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9 Items You Need To Start Rock Climbing Today

Rock climbing is one of the most versatile sports out there, using every muscle in the body including the brain! If you’re just starting out, you may be wondering what gear you need to start heading out to the rock wall?

You’ll need a few items of gear to start rock climbing today. For bouldering, you need climbing shoes, chalk, and a crash pad. For sport climbing, you will need climbing shoes, a harness, a rope, quickdraws, a personal anchor system (PAS), a belay device, and locking carabiners.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on outdoor bouldering and sport climbing. We’ll also go into a little bit of detail on the gear you need for trad climbing.

This post includes affiliate links, but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

Bouldering Gear 

Bouldering involves climbing up boulders and small rock formations without any hardware protection. 

This is a great style of climbing to get into if you just want to get a feel for outdoor rock climbing. It doesn’t require a ton of gear and you can climb virtually any rock that has holds.

There are also plenty of established routes that you can check out on Mountain Project. You can also download the Kaya app to check out outdoor and indoor climbs in your local area.

Bouldering requires the least amount of gear, with just 3 simple things on the list:

Those are the bare bones, but you can supplement that list with a helmet and additional crash pads for added protection. You can read more about the best beginner crash pads for bouldering here.

If you climb with a partner or group, having a single pad is fine because your partner or group of friends will probably bring their own pads to add to the fall area. 

However, if you’re solo bouldering, it’s helpful to have at least 2 crash pads. This will widen the protection of the fall area and help you minimize the chances of injury if you should fall. 

Now, let’s hit some details on bouldering gear!

Rock Climbing Shoes

Rock climbing shoes are designed to help your feet stick to the rock. It’s possible, but incredibly difficult, to rock climb without climbing shoes.

There are three basic styles of climbing shoes:

  • Neutral
  • Moderate
  • Aggressive

Neutral shoes are flat and are a great choice for beginners. Most rock features you will be climbing as a beginner will not require pointed toes or curved shoes. 

When I first started climbing I had a pair of La Sportiva neutral climbing shoes. Those babies got me through the first year and a half of rock climbing, after which I graduated to a pair of Scarpa moderates.

Lead climbing while carrying protection for the route and in climbing shoes.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking a certain brand of shoe is the ‘best’ brand. It’s all about which shoe fits you the best. You want the shoes to be snug, slightly uncomfortable, but never painful. 

Sizing varies. A LOT. For example, I normally wear a women’s size 6. For some brands of climbing shoes, I wear a 5 while in others I jump up to a 6 ½. When I go climbing shoe shopping I will typically try on anywhere from 8-15 pairs until I get the one that feels perfect.

Don’t let the sales attendant running back and forth intimidate you. Climbing shoes are expensive, so make sure you get the BEST fit possible.

Learn more about all the different types of climbing shoes and whats best for you!

Chalk

Chalk helps your hand stay dry and helps increase the friction between your fingers and the rock.

A Master’s Thesis from Northern Michigan University took a look at how chalk affects a climber’s ability to stick to rock holds. 

What they found is that while there is no scientific evidence to support that chalk improves friction, rock climbers were able to hang from a standard climbing hold longer when they applied chalk to their hands than when they didn’t.

The idea is that chalk helps reduce moisture, which increases friction, which in turn helps climbers stick to holds better.

There are a few different types of chalk available for rock climbers:

  • Liquid Chalk: this form of chalk comes in a squeezable bottle and is made from climbing chalk mixed with a form of alcohol. Once applied, it dries quickly on the hands. 
  • Powder Chalk: Just like it sounds. Crushed chalk that comes in a bag. You place your hands into the powdered chalk and rub it over your hands to chalk them up.
  • Chalk Ball: Typically a cotton bag filled with chalk. It’s less messy than having powdered chalk in your chalk bag and helps keep airborne particles down.

It’s all about what your preferences are when it comes to chalk. The brand doesn’t really matter. It’s all magnesium carbonate…aka chalk.

Personally, I like to use liquid chalk as a base layer and supplement with powder chalk as the climbing session goes on. 

Crash Pad

Crash pads are used for exactly what they sound like. When you fall, you want to land on your crash pad, not the super hard ground.

When you’re first starting out, buying a crash pad may seem like a crazy investment – $150-$200 just for a piece of cloth over foam?!

Bouldering and using crash pads for safety.

