Blyde River Canyon

Getting into Outdoor Sport Climbing can be a bit overwhelming at first. There’s so much climbing gear out there and you want to make sure you get the right stuff for your particular style of climbing. It’s easy enough for boulderers, just bring your shoes and chalk to the gym and you are ready to roll. If you want to get into the outdoor sport climbing game though, you gonna need a few more toys to play with on the big walls. So what gear do you need to transition into the outdoor scene? Don’t worry I’ll walk you through it.

When your’re starting out it’s reccomended, in fact it’s encouraged to use your climbing buddies gear, that climb outdoor already, to test out the sport climbing game to see if you would be willing to commit body, mind and wallet to this endeavor. Once you have made the decision to get your own gear, this is what you will need.

 

I’ll go into details about all the gear below but if you’re in a hurry here’s a shortlist for you.

The Essentials:

1. Climbing Shoes – Climbing shoes are designed with a bunch of unique features to allow you to climb at all levels.
2. Climbing Harness – Your seat to the world of the vertical plain.
3. Dynamic Rope – Dynamic rope gives you stretch in the rope when you fall, dispering impact.
4. Belay Device and Locking Carabiner/s – To belay your partner when they are climbing. These two pieces of gear work in combanation.
5. Helmet – protect the noggin
6. Set of Quickdraws – used to attach your rope to anchors/bolts
7. Set of Slings/Runners – used to clean routes and build a top rope anchor

Recommended:

8. Chalk and Chalk Bag – Chalk Gives you extra friction on the wall and dries out your hands when you sweat.
9. Guide Book – Gives you a lay of the land, routes to do, and advice on local crags
10. Rope Bag – A simple designed tarp bag that you use to store ropes in and keep your ropes clean
11. Crag Bag – to store all your various gear and of course, your lunch                                                                12. Approach Shoes – For the nature walk up to the crag
13. Climbing Tape – A temporary cure for the inevitable flapper, also for taping up injured fingers
14. Climbing Brush – When a lot of climbers have been on a route there will be a bit of a chalk buildup making hold slippery. Brush holds for better grip.
15. Belay Gloves – Belaying is hard on your hands. Belay Gloves will save your skin so you’re fresh for your own climbing.
16. Belay Glasses – Funky looking glasses that prevent you from straining your neck and back when belaying your climbing partner way up above.
17. Sunglasses
18. First Aid Supplies

Nice To Have:

19. Headlamp or flashlight – You can easily lose track of time at the crag. You’ll be having so much fun that you’ll suddenly realise night has struck.
20. Extra batteries
21. Knife or multi-tool
22. Multifunction watch – To check that heartrate spike as you hit that knarly crux move
23. Two-way radios – Mostly for Multi-Pitching
24. Cell phone in protective bag
25. Water bottles (filled)
26. Water treatment method
27. Duffel Bag – catch-all for climbing gear
28. Lunch
29. Energy bars, gels, chews, trail mix
30. Energy beverages, powdered drink mixes
31. Wicking T-shirt
32. Shorts, pants, tights
33. Hat
34. Insulation (vest, jacket, pants, hat, gloves)
35. Rainwear
36. Emergency reflective blanket
37. Insect repellent
38. Toilet paper
39. Sanitation trowel
40. Hand sanitizer
41. Camera
42. Binoculars
43. Signaling mirror
44. Socks (synthetic or wool)
45. Bandanna or buff
46. Permits
47. Bag for collecting trash
48. Notepad
49. Pen/pencil                                                                                                                                                                50. Wallet – To hit up the local bar for pizza and beer after a long day at the crag.

What Is Sport Climbing?

Sport climbing is a style of climbing where a lead climber ties into a climbing rope and leaves the ground without a top rope anchor. As the leader ascends, they clip quickdraws into pre-placed bolts drilled into the rock. Ideally, the bolts are placed at certain intervals and in comfortable stances so the climber is well-protected in the event of a fall.

A lead belayer uses a belay device on the ground to manage the rope. They give slack to the lead climber so that they can clip quickdraws. They take away slack when the climber doesn’t need it. If the lead climber does fall, they will fall past their most recently clipped quickdraw and be caught by the belayer braking the rope with their belay device.

