Just The Basics: What Gear You Need As A Beginner Climber

Let me guess, you’ve tried climbing for the first time recently, you’ve become hooked and now you want to scale all the mountains in the world?!

Rather than sliding into others well lubricated shoes or having to rely on the generosity of other climber’s gear which can be become time consuming if you’re swapping gear every climb, how about purchasing some?

Don’t know where to start?

It’s okay, I know it’s kind of overwhelming looking at a full rack laid out for an insane multi-pitch mixed route (You’ll come to understand what all that means), lucky for you as a beginner you only need 5 items to get started.

Other lists I’ve seen on the internet overload you with information and options, which is all useful, truthful information thought I must admit I think it’s excessive. If you don’t plan on getting into lead (setting ropes) straight away the following 5 is all you need.

DISCLOSURE: Some people will argue to have your own rope. I personally believe it’s something that can wait. As a beginner you will need someone to take you climbing as opposed to being able to solo mission it or go with a bunch of buddies and just hope it works out. That person nearly 100% of the time has a rope. If they are taking you climbing already I doubt they mind using their rope, regardless of who brings it, generally speaking you’ll only use one rope. They also will not use a rope that’s unsafe because…you guessed it! They want to live too!

Our Favorites: Featured Rock Climbing Gear for Beginners

these products are featured in the article below - keep reading for additional information
GEARTYPEBUY AT:
La Sportiva Mythos Climbing ShoesLace-Up Rock Climbing ShoesREI
Scarpa Origin Climbing ShoesVelcro Rock Climbing ShoesREI
Petzl GriGri + Belay DeviceAssisted Braking Belay DeviceREI
Black Diamond ATC Belay DeviceATC Belay DeviceREI
Petzl Verso Belay DeviceATC Belay DeviceREI
8BPLUS Chalk BagsChalk BagsREI
REI Chalk & Chalk BagsChalk & Chalk BagsREI
REI Climbing HarnessesClimbing HarnessesREI
Petzl Attache 3D Screw-Lock CarabinerCarabinerREI

1. Shoes! Shoes! Shoes!

Not going to sugarcoat this…The shoes suck. They are uncomfortable and get stinky. The plus side is that you get used to it!

As a beginner you’ll be lacking technique (no offence) that certain shoes are specifically designed for so you can get away with slipping your feet into something closer resembling shoes than torture chambers.

You have three choices of “shoe fit.”

TYPE POSITIVE NEGATIVE
Velcro Quick to take on and off Not as tight fit to the foot as laceups
Lace Up Can adjust to snuggly fit your toes / feet Take the longest out of the three to take on/off
Slip on Super quick on/off Loosest fit


Here is where things get personal.

I have freaky feet. I have what seems to be a missing toe between my big toe and the next. As a result I have excellent balance, ability to pick up anything and finding shoes that fit me properly is a nightmare.

For me, laceups were my only option starting out, I was squeezing into anything else with more desperation than Cinderella’s evil sisters.

So if you have weirdly shaped feet like me, I recommend laceups, forget the annoyance of the extra time of taking them on/off. In fact you can see it as extra time to squeeze out those last few nerves and continue perfecting the Climbers Pre Climb Curses.

Climbers Pre Climb Curses (CPCC) – A term I made up whilst writing this, however every climber knows what I mean.

It’s the moments before a climb where everyone expresses their woes with no need of recognition, purely bring it up incase they have a bad day of climbing and need to blame it back on something.

Eg:
Tim: Ohhh my shoulder is a bit stiff today
Ellen: Gosh I had a bad sleep last night

For those normal footed folks, try velcro over slip ons. If your foot can move around too easily in the shoe, you’ll have a hard time balancing and applying the edge of your shoe for more friction while climbing.

While there are many more terms for your footwear that is related to the “type” which is about the shape of the shoe, as a beginner you’ll start with a “neutral shape”.

Basically all that means is you’ll have a shoe that looks like a shoe and not a witch’s nose. Again, you’ll understand what that means in time.

BEST ROCK CLIMBING SHOES FOR BEGINNERS

La Sportiva Mythos Climbing Shoes
image via REI

Our #1 Lace-Up Rock Climbing Shoe for Men & Women Pick is: La Sportiva Mythos Climbing Shoes

These shoes are favorites among beginners and advanced climbers because of their easy-to-break-in leather upper and low toe profile.

