By Morgan Bernard
Whether you’ve been climbing for years, a few months or you read our last climbing post and are eager to begin your climbing journey, you’ll need a few pieces of gear to get started. Rock climbing has a simple objective, move upwards until you can’t anymore. Sometimes that goal is the summit of a mountain, sometimes it’s the top of a cliff face, and other times it’s the highest point on an indoor boulder at your local climbing gym. As we mentioned in our last rock climbing post, Rock Climbing 101: Farm Brand’s Guide to Rock Climbing for Beginners, there are several types of rock climbing. There’s bouldering, where climbers ascend boulders no more than 15 feet high and do so without ropes. There’s top-rope climbing, where climbers are secured by a rope connected to the top of the wall linking them via their harness to their belay partner. There’s sport climbing, often called lead climbing, where climbers secure the rope to the wall as they climb using prefixed bolts and clips called quickdraws. Lastly, there’s trad climbing, where climbers place their protective gear as they ascend and remove it on the way down. Each climbing discipline requires unique equipment, and for a beginner walking into the climbing gym or REI for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately for new climbers, we’ve decoded the rock climbing gear mystery. Continue reading below for Farm Brand’s Guide to Rock Climbing Gear.
Rock Climbing Shoes
If you decide to take up rock climbing, climbing shoes should be the first piece of climbing gear you purchase. While you can likely rent rock climbing shoes at any climbing gym, you will save money in the long run by buying your own. When you purchase climbing shoes, make sure you’re buying the correct type for your skill level. Climbing shoes are categorized by the curve of the arch of the shoe. Shoes can either be neutral, moderate, or aggressive. Different styles of shoes are worn for various scenarios in climbing. When you’re climbing overhanging rocks, you wear aggressive shoes to help your feet grip. When you’re big wall climbing, you wear more moderate or even neutral shoes, since it’s likely you will be wearing them for an extended period. Shoes should fit snugly. Many climbers choose to downsize aggressively to reduce the chances of their feet moving within their shoes.
A crash pad is a foam pad used when bouldering outdoors. If you’re a beginner climber, give bouldering a shot indoors before you buy your own crash pad and head out into the great outdoors. Crash pads are placed below climbers as they boulder to offer some type of protection during a fall. Climbers typically use several crash pads at once, so they can cover more surface area in case of a fall.
Climbing harnesses are used to attach the rope to the climber and belayer. Harnesses are a crucial piece of rock climbing gear that will quite literally save your life over and over. Climbing harness technology has changed significantly over time, but the general-purpose remains the same, to keep the climber safe. A well-fitting climbing harness sits just above the hips, tight around both thighs. All climbing harnesses are similar, but some are designed specifically for specific climbing disciplines. Indoor climbing harnesses are light and minimal, while trad climbing and ice climbing harnesses have plenty of room for gear.
Another essential piece of rock climbing gear is a solid climbing rope. Beginner climbers don’t typically need to buy their own ropes because they’re either climbing indoors or with experienced climbers outdoors. If you’re shopping for a climbing rope, you’re likely an intermediate climber who wants to take their climbing to the next level. There are two basic types of ropes, static and dynamic. For general climbing purposes (top rope, sport, trad), climbers use dynamic ropes because they stretch. Statics ropes are typically used for more technical activities, like repelling or jumarring. Ropes come in a variety of lengths and diameters for different climbing needs, but as a first rope, you can’t go wrong with a dynamic rope with a 10mm or 11mm diameter.
A belay device acts as a brake for a falling climber by applying friction to the rope and stopping the descent. The belay device also helps keep tension on the rope, which protects the climber as she or he climbs. There are three types of belay devices: tubular, assisted braking, and figure 8. Tubular and figure 8 belay devices require the belayer to manually break, while assisted braking devices are designed to lock down on the rope when sudden force is applied to it.
Yet another vital piece of rock climbing gear is the climbing helmet. Climbing helmets protect your head in the event of a fall or from falling rocks. While not climbers wear helmets, climbing with a helmet severely reduces your risk of injury while climbing.
As a beginner climber, you likely won’t be setting anchors and placing your own protection. Often referred to in shorthand as “pro,” this group of devices includes cams, chocks, and nuts. There are two categories in climbing protection, active and passive. Active protection devices have movable parts, spring-loaded camming devices (SLCD) that can adapt to fit a variety of cracks. Passive protection devices are made from a solid piece of metal and have no movable parts, like a hexcentric nut.
Now that you’ve decoded the mystery of rock climbing gear, you’re ready to head to your local crag or climbing gym. Be sure to take your favorite Farm Brand athletic wear along. I love climbing in my Farm Brand Weightless Hoodie. Stay tuned to the Farm Brand blog for more climbing and outdoor posts.