Minimal gear necessary for sport climbing – Part 1: Indoors

I did a post a few weeks back on bouldering gear – the bare minimum needed to get by – and I treated it in a general sense with examples of what I use.  I’d like to do the same for sport climbing.  I’m going to go through my knowledge and experience base on the minimal necessary gear that you need to sport climb.  Now, if I miss something, you are still reading this and making decisions that could be deadly based upon this information.  I’m throwing this disclaimer in here because climbing is inherently dangerous as a sport and I will not be held responsible for anyone’s injuries or untimely death due to information posted on my blog.  Are we clear?  YOU MAKE THE DECISION, AND YOU DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES.  Hopefully, the consequences will be a fun, fulfilling day at the crag or the climbing gym.  Okay.  Here we go.

What’s the first thing you might think of when someone says climbing?  Most people would say, “A rope!”  Good!  We’ll come back to ropes in a few paragraphs.  I want to talk about some essentials that we should already have an understanding about, but to be thorough, we’ll go through them as if we didn’t know.

Climbing shoes.  If you are sport climbing, you may want a different pair of climbing shoes than those you boulder in, if you boulder much.  The reason is that. although you may encounter heel hooks, toe hooks, fancy moves that grippy rubber might be great for and other such things that an aggressive bouldering shoe is good for, you might not appreciate the amount of time you’re going to be wearing them or the edging capability that your bouldering shoes probably don’t cover, especially if they’re really soft and sensitive.  Again, climbing shoes are a preference.  Keep in mind, though, that roped routes are much longer than bouldering problems, and you’re going to have your feet in those climbing shoes for much longer periods of time between breaks when you can take them off and allow your feet to regain their circulation (some people really size down a lot and/or have foot shapes that aren’t “standard”, whatever that means).  A less aggressive shoe might do better, as well as one that has stiffer rubber for better edging.  Smearing is necessary a lot in sport climbing, so that ‘s another reason to perhaps go with a less aggressive shoe.  What do I use?  Well, I use my La Sportiva Solutions for both bouldering and sport climbing.  Yes, this is an aggressive shoe.  Yes, this has softer, grippier rubber.  I can also get my toes on tiny edges with them, though.  I have stuck some micro edges with my Solutions that I never would have though imaginable with those shoes!  I’ve tried other shoes out at the crag for sport climbing.  They just don’t feel as good as my Solutions.  Now, do I sacrifice smearing ability with these shoes?  A little bit, but not bad once they’re broken in.  I tend to stay on my toes a lot and find ways to work with that.  Yes, I climb slabs in them.  The Solutions, of all the shoes I’ve tried, fit my feet the best, both in shape and in design.  When the weather warms up, I’m going to take my La Sportiva Otakis out to the crag and see how they do.  I may have found my sport climbing shoe model of choice and just haven’t been able to actually try them out on the rock, yet.  Updates pending…

Chalk, chalk bag, and chalk brush.  I use Friction Labs Unicorn dust loose chalk in a Krieg tribal warrior shield design chalk bag.  You definitely want a chalk bag that you strap around your waist when you sport climb.  You’re going to need to chalk up from time to time, some more than others.  Outdoors, I would really recommend loose chalk because squeezing a chalk ball is going to waste time and you’re not really going to have any chalk on your hands to show for it.  Chalk also comes with or without additives, such as drying agents.  That’s a personal preference.  I don’t care for drying agents.  That’s why I go with the chalk that I do.  Pure magnesium carbonate for me, please!  Now, that stylish chalk bag that you get is going to have a little loop on it for a chalk brush.  Get a nylon or boar’s hair brush, NOT A STEEL OR METAL BRISTLE BRUSH!!!  Don’t ruin the holds on the crag for everyone else in the world for the rest of eternity.  Be smart about it and use your nylon or boar’s hair brush sparingly and appropriately.

Harness.  This is where bouldering and roped climbing diverge.  This is also where Part 1 begins.  Part 1 of this is going to deal with indoor climbing gym equipment.  You need a harness that fits you well and is the proper size for you.  I’ll repeat that.  You need a harness that fits you well and is the proper size for you.  This is what’s going to keep you and the rope one and prevent you, in part, from going splat.  We don’t want anyone going splat.  Harnesses come in different sizes, styles, and designs for different purposes.  You want a sport climbing harness.  You want one that you can tighten around your waist – not your hips, but above the iliac crests of your hip bones at your waist – and that has adjustable leg loops so that you can tighten the leg loops around your thighs for a good fit.  I use a Misty Mountain Men’s Cadillac climbing harness.  Some harnesses are quick-adjust harnesses, and this refers to the doubled-back position that all buckles and straps should be in before you tie into a rope.  This is for safety and I highly recommend that you have either an experienced climber show you how to check this or take a class on this.  The last thing you want to do is slip out of your harness and go splat.  I don’t want that for you and you don’t want that for you!!!  Your climbing gym should have a harness available for purchase.  If you’re ordering online, make sure the harness has a belay loop and is for rock climbing.  Again, I would highly recommend talking to an experienced climber or retailer about this, and if possible, taking a class on everything I discuss with you from here on out because it’s important that you get the correct gear and instruction.  When I say “class”, I do NOT mean YouTube video!!!  I mean an actual instructional class with an actual instructor, in person, to help you correct any mistakes, answer any questions you may have, and get some supervised practice.  Most climbing gyms offer these at reasonable prices or know someone who can help you get the knowledge, experience, and gear you need at the climbing gym.

Belay device and locking carabiner.  To start out, I would recommend a Black Diamond ATC (ATC stands for “Air Traffic Controller”), which is a no-frills piece of gear, or a Petzl GriGri, which is an assisted-braking (NOT auto-braking, but assisted-braking) device.  This is what your belayer (the person on the ground controlling the end of the rope that you’re NOT attached to) is going to use to catch you if you fall.  The locking carabiner is to connect the belay device to your belayer’s climbing harness belay loop and must be locked.  Yes, your belayer also needs a harness.  I’m not going to try to explain how this gear works here.  You need someone to demonstrate to you and instruct you how to use this gear safely and properly.

Rope.  Indoors at a climbing gym, you might be able to get away with a 40m dynamic rope.  The minimum I would recommend for anything else is a 60m dynamic rope.  The ropes used for sport climbing should usually be 9.5mm  – 11.0mm in diameter.  I go with a Mammut 9.8mm dynamic single rope.  Climbing ropes that you are going to fall on need to be dynamic, not static.  Some ropes come with different treatments added to them to keep them dry and preserve their sheaths longer.  Talk to a retailer to make sure you get the correct rope for what you’re trying to accomplish with your climbing, because if you’re new to this, everything I just said probably sounds like gibberish.

That should do it for indoor climbing gear.  I would also recommend a helmet and a Personal Anchor System (PAS), but we’ll cover that in Part 2: Outdoor Sport Climbing…coming soon!!!

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