One of the biggest questions an aspiring outdoor climber faces is: Should I buy my climbing equipment new, or can I save some money by buying used rock climbing gear?
This is a critical question, with advocates on each end. You can save some money buying gear used, but should you?
While the decision ultimately lies with the individual, we’ll lay out some of the benefits, drawbacks, and dangers of buying used climbing gear, so you can be a more informed consumer and climber on your journey from the gym to the crag.
THE STANDARD ADVICE
The standard advice on buying used climbing gear is this: don’t trust any piece of equipment of which you don’t personally know the entire use history. In practice, this means: buy all your gear new, and only use your own trusted gear. This ethos allows you to maybe trust or trade gear with a frequent climbing partner or mentor. But you should never exchange gear with an unknown climber, this school thinks.
They are right: you can’t 100 percent trust any used climbing gear. After all, how could you? But a thorough visual inspection will usually reveal apparent problems.
Is new climbing gear safe, 100 percent?
No. Although it is extremely rare, new climbing gear is sometimes manufactured improperly (single defective product), or a whole line of products can be found to have engineering defects, causing the company to issue a recall for the climbing equipment.
Some examples of recent recalls include
- 2011 Recall on Petzl Gri-Gri 2 Belay Devices
- 2015 Black Diamond Carabiner and Quickdraw Recall
- 2017 Trango Vergo Recall
So although new equipment is much safer than used equipment, it’s important to reiterate that climbing is an inherently dangerous activity, and responsibility for proper use and knowledge of your equipment falls squarely upon you, the climber.
THE DIRTBAG ADVICE
With the above in mind:
Climbing gear has a long lifespan, and most recreational climbers never come close to wearing out their gear before getting bored or giving up the sport. This means that there is an abundance of gently used gear sitting in closest, just waiting to be handed down to someone with less money and more stoke.
If the gear wasn’t going to kill the original owner, it’s not going to magically become more dangerous when it’s handed off to a new owner. The real issue lies with you: will you be able to 100 percent trust used gear? Will you feel comfortable climbing above it? If the answer is no, you should bite the bullet and buy your climbing gear new.
A climber needs to trust her safety system completely, especially as she advances to more complex disciplines like alpinism, multipitch trad climbing, or ice climbing. If your head is worrying about that sketchy piece of gear you bought at a garage sale, well… you’re not going to be climbing so hot.
How Do I Know If Used Gear is Unsafe?
For a more detailed breakdown, see our full complete article on this subject. A few basic bullet points:
- Metal climbing equipment has a virtually unlimited lifespan, as long as it passes a thorough visual inspection. Look for grooves from use, little nicks or sharp edges from dings or drops which could cut slings or rope, visible fractures, bent wires, or any sort of impairment of