The gear you need to start sport climbing outdoors

Sport climbing is a classification of rock climbing in which the rock (if you’re outdoors) or the wall (if you’re in a gym) has already been bolted with established anchors every few meters all the way up the route, allowing climbers to clip into the bolts. This is different than traditional, or “trad,” climbing, which involves placing and removing protection/anchors as you make your way up the route.

Climber Tiffany Painton climbs in a sport climb at Lake Louise. Photo: Katharine Erwin

Modern sport climbing was popularized in the early 1980s in Europe and was scoffed at by some traditional climbers as lacking commitment and grit. But the discipline has never lost traction, and now it’s almost more common than trad climbing in areas where the rock is more compact and there are less features for protection. It’s also one of the most social forms of climbing; many sport routes are bolted side by side, so multiple groups can climb at the same time.

Your kit, however, is essential. If you’re ready to graduate from the gym and start sport climbing on real rock, here’s the essential equipment you need to do it.

Petzl Sirocco helmet ($129.95)

Petzl’s Sirocco will help keep your dome undented. Photo: Courtesy of Petzl
Think of a rock climbing area as a construction site: You’re outside, and regardless of the geological formations at your local climbing area (aka “crag”), the process of erosion is not put on hold for anyone.

Petzl’s new Sirocco helmet is one of our favorites because of its hybrid style: It’s ultra-lightweight, but has a reinforced hard shell on top. Vents will help prevent overheating.

Sterling Rope Evolution Velocity rope ($139.95 and up)

The mid-width Sterling Rope Evolution Velocity (9.8 millimeters) is a great choice for your first forays. Photo: Courtesy of Sterling Rope
When first sport climbing, it’s worthwhile to buy a rope that’s at least 9.8 millimeters in diameter. Skinnier ropes are more slippery and have less surface area to hold onto, causing more accidents with novice climbers. They’re also less durable.

Sterling Rope’s Evolution Velocity is a fantastic, durable rope for beginners that will last a long time if you take care of it. Remember to always to knot the end of your rope and know the length of your climb.

Petzl Cordex gloves ($34.95)

Save your hands (and potentially your partner) with Petzl Cordex gloves. Photo: Courtesy of Petzl

It’s a good idea to wear gloves whenever you belay no matter what size rope you get. But if you’re getting a thinner rope, make sure to get some gloves, because skinny ropes have less grip, which leaves more room for accidents and rope burn. Lightweight and dexterous, the Cordex are a favorite with climbers. They even have a hole for attaching your gloves to your harness via carabiner.

La Sportiva Otaki shoes ($175)

Traction lessens trickiness. Photo: Courtesy of La Sportiva
Climbing shoes are must, and sport-specific shoes are even better. Climbing shoes with a more aggressive structure will help you have more precision when climbing. La Sportiva’s Otakis are a fantastic shoe for sport climbing with their stabilizing heel tech, called S-heel, which really helps with sticking hard moves.

Petzl GriGri + belay device ($149.95)

The GriGri +: an all-around pleaser. Photo: Courtesy of Petzl
For your belay device, we hands down recommend the new model from Petzl, which is perfect for beginners and loved by the pros. The GriGri + has two modes: one for top roping and one for lead climbing. It’s an assisted braking device, which means it will help catch a fall when used properly. Remember, never let go of your brake hand.

Black Diamond LiveWire quickdraws ($24.95 each)

Black Diamond’s LiveWire quickdraws are big on safety. Photo: Courtesy of Black Diamond Equipment
You will need a set of quickdraws. The LiveWires from Black Diamond are easy to use and are some of the safest draws out there. They’re great for beginners with their easy to open and close wire gates, but safer than typical carabiners because there is less surface area, making for less chatter, or “gate flutter.”

Make it a habit of counting how many draws you’ll need; this will help you once you start lead climbing.

Arc’teryx FL-365 harness ($145)

Unless you are Alex Honnold, you will need a harness with loops for your quickdraws. The is one of our favorites — a comfortable, lightweight harness that is easy to put on.

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