Climbing Gear for Beginners: What You Need Now & What Can Wait

So you’re hooked on climbing.

There’s a lot to learn on the wall — knots, techniques, movement, etiquette — but there’s also a lot of gear involved.

It can be daunting to get started in the climbing gear world, so we put together a list of what gear you’ll want to buy, when, and why.

Everyone’s climbing journey is different, though, so get the gear that’s right for your own personal goals and style.

The items below are loosely organized by recommended purchase order — items toward the top are the ones you’ll want to get first, while those at the bottom can wait until you’re a little more comfortable and experienced.

Rock Climbing Gear for Beginners: What You Need Now & What Can Wait

Climbing Gear List for Beginners

Necessary

Highly recommended

Once you’ve been climbing for a little while

Later on, as needed

Climbing Shoes

Importance: Necessary

Expect to pay: $80-120

Our favorite beginner climbing shoes

Climbing shoes

My gym shoes, old and new

Buying Advice

Regardless of what type of climbing you’re doing, shoes are the first thing you’ll need. They’re pretty much all you need to get started climbing.

Most gyms have a rental system, but if you’re climbing consistently it’s worth it to get a pair (or pairs, as the case may be) of your own.

There are lots of good options for a first pair. When you’re learning, don’t worry about getting anything fancy — there’s no reason to spring for an aggressive shape, crazy rubber, or a massive downturn.

Most brands make at least one shoe model especially for new climbers. These are usually cheaper and more durable, making them a good choice for gym use. The La Sportiva Tarantulace, Evolv Defy, Scarpa Origin, and Five Ten Anasazi Moccasym are a few of the classic options.

Lastly, it’s best to try them on before you buy. Fit is a critical factor. If there aren’t any good stores or options nearby, you can often find sizing/foot-shape recommendations online.

Where to Find Climbing Shoes for Cheap

If you’re looking to pick up kicks for cheap, there are a few options. Check craigslist, Mountain Project, or local climbing stores for used pairs. And of course scour various sites like REI, Amazon, and Backcountry for deals.

My first pair of climbing shoes was a pair of neon-pink Boreal Lasers that were (the older climbers at my gym informed me) all the rage in the early 90s. I picked them up for $20 at a consignment store.

If you’d like even more ideas of where to look for deals, check out our guide to finding cheap climbing gear.

How to Size Your First Pair of Climbing Shoes

We all know at least one of those boulderers that prides themselves on squeezing into shoes a bajillion sizes too small. They have elaborate rituals of flexing shoes this way and that, blowing into them, bringing little plastic sheets to help slide their heels in, and grimacing dramatically as they take them off.

Especially for beginners, I recommend against this approach. You’ll climb better when you’re not in pain, and when you’re starting out there’s no need for extreme downsizing.

Get a pair that’s comfortably snug: tight enough that you can be precise with your toe placements but comfy enough that you don’t hate them when you’re cranking out gym sessions.

How Your Climbing Shoe Needs Will Change Over Time

After a while, you’ll want to invest in shoes that fit your climbing style and needs — a boulderer will buy different shoes from a trad climber.

You’ll also need to replace or resole your shoes as the rubber wears out (this will happen sooner than you’d like).

Because of how disparate different climbing venues and styles can be, most climbers end up with multiple pairs of shoes, each with a specific purpose or usage. As you develop your skills and figure out what you like to climb, you’ll be able to build and refine your own quiver.

Chalk Bag & Climbing Chalk

Importance: Highly recommended

Expect to pay: $10-20 for chalk bag, $2-10 for climbing chalk

Our favorite basic chalk bags

Our favorite budget-friendly climbing chalk brands

Chalk bag with climbing chalk

A basic chalk bag with climbing chalk inside

Buying Advice — Chalk Bag

Climbing shoes may be all that’s necessary to get started, but a chalk bag will make your life much more enjoyable.

