Climbers need to nurture their gear, which is what gets them into all the best outdoor experiences and ensures ease of use and the climbers safety. Treat your climbing rope with contempt, and you can count on sitting at home, alone and bored. Your climbing gear needs special attention, so come along to learn how to collect and care for it in a way that ensures lots of mountainous fun in your future.
Climbing is a gear-intensive sport, though you don’t have to collect it all at once. The following sections are broken up by type of climbing. While there is always a cool new tool or gadget to solve a specific climbing challenge, today we’ll be listing just the basics that you’ll need to accomplish a standard climb. After you compile these things, then go crazy with the “extras”.
If you can gather this handful of *items, you can tag along with any climber with a full rack for a day of fun. You’ll probably need to use the following items throughout your whole climb, so you can’t share, but everything else is easy to split among a group.
*Some of the items here, like harness, helmet, and rappel device, you don’t need if you’re only going to boulder.
Buy a pair of shoes that are snug but not uncomfortable. There is a popular idea that to fit properly, your feet will hurt from the start, but especially for a beginner, this is not true. You don’t want extra space, but if your feet ache before even climbing, you won’t last very long on the wall.
Choose a harness that fits well for safety and comfort. No matter how good you get, you’ll always be spending a lot of time hanging in it, and you don’t want your bum to be mad at you for your harness choices.
Rappel Device (or Belay Device)
This is the device that you will use for belaying fellow climbers and most likely for rappelling down after reaching the top.
Whether falling a couple feet after losing your grip on the wall or getting bonked by a falling rock as a belayer, it’s always a good idea to wear a helmet. If you’re not ready to get a new proper climbing helmet, go ahead and wear a biking or snowboarding helmet. Anything to protect your noodle is better than nothing!
There are official chalk bags you can get online for as cheap as $10, but anything that holds chalk and allows you to easily access it while you climb will do the trick.
Because bouldering problems are traditionally all about complexity and skill, it’s expected that you will try the same move over and over, with a controlled fall (your spotter directing your body towards a pad mid-fall) in between. If you’re climbing outside, you will be falling onto a crash pad – a cushioned pad usually around 3×4 feet. The luxuriousness and size can vary a lot depending on your needs and resources.
Sport Climbing Gear
For all climbing types, you’ll want a rope that is dynamic, or has a little stretch so that when you fall, it absorbs the impact instead of snapping. Check the length before purchasing so that if you have a specific climb in mind that you want to do, you can make sure the rope you’re considering is long enough for it.
Carabiners serve many purposes for climbing, ranging from building anchors to creating rappel backups to just holding all your stuff on your harness. You’ll see locking and non-locking carabiners, and both are used for specific purposes. Locking carabiners will work in any situation but cost more than non-locking carabiners and require a bit more fiddling, so if money is an issue, consider talking to a few experienced climbers and figuring out your exact climbing goals before deciding how to break down your combination of the two styles.
A quickdraw is a device that lets you attach your rope to the permanent bolts on a sport climb. It’s two non-locking carabiners connected by some webbing – called a ‘dogbone’ – and a typical quickdraw rack is about twelve. For a specific climb, a guidebook or online guide should tell you approximately how many bolts there are, and therefore how many quickdraws you’ll need.
Learning how to set up an anchor is a mix of art and science. You must factor in the presence of trees, chains, rock edges, and bolts at the top of the climb. There’s a lot of variety in how to set up an anchor, so study up through as many sources as possible, but you’ll probably end up using 3 or 4 locking carabiners, webbing or cord, and/or a sling or two.
Extra Slings, Webbing, and Cord
Having an extra 10 feet or so of webbing or cord (and a knife and lighter for cutting and sealing fringe) is a good idea to have along for a climbing outing. In a pinch, you can cut it up and use it to make a personal anchor to safely connect to the anchor, an extra quickdraw, a belay backup, or to replace that sling you dropped. You never know when you might need a little extra cord!
Trad Climbing Gear
Unlike sport climbing, traditional climbing takes place on routes without any permanent protection, so you’ll be placing your own. You’ll basically need everything you’d need for top rope or sport climbing, minus the quickdraws, plus the following:
The gear you’ll be placing in cracks to hook your rope into are things called cams and nuts (also known as stoppers), and you’ll need them in various sizes. Cams are “active gear” and are spring loaded to allow you to place them in a wide variety of slot sizes. Nuts are “passive” and must slide into a spot that’s a perfect fit for them. A typical trad rack includes one ‘set’ of cams (about 10 cams) and a set of nuts (10-13 in total).
Also, to connect the rope to these devices, you’ll need a set of alpine draws – the quickdraws of trad. Buy them pre-made or you can easily assemble them from slings and non-locking carabiners.
A few basic principles can help guide your climbing in a way that keeps your gear in tip-top shape.
First, remember that dirt is death to your gear. With all the rubbing and friction that your metal and cloth gear endures, if you add dirt and grime into the mix unnecessarily, it will speed up the process of disintegration. Bring a rope bag or some large, flat material on which you can place your rope so it’s not directly on the dirty ground. Likewise with other gear, try to keep your quickdraws, harness, and slings out of the dirt by placing them on top of your day pack or on clean rocks.
Next, still remembering friction, avoid sharp edges. If you’re belaying and notice that your climbing partner has climbed so that the rope is rubbing against a sharp edge, see if you can swing the rope to a smoother area. While climbing rope is incredibly tough, lots of pressure on a sharp edge (like when falling) can sever the rope.
Proper Cleaning and Storage
Here are a few tips to keep your gear clean and stored safely:
- Wash your rope occasionally with mild detergent and dry thoroughly, especially after spending time in a sandy or dusty environment. Outdoor stores sell special rope soap just for this occasion.
- Keep ropes and other gear with fabric away from UV light and car battery acid.
- Dry wet gear thoroughly.
- Resole shoes when necessary. This’ll keep you climbing harder and save you some cash.
- Replace plastics (helmets, etc.) at least every 10 years.
- Replace helmets that experienced a fall.
- Check gear frequently to ensure that no metal or cloth area is worn too thin.
- Always follow your gear manufacturer’s instructions. If they say to retire your harness after 7 years, do it – even if you’ve only ever used it once!
Raise the Roof and Raise Those Standards
Now that you know your gear and your setup is in perfect working condition, you’ll be spending a lot of time at parties and climbing. Knowing how to take care of your gear is an important part of climbing, and now you’re ready to scale mountains!