Climbing is probably one of the most exhilarating and rewarding sports on earth, and can be enjoyed in such a variety of styles that the climbing community grows by leaps and bounds every year. Climbing is the ultimate full body workout involving almost every muscle in your body and it challenges the mind in ways hard to duplicate. However, you’re not going to get very far without having the best climbing gear on your side.
Find The Best Climbing Gear
You find the best rock climbing gear by finding your style of climbing. Most people start out on walls at their gyms, continue to bouldering, traditional (‘trad’) or sports climbing and move on from there into sub-specializations. Find a good gym and an expert trainer to teach you proper climbing technique and then practice regularly before you head out into the wilds.
Build on Good Basics
Deciding which piece of climbing gear should get priority can be hard, since a single item at a given moment may save your life. Shoes and helmets are a good starting point and then add to your cupboard of tricks gradually until it contains the best climbing gear possible for your requirements.
We’ve made a list of items that you will need at some stage during your climbing, with tips on what you should look out for before you buy.
Best Climbing Shoe
What to look for: For sports climbing and bouldering, keep in mind that generally, the steeper the climb, the more important to wear a shoe that directs your power through the toe with an aggressively downturned shape.
Even a slight downturn will give you an edge when it matters. Crack climbing needs a flatter toe profile and a stiffer sole to let you wedge your toes in tiny spaces and are more comfortable for long days and belaying work.
Expect at least initial discomfort from specialized shoes. Your needs will change as your technique improves, so start out with a shoe that won’t confine your ambitions but will allow you to learn proper footwork.
You need a tight fit, as there is always some stretch in the shoe to let the shoe mold to your foot. Various fastening systems range from slip-on’s, Velcro systems or lace-up’s.
Our recommendation: La Sportiva Genius Shoe
- Synthetic materials and slip lasted construction provide unmatched sensitivity for feeling edges.
- Vibram XS Grip2 sole is the stickiest rubber available for superior edging and smearing.
- La Sportiva’s NO-EDGE Technology allows the shoe to mold itself onto thin holds for a feeling of security on precarious footholds.
- The downturned shape is maintained with P3 patented technology to deliver outstanding climbing.
- Lace-up comfort to hug your foot.
Best use: Outstanding all-round multi-pitch trad shoe to conquer long routes and almost every terrain except on specific climbs where you require particularly aggressive edging all the way up the wall.
Description: The lacing system allows tightening the entire shoe to perfect fit by just pulling the top string. The no-edge technology allows unparalleled sensitivity to feel your holds. Exceptional smearing with thicker rubber on the heel for more comfortable heel hooks.
Best Climbing Helmet
What to look for: A helmet is that one final – and ultimate – safety feature which climbers or even hikers on steep, rocky routes should never be without.
The terrain and your climbing style will shape your needs, but remember that even if you don’t take a drop, you still need protection from rock or scree falling on you from higher levels. Proper ventilation to ensure free air flow is critical, as a solid head cover will increase body heat to a dangerous point.
- Weight: Need we say: “light”? Having an additional lump of extra weight on your head may be so irritating and fatiguing that you take that helmet off during your outing – leaving you without protection. Depending on the material used, there may be a slight trade-off between weight and safety.
- Fit: It should be well-shaped to fit the head snugly even before you fasten the straps. Absorbent padding helps good fit, which is essential to avoid pressure points from spoiling your climb. Adjustable straps are integrated into the webbing to keep the helmet in place from the back, the top of the head with triangular split straps and the chin. Choose a helmet which makes adjustment simple and just one operation rather than several little changes. Magnetic buckle clips work well and are ideal for handling with gloves.
Our recommendation: Petzl Sirocco Ultralight Climbing Helmet
- Monobloc shell of expanded polypropylene (EPP) to minimize weight but still retain impact resistance, and is CE safety certified.
- Ventilation nodes
- Head torch attachment points
- Petzl patented magnetic buckle for one-handed chinstrap management.
- Thinner adjustment straps decrease weight and ease of handling.
- The bright orange color is insurance against whiteout conditions and provides increased visibility during climbs.
Best Use: Outstanding for indoor, gym, mountaineering or competition climbing. The exceptionally light weight enables even ordinary hikers to carry a helmet on “just in case” outings. The helmet excels in all performance areas, except for long term durability.