Lucky for you, chalk bags are neither expensive nor complicated. Most chalk bags share the same basic features:

  • Pouch for the chalk
  • Closure system
  • Loops for a belt or carabiner
  • Climbing brush slot
  • Maybe an extra small pocket for a cell phone or keys

Some bags (like this one) have unique features or closure systems, but by and large the design is pretty standard.

Because the basic features are the same, much of choosing a chalk bag comes down to aesthetics. Let your personality shine — find a pattern or design that you like, and it will brighten your day every time you climb. There are plenty of excellent bespoke chalk bag makers with fun designs. I personally rock one from Krieg Climbing.

When you’re starting out, a chalk bag is probably your best option because you can use it whether you’re bouldering or on ropes.

If you end up spending most of your time over pads, it might be worth investing in a chalk bucket. These are larger, hold more chalk, and are much more convenient (and less wasteful) when you’re bouldering.

Chalking up with a chalk bucket

Chalking up with a chalk bucket.

Buying Advice — Climbing Chalk

Our philosophy is that you shouldn’t dish out lots of money in the beginning for premium climbing chalk. Save buying a bag from FrictionLabs until you’ve been climbing for a little while.

The easiest and cheapest option is usually to buy a block or bag of basic chalk from your gym or local gear store.

The only caveat here is that some gyms have restrictions regarding chalk. They may ask that you only use liquid chalk or that you carry your chalk in a chalk ball.

Harness

Importance: Highly recommended

Expect to pay: $50-80

Our favorite beginner-friendly climbing harnesses

Climbing harness and belay device

My first harness and belay device

Buying Advice

Unless you’re content staying within a few feet of the ground, you’ll need a harness. Most gyms rent these as well, but harnesses are an easy investment. They’re not too expensive and last quite a while.

Most harnesses will offer the same basic features, and the specifics don’t matter too much until you’re climbing lots or specializing in a certain style. There’s no need for a super-light harness when you’re just starting, so fit and comfort should be top priorities.

One decision you’ll have to make is whether to get a model with adjustable leg loops. These are mandatory for mountaineers, who have to size over various layers and put on harnesses while wearing crampons. Personally, I find adjustable leg loops to be an additional hassle for gym and crag use, so I prefer models with fixed leg loops.

Just like with shoes, most gear manufacturers make an “all-around” harness model that’s suitable for new climbers. The Black Diamond Momentum is the quintessential example, but there are plenty of options available. My first harness was a Petzl Sama, which is still going strong to this day despite being thrown around on all kinds of adventures.

Belay Device & Locking Carabiner

Importance: Highly recommended

Expect to pay: $15-25 for belay device, $10-20 for locking carabiner

Our favorite beginner-friendly belay devices

Our favorite budget-friendly locking carabiners

Belay devices with locking carabiners

The Black Diamond ATC-XP, left, and the Petzl GriGri 2, a popular yet more expensive belay device, right

Buying Advice — Belay Device

To complete your basic climbing kit, the last ingredients are a solid belay device and locking carabiner.

When you’re learning to belay, a tube-style device is the way to go — it’s the most common and versatile style. The Black Diamond ATC-XP is the most common for gym use, but many brands make a version of the same device.

If you plan on eventually exploring the world of multi-pitch climbing, it may be worth snagging an ATC Guide instead.

As your climbing career progresses, you’ll get the belay device that best suits your uses. An alpine climber and a sport climber will have different needs. For more, you can read our belay device buying guide and our take on the eternal GriGri vs. ATC debate.

Buying Advice — Locking Carabiner

Of course, you’ll want a locking carabiner to go with whatever belay device you choose.

There are some newfangled designs and locking mechanisms out there, but a basic screwlock HMS carabiner is all you need to start. The Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate is such a carabiner that retails for $11 and earned high marks in our field test of the most popular options.

