Essential Sport Climbing Gear

Here's What You Need to Go Sport Climbing

A rope, quickdraws, and your personal gear are all you need to get out cranking sport routes. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Essential Sport Climbing Gear

Sport climbing doesn't require loads of equipment to have loads of fun. Take a minimalist approach to gear and, after a few months of climbing in the gym and then toproping outside, you'll probably have everything you need to get vertical.

Here is your essential sport climbing gear list:

  • Rope

    A good rope is your most important piece of equipment. Don't skimp and buy a cheap rope. Invest in the best you can afford. Buy a UIAA-rated and certified rope that is made specifically for rock climbing. It's best to get either a 10.5mm or 11mm cord. The thinner ones wear out faster and unless you're an elite climber cranking hard routes, you'll never feel the weight difference. Buy a 200-foot (60-meter) rope since so many sport routes now are as long as 100 feet from base to anchors. Don't buy a dry rope; they cost more and they're made for mountaineering routes so they keep dry on ice and snow. Also splurge for a rope bag to protect your rope from dust and dirt when it's lying on the ground at the base of your newest project. Price Rope: $110 to $250. Price Rope Bag: $25 to $35.

  • The quickdraw, simply a piece of sewn webbing attached to two carabiners, is essential for sport climbing protection. Each quickdraw is made from webbing between four and six inches long. The two carabiners should have two different gates-the biner at the end that clips into a bolt should have a straight gate while the opposite end, which the rope clips into, should have either a bent gate for easy clipping or a wire gate.

    Consider also buying a couple long quickdraws or using a couple two-foot slings with carabiners for bolts that are awkwardly placed or below overhangs where your rope will drag. I also put locking carabiners on at least two of the quickdraws I carry so that I can clip the first bolt with a locking biner and avoid having the rope possibly come unclipped. The lockers are also convenient to clip onto the anchors to set up a slingshot belay for a top-rope.

    You'll only need to buy 12 to 16 quickdraws, although, depending on your local sport crag, you may need as many as 25. Also remember those extra locking carabiners and a couple slings. Price: $15 to $30 each. 

  • A good belay device that you're familiar with is very important. I recommend a tube-shaped device like the Black Diamond ATC or the Trango B-52. Later if you get serious about climbing, you'll want to invest in a Petzl GriGri, a self-locking belay device. Lots of sport climbers consider this the ultimate belay device, since, with use and experience, it's easy to hold a hangdogging climber who is working hard moves or to catch a fall. But you need to learn to use one in the safe confines of a gym because the rope can be loaded backwards in it and the self-locking cam can seize up when you least expect it.

    Besides buying a belay device, also purchase an auto-locking carabiner to attach the BD to your harness. Belay gloves, a pair of lightweight leather or work gloves, are something else you may like. They keep your hands clean while rope handling. Ropes tend to pick up lots of dirt as well as aluminum oxide from carabiners, which blackens your palms. Belay Device Price: $15 to $25. Locking Carabiner Price: $12 to $26. GriGri Price: $85. Belay Gloves: $5.

  • Harness

    A lightweight harness is fine for sport climbing. You don't need a beefy big wall harness with a wide waist belt and thick leg loops since you'll only be hanging in your harness after you fall, when you're working tough moves, or lowering back to the ground. Try to get a harness with four gear loops; each loop holds seven quickdraws. Price: $45 to $125.

  • Personal Anchor System (PAS)

    While not essential, I like to use a personal anchor system (PAS), a chain of extra strong webbing that is sewn into individual loops (each as strong as a carabiner!) that is used to clip into the anchor bolts after I climb a sport route. I reach the anchor at the end of the pitch and can immediately and securely clip into it with an auto-locking carabiner attached to the end loop of the PAS or into one of the individual loops if I want to be closer to the anchor. Under no condition should you use a daisy chain to clip into anchor bolts since the bar-tacked loops on the daisy can potentially fail, even under a small load, with catastrophic results. Lots of sport climbers use a couple quickdraws, which are generally fine, but when I'm untying from the rope to thread it through the anchor for lowering, I want to make sure I'm safe. If I'm clipped in with just quickdraws, there is the possibility that a gate can open and the carabiner can become detached from either me or the anchor. Price: $20 to $30.

  • Rock shoes are essential to your performance. Lots of specialty sport climbing shoes are out there, but if you're just starting out then buy a good all-around shoe. They'll be comfortable. They'll last a long time. And they won't break your bank account. A lot of sport climbers like to wear slippers, which fit your feet like tight gloves. Price: $70 to $150.

  • Chalk and Chalk Bag

    Most sport climbers like chalk. When you climb a lot your hands get sweaty. Chalk helps dry them and allows you to grip those tiny handholds better. A chalk bag on a nylon strap around your waist allows you to pull the bag to either your right or left side for better hand entry. Just remember that chalk is not allowed at some climbing areas. Some climbers will bring a stout toothbrush or a denture brush to whisk chalk and grime off key handholds before their red-point ascent. Price: $14 to $35.