When the lead climber completes the route, they install an anchor, most often two quickdraws, to the two bolts at the top of the climb. Then, the belayer lowers the climber to the ground.

It’s recommended to take the time to become competent at the basic skills at a climbing gym, before you commit your life to them at the crag. It won’t take long, and with a solid understanding of these techniques, you’ll find it easy to progress.

 

Gear You Need

Climbing Shoes

1. Climbing Shoes

As a new outdoor sport climber, you don’t need overly aggressive or tight shoes. The routes appropriate for your outdoor skill level will not require the painful fit of hyper-performance shoes. Comfortable shoes will allow you to focus on proper foot placement and technique instead of worrying about pain in your toes. Or, worse, painful shoes can cause you to avoid fully loading footholds to avoid pressure or pain, a terrible habit.

So your first pair will be about comfort. Once you get to your second pair you can focus more on the performance shoes.

The shoe you get here will largely depends on what type of climbing you will be doing. For slabs, a shoe with a soft sole and a low-cut upper works well. For steep routes, you’ll be better with a tight-fitting shoe that has a pointy toe, good support and a very low-cut upper for ankle flexibility.

Different brands favour a wider or narrower foot, so make sure to try them on before you buy. Only shop online if you’re certain which type and size you need.

Whichever shoes you get, your foot should not rotate, nor should your toes be painfully crushed up in the toe-box. A good fitting shoe is more important than one designed for the style of climbing you want to do.

Remember to air your shoes out after use and store them in a cool, dry place.

Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Shoes

Climbing Harness

2. Climbing Harness

After you get your shoes sorted, a harness should be your next investment.

For your first harness, comfort is your first priority. Sport climbing usually involves more falling than traditional climbing, so you are hanging in the harness much longer. This means you want something that fits and doesn’t make your feet fall asleep while you’re hanging in it. As you get better at climbing, weight becomes more of an issue and as you’ll want a lighter harness; these tend to be more uncomfortable because they do not have as much padding. You want to make sure you have at least two gear loops on the harness to carry all your quickdraws.

Some harnesses prioritize comfort or durability over all else, while others aim to be lightweight and compact for mountain missions. The Black Diamond Solution is a crowd favorite for its simple and eye-catching appearance, comfort, and affordability.

Read: The 5 Best Climbing Harnesses of 2024

3. Dynamic Rope

When sport climbing you need a ‘single rope’, a rope that is meant to be used on it’s own without any other rope assistance. Single Ropes are marked with a ‘1’ symbol on the tip of the rope.

You have to make sure you’re rope is a ‘Dynamic Rope’. As opposed to a static rope, a dynamic rope provides some stretch in the event of a fall. This makes the catch or fall “soft”—the force of the fall is dispelled by that stretch instead of being transferred directly to your harness. This not only saves your back but prevents a lot of force being put on both the quickdraws and the bolts in the rock. Static ropes are primarily used by people who are not lead climbing but rather using the rope for rappelling.

A lot of climbs today require a 70-meter rope; I recommend starting with that. Most routes only need 60m, but the 70m will be much more versatile over time. Again if this is your first rope, worrying about weight shouldn’t be a huge priority. Beginners should get a rope at least 9.5mm thick; this way you have a rope that can handle a lot of abuse. Climbers that use skinny ropes are usually going for hard routes where every gram counts—but at the cost of the rope’s durability.

If you plan to use this rope in the winter or wet conditions, getting a ‘dry rope’ is a good idea. A dry rope does not actually stay completely dry, but it does resist soaking longer and dries faster. But the real benefit is that the rope will not freeze—a rope that is frozen becomes stiff, thus losing some of its dynamic functionality.

So remember you need a single rated rope, that is dynamic, about 70m in length and about 9.5mm or up in width and if you want added longevity get a dry rope.

Single, dynamic, 70m, 9.5mm, dry rope.

Read: Rope Types Explained

Belay Devices

4. Belay Device and Locking Carabiner/s

 

Belay Devices

Belay Devices come in many shapes and forms. A belay device is essential for all roped climbing, whether you’re top-roping, multi-pitching, or belaying a leader. Regardless of the type of device, each one uses friction to stop or slow the rope—and thus keep your partner from falling.

