Rock Climbing Equipment - What Every Beginner Should Know

As a rock climbing beginner there's so much to learn. I know when I started out I found the amount of equipment mind boggling! It needn't be. Here's my handy guide to the 6 essential pieces of equipment you'll need as a rock climbing beginner - what to buy, what it's used for and how much you should expect to pay.
1. Rock climbing shoes
If you only buy one piece of rock climbing equipment, make it a good pair of specialist climbing shoes. They make climbing safer, easier and more enjoyable.
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Climbing shoes are typically a very snug fit which might feel a bit uncomfortable at first if you're not used to it. If you can, go to a local climbing equipment store and try on a few different pairs from different manufacturers. They all produce slightly different fits so, for example, a size 9 from one manufacturer might feel very different from a size 9 from another brand.
While they should be as tight as possible - to stop your feet slipping around inside them - don't be tempted to buy a pair that just plain hurt! They will stretch a bit, but do make sure they feel comfortable. If they hurt when you buy them they'll only become more painful as you climb.
You should expect a good pair of climbing shoes to last a couple of years and maybe cost around $100 or so. You can beg or borrow the rest of the equipment you'll need, but your own climbing shoes are essential.
2. Climbing rope
It's vitally important that you use properly maintained, good quality climbing rope, for obvious reasons! Modern climbing rope is extremely strong, light enough to carry and store easily and stretches on demand. This means that if you fall (and you will fall at some point) the rope will stretch out to smooth out the fall.
Obviously the more you pay, the better the rope quality, but even budget rope is very safe.
As with shoes, the range of different types of climbing rope for different purposes is staggering. As a beginner, buy a single sport climbing rope around 11mm in diameter. Get the longest rope you can afford, at least a minimum of 50 meters long.
Your rope should last around 3 years or so if you look after it. Look to be paying around $150 or so.
3. Climbing helmet
Should you wear a climbing helmet? There's an awful lot of debate in the climbing world on this subject and there's no one definitive answer.
Certainly if you're climbing indoors there may not be much point. The rope and harness will keep you safe enough indoors. Outdoors there's a risk of falling debris from above which makes wearing a helmet more important.
My advice: while you're learning to climb indoors you don't need a helmet. When you graduate to climbing outdoors you should still be able to borrow a helmet for the time being. You can then look to buying a helmet of your own once it's really required.
The bottom line is - if wearing a helmet will give you more confidence whilst climbing then most definitely buy one and wear it.
4. Climbing harness
Like most of the equipment you'll need as a beginner, you'll most definitely be able to borrow a harness to start with.
The harness attaches you to the climbing rope. You put your legs into 2 leg-hole loops and tie it around your waist. Harnesses are generally very comfortable indeed, the more expensive ones including more padding.
A beginner's harness should be nice and light and could last you around 3 years or so. Expect to pay around $110.
5. Belay devices and carabiners
A belay device allows rope to pass through easily but will also stop you in the event of a fall, in much the same way as a car seatbelt works. A carabiner is a metal ring that has a spring-loaded gate. This 'gate' means you can clip yourself to the rope really easily, and just as easily unclip yourself too.
As a beginner, while you can always borrow them to start with, get a belay plate with an auto-locking carabiner when you're ready to buy your own. They should last a long time - around 10 years if you look after them - and cost approximately $50.
6. Quickdraws
A rock climbing quickdraw improves speed and safety in clipping the rope and yourself to the wall. You clip the rope to the quickdraw. The quickdraw is then clipped to bolts in the rock or climbing wall.
A quickdraw is a strong sling about 10cm long. It has a carabiner on each end. They usually come pre-attached to indoor climbing walls but for outdoor climbing walls you'll need to bring your own, at least 10 or more.
As with all this equipment, you can borrow quickdraws for your first few climbs.
A quick word about all-in-one climbing racks
You'll see that many climbing equipment stores sell all-in-one 'climbing racks', which contain all the equipment you'll need. Some of these are aimed at beginners.
My advice would be to beware. In my experience you often end up paying for equipment you don't need just yet or don't know how to use. You're better off buying the appropriate individual pieces of equipment yourself, as and when you need them. That way costs are kept to a minimum and you'll get the most of the equipment you own.
Now get out and climb!
There you have it: the 6 essential pieces of equipment you need to know about as you start your journey into the exciting world of rock climbing. Remember, if nothing else you absolutely must buy a pair of your own climbing shoes. The rest you can borrow as you improve and become more experienced.
Now get out there and climb! Enjoy.

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