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Guide to Beginner Rock Climbing Essentials

This is bomber, save-your-ass gear that’ll get you started with trad climbing, but a word of caution: it’s only as good as the climber using it.


From the bottom of a cliff, rock climbing seems an improbable, if not downright insane, pursuit. The stakes are too high, the ropes too thin, the risk of falling too great. Then again, runners collapse all the time during marathons, and cyclists are constantly getting Frogger’d. In fact, some studies suggest climbing is less likely to kill you than seemingly tame sports like tennis and swimming. The reason so few climbers fall is because — and this is the hardest thing for a first-timer — they’ve learned to trust their partner and, just as important, their gear. For that kind of faith, it goes without saying that you need reliable equipment, the kind that’ll save your life when you miss a hold and take a whipper from 100+ feet in the air.

This is bomber, save-your-ass gear that’ll get you started with trad climbing, but a word of caution: it’s only as good as the climber using it. Take a course, learn to belay, and then find an experienced mentor who can teach you the ropes and be your lead climber. Because that’s so important, we’ve omitted lead protection (cams and nuts) from this kit. Your lead climbing partner has a complete rack and, once you’ve chosen your favorite style of climbing and got some routes under your belt, can give you pointers on what you’ll need. (Black Diamond makes very good industry standards in its Stoppers and Camalots.) With the PSA out of the way, it’s time to climb.

BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro 9.7mm (70m, Bi-Color)

While the best rope ultimately depends on the type of climbing you do, this one from Georgia-based BlueWater Ropes is a good all-rounder that’s tough enough to handle lots of falls but stretchy enough to absorb plenty of force in that case. In fact, family-owned BlueWater was the first American company to manufacture dynamic climbing ropes, and they’re still making some of the industry’s best, which is why they’re the favorite hangout of climbing greats Conrad Anker, Tommy Caldwell and Renan Ozturk. Spend the extra money for the bi-color option, which helps you quickly ID the midpoint for rappelling and coiling.

Buy Now: $168

Mad Rock Flash 2.0

This affordable do-everything shoe is a redesign of Mad Rock’s iconic Flash shoe. The heel has been cushioned to absorb the impact of whippers, the classic leather upper combined with a synthetic stretch material for comfort on and off the rock. Made for dirtbags by dirtbags (Mad Rock founder Young Chu collected cans to support his Yosemite-based climbing habit), the Flash 2.0 is one of the stickiest, most durable budget shoes available.

Buy Now: $83

Mammut Skywalker 2 Helmet

Rule #1: Always wear a helmet. Rule #2: The easiest helmet to wear is one you’ll barely notice. The Swiss-made Skywalker 2 is lightweight and comfortable, sports eight vents and an easy-adjust dial. Put it on to protect what counts, then forget it’s even there.

Buy Now: $60

Black Diamond Momentum AL Harness

The “AL” here stands for all-around, and that’s exactly what this lightweight, pared-down harness is. It’s as solid as anything on the market, and — with its breathable waistbelt and adjustable leg loops for layering up and adjusting fit on the fly — eminently comfortable. Although the Momentum AL doesn’t have the self-locking speed-adjust belt so many have grown fond of, some instructors think it’s best to start climbing with the traditional fold-back buckle, which reinforces the system of personal responsibility and built-in safety checks that all rockhounds rely on for survival. And, at a dirtbag-friendly $46, its value is near impossible to beat.

Buy Now: $46

Wild Country Titan Keylock Screwgate

At the very least, you need a locking carabiner, with its added protection, to attach your harness to your belay device. This one, from the UK’s Wild Country, is a simple, strong, reliable D-shaped screwgate carabiner that sells fairly cheaply on Backcountry and Amazon and fits the bill precisely.

Buy Now: $10

Petzl GRIGRI 2 Belay Device

Daydreaming on belay when your partner comes off the wall? This mechanical, auto-locking belay device feeds rope out smoothly and, in the event of such a deadly rookie mistake, brakes automatically when a climber falls. Still, treat it with the same respect you would any belay device, and keep both hands on the rope at all times. There’s no such thing as autopilot in climbing.

Buy Now: $100

Arc’Teryx C80 Chalk Bag

There’s no need to overthink your chalk bag. This one gets the job done — it’s big enough for multi-pitch climbs, and its wide opening offers easy access when you’re pumping out. Now stick a chalk ball in it; Black Diamond White Gold or Metolius Chalk Sock are solid options.

Buy Now: $39

Prana Stretch Zion Pant

While this pant, with its four-way stretch and abrasion-resistant fabric, seems ready-made for climbing, Zion disciples (yes, it’s that beloved) will tell you it’s the perfect pant, period. Wear it in the office or on the road, but it really shines at the crag, where the ventilated, gusseted crotch and stretch fabric give you complete freedom to make the crux move. A DWR finish repels light rain, not to mention the drool of envious climbers.

Buy Now: $79

Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30

This rugged top-loader features everything you need for a long day at the crag: hydration sleeve, rope strap, load-stabilizing compression straps, water bottle sleeves and carry loops. Coming spring, MH will offer an updated, fully waterproof OutDry version of this classic daypack for an additional $30.

Buy Now: $100

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