Belay Devices provide additional assistance when arresting a partner from a fall and when lowering your partner. Belay Devices come in a variety of styles providing benefits and drawbacks depending on the discipline you practice.

Tube Style devices offer benefits to dial technique, learn basic rope management skills and can be utilized in a top down belay on multipitch scenarios. Tube Style devices do not provide additional braking assistance when arresting a fall or lowering your partner.

As technology advances in climbing devices and accepted techniques, tube style devices evolved out of the days of hip belays, munter hitch belays, and figure 8s. As per the evolution of climbing, Assisted Braking Devices and Geometry Assisted Devices are the next step in safety and utilizing advanced belay techniques while Tube Style Devices are being regarded as simple or basic and do not maximize safety.

Assisted Braking Devices such as the Petzl Grigri (ABD’s) allow Belayers to hold their partner with less force on the brake strand while their partner hang dogs their project for the 23rd time. ABD’s provide supreme control when lowering your partner and when utilized correctly can provide an extra margin of safety while Belaying.

 Read: The 6 Best Climbing Belay Devices

Locking Carabiner/s

You need a couple locking carabiners when climbing. 1 to attach the rope to the belayer and 2-3 to set up an achor. These are easy to use, just clip in and then screw the gate of the biner closed. Now the carabiner won’t open automatically.

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5. Helmet

A helmet is important not only protect in the event of a fall but also to shield you from debris that might fall from above. Even a golf-ball-sized rock can do some serious, if not fatal, damage if it falls on an unprotected head. Fit and weight are important considerations—it has to be comfortable so you’ll actually wear it. You won’t be motivated to put on a helmet if it does not fit. You have to remember that you might be in this helmet all day.

There are two types of climbing helmet construction: ABS hardshell and lightweight foam. Hardshell helmets use hard plastic shell and webbing inside to get the perfect fit. Lightweight foam helmets are much lighter than a hardshell and provide better protection in the event of a fall or a hail of small rocks.

At many sport crags, it is rare to see anyone wearing a helmet. The main reason is that sport crags tend to be overhanging, making both the leader and belayer safely sheltered from rockfall. Although it’s possible to injure your head in a leader fall, this rarely happens on steep, overhanging rock because the leader will fall into ‘space’.

However, you should wear a helmet at a sport crag if:

– There are any signs of loose rock above
– There are people directly above you (e.g: on a multi-pitch)
– You are leading a vertical or slabby route

In these cases, it is better to be safe than fashionable.

Read: The Best Climbing Helmets of 2024

6. Set Of Quickdraws

A quickdraw is a device that attaches a freely running rope to an anchor, like a bolt on a wall, and consists of two non-locking carabiners connected by a ‘dog bone’ (length of webbing).

One end will have a rubber stabilizer to connect the carabiner, and the other will not. The rubber side will connect to the rope and the non-rubber side will connect to the wall/anchor.

Quickdraws come in a range of sizes, with variation both in the carabiners and dogbone.

Dogbones lengths, increase or decrease the overall length of the quickdraw; 10cm is a good length to build your rack around.

The carabiners on a quickdraw will have one of two types of gates: Solid, or Wire. Solid gates look how they sound, they have a solid piece of aluminum to serve as the gate, whereas wire gates have a looped piece of wire. On quickdraws, any combination of solid and wire gate carabiners can be found: both wire, both solids, or a hybrid with solid on the top and wire on the bottom. 

10-12 quickdraws will be enough for most routes. For longer routes, you may need 15 or more. It’s also useful to have a few extendable quickdraws for bolts which are far to one side or underneath a roof.

Extendable quickdraws (or alpine draws) are usually made from a 60cm sling and two snap gate carabiners. They can be used either as a short draw or fully extended, meaning it’s quick and easy to extend your gear to reduce rope drag without carrying extra slings. These type of draws are used mostly in trad and alpine climbing

For a full breakdown on How to Choose Quickdraws For Climbing give Outdoor Gear Lads article a read.