Prefer to go with a pair of velcro climbing shoes instead of lace-ups? We got you covered!

Our #1 Velcro Rock Climbing Shoes Picks for Men & Women: Scarpa Origin Climbing Shoes

Scarpa Origin Climbing Shoes
image via REI

The Scarpa Origin Climbing Shoes are our top velcro pick for beginners because they offer all-day comfort while you focus on becoming a better climber.

2. Belay Device – That Weird Thing You Put The Rope Through

If you have only been sticking to climbing at indoor centres so far, the ropes have attached a belay device. However, once you go outside, you’ll need your own!
There is a bunch of belay devices that have been invented over the years and for the sake of safety I’m not going to mention any others than the assisted braking and tuber devices.

The guys in the 30’s and 40’s used to wrap ropes around their waist and call that safety, so you know, some of the other ideas, even if you know your knots like a good boy/girl scout, aren’t ideal.

ASSISTED BRAKING DEVICE

Most indoor climbing centres use assisted braking  belay devices.

Why?

Many people going into indoor climbing centres are first timers or at least still getting confident belaying, so the safest system is the best. Assisted braking devices grab the rope the moment it’s being pulled through unless you manually pull back on a little lever. This system means it’s practically impossible for the climber to be dropped if the belayer gets distracted or panics and lets go of the rope.

Is your climbing buddy stubborn?

Then these belay devices are perfect for you guys. If your friend won’t give up on a problem and is taking more falls than a newborn deer, you’ll be thankful for the assistance an assisted braking device provides.

Okay, so what’s the catch? There’s always a catch! (Pun totally intended)

The downside of this belay device is it’s difficult to control the slack in the rope which as you become more experienced you may find at times you need less or more, especially when going on lead (setting the ropes). More on that in another article!

There’s also a preference amongst some climbers to use tubers, a more manual approach for the reason of believing that the assisted braking  devices can make you lazy or form bad habits and that’s when accidents happen!

Other complaints are they are more expensive and heavier than other belay devices.

TUBER/ATC

First of all depending on where you are in the world the term you use for this type of belay device will vary. Americans apparently call them tubers, I’m Australian and I’ve only ever referred to them as ATC’s.

Tubers/ATC’s are the most versatile and common belay devices you’ll see. Well hopefully, otherwise you’re climbing with some true dirtbags. Which is fine once you know a thing or two, but maybe not as a beginner.

As the belayer you have full control over the rope using a tuber/atc.

Repeat after me: I will NEVER take my hand off the brake end of the rope

PERSONAL NOTE

If I was to take you climbing, I would make you learn to belay properly on a tuber. Then once I believed you had reached belaying adulthood I would give you an assisted braking devices as rite of passage present.

BEST BELAY DEVICES FOR BEGINNERS

Petzl GRIGRI + Belay Device
image via REI

Our #1 Assisted Braking Belay Device pick for beginners is: Petzl GriGri + Belay Device

This device offers assisted braking with an anti-panic handle and a special mode for comfortable top-rope belays..

Prefer to go with an ATC belay device? We got you covered!

Black Diamond ATC Belay Device
image via REI

Our Top ATC Belay Device Picks for Beginners: Black Diamond ATC Belay Device

The Black Diamond ATC Belay Device is cheap and lightweight yet durable belaying and rappelling performance anytime, anywhere.

Petzl Verso Belay Device
image via REI

We also really like the Petzl Verso Belay Device

If you’re concerned about the weight of your gear, then you’ll love the Petzl Verso belay device. It is a lighter and more compact option for climbers looking to reduce the size and weight of their gear.

3. CHA-CHA..Chaaaalk Bags ( & Chalk )

My ex was a sweater.

Not as in I dated a clothing item. As in, his perspiration levels could have flooded the Great Simpson.

His climbing shoes were something I could never go near despite crossing all those other relationship barriers like weeing in front of each other. All that sweat made him slippery so he couldn’t be without his chalk bag.

Say goodbye to sweaty palms and improve your grip!

Chalk at first was a novelty, I used it the first time because well to be honest, I was just copying everyone else. It does play a huge role in improving your climbing and increasing your safety if you’re like my super slippery ex.

You have two choices and it’s purely a personal thing.

  • Loose chalk
  • Chalk in stocking-like ball (you squeeze the ball and the chalk comes through teeny weeny little holes)

Then there’s the bag of course, which again is entirely personal.

