So you wanna be a rock climber, huh? Maybe you’ve dreams of solitude, climbing remote peaks in the wilderness or hanging with your friends at the local crag, springing gymnastically up a line of bolts or a 15’ boulder overhang. Whatever kind of climbing you want to do, you’ve gotta start somewhere and chances are you’re not looking to die.
This is the first in a short series of articles outlining climbing essentials of the three major types of climbing: bouldering, sport, and traditional climbing, also known as trad. While each discipline shares some of its gear requirements with the others, there are some particulars to each.
To start, we’ll first look at bouldering, the most simple and inexpensive climbing discipline and the place most people start in the gym. Bouldering involved ascending short “problems”, unroped; it is arguably the purest form of climbing since it requires nothing more than your body. Protection relies upon a pad, friends or “spotters”, and your own foresight to not fall on your neck.
Shoes. If you’re just starting out, find a pair of shoes that fit snugly and comfortably. Climbers, and boulderers in particular, are notorious for wearing extraordinarily tight shoes to cling to a dime-edge foothold on that wicked overhang. This isn’t necessary when you’re starting out and as you get better, you’ll figure out the kind of shoes that work for you and your style of climbing. My first pair of shoes were the La Sportiva Turantulace; a basic shoe that will give you years of happy climbing.
Chalk bag. If you climb in the American Southwest, chances are you’re holding onto rock that is sunbaked and hot, causing your hands to sweat profusely and subsequently lose grip. Chalk, borrowed from gymnastics, absorbs moisture and allows climbers to cling to tiny crimpers or horrible slopers a little bit better. And when you’re 15’ off the deck with no rope, you’ll be glad to have it. Since these are essentially all the same so my advice is to find one you like the look of.
If you’re only interested in gym climbing, this is really all you need. For those of you that want to take your practice onto real rock…
Crash pad. If you enjoy keeping your ankles and other body parts intact, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a crash pad. Trust me that when you keep peeling off that problem you’ve been working, it’s much nicer to fall on a pad than the dirt. They come in a variety of sizes and often with backpack-like straps for transportation so find one within your budget and save on medical bills! Metolius pads are great since they have velcro sides that allow other Metolius pad to fit together to make a giant pad!
That’s it! Some would recommend that males remove their shirts and wear a beanie but after extensive study, I have found no advantage in this practice. Bouldering is a simple and fun introduction to rock climbing so get out there and crank!
Disclaimer: Rock climbing is inherently dangerous. This guide is not meant to replace expert instruction, which comes highly recommended. You are ultimately responsible for your own safely. For a complete disclaimer, see here.