Whether you’ve been interested in trying climbing for years or have a newfound interest inspired by Nina Dobrev’s character in Love Hard, it’s not one of those things you can just dive into blind—you definitely need some climbing gear (this includes rock climbing gear, depending on where you climb). To start, you should brush up on the basics (a climbing gym with a professional is a good place to start). And then, we can dive into the best climbing shoes, pants, gloves, and beyond.
Whether you’re looking to climb outdoors or on a climbing gym—aka, sport climbing—which is what most climbers do before they head out to something more daunting like a mountain or a volcano, for example. Even Andrew Alexander King, a climber who is training to be the first African American to summit the seven highest mountain and seven volcano peaks on each continent, says he trains at a climbing gym first. Below, he’s giving his best tips for new and not-so-new climbers about how to find the best gear and his own personal faves.
A beginner’s guide to climbing gear
Before you shop for climbing gear, it helps to know a few of the basics before you start adding all the things to your cart.
“When first starting out with climbing, head to a gym, and try out their harness and shoes that they let you rent,” suggests King. He says this is important if you’ve never climbed before that you have a reference point of how a harness and climbing shoe feels without having to invest much up front. One note: Climbing shoes are supposed to fit pretty tight, but should not be painful, says King. Make sure you can slide your toes forward about an inch when you’re wearing them.
King also recommends starting with a neutral climbing shoe. “[A neutral running shoe is] a shoe that has plenty of rubber on the bottom and is flat when one places the shoe on the ground,” he says. He says this shoe gives you the ability to feel the pivots from foot to toe as you make transitions along your route.
Once you have climbing shoes, the next thing you need is a harness. “Most gyms will have one hard point harness (hard points loop are where the rope goes when tying in). Most rental equipment has just one for beginners, so they don’t forget to tie into the second hard point while learning the popper knot,” says King.
King says how well your harness fits is key—you want to make sure it doesn’t cut into your hips too tightly and also isn’t baggy. “Try a few on to find a balance. If a harness is loose then that leaves more room for error when the climber needs the harness to suck up the impact when descending or falling,” he says.
Once you’ve rented some harnesses and shoes (King says at least three climbs at a gym is a good start) then you’re ready to buy your own gear. “I always say if you have to worry about gear then you are now not focused fully on the task in front of you,” King says. Needless to say, you should choose wisely, which is why we’re breaking down King’s recommendations for the best climbing gear (plus a few other top rated picks) below.
Best beginner climbing shoes for men
Momentum Climbing Shoes — $100.00
Even if you’re training for a mountain climb, you’ll need good shoes to help you get ready at the gym. “I enjoy a good natural shoe when sport climbing so I go with the BD Momentum Climbing Shoe. The shoe is natural and for me as I lead climb higher routes for practice for alpine,” says King, who is a brand ambassador for Black Diamond.
Best beginner climbing shoes for women
Women’s Momentum Climbing Shoes — $100.00
The Momentum women’s shoe has all of the same features King likes about the Momentum shoe for men, except tweaked with a better fit for a woman’s foot. The Engineered Knit technology gives you stretch and breathability with enough support to keep you secure.
Best beginner harness for women
Momentum Harness — $100.00
This harness package is great for beginner climbers since you get a harness and all the gear you need to get started climbing (like chalk, rappel device, and carabiner). One reviewer said, “It’s a great harness that’s comfortable and has everything you need to stay safe out there.”
Best chalk bag for climbing
Gym Chalk Bag — $25.00
You’ll need chalk (see below) and a chalk bag to carry it when you climb. It’s not something you might think of inititally, but you’ll want to keep chalk on you whether you’re at the gym or outside.
“I pick a bag that does not open when I put it in my car or bag, and also one that speaks to me so the BD Gym Chalk bag does the trick for me,” says King.
Best approach shoes
Mission LT Approach Shoes — $140.00
It may sound counterintuitive, but you don’t want to wear climbing shoes to the climbing gym—only on actual climbs. “Climbing shoes are for climbing and should be only worn when one is climbing. Approach shoes are what one wears to the gym or when they are going to walk outside to the climbing site or crag to climb,” says King. This Mission LT approach shoe has an easy slip-on fit and enough grip to help you when you’re outside and stepping over rough terrain like rocks, says King.
Best helmet for climbing
Vision Helmet — $140.00
“I love my helmet. It is key for survival on expeditions, I have taken chunks of glacier ice to the head while on expeditions and have been able to feel ok thanks to my helmet,” says King. “I have taken this helmet with me on all my volcano and high altitude expeditions. I never leave home without it,” says King.
Best rope for climbing
Best climbing gear bag
Stonehauler Pro Climbing Gear Bag — $170.00
Climbing requires a lot of gear (hence, this article). Better to keep things organized, which is why you’ll want a gear bag. “When carrying all the gear outside or even to the gym, I like to have all gear organized (every item has a home) so I use a gear bag to place all the gear in one bag,” says King. He likes this one since it has plenty of compartments to stash and organize everything you need.
Best climbing pants
Notion Pants — $80.00
Between a harness, rope, and all the different movements required to climb, you need clothes that won’t get in your way. “Climbing pants are key: They shouldn’t be loose or heavy. I go with the BD Notion pants—they are light and have some pockets and are also nice to wear when not climbing,” says King. Find women’s sizes here.
Best climbing headlamp
Petzl Tikkina Headlamp — $20.00
If you plan on climbing at night, a headlamp is a must. This one from Petzl is also water resistant and a top seller on Dick’s Sporting Goods. With a wide flood light, you’ll be covered in the dark, plus the lamp is battery powered (just don’t forget to pack extra batteries!).
Best climbing gloves
Mountain Hardwear Unisex Exposure™ Light Gore-Tex® Glove — $150.00
Did we mention climbing can get cold? You want to keep yourself warm and safe, and so climbing gloves are a must. These gloves from Mountain Hardware are made with Primaloft insulation to keep your hands warm, plus manage moisture and help give you optimal grip when you need it most.
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