You don’t have to empty your wallet to buy expensive gear. But you do need the very essentials before you can even get started.
If you plan to train at the gym or with a rock climbing instructor, you probably won’t have to worry about gear now. But as you progress and master basic climbing skills, you’ll want to eventually go off on your own or with a partner.
And when that happens, you’ll want to be prepared.
But rest easy. I’ll take out all of the guesswork for you. Don’t waste energy worrying about what to buy. You just focus on perfecting those rock climbing moves.
Let’s start looking at equipment.
The first question you may ask is, “Why do I have to buy special shoes? Won’t my current sneakers do?”
But believe it or not, the type of shoes you wear can make a noticeable difference in how much control you have while you climb. You need to keep your feet protected and still wear shoes with enough friction to stop yourself from slipping.
You’ll want shoes that fit snugly on your feet but aren’t too tight that it’s painful. If you’re new to rock climbing, you’ll probably want shoes with thicker soles, whereas an experienced climber will want thinner, more flexible shoes for those intense climbs.
Consider these factors.
- Pricing – When you first start rock climbing, your shoes won’t last very long. Don’t waste money on an expensive pair, but don’t aim for the cheaper, lesser-quality either. If you’re patient, you won’t have to bankrupt your wallet in order to find the perfect pair of shoes for your preferred rock climbing style.
- Comfort – Let’s face it: these shoes can be uncomfortable. While you will want shoes that wrap snugly around your feet, you don’t want them to be unbearably tight. Try to find a balance between comfort and snugness.
- Size – Start small. In fact, get shoes that are half a size smaller than the size you currently wear. Your toes shouldn’t have any moving room. They should actually be gathered at a point while still sitting flat in the shoe. If you’re not sure which size to wear, try going down half a size until you reach the point where your feet feel uncomfortable. When this happens, go back up to the previous shoe size and get that pair.
Rock climbing shoes are just that. They’re meant for climbing. They’re supposed to be tight and thin so you can climb easily on those rock walls.
For walking long distances, wear approach shoes. Approach shoes are great because they’re lightweight with high-friction rubber soles that are useful for walking up rocky trails before you actually reach your climbing destination. When you’re ready to climb, only then wear your rock climbing shoes.
When you’re off to buy your first harness, buy one that is comfortable to sit in. Most stores will have spots where you can hang the harness to try on before you make the final purchase. There’s no use buying a harness that will give you cramps later – or worse, cut off circulation.
After testing out harnesses, play safe and aim for one with a strap that has six inches left over. You should also test the waist belt to make sure it fits snugly. Slip your hand between your body and the harness and then make a fist. If you can pull your fist out, the waist belt is much too loose.
Ideally, you’ll want a light harness with a few loops on the side for hanging essential gear. Experiment with different harness styles and find the one that fits your rock climbing needs.
Chalk is your friend. It absorbs sweat, so no more greasy hands or potential slips. It’s also pretty cheap, so replacing it is a snap.
If you’re practicing your moves at an indoor gym, use chalk balls for less dust. For climbing outdoors, get loose chalk in powder form. Loose chalk is quick and easy to apply.
You can even place the chalk in a small light-weight pouch for convenient carrying while you climb. No need to worry about losing the bag either, since it will do just nicely hanging from your waist.
- Helmet – Remember how you were always told to wear a helmet before going on a long bike ride? Well, same rules apply. After all, you don’t want to deal with a serious head injury after a fall. A helmet specially designed for rock climbing will even add to the protection. When a rock comes crashing down, it won’t hurt as much if it happens to land on your head. A good climbing helmet should sit flat, wrapping snugly without being too tight.
- Climbing rope – The quality of the rope you buy will depend on what you’re climbing. But a rope is essential in case you slip and fall. Choose a dynamic rope to absorb energy from falls and a static rope for rappelling.
- Belay device – If you’re climbing with a partner, you’ll need to watch out for his safety as well as your own. A belay device will hold your partner on the rope in case he falls, and it can also be used for lowering, feeding, and tightening rope.
- Carabiners – After a belay device, you’ll need carabiners. These are strong metal rings used to connect a belay device to your harness. Depending on what you’re doing, you can choose from oval, d-shape, and dissymmetrical d-shape carabiners in different gate styles.
- Climbing protection – As the name suggests, these devices are great for attaching climbing rope to rock in order to protect yourself from long-distance falls.
- Crash Pad – This is needed when bouldering indoors or outdoors. Crash pads are a soft mat and help prevent injury when falling and are made up by a layer of foam on the inside, covered with a durable nylon cover.
Not only will you need to choose your climbing gear wisely, but you’ll also need to know your gear inside and out. What’s the point of buying gear if you don’t know how to use it? Most of all, check your gear often for tears and wears. You’ll need to replace equipment not up to standards.
Play it safe and you’ll be thankful that you did.