Helmet

Importance: Highly recommended

Expect to pay: $60-100

Our favorite budget-friendly helmets

Climbing with a climbing helmet

Helmetted up for a long route in Tuolumne Meadows

Why a Climbing Helmet Is so Important

If you’re ever climbing outside (or even if you like to be cautious inside) a helmet is highly recommended.

Yes, it’s one more thing to take along. No, it’s not helping you get up the wall. No, it usually doesn’t look that cool. But when it counts, you’re going to be really glad that you’re wearing one.

Unfortunately, blows to the head can happen in a variety of climbing scenarios. You might take a nasty fall onto a ledge. If your leg is behind the rope when you fall, you can flip upside down. A party above you might drop a cam. Perhaps scariest of all, rockfall from above can happen no matter how careful you are.

Fortunately, head injuries are still relatively rare in climbing, though the data and discussion around helmets and injuries are fairly nuanced (Climbing Magazine published an excellent article on the subject).

As is so often the case, decisions come down to good risk management. Your risk of hitting your head is lower on an overhanging granite sport climb than it is on a ledge-filled trad pitch. Some venues are known for loose rock, and some objectives may require more caution. Boulderers especially tend to eschew helmets (despite the very real risks), while trad climbers tend to be pretty consistent about wearing them.

Ultimately, what you do with your head is up to you. Make sure you’re comfortable with the decisions you make and the risks you take — the stakes are high.

Buying Advice

A climbing helmet is useless if you don’t wear it. Make sure to pick one that fits comfortably and whose design you can at least tolerate. Those with extra big heads brains should look for helmets that come in large or XL sizes.

Climbing helmets are mostly unisex, but there are a few models designed specifically for women.

Climbing Pack

Importance: Wait until you’ve been climbing for a little while

Expect to pay: $30-60

Our favorite budget-friendly climbing packs

Climbing pack

The Black Diamond Creek 50 is our Top Pick for climbing packs

Buying Advice

As you accumulate all this climbing gear, you’ll need something to carry it in. Any old duffel or pack will do at first, but especially as you find yourself climbing more (or if you adventure outside), it’s worth grabbing a bag that you can trust.

The right size and style will depend on your personal use and preferences. Those who aim for days at the cliffs will want to snag a roomy crag pack, while boulderers might be fine with smaller options. If your only destination is the gym, a good duffel or carry-bag might be all you need.

Everyone packs differently (I always pack way too much food and water), so size your bag according to your personal needs.

Basic Accessories: Tape, Brush, Skin Care, & More

Importance: Wait until you’ve been climbing for a little while

Expect to pay

  • Tape: $5-10
  • Brush: $7-15
  • Salve: $10-20

Our favorite accessories for beginners

Climbing tape and a climbing brush

Together, tape and a brush are made even more powerful

Buying Advice

Depending on what you’re climbing, how much you climb, and what your style is, any number of climbing accessories might improve the quality of your climbing life.

If you’re learning to crack climb (or you just need some extra skin protection), pick up some climbing tape.

If you’re all about getting perfect conditions for your project, pick up a climbing brush.

If you like to keep your skin in good shape, grab a skin file, a pumice stone, or a tin of climbing salve.

If you spend a lot of time on ropes, one accessory I especially recommend is a pair of belay glasses. All that time spent looking up puts a real strain on your neck and can cause chronic discomfort after years of climbing. Belay glasses offer a significant ergonomic upgrade, and after long belay spells you’ll feel the difference.

Choose Your Own Adventure from Here on Out

Most of the gear above is suitable for all beginner climbers exploring the sport. After the basics, the investments start to get a little larger and more specific.

From here on out, buy your gear as needed based on what climbing style you’re most interested in.

Don’t be afraid to branch out, either. Most climbers enjoy more than one style of climbing, and many own all of the items below.

Note: From now on, we won’t be giving buying advice since these are pieces of gear you won’t need until later down the line.