Description: It is the lightest helmet on the market at just 5.8oz, which is almost half of the weight of traditional helmets. The Petzl Sirocco Ultralight Climbing Helmet is a revolutionary design in the real sense of the word. Most helmets are polycarbonate shells over a fitted expanded polystyrene foam (EPS).
EPS helmets can be quite accidentally squashed or cracked if you sit on your backpack, forgetting it’s in there.
It is made from expanded polypropylene (EPP) which is a more flexible material and resistant to accidentals knocks and bumps, and a hard shell – which adds weight – is no longer necessary to protect the EPP helmet. Also, this more flexible EPP material spreads the shock of impacts across a larger surface for increased safety.
Best Climbing Harness
What to look for: You can expect to replace your climbing harness at least every five years, or sooner if used often. Inspect it for abrasions and wear and clean with a gentle hand soap after a long excursion.
Fit: You need to reach, stretch and sometimes contort your body, and a restrictive harness is unsafe.
Consider whether you will be doing mostly shorter climbs, or long climbs on big wall surfaces where you can expect to spend a long time ‘hanging around’ in your harness. For the latter type of climbing, padded leg straps should be considered.
The harness should fit over thin clothing as well as thicker layers for when you climb in cold conditions. Use the manufacturer’s sizing tips before you choose and if you are not sure, size up rather than down, to prevent the gear loop from shifting too far back when you adjust the fit to your contours.
- Size and Weight: Weight can be the most critical factor for competition or alpine climbers but typically matters less for traditional or sports climbing. However, some models fold up much smaller than others even if they weigh slightly more, and the bulk may be a more important factor for you. Buckles add to weight but the self-locking types commonly used are safe and light.
- Leg Loops: Adjustable leg loops are common, even though the extra buckles and webbing add weight and can create pressure points. If you expect to use the harness in different climates, don’t consider fixed size leg loops as you will need extra layers for Alpine or cold weather climbing.
- Haul Loops: A full-strength haul loop rated at 9kN or more can save your life if your lead line gets cut, or will just assist you to change position to face outwards to watch a partner’s progress. Look for a rated haul loop or a harness that is designed to distribute your weight across all parts of the harness simultaneously.
- Gear Loops: Gear loops are best placed on the waist belt for easy access, and traditional climbers will need access to all four of the gear loops as opposed to sports climbers who use mostly front gear loops. Plastic-coated loops are rigid and much easier to clip than soft loops.
Our recommendation: Arcteryx Men’s FL-365 Harness
Best use: All terrains and conditions, and especially mobile and multi-stage climbs, except if you expect to hang for extended periods of time on long routes or big wall climbs when the narrower leg straps may be uncomfortable for some users.
- ArcTeryx Warp Strength Technology disperses weight throughout the harness structure for better comfort, pressure dispersal, and higher strength-to-weight ratio.
- Reduces bulk and possible pressure points and improves compactness.
- The Double Weave material stretches in four directions, is stronger, and can stand severe abuse under rugged conditions.
- The waist belt has been updated with a softer edge for less pressure and better comfort.
- Four reversible polyurethane gear loops and four ice clipper slots. The fifth gear loop (rear) is great for extra biners or belay device.
- Precision-fit fixed leg loops automatically adjust to your size.
- The laminated elastic webbing on the leg loops extends rebound life.
- Easy to use drop leg elastics features a stainless steel hook for better durability and permits a call of nature without having to take off the entire harness.
Description: Orange color indicators will start to show on the belay loop and key tie-in points when the harness becomes worn and will let you know to replace it. The Arc’teryx AR-385a folds into almost half the size of competing models. The large, rigid gear loops have a flexible attachment point on the waist belt for easy clipping, and they fold down when you add a pack over your harness without creating pressure points on your back.
Best Climbing Rope
What to look for: The rock climbing belay system is based on using a good climbing rope.
Single ropes of 60-meter length ropes are very common and should get you up and down most routes although longer ropes are becoming popular among stronger sports climbers. Price should not be your prime consideration, as your life will sooner or later depend on your rope.
