Academy: Gear, from Start to Multi-Pitch Trad

Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.

Tags: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Gear

There is a lot of gear you need to be a well-rounded climber. In this post, we give an overview of the gear you might want for several stages of your climbing career, from the first time you head to the gym for some bouldering, to climbing multi-pitch trad routes. We’re focused on route climbing here, not bouldering, ice climbing, or mountaineering. 

Pitch 1: Bouldering in the Gym

Pitch 1: Getting Started

The very first two pieces of gear you’ll want when you climb are a pair of shoes and a chalk bag. You can rent both of these the first time or two in the gym, but if you’re serious at all about climbing, getting your own setup is very helpful. 

  • Shoes: Get some somewhat snug, but comfortable shoes that you can wear for a couple of hours straight without discomfort.
  • Chalk Bag: Pretty much any chalk bag will do. Express your personality. 

Pitch 2: Rope Climbing in the Gym

Pitch 2: Gym Rope Climb

Once you’re ready to add gym rope climbing to your gym repertoire, you’ll need to get a harness and a belay device. Belay gloves are also handy, and if you’re wanting to lead climb, getting a dedicated gym lead rope is really nice. 

  • Harness: Find a comfortable one that’s in your price range. Lots of companies make great harnesses.
  • Belay Device: Many gyms are requiring an auto-blocking, or assisted-locking belay device. For lead belaying, the Petzl GriGri is really nice. The Edelrid Mega Jul also works well and is less costly. 
  • Locking Carabiner: You’ll need a locking carabiner to attach the belay device to your harness. Get one that opens easily with one hand and self-orients on your belay loop. 
  • Belay Gloves: At this stage, pretty much any gloves will do. The ones pictured here are simple hardware store gloves. 

Pitch 3: Outdoor Sport Climbing

Pitch 3: Outdoor Sport

Climbing outside brings a new set of gear into play. You’ll need a lead rope and some quickdraws. Belay glasses are also nice for longer belays.

  • Lead Rope: A 70m x 9.5mm rope is a good choice. Lots of companies make great ropes. We prefer the Mammut Infinity series as they have a good feel and wear well. 
  • Rope Bag: You’ll want to get a rope bag to protect that shiny new cord. Metolius makes a good one that packs well and has a large tarp area.
  • Quickdraws: Find some within your budget. If budget is no object, the Petzl Spirit draws shown here are excellent. Buy some with key lock top biners so they slide off your harness easily. 
  • Locking Quickdraws for Top Anchors: Lots of people like locking quickdraws for top rope anchors. You can’t go wrong there, but a couple of regular quickdraws clipped so their gates oppose is also safe. 
  • Belay Glasses: Of course, we’re going to recommend getting the EyeSend belay glasses—the only glasses on the market that allow you to adjust the field of view. 
  • Helmet: We show the helmet in the next set of gear, but it easily could be placed here. This Black Diamond Vapor helmet is a great choice. Lots of people sport climb without a helmet and it can be safe. There are situations where having one is beneficial so erring on the side of caution is always a good idea when it comes to your head. 

EyeSend Glasses

Pitch 4: More Serious Outdoor Sport

Pitch 4: Higher-End Sport

If you get into more serious sport climbing, you’ll want a few more pieces of gear to help you up the rock. If it’s cold out, some warm clothes can make all the difference. Better shoes and a stick clip are also a great idea. 

  • Helmet: We covered this is the last pitch. A helmet is must-have for routes with loose rock or dangerous falls.
  • Better Shoes: If you’re trying to stick onto tiny holds, you’ll want a good, sensitive pair of shoes. The most important factor is to find a pair that fits your foot well and that doesn’t have any extra air gaps between your foot and the shoe. Size them down a bit, but don’t make them terribly uncomfortable. 
  • Stick Clip: Getting a top rope on the first or second clip is a nice way to stay safe.
  • Finger Tape: Tape can give your tendons support when recovering from injury, or prevent sharp edges from digging in to deeply. 
  • Hangboard: If you’re serious about sport climbing, you should be working to improve your finger strength as well. Get a hangboard for your home and learn how to use it.
  • Puffy Jacket: A must-have luxury for the cold, shaded cliffs you’ll be dwelling under and you try to send your latest project. 
  • Puffy Pants: Not as must-have as the jacket, but you’ll be the envy of the crag.  

