Essential Rock Climbing Gear: Sport Climbing

Action Life, Gear, Mountain 15 73

For the second part of our essential climbing gear series, we turn to sport climbing.  For a lot of climbers, this is what they’re after: a focus on the athleticism of climbing, the movement on the rock, without worry about the safety of the gear involved.  Sport climbing involves clipping  stainless steel bolts (sometimes titanium at seaside crags), fitted with hangars, to protect you from hitting the ground if (read: when) you fall.

This list will help you with what gear you’d need in order to get started sport climbing.  Of course, expert instruction is highly recommended since this article does not cover proper use of the gear in question.

Personal Gear

First, there’s the stuff you’ll need for your own personal safety that can’t be shared like a rope or quickdraws.  There are a lot of gadgets out there but this list just covers what you would need for sport climbing.

A harness.  This is fairly obvious.  Unless you like massive internal injuries from a fall with the old-school “bowline around the waist”, buy a modern harness.  For your first harness, find something comfortable since you’ll probably be hanging in it at some point.  Most good outdoor stores have a rope hanging from the rafters for customers to get a feel for how the harness sits when you’re suspended.  Though I’ve never used one, a lot of my climbing friends swear by the Misty Mountain Cadillac for all but the biggest walls and hardest redpoints.

Misty Mountain Cadillac Harness

Misty Mountain Cadillac.  Source: Misty Mountain

Shoes.  These were touched on in the bouldering article, though some folks prefer having two pairs for hard bouldering and sport.  This is especially true if you plan to climb multipitch sport climbs where you’ll be in your shoes for a few hours.  The Tarantulace I mentioned before fit this bill just as well.

Chalk bag.  No different than for bouldering.

Belay device and locking carabiner.  Mandatory if you want to catch your partners fall or rappel off a climb after cleaning.  There are literally DOZENS of belay devices—including some assisted-braking devices—but the trusty tube style will find the most usage.  I personally own the most basic of the basics (Black Diamond ATC) and it has saved multiple lives, including my own, and gotten my partners and I up everything from easy scrambles to 800’ cliffs.  If you’re interested in mutlipitch climbing, though, it may be wise to invest in an auto-blocking device such as the Black Diamond ATC Guide or the Petzl Reverso 4.

Petzl Reverso 4Petzl Reverso 4.  Source: Petzl

Helmet.  Often overlooked, this valuable piece of equipment can save your life and if you climb long enough on sketchy enough rock, will eventually save it.  A helmet is even more mandatory at crags where rockfall is a serious concern.  Popular models include the Black Diamond Half Dome or the Petzl Elios.  The new Half Dome is nice and doesn’t sit as high on the head as the previous model.

BD Half Dome

BD Half Dome.  Source: REI

There are other optional pieces of gear one can purchase such as a personal anchor system (PAS) and although not a requirement in the same way a harness is, it comes highly recommended.  Makes life at rappel anchors much happier.  Metolius makes a dedicated piece of equipment called the PAS 22 (naturally) though if you’re cheap like me, you can buy a double-length sling and tie it at regular intervals.

Sharable Gear

Rope.  A standard rope is 60m long and between 9.7mm and 10.2mm in diameter.  It’s also important to choose a rope that is rated as a single dynamic for leading; that is, it stretches when weighted and isn’t designed for use with other ropes, like twins or doubles.  Ropes are also available in 70m, which is quickly becoming the standard, though a 60m will get you up all but the most modern routes.  I have an Edelrid Ibex 10mm x 60m that I’m very happy with. Only complaint: the center marking is hard to see after a while.  I suggest getting a bi-pattern rope if you can afford it; it’ll make your nighttime rappels much quicker and safer.

Edelrid Ibex climbing rope

Edelrid Ibex.  Source: REI

Quickdraws.  Quickdraws are two carabiners connected together by a piece of nylon or dyneema webbing which are then clipped to the previously mentioned bolts in the rock for protection.  A set of 12 will do for most climbs and every brand under the sun makes them. Hard to go wrong and Black Diamond even sells sets of six.

BD PosiWire Quickdraw Pack

BD PosiWire Pack. Source: REI

Anchor gear for top roping.  Generally speaking, four locking carabiners and a double-length (240cm) sling, assuming the anchors are composed of two bolts.  Areas with trees for anchors will require a different setup composed of a long cordalette and two lockers and in some areas, using two quickdraws on the bolts is an acceptable anchor.  If opting for the former, I use a setup of two large carabiners (BD Rocklock, in this case) for the rope side and two smaller BD Positron’s for the bolt ends.  The smaller lockers are often nice when the bolts at the anchor are also fitted with rappel rings or quicklinks since this makes the larger ones hard to fit.  Any double-length sling will do; I found my Mammut Transformer sling on sale for $7.  Score!

Other Thoughts

Note that this is just the gear.  Gear is only as good insofar as one knows how to use it: the best gear in the world won’t save you if you don’t know how to use it properly.  There are a number of skills necessary to stay alive on the rock and it is highly recommended that one learn these skills from a professional.  The proper use of this gear is beyond the scope of this article and you shouldn’t take advice from me anyway.  After all, I find hanging suspended from a rope several hundred feet in the air a perfectly acceptable activity.

And always remember: check your knot!

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.

About the author / 

Jacob Sundstrom
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Jacob is a climber and sound artist based in Seattle, Washington. He has climbed in many of the major areas in the West and enjoys Type II fun, exploring everything, and going to bullfights on acid. His work can be seen/heard at

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