Diameter/Weight: Logic says that thinner ropes are lighter, but this is not always true. Manufacturers use the same amount of material for thinner ropes, but knit the sheaths tighter to reduce the diameter. Also, different manufacturers apply different measurement standards, and no two 10mm ropes look or feel the same.
A rough classification defines skinny and Alpine ropes as thinner than 9.4mm and lighter than 55g/m. Medium, versatile all-round ropes are 9.4 – 9.7mm and weigh less than 60g/m, and are the most popular for most types of climbing. Thicker ropes are the most durable from 10.2 – 9.8 mm or >60 g/m and are often used in gyms and on big walls.
Safety: Minimum UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation) specifications are assigned after rather extreme ‘fall tests’ and you should never purchase a rope with a lower than UIAA 5 rating (5 falls). Additionally, look out for a lower, rather than higher Impact Force rating (expressed in kilonewtons or Kn). Impact force is the amount of force that is exerted on the subject during a fall. High impact force rips at your rigs and will injure the falling person, so you want this number to be low.
Stretch or elongation is measured as static (when weight is added) and dynamic (when the same weight falls). 7-10% or more is common for static elongation. The higher the dynamic elongation percentage, the better.
Our recommendation: Mammut Infinity 9.5mm x 70m Dry Rope
Best use: The medium thickness means this durable, lightweight all-rounder with Teflon coating is suitable for all devices and almost all terrains.
- The small to medium diameter, light rope runs well through belay and other climbing devices.
- It is a fast, very dynamic rope with a smooth sheath that will withstand a lot of abrasion.
- Offers flexible handling and zero sheath slippage.
- Medium diameter suits a variety of climbing styles
- Durable and versatile with broad appeal among seasoned climbers.
- Length: 70m
- Type: single
- Diameter: 9.5 mm
- Static Elongation: 9.2%
- Dynamic Elongation: 31%
- Impact Force: 8.6 Kn
- Weight: 57 g/m
Description: High fall rating and low impact force in addition to a low weight. This highly dynamic rope runs smoothly through devices for a trouble-free climb on most surfaces. It is possible to specify the coating (sheath/core or both) when you purchase to make sure it will use your particular needs.
Best Hiking Gear Sling
What to look for: Comfort is critical; look for a streamlined lightly padded liner with an articulated fit that will distribute the weight and not concentrate it on one particular area.
The gear sling should be adjustable and provide sufficient options for one-handed clipping for your gear without letting it slide and clumping up in one spot, which could pull you off-weight at a critical moment or just make the whole climb uncomfortable.
Our recommendation: the Metolius Adjustable Gear Sling
- Rated 2 kN / 450 lbf and weighs only a few ounces.
- Fully adjustable it comes in only one size.
- The ripstop body fabric is rugged and abrasion-proof.
- The size and laminated coating make it very easy to clip and unclip gear.
- It fits all sizes very securely and comfortably and looks good. A great piece of functional gear at a very reasonable price.
Best use: Climbing, hiking, and even normal daily tourist use to keep cameras, your phone or GPS handy without the weight of an additional daypack.
Description: The Metolius offers one of the most comfortable fits with an ergonomically shaped die cut pad. The custom buckle is made from light aluminum and is completely adjustable, which brings us to one of the biggest advantages of the Metolius Gear Sling.
The webbing travels freely through the shoulder pad, so no matter how big or small the adjustment, the gear clip zone stays in the same central place, which is not the case with other gear slings.
Best Climbing Quickdraw (Carabiners)
What to look for: Pre-assembled draws are a set of carabiners plus a sling (also called “dogbone”) between them and a set of quickdraws is essential for anyone who rock climbs with a rope.
A set of draws will last anywhere from a couple of years to a decade, but is not cheap, so it’s not a purchase to be taken lightly.
- Size: Larger carabiners are generally preferable except for climbing long routes or for alpine climbers for whom a lighter weight is essential. Lightweight quickdraws have narrower slings for a slightly lower weight, but climbers generally agree that wider (16mm or more) is safer in emergencies and probably better for almost all climbs.
- Aluminum or stainless steel: Although steel is stronger, steel carabiners are much heavier and are generally used to create permanent (in situ) draws. Aluminum carabiners are lighter and are usually anodized to protect against metal corrosion in sea climates. The removal of the anodized layer due to rope action or general wear and tear will not affect carabiners’ integrity. Hot-forged carabiners are lighter, while cold-forged carabiners are more durable.
