What Gear Do I Need to Sport Climb Outdoors?

What Gear Do I Need to Sport Climb Outdoors?

Outdoor sport climbing requires very similar equipment to indoor top rope climbing, but there are a few other considerations when climbing outdoors and of course you will have to provide your own unless you are being taken on a guided climb.

What you’ll need (alphabetical):

  • Balms & Tape – Balms will help to soothe, heal and soften sore hands. Climbers will use tape wrapped around fingers to protect sore skin or injury and allow them to continue climbing. Skin injury is much more likely on some rock types than others, so know what you’ll be climbing before leaving or just be prepared.
  • Bar towel – No matter how carefully you are, even if you keep your approach shoes on until the last moment, your climbing shoes will end up getting dirty and/or gritty from the bottom of the crag. Before you climb it’s always a good idea to give them a wipe with a bar towel or similar. This will preserve your shoes (as you’re not grinding grit against them), will preserve the rock and will improve your shoes grip on the rock (and hopefully help you get that ‘send’).
  • Belay Device – Belay devices come in many forms and require knowledge and technique to use so, this may need some training or research. It is highly recommended that a belayer is signed off as proficient with their belay device before heading out onto rock.
  • Brush – In some areas the rock must never be brushed, especially the case for soft rock like southern sandstone. In areas with harder rock then you may use a brush to get rid of chalk, mud and other debris from the holds. You can also use them to clean your route of traces of your own chalk before you leave. #leavenotrace
  • Carabiner – A carabiner (or karabiner) is a common climbing clip that’s used for attaching things. They are used for everything from saving a life to clipping on a water bottle. They are made to different standards for the different functions so just make sure the safety one for belaying is a HMS locking type. You’ll find all sorts of uses for carabiners so take a few locking and a few non-locking ones with you.
  • Carpet or mat – Linked to the bar towel (above), it’s useful to have a small (perhaps a foot square) piece of carpet or a mat that you carry in with you for you to stand on while you change your shoes. It means there’s less chance to get dirt and grit on them.
  • Clip stick – Many routes have, potentially dangerous, run-outs to the first bolt. Using a clip stick allows you to clip the first and, perhaps, the second bolt. This can save you from a ground-fall which might just be uncomfortable or might be catastrophic. They can also be used on the route when you are projecting and just can’t get to that elusive next bolt. Finally, most clip sticks can be used to un-clip a bolt meaning that you can retreat off a route without having to leave gear behind.
  • Clothing – Not only does it need to be comfortable and stretchy for climbing in, every weather eventuality will need to be covered whilst out – so dress for climbing, pack to be warm and dry. Routes may be a long walk-in from the car park, meaning you’ll also need sturdy approach shoes and good backpack for carrying everything you’re taking.
  • Chalk – Chalk is used to help keep the hands dry and grip the rock. Most chalk is a ground magnesium carbonate powder that is rubbed over the hands, but brands do differ. The chalk can be purchased loose or in a ball (fabric bag filled with chalk) or as a liquid. Chalk is used liberally and gets everywhere, but too much can be as bad as none at all. Also, when climbing outdoors, chalk will be left on the rock – climbing etiquette is to remove it where possible.
  • Chalk Bags – For sport climbing you will be topping up with chalk as you go up the route so it’s essential to use a chalk bag – a small pouch, worn on the waist on a belt and can hold loose chalk or a ball.
  • Climbing shoes – These can be the same as the ones used for indoor climbing but some climbers choose to have an indoor and outdoor pair.
  • Essentials – food, water, first aid kit, sun protection, tissues/loo roll and bags to take away all rubbish. The area may be quite isolated and must be left as if you never visited.
  • Guide Book – without a guide book or similar you may not be able to identify the routes or know the local information to keep safe or climb without damaging the rock. A good local guide book allows the day to be planned and will provide assistance on the day. They’re also great for revving you up for all the fantastic routes you want to get on.
  • Harness – A harness is essentially a utility belt with leg loops that is used to attach a climber or belayer to the rope. They must be correctly adjusted to fit as this is also an important safety device. If it fails, the climber can fall unsupported. For children, full body harnesses which stop children flipping when falling, are also available.
  • Helmet – These protect the head from the potential knocks received when falling or from things falling from above (including the well known hazard of falling mobile phones!). Outdoors there is also the risk of small rocks being dislodged.
  • Mobile phone – Essential for emergencies as routes can be well off the beaten track, they can also hold the guide book and of course provide a camera to get the perfect images/videos of your trip to share on social media.
  • Quick-draws – This is what you use to attach to the bolts and the rope. Most routes have bolts every 2-3 metres (some are more run-out but it’s a good average to work to) so, if the route is 25 metres, you are likely to need 8 quick-draws. If you are intending leaving the rope up for someone else to top-rope on once you reach the chains you’ll need another 2 quick-draws for that. Personally, I always err on the side of caution and take 1-2 more than I think I need. Quick-draws vary in all sorts of ways; weight, wire-gate, solid-gate, price. Which sort of quick-draws you want is largely a matter of personal choice. The only factor that will be driven by the route is the length of the sling (or ‘dog-bone’) – the bit of webbing which connects the two carabiners. It’s wisest to get a variety of lengths so that you can cater for situations where the rope ends up dragging over the rock or the gate of the rope end carabiner is lying on an edge.
  • Rope – Obviously, a good ‘dynamic’ climbing rope is essential for sport climbing. A dynamic rope is one which has a degree of elasticity which lessens the impact on the climber of a fall. Ropes come in various different thicknesses which affect the weight and the amount of drag they create. Make sure you buy a ‘Single’ rope (the type of rope designed to be used as the only rope), that it is compatible with your belay device and make sure that it is long enough for the routes you intend to climb (it will need to be the height of the highest route x 2 + enough for the climber’s knot and a safety margin below the belay device … and always tie a knot at the end below the belayer to be on the safe side).
  • Rope bag – Useful for carrying the rope to and from the crag but also most rope bags have some sort of tarp that you can put your rope on while it’s in use to stop it getting dirty (which reduces it’s life).
  • Safety lanyard – When you get to the chains at the top of the route and are preparing to ‘thread the anchor’ you need to secure yourself by attaching to one or both bolts. To do this you can either use a purpose made lanyard (whether of the adjustable type or a daisy-chain) or simply a sling. Whichever you use, you’ll also need a locking carabiner or two.
  • Slings – Like carabiners, there are all sorts of uses for slings; from creating a safety lanyard to attaching a belayer to a safety point where the belay stance is precarious. It’s always wise to have a couple of mid-length (60cm to 120cm) slings with you.

We’ve tried to include, pretty much, everything you will need for a great day out sport climbing but it’s not exhaustive. Make sure you know what you’re doing. Seek advice or even pay for an outdoor instruction day; they’re great fun, very informative and you’ll know that you will stay safe.

Be safe and enjoy your climbing.

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