You’re 50 feet off the ground, clinging to a near-vertical rock wall. Using your feet and hands to smoothly scale the rock, you feel a little bit like Spider-Man. And it feels good!
Whether you’ll be trying climbing for the first time at Scout camp or practicing the sport indoors at a climbing gym, Gear Guy is here to fill you in on all the essential gear. You’ll also get a few tips and tricks that’ll have you climbing like Spider-Man from the start.
CHEAP VS. STEEP
Gear Guy knows you’re on a budget. But because everyone’s budget is different, he has provided multiple options. “Cheap” gear listed here is great stuff. It has been studied and tested and ranks among the best offerings in its price range. When you’re ready to move up to higher-end gear, the “Steep” options provide room to grow. You can often find great deals at online sites such as eBay, where there usually are lots of cheap, barely used climbing shoes.
The good ol’ brain bucket is one of the most important pieces of climbing gear because it protects your head from hitting something as well as from falling rocks and gear. Wear only a UIAA- or CEN-approved climbing helmet; bicycle and football helmets aren’t acceptable because they’re not designed to protect you from falling objects. If you’re warm-natured or climbing somewhere hot, look for a light-colored helmet with plenty of ventilation. But most important, pick one that fits comfortably snug.
Athletic shoes and light hikers are fine for beginning climbers. But if you want more performance, you’ll need climbing-specific shoes. There are several types, from tight-fitting sock-like climbing slippers, to flexible and super grippy friction shoes, to edging shoes, which provide performance with more comfort. Climbing shoes should be tight but not painfully so. You might size down a size or two from your street shoe when picking a climbing shoe. They are also usually available for rent at climbing gyms and are sometimes provided for use at Scout camps.
A harness comfortably distributes your weight and allows you to attach yourself to the belay rope. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to attach to the harness. The waist belt and loops distribute your weight in many directions for comfort and safety in the event of a fall. Though it’s possible to tie a seat harness from a single piece of webbing, a commercially made harness is more comfy. Pick a harness that is tight but not so much that it restricts your movement. When in doubt, choose the smaller size.
A locking carabiner is used to attach the belay device to your harness. Carabiners are essential for rappelling and belaying other climbers. Good carabiners are made of aluminum alloy or high-grade steel, with spring-loaded gates that snap closed. They can be oval, D-shaped or pear-shaped and come in either locking or nonlocking options. Usually, the lighter and stronger a carabiner is, the more expensive it will be.
Beware of look-alike carabiners — things like climbing key rings and accessory holders that are not designed for climbing, as they won’t be strong enough to support your body weight.
Belaying is a safety technique that provides friction to a climbing rope while your partner is climbing so he cannot fall very far if he slips. There are several types of belay devices, including a slotted plate and a tube device. The tube device is most popular because it provides friction with minimal heat. There are also specialized belay devices, like the GriGri, which automatically locks up the rope when loaded with tension (a lot like a seat belt in a car). These are commonly used at climbing gyms.
Your grip is super important while climbing. Chalk helps dry your hands (by removing sweat and moisture) and improves your hold on the rock. Most climbers use loose chalk in a bag or chalk balls (you can make your own by filling a cut-off stocking with chalk). Though it’s perfect for gyms and manmade climbing towers, chalk stays visible on rocks, making it look unnatural and conflicting with Leave No Trace principles. Always follow local regulations regarding chalk use when climbing in the wild.
You don’t have to be out in nature on a real rock or in a climbing gym to train for rock climbing. Many climbers use grip trainers to build the muscles of the hand and forearm. Others hang pull-up style training boards in their home to practice various climbing holds and moves.
CLIMBING TIPS & TRICKS
Here’s how rock climbing works: While the climber works his way up the rock face (which can vary from a slight incline to vertical to an overhang) another guy belays him. The climber wears a harness that is attached to a rope held by the belayer, who uses a simple device to add friction to the rope when needed. As the climber climbs, the belayer maintains tension on the rope and takes in or feeds out rope as needed. If the climber slips and falls, the belayer can easily and safely stop his fall.
THREE POINTS ON THE ROCK
The most efficient way to climb is using the three-point stance — keeping two hands and one foot on the rock at all times while moving the free foot to a new location, or having both feet and one hand on holds as the free hand moves. Lean out from the wall slightly so your body weight rests on your feet. Your hands should be used primarily for balance so your stronger leg muscles can do the bulk of the climbing work.
BRAINS OVER BRAWN
Use your mind, not just your muscles, when climbing. Always look ahead up the rock thinking about where you should place your hands and feet next. Think several moves ahead of where you are and mentally create a route to follow. Also look sideways for other hand and foot placements.
LEARNING THE ROPES
One of the most important pieces of climbing gear is the rope. While beginners usually don’t own their own ropes, it’s good to know the different types. Dynamic rope stretches when put under load (like your body weight), so it can absorb some of the shock of a falling climber. Static ropes stretch less — they are best for things like hauling gear up the rock — and are not suitable for situations in which a climber may fall. (Keep in mind: Unless you’re climbing on your own, you’ll never have to provide your own ropes. In fact, Scout camps won’t even let you bring your own carabiners, ropes or belay devices because they have to ensure the history of all gear used.)
Most Boy Scout councils and summer camps will not allow boys to participate in climbing until they are at least 13. Even then, never go climbing without a qualified BSA climbing instructor.
DRESS TO CLIMB
When climbing, always wear a comfortable shirt and pants to avoid scrapes and abrasions on the rock. Loose clothing is good, but stay away from baggy clothes because they may get caught on the rock or interfere with your movement.