WHAT CLIMBING GEAR DO YOU NEED?
The type of equipment you need will depending on the type of climbing you’re doing.
Obviously, you don’t need a harness or helmet to go bouldering. In fact, you don’t need much gear at all. Grab your rock shoes and your chalk bag and hit the climbing gym. Or head to your nearest boulders with your crash pad. Bouldering is the ideal way to work on your strength and movement without needing a rope, unless it’s highballs you’re after.
What do I need to climb a via ferrata?
To climb a via ferrata you’ll need your regular hiking equipment:
- Ankle-supporting boots
- Clothing layers
- Via ferrata set
- Specialist ferrata gloves (abrasion-resistant fingerless gloves with a reinforced palm) are generally a good idea too, because wire cables can be sharp or spiky.
There are many different types of via ferrata sets on the market.
- Via ferrata carabiners
The two large auto-locking carabiners have to comply to different certification standards than normal climbing carabiners. To ensure there is always a safe connection between the climber and the safety wire, one carabiner must always be connected to the wire. As a backup, both carabiners should be connected to the wire, except when the climber is re-clipping across a wire anchor.
- Elasticated lanyard arms
They connect the climber to the safety cable. The Y-shaped, lanyard arms are connected directly into the tie-in loop of the harness using the sewn-in webbing attachment loop and a girth hitch (lark's foot).
- EAS (energy absorbing system) or shock absorber
In a fall, the shock absorber absorbs the impact energy, so that the load (fall factor) is reduced on all of the other components of the system, and on the climber. This is especially important as the fall factors on via ferrata climbs tend to be higher than in rock climbing. Either way though, falling on a via ferrata is not a good idea. If you were to fall, the system only starts to work when the carabiners hit the last anchor point. Take care never to bypass the shock absorber. And don’t be tempted to use a sling without an EAS – they are static, offer virtually no shock absorption, and could snap.
In some situations, additional belaying from a fixed anchor with a rope might be recommended for inexperienced climbers or children. This requires the necessary skills and knowledge in rope management and belay technique.
As with all climbing equipment, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and always inspect your gear carefully before use.
What gear do I need for sport climbing?
Your sport climbing gear should be lightweight and built to withstand heavy use, yet be streamlined and lightweight. For bolted outdoor routes, you need:
- A rope
- And don’t forget your helmet
When buying a climbing rope, you’ll need to make a number of decisions about the type of rope you need. Single or Half? Dry Treated or Standard? 50m, 60m or longer?
- Single ropes
Single ropes are the most common type of climbing rope. They are designed to be used on their own and are mainly used on bolted routes at walls and on sport climbs. Single ropes come in a wide range of different lengths and diameters and cover many different applications.
- Twin ropes
Twin ropes are always used in pairs and it’s important that twin ropes are always clipped together into each bolt or piece of protection. They have a lighter weight and thinner diameter. Using two ropes offers additional safety reserves in the event of rock fall or sharp edges. They also have the advantage that you can join them together to abseil over the full length. Twin ropes are not suitable for bringing up two second climbers independently.
- Half Ropes
Half ropes (also known as double ropes) are designed, like twin ropes, to be used as a pair. They’re mainly used for trad climbing, where the leader is responsible for placing their own protection. However, unlike twin ropes, half ropes do not need to be clipped together into each bolt or piece of protection. This technique is ideal for zig-zagging routes and alpine climbing. Unlike twin ropes, half ropes can be used as single ropes to bring up two seconds at the same time.
Most sport climbers use a dynamic single rope. For length, 50 metres or 60 metres is usually sufficient. Depends where you’re climbing though. Check your guide book, because many modern sport-climbing routes require a 70-metre or even an 80-metre rope. A single rope can also be paired up with another rope and used as a half rope, so it’s probably the best buy as a first rope.
Climbing ropes are often impregnated with a special finishing treatment. These treatments give a rope specific properties that extend its lifespan, improve handling and resist absorbing water. Dry-treated ropes are generally more expensive, but remain supple if there is rain, snow or ice around. Sport climbers are not known for climbing in the rain, so if you primarily sport climb, you can probably make do with a non-dry rope.