BEST ROCK CLIMBING CHALK & CHALK BAGS FOR BEGINNERS

I love being quirky so I adore these cuties!! Top pick: 8BPLUS Chalk Bags

8BPLUS Chalk and Chalk Bags
image via REI

These fun bags have a soft pile lining that helps distribute chalk evenly, so you can boogie up the wall grease-free.

rock climbing chalk bag
image via REI

Prefer to go with a mainstream (boring! Hehe) chalk bag? We got you covered!

Any of these bags at REI are a good choice.

You can also get chalk at the above link.

4. Harnessing The Helpful Harness

Say that ten times real quick!

Your harness is what holds you in place. It’s the best friend that you don’t mind touching your gluteus maximus.

You, my young grasshopper, will want a sport harness. Harnesses only vary when you start getting into serious climbing like trad or ice/mixed climbing. Sport harnesses are the most common product on the shelves so it’s not confusing. As a beginner the only thing you’ll be paying attention to is whether you are male or female.

The male and female differ slightly for a few reasons

  • The female harness has a slighter higher rise in between the legs thanks to lack of uh…things..you understand.
  • The leg to waist distance is shortened
  • Shape of the waistband on a females is slightly more contoured to those sexy curves we have

Budget and of course colour scheme!! ….These will be the biggest deciding factor for you as a beginner. Take a browse!

IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: NEVER, I SAY NEVER buy a second hand harness unless you know and trust the seller. Most people are honest and would never pass on a harness that’s faulty but we are talking about your life at risk here. Sometimes the harness isn’t faulty but has received the brunt of big falls and is weakened. You can’t tell by looking at one, so personally I will only buy brand new ones if I need another.

BEST ROCK CLIMBING HARNESS FOR BEGINNERS

Any of these harnesses at REI makes a great choice for beginners.

climbing harnesses

5. Pirates Of The Carabiner

Much like rare jewels to a pirate, carabiners are a precious lifeline for climbers.

Again, much like pirates with hoard their treasures, some climbers obsess over their collection of carabiners.

Why?

Each type of carabiner serves a slightly different purpose and as you become more experienced these small differences will make for personal preferences.

Or you can be like me and when you have too many you discover they make great underwear holders if you only have hanging space in your wardrobe!! ( Thank me later! )

As a beginner you will only need one to attach the belay device to your harness and optional second as a backup/they’re handy to carry your shoes.

Carabiners come in many shapes and sizes. The only carabiner you’ll be requiring is for belaying so a pear shaped carabiner is what to look for! That and a locking device, let me explain below.

Non-locking – Any carabiner you can push on the gate and open is classified non-locking. Featured on quickdraw sets for quick and easy use. A quick draw is two biners attached by material, they are used while lead climbing and to set anchors.

Locking – As a beginner these may make you feel silly at first because they are a little fiddly until you get used to it. There’s two types

  • Screw gate – These have a screw that twists over the gate.
  • Auto lock – These have an auto lock the moment you close the gate

So why do you need to know the difference?

Because one is specifically for belaying and the other while it works is no-where near as safe.

Can you guess??

The autolock! You want to use an auto lock for belaying, there’s next to zero chance of the gate accidentally opening.

BEST ROCK CLIMBING CARABINER FOR BEGINNERS

Petzl Attache 3D Screw-Lock Carabiner
image via REI

Our #1 Rock Climbing Carabiner Pick is: Petzl Attache 3D Screw-Lock Carabiner

The Petzl Attache is easy on the wallet, bright (simple to find if you drop it) and perfect for belaying!

SEE YOU AT THE CLIFFS!

Here’s to hoping that you become encompassed by the world of climbing.

Owning these basics will help motivate and push you into regularly climbing, it won’t be long until you need the full kit!

So what are you waiting for?

Get out there and come be one with your fellow mountain goats!

top image via Deposit Photos

Sarah Sackville

Heya! I'm Sarah or many call me Sacky! Some years ago a solo 3 month trip through Asia changed me forever. It stirred the adventurer in me and gave me the confidence to try new things. The desire to accomplish these new tasks became addictive and thus a slight attention deficit approach to participating in outdoor sports was born. A problem arose when I realised that my lifestyle couldn't incorporate the normal 9-5 so I became a freelance writer! So here I am somewhere between random library desks, mountains and the surf soaking up this opportunity!

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