A master’s level dissertation paper for Industrial Design Engineering took a look at the thing climber’s found most important about crash pads. It was discovered that the foam quality and size ranked the highest. 

In short, climbers are more concerned with how much protection crash pads will provide as opposed to worrying about how bulky or heavy it is.

Let’s take a look at 3 popular crash pads and see what the difference is:

Crash PadDimensionsThicknessWeightPrice (approximate)
Metolius Session II Crash Pad36” x 48”4 inches9lbs$200
Black Diamond Circuit Crash Pad47.2” x 35”3.5 inches8lbs 5oz.$200
Evolv Launch Pad55” x 45”5 inches19 pounds$350

As you can see, the price will differ with the thickness, weight, and dimensions. The Metolius and Black Diamond are nearly identical in dimensions, thickness, and weight and are priced similarly.

The Evolv is gigantic, providing 5 inches of padding and a huge 55 x 45-inch protection area. It’s more expensive, but the caveat is that it’s 19 pounds! 

Imagine lugging that thing around in the woods!

I have 3 crash pads myself and I can assure you that even though they boast ‘comfortable shoulder straps,’ none of them are after hiking a mile to find a boulder!

Instead of worrying about comfort, take into consideration:

  • Weight
  • Area of protection
  • Ease of use

Ease of use is an important factor. Does the pad have handles to move it around easily on the ground? Do the straps buckle, clip, or cinch? Is there extra floppy material to cover the shoulder straps while climbing? 

These things may not seem important now while you’re on your phone or computer reading this, but when you get out there, having buckles instead of clips can be more annoying than forgetting the beer.

Sport Climbing Gear

Gear you need to start rock climbing today. Also our dog!

Whether you’ve been bouldering for a while and want to transition into sport climbing or you’re brand new to climbing and want to jump right in, we’ve got you covered.

Sport climbing involves more gear than bouldering, but opens up a lot of opportunities. You get to climb higher than 10 feet and you ramp up your endurance on climbs. 

To start sport climbing from scratch you’ll need these basic pieces of equipment:

The rock climbing shoes you wear for bouldering and sport climbing are the same type of shoe – climbing shoes. Since we already talked about that and chalk, let’s move on to harnesses.

Looking to ascend with confidence? Our Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Rock Climbing Helmet is the ultimate resource to help you find the perfect helmet for your climbing adventures, ensuring safety and comfort every step of the way.

Want to know more about the gear we use specifically? Check out all of our climbing gear here!

Harness

Whether you’re climbing or belaying, harnesses are used for attaching yourself to the rope in one way or another.

Besides the rope, your harness is the MOST important piece of gear to keep you safe. With that being said, as long as you get a harness from a reputable brand, the type of harness you get doesn’t matter.

Black Diamond isn’t any safer than Petzl which isn’t any safer than Edelrid. 

You get the point.

The main difference between the top brands is going to be the fit. As a beginner, you won’t need to worry about the weight of the harness or the number of gear loops. By the time you’re ready to move onto climbs where this matters, you’ll need a new harness anyway.

As with climbing shoes, try on as many different harnesses as you can at the store! Get one that’s snug, comfortable, and secure. 

When trying on a harness, look for these signs that it’s the right fit:

  • Waist loop can fit above your hip bone: Pull the harness up over your hip bones and tighten it. If it can still fall below your hip bones, it’s too big. If it can’t fit over your hip bones, it’s too small.

This is important in case you were to ever fall off the wall and end up upside-down. You don’t want to slide out of your harness!

  • Leg loops don’t slide: Make sure the leg loops do not slide down your leg after being tightened. Walk around the store a bit to make sure the harness will stay secure.

If the harness doesn’t seem to fit quite right when you first try it on, check for straps and buckles that can loosen or tighten the waist and leg loops.

Lastly, if it takes you a couple of tries to figure out how the heck to put the harness on in the store, you’re not alone!! Seriously, it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to put one on the first time and I swear I have a college degree.

Ready to embark on your next climbing adventure? Check out How to Choose the Perfect Climbing Harness, where we’ll break down the essential steps and criteria to consider, ensuring comfort, safety, and optimal performance as you conquer the heights with confidence.

Rope

All climbers know that your rope is your lifeline. You have to know it, love it, and take care of it! The problem is, there are so many different types of ropes out there that it’s hard to know which one to choose.

