image of rock climbing gear

Rock Climbing Gear – A Beginner’s Guide

Rock climbing has had an explosion of growth over the last couple of decades. The unique sport offers excitement, a challenge for all abilities, and different ways to explore and play in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Sometimes a new sport can be intimidating: the gear, systems, and language can be a lot to learn. If you are uncertain about what comes first, it can be helpful to research and learn more about how to get into rock climbing

As a beginner rock climber, consider familiarizing yourself with the sport through a guided rock climbing tour. Guided excursions come with all the gear you will need and allow you to get comfortable with proper climbing gear use. If you have never climbed before or want to upgrade from rental gear, this rock climbing gear list has all the beginner climbing essentials you need to start your journey into the vertical world.

Rock Climbing Shoes

Rock climbing shoes are an important part of climbing. The special rubber sole and snug shape allow you to grip the rock, offer protection for your feet, and give you the ability to place your feet on small holds. There are various shoes for all styles of climbing, and climbing shoes can be organized into the following categories: neutral “flat” sole, moderate “slightly downturned” sole, aggressive “very downturned” sole. Many shoes also offer options of “slip-on,” laced, or velcro closures.

As a beginner, you should go with more neutral shoes as they tend to be the most comfortable and least expensive. Downturned, aggressive shoes are tight, uncomfortable, and typically reserved for more technical terrain. When you are just getting started, comfort is key as you get used to wearing these new shoes. Climbing shoes should be snug, but not so tight that they cause pain. Due to the fit, you should not walk in the shoes or wear them if you are not climbing.

Some examples of beginner rock climbing shoes include:

Black Diamond Momentum, La Sportiva Tarantulace, Mad Rock Drifter

Rock Climbing Harness

Just like climbing shoes, a harness is an essential piece of protective rock climbing gear for any rock climbing with ropes. All harnesses come with basic features of holes for your waist and legs, gear loops, and a belay loop. There are many differences between harnesses such as adjustable leg loops, weight, material, and fit. These features become more important if you choose to specialize in a style of climbing down the road.

For a beginner rock climbing harness, look for an “all-around” harness that is comfortable and affordable. Fit will be one of the most important factors when buying your first harness. Make sure it has a snug fit around your upper legs and waist. Some people prefer the ease of non-adjustable leg loops but if you are looking to get used to the fit and feel of a harness, the ability to adjust your leg loops can be helpful.

Some examples of all-around rock climbing harnesses include:

Black Diamond Momentum, CAMP Energy, Petzl LUNA 

Chalk & Chalk Bag

Whether bouldering or top-rope climbing, chalk can be a game changer while climbing, especially if it is hot or humid. Chalk comes in a variety of forms: block, loose, and liquid. An easy way to start is by purchasing a “chalk ball,” which is a small cloth pouch filled with loose chalk. You chalk up simply by grabbing the chalk ball and easily refill the ball when it gets low with separately purchased loose chalk. 

It’s not a great idea to just dump loose chalk into your bag without a ball, and in fact prohibited at some gyms, as it is messy, wasteful, and annoying for your belayer to have chalk dropped on them when you use it mid-climb. Liquid chalk is preferred by some but not as common for top-rope climbing. Also, “eco” chalks, most often reserved for outdoor climbing, vary in color to match the rock.

Most chalk bags are pretty small with a closure mechanism and a waist loop. A bouldering-specific chalk bag or “buckets” will be larger, without a waist strap, and often come with a brush. If you are new to climbing, an affordable waist belt chalk bag with a chalk ball inside should be all you need. Chalk bags come in all sorts of colors, designs, patterns, and shapes so have fun. You can’t go wrong with this piece of rock climbing gear!

Belay Device

If you want to rope climb, belaying will be necessary. You will need a locking carabiner and a belay device. Again, there is a multitude of devices to choose from. Belay devices often come in the following broad categories: tube style, semi-assisted braking, auto-locking, and figure 8 (not commonly used). The most traditional and entry-level option is a “tube style” device such as an ATC. Most climbers learn to belay with an ATC and then switch to an assisted or auto-braking device. No matter which device you choose, be sure to seek instruction on how to use the device safely and appropriately.

Some examples of common belay devices:

Black Diamond ATC- XP, Edelrid Mega Jul, Petzl GRIGRI

Helmets for Outdoor Rock Climbing

While helmets are not commonly used inside, they are a must-have piece of rock climbing gear for any outdoor climbing. This important piece of gear protects you from anything that may fall from above – or protect you from the ground in the event that you fall. You will want to look for a designated rock climbing helmet as they are designed to protect your head from specific injuries that could be encountered in the sport.

There are generally two types: hard shell and shell-foamed helmets. Hardshell helmets are generally more affordable and more durable, making them great for beginners. Shelled foam helmets tend to be more expensive and have less longevity but are more breathable and lightweight. As with most types of gear, fit and comfort are top priorities when selecting your gear. 

Some examples of rock climbing helmets include:

Black Diamond Half Dome, CAMP Armor, Petzel BOREO

Final Thoughts

There is so much more to know about the sport of climbing aside from the rock climbing gear, but it is all worth it to take the time and learn. Rock climbing is one of the most invigorating and satisfying challenges. For an introductory experience, try a guided rock climbing tour. Once you have your own rock climbing gear, the technique and knowledge, and some confidence, be sure to check out the best beginner rock climbing in Colorado Springs and enjoy the views from new heights!