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Basic Climbing Gear

For both new and seasoned climbers, picking gear is daunting with the endless variety and ever-increasing brands and features on the market. If you're ready to invest in your own kit after renting odds and ends from your gym or trying your friends' equipment, we've put together a rudimentary (but growing) guide to help take a little mystery out of the basics. Check out our other guides on rope, carabiners, webbing, cordage, and rock protection.


Apart from a crash pad if you're bouldering, lets start from the ground up. Climbing shoes should be one of the first things climbers should buy, and so naturally can be the most difficult gear to shop for. Remember that they will be tight fitting, to the point where you shouldn't want to wear them much longer before and after being on the wall. This doesn't mean they should hurt, especially for beginners. Shoes are classified by the terms neutral, moderate, and aggressive.


Neutral shoes have wider and flatter toe boxes, somewhat stiff rubber soles, and straighter rather than down-turned profiles. These make for a more comfortable shoe for prolonged wear on long/multipitch routes and wide surface area for crack climbing. Velcro straps are common on neutral shoes, which are great for the frequent swapping between climbing and belaying on short pitches or gym climbs, but may not have the tighter custom fit of laces.


The camber (in shoes, the extent of downturning of the sole) increases in moderate shoes for greater precision and power in more technical and overhung climbs. These don't fit as tightly as aggressive shoes, so they're a good intermediate shoe for the climber advancing from their first neutral pair, and don't entirely compromise comfort for performance.


These shoes have a very downturned and asymmetric toe shape to focus the most power and precision on small holds. These are not made for long multi pitch climbs or an all-day wearing shoe, and the thinner rubber will wear quicker, especially on slab and crack heavy routes. The sacrifice in comfort is worth the performance on challenging and overhung routes, especially in bouldering.


Any is better than none, but climbing helmets, like all activity-specific helmets, are designed for protecting against certain hazards. Bicycle helmets, for instance, are designed to absorb a large amount of force throughout the structure just once, like the bumper of a car, and must then be replaced. The most common head injuries in climbing come from falling rocks, so vents should be narrow, or on the sides rather than the top. Some climbing helmets are designed only for falling rock impact rather than human falls, so take your climbing plans in to consideration when deciding between top-coverage helmets or models with side and back protection. 


 First and foremost, pick a harness that is specifically made for climbing. Harnesses come in several forms for different functions, and rock climbing in one rated for a different activity could be dangerous if not fatal. Climbing harnesses have an adjustable waist belt, leg loops that may or not adjust as much as the waist, a belay loop, tie-in loops, and gear loops. The main differences among the different types of climbing harnesses correspond to the type of climbing. 


The use of chalk at all is personal preference- the purpose is to add friction by reducing moisture. If the climate is cool and dry anyway, this might not be an issue. Some studies have shown that the barrier of chalk between skin's oils and rock surface is actually less effective than simply having clean, dry hands. Climbing chalk is not the chalkboard variety, but magnesium carbonate. Chalk sold in blocks is cheap, easy and less messy to transport, and you can crumble it to the texture of your liking. Pre-ground chalk is available from ultra fine particulate to chunky. Socks/balls refer to thin drawstring sacks that cut down on the mess and possible waste than if you just kept loose powder in your chalk bag. Liquid chalk uses alcohol to evaporate quickly, leaving a layer on the skin that can stick longer than normal powder. Outdoor areas are increasingly recommending or requiring colored chalk that won't show on the rock, and it is considered poor etiquette to not brush off chalk marks anyway when you leave an area. There is some worry over the environmental impact of mining, processing, and use of magnesium carbonate, leading to a rise in popularity of synthetic substitutes referred to as eco-chalk. 

Chalk bags are nothing complicated to fuss over, some people prefer larger bags, some prefer smaller that barely have room for a fist, boulderers and climbers can use the belt that comes with it, click it on their harness, or eschew it entirely. Chalk buckets are larger bags that sit on the ground for people to share, great for use in groups like classes and in gyms.