By passive, we’re talking chocks (nuts, hexes or wedges). We’ve come a long way from the days when climbers would jam threaded wooden pegs and pebbles or the knots themselves into cracks (still used to free climb Elbe Sandstone in Saxon Switzerland). Nuts are the simplest form of passive protection and are essentially small blocks of metal on a swaged wire. By the way, don’t forget your nut key...
By active, we mean camming devices, or ‘Friends’ – the innovative, original spring-loaded device designed by Ray Jardine and developed by Mark Vallance at Wild Country. Cams work on friction and angles, similar to the way that climbers stem in a wide chimney. Camming devices transmit the load to the sides of a crack, putting pressure against the rock, and locking it tighter in place. When placed correctly, they can withstand a significant shock load...
A trad rack also involves carrying slings in different lengths, plus the gear required to create a belay anchor at the top of the pitch. Note, that the old, faded webbing slings at belays or difficult sections should be used with extreme caution as weathering and UV radiation from the sun rapidly accelerates ageing.
Obviously, you should be familiar with how to place all your gear to build solid protection before you head out. Twenty metres above the deck, pumped and stressed is not the best place to be trying out that new piece of pro.
What gear do I need for alpine climbing?
The gear you need depends a lot on what and where you’re climbing. For instance, if there’s going to be ice and glaciers, you’ll also need crampons, ice tools and equipment to set up a crevasse rescue.
Ok, so you might have your rock shoes for more technical sections, but you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time climbing and walking in your approach shoes or mountain boots. If you’re climbing in boots, bear in mind the issue of stiffness and crampon compatibility: stiffer boots are more supportive when you’re walking with crampons on.
Your standard rock-climbing harness is more than adequate.
Ice axes come in all shapes and sizes. A single general mountaineering ice axe is what you’ll be using most of the time for ascending steep slopes and self-arresting if you slip. More difficult routes might require two more technical ice tools designed for steep ice and mixed ground. Ice axes are either 'T' (Technical) or 'B' (Basic) rated. T rated means that their shaft is strong enough to belay from while B Rated means it is not; nearly all climbing axes are 'T' rated. Somewhat confusingly, ice axe picks are also 'T' or 'B' rated too. If you can’t see a ‘T’, it means your blade is ‘B’ rated.
Crampons are as varied as ice axes, and like ice axes, so are the uses they are designed for.
There are crampons designed for steep ice, for all-round climbing and mountaineering and for winter hiking. Crampons are made of either steel or aluminium. Aluminium is lighter, but not nearly as durable as steel, which is a better choice for mixed climbing. Bear in mind though, that not all crampons fit all boots.
- Step-in crampons: Also called automatic, clip-on or rigid crampons. They have a full wire toe bail fastener at the front and a rear wire bail system at the back with a heel lever. They will only fit rigid boots with a proper heel and toe welt designed for full step-in crampons. Best for mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing.
- Hybrid crampons: Aka semi-automatic, semi-step-in or mixed crampons. They have with a wire bail system at the heel, but a basket system at the front. They are the most versatile type of crampons and should be combined with semi-rigid boots. Best for mountaineering and easier grade snow and ice. Can be used for more demanding ice and mixed tours when combined with sufficiently stiff boots.
- Strap-on crampons: As the name suggests, these crampons have a strap-on binding system (and no basket or wire bail at the front or back). Best for easy mountaineering, glacier crossings. Not suitable for more technical climbing.
Essential for alpine climbing. Make sure yours has clips to attach a headlamp.
Obviously, more gear may be required for your next alpine climbing trip. Remember to think about your skill level and pick routes that are well within your technical and physical abilities.
What gear do I need for ice climbing?
Probably, more than any other form of climbing you need the right gear.
- A pair of technical ice axes that are designed for steep ice and mixed ground. Many people prefer to climb leashless, but owning one could save you from embarrassment.
- Helmet: absolutely essential, don’t leave home without it.
- Ropes: Go for dry-treated. Standard ropes will soon become hard to handle in snow and ice and can be impossible to get through a belay device once it becomes waterlogged and frozen.
- Winter boots that can take crampons.
- Crampons for steep water ice, rather than general mountaineering crampons. Though there are some good crossover models, you’re in front point territory.
- Ice screws: size and quantity will depend on the length and nature of the route.
