Your Climbing Checklist

Gear up and get climbing with these equipment essentials for every level.

As far as outdoor sports go, climbing is pretty much the full package. It’s an incredible way to get a full-body workout in a short period of time. It gives you the opportunity to push your limits mentally as well as physically. It can hone your balance, flexibility, and spatial problem-solving skills. For many, it’s also a source of tight-knit community connection, plus a much-needed escape from the daily grind. 

Like any sport, you’ll need some basic gear to do it safely. Here are the essentials for having fun and managing risk both on the rock and in the gym. 


The Basics

Climbing Shoes

If you get one piece of climbing gear, make it a pair of climbing shoes. Their snug fit, precise shape, and grippy rubber soles make climbing way easier—and way more fun—than scrambling around in sneakers. In fact, you can start indoor bouldering or light scrambling with nothing more than a good pair of climbing shoes.

Chalk Bag

A chalk bag (filled with a climbing chalk of your choice) is a must for keeping your skin dry. Nearly all climbers rely on chalk for a secure grip both indoors and outdoors. 


If you plan to do any roped climbing or belaying, you’ll need a harness. Prioritize a comfortable fit, and inspect it every few months to make sure there’s no undue wear and tear.

Belay Device

On roped climbs, your belay device is what keeps your climbing partner from falling. Some climbing gyms provide belay devices, but many don’t. And, of course, if you plan to do any outdoor climbing, you’ll need to supply all your own gear. There are many different belay devices on the market, so be sure to do your research before you buy.


Approach Shoes

You can walk to a crag in any footwear, including sneakers or hiking shoes. But if the hike involves any scrambling, slick rock, or third-class terrain, opt for approach shoes, which have a stiffer build for added support and rubber soles for superior grip. 

Climbing Pants

Some climbers wear shorts in especially hot weather, but pants are the gold standard for avoiding nicked knees. Cotton-based pants can be comfortable and durable, but synthetic and softshell climbing pants dry more quickly and are often better at deflecting wind. 

Tank or T-shirt

Since sweaty hands are the enemy of good grip, most folks wear a tank top or T-shirt as their base layer for climbing. Merino wool and synthetic materials are often recommended; unlike cotton, they dry fast, so you won’t feel clammy post-climb.

Warm layers

Pack a fleece or sweater whenever you climb outdoors. Temperatures can change fast, especially since rock tends to warm or cool dramatically according to sun exposure. Add a lightweight wind shell if you’re bouldering above treeline or doing any roped climbing on cliff faces, which are often exposed to the wind.

A man sits among climbing rope and gear after climbing

Safety Gear 

Crash pads

For bouldering, crash pads are the only safety gear you’ll need. These are basically foldable foam mattresses that cushion unroped climbing falls. Whenever you’re bouldering outdoors, make sure you have the right crash pad—or combination of crash pads—to suit the landing. 

Climbing Rope

For any outdoor sport climbing, top-roping, or trad climbing, a dynamic climbing rope is a must-have. Most outdoor routes require a rope that’s at least 60 meters long. 

Anchor Gear

If you plan to set up your own ropes outside, you’ll need carabiners, slings, and other anchor-building equipment. (That’s in addition to quickdraws if you plan to lead-climb.)


A good climbing helmet will protect the back and sides of your head in case of a particularly crazy roped fall. Even if you just plan on belaying or top-roping, helmets are vital to protect against rockfall, dropped carabiners, and other overhead hazards. Boulderers don’t typically wear helmets, but they’re often advised for kids.

Personal kit

If you plan to rope-climb outdoors, make sure you learn to rappel. To do that safely, you’ll need material to tie a friction hitch (sometimes called a “prusik” or “third hand”), as well as a personal tether or “personal anchor system” (PAS) to clip yourself to the anchor. 

Communication device

If you’re climbing in an area without cell service, consider packing a satellite communication device or personal locator beacon in case of emergency. 

Other Accessories

Climbing pack

To get all your stuff to the crag, you’ll need at least a 30-liter backpack, though many climbers use a 45- to 60-liter pack to accommodate a rope, layers, and extra gear. 

Water bottle

Outdoor climbing can be strenuous, and many climbing areas are on cliffs high above creeks or streams. Always pack your own water in a leakproof bottle, in addition to plenty of snacks. 

Belay Puffer

If you’re climbing at altitude or during shoulder seasons, an insulated puffer can help you extend your climbing season by keeping you toasty when you’re standing still, belaying or relaxing between climbs.

Belay Gloves

Often fingerless, belay gloves can protect your skin from abrasion and help you stay comfortable and focused when it’s chilly outside. 


Packing out all your waste—including human waste—is an essential part of basic climbing stewardship. This is mandatory at many crags, especially those above treeline, in arid areas, or in particularly popular zones where the buildup of human waste is a serious problem. When climbers leave litter or waste behind, that seriously impacts the environment—and threatens future access for all.   

Next Level 

Once you’ve mastered the basics of belaying and/or have a good handle on your indoor climbing technique, there are a few paths you can take to level-up your climbing. 

If you’re focused on indoor climbing…

Consider incorporating strength training or core work into your routine. Also be sure to work your weaknesses: Try drills to improve your climbing endurance or master your footwork, for example. 

If you’re itching to get outside…

Risk-management techniques are paramount. Take a class on building rock anchors and brush up on the knots you’ll need to build them. Also make sure you’re comfortable with both leading outdoor routes and with lead belaying. 

If you want to tackle more remote climbs… 

Far from the trailhead, basic self-rescue knowledge is a must. If your dream objectives don’t include bolts or drilled anchors, you’ll need to assemble additional gear and skill sets, too. Look into next steps to learn how to trad climb, ice climb, or mountaineer to broaden your abilities.

As always, seek instruction from qualified guides, and make sure you show respect for the environment and local climbing ethics wherever you go. Plug in with your local climbing community and connect via upcoming events or festivals

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.