Not everyone is in agreement on the best gear set up, so I’ve broken this page up into sections from different people.
Money: as a general rule, i would say that you can go the cheap route when buying quickdraws, belay devices, harnesses, and slings. I wouldn’t recommend skimping on the rope or the shoes. Cheap ropes and cheap shoes will suck while you have them, and not last long enough to make them cost effective in the long run.
Helmet: Get one. Wear it. The people you see climbing without one either A) don’t care about their own safety or B) are experienced climbers and have a sense of where rocks do and don’t fall. Rock fall factors include the type of rock, the angle at which it is exfoliating, whether there are hiking trails or people potentially moving around above, trad routes nearby, unpopular routes nearby, new routes nearby, overhung space to hide under, and weather. People also die from falling and getting spun upside down.
Me and several friends have been hit by rocks, plenty of times, and I’ve ripped off rocks the size of watermelons plenty more. It’s not worth saving fifty bucks.
Belay device: I use either a Grigri or a munter hitch. The munter is obviously the cheapest option if you’re looking to save money, because it requires nothing but a pear shaped carabiner. In my own experience, I have not found the munter to increase rope wear or kink the rope. If you use it on rappel, however, it will kink like hell. If you need to rappel, you’ll want to carry a rappel device. I like the munter because it brakes more easily than most other devices, it brakes in any direction, it ties off into a mule knot easily, and it doesn’t catch the skin on my hand. It’s also effective for belaying with doubles. Downsides: it sucks for belaying someone who wants to do any jugging or boinging (nothing beats a grigri for that), and it’s only a rappel device as a last resort.
But you’ve probably learned on an ATC and feel most comfortable with that. So, I would recommend that you avoid the traditional ATC’s that do not have brakes (these are the notches that increase the friction). I find it difficult to catch a fall on the first or second bolt with no brakes. The jaws device works just as well.
Slings: You can make your own cheap ones by just buying and cutting webbing and tying it off with a water knot, but they are fat. I wish i had more. Also, they are your cheapest and lightest option for bailing.
Rappelling: I use a friction knot backup, composed of a small piece of cord and a small locking carabiner attached to my leg loop. Mammut makes the lightest lockers i know of. They are also pricey. Not sure what the cheapest lockers are. I think the cheaper, crappier lockers are more prone to getting stuck, so i wouldn’t skimp on your lockers. When buying your rappel cord, remember that it needs to be thinner than the climbing rope to catch. I’m guessing mine is about 6-7mm. Slings also work fine for friction knots.
Quickdraws: Keylock wiregates didn’t come out until after i bought all mine, so i suppose they have the best of all worlds. They’re probably expensive as shit. My favorite combo (until i get a million dollars and replace all my draws with keylock wiregates and super thin slings) is a keylock carabiner on the bolt end and a wire gate on the rope side. They’re easy to tell apart, and the keylock makes them easy to pull off the bolts. the wire is of course lighter.
If you’re trying to save money, get the cheapest quickdraws you can find. Skimping on quickdraws won’t cause you any significant problems that I know of.
i will say that fat draws with fat gates are making a comeback for projecting, both because the weight is irrelevant if they’re already hanging (and nobody cares about the redpoint/pinkpoint distinction anymore) and because they’re easy to grab onto during tenuous projects.
Harness: Again, if you’re trying to save money, you can get a cheap one. I have seen plenty of super hardcore climbers with the entry line climbing harnesses. When trying them out in the store, you should insist on hanging from a ceiling support for at least five minutes per harness. This is the only way to figure out what’s comfortable. The more expensive ones tend to have more comfortable padding.
Rope: You’ll never find agreement among people on the brand. Just don’t get a cheap and shitty one. The thicker ropes are apparently more durable. mine’s a 9.8. I wouldn’t get much bigger than that, because it’ll get thicker and fuzzier as it gets older, and make it very difficult to use in a Grigri. Don’t go much thinner than that, or your rope won’t catch in a Grigri. 60 meters is the most popular length. You will run into rappels and climbs on the east coast where a 50 is not long enough, and they are not always marked in the guidebooks. I understand that a 70 is used in some parts of the world, but as far as i know, a 60, or a pair of sixties, is sufficient for the east coast and western Europe.
Shoes: If you have the money, just go buy the La Sportiva muiras. The katanas are pretty much the same thing with velcro, if you need to have velcro. They are expensive as shit, but they’re the best that i know of. They are for single pitch climbing, though. Do not use them for multipitch, or you will be dying by pitch four. Almost all the east coast sport is single pitch, so if you’re on this side of the country, you should be getting the most aggressive sport climbing shoes you can.
