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with the movie free solo Showcasing its debut in 2018 and the sport’s worldwide debut at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, it’s no wonder rock climbing has attracted a growing amount of attention in recent years. Professional climbers the likes of Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell and Emily Harrington have outgrown the sport itself, inspiring novice climbers young and old alike to sign up for one of the many nearby gyms scattered across the country. Perhaps you’re among the many looking to try it out, but you’re not quite sure where to start.
As with all things, getting into a sport like climbing can be a bit stressful. There are ropes to manage, tools to throw and a plethora of other technical equipment to collect plus the added danger (and anxiety) of climbing to great heights. By the end of this article, you will have some basic knowledge of climbing as well as information about the minimum gear required to get into the sport.
First things first, you will need to find a rock climbing gym in your area. A simple online search for “rock climbing gyms near me” should return some results. Once you’ve decided where you want to climb, head to the gym and sign a liability waiver before purchasing a facility pass and renting basic climbing equipment such as seat belts, climbing shoes, and chalk.
Most gyms offer four different types of climbing that you should know about:
Bouldering is the act of climbing on shorter walls approximately 10 to 15 feet high without a rope. Boulder problems mimic traditional outdoor climbing but focus primarily on strong moves. Since you are not restricted to any equipment, you will hit the ground with every fall, landing on cushioned mats. Ask the gym to show you proper rockfall techniques to reduce the risk of injury.
Autoloading systems are a great way for beginners to get on the ropes and climb taller walls. They require minimal training (usually 5-10 minutes of safety orientation) and are easy to use. Climber straps are clipped with an automatic loading device that takes slack in the rope from the top of the wall while climbing. When you fall, the machine slowly lets you fall back to the ground.
This type of climbing requires two people, a climber and a person who stays on the ground called a belier. The rope is attached to an anchor at the top of the wall and the ends of the rope return to the floor. The climber and belayer are attached to each end of the rope by the climber that ties in and the belayer is clipped into a piece of gear called the belay apparatus. When the climber ascends the wall, the jeweler’s job is to remove slack in the rope system as well as stop the climber’s fall. Specific technical training is required to prevent climbing. A climbing and climbing class will be offered in the gym and usually lasts 1-2 hours. This is a great opportunity to learn a few technical climbing skills, but one should not try to avoid climbing without training for the safety of you and your climbing partner.
Lead climbing is the most advanced type of climbing in the climbing gym. It shouldn’t be tried on your first day but can be learned as you progress through the sport. Master climbers bring their ropes with them as they go up and a clip in fall protection as they go up the climbing route. It is much more technical than blocking a climb and the act of reducing is also complex. Gyms will have a technical skill class available to learn the nuances of bullet climbing which is only available when an individual gym determines that a climber is ready.
As you progress and gauge your interests, you may want to purchase your own climbing equipment. Doing so will not only save you money in the long run, but it will also provide more convenience than gym rental equipment. However, we do not suggest that you purchase any equipment before trying it in person as the climbing equipment is very specific to individual users. Read on to find out the essential pieces of equipment you need (and which ones we recommend), from seat belts to climbing shoes and beyond. And if you want to try climbing without fully committing to the sport, consider options like ClassPass that let you book sessions without signing up for a gym membership.
At the end of the day, your first harness should provide you plenty of relief without breaking the bank which is why this option, courtesy of Petzl, is almost perfect. It’s a great harness for beginners due to its entry price point and sheer versatility. The waist is highly adjustable to fit a range of sizes, and the soft inner fabric reduces potential irritation across the thighs, allowing you to focus on the movements in front of you. The leg loops also have sliding buckles to account for differences in thigh circumference, giving you the freedom to connect to the proper shape.
The loading device will be used when you are on the ground taking the slack in the rope and stopping your climbing partner’s fall. Some gyms already have these attachments with each, so you may not need to buy one at first. However, it may be something you want to buy if you plan to try multiple gyms because each gym’s system is a little different. To complete the saddle setup, you will need a harness and a carabiner to secure it to your harness.
Our first suggestion, the Black Diamond Big Air XP package, is the simplest of the basic settings. It includes a belay shaped tube and carabiner at an affordable price. Some gyms require a different piece of equipment called an assistive fracture device that helps the champ by stopping the climber’s fall, making the whole process easier. For this, we suggest Petzl GRIGRI and Petzl Am’D carabiner to attach the device to your belt. Make sure to check with your gym for their requirements before making a purchase and as usual, never use any technical equipment without proper training.
We’ve included two different shoes here as each brand’s sizing can vary from shoe to shoe. Both options are great beginner shoes that offer plenty of comfort and support, along with just the right grip for the moves you’re likely to make at your local gym. Which one you choose depends on how you feel on your foot best, and it may take some trial and error to determine which shoe offers a proper fit. We suggest trying climbing shoes at your local gym store before ordering online where you can then test out a range of options in one fell swoop.
Chalk bags are largely a matter of personal style. A wide range of colors and sizes can be found from one brand to the next, giving you the opportunity to find one that fits your personality and basic needs. However, we’re familiar with the Organic Climbing Chalk Bag because it comes in a variety of colors and patterns that can be easily mixed and matched. We’re also in love with the label’s dedication to quality, functionality, and aesthetics that separates chalk bags from the myriad of bags at the gym.
This chalk is a little more expensive than other brands but is our favorite because it provides a confidence-inspiring grip and the material sticks so well that you end up using less chalk in a climbing session. It comes in three textures: smooth, chunky, and super chunky. The fabric you choose is a matter of personal preference, so consider trying each one to see which one helps you on the wall.
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