- Quickdraws, slings, carabiners and other pro depending on the route.
- Abseil knowledge and ice anchor skills (V-threads / Abalakov threads).
- Safety gear: goggles, fully charged phone, head torch etc.
- Gloves, gloves and more gloves. Including thin gloves to climb in and warm gloves to belay in. Stash the pair you’re not using in your jacket to keep them toasty.
Climbing covers a whole load of different disciplines, all with their specific types of gear, techniques and training. Obviously, most of us train at a climbing gym. The bouldering wall is a great place to improve your strength, technique, balance and footwork. Indoor climbing walls offer an accessible place to work out and meet other climbers that is not dependant on the weather. But lead climbing outdoors is where you want to be. Whether it’s sport climbing or trad routes, local crags or vertical rock faces in remote, high-mountain areas. The rope management skills you learn as a climber also play an important role for mountaineering or via ferrata routes. In winter, frozen waterfalls in the valleys become a fascinating vertical arena for ice climbing, while the combination of rock, turf, snow and ice in higher mountain terrain requires mixed climbing techniques from both rock climbing and ice climbing.
Rock shoes that fit you well can make a big difference to how you climb. Look for a shoe that matches the shape of your foot, where you can feel your toes and trust in the friction they provide. Climbing shoes give you increased sensitivity to stick even small footholds with precision, allowing you to climb more fluidly and confidently. There are so many different types of climbing shoe out there, but generally speaking they can be grouped into three rough categories: comfortable/all-day-wear, general-purpose technical, and specialised/aggressive performance. Most manufacturers offer a range of shoes – the trick is to find the one that fits you best for the type of climbing you want it for. Your rock shoes should fit snugly but not be painfully tight. Note: Rock shoes are not good for walking in and doing so can ruin them. For the walk-in to the base of a climbing area, wear approach shoes or mountain hiking /trekking footwear.
Your harness is one of your core pieces of equipment that allows you to tie into the rope securely and efficiently. There are different harnesses for different types of climbing. The type of harness you need will depend on the type of climbing you plan on doing. Finding a harness that fits well is the most important factor. Yes, it needs to hold you securely during a fall, but it should also allow you to move freely and comfortably.
Seat harnesses are made of load bearing webbing and consist of the following parts:
- Waist belt: This sits over the hips and should fit snugly so that it can’t slide over your hips. Padding provides more comfort. Ideally it should be air permeable to allow ventilation.
- Tie-in loops: Always take care when tying in. Harnesses have two front tie-in points. Either tie in directly to the tie-in loop (aka belay loop) or parallel to the tie-in loop, making sure that the rope passes through both the upper loop and lower bridge on the waist belt. Movable waist belts allow you to centre the tie-in point for optimal load distribution and ensure that your gear loops are symmetrical. Check the manufacturer's instructions for your product.
- Leg loops: In the event of a fall, the majority of the load is transferred through the leg loops to the thighs. Many harnesses have buckles on the leg loops for adjustability, which is important if you want to wear extra layers in alpine terrain or when ice climbing. Some leg loops open completely to make it easier when wearing mountain boots, ski boots or crampons.
- Gear loops: Make sure your harness has enough gear loops for all your equipment and check that they are positioned in the right place. Note: climbers have been known to tie in to gear loops by mistake, which could have very serious consequences.
- Ice screw clips: Ice climbing means carrying ice screws as well as quickdraws, so you need a harness with ice screw clip attachment points.
For kids, a full body harness is a good idea as it provides more comfort, and greater safety due to their anatomy (narrower waists and skinnier hips). Moreover, when kids climb, they are top-heavy and could turn upside down if they fall. Full body harnesses have a higher tie-in point than a seat harness, reducing the chances that a climber will flip upside down during a fall.
Ultimately though, the right harness model depends on the type of climbing you plan on doing. Do you need maximum padding, adjustable leg loops to be able to wear extra layers and as many gear loops as possible for your alpine climbing lead rack? Or are you after a lightweight harness with fixed leg loops and a couple of gear loops for training indoors at the wall?