Mammut also makes good shoes, 5.10 is decent (although they have great rubber), Mad Rock is acceptable.
The shoes need to be very tight to be effective. Synthetic shoes will not stretch very much, but leather shoes will. (I believe most of them now are synthetic.) I wear a size 10 shoe and a size 6.5 climbing shoe, but that’s the most aggressive size reduction i’ve heard of. Most of the people I know go at most two sizes down. Your feet will swell a bit as you climb, but I think most beginners mistakenly buy shoes that are way too big. This is evidenced by the fact that they walk around in them as though they were loafers, and i feel like a good shoe will be so tight that walking for more than 10 seconds in them would be madness, but perhaps I am mad.
You’ll need to try on a couple different shoes at the store and try edging with them, any decent shop will have some climbing holds you can play on. The most important is that the side of the front part of your foot is able to stand on very tiny thin edges. You will also want to be able to dig the front point of your foot into small holes. You’ll notice that this (point method) isn’t a comfortable way to stand on anything, since it puts a lot of force on the tip of your foot ballerina style, but it can be necessary on some moves. I regard the ability to edge as more important though because this is going to be the bread and butter of how you get up a vertical face without tiring. Less important is the ability to hook your heel. You’ll have burned through your first pair of shoes (and maybe several more) before heel hooking becomes necessary. When it does appear, it’ll primarily be for resting on strenuous outdoor climbs or because someone setting a gym problem deliberately tried to incorporate a heel hook.
A shoe with BAD edging will deform along the side when you stand on it, causing you to fall. A shoe that is not tight enough will slip up the side of your foot (like a sock might) and cause you to fall. Sometimes a shoe just doesn’t conform to the shape of your foot and will slip like this no matter how tight it is.
They say in literature that you want to be able to edge on something the width of a dime, and they say it with all seriousness, but I’ve never encountered a shoe able to do this. Either it’s fictional or people who are 170 pounds just aren’t able to do that. You used to be able to get really, really hard soled climbing shoes where this may have been possible, but these fell out of style for some reason.
Oh, and one last point, a stiffer sole will be easier as a beginner and isn’t much of a compromise in terms of long term progress (you train your foot to be a little stronger if the sole isn’t stiff, but i wouldn’t worry about that now), but i don’t really see stiff soled shoes much anymore.
You cannot wear them with socks, or fit them while wearing socks if you want them to perform acceptably. Just don’t put them in a drawer or an enclosed space when you’re not wearing them and they should be ok. If you’re able to get them on with the extra socky layer, they’re probably not tight enough.
The shoes which are curved (like talons) are more aggressive than the ones which are flat. You will be climbing short routes of at most forty feet at the gym, and not a whole lot taller on the east coast, and thus you can be very aggressive in terms of your shoe choice. Shop attendants may warn you that you have a choice between a more aggressive and less aggressive shoe, but this does NOT correspond to expert vs. beginner. You want more aggressive. You only want a less aggressive shoe for easy, long, multipitch climbing, which is not what you’re doing. If the day arrives where you’re climbing multipitch in Vegas, Yosemite, or the Alps, then you can buy more comfortable, less aggressive shoes. Very little outdoor climbing in the eastern US and no gym climbing will necessitate a comfortable, non-aggressive shoe (one caveat: if you’re following on trad, which we have plenty of out here, a comfortable shoe may be more important).
If you plan to climb until the shoes wear out, then you shouldn’t waste your money on cheap ones, and when climbing outside, there is a safety difference between shoes where you can stand in one spot reliably and shoes that might deform or slip.
List of things you should buy if you’re just getting into outdoor climbing:
- Three feet of 7mm cord you can chop into your friction knot
- Two slings (you can make your own, just buy 10 feet or so of webbing and ask someone who knows the right length to chop it up)
- Rappel/belay device, eg an ATC with brakes, a JAWS, a Reverso, etc. they all work. Grigris are nice, but expensive. you can rappel with a Grigri, but it’s a pain, so just buy another device to rappel with.
- Shoes (of course)
- Two small lockers, and one big locker (the big one can be the one you use with your belay device)
- Daisy chains are nice for rappelling. If you want to save 20 bucks you can make your own by tying a knot in the middle of a long sling.
Lastly, you’ll need to read a lot more, and talk to a lot more people, to learn about gear. The water knot, that one you use for the homemade slings, works itself out eventually–one of the ten million pitfalls in rock climbing that you have to learn about.