Climbing may seem impossible from the bottom of the mountain, but with the right tools, you'll find yourself at the top in no time. In the gym or outdoors, rock climbing requires a lot of mechanical equipment to help push you to the top. Ropes, climbing shoes, carabiners, harnesses, and chalk are all necessary for a fun and successful climbing experience.
Climbing is one of the most rewarding athletic activities you can partake in. Whether you climb at the gym or up a mountain, the feeling you get from pushing yourself to reach the top is like no other. Although it may seem dangerous or even impossible, with the proper equipment like climbing shoes, a helmet, and well-secured ropes, it is perfectly safe and achievable.
There are different types of climbing, but the two main categories are free soloing, or climbing a shorter distance without ropes, and free climbing, or using ropes and a harness to guide a longer climb. Both require basic equipment like a helmet and climbing chalk, but free climbing requires a bit more.
Free climbing is the most common form of climbing, requiring a setup of ropes, a harness, and safety gear. Free climbing can be further categorized by sport climbing and trad (or traditional) climbing. Sport climbing means climbing with preplaced bolts to clip your ropes into, whereas trad climbing means carrying and setting up your own protection as you go.
A belay device is like a brake for your rope. The device uses friction to control how much the rope flows and when it stops, allowing you to control how far you go down. Belay is the act of applying tension to the rope to stop your fall.
Carabiners are D-shaped loops made of steel and plastic which hook together the ropes, your bolts, and the harness. They are extremely strong and can hold up to 4,500 pounds. Two of them are connected to make a quickdraw. You should always keep them on hand when climbing!
Sweaty palms are the enemy of every climber. You need dry, un-slippery hands to keep a firm grip on the rock. That's why climbers powder their palms with chalk, which they keep in a chalk bag attached to the harness. Chalk bags usually come with a drawstring top, which can be easily opened on the fly, allowing you to dip in and dust your hands as needed. Chalk keeps your palms dry and adds a little friction between your hands and the rock. Gymnasts and weightlifters use it for similar reasons.
Some climbers prefer climbing gloves, especially in cold or icy locations, but in general they do not give as much friction and control as bare hands with chalk.
You will rely on your feet more than your hands when climbing, so it's important to make sure your climbing shoes are right for you. Climbing shoes are flexible, often curved athletic sneakers made for rock climbing. You may be able to climb some surfaces in regular sneakers, but climbing shoes help you get a much better grip of surfaces both outdoors and in the gym. There is little space between your foot and the fabric, making it easier for you to keep your footing on the grooves of your climbing surface. You can choose from several types of climbing shoes which are designed to suit different lengths and intensity levels of your climb.
Neutral climbing shoes, which are the most beginner-friendly, are flatter than other climbing shoes and keep your feet in a relaxed posture. They are recommended for multipurpose use, and are comfortable to wear for a long period of time.
Intermediate climbing shoes have a more downturned shape with a thinner, stickier rubber sole than neutral shoes-- perfect for more technical climbing, yet not drastically warping the shape of your feet. The downturned shape of the sole puts your feet in a more powerful position to carry your weight and grip the rock.
Advanced climbing shoes bend your feet into a claw-like position, giving them the most powerful, if least comfortable, stance to grip the cracks, crevices, and grooves of the rock. Climbers will usually use these for a single pitch climb since they can grow uncomfortable over a long period of time.
Climbing shoes should be fitted but not painfully tight, with your big toe touching the end of the shoe. As little space as possible between your foot and the surface of the rock is key to helping your toes navigate their way through groves, cracks, and cliffs. Climbers may carry more than one type of shoe for different sections of a climb.
A climbing harness is padded, sturdy safety gear that connects you and your safety rope. The harness wraps around your waist and thighs, with two tie-in loops on the front belt for threading and your rope through and at least a couple on the sides to attach other equipment. Harnesses in a rock climbing gym are more lightweight, with fewer loops than harnesses for outdoor trad (traditional) climbing because you don't need as much equipment in a controlled setting. Trad harnesses are able to carry more pieces of equipment, and they also have more padding than gym harnesses for increased back support.
Every climber should wear a helmet, and it's an absolute must if you're a beginner. Climbing helmets are designed to protect your head from any potential falling rocks, whiplash against walls, and possible falls. They contain a shock-absorbing layer of foam under a hard polycarbonate shell to protect from the impact of falling debris. Some helmets are hard shell, with a thicker, harder shell and a thinner foam layer, while others are lightweight with more foam. Lightweight, foam-heavy helmets are generally better for shock absorption and ventilation, although they're more expensive and have a shorter lifespan.
Quickdraws are convenient gadgets made of 2 carabiners connected through a textile sling. As previously mentioned, carabiners are the key metal junctions between your harness, the safety ropes, and the bolts that are in place for climbing. They allow for smooth and easy clipping and unclipping, allowing your ropes to move through freely and securely.
Ropes are key to your safety in most types of climbing. At a gym, the ideal place for beginners to start, the ropes will be hooked up and provided to you. In the outdoors, it's up to you to make sure they are securely fastened to your harness and to climbing bolts. Climbing ropes are usually 150 to 230 feet long, and multiple ropes may be used for one long climb. The two main kinds of ropes are dynamic and static. Dynamic ropes have a little stretch to help absorb the impact of a fall, where static ropes are stiffer and used primarily for lowering a climber to the ground. Dynamic ropes are used more commonly in lead climbing and top roping, for the ascending leg of your climb.
Staying hydrated is important in every sport, but it is especially essential in climbing. If you're climbing outdoors, you'll need a good supply of water on hand to keep you going. You could be out there for hours at a time, so it's important to think ahead and stay hydrated. It may also be a good idea to take a healthy snack or a thermos to keep you energized.