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Essential Rock Climbing Equipment for Beginners

When you see climbers dangling 50 feet up in the air, you may wonder how you could ever work up the courage or skills to get to the same point. However, learning the basics of climbing is easier than you may think, and once you’re outfitted with the right climbing equipment, it’s just a matter of grabbing that first hold.

Choose the Right Harness

Unless you plan on exclusively bouldering, you’ll want to invest in a good harness. If you’re just starting out and aren’t exactly sure what kind of climbing you’ll be doing, or where most of it will take place, your best bet is to go with an all-around climbing harness that you can use both outdoors and at the gym.

Comfort is the most important thing to look for when trying on harnesses. After all, if things go well, you’ll be spending a lot of time wearing it! Try on as many different models as you can until you find one that fits perfectly (snugly above your hips and comfortably tight around your legs) and offers the right amount of padding.

For more in-depth advice on choosing the perfect harness, check out “How to Choose Climbing Harnesses.”

Keep Your Feet Happy

As with any sport, choosing the right shoes can make all the difference in climbing. But first, you’ll have to know which shoes are best for the type of climbing you’ll be doing. If it’s your first time out on the rock, you’ll want to go with an all-around model that fits snugly to your foot, but isn’t too tight. Take the time to try on a bunch of different climbing shoes until you find a pair that you’ll be comfortable spending hours in.

Find the Right Rope

When looking at ropes, you’ll notice that there are several different kinds, so it’s important to know which one is right for your activity. All climbers should use a dynamic rope, which stretches when weight is applied, to help soften the blow in the event of a fall. If all you plan to do is climb, these ropes will be perfect for you.

However, if you expect to be doing any rappelling, setting top-rope anchors, performing rescues, or hauling items, you’ll also need to get a static rope. These ropes have almost no stretch in them, and should never be used for climbing.

Charlie Townsend, manager of Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School, knows pretty much everything there is to know about climbing ropes, and was kind enough to share that knowledge in “How to Choose Climbing Rope.” When you’re ready to start rope shopping, you should definitely give that article a quick read first!

Protect Your Head

A helmet is critical for climbing safely, but if it stays in your car, it won’t do you much good. Make sure to choose a helmet that not only protects your head from falling rocks and debris, but is also comfortable and doesn’t limit your vision. This will make you more inclined to wear it every time. Some of the best climbing helmets are made with a mix of foam and a hard shell, which provides durability without being heavy.

Grab Some ’Biners

One of the most important pieces of climbing gear is the carabiner. There are tons of different styles to choose from, and it’s important to know exactly what you need before you start shopping.

If you’re just starting out, you really need only one locking carabiner for belaying—but it’s always good to have a backup, and since carabiners come in handy in lots of other situations; there’s no such thing as “too many.”

Charlie Townsend knows a lot about these, too, so go ahead and take a look at “How to Choose a Carabiner” to learn more.

On Belay

If you hope to keep your climbing friends around for a long time, you’re going to want to make sure that you have a good belay device and that you know how to properly use it. Whether you choose an ATC-style device or a gri-gri, be sure you know what you’re doing—and that your partner does too when it’s your turn to climb!—to avoid accidents.

Once you’ve got all the right gear, it’s time to find an expert and get out on the rock! Your local rock gym probably offers some basic classes, and Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School is a great way to learn everything you need to know about climbing safely outdoors.


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