Pitch 5: Trad Climbing

Pitch 5: Trad Climbing

Learning to trad climb opens up so much more terrain in the world than just where someone has placed bolts. It also gives your family members an endless supply of birthday gifts to buy and you a reason to keep that full-time job. This stuff gets expensive!

  • Double Set of Cams: It might take you a while to get to this level, but a double set of cams from 0.4” to 4” is a great starter set for trad climbing. If you’re going to Indian Creek you’ll need a lot more than just this, but for places like the City of Rocks or Turkey Rocks this set will get you up most routes. 
  • Double set of Nuts: To augment those expensive cams, purchase some lower-cost nuts. Nuts require a bit more skill to place well, but they offer great protection in many small cracks. 
  • Trad Shoes: You’re crack climbing now and you’ll need a pair of shoes that does a better job at this type of climbing. La Sportiva TC Pros are a great choice as they climb well and protect your ankles. Size crack shoes bigger so your toes can lie flatter to facilitate better toes jamming in cracks. 
  • Nut Tool: This will help you extract that expensive equipment from the cracks after you fall on it!
  • Gear Sling: This stuff gets heavy and you may want to have a gear sling to loop it over your shoulder when there’s more than you can easily place on your harness. We recommend getting a sling with multiple smaller loops to help separate the gear. 
  • Crack Gloves: You’re going to be doing a lot of jamming various body parts into crack. Gloves to protect your hands is recommended, especially when you’re starting out. Lots of folks use tape to make crack gloves, and there’s some advantage to that. Rubber-backed crack gloves are a great choice when the cracks are wide enough to accept them. 

Pitch 6: Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing

Pitch 6: Multi-Pitch Trad

Hello Pingora, or the Bugaboos, or the Diamond on Long’s Peak! If you’re adept at multi-pitch trad climbing, you open yourself up to great adventure. Safety is key here, as is moving fast. Most of the gear you’ve already purchased will be put to use, but you’ll need a handful of more things to be effective. 

  • Tag Line: If you’re doing full-length rappels, you’ll need another rope to augment your lead rope. This APER cord from Esprit ropes is a great choice—it’s thin and light and won’t catch over edges. 
  • Personal Anchor System: You’ll want one of these on your harness at all times to quickly anchor into belays. 
  • Cordelette or Quad: These are quick anchor systems that allow you to build complex, multi-point trad anchors quickly. 
  • Prusik: A prusik can be used as an auto-blocker on a rappel or an ascender in an emergency situation. 
  • Belay Gloves: We suggested a low-cost pair of belay gloves in the beginning, but if you’re doing multi-pitch trad, you’ll need to clip these to your harness somewhere. A dedicated pair of belay gloves like the Black Diamond ones shown here do a great job at that. 
  • Alpine Draws: The short quickdraws you purchased early on will still come in handy, but augmenting them with some extendable alpine draws to catch those out-of-line gear placements or building anchors is important. 
  • Leaver Sling: You might encounter an anchor composed of five strands of webbing so stiff from UV exposure that you could have a sword fight with them. Rather than blindly trusting them, take along an extra piece of webbing to back up the older gear.  
  • Headlamp: There’s a good chance you’re going to be climbing or hiking in the dark. Get a good headlamp with a long throw to shed light in the darkness.
  • Light Jacket: Moving fast means having less bulk. Invest in a lightweight waterproof jacket that can easily fit under your harness. 
  • Day Pack: Get a small, lightweight pack to carry water, shoes and extra gear up the wall with you. This pack is a Patagonia Linked 18L pack. It’s a great single-day outing pack.
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