What to Wear Rock Climbing: 5 Tips for Picking Out the Right Clothing

Many don’t realize that, when it comes to rock climbing, especially if you’re out for a long, multi-pitch journey, the clothes you wear are almost as important as your harness, shoes, and the rest of your equipment. It also doesn’t matter how good the rock is—if you’re uncomfortable, you won’t enjoy the ascent. So you’re prepared, here are a few things to consider when you start getting dressed for a full day’s activity.

1. Take the Weather and Conditions into Account

In your approach for this and any outdoor trip, be sure to check the weather before heading out. Figure out how hot it will get, how sunny or cloudy it will be, and whether or not you might get caught in some passing rain showers, and dress accordingly. In response, leave a little room in your pack for a rain jacket and an extra layer or two just in case.

2. Consider Materials

The very nature of climbing—in which joints bend deeply, stressing the fabric from within, while abrasive surfaces scrape the clothing from the outside—can cause your garments to break down prematurely. As a result, this is one of the few activities where we won’t tell you “cotton kills”; instead, a cotton tee is going to hold up a whole lot longer than anything with Techwick®.

It’s important to note, however, that you may want to stay away from cotton if you’ll be multi-pitch climbing, during which you’ll be on the face for an extended period. If you were to wear a cotton shirt, you’d get nice and sweaty during your journey up and then be stuck in a wet, uncomfortable garment at each belay.

For any activity that requires hiking at some point, cotton should also be avoided, as, in these situations, durability and stretch are best sacrificed for wicking. Recently, synthetic-spandex or wool-spandex mixtures have become more popular and are great at controlling moisture while affording you some stretch.

3. Start Up Top

The most important thing to think about when choosing a shirt for a day of climbing is your freedom of movement. Your arms will need to move unrestricted throughout, and you don’t want to be stuck in a shirt that inhibits your range of motion in any way.

In fair weather, women often opt for a tank top or sports bra, while men frequently go shirtless. Tees are also a fine choice, as long as they don’t hamper your movement. In cooler temperatures, a comfortable, loose-fitting long-sleeve shirt should do the trick.

4. Decide Between Pants or Shorts

Just like what you wear on the upper body, pants and shorts should be comfortable and allow you to move. It’s also a good idea to go with styles that feature a gusseted crotch to avoid a potentially awkward situation.

Many climbers prefer shorts over pants, especially the loose-fitting athletic variety, though this will also leave your knees exposed to scrapes and cuts when they bang against the rock. As an alternative, choosing capris or three-quarter-length pants will offer a little more protection.

If you opt for full-length pants, make sure the legs aren’t so long that they interfere with your footwork. Should you step on them, simply roll the cuffs up while you climb.

5. Relax When You Go Indoors

While you can, of course, wear the same garments for indoor climbing as you would for an outdoor jaunt, you don’t have to be quite as concerned about clothing when you’re just heading to the gym. Since the climate is usually controlled, the routes are never too long, and the wall is typically smoother and has fewer snagging surfaces than a real rock, you can pretty much wear whatever you feel most comfortable in.


Climbing is a great way to stay in shape and get out into the wild. Just be sure you’ve got the right clothes, hardware, and shoes before you start your ascent.