Brett Heliker

Rock Climbing Gear to start and advance

Climbing: all you really need is your body and a rock. But then you'll see the advantages rock shoes offer, then you'll find yourself more than 10 feet off the ground and need a rope and harness. Eventually a portaledge looks like something you really, really need...

Note: This is merely intended to offer suggestions for climbing gear essentials as climbers advance their skillset. You should take classes, and carry the 10 essentials, first aid, food, common sense, etc.

Level 1

Your goal is to touch a rock, artificial or real, and to get your feet off the ground.

You don't need a lot:

Climbing Shoes

Black Diamond's Momentum Climbing Shoes come in Men's, Women's and Kid's sizes, are cheap (sales as low as $46), decent shoes for beginners. Outdoor Gear Lab and REI agree. You can also rent shoes from a gym, or buy a used pair.

Chalk & Bag

Optional, but recommended for the grip it'll give your sweaty palms. To start, buy a cheap block or a cheap sock and a bag that suits your style, you can look into specialty chalks later.

Now go find a boulder, or drop into a gym and just climb. Start with a V0 and have fun – read REI's Bouldering article for a few more tips.

Level 2

Your goal is to tie into a rope and get to the top of a wall.

You'll need a rope and a belay lesson, so find a gym or a friend who knows what they're doing, and get started. All you need to add is a:


Nothing beats the Momentum Harness for value. Like the Momentum Shoes, it comes in Men's, Women's and Kids sizes as well as a full body variation for the very young. "Women’s" harnesses are made with larger leg loops and smaller waists if that matches your figure. You can also rent a harness from the gym.

Most gyms supply the belay device, rope, and carabiners so you shouldn't need anything else. Before you go in, read REI's guide for first time gym climbers and their introduction to belaying. Now go to the gym, get certified on their equipment, and climb a route. Start with a 5.6 or so, try to climb harder. Maybe you can climb a 5.9 in your first session!

Level 3

Your goal is to climb outside.

You've tried bouldering and top roping at this point, so now you have a choice. If you enjoyed bouldering, all you really need after the shoes and chalk is a:

Crash pad

The Mad Rock Duo generally gets high marks. The choice is often simply personal preference, so don't stress. Do you absolutely need a mat? No, but you can climb harder and fall more safely with one.

If you loved roped climbing, you will need a few more items:


This one is good, but choose your favorite and wear it. Your partner will drop rocks and gear on you, squirrels will drop acorns, and you will swing into the wall headfirst. Be safe.

Belay device

Buy what you learned to use. I like the ClickUp, but most people learn on a GriGri or ATC. Also consider your goals: leading on a GriGri is harder than an ATC but toproping is immeasurably safer with an assisted braking device. Will you be rapelling? Multipitch climbing? Outdoor Gear Lab has a good roundup of the top devices and their uses.


My favorite is the Mammut Infinity, it also scores well with OutdoorGearLab, but there are a variety of choices. You generally want a "dynamic", "single" rope, medium diameter (9.2mm-10mm), and 70m long for the most versatility. Do not get a half, twin or static rope, you'll learn why later.

Anchor building supplies

As a beginner, you should choose a route with a bolted anchor so you'll likely only need an anchor chain, a couple runners, or some quickdraws - follow your guide or instructor's advice.

Locking Carabiners

3-6 locking Carabiners. You need 2-4 for your anchor, 1 for your belay device and 1 for your personal safety (a sling or a PAS). There are cheaper and lighter varieties if desired.


A couple standard carabiners, for utility purposes. There are dozens if not hundreds of varieties, they're all safe. Buy them in a pack to save a little.

Finally, a lesson or guide. I cannot stress this enough: Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity. If you build your anchor incorrectly, don't know how to belay, or wear your harness wrong, you can die. Go with someone who knows how to stay safe and learn from them. Many gyms plan outside events, REI hosts classes and events around the world, AMGA has a list of certified guides and there are Meetups for beginner climbers everywhere.

