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.

Rock climbing can take you to some beautiful places, even if you're a total newb with minimal experience. For a lot of would-be climbers, oftentimes the barrier of entry is having no idea where to even begin, but if you're sure you want to get into rock climbing, then you're going to need to invest in some equipment. Picking up a few essential pieces of gear will 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. If you can, go in and try them on in a store and get some advice from the experts there and your climbing friends, but 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. La Sportiva's Tarantula Shoe is a solid choice for your first shoe and is moderately priced. 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 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 $50 for a nicer pair of shoes, it'll likely be worth it.

2. Harness

My go-to recommendation is the Black Diamond Momentum. To be fair, this is the only harness I've ever used, but I've 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 needs for beginner to advanced climbing. A lot friends also use Petzl's Adjama harness. There are certainly many other options, but these are likely the two I see most frequently. 

3. Helmet

Not everyone wears a helmet all the time while climbing and there will be plenty of times when you don't feel the need to, but you should have one 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. Again, similar to my harness, I've only ever used this helmet and have no complaints, but I'd put Petzl's Boreo helmet in the same camp. 

4. Belay System

This one is another very important safety device and you will need it on you every time you go climbing. 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 (rather, your friends' weight) 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, I'd say buy both). 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

Chalk and a chalk bag is super helpful to have and an inexpensive addition. You'll sweat while climbing and chalk will help keep your hands from getting slippery. You can find them online or at retailers but 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. Beyond the essentials, 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....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.

Published: September 20, 2018

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Liam McNallyAdmin

San Francisco

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