Minimal gear necessary for sport climbing – Part 2: Outdoors

To begin with, please check the weather forecast for the area you’re looking at and dress for the weather.  Very important!!!  Okay, so we already talked about what we need for indoor sport climbing, right?  Bring all of that stuff!!!  You’ll need it for outdoor sport climbing.  Where are you going to put it?  Let’s get started with our outdoor sport climbing gear list…

Pack.  I would recommend at least a 40L pack to stuff your sport climbing gear into.  That is the smallest I would go.  I have a 40L pack and my sport climbing stuff goes in for the most part, except for my climbing shoes, which I attach to the outside of my pack, and my harness, which I sling around my neck and let hang across my body from my shoulder on that side.  One other thing that doesn’t fit into my pack is my water.  Some packs have specific pouches built into them for water bladders.  I would recommend a 3.0L water bladder if you find one of these packs to your liking.

WATER.  You’re going to need plenty of drinking water.  I would recommend carrying at least a gallon jug with you.  Yes, it weighs 8 lbs, but you can’t climb when you’re dehydrated, nor should you try.  You’re asking for trouble if you don’t have enough water, especially on hot days in the summer when you’re working hard on the crag.  It also serves a vital purpose if you or one of your buddies happens to have an open injury so that you can flush the wound with clean water.

First Aid Kit.  Invest in a good compact medical kit for wilderness travel and pack it with you.  Add a snakebite kit and a sharp folding knife to it, and you’ll be good to go.  You can also put your own first aid kit together, but either way, make sure it has what you need in it to take care of acute injuries until trained medical help arrives in the event of an accident or the common injuries that we come across as rock climbers.  You’re going to get scraped, bumped, bruised, and such, so make sure you have something with you to take care of the smaller injuries that could occur and know how to call for medical help if needed.  As a former EMT, I can’t emphasize this enough!

A means of communication.  Make sure you can contact outside help if you have a major emergency of some sort.  Cell phones, ham radios, etc. are good to have if you are going very far from civilization.  As a ham radio operator, I can say that this is the best means of communication I’ve found, and I’ve never needed it for an emergency, thank goodness!  Make sure you know how to contact help if necessary.

Sunscreen.  This should be self-explanatory.  I don’t want anyone getting skin cancer.  You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Snacks, such as granola with some protein, are good.  They keep you from collapsing in an exhausted heap on the ground and/or being hangry.  Try carrying some electrolyte powder in your pack to add to your water.  It helps a lot.  If you take medication, make sure you pack this with you as well!!!

Hiking equipment for the approach.  Make sure you have a pair of hiking boots or approach shoes that fit well and that are comfortable so that you don’t get blisters on the approach to the crag.  Some of the approaches to sport climbing crags can be brutal!  If you need something to steady yourself on the narrow, sometimes barely-existent trails on steep hillsides, get a pair of hiking poles (they look like adjustable ski poles and come in carbon and aluminum versions with different assembly and adjustment systems).  They help, especially with an awkward heavy pack and steep terrain.  They’re also good for crossing streams.  If you’re going to be in an area where bears are a threat, bear spray might be a good idea!  It depends what time of year and how far into the wilderness you are traveling to get to the sport crag.  Stay alert and plan ahead.  Locals can help you with this and are usually willing to tell you what to watch for and if there are places to avoid during the time you are visiting.

A guidebook or map, and a compass.  Land navigation is a skill we all need to have as climbers in case we get turned around or off the trail somehow.  Fortunately, since we’re sport climbing, we’ll probably run into other people along the way.  If the weather turns bad or we don’t know where we are, we must find a way to get back on track.  Photos in guidebooks can be useful once you’re at the crag itself, but a detailed map of how to get there does more for you if you’re lost because the photos don’t often reflect the angle you’re going to see it at, in all honesty.  Know your way around and keep a few items in your pack to “find yourself” should you get off the beaten path.

