Getting started in rock climbing can be a little overwhelming. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a rock climbing gym. If you wanted to rock climb, you had to find… rocks. Big rocks.
Fortunately, I live about 2 hours from Joshua Tree National Park where large rocks are everywhere. That’s where I spent time in my youth learning how to climb. It’s what is now known as bouldering.
Fast forward to today. Rock climbing gyms are pretty common. It’s a great workout for sure, working all the muscles in your body including some that you didn’t know you had. It’s also a great cardio workout.
It’s the perfect addition, or alternative, to the traditional gym atmosphere and it’s a lot of fun. There’s also a lot of camaraderie. Most climbers are friendly and, while there’s certainly friendly competition, most everyone will congratulate you when you send a difficult route.
So Where Do You Start?
So, you decided to join a gym and start climbing. But, what do you need to get started? Do you need a harness? Shoes? Rope? Do you need chalk? And there are a lot of choices in all these categories. So we put together our picks for getting started.
Start with the shoes
Some of the larger climbing gyms will rent you shoes for your introduction. But at some point, usually rather quickly, you’ll want to get your own shoes.
Rock climbing shoes are specialty shoes to be sure. They are not comfortable to just walk in. They are meant for climbing. I’ve seen people trying to climb in tennis shoes but they quickly learn that while it can be done, having special climbing shoes makes a world of difference.
The shoes range from general entry level shoes that work great in the gym or on sport routes to very specialized shoes that are designed for different types of climbing and depend on what type of rock you’ll climb in the outdoors.
They can be expensive and, depending on how much you climb, you’ll have to replace them regularly as they will wear out and become increasingly difficult to use.
So, what’s a good pair to get started? We recommend the La Sportiva Tarantulace.
This shoe is a great overall shoe, especially for the beginner. It’s a fairly forgiving shoe too which means you can use it in several situations, from general climbing in the gym to outdoor climbing, and still achieve good results.
Be aware that, as time goes on, you’ll probably want to progress to a more aggressive shoe depending on the type of climbing that most appeals to you. For, instance, if you like roof routes with a lot of heel or toe hooking for gripping the rock, you’ll want a shoe with more rubber on the top and heels of the shoe. But for now, the La Sportiva Trantulace is a great choice. It’s also one of the more inexpensive shoes available which, again, makes it a great entry level shoe.
The shoe has a leather upper and fairly neutral sole which makes it reasonably comfortable for the first timer. The shoe laces snugly and the shoe holds its shape reasonably well too.
As far as fit, some climbers like an overly tight shoe. In some cases, climbers chose a shoe a full two sizes smaller than their normal shoe size. This can be truly uncomfortable for the first timer. So, we recommend choosing a shoe that is snug with little or, preferably, no wiggle room for your toes. It should resemble a type of sock, if you will. If there’s too much wiggle room, it can affect your climbing ability and, in some cases, be a dangerous choice. You have to feel the hold you’re standing on to properly climb. So, choose a size that is snug at the very least.
Take a look at our full video review:
Most people get started climbing on bouldering problems first. But, if you plan to climb longer routes, you’ll need to rope up and that means you’ll need a harness.
There are lots of harnesses out there that range in quality and use. We found a great entry harness in the Black Diamond Momentum series.
The Momentum series has a couple of choices in style. We recommend the basic Momentum harness and it comes in both men’s and women’s configurations.
The harness is reasonably comfortable which makes a difference when you’re belaying your partner. The leg loops are adjustable, the waist band has only one buckle to adjust and the belt only weighs 13.1 ounces (371 grams) so you hardly know you have it on.
If you want to use it outside on real rocks, the harness functions well. The gear loops hold a reasonable amount of gear which will work well for single pitch ascents just fine.
The belt also has a haul loop on the rear of the waist band so this harness proves to be a versatile harness for the gym or outdoor climbing, especially for the first timer. And, it’s also one of the more reasonably priced quality harnesses on the market which is an added plus.
You can also see our video review of this harness here:
Do I Need a Chalk Bag?
The use of chalk is a personal choice. However, most climbers choose to use chalk.
Primarily because it keeps your hands dry which in turn, allow you to grip the holds better. This is kinda important.
Some climbers choose a large bag and leave it on the floor of the gym. However, our choice is an individual bag. Here’s why.
When we’ve been climbing on a bouldering problem there have been numerous times when we’ve gotten near the top of the problem and need a little more chalk to finish strong. If you’re bag is sitting on the floor, it ain’t gonna happen. If you have an individual bag around your waist, you can just reach behind you back (where the bag is usually located), get some more chalk, and finish your route.
They’re lined with a soft fabric and hold a reasonable amount of chalk to be sure, certainly more than you’d ever use in a single climbing session. The Mojo Zip also has a small zippered sleeve to hold your keys or other small item. They’re lightweight and you’ll hardly know you have it on.
So, those are the basics to get started in the gym. Make sure your equipment is in good shape every time you climb and replace those items that are too worn to be used safely.
Climbing is a lot of fun for all ages. I’ve seen children as young as three years old and more mature individuals in their 70’s climbing in the local gyms. Give it a try and don’t compete with anyone but yourself. Have fun, be safe and, as always, We’ll See You Outside!