11 Things You Need To Start Rock Climbing
I’ve been over six feet tall since I was 15, but I have always been afraid of of heights. It was probably James Earl Jones’s death in the Lion King that did it. And even though I had occasionally tested it by climbing up fire towers, standing near low railings, and watching copious wing suit videos, I recently decided it was time to outgrow this fear and start rock climbing.
Owing to the fact that New York City doesn’t compete much in the outdoor climbable terrain arena (other than a sprinkling of boulders in Central Park), I joined a bouldering gym. This initially had me wishing I had worn brown shorts. You want me to jump off of what? But...I did it, and it was awful, but I survived. I did it again. And countless times later, well, I'm still alive and I can say my fear of heights is much assuaged.
And I'm here to help. I want you to also curb and eventually eliminate your fear of heights. And if you're going to do this by way of climbing, here are nine items of gear to help get you started.
1. La Sportiva Nago
These Italian-made shoes aren't so downturned and intense as to alienate a beginning climber, but they offer enough aggressiveness to feel like they're doing their job. If you have a very narrow foot, you might like the laces, but if you don't, the Jeckyl is pretty much the same thing with velcro.
2. La Sportiva Bushido
Before you can climb you have to get to the rocks, which aren't usually located next to the parking lot. So you have to run or hike there. You can use hiking boots, dedicated approach shoes, or trail running shoes. Trail running shoes are a good choice because you can use them for other stuff than just walking to hike and they have a stiffer bottom, stickier rubber, and better traction than traditional running shoes.
3. Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
Okay, maybe you don't need this, but it's awesome. This jacket weighs under half a pound and takes up almost no space in your bag, making it one of the best jackets for climbing. (See the photo below to see its volume.)
If I wasn't taking a picture of it with my other hand, I could have compressed this way, way more.
4. Black Diamond DS Momentum Harness Combo
Black Diamond's new harness combo has a ridiculously comfortable design, which doesn't make you feel like you've had an atomic wedgie—probably the most important thing in a climbing harness after making you not die. This package comes with a locking carabiner and a ATC-XC belay device so you're all set to go. Though if any of the information on this list sounds new, make sure you take someone who knows what they're doing and can tie the knot around your harness.
5. Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
Pretty much any helmet that feels comfortable will do the job—which is just as important when you're on the ground as when you're on the wall. Rocks fall down, after all. We really like the Mammut El Cap and its visor as well.
6. Gregory Verte 25
This lightweight, spacious pack has been designed with one purpose—carrying your stuff up rocks. It's got a removable hip belt, a chest strap, and comfortable shoulder straps so it doesn't move and minimizes the cargo's burden. If you're hiking to the rocks, this will come in handy, and if you're doing a multi-pitch route, that comfort will be essential as you lug your pack.
7. Mountain Hardwear Stretchstone Jeans
I don't understand why, but everyone climbs in jeans. It's just what you do apparently. Maybe it's a middle finger at organized sports with uniforms, but that doesn't make sense—climbing isn't casual. You need gear, and most people who climb are pretty gear-heady. I suspect it has something to do with projecting an air of effortlessness, like, "oh, I just came off the street and now I'm halfway up this large piece of granite."
Who knows. But I do know that while Levi's are dece, these are stretchier, more durable, and more comfortable when you're moving around.
8. Black Diamond White Gold Chalk Shot
If you're in the bouldering gym and it's hot, you can sweat right off the wall. Or if you're up in the air and really nervous, your palms might be a little moist. Chalk fixes those issues, and gives you the added benefit of doing that LeBron thing.
9. La Sportiva Chalk Bag
You have to put that chalk somewhere.
10. Mammut 9.8 Eternity Protect
There's tons of different ropes on the market, but since it's the one thing protecting you from hurtling hundreds of feet to the ground, you're going to feel better with a good one. This all-rounder from Mammut has really good handling, a very solid fall rating, a center mark, and protected sheath, and lifetime warranty. It's also light enough to not break your back on your way to the crag.
11. Petzl Djinn Access
Price: $91 (six-pack)
You have to secure that rope somehow, and these no-nonsense quickdraws from Petzl will make clipping in easy and give you the confidence to focus on your climbing. We shouldn't have to say this, but make sure you know what you're doing if you're leading.