Gear Guru Speaks – What climbing gear do I need?
by Backcountry Bob
Q: I have been gym climbing for a while now and am aching to get onto some real rock. I am in college and on a tight budget. What gear do I absolutely have to buy and not be restricted in my climbing?
A: Shoes and chalk bag
First, buy a good pair of rock climbing shoes. They’re the only pieces of gear that actually determine how well you climb on the rock. Don’t go for the I-can-barely-get-these-on fit when you buy your first pair. Hook up a pair that’s snug, but comfortable. Next, get yourself a chalk bag. Make sure to pick a style you like, as they tend to be a long-lasting piece of gear. I’ve had the same one for seven years, and it’s still going strong.
Harness, belay device, and locking carabiner
Your next step: a harness, belay device, and a big locking carabiner. These three items go together like climbing bums and high-mileage Toyota trucks. A harness with four gear loops and a belay loop gets the job done for nearly any type of climbing except big walls. Adjustable leg loops are great if you have any interest in ice climbing or mountaineering.
Get a tube-style belay device like the Black Diamond ATC XP. Besides teaching better belay habits than a self-locking device, they can also be used for rappelling.
Buy a large, pear-shaped, round-stock locking carabiner to use with your belay device. These feed smoother and pinch the rope less than smaller D-shaped carabiners (which are better for anchors).
Heads are very fragile things with really important stuff inside them. Rocks are hard and always win a direct confrontation. A good helmet protects your precious melon and costs less than a visit to the emergency room. Hard-shelled helmets like the Petzl Elios are comfortable and extremely durable. Injection-molded helmets such as the Black Diamond Tracer are lighter and smaller but a bit more expensive.
The Super Budget Package:
Total cost: $215.75
You’ve been eating Mac ‘N Cheese for three weeks straight to save money for climbing gear. This set up leaves you enough to splurge on some Chinese takeout.
The Middle of the Road Package:
Total cost: $337.60
Mom sent a couple bills to help with rent, but you’re (wisely) spending it on climbing gear instead. This gear won’t leave you wanting to upgrade in three months.
Now that you have the gear to go climbing with someone else it’s time to get the goods to lead your own trip. Start with a climbing rope and enough tubular webbing to set up a top rope. Go with a 10.5mm or thicker rope such as the Mammut Flash. The ideal length depends on the crag, but a 60-meter line gets the job done in most areas. (Read here for more information on selecting a climbing rope.) Four locking carabiners and about 40ft of 1-inch tubular webbing allow a solid top rope setup at most crags, but again, this varies.
When you’re ready to start leading, the list of gear grows exponentially. A dozen or so quickdraws are usually the next step, followed by trad-climbing protection, ice gear, big-wall ironmongery, bouldering pads, or more quickdraws depending on which type of climbing catches your interest. When does the cycle stop? Never. Sorry. The climbing gear filling my garage is worth more than everything else I own. I wouldn’t trade my heap of toys for a Ferrari. (I couldn’t afford the insurance, anyway).
Wherever your climbing takes you, remember: good gear works properly without exception and lasts a very long time. Second-rate gear is quickly exposed for what it is; you usually have to replace it with good gear within a year or two. Spending more the first time may save you money over the long run. You can buy good gear once every ten years or get cheap gear every season.