If you’re in search of a little fitness, a lot of fun, and a dash of adrenaline, rock climbing is the sport for you. While it does attract daredevils, climbing is enjoyed by a host of regular adventurers, too. And don’t worry, our guides make climbing for beginners seamless. So if you’re ready to get started, let’s jump into the kit you’ll need to get started.
Climbing for Beginners
Before you start adding items to your shopping cart, you’ll want to decide what type of climbing you want to do. Rock climbing has a wide range of possibilities, and each necessitates a different type of gear. As a beginner, you’ll want to begin with indoor climbing, bouldering, or top-rope climbing outdoors.
Indoor Climbing: For lots of people, starting at a climbing gym is a great idea. Places like colleges, recreation centres, and even outdoor stores have walls where you can try indoor top-rope climbing or bouldering. You’ll climb on artificial hand- and footholds that route setters use to create routes of varying difficulties. Indoor climbing is a great first step as it’s available in all types of weather, allows you to climb even when no outdoor climbing is nearby, and you can try the sport with rented gear before you buy your own.
Bouldering: This type of climbing requires the least amount of gear and keeps you closest to the ground—bouldering is climbing without ropes where you go only as high as you can jump down. It’s a great option for beginners because you only need climbing shoes, a chalk bag, and a crash pad.
Outdoor Top-Rope Climbing: If you’re itching to get outdoors, outdoor top-roping is the place to begin. This type of climbing involves anchoring the climbing rope to a safe place at the top of the route, and then climbing toward that point while another climber (called a belayer) keeps the rope taut. With a taut rope, you’re minimising the distance you could fall if you slip off. Of course, you’ll not only need plenty of gear for this activity, but you’ll also need a properly trained belayer—like a guide, instructor, or experienced climber.
The Kit You’ll Need to Start Climbing
If you begin this sport at a gym or with a guide, you can usually rent the gear you’ll need. However, if you continue, you’ll want a full set of your own climbing equipment. Remember, always inspect your gear before you start climbing—because frequent use can result in wear.
You’ll want to choose clothing that isn’t restrictive but also won’t get in the way of your hands and feet or the rope. Clothing that breathes, wicks sweat, and dries quickly is best, so you can stay comfortable throughout your climb. And if you end up climbing outdoors, you’ll want to also choose clothes that are good in changing conditions.
Rock Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes are specifically crafted to protect your feet while also offering the friction you need to grip the rock. You’ll want to pay attention to your ability and where you usually climb to pick the right shoe.
When choosing, try on a few pairs to see how they fit with your foot. They should fit snugly, but not painfully tight. There shouldn’t be dead space between your toes and the shoe or your heels and the shoe. We suggest shopping in the afternoon, when your feet are at their largest. Make sure that there aren’t hotspots, but note that you’ll get better performance out of shoes where your toes are slightly bent at the knuckles.
There are three types of climbing shoes: neutral, moderate, and aggressive.
Neutral shoes offer a more relaxed fit that is good for all-day use. Your toes can lie flat, which is more comfortable. These are a great choice for beginners, but also good for more experienced climbers who want shoes ideal for long, multi-pitch climbs. However, they are not designed for difficult, overhanging routes.
Moderate shoes have a slightly downturned shape (called a camber) that makes them better for more technical climbs. Whether you’re interested in slab routes, crack climbs, multi-pitch climbs, and slightly overhung sport routes, these are a great option. They are less comfortable than neutral shoes and won’t offer the same performance as aggressive shoes.
Aggressive shoes have very downturned toes and a lot of heel tension, which puts your feet in a strong position for tough, overhanging climbs. They have an asymmetric shape that puts more power on the big toe, for better placement on tiny holds. However, these shoes are best suited for single-pitch routes and gym days instead of multi-pitch climbs.
You can also choose from a few different closure styles: lace-ups, which are very versatile; strap, which makes for easy on-offs; and slip-ons, which are great for training and crack climbing. Pick leather or synthetic shoes, but remember that leather shoes can stretch up to a full size.
Rock Climbing Helmet
If you’re climbing outdoors, you need a helmet made specifically for climbing. They are designed to protect your head from falling rock and debris, and some can even protect you if you fall. You won’t need a helmet for gym climbing, as it’s a controlled environment without hazards from above.
