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Basic Rock Climbing Equipment

Updated on October 9, 2012

Belay: to belay is to manage to rope that is attached to the climber. The belayer must take or give slack according to the situation.

Basic Rock Climbing Equipment

I can’t think of many sports in which, for obvious reasons, your life literally depends on the quality of your equipment and its proper application. This article will outline some basic rock climbing equipment and its purpose but does not train you how to use the equipment. Be sure to take a belay class at your local climbing gym and find a reliable partner who has also been properly trained.

If you are going on a guided outdoor climb, or are climbing for the first time at a rock climbing gym, you will either be provided with the necessary gear or will have the option to rent it. Chances are, if you’ve already climbed once or twice, you are hopelessly addicted and are ready to make the investment in some basic climbing gear.

Rock Climbing Shoes

Unless you plan on joining the small, but calloused ranks of barefoot climbers, well fitting climbing shoes are an absolute must. Climbing shoes provide protection and support to your foot, as well as enhance your grip and ability to bear weight on the smallest of foot holds. The climbing rubber on the bottom of the shoe helps you to stick to tiniest positives in the rock and even to smear, or push off smooth, featureless rock.

Find out more about fitting a rock climbing shoe.

Rock Climbing Shoes
Rock Climbing Shoes | Source

Rock Climbing Harness

A climbing harness is also a must for anyone who would prefer to be caught by the rope in the event of a fall! There are men’s, women’s, unisex, and children’s harnesses available in all sizes. Look for a harness that is comfortable and safe. Some harnesses require you to remember to manually double-back the webbing after adjusting, while others are automatically double-backed.

Proper fit:

  • The waist of the harness should sit just above your hips and be tightened so that just about two fingers can fit between the belly and the harness.
  • The leg straps should not be uncomfortably tight or extremely loose.
  • Make sure that the harness is not adjusted fully to its smallest or largest capacity
  • and, if you can, clip into a rope and weight the harness to test if it is comfortable and not sliding up into your ribcage.

A well fitted harness which sits well above the hips and fits snugly around the waist and thighs.
A well fitted harness which sits well above the hips and fits snugly around the waist and thighs. | Source

kiloNewton: kiloNewtons are a measurement of force. 1 kN = 224.809 pounds.

Locking Carabiner

Carabiners come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are used to link two things together; in this case, your ATC (see below) and the belay loop on your harness. Carabiners are extremely strong and exhaustively tested, but this piece of equipment, as well as any other, must be used correctly. Imprinted into the spine, or longest solid side of the aluminum, are three kilo-Newton (kN) ratings. The first represents the rating for force applied to the main axis of the carabiner. The second, which is usually significantly smaller, is the rating for force applied when the carabiner is cross loaded (pulling across the spine and the gate). The third kN rating is for dynamic force applied along the main axis when the gate is open. Because there is a rating for cross-loaded and open carabiners does NOT mean that they are meant to be used in these ways. It is unsafe to cross-load the carabiner or leave the gate open when force is being applied.

Some carabiner designs are lighter than others, some are shaped differently, some have different gates, and some are even designed to prevent cross-loading. For basic belay purposes you’ll want a standard sized locking carabiner. If it isn’t rated, don’t use it!

Several styles of locking carabiners. The top right is specially designed to avoid cross-loading.
Several styles of locking carabiners. The top right is specially designed to avoid cross-loading. | Source


There are several types of belay devices and techniques, but most beginners will start belaying with a regular old ATC. The ATC is the device through which the belayer controls the rope, and it works by creating a system of leverage and friction which enables the belayer to stop the rope and the climber’s downward motion with relative ease. If you plan on rappelling down the cliff sometime in the future of your climbing career, make sure to purchase an ATC with two tubes (you’ll need to place both sides of the rope in your ATC at once). Otherwise, if you are just gym climbing, a single tube will do just fine.

Tube style ATC.
Tube style ATC. | Source
ATC with teeth for extra friction.
ATC with teeth for extra friction. | Source

Chalk Bag

A chalk bag can strap around your waist or clip to your harness. Its main two purposes are: to hold your chalk, and to look cool. Keep in mind that the mouth of the bag should be big enough for your hand to easily slide in and out of. Don’t buy a child’s chalk bag by mistake! Also, check the closure system. Many chalk bags don’t quite close all the way, allowing for little puffs of chalk to escape. However, being covered in chalk all the time is a mark of a true climber…

Several styles of chalk bags.
Several styles of chalk bags. | Source

Climbing Chalk

Believe it or not, there are many different kinds of chalk and some are better than others. There are differences in the fineness, color, and overall ability to dry your hands of sweat. When you first begin the quality of the chalk won’t make much of a difference, but take the time to try different kinds to see what you like best.

There are also different ways to store your chalk: the sock method, and the loose method. Some people buy a little fabric ball filled with chalk, and some take an old sock, stuff it full of chalk, tie a knot in the end, and put it in their chalk bag. I prefer loose chalk because I get more chalk on my hands more quickly, but the downside is that you waste a lot more chalk when it is loose.

Where to Shop

I don’t recommend any one store, but do go to an actual store to try on your gear rather than buying online because

  • It’s vitally important that it is comfortable and fits well
  • There is something to be said for holding the product in your hands and comparing products side by side.
  • You can get valuable advice from store personnel
  • Some stores have an actual rock wall set up for you to try out your climbing shoes
  • And a lot of stores have excellent return policies.

Many climbing companies have put together package deals which can be found in the harness section of most outdoors stores. They usually include the essentials: a harness, locking carabiner, ATC, chalk bag, and chalk. Just pick up some shoes and you'll be all set!


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    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Love it! I am an avid climber and agree getting good gear really matters.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Great hub, makes me want to go out and climb. I never climbed and wouldn't have a clue how, this article is an excellent start for any beginners, or great information for those who climb. Thanks and voted up!

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile image

      Christine McDade 5 years ago from Southwest Florida

      A very informative hub. I am not familiar with rock climbing, and this hub provides a lot of useful information. Great job!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Really good hub. I'm impressed with the detail, the pictures, and how smoothly you write.

      I did some gym rock climbing; it was a lot of fun, and I made it to the top of the wall several times. I wanted to get outdoors and do this but couldn't find a partner. Being single has its drawbacks! All my women friends thought it too exteme or risky; all my men friends were afraid I'd show them up!

      One thing we do need to emphasize: a rock climber who's doing it out of the gym needs a partner. It's something you shouldn't do alone.