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How to Buy Rock Climbing Gear

Feeling comfortable and confident on the walls at your local climbing gym? Maybe you’re ready to head outdoors and try some real rock walls. Here’s all the gear you need to get started rock climbing.

CLIMBING 101

BSA climbing guidelines require you to be protected with a belay rope during all activities when your feet are more than shoulder height above the ground. We suggest these two types of climbing:

In TOP-ROPE CLIMBING, you’re secured to ropes anchored above you and throughout your climb. Belayers manage the ropes from the top or bottom of the climbing routes.

In LEAD CLIMBING, you’re secured to belay ropes extending below you. As you climb, you insert artificial protection like cams, stoppers, chocks or other hardware into cracks in the rock, and then attach the rope with carabiners or quickdraws (two carabiners connected with a piece of short, sturdy material).

Learn more about BSA climbing guidelines at scouting.org/outdoor-programs/cope/

Mammut Infinity 9.5 mm rope

First, you need a good rope. The Mammut Infinity 9.5 mm single dry rope is light yet durable, has a dry treatment to better protect it from water and dirt, and is incredibly soft. The 60-meter version ($240, mammut.com) is long enough for top-roping cliffs less than 100 feet tall and leading most routes.

HELMETS

A helmet 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.

Mammut Wall Rider

Always, always, always wear a helmet when climbing. The Mammut Wall Rider ($100, mammut.com) keeps weight low and protection high with a hybrid design that combines expanded polypropylene (the same stuff used in car bumpers) with a hard shell on the top and front, where you’re most likely to sustain an impact. Well ventilated and easy to adjust, it crosses over to all forms of climbing in all seasons.

SHOES

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.

La Sportiva Tarantulace

For your first pair of climbing shoes, get an all-purpose pair that works in the gym and the outdoors. The La Sportiva Tarantulace ($80, sportiva.com) offers a sticky FriXion rubber outsole that gloms onto rock, but it’s also built for durability. The leather uppers will break in to the shape of your feet. Best of all, they won’t mash your toes, making them comfortable all day.

HARNESSES

A harness is a belt system that fits around a climber’s hips and legs. A harness comfortably distributes your weight and allows you to easily attach yourself to the belay rope as you ascend. 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.

Black Diamond Momentum

The Black Diamond Momentum ($55, blackdiamondequipment.com) is a versatile all-around harness at a great price. It features a belt buckle that adjusts with one hand, a well-padded foam belt that widens around the sides and back to eliminate pressure points, and four stiff gear loops. Its leg loops adjust quickly and boast a simple slider buckle for comfort, whether you’re wearing shorts or bulky bottom layers.

CARABINERS

A carabiner is a ring with a spring-loaded gate that is used to connect pieces of climbing equipment and secure rope. 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.

BELAY DEVICES

Belaying is a safety technique that keeps tension and provides friction to a 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.

Black Diamond Big Air XP Package

The Black Diamond Big Air XP Package ($32, blackdiamondequipment.com) includes the ATC-XP belay-rappel device, which has ridged grooves for better friction and to accommodate a range of rope diameters. It also comes with a Mini Pearabiner screwgate locking carabiner for easy security.

QUICKDRAWS

Two carabiners connected with a piece of short, sturdy material is called a quickdraw. It allows rope to run freely through anchors while leading. Quickdraws are designed to easily attach to a bolt and clip a rope in seconds — something climbers appreciate when dangling from a tricky handhold.

Black Diamond Positron Quickdraw Quickpack

The Black Diamond Positron Quickdraw Quickpack ($95, blackdiamondequipment.com) includes six quickdraws, which feature a straight-gate carabiner for clipping into the bolt on one side, and a bent-gate bottom carabiner to better facilitate snapping in the rope quickly.

Metolius Bravo Wiregate Quickdraw

Ounces add up on your harness, and at fewer than 3, the Metolius Bravo Wiregate Quickdraw ($20, metoliusclimbing.com) is lighter than many. It also has a stabilizing device that keeps the bottom carabiner steady while clipping, particularly useful on overhanging routes.

PERSONAL ANCHOR SYSTEMS

Anchors are pieces of equipment set up to secure a climber while ascending. With most routes finishing at a fixed anchor, having a personal anchor system attached to your harness enables you to quickly clip into the anchor bolts.

Black Diamond Link Personal Anchor System

The 34.5-inch Black Diamond Link Personal Anchor System ($35, blackdiamondequipment.com) has sewn loops that allow you to adjust your leash length, with the benefit of having a little less bulk on your harness.

Metolius PAS 22

Made from double-wrapped Monster webbing, the 38-inch Metolius PAS 22 ($33, metoliusclimbing.com) offers chainlink construction that makes it convenient to use and adjust the length of your leash to the anchor bolts.

CAMS AND STOPPERS

Protective hardware such as cams or stoppers allow climbers to secure anchors in the rock.

Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight

For secure placements and coverage for a wide range of crack sizes, the Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight cams ($90-$125, blackdiamondequipment.com) represent the latest and lightest innovation in a piece of gear trusted by climbers for years. With a double-axle design that maximizes the useful range of each cam and color coding of the sizes, a set of seven Camalot Ultralights from size 0.4 to 4 fills out a starting rack.

Black Diamond Stoppers

For climbing cracks in the range of widths found on most beginner routes, Black Diamond Stoppers are great because of their ease in placing, reliability, low weight (1 lb.) and bulk. And you can’t beat the bang for your buck. A full set ($100, blackdiamondequipment.com) costs about the same as one small cam.

CHALK

Grip is super important while climbing. Chalk helps dry a climber’s hands (by removing sweat and moisture) and improves his or her 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.

TRAINING AIDES

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.

12 Comments on How to Buy Rock Climbing Gear

  1. I used to go indoor climbing with old cub scout pack. So I am guessing now that I am in Boy Scouts that my council does climbing and repelling under 13 !

  2. I am not 13 but I really want to climb an outdoor rock wall !

  3. sam158676467 // October 8, 2014 at 7:21 am // Reply

    how do you build fires

  4. is there a way to set up a rock climb for one person to be able to climb up? and what should one do if they don’t have enough money for the basic equipment but have a small wall that they can climb?

  5. webelos 1 MAN // March 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm // Reply

    i want to get all of this.I got a harness from my grandma for rei in 1960s

  6. The rop can hoid your weight.

  7. i like it

  8. Cool!! love to climb.

  9. I Like it

  10. This list is very helpful for any beginning climber. It has great tips, and great merchandise recommendations.

  11. cool! but how do you get the ropes up there?

    • Camp Jackson! // July 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm // Reply

      You either lead climb in the sport or trad style. This means placing cams, hexes or quick draws in the rock while your partner belays you. This is a bit more dangerous than top roping because you are often above your gear. Then at the top you set up an anchor and clean the route. And when it’s all done the most common approach to getting the gear back is to repel with an ATC.

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