When you choose a helmet, pick one that is comfortable and snug, but not tight. It should sit flat on your head with the front rim straight across your forehead. Adjust the fit, and before you buckle the chin strap, shake your head—the helmet should stay snug. Next check the chin straps. They should have no slack once buckled, and the front and rear straps should make a “Y” shape around your ears.
Rock Climbing Harness
If you aren’t bouldering, you’ll need a harness, which is made of a waistbelt and leg loops. Your harness will let you tie into the rope and remain secure. They have two front tie-in points, made specifically for threading the rope and tying in, one at the waist and one at the leg loops.
As a beginner, you’ll want to choose a sport or gym harness, which is stripped down for light travel. They usually have a single automatic or double-back waistbelt buckle for easy on-off, two gear loops for minimal gear, a thin belay loop, and minimal leg adjustability.
To test your harness, you’ll need to try it on and hang in it. When you do so, it should feel relatively comfortable and you should be able to sit in it like a chair. The waistbelt should remain snug and not shift too much. Try a few on, and see what feels best for you.
Chalk and Chalk Bag
Climbers use chalk to absorb perspiration on their hands and improve grip. You can carry it in a small pouch tied to your waist by a belt or attached to your harness.
You can choose: block chalk, which is in a big hunk and lets you crush it to the consistency you prefer; loose chalk, which is already ground for you; eco chalk, which is colourless and is great for climbing areas where traditional chalk is banned; and liquid chalk, which keeps chalk dust and marks to a minimum.
Remember, leaving behind chalk smears or tick marks isn’t considered good form—and if you’re causing clouds of dust, you’re using too much. Remember to ask about the local etiquette: some climbing areas don’t allow it at all.
This device is used to help the belayer keep the rope under control. When used correctly, it increases friction and helps a belayer catch a fall, lower a climber, let the rope out slowly as the climber leads, or reel in the slack. There are two types of devices best suited for climbing for beginners: tubular and assisted braking.
Tubular belay devices are best for sport and gym climbing. The rope is folded and pushed through the device and then clipped to a locking carabiner to the belayer or anchor. The friction allows the device to slow or stop the rope. The dual slots found on nearly every one of these types of devices allow you to rappel, as well.
Assisted-braking belay devices (also called self-braking, self-locking, auto-blocking, or auto-locking) are also great for sport or gym climbing. They are designed to automatically lockdown on the rope when a sudden force is applied, helping the belayer stop a climber’s fall. However, they don’t work with all rope, so be sure to check specifications before you buy.
These metal rings and spring-loaded gates keep the climbing rope connected to pieces of climbing protection. For beginners, you’ll need a locking carabiner that’s designed for use with a belay device—large, pear-shaped locking carabiners are great.
As there are so many types of carabiners, it’s often helpful to visit a climbing shop where you can feel a few models to understand how they fit your hand, how easy they are to clip and unclip, and how smoothly the gates work. For that important locking carabiner, try locking and unlocking it a few times with one hand to get a sense of how it would work for you.
As a beginner, you’ll probably have a rope provided to you by the gym or guide you’re climbing with. However, once you progress, what you’re climbing and where you’re climbing will help narrow down the best rope for you.
For now, remember that there are two basic categories of rope: dynamic, where elasticity is worked in to absorb forces from a fall, and static, which does not have elasticity and is usually used for rappelling and rescues.
Again, as a beginner, you won’t be setting anchors or placing protection. Become a good sport climber first, and then take classes or find a mentor who can teach you the right way to place protection (or “pro”).
These types of devices are used in traditional (or trad) climbing to secure a rope to a rock. Placed in a crack or hole, this pro helps prevent climbers from falling significant distances. There are two basic types of pro: active, which have movable parts and can fit a variety of spaces, and passive, which are cut from a single piece of metal.
A requirement for bouldering, these dense foam pads are placed under climbers to cushion falls or jumps when climbing without a rope. Remember, you’ll also want to have a spotter to help.
Now that you’re geared up, you’re ready to climb. But before you do, you’ll want to find a qualified person to learn from, like an experienced friend or certified instructor. They can show you the ropes!