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The Gear You Need to Get Started Rock Climbing

You don't need much to get started climbing and every dollar will be worth it.

By: Liam McNally + Save to a List

Rock climbing can take you to some beautiful places, even if you're a total noob with minimal experience. For a lot of would-be climbers, oftentimes the barrier of entry is having no idea where to even begin. If you're sure you want to get into rock climbing, one of the first things you'll need to do is invest in some gear. Picking up a few essential pieces of gear will A. get you into the gym to train and B. guarantee that you'll be ready at a moment's notice when the opportunity to tag along on a friends' climbing trip presents itself. Bonus: you'll never have to use the gnarly rental shoes at the gym!

1. Shoes

The important thing here is to balance comfort and function. You want your shoes to be very tight so your feet don't slide around resulting in less control on the rock and discomfort (blisters, etc.). You also don't want them to be so tight that you can't stand wearing them. Ask your climber friends or the staff at the gym for their input on sizing and if you order online, just be sure you can return them in case the fit isn't right. Climbing shoes can be very expensive, but for your first pair, you don't need to break the bank. Both Black Diamond's Momentum and La Sportiva's Tarantula Shoe are solid choices for your first shoe and are moderately priced, hitting the <$100 mark. My first two pairs of climbing shoes were the 5.10 Anasazi, which I loved but are pricier, and the 5.10 Anasazi Moccasym, which are the slightly less expensive, slip-on version. La Sportiva Mythos are also a popular beginner-friendly, high-quality shoes. They're super comfortable without sacrificing performance. There's nothing wrong with going for simpler, cheaper shoes, but if you're serious about getting into climbing and can afford the extra dough for a nicer pair of shoes, it'll be worth it. 

2. Harness

My go-to recommendation is the Black Diamond Momentum. I've been using this model for over five year now and have never had any complaints or felt the need to try a new one, so that's got to count for something. The price is fair and it satisfies the needs for beginner to advanced climbing. I recently tried the Petzl's Adjama harness which I also loved and I've seen a lot of friends and other climbers using it. There are certainly many, many other options, but these are the two I see most frequently and would recommend for your first harness. 

3. Helmet

Not everyone wears a helmet all the time while climbing outside. I almost always do and recommend you definitely have one to wear when climbing outside of the gym. Black Diamond's Half Dome is the get-the-job-done climbing helmet. It'll protect your noggin but doesn't use ultra-light materials or have any special features. I'd put Petzl's Boreo helmet in the same camp. I recently started using the Mammut Wall Rider with MIPS Technology and have become a big fan. Check out my review for full details.

4. Belay System

Granted, as you first begin climbing, your buddies might give you a break and take care of belaying, but eventually you're going to want to carry your own weight (or rather, your friends' weight...see what I did there?) and take a turn in the rotation. Belay devices range from the simple and standard ATC Belay Device to assisted breaking and pretty pricey models like Petzl's Gri Gri. Long story short on the GriGri, the assisted breaking system does exactly what it sounds like...the mechanism helps the belayer catch falls and lower climbers smoothly and safely. It's super safe and reliable, but NOT foolproof! Regardless of what system you're using, always pay close attention to your climber.

For your first belay device, a standard ATC will do the job just fine, but if you're pretty sure you're into climbing for the long haul, I'd recommend investing in a Guide ATC rather than the standard and eventually a GriGri (depending on your budget and commitment to climbing, I'd say buy both from the beginning). Guide ATCs are only marginally more expensive and will come in handy down the road as your climbing adventures progress and GriGris are just super safe and comforting once you get used to them. 

You'll also want to grab a few carabiners, most importantly, at least one locking carabiner to use with your belay device. For your belay device to work, you need a locking carabiner to attach it to your harness. My lockers are an even split between twistlock and screwgate and I'm sure you could start a lively debate at the climbing gym about which is better or safer. They both have pros and cons for different uses and over time and with experience, you'll develop your own preference. You only need one to belay somebody, but I'd encourage you to pick up a few (over time, if necessary) as it never hurts to have extras.

5. Chalk Bag

Your hands will sweat while climbing and chalk will help keep your fingers from getting slippery. You can find them online or at retailers and a good bet is head into your local climbing gym - they usually have bare bones chalk bags for ~$10. 

And Beyond...

As a beginner, you probably won't be leading groups out and you'll mostly be climbing with people who already have climbing ropes, so I wouldn't invest in one just yet. When you are ready, I recommend Black Diamond's 9.9 70m and Mammut's 9.5 70m Infinity Dry Rope. Dry treated ropes are ideal if you plan to do any multi-pitch climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing or anything that may result in your rope getting wet. For beginners, you don't necessarily need dry treatment, but again, if your budget allows and you're sure you want to get into climbing beyond the gym and sport climbing, it's a worthwhile investment. 

There are plenty of other items that are good to have but you can easily start going down a slippery slope of endless awesome climbing gear like quickdrawscamscrash pads for bouldering, rope bags, approach shoes (here's my current favorite)....it goes on and on. For now, as you are just discovering the sport, focus on getting the essential pieces of gear to get you started and you'll have the rest of your life to daydream about all the other pieces of climbing gear you can spend your hard earned money on.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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