If climbing outdoors, you should always wear a climbing helmet. Your climbing helmet will be the most important piece of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that you own. It is essential for alpine or winter climbing, where there is a great risk of stones or ice hitting you on your head. Designed primarily to protect the top of your head from falling rock and debris, many helmets also provide protection at the front, back and sides from rock edges or in the event of a fall. It should feel comfortable on, be lightweight, fit well, but not too tightly and offer good ventilation.
Many helmets either have a hard, reinforced, protective outer shell with internal foam padding and a strap closure system. The advantage of these helmets is that they offer multi-impact protection – i.e. they can still be used if they receive a blow from a stone when you are half way up an alpine route.
The other option is an expanded foam (aka softshell) helmet. Made of a thick layer of impact-absorbing foam, they have a thin polycarbonate shell and are generally lighter.
When choosing a helmet, there is no substitute for trying it on. Borrow your friend’s to see how it feels. And pay a visit to your local specialist climbing shop.
- Check for a secure overall fit:
Placing the helmet on your head, adjust the fit, but before you buckle the chin strap, shake your head from side to side and the helmet should remain snug.
- Check the chin straps:
Once you’ve buckled the closure system you should have no excess slack. Check that the front straps hold the helmet in place if you push it back.
- Check for ease of adjustment:
Play with the dial or adjustment system to see how easy it is to fine-tune the fit. This is also important in colder conditions, when you might want to readjust it to wear a beanie or balaclava underneath.
Retire any helmet that’s dented, cracked or damaged—including the straps.
2. Basic Equipment
2.1 Climbing Shoes
2.2 Climbing Harness
2.3 Climbing Helmet
2.4 Climbing Helmet Fit
2.5 Belay Device
3. Gearing up for specific types of climbing
3.2 Via ferrata
3.3 Sport Climbing
3.4 Trad Climbing
Of course, it is possible to belay using an Italian or Munter Hitch (named after its Swiss inventor, Werner Munter, the godfather of the Avalanche Reduction Method). All you need is a certified, pear-shaped HMS locking carabiner (HMS or ‘HalbMastwurfSicherung’ is the German for Munter Hitch). However, a belay device is an essential friction brake that also makes for much slicker rope management.
For climbing outside and alpine climbing, get a belay plate with two slots so that you can use it with double ropes. Most belay devices can also safely be used to abseil with in most situations (do be aware that they can heat up during a long descent). Using a Prusik loop as a backup to safeguard yourself while rappelling is also highly recommended, as is tying a knot in the end of your rope.
When choosing a belay device, you have three main types to choose from:
- Manual tubular belay devices
- Tubular belay devices with assisted braking
- ‘Semi-automatic’ belay devices
Which one you choose depends on the kind of climbing you do.
Tubular belay devices or ‘tubers’ are by far the most common type of belay device. Like all climbing gear sold in Europe, tubers have to comply with CE standards. Good manufacturers generally build their products to exceed them. UIAA standards are often slightly more stringent than those of the CE.
The rope is folded and bent around the HMS carabiner and the device itself. As a result, the friction increases braking force so that a fall can be held by hand. Manual tubular belay devices also allow you to belay very dynamically. The main advantage of tubular belay devices is their dynamic braking action. Please note: the device’s increased braking force only functions if the dead rope is held down by the brake hand.
- Dynamic braking and dynamic belaying
- Lightweight and easy to use
- Work with many rope diameters and single or double ropes
- Do not kink or damage ropes
- Perfect for rappelling on single or double ropes
These devices work the same as normal tubers, only they are designed to brake the rope when a sudden force is applied to assist the belayer in catching and holding a fall. Assisted braking devices are also tested to CE (and UIAA) standards.
- Assisted braking performance = higher safety reserves
- Less hand braking force required
- Suitable for use with half ropes and twin ropes (depending on model)
- Ideal for paying out rope quick
- Intuitive to use
- Minimal kinks in rope.
‘Semi-automatic’ belay devices have an internal camming mechanism (with the exception of the Wild Country Revo) that locks the rope if a climber falls. These devices tend to be a bit heavier and mainly only function with a single rope. This means you can’t abseil with them on double ropes like you can with a tubular device. Because of this, these devices are mostly used for sport climbing, either at the gym or outdoors. ‘Semi-automatic’ belay devices have to comply to different UIAA and CE standards to tubular belay devices.