Helmet.  Absolutely, positively a MUST!  It doesn’t need to fit into my pack because I wear mine.  Yes, I wear mine all the way to the crag, while I’m at the crag, and all the way back from the crag.  You need to have your helmet on at least while you’re at the crag, and yes, you need to have your helmet on both while you are climbing and while you are belaying your partner.  Rocks can fall and smack you in the head.  We don’t want you to have to use that expensive little medical kit that you either bought or put together yourself, now do we?  The answer is no.

Personal Anchor System (PAS).  This is a series of individual dyneema loops linked through each other and sewn to make a chain, one end of which will be attached through both loops of your harness, as the rope will be when you’re climbing, and the other end of which will have a locking carabiner on it for hooking into a bolt or anchor directly.  This is also a MUST.  Metolius makes a good PAS, which is what I use.  This is NOT the same as a daisy chain!!!  PAS’s are used for clipping in directly to a bolt while cleaning a route, setting up to rappel, and other purposes.  You need one.  And carry a spare.

ATC and locking carabiner.  This is for rappelling down from the top of a crag.  Sometimes that is the only way down to the base of the sport climb.  You need to know how to rappel, so again, I would recommend that you have either an experienced climber or an instructor for a class of this type teach you how to rappel and have you get some hands-on practice doing it before you go off trying to do it by yourself!  A lot of climbers get killed in rappelling accidents.  In addition, you may want a Prüsik loop and another locking carabiner with you to help you rappel with more control.  Have an experienced climber or an instructor show you how to rappel with a Prüsik loop and/or cordalette.  The point of these is to control the rappel better by adding friction to the system.  I use a Prüsik loop and extra locking carabiner myself.  You can use your ATC as your belay device, too, as a side note.

Headlamp.  This is a given if you’re going anywhere where you might need to see in less-than-ideal lighting conditions or in the dark.  ALWAYS have a headlamp and extra batteries with you!  Conditions can change rapidly!

Quickdraws.  These are a matter of preference.  There are the 12cm standard draws with either two wire gate carabiners, one wire gate and one solid gate carabiner, or two solid gate carabiners (one on each end of the “dogbone” in the middle), and there are the extended 18cm draws which have the same variety of options with the carabiners at each end of the dogbone.  I like having at least on of the carabiners on my quickdraws be a solid gate carabiner.  That’s the end that I clip into the actual bolts in the rock.  The wire gate carabiner end, if that’s the type of quickdraw I’m using (which it is), is the end that I clip the rope into while lead climbing or mock lead climbing.  I would recommend having 18-24 quickdraws with you in case you encounter a longer sport climb or a multi-pitch sport climb.  Be aware that quickdraws add a lot of weight to your pack, and that’s why there are different preferences regarding the carabiners at the ends of them.

Anchor slings and locking carabiners.  A 36″ or 48″ dyneema sling, two aluminum locking carabiners, and one big steel locking carabiner are the minimum pieces of equipment needed to make a top rope anchor if there are already anchor bolts (with or without chains or rap rings) drilled into the rock at the top of the route.  Have several dyneema slings of several lengths with you, as well as plenty of locking carabiners and possibly some nylon slings with you as well.  You can’t have too many locking carabiners!!!  Slings are essential, too.  Have an experienced climber or an instructor show you how to build anchors properly.

Of course, we already have with us our climbing shoes, chalk bag with belt or cord filled with loose chalk, chalk brush with nylon or boar’s hair bristles, climbers tape, climbing harness that both fits well and is the correct size (you may want one that is more durable for regular outdoor use), belay device with locking carabiner, and dynamic single climbing rope (60m minimum in most cases, and you may want a 70m rope) in a rope bag to keep it clean and dry.  Add a file and a pair of nail clippers to your basic kit if you haven’t already.  You might need them.  ClimbSkin is good to have along, too.

What I would recommend next is packing it all up and putting it all on to see how it feels when you’re all geared up and ready to go so that you can troubleshoot before you actually go on your adventure.  For example, you might find that you need a more comfortable pair of hiking or approach shoes once you pack all of that extra weight on, or you might find that you want to lighten the load somehow (be careful what you exclude).  Things like that.  Once you know how to use all of it and have your partner or posse together, climb on!  Enjoy yourself!!!  There’s nothing like climbing outdoors!!!

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