How I Chose My Beginner Climbing Equipment

Over the holidays I decided to take up rock climbing (well, more like gym climbing since I don’t plan to go outside on actual rocks for a while). After a short class and a trial membership at a local gym, I decided it was worth investing in a set of climbing equipment for the gym. I spent about a week researching the recommended beginner gear before nailing down what I wanted to buy. Note that as of right now, this is not a review or recommendation. Maybe I screwed up. But I thought with all the recommendations out there, it would be good to put down my perspective about why I chose a particular piece of gear over another.

Should You Buy Your Own Gear Yet?

When I started to do my research on climbing gear, I learned pretty quickly that climbing is not an inexpensive sport to get into, but not as expensive as you might think. I think for gym climbing you can get a set of quality equipment for bouldering and top rope climbing that you won’t grow out of immediately for around $200, maybe less if you’re scouring sales and have a couple different items in each category you’re willing to pull the trigger on. But to climb in the gym requires you to get into the gym. Climbing gym day passes are not cheap ($15-20 seems to be standard) and once you’re going at least once a week, a membership makes sense (often in the $70-80 per month range, plus possible start-up fees).

If you don’t have your own equipment, then you’ll be renting. Where I am, to rent a full set of equipment for top roping (shoes, harness, belay device, locking carabiner, chalk bag with chalk) costs about $10 most place. So pretty much once you think to yourself “I’m pretty sure I’m going to do this 20 more times” then it makes sense to just buy the whole set of gear because you’re coming out at least even (and you still have the gear). If you want to space it out, 99Boulders has a really good breakdown of what order to buy equipment in and what can wait.

Shoes – La Sportiva Tarantulace

I went back and forth on shoes between lace-ups and velcros quite a few times. I was ultimately looking at one shoe in each category: the La Sportiva Tarantulace and the Black Diamond Momentum. What I liked about the Momentum was the knit upper, which is said to be more breathable and comfortable. I was also attracted by the Momentum’s sizing, since Black Diamond says to simply get your street shoe size, and with the materials used the shoe is unlikely to stretch.

But ultimately I decided on the Tarantulace for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t think I’m going to be someone who takes their climbing shoes off all the time at the gym unless I get to the point where I’m buying more aggressive shoes that simply aren’t comfortable on flat ground. So the advantages of velcro are minimal for me. Second, while the Momentums are generally well reviewed, the one caveat is that Black Diamond is still new to the climbing shoe business, and there’s just not a whole lot of long-term data on how the shoes perform.

So I ultimately decided on the Tarantulaces because they were widely considered to be one of if not the most comfortable climbing shoes. I also felt the advantage of getting a precise fit with laces was a bigger deal than the disadvantage (more complicated on and off) since I expect to be putting them on, doing my climbing, then taking them off rather than constantly taking them on and off.

Harness – Petzl Corax

When looking at beginner harnesses, three tend to pop up repeatedly as recommendations:

  • Black Diamond Momentum/Primrose
  • Mammut Ophir 3 Slide
  • Edelrid Jay II/Jayne II

The common traits of these three are ease of use, comfort, and adjustability. But I decided to go in a different direction with the Corax for one specific and maybe odd reason.

The knock on the Corax is that it’s bulky and heavy due to its double waist buckle, which also gets criticism for being fiddly. The major benefit of the Corax is its adjustability and versatility (can be used for basically any type of climbing except ice and alpine climbing). I’m not going to be taking advantage of the versatility for a while, and the Jay/Jayne II has a lot of the same adjustability benefits without the double buckles, so why did I choose the Corax? Confidence.

I am currently afraid of heights. Not like a true phobia but enough that it’s uncomfortable to be up near the top of a step ladder. One reason I want to start climbing is to try and get over this fear. To me the specific benefits of the adjustability on the Corax, keeping everything centered and snug exactly how I want it with two waist buckles to work with will make me feel more secure and confident when top roping. To put it another way, after looking at all the beginner harnesses, I felt like I could trust the Corax the most and trust myself to use it properly the most.

Belay Device – Black Diamond ATC-Guide

This one is pretty simple. Pretty much every beginner gear guide recommended the Black Diamond ATC-XP for your first belay device, since it is the best to learn on. Simple, direct, no moving parts. Assisted braking devices like the Petzl GirGri line might seem “safer” but the consensus was they are more difficult to use and might teach beginner belayers bad habits (not to mention they are much more expensive.

So I would have gotten the ATC-XP except it just so happened that REI was selling the Guide version for the same price. If in the foreseeable future I find myself top belaying or need an emergency ascender, I already have one piece of equipment.

Locking Carabiner – Petzl Attache

I looked at anti-side loading carabiners like the Edelrid Bulletproof ones that I think are the rental carabiners my gym uses. Eventually I decided that it wasn’t worth it for my first carabiner. A simple, easy to use carabiner would be best to learn to belay and so I chose the top pick in this guide, the Petzl Attache, mostly for it’s light weight and very simple UI (“see red, you’re dead”).

Chalk Bag – Black Diamond Mojo

Chalk bag is mostly aesthetics and size. I considered getting one of the Prana bags, as they look less structured, but I do enough bouldering at the gym that I want a bag that stands up a bit when you set it down. My gym had the Mojo in a color that matches my harness well.

Chalk – Metolius Super Chalk

Here I just went with some cheap chalk in a relatively small pouch so I could try it out. I’m not actually super pleased so far, the chalk doesn’t feel fine enough now in the bag, so I think I’m actually going to go for a chalk ball or chalk sock, probably filled with Metolius chalk since that’s what seems to be available around here, and then maybe Black Diamond White Gold if that doesn’t feel better.

Hand Balm – ClimbOn Bar, Original

Everyone told me not to bother, but I still want to protect my skin a little bit, and the ClimbOn bar fit the bill while still claiming to allow calluses to develop.