7. Set of Slings

Runners or slings are most often used in conjunction with locking carabiners (see No.4 above) to connect you to anchors to clean the route. You can also use them to build a top rope anchor. A 120cm sling is most useful, as it can be doubled or knotted if a shorter loop is required.

It’s hard to improve on simple webbing sewn into a loop. They come in nylon and Dyneema versions, but for beginners, go for the nylon for its higher impact force absorption and lower cost. 

Ideally you want 2 short slings and 1 long sling for setting up top rope on the anchors.

Anchor Kit

To set up a top rope at the anchor, or to prepare for abseiling you’ll need:

– 4 spare screwgates
– 2 short slings
– A cordelette/ long sling

You will inevitably have to ‘clean’ a route; this means you will follow or top rope after a leader, removing all the quickdraws then rappelling/abseiling through the anchor to the ground. To do this you will have to attach yourself to the anchor.

Companies like Metolius sell pre-made anchors such as the PAS that can vary in length. You can also get a few slings with locking carabiners as a cheaper alternative. Be sure to use two pieces to anchor in; most anchors will have two bolts to achieve redundancy.

Girth-hitched to the harness, a personal anchor system (or PAS) secures you to the anchor while belaying, rappelling, or cleaning a route. While not absolutely mandatory (a clove hitch into a locking carabiner does the trick, as does a simple—preferably nylon—sling), it’s hard to argue with the convenience of a PAS. Each loop is full-strength (unlike a daisy chain), and you can securely clip in at multiple lengths. The Metolius PAS 22 is a time-tested classic, and many companies, including Black Diamond and Sterling, offer very similar versions.

A Note on Trad Climbing

Sport climbing is usually a stepping-stone into the world of traditional, or “trad,” climbing. For people who have been top roping or bouldering, it’s easier to learn how to sport climb as opposed to trad climb—the routes are definitive, with a bolt line to lead the way. With trad climbing it’s up to the climber to place protection (anchors to the rock that will arrest a fall) rather than clipping bolts. A sport rack (the set of equipment carried up a climb) is also a heck of a lot cheaper than a trad rack, which includes multiple different pieces of protection.

Safety Advice

Climbing is an inherently risky sport. Therefore, proper education and training, and routine risk management practices, such as double-checking, must be performed to mitigate the inherent risks of climbing.

Learning about sport climbing from an online article such as this is an excellent way to start climbing as a beginner or reinforce what you already know. However, reading about climbing can only ever embolden one’s conceptual knowledge of the sport. It cannot replace hands-on practice under the direct supervision of a well-seasoned mentor or professional climbing guide.

Also, always pack a first aid kit, even if you’re going to a crag near a road without much approach.

Finding a Climbing Partner

There are a few different ways to find a climbing partner, including:

  • At the indoor climbing gym
  • On a climbing course
  • At a climbing club
  • Through friends
  • On internet forums

However you find a partner, it’s important to assess how safe they are. A good ‘first date’ is to climb at the gym. Be upfront and honest about your skills but be aware that some people will exaggerate their abilities in order to impress.

 If you are unsure of their abilities, have a staff member test you both on belaying and lead skills before you climb together. Progress to a single pitch crag after the gym. Inspect the quality of their equipment and their anchor building techniques carefully before you move on to more committing multi-pitch routes.

Don’t blindly trust someone with your life until they have proven themselves trustworthy. Stop climbing with someone who does strange or dangerous things. Instead, recommend that they take a course, or read this website, or both.

Final Thoughts

Investing in climbing gear is a big deal. It’s not like going shopping for new clothes. It’s not just for looks. Your new gear will help keep you safe as you get deeper into your climbing hobby.

To sum things up, I’d like to give you some advice.

Take your time researching climbing gear and find what works best for you. When getting started, refrain from buying second-hand climbing gear. If possible, learn to use and try out your climbing gear in a more controlled setting, like a climbing gym, before taking it outside. Have fun with your new climbing gear. Be safe, and always remember your double-checks.

 

There’s your list of everything you need (and may like to have) to go Outdoor Sport Climbing. Happy Climbing!

Thanks for Reading

– Chase The Adventure –

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