Rock Climbing Gear for Beginners: What You Need & What You Don’t

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

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It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the jargon and gear in climbing, especially when you’re just starting out. There’s a lot to learn and there’s a lot of equipment, but we’re going to keep it simple by focusing on the best climbing gear for beginners. We’re going to talk about the gear you absolutely need, especially at first, then we’ll cover some extras that you may purchase as you grow into your passion for climbing.

There’s a logical progression of purchasing climbing gear so that you get the most bang for your buck without wasting money on unnecessary things. We’ll start with climbing shoes, which is the first thing you’ll purchase for any type of rock climbing. Then we’ll continue on through chalk and a harness, which is the most basic necessary gear for beginners. After that, we’ll progress into more specialized gear that is best for outdoor climbing or certain specialties like sport climbing, trad climbing, and bouldering.

Keep in mind that everyone’s climbing journey is different, so get the gear that’s right for you and your budget. You should focus on products that are right for your climbing style and personal goals, so don’t get too caught up in what’s popular.

The items on the list below are organized generally in order, where the top items are a need and the lower down the list you go, the less ‘required’ they become. This may vary slightly depending on the type of climbing you’re doing or if you’re climbing with a mentor/friends that can help provide gear at first.

Climbing Gear for Beginners: The Ultimate List

Necessary

  • Climbing shoes

Pretty Necessary

  • Chalk bag & climbing chalk
  • Harness

Highly Recommended

  • Belay device & locking carabiner
  • Helmet

Extra

  • Climbing pack
  • Accessories like climbing tape and a brush

Later on, as needed, you can purchase discipline-specific gear:

  • Roped Climbing: rope, quickdraws
  • Bouldering: crash pad(s)
  • Trad: Nut tool, trad rack
  • Training Gear like hang boards
  • Approach shoes or hiking boots
rock climbing gear for beginners

Climbing Shoes

Importance: Necessary
Price: $80-$150

No matter which discipline you’re practicing (e.g., bouldering, lead climbing, top rope climbing, etc.), the first piece of essential gear is shoes. When you first start indoor climbing, you can get away with renting the provided equipment, but once you’re committed to sticking with it more than a few times, you’ll want to get out of those smelly rental shoes.

The men’s and women’s La Sportiva Tarantulace shoes.

Purchasing your own shoes will make the biggest difference in your performance, especially if you get ones that fit correctly. You shouldn’t wear socks with them (so don’t try them on with socks) and you should start with a half size or full size down from your regular shoe size. Even though they should fit snug, they shouldn’t be uncomfortable or painful. Look for shoes with a more flat sole (“neutral” and not moderate or aggressive) and a medium level of stiffness that’s not too flexible or too hard.

Best Rock Climbing Shoes for Beginner Climbers

Where to Find Climbing Shoes for Cheap

If you’re looking to save money on climbing shoes, you can look for used pairs on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Mountain Project, or local climbing stores. Another great resource is REI Outlet and Used Gear, as well as Steep and Cheap. If you live near an area with great outdoor climbing, you could also have good luck at your local thrift and consignment stores. Read more about buying used climbing shoes.

Climbing Chalk and Chalk Bag

Importance: Pretty Necessary
Price: $15-35+ for bag, $5-15+ for chalk

Climbing chalk and a chalk bag is another item that can be rented the first few times, then you should purchase your own once you decide to stick with climbing for more than a few sessions. Chalk absorbs perspiration and moisture and keeps your hands dry, which improves your grip. Both chalk and bags are relatively cheap, so it’s worth getting your own instead of constantly renting.

Chalk bags are simple and inexpensive, and most have the same basic features. Because of this, choosing a chalk bag mainly is based on aesthetics, so pick something that you like. If you’re spending most of your time bouldering, you may opt for a chalk bucket that stays on the ground.

