Climbing Gear, Equipment & Supplies

If you have a question about climbing gear, you will get as many answers as you have climbers to ask… but before I launch into my thoughts about climbing shoes and climbing harnesses, here are a few quick tips about climbing gear, equipment and supplies in general, and here’s a link to all of my other posts about climbing gear.

Getting Started
If you’re just starting out, you can rent gear at most climbing gyms, although usually that’s just for use in that gym.  Some retailers still rent climbing equipment, but not many.

If you’re on a tight budget, the first thing I’d do is shop shoes.  Here’s a more detailed resource about rock climbing shoes.

Your feet will be happier in a well-fitting pair, funkified by your foot stink only.  With just a pair of shoes, you can boulder in most gyms; and, if you’re friendly, you might even have luck making new friends out at local bouldering areas.

If you’re interested in roping up, the next purchase is a harness and belay device.  The choice of belay device is yours:  many people start out with a Black Diamond ATC or other tube style belay device.  “Automatically locking” devices like the Petzl GriGri, and Trango Cinch are my device of choice for sport climbing, but autolocking devices are not error proof, and all belay devices require competent learning and practice before trusting someone’s life to your skills.  If you are going to belay a lead climber using a GriGri, this video is must-see.

Buying Used Gear
Personally, I don’t tend to trust my life to used climbing gear as a general rule.  I know friends who don’t share my concerns; but I like having the piece of mind of knowing where something has been, before I trust my life to it.  With webbing and ropes, exposure to chemicals and sunlight can degrade the material over time — sometimes, in ways not visible to the eye.

But what about the cost?
The cost of acquiring new climbing equipment is worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the gear you’ve purchased came straight from the manufacturer.  I’m not dishing out legal advice here, but manufacturers and retailers have a financial interest in safeguarding the climbing supplies that land on their shelves.  Some dude on ebay may or may not.

What should I look for in climbing gear?
Different types of gear have different key things to look for.  I’m working on pages that give you more information on:

What else do you have questions about?

Aside from those details, when it comes to shoes, harnesses and helmets, I say:  fit, fit, fit!  I’ve climbed hard (for me) bouldering problems in well-fitting trad shoes, trad routes in a “sport” helmet, and many a rock climb in an alpine helmet, because they are the best fit for me.  Fitness for the intended use is important — but especially in the area of shoes, I see climbers compromise on fit to acquire a certain set of features, and not always to their benefit.

Where to shop
I buy climbing gear from online retailers, large multidoor outdoor stores, and small neighborhood specialty shops… it just depends on where I am.  If you visit a new climbing area, don’t underestimate the benefits of time spent in the local climbing shop.  I’ve received directions, climbing beta, and even — once — a climbing partner from local specialty climbing shops.  Aside from giving a taste of the local culture, local specialty climbing shops often carry guidebooks you won’t see in the big doors.

What have I missed?

What are your other gear questions?  Let me know, and I’ll do my best to answer!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurel September 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I recommend to new climber friends that they get an ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso.

Some of this is self interest — I like to do multipitch trad so I want my friends to have a belay device that is well suited for it. That’s why I also recommend that they get a nut tool and cordelette :)

Most of it is because I often lead on a 9.4 single or 8.9 doubles and I don’t know anyone who’s bought a new lead line >10mm in the past 2 years. Skinny ropes are a bit squirrelly in a belay device without teeth like the classic ATC. Adding the guide-mode feature doesn’t cost much (the ATC Guide is only $5 more than the ATC-XP, for example).

Someone’s first belay device shouldn’t be an autolocker — you can’t rappel with them so you also need a regular device to clean anchors (ok, technically you can, but it’s more complicated and/or requires a big knot with a loop and carabiner that is way more likely to snag on something when pulling).

I also think you should learn to lead before learning to lead belay 😉


Jenna February 28, 2012 at 9:51 am

This is really good advice. You really know what you’re talking about. I haven’t gotten around to buying a rope yet, but do have a sweet pair of shoes. I’m going to be getting a harness soon (BD Primrose harness). Thanks for the article!


Isabelle October 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I have been rock climbing four years and I’m looking at finally buying a harness. I am 13 years old and 4 feet 11 inches tall. I am looking at the Black Diamond Wiz Kid Climbing Harness or the Black Diamond Primrose SA Climbing Harness. They look pretty much the same exempt I think the size. First, do you know of any significant differences? Also, do you think that the women’s harness could be fitted to my size? If you don’t know, no worries, but I thought I ask!



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