Nut Tool

Importance: As needed

Expect to pay: $15-25

Nut tool for climbing

My trusty nut tool (the leash is handy, although it’s easy to make your own)

I know it seems odd to buy a nut tool right off the bat, but if you’re interested in multi-pitch or trad climbing, a nut tool is one of your best investments. They’re cheap, easy to find, and they last forever.

Firstly, having a nut tool means you’re ready to start following routes. You can get out with a mentor or a friendly rope-gun, learn from their expertise, and not have to borrow their tool when you’re cleaning gear.

If you’re lucky, a nut tool will also get you started on a rack of your very own. Parties abandon gear surprisingly frequently (or, in Eldorado Canyon, pretty much constantly), and a tenacious follower can often free a piece or two. “Bootied” gear is the cleaner’s to keep, and you might find yourself with a piece or two to get you started.

If you’d like help picking out a nut tool, check out our article on the best nut tools.

Slings & Carabiners

Importance: As needed

Expect to pay: Variable, depending on number

Slings, lockers, chalk bags, and a trusty belay device

Slings, lockers, chalk bags, and a trusty belay device

If you’re out sport or trad climbing with more experienced fellows, an anchor setup is another useful package. If you’re multi-pitch climbing, you’ll most likely anchor in using the rope, but if you’re doing single pitch routes, you’ll often be cleaning off of bolted anchors.

Learning to clean a route is quick and relatively easy, and it makes you a more attractive prospect as a climbing partner. Grab a sling or two (or a PAS if that’s your style) plus a couple locking carabiners, and you’ll be able to clean anytime.

Rope

Importance: As needed

Expect to pay: $200-300

Our favorites

  • Mammut Infinity
  • Sterling Evolution Velocity
  • Sterling Slim Gym & Mammut Gym Rope (for gym use only)

Climbing rope

If you’re interested in sport climbing, trad climbing, or even toproping outside, you’ll eventually want a rope. Some gyms don’t provide ropes for members, in which case you’ll need one to lead climb indoors as well.

When you’re learning, it’s usually best to tag along with more experienced climbers (who will usually have ropes of their own). Once you’re ready to strike out on your own, do a little research and grab a rope that will work for you. The attributes you’ll need to decide on are thickness, length, and treatment (dry or no).

Quickdraws

Importance: As needed

Expect to pay: $100-200 for a complete set

Our favorites

  • Petzl Spirit Express
  • Black Diamond FreeWire
  • Petzl Djinn Axess
Quickdraws

My first set of draws, pieced together from sales and locals

Along with a rope (and some gear to clean), quickdraws are all you need to get out sport climbing (they’re also useful for trad climbers).

You’ll want 8-12 for a complete set, though some routes or areas may need more.

Trad Rack

Importance: As needed

Expect to pay: A LOT

Trad rack

If you’re going to take the leap into trad climbing, you’ll eventually need to build your own rack.

I don’t recommend embarking on this project until you’ve followed plenty of routes and gotten some experience under your belt, because it’s an expensive and time consuming endeavor.

For a complete rack, you’ll need a set of cams, plenty of nuts, a set of draws and alpine draws, a number of slings, a bucket of carabiners, and probably a cordelette. It’s best to talk to other climbers, do your research, and know where you’re planning on climbing before you start building your own set.

If you’re interested, check out our step-by-step guide on how to build your first trad rack.

Crash Pad

Importance: As needed

Expect to pay: $150-200

Our favorite budget-friendly crash pads

  • Mad Rock R3
  • Mad Rock Mad Pad
  • Metolius Session
  • Organic Full Pad
Crash pad

Out for a day of mustachioed bouldering

If bouldering is your jam, your gear decisions are simplified: when you’re ready, grab a pad or two and call it a day.

If you’re going out with a group, you can often get away with using other people’s pads, but it’s nice to have one of your own to contribute. Plus, then you can go out for a day of solo bouldering with nothing more than a pad, some shoes, a chalk bucket, and a good attitude.

That’s not a bad life.