So you’re considering being a frequent attendee of your local climbing gym. There’s lots of fun and memorable times to be had there, but in order to maximize the quality of your climbing experience, you’ll eventually want to acquire your own gear so that you can put those days of rental gear behind you. Today I’d like to cover the bread-and-butter basic gear you’ll want to acquire.
Climbing shoes are easily one of the first items you should consider purchasing. They are designed to be stiff and grippy where your sneakers would just bend and slip. If you haven’t worn climbing shoes before it’s worth mentioning that you will likely find them to be uncomfortable, however, this is completely normal. Because of the nature of rock climbing, you don’t really want to have wiggle room in your shoes as it could cause you to slip off of smaller holds, but you do still want them to meet your personal level of comfort.
Keep in mind when purchasing your first pair that, depending on the material they’re made from, they will probably stretch over time, so it could be a good idea to purchase a size smaller than your personal comfort level so that they’ll stretch out and break-in to the appropriate fit, though you will be forced to deal with a short period of extra uncomfortable climbing shoes. My personal rule of thumb when purchasing my own climbing shoes is that no matter the struggle it takes to get them on if I’m able to get my feet in them, they fit, but if they feel comfortable, then size down. All suggestions aside, purchase the shoes that you’re comfortable purchasing because everyone has a different level of tolerance for climbing shoe discomfort, and purchasing shoes too small could potentially hinder your climbing ability.
If you plan on going beyond the bouldering limits you’ll need a rock climbing harness. The purpose of a harness is pretty self-explanatory: to keep you attached to a system that will protect you from falling to the ground.
If you’re buying your first harness specifically for climbing at the gym (and ideally to transfer to outdoor climbing as well) any sport/gym harness should suffice. Checking out your local outdoor recreation retailer and trying on a few are recommended. They’ll all serve the same purpose but with some having different excess material, buckles, and gear loops. I’d recommend buying a harness that feels comfortable. After all, you’re ideally going to be spending a lot of time weighting it.
Just remember that your harness needs to be retired after 10 years regardless of use, and whatever you do, do NOT buy a harness (or anything load-bearing for that matter) used. You’ll have no idea how the previous owner treated it, where it was stored or if it was exposed to anything harmful to it. The things that will save your life are not the place to cut costs in climbing.
Chalk bags are essential so that you have chalk attached to you while you’re climbing. You might not keep a chalk bag attached to you while bouldering, but a chalk bag is still important for keeping your chalk contained in something that you can really dig your hands in.
Chalk bags tend to all function the same, so you're essentially just paying for preferences when you buy a more expensive one. There’s something to be said about the longevity of the material that various bags are made out of, but I would personally just recommend buying one that’s affordable and also has a small strap for attaching a to.
You’ll find that there are chalk bags and chalk pots. Chalk pots are just larger (and also pricier) chalk bags that sacrifice the feature of attaching it to yourself for size. They’re ideal for sharing chalk while bouldering with a group, so if you’re primarily a boulderer, it might be something to consider purchasing. Otherwise, I’d stick with a standard chalk bag.
With the vast majority of climbers using chalk, it naturally accumulates on climbing holds. Excess chalk piling up on holds can easily cause you to slip off upon trying to engage them. Keeping a brush handy is an easy solution for this problem, and a lot of chalk bags do have a loop or a pocket attached to them specifically for keeping your climbing brush in a convenient place.
Once trained properly on how to give an efficient top-rope or lead belay, you’ll need the proper tools to issue one. A standard ATC belay device is recommended for starting out, then once you’ve become comfortable with using one properly you can consider learning how to use a more advanced device such as an assisted braking device.
Please just keep in mind that it is crucial that before using a new belay device for the first time that you consult somebody who’s familiar with how to use that device properly, or in the case of taking it to your local climbing gym, consulting the staff before using it at their facility as you’ll have to pass some sort of test to be able to use it.
Lastly, please recognize that every piece of climbing equipment has manufacturer recommendations. These recommendations should not be considered “kind suggestions” so much as they should be considered a proper use guide as the manufacturers undoubtedly know how to best use their products safely, so when your friend tells you that you can use your belay device in a way that the manufacturer tells you is improper use of the device, please refer back to this post. The companies decide what’s a safe way to use their equipment, not your friend who’s “climbed for X amount of years.”
Getting gear that’s right for you is an important part of optimizing your climbing experience. It’s good to research climbing products the same way you would with other everyday products. Compare prices, read reviews, and figure out which products will best suit your needs.