoppers are great to have because they come in a bunch of different sizes, some smaller than cams will do, and are very light. They’re also very cheap! I currently only have two as I start to build my rack for when I do get to go trad climbing, but they were each $8.
One more important piece of equipment to get, the rope. Obviously you need a rope for safety reason but how big? Well, most ropes come measured in millimeters ranging from 8.9 up to 10.2 is what I’ve seen. An 8.9 rope will probably hold up just fine for any climber, however if you know you’ll be falling a lot, I’d go with something thicker like 9.8 or more. A rope will probably be the most expensive single piece of gear you buy with an average price of over $200.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor bouldering then something you’ll need is a crash pad. A crash pad is a pad of foam, usually 3-4 inches thick, and helps keep you from getting seriously injured. When outdoor bouldering it’s important to have other people with you and those people being spotters. The job of a spotter is to sort of catch you in a fall, they mainly try to catch your head and will sometimes be able to keep you standing instead of falling down and possibly missing the crash pad.
If you’re brand new to the amazing, and dangerous, sport of rock climbing, please do not use this blog as your only means of knowledge. Everything on here will keep you safe but you still need a trained professional to practice with and learn the correct way to do things. There’s a ton of videos on youtube and I suggest watching those too, that way when you do seek out a pro, they have much less to go over. If you can demonstrate knowledge of basic knots and an understanding of gear, they’ll be able to get you climbing quicker and with less things for you to try remembering.