As for chalk, don’t go crazy buying the expensive stuff – you won’t be able to tell the difference besides the price tag. Instead, purchase some at your local climbing gym or one of our favorites listed below. Some climbing gyms may require the use of chalk balls (aka chalk socks) over loose chalk, so ask before making any purchases. There’s also some liquid chalk that’s currently on the market, but we would recommend avoiding that for now – it’s worth trying it out at some point but stick with classic chalk at first.

Related Post: Cool Chalk Bags

Best Chalk Bags for Beginners

Best Chalk for Beginners

Climbing Harness

Importance: Pretty Necessary
Price: $60-80

While a climbing harness won’t significantly impact your performance like other pieces of gear, they do offer an improved comfort factor over rented gym harnesses. Look for ones with wide leg loops and a waist loop that have thick padding for comfort. If you’re exclusively climbing indoors, you can rent a harness until you’re a little more committed, but we recommend it for one of the first pieces of gear you buy yourself once you start climbing consistently.

Note that a harness is only necessary for sport climbing and isn’t required for bouldering, but it can be used both indoors and out. Before purchasing a harness, explore these two disciplines to get an idea of which you are going to pursue most of the time. If you are leaning towards trad climbing, you may want a more gear loops than if you were sport climbing.

Best Beginner Rock Climbing Harness

Belay Device and Locking Carabiner

Importance: Highly Recommended
Price: $35-100 for belay device, $15-25 for locking carabiner

A locking carabiner and belay device are next in line for pieces of gear you would need to purchase if you’re becoming more committed to rock climbing, especially if you want to start adventuring outside the gym. A belay device will allow you to rope climb and a locking carabiner attaches your belay device to your harness. Keep in mind that in order to belay, you’ll need to take the appropriate course at your local gym so make sure you ask about that before purchasing your own equipment.

For belay devices, there’s an eternal debate about ATC vs GriGri. A Black Diamond ATC is the most common and is one of the best belay devices on the market. Do your research before picking between the two, but know that an ATC is significantly cheaper than a Petzl GriGri.

Best Belay Devices for Beginners

Best Locking Carabiners

Helmet

Importance: Highly recommended
Price: $60-$170

A climbing helmet is particularly highly recommended for climbing outdoors on tall walls (especially trad climbing ), not for bouldering, indoor roped climbing, or indoor bouldering. Wearing a helmet isn’t going to help you climb better, but instead it comes down to risk management. Head injuries are rare, but they do happen and you will be glad you’re wearing your helmet if you get hit by some falling rock or debris from above. Some areas are known for their loose rock and these places will require more caution than others.

Best Rock Climbing Helmets for Beginners

Climbing Pack

Importance: Extra equipment after you’ve been climbing for a while
Price: $30-60

When you start tackling outdoor sports climbs and boulders, you’ll need a backpack that’s perfect for hauling all your stuff out to the crag. Your pack should be made of a more durable material that will withstand being exposed to abrasive rock, and it should have a hip belt and sternum strap to make carrying the weight easier.

How many liters should you aim for? That depends on how long your trips are going to be. Something smaller like 20-30 liters would be enough for short hikes to easily accessible climbs, but the longer the hike or climb, the more space you’ll need for more gear, food/snacks, and water. A larger pack like 35-40 liters will leave you plenty of room for climbing rope and all the gear you could possibly need. On the other hand, if you’re just going back and forth to the gym, an old, small duffel bag will do the trick.

Best Climbing Packs for Beginners

Climbing Accessories

These climbing accessories aren’t require, but may help you feel more comfortable in some way or another.

Hand Salve

Importance: Fairly necessary
Price: $10-15

Between the drying chalk and the rough rock, your hands take a beating when rock climbing. Use a hand salve to moisturize your skin between sessions so you can lower your risk of splitting.

Best Hand Salves for Rock Climbing

Climbing Tape

Importance: Extra equipment after you’ve been climbing for a while
Price: $5-15

If you’re learning to crack climb or if you find that you need some extra protection on your fingers, you can utilize climbing finger tape.

Best Climbing Tape for Beginners

Chalk Brush

Importance: Extra equipment after you’ve been climbing for a while
Price: $5

A chalk brush will help maintain ideal conditions for your project, whether that’s indoors or outdoors. They’re quite affordable – no need to splurge on this accessory.