In your search for your first rope, there are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Length: Check out some of the local climbs in your area that you’ll be frequenting. How high are they? This will help determine what length of rope you get. Keep in mind that lengths range from 30m to 80m, but 60m is the standard size and a great first choice.
  • Width: Ropes vary in width from around 9-10mm. The best size for a beginner sport climber is somewhere between 9.5 to 9.9mm. These are durable enough to last on outdoor routes but light enough that they won’t be a burden on your approach to the rock wall.
  • Treatment: Ropes can be dry-treated or untreated. Dry-treated ropes are great if your local crag is often wet, but it’s usually not necessary for beginner climbers.
  • Safety rating: Make sure your rope has been certified by the UIAA to ensure it meets the proper safety standards. It’s never recommended to buy a used rope or gear. 

You’ll probably see a bunch of other terms like twin or single, static or dynamic. Don’t worry about this. If you’re buying a climbing rope, you’re buying a single, dynamic rope.

From personal experience, I started out with a 60m rope living in Colorado. I quickly found out that 60m cut my potential sport climbing routes in half because the rope was too short. When I moved to Pennsylvania, my 60m rope was suddenly bulky compared to everyone else’s 40m rope because the routes were so much shorter than in Colorado.

It all depends on where you plan to climb. 

One important aspect to remember when considering your climbing rope length is that you need to get back down. Your route may only be 30 feet up, but you’ll need to be lowered down 30 feet for a total of 60 feet. A general rule of thumb is to double whatever the route’s length is – that’s the needed rope length.

See here for “A Comprehensive Guide To Choosing The RIght Rock Climbing Rope

I recommend checking out this article about the best climbing knots! It’s a great resource for anyone looking to improve their knot-tying skills.

Quickdraws

Quickdraws are the gear that you place into the bolts on sport climbing routes. You then attach your rope to the quickdraws. If you fall, it’s the quickdraws that will hold you and your rope to the wall.

Needless to say, these little babies need to be in tip-top shape when you climb!

Like climbing ropes, quickdraws are certified by the UIAA to ensure safety. They are also subject to CE (European conformity) safety standards. As long as you see these marks on your quickdraw carabiners, they have gone through rigorous tests to meet specific safety criteria and you are good to go!

As with most suggestions in this article, the type of quickdraw you choose doesn’t matter. I’m not going to tell you that Black Diamond is any better than Wild Country. It’s all about your personal preference.

Here are a few things to take into consideration when choosing your first set of ‘draws:’

  • Gate type: There are three main types of gates – straight, bent, and wire. One isn’t better than the others, it all depends on your preference. Test them out and see which one you can manipulate the easiest with one hand, as you’ll be using just one hand to clip into the wall.
  • Sling size: When you’re just starting out, the sling size of the quickdraw doesn’t matter as much. Longer slings will give you better maneuverability on twisty routes, but this is not likely to happen on beginner routes.
  • Price: Let’s be honest, this is on everyone’s mind when they first start climbing. Climbing gear is expensive! Check out the prices and don’t be afraid to buy a cheaper set of draws – just make sure they are safety certified!

Quickdraws typically come in a pack of 6. You can climb almost any sport route with 12 quickdraws, so plan on buying two packs of 6 to start out with. Save two for your anchor at the top!

mountaineer, climb, rock climber-2100050.jpg

By the way, a common and practical ‘law’ that climbers follow is that if you drop a carabiner or quickdraw from up on the wall, you should not use it again. That being said, a study published in the Journal of Engineering Failure Analysis found that carabiners are astounding at absorbing impact damage, and do not commonly form microcracks even when dropped from heights.

We’ll leave it up to you to decide what to do with fallen equipment!

Personal Anchor System (PAS)

There is no better feeling than conquering a tough route. You’re at the top, you can see the final bolts, and you’re ready to set up your anchor system.

Personal Anchor Systems, called PASs, can be clipped into the wall and will hold you in place regardless of whether you are tied into the rope or not. These are super helpful when the final bolts are not located on a ledge where you can comfortably stand to build your anchor.

PASs are tied onto your belay loop on your harness. There are multiple loops that can be used to shorten or lengthen the PAS, depending on how close to the bolt you are. Use a carabiner on the end to clip into the wall. 

PASs are made of extremely durable and tough nylon that typically has a strength between 12 and 25 kilonewtons, so you can be sure it will hold you to the wall!