Now go find a crag. Follow your instructor's lead to build the anchor, set the top rope, tie in, check your belay and climb on.

Level 4

Your goal is to lead a route (climb without a toprope!).

It is time to take off the training wheels: no more toprope. This makes climbing even more dangerous so first take a lead climbing class from your local gym. Learn to clip, learn to rest, learn to fall. Learn more advanced anchor building. The draws are usually fixed in the gym so you already have everything you need (except expertise) to climb a "sport" route. When you're ready to try a sport lead outside, you'll need:


More quickdraws. Buy as many as your route requires, usually 6-12, sometimes as many as 24. The guidebook or online beta will list the number of 'bolts', one draw per bolt, plus the anchor if you're using draws to build that. It never hurts to carry a couple extra. The Indicators are excellent for ease of clipping but can be heavy on long routes or long approaches, for those I switch to .

Anchor building supplies

Most routes don't have a fixed anchor with nice bolts, so you'll need anchor building gear to adapt to everything from trees to rock features to trad anchors. An 7-10m length of 8mm cordelette or 11mm diameter static rope is highly versatile. 1-inch webbing is also great, easier on trees and vegetation, and is cheaper. More slings are always useful!

Find an easy sport route, a partner or guide who can belay and teach you, and go send it!

Level 5

Your goal is to climb a route without bolts: a Trad Route.

You will absolutely want several more lessons: trad anchors are difficult to build and can kill you. Trad gear placement is hard and can kill you. Trad leading is hard and can kill you. You'll need a lot more gear to "build your rack":


At least one full set of nuts is a requirement on any rack. BD's Stopper Set Pro is the 'old classic' set and a great value, but even nuts can be redesigned and have features added so there are a variety of options today.


A set of common-size (0.4 - 3in) cams is essential. BD's Camalot C4 set is the classic, but as with nuts there are a number of options. (The Ultralight C4s are very nice, if expensive.)


Quickdraws don't work for trad routes, you need more play and flexibility while your route meanders the rock. Slings are the first component of an Alpine Draw, you need one per piece of pro you place, plus a few spares – so about 6-12 to start. Singles and Doubles both have uses, so get a variety.


- You need two carabiners per sling to build an alpine draws. You can also purchase complete alpine draws but there is literally no difference if you assemble your own.

Nut tool

Gear is expensive and occasionally gets stuck. A nut tool will help extract cams and nuts and the Wild Country Pro Key is a great tool at a great price.

Level 6

Your goal is to climb a multipitch trad route.

Multipitch climbing is single-pitch trad, then do it again and again. Except now the consequences of failure, lack of beta, bad or missing gear, etc. are much higher. You absolutely need a good partner for this part – arguing the techniques of rope management while in a hanging belay 600 feet above the ground is hard. You'll also need to add a few things to your trad setup:

Belay Device

On multipitch routes you'll need a belay device with a belay-from-above or Guide mode and probably a rappel capability. The GriGri can belay from above, but not rappel. The ATC-Guide is the standard and generally the best, simplest and smoothest for belaying from above, and when used in guide mode adds an auto-block ability – be sure to learn to use this on the ground before trying it out!

Anchor building supplies

Your rack should already have a versatile collection of webbing, slings and 'biners to build an anchor anywhere. Now you need to double it: you'll have two anchors at any given moment as you move up the wall. Cordelette is generally the most versatile to build trad anchors with so buy a few 7-10m lengths and plenty of lockers.


A Prusik cord, hollow block, or emergency ascender is essential for the long rappels and can help in emergency and rescue situations you may encounter on a multipitch route. You should know how to build your own from a length of 5-6mm cord and should always have one on your harness.

Now go!

Thats it for now. The follow-up to this post will go through gear needed for Aid climbing, Rescue gear, Big Wall and Expedition climbing, and even Ice climbing gear.