- Latching and gates: Wherever you climb, you have to unclip the rope from the draw at some stage, so consider the best latch type for your climbing. Avoid carabiners latch devices that could cause snagging on slings, rope, your harness and anywhere else. Keylock carabiners are less likely to snag than notched gate carabiners; wire gate carabiners are highly unlikely to flutter or flap open when catching a fall on the rope. Many manufacturers now use a combination of solid keylock on top and wire gates carabiner on the bottom. When doing steep, general or sports climbing, key locks at the top and bottom are excellent.
- Weight: If you will do mostly longer routes, or climb in remote locations, the weight is vital. For sport and traditional climbing, the extra weight between the lightest and stronger draws is as little as the weight of a fruit, and you may be better off saving the weight elsewhere and rather choose quickdraws that can handle multiple hard falls.
Our recommendation: the Petzl Spirit Express 12cm Quickdraw
- Aluminum with polyester and rubber construction.
- It has a straight gate top keylock clip and a bent gate bottom keylock clip.
- No-notch design prevents snagging for fast and easy clipping and unclipping.
- The ergonomic sling provides excellent grip, and the lower end is protected against fraying with string webbing and rubber keepers.
- The H-shaped Spirit carabiners offer a high strength to weight ratio with wide contact surfaces, which provides better rope glide.
- Major axis strength: 23 kN.
- Minor axis strength: 8 kN.
- Open gate strength: 9 kN.
- Sling: 22kN.
- Weight: 12cm: 93g and 17cm: 100g
Best use: Tops for sports climbing, but can (and will!) be used across most climbing styles and surfaces except perhaps Alpine routes, due to the secure latching system and clever design. An excellent, if expensive choice for beginners.
Description: Large gate for easy grabbing and manipulation, even with thinner gloves. The dogbones are long and quite stiff which improves your reach and accuracy on a tight climb. Thumb grips assist smooth gate opening. The rubber protector keeps the bent gate in the perfect position. Probably the most user-friendly advantage is how easy it is to grab this draw in case of emergency, not only because it is so wide, but also because of the ergonomic cutout design.
Best Climbing Belay Device
Belaying is necessary to arrest falls, rest during a climb, for rappelling and to lower climbers and should always be done using belay gloves to prevent rope burns. Whether you are cragging, going hard at big walls or doing multi-pitch climbing, you need a little help from a trusted device for getting you back down.
What to look for: It can be a long and hard road to master good climbing and mountaineering skills, and you will be learning new things at an astonishing rate. You will, at times, need to rest on the rock, and falls are common. Try and keep the devices you purchase simple until you develop proper technique and strength.
A trusty belay device with auto-block (lock-off) and good braking assistance is critical. Belay techniques can be learned with a simple tube design with a slot for feeding bent-back rope and a wire keeper loop.
Our recommendation: Black Diamond ATC-XP Belay Device Spring
- Made from durable aluminum weighing just 10.24-ounces. The recent decrease is weight is due to machined holes to reduce bulk without reducing strength.
- Multiple friction modes for different functions like rappelling and belaying where the high friction mode provides three times the hold and stopping power.
- Versatile design accepts ropes from 7.7 to 11 mm.
- Auto-block release hole enlarged to accept a small carabiner.
- Durable cable holds its shape. It resists getting caught between ropes.
Best use: All terrain and conditions, but there are lighter devices if the weight of your equipment is a deciding factor. The Black Diamond ATC-XP is especially recommended in cases where the climber is significantly heavier than the belayer.
Description: A classic tube shape, with two durable friction channels. The friction teeth on the one side of the tube allow for better braking, especially for heavier climbers or when you use skinny ropes. The high friction mode provides superior stopping power as you need just a light touch to stop falls.
We trust you now have a good idea of the technical aspects of this exhilarating sport. Rock climbing is absolutely addictive, with the average enthusiast engaging at least once a week.
You can develop your skills with rigorous training and excellent climbing gear and although the average age is under 35 years, you can take part in various aspects until you are well into your sixties. So why waste time? Get started with looking for the best climbing gear so you can start having the time of your life.