- Assisted locking function = very high safety reserves
- Brake rope completely
Figure of eights are intended primarily for abseiling. They are not recommended for belaying due to their relatively low braking performance compared to other belay devices. In particular, with skinnier ropes, the figure of eight’s reduced friction does not offer the same braking force as other belay devices and can be dangerous. Though you’ll still see them used by some climbers for belaying. As always, it’s important to read the instructions for your device.
- Efficient, smooth rappelling
- Dissipate heat efficiently
- Suitable for use with half ropes and twin ropes (depending on model)
Remember the Munter Hitch though… Especially for that time you forget or drop(!) your belay/abseil device, when you want a faster alternative to protect short sections, or if your rope gets frozen stiff and won’t go through a device.
Carabiners are an essential component in every safety chain. As climbers, we trust these small lightweight connectors with our lives. Only carabiners (also known as ‘biners’) which meet EU standards may be sold or used as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) against falling for mountain sports. The name comes from the French word for rifle ‘carabine’ as cavalrymen used a pear-shaped metal clip to attach a rifle when in close combat.
Different types of climbing activities require different kinds of carabiners.
Locking carabiners offer maximum safety and come with a range of different mechanisms. In situations where the carabiner is particularly important in the safety chain, we always use locking carabiners: belaying, abseiling, roping up on glaciers and building belay anchors.
Basic carabiners are basic connectors that have no locking mechanism. They are also used to make quickdraws and rack gear on your harness. They are easy to handle, but do not provide the security provided by locking carabiners. As such, only use them in quickdraws or a redundant system.
There are four main areas to consider:
- Carabiner Shape
- Carabiner Gate Type
- Carabiner Strength
- Carabiner Weight
HMS carabiners have a large gate opening and room to accommodate all knots. These pear-shaped carabiners are used for belaying directly with an Italian or Munter Hitch (HMS comes from ‘HalbMastwurfSicherung’, the German for Munter Hitch) and with belay devices. They are also ideal for setting up belay anchors.
- D shape
The most popular design of carabiners, and also some locking carabiners, is the asymmetric D shape. The D shape directs the load to the strongest point of the carabiner and away from the gate, lowering the risk of unwanted unclipping.
Oval-shaped carabiners have a smooth, uniform curve. They are mainly only used in special situations, such as aid climbing or in pulley systems. Their shape prevents runners from shifting when under load.
- Locking Gate Carabiners
Locking carabiners have gates that lock closed to provide extra protection against accidental opening.
There are two main types: screw lock and auto-lock. Locking carabiners offer a more secure attachment for critical protection.
- Solid Gate Carabiners
Solid gate carabiners come with either a straight or bent gate. Bent gates make it easier to clip the rope into a quickdraw without snagging. We use straight gates for clipping into bolts as the straight shape gate prevents the carabiner from getting caught in the bolt.
- Wire Gate Carabiners
Wire gate carabiners as slightly lighter and less likely to freeze up in cold conditions. The wire gate is also less likely to open due to vibration during a fall (aka gate lash).
Climbing carabiners undergo strict testing and offer a minimum breaking strength. Look at the back spine of your carabiner and you’ll see its strength ratings. Climbing carabiners have to provide minimum 20 kN along the major axis with gate closed, 7 kN along the minor axis and 7 kN along the major axis with gate open. This means they are more than strong enough – providing you use them correctly. Bear in mind that smaller and lighter carabiners are generally not as strong as bigger, heavier ones.
Most carabiners are made of aluminium alloy. In general, the less weight you carry with you as you climb, the better. However, aluminium is subject to material wear from the rope and in particular, bolt hangars. Repeated clipping and unclipping can create sharp edges. This is why it’s recommended to always clip bolts and pitons with the same end of your quickdraw.
TYPES OF CLIMBING
In many ways, sport climbing is more accessible than traditional rock climbing, both in terms of equipment and the skills required.
MOUNTAINEERING SKILLS & TECHNIQUES NEEDED
The essential technical skills needed for mountaineering take some time to learn.
HOW TO LEARN ALPINE CLIMBING
Alpine climbing means mountain climbing in high, often glaciated areas that can include scrambling and technical climbing in snow, rock or mixed terrain.