Many people don’t realize that when it comes to rock climbing, especially if you’re out for a long multipitch climb, the clothes you wear are almost as important as your harness, climbing shoes, and the rest of your rock climbing equipment. It doesn’t matter how good the rock is—if you’re uncomfortable, you won’t enjoy the climbing. Here are a few things to consider when you start getting dressed for a full day of climbing.
Weather and Conditions
As with 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. Be sure to leave a little room in your pack for a rain jacket and an extra layer or two just in case.
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 fabrics to break down quickly. Because of this, climbing is one of the few activities where we won’t tell you “cotton kills”; a cotton tee is going to hold up a whole lot longer than a Techwick tee.
It’s important to note, however, that you may want to stay away from cotton if you’ll be multipitch climbing, during which you’ll be on the face for an extended period of time. If you were to wear a cotton shirt, you’d get nice and sweaty as you climbed and then be stuck in a wet, uncomfortable shirt at each belay. (Ain’t nobody got time for that.)
The most important thing to think about when choosing a shirt for a day of climbing is how much freedom of movement you’ll have. Your arms will need to move a lot throughout the day, 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 you can still move freely. In cooler temps, a comfortable, loose-fitting long-sleeve tee should do the trick.
Just like the upper body, pants and shorts should be comfortable and allow the most freedom of movement. 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, though this will also leave your knees exposed to scrapes and cuts when they bang against the rock; choosing capris or three-quarter-length pants will offer a little more protection.
If you choose to wear full-length pants, make sure the pant legs aren’t so long that they interfere with your footwork. If you do find yourself stepping on them, simply roll the cuffs up while you climb.
While you can of course wear the same garments for indoor climbing as you do 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 obstacles that could snag your clothes than a real rock, you can pretty much wear whatever you want.
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 climbing shoes before you start your ascent.