Best Chalk Brush for Beginners

Belay Glasses

While it may seem ridiculous at first, belay glasses can make a huge difference in the comfort of your neck, especially when your partner is spending longer periods of time working a project. That being said, you shouldn’t use these when you first start belaying. Instead, build up your neck muscles slowly while getting used to the responsibility of handling the rope, then you can look at getting glasses.

Best Belay Glasses

Rope

At some point in your climbing career, you’ll need to bite the bullet and purchase your own rope. It’s essential for any kind of top roping or roped climbing. Having your own rope is basically a rite of passage, and it means you can take charge of your safety line – you’ll known where it’s been, what it’s done, and how old it is. Ropes can last a really long time when properly cared for, but it will be the single biggest investment you’ve made so far.

Best Climbing Rope for Beginners

Other Accessories

As you grow into your climbing passion as an intermediate and advanced climber, your gear closet will grow larger and larger. You’ll have more gear in general, but it will also be more specialized towards the discipline you practice the most. You may upgrade your climbing shoes to a more moderate or aggressive sole, or perhaps you’ll get a bigger backpack for longer days. Some other examples of gear include quickdraws, trad gear like cams, crash pads for bouldering, and so much more.

Conclusion

Until you grow into more advanced climbing, you can stick with the basics: climbing shoes, a harness, chalk, and a chalk bag. With that gear, you no longer have to rent equipment at the gym and are well on your way. Once you add a crash pad (for bouldering) or a harness, rope, and belay device plus carabiner (for roped climbing), you’ll be able to expand to climbing outdoors at your local crag without constantly using other people’s stuff.

We’ve included some great gear suggestions under each category above, but sometimes the best advice can come from a respected mentor or climbing buddy. Take note of what gear they have, where they got it from, and what they deem necessary for the type of climbing they do.

FAQ’s

What gear does a beginner climber need?

A beginner climber just starting out in the gym can rent the most necessary gear at first. Once you’ve decided to stick with it for a while, you can purchase your own shoes, chalk and chalk bag, and harness. From there, you can purchase additional gear as you grow into your desired discipline.

Do beginners need climbing shoes?

Beginner climbers can start out by renting climbing shoes from their local gym, but shoes are the first piece of equipment you should purchase once you decide to commit to climbing for a while. Having your own shoes will be more comfortable and help your climbing improve dramatically – plus you don’t have to wear stinky rental shoes anymore.

Why Trust Know Nothing Nomads?

Since 2017, Know Nothing Nomads has cemented itself as the “approachable experts” in everything camping, hiking, climbing, and adventuring in the Great Outdoors.

With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

We USE the gear we talk about. We’ve hiked 1000’s of miles. We have camped 1000’s of nights in the wilderness. We have sent hundreds of boulders and projects.

We don’t just know a few things about the outdoors — WE EAT, SLEEP, AND BREATHE IT.

We are not journalists from a magazine telling someone else’s stories from behind a computer. We are the ACTUAL outdoorsmen that those people write about. 

We are not a “gear lab” that runs tests on gear in life-like conditions. We are the seasoned, “trial-by-fire” experts who have taken the gear into the wilderness and USED IT. Read about our gear testing process here

We started Know Nothing Nomads to share our passion and expertise with our readers to inspire, educate, and enable you to explore the outdoors in the way that we have. And you will be more equipped and capable than ever before with the knowledge you gain here guiding you along the way.

And the best part? We are real people that LOVE our readers and this community. If you need anything or have a question about any of the things we have to write about, just reach out. Normally, one of us can respond within 24 hours, sometimes within minutes. THAT is the approachable expert.

You should also know that advertising does not influence our gear reviews in any way, shape, or form, and it never will.

While we always focus our attention on gear that stands out to us—sometimes we discover that things aren’t up to our standards. This is exactly why we will always talk about the downfalls and compromises that we find while we are testing anything (If we find any).

About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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