Almost every sport you get into will have a bare minimum of gear you need to get started and climbing is no different. The essential rock climbing gear list is a little bit longer than many other sports, but once you have it climbing outdoors can pretty much be free!
With this gear list, we have arranged to list the most important items first, although we wouldn’t do much climbing without at least the first 5 items on our list.
You can limit yourself to bouldering to start if you are worried about the cost of getting all this gear. The essential bouldering gear list is quite a bit shorter than what is needed for rock climbing!
Essential Rock Climbing Gear
We start with the stuff you absolutely will need to climb. Some of these items you might be able to borrow from friends or people you’re climbing with while resting, but the first item on this list is uniquely yours and a must have!
1. Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes are probably the single most essential piece of rock climbing gear. All the other gear on this list is really just for comfort or to make climbing easier or safer, but without climbing shoes you won’t be able to climb at all!
A good pair of climbing shoes will set you back around $100+, but they can last a VERY long time. In fact, my first pair of climbing shoes I’ve had for 10 years now and they still fit me perfectly well now as they did when I first got them. I have had to have some work done to them, and they’ve been resoled several times, but a good pair of shoes is your first and most important investment for climbing!
2. Climbing Harness
The climbing harness is the main piece of safety gear you will be using. The harness goes around your legs, waist, and sometimes shoulders and is attached to the rope. Not only does it keep you safe in the case of a fall, it helps your partner belay you and has loops for extra gear like chalk, cams and nuts, and carabineers.
When the harness fits you properly, you will be able to climb more confidently knowing that you are protected in case of falls. There are very, very few people who will venture to climb without a harness.
3. Chalk Bag and Chalk
There is nothing worse than going for a tough hold on rock with a sweaty palm. Chalk helps to provide a better grip on the rock, keeping your hands dry. Climbers have been using chalk for hundreds of years to help improve their grip, even back when there were no climbing shoes!
If you look across many sports that require great grip, chalk is a common theme and climbers are no different!
4. Belay Device
Belay devices are required for outdoor rock climbing. These devices stop or slow your partner when they fall, keeping them from falling too fast or too far. The belay device should be one that is attached to the harness. There are many types of belay devices, but for this list we will list the two most popular ones.
You can find belay devices in all sorts of styles, and even from the top or the bottom position as well as rappelling. Some of the nicest models have features that assist in the breaking. You will need a carabineer to attach the belay to the harness.
5. Climbing Rope
The climbing rope is another must-have for outdoor rock climbing. This rope is thicker than the one you might use for rappelling or canyoneering and it is designed with three or four strands so that it can handle use on multiple climbs without getting worn out.
You will need a rope that is rated for your weight with a fall factor of 4 to 5. Most single ropes are anywhere between 60-80 meters long if you are climbing outdoors. Gyms will generally have top-rope setups already in place and provided as part of the gym fee.
6. Climbing Helmet
Most climbing videos you’ll see of the pros show them climbing without helmets. Guess what, you are not a pro, use a helmet! Helmets can be cheap, heavy and made of a hard shell or expensive, ultralight and made from a expanded polypropylene foam. Both work, but you should always have one on!
Many people think about using one in case of a fall, but often injuries occur from debris and rock falling on a persons head from above.
7. Quickdraws or Alpine Draws
Both quickdraws and alpine draws are ways of clipping into protection as you climb up a rock. Quickdraws are shorter and have regular carabineers on each side. Alpine draws are usually longer (24 inches) and have non-locking carabineers.
Most climbers, especially those doing multi-pitch routes, will carry a selection of both of these draws for different situations.
8. Cams, Nuts, and Nut Tool
Cams and nuts are pieces of protection that can be placed and removed as a pair of climbers move up a wall. As more and more of the climbing world move away from permanent bolts and gear being placed on climbing routes, both of these pieces of protection have become much more popular.
Cams are quite a bit easier to place and remove, but nuts (sometimes called stoppers) make better anchors. The climber that is coming up second usually will have a nut tool with them to help remove the protection from the rock.
Optional Climbing Gear
While this next batch of items are required, they are a good to have and will make your day much easier in many cases. Pick these up to supplement your gear when you have a few extra bucks or next time you swing by REI!
Brushes are used to clean routes of chalk, debris and anything else that may have built up over time. We use our brush more often when we are bouldering and multiple people are trying the same problem, but they are nice to have rock climbing as well.
10. Climbing Finger Tape
It is anything but rare to wear off the skin around the first digit of your fingers and thumbs. Climbing tape can help to prevent further damage from tender skin. Nothing ends a climbing session quicker than a finger that is gushing blood!
11. Belay Glasses and Gloves
If you are belaying from the ground it is common to wear sunglasses, or belay glasses, to help protect your eyes both from falling debris and from the sun. Gloves come in handy so you don’t rope burn yourself while spotting your partner.
Many people like to climb in the early morning hours, and headlamps are great for this. It also makes the hike to and from the car in the morning or evening a little easier to handle!
13. Hand Cream
While I wouldn’t use it while I was climbing, I always have some sort of cream, salve, or lotion in my bag to help my hands heal up and be ready for the next day of climbing!
The Final Pitch
It’s important to note that not all pieces of climbing equipment will be appropriate for your level or type of climbing. There are many different categories of outdoor climbing, and the gear differs between rock, ice, and alpine routes.
If you are just starting out, it can be wise to take a beginner class at your local rock gym where they can help you with fitting and using all the different rock climbing gear. There are a lot of things to learn, and it can be confusing at first!
Growing up in Fresno, CA, Yosemite has always called to Robert. From camping trips as a kid, he quickly became a regular to the parks granite walls.
His favorite, and most difficult climb to date is Serenity Crack at the Royal Arches in Yosemite, rated a 5.10d. Robby spends most of his time bouldering these days, and loves the Camp 4 Boulder area.