Personal anchor systems are not technically required to start rock climbing. You could potentially use a quick draw and attach it to your belay loop, or use a clove hitch on your rope. However, I’ve found that PASs are the easiest way to secure yourself to the wall.

The price of PASs can range from $25-$70, depending on the type, the strength, and the material. We personally used the Petzle Connect Adjust.

Belay Device

The next item you’ll need to start rock climbing is a belay device. This is what your partner will use to manage the rope while you are climbing. It can be used to feed the rope out, take in slack, and let slack out.

There are two broad categories of belay devices:

  • Assisted-breaking device
  • ATC

Most beginners like to go with the assisted-breaking device. These types of belays work by helping to lock the rope if the climber should fall. They’re not full-proof, but for the most part, even if your hands come off the device in an emergency, it will catch a falling climber.

Although, we would never suggest taking your brake hand off the rope!

ATC devices, sometimes called tubes, require a bit more knowledge and attention to work properly. These belays work by creating friction from the rope to slow or stop the rope from passing through.

So, which one is the best for beginners?

ATC devices are best for climbers who plan on doing multi-pitch routes and repelling. For the beginner, an assisted breaking device may be a better choice because it is much more forgiving when mistakes are made, which is bound to happen when you’re first starting out.

When I first started rock climbing I used an ATC device. Later, I got a GriGri (assisted breaking device), and WOW. It was just so much easier and felt safer. The caveat, of course, is that with assisted breaking devices, you start to get comfortable and accidents can happen. Always be vigilant and always keep your brake hand on the rope – it can save a life!

Locking Carabiners

The final piece of equipment you’ll need to start rock climbing today is locking carabiners. These little beauties are small but mighty!

Locking carabiners are the same carabiners that you find on your quickdraws, but the gate can lock so that there is no possible way for it to open accidentally like those on quickdraws.

You will use locking carabiners for a few different things:

mountain sports, climb, carabiner
  • Connect the belay device to the harness: You definitely do not want your belay device to turn your carabiner sideways and accidentally fall out while your partner is climbing. For this reason, it’s best practice to use a locking carabiner for your belay device.
  • Anchors: If you decide to build an anchor as opposed to using two quickdraws, you’ll want to use locking carabiners to attach the slings to the bolts and to attach your rope to the anchor. 

Locking carabiners may have a screwgate or be auto-locking. Auto-locking may sound easier, but it’s actually the screwgate-locking carabiners that are better for most beginners.

Why?

Auto-locking carabiners will lock as soon as the gate is closed, which is awesome, right? The problem comes when you try to open them again. Auto-locking carabiners often need a complicated series of movements such as pulling down, twisting, and then putting pressure on the gate.

When you’re a beginner climber, it can be difficult to open auto-locking carabiners, and takes a lot of practice. This can create a bad situation when you are on the wall and can’t remember how the heck to open your locking carabiner!

Screwgate carabiners simply employ the ‘righty-tighty, lefty-lucy’ mantra, which is easy to remember even if you’re under high-pressure situations or on a pumpy route.

Trad Climbing

rock climbing, extreme, outdoor-403487.jpg

Most beginner climbers do not start out with trad climbing. Trad climbing requires you to know how to read the wall so you know where and when to place your gear, and which size gear to use.

If you do decide to give trad climbing a go, you’ll need all the basic supplies listed for sport climbing plus:

Once you get used to bouldering or sport climbing, you might want to give trad climbing a try! It opens up your possible climbing routes exponentially and really tests your mental and physical strength.

Start Rock Climbing Today!

When you first start rock climbing, it can be intimidating to look at all the available gear online. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone just broke down exactly what you needed to start rock climbing?

Lucky for you, that’s where we come in!

To recap, here’s the gear you need to start bouldering today:

  • Rock Climbing Shoes
  • Chalk
  • Crash Pad

Here’s the gear you need to start sport climbing today:

  • Rock Climbing Shoes
  • Chalk
  • Harness
  • Rope
  • Quickdraws
  • Personal anchor system (PAS)
  • Belay device
  • Locking Carabiners

If you only want to dip a toe into the climbing world, try a local climbing gym. Some of them will be boulder-only or top-rope-only, and some will have both. Once you get to know and love (and probably become obsessed) with rock climbing, you can try to enter the world of trad climbing!

For other articles and news about our adventures, check out the blog!

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