With the variety of equipment necessary and available, how does one begin to prioritize what needs to come first? That depends on how you are experiencing the sport. Bouldering, sport, and traditional climbing all require different gear! Some essentials that span across the disciplines are shoes, hiking boots, weather proofed clothing, water, a crash pad, a helmet, rope, carabiners, accessory cord, a belay device, and a harness. Other pieces of equipment you could need depend on the discipline.
An accessory cord is a cord that is thinner than your rope, in between 6mm and 8mm in diameter, that you will use to make different life saving things. Accessory cords can be used to make anchors, a third hand for rappelling, and even a personal anchor system.
Your main way to build an anchor is going to be accessory cord tied into a cordallete. A cordallete is a 20-30 foot loop of cord, joined together with double fisherman's knots. A cordallete is static, and is a safe anchor when tied appropriately, that is then attached to bolts with carabiners!
A belay device will let you climb with other people safely. It is one of the most essential pieces of equipment and one you shouldn't leave home without. There are many different styles and versions of a belay device, but two of the most common styles are a tube style ATC device and an assisted braking device. Both have their own uses and most people have one of each!
ATC means Air Traffic Control Device and can be used for belaying an individual from the ground or above, but also are very useful for double rope rappelling!
Modern ATC's have teeth to bite into the rope to create more friction and be safer. There are other devices for single rope rappel that are listed later. ATC's are essential because they serve more than one purpose.
Assisted braking devices offer a mechanical advantage when belaying and are the only safe method of belaying an individual while they are lead climbing. Assisted braking devices include the grigri, which has a cam that adds friction to the rope when weighted. A grigri can be used to single rope rappel in certain situations.
Carabiners are essential to life as a climber. They are useful on the rock face and off. Locking carabiners are useful for anchors and for life saving equipment such as a third hand, a PAS, or for attaching the belay device to the belayer. Certain types of locking carabiners twist and then can open, while others have a screw gate that must screw down all the way to open.
Non-locking carabiners are also useful while climbing. They can be used for gear or for quickdraws, which are used while lead climbing.
All carabiners that you use on a rock face need to be approved for climbing. If not, then do not climb with them.
A crash pad is a padded device that is meant to be landed on after a fall. This can be used during lead climbing and during bouldering, but top rope climbing does not really need a crash pad. Proper technique from a belayer or a spotter will help the climber land on the crash pad appropriately, but a crash pad is not fool-proof and all climbers need to be careful.
Harnesses are essential to climbing and there is no substitute. These are life saving devices and every time you use it you should make sure there is no wear or soft spots on the belt or leg loops, and you should make sure it still fits appropriately.
The gear loops are NOT life saving. Do not clip into the gear loops.
Another essential, a helmet must be worn by a belayer and by a climber. Falls are inevitable, so to protect yourself wear a climbing appropriate helmet. Additionally, when you fall you will possibly knock rocks loose or drop gear down to your belayer and they need to be protected as well.
Climbing is not the only physical activity of the day. You must get there first. Oftentimes, there will be a hike to get to where the routes are, then more to get to specific routes. Hiking boots are essentials. They will prevent blisters and hot spots to let you keep climbing for longer durations.
Clothing that is appropriate for the outdoors is a necessity. Clothes that dry fast are made of polyester or wool, and those are the main considerations. Comfort and dressing for the weather is also important. Having more layers to take off will keep you alive. You will also need waterproof outer layers such as a rain jacket.
Climbing shoes are the one piece of equipment that spans across all disciplines. Whether you are bouldering, trad climbing, sport climbing, or even mountaineering, you will need appropriate footwear for the sport.
Climbing shoes are fickle, and you need to have the type of shoe that will give you the best opportunities on the climbs you want. There are different levels of turn, and the materials that shoes are made of should also be considered. Synthetic versus leather, an age old question with footwear. For climbing shoes, synthetic materials tend to last shorter amounts of time but not change as much over their life. Natural materials tend to take time to feel just right on your foot, but the materials tend to last longer than synthetic materials. Natural leather tends to be more expensive than synthetic leather.
Aggressively downturned shoes are good for routes that overhang where footwork is essential. Shoes that are more neutral are more like regular shoes and are more comfortable, but not for extremely technical footwork.
A third hand is a shorter version of a cordallete that is used during a rappel. It is a 48 inch loop of cord (48 inch approximate circumference) that is tied using double fisherman's knots and is wrapped around a rappel rope and attached back to the climber with a carabiner. This is a safety against falling if a climber were to go unconscious or lose control.
There are many personal anchor system options to go with, some being a manufactured PAS by Metolius or a handmade set of cows tails (also called lobster claws). This is used to aid in rappelling rarely or to attach oneself to a set of bolts while setting up an anchor!
Rope is used to keep the climber safe. Rope comes in a variety of different diameters, the main being 9mm-11mm, and with different aspects of the rope. Aspects to consider are whether the rope is dry, static or dynamic.
Dry core or dry sheath ropes do not hold water and can be used when it is wet outside! Static ropes cannot be used on lead climbing or top roping outdoors but are great for rappel, and dynamic ropes are great for top rope and lead climbing.
Being anywhere in the outdoors means you also need to bring water. Being dehydrated is the easiest way not to make it back from a climb!
Figure 8 rappel devices are used solely in rappel in modern times. Originally used for belay as well, modern belay devices have become superior for this. Modern figure 8 devices, such as Petzls Pirhanna, overcome drawbacks of rappelling single rope off of a figure 8, by using horns to keep the rope organized and prevent it from tying itself up.
Quick draws are used while leading, and they can be used in sport climbing or in trad climbing. They clip into a bolt or a piece of trad gear, and the climber then clips the rope through the draw.
Slings have a variety of uses in the great outdoors, and some of those uses can be as anchors, or as alpine draws. Modern slings are either nylon or dyneema, and each serve their own purpose. Having several slings can help you problem solve situations that are unforeseen.
Traditional climbing calls for its own set of gear, often dubbed a trad rack. Trad racks can consist of cams, nuts and hexes, slings, quickdraws, and anything else to help you be safe and get up the wall.