Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing Gear: What You Need to Get Started

By method

Welcome to the world of rock climbing, where the thrill of a send (read: finishing a climb) is addicting, but the gear prices can break your heart. You see climbers in the gym sporting three pairs of shoes clipped to their backpacks, endless chalk bags, and fancy rope tarps and feel it necessary to acquire all that equipment.

But wait!

There’s no need to break the bank when, in truth, there are only a few basics you need to start climbing regularly. Basic gear needs will vary depending on a few factors, including indoor vs. outdoor climbing and bouldering vs. indoor and outdoor rope climbing. Two staple pieces will appear in every discipline, so if nothing else, start with climbing shoes and a chalk bag. And, if you have no idea what any of these terms mean, hang on and keep reading for a breakdown of each type of climbing and helpful equipment. Remember, these essentials are not only crucial for your safety but also surprisingly affordable, making your entry into the world of rock climbing much more accessible.

chalk bag

Indoor Climbing


Characterized by short climbs with complex movements, indoor bouldering has the most straightforward gear list consisting only of climbing shoes and chalk. Indoor gyms have pre-padded floors to keep you safe when you fall.

  • Climbing Shoes: These are specialized footwear with rubber soles, heels, and toe boxes that increase friction. There are various styles, from neutrals, the most basic and affordable, to aggressive shoes with high arches, pointed toe boxes, and expensive price tags. It’s crucial to try on different styles and sizes to find the one that fits your feet best. Remember, a well-fitting shoe can make a significant difference in your climbing performance and comfort.
  • Chalk/Chalk Bag: Chalk is a magnesium carbonate compound that wicks away sweat to increase friction between your skin and the climbing holds.


Any rope climbing requires a minimum of a harness, shoes, and chalk. Indoor facilities have top-rope staties pre-fixed, eliminating the need to buy a rope. Depending on the gym, they may also have belay devices set up for you to use, but if they don’t, having your own ATC or GriGri is helpful.

  • Harness: This critical piece of equipment will save your life if you fall, allowing the rope to catch you.
  • Belay Device: A belay device allows you or someone else to manage the rope for someone actively climbing. If they were to fall, the belayer would stop the fall using the rope and device. The most commonly accepted ones in commercial climbing gyms are the GriGri or ATC.


Leading requires a rope and all the other gear needed for top rope. Some gyms may rent/loan out ropes, but you’ll need to have your own in many gyms.

  • Rope: The rope keeps you safe on the wall, but carefully select one. There are different thicknesses and types, each suitable for different scenarios. For a gym rope, look for one at least 50 meters long (check the height of the walls at your local gym to ensure the minimum length. The gym staff should also know if you ask!) and 9.5mm thick. The ideal thickness for a durable rope that glides through most belay devices is 9.8mm.

Outdoor Climbing


In addition to shoes and chalk, you’ll need crash pads to protect your falls.

  • Crashpad: A thick foam pad with attached straps for carrying it to and from the boulders. The more you use, the better for safety. However, the fiscally pragmatic option is to buy one crash pad and boulder outside with a group where everyone else also has a crash pad.


            All the gear needed indoors, plus a rope and anchor parts, are needed outdoors.

  • Rope: With any outdoor climbing, you’ll need your rope. Make sure it’s dynamic and at least 9.5mm thick and a length appropriate for the height of the rockface where you’ll be climbing (see Moutain Project or Guidebooks for recommended rope lengths).
  • Anchor Gear: You must set up the top rope by leading the climb, using quickdraws (see the following section on outdoor lead climbing), or creating an anchor on a tree or bolt at the top. There are various setups to use, but it’s generally a good idea to have locking carabiners and a sling.


Take all the gear from the indoor lead climbing list and add quickdraws. Gyms already have quickdraws along routes, and some outdoor locations will have a similar setup using an industrial version called permadraws.

  • Quickdraws: The points you clip into along the climb that help keep you safe if you fall. You may need anywhere from 4 to 10+ depending on the route length. A safe number to invest in is 10-12, borrowing from others if you need more. You can always check the guidebook for your favorite outdoor area to see how many quickdraws you need.

            Traditional (Trad)

Most beginners won’t start with traditional (trad) climbing, but if you have the opportunity, you’ll need all the gear aforementioned for lead, plus a rack of cams and nuts. In this climbing discipline, you must place your anchor points as you ascend and then clip a quickdraw onto each piece to attach the rope. The prices on the latter can add up, so trad climbing with others who have gear will help minimize your personal gear investments.

  • Cams and nuts: These are pieces of equipment that you slip into cracks in the rock to create a place to secure the rope.

Climbing gear can become nuanced depending on your goals and discipline, but if you can only pick three things to purchase initially, you should invest in a pair of climbing shoes, a harness, and a chalk/chalk bag. Over time, you can accumulate more, but as you’re testing the waters and learning the ropes, you’ll find it easy to climb with others who have already invested in ropes, quickdraws, etc, and are willing to let you use theirs. If you have extra room in the budget and plan on climbing ropes, picking up a belay device couldn’t hurt. When in doubt trying to decide which brand or specifications to choose, don’t hesitate to ask your local gym staff or climbing community for recommendations! They are always ready to help and share their expertise, making you feel part of the climbing community from the start.