The easiest and safest way for beginners to enter the world of rock climbing is to start climbing in a gym. This allows you to practice the movement of climbing and build strength in a controlled environment. You don’t need too much gear to start climbing at your local gym, and once you’ve made the initial investment you don’t need to spend much more than gym fees to keep climbing until you’re ready to venture outdoors.
Climbing shoes are a climber’s most important tool and are very different from any other type of shoe. Climbing shoes feature special sticky rubber to help your feet stay attached to the wall and are designed to focus your power into a single point around your big toe. This enhances feel and allows you to magically stand on the thinnest of edges. Beginner climbers generally don’t need the stickiest or most aggressive shoes. High end shoes wear out quicker because the rubber compounds are softer and they will be wasted until your footwork improves. Your shoes should be snug to allow you to feel confident on small footholds, but not painful. Beginners can expect to spend $70-100 for most entry level shoes.
Chalk & Chalk Bag
Nothing feels worse than grabbing a climbing hold with sweaty fingers. Sweat is a climber’s natural enemy, and chalk is the primary weapon for combatting it. It comes in blocks that you crush into your chalk bag, or in pre-ground form. Some even contain additives to dry out your skin more, or claim extra purity for increased effectiveness against sweating. With chalk, it comes down to trying different brands and forms until you find the one you like, and also what you’re willing to pay. Some chalk brands like Friction Labs are much more expensive than bulk options like Bison. It’s up to you to decide which is actually better for your hands.
When it comes to chalk bags, anything that clips securely around your waist and closes to keep chalk in is good. Pick one that satisfies this and that you like the look of. It’s one of the few pieces of gear in climbing you can really personalize. Make sure if you have larger hands to get a larger bag so it’s easier to reach inside. Some gyms require the use of a chalk sock rather than loose chalk to control dust in the air. Some companies sell prepackaged chalk socks, or you can make your own using a thin sock or pantyhose filled with loose chalk and tied at the open end.
The harness is a key part of the safety system keeping you off the ground. All modern harnesses share essentially the same design – a waist loop and leg loops joined by a belay loop at the groin. They are meant to hold you up at your center of gravity, so it’s always good to test harnesses out before buying. Many rock climbing shops will have a setup where you can hang in the harness to ensure that you can sit comfortably and balanced. Almost all harnesses will feature gear loops for hanging quick draws and other equipment and have a secure double D-ring closure. The weight and level of padding vary. Also, if you have larger legs or plan to wear bulky warm clothing, consider a harness with adjustable leg loops. Most entry level harnesses are priced around the $50-100 range.
Belay Device & Locking Carabiner
Most gyms will supply ropes so that you can toprope with a partner, and some even provide ropes which can be checked out/rented for lead climbing. To utilize ropes at the gym you need a belay device and a locking carabiner. The simplest and least expensive belay devices are “tube-style” devices like the Black Diamond ATC. These rely on friction from pulling down on the rope while in the device to hold your partner up. All tube style belay devices are essentially the same and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Some feature teeth or ridges to increase friction against the rope which can be useful if you’re trying to hold up a heavier climber. If you have the money to spend or want the security, there are also assisted braking belay devices like the Petzl GriGri which help you hold the rope, usually with some sort of automatic camming mechanism. With all belay devices (either tube style or assisted braking), there is a right way and a wrong way to use them. Please ensure that you receive proper instruction on how to correctly use your device and belay your partner safely.
The belay device attaches to the belay loop of your harness with a locking carabiner. Rock climbing shops all carry UIAA certified equipment, and any large locking carabiner meant for climbing/belaying should be adequate. The most basic types use a screw type locking mechanism, which is more than adequate, and easy to use. Some newer locking carabiners feature a convenient gate that auto-locks using a spring-loaded twisting mechanism. Either style will work as long as you ensure the gate is properly and fully locked before belaying. Some carabiners are even belay specific, featuring an extra gate inside the perimeter of the carabiner meant to keep the carabiner from rotating during use and potentially putting load on the main gate.
Beginner Climbing Packages
Some brands now offer gear packages to get beginner climbers off the ground. These packages will usually include at least a harness, belay device, and locking carabiner so you will have the essentials to start sport climbing. Some will also provide a chalk bag and a sample of chalk. The only thing you need to complete the package is a pair of shoes. These gear packages are a good starting point if you're overwhelmed, or if you just want an easy solution without having to do too much research. The gear will generally be basic entry level stuff, but that's fine, and may be better if you're still unsure of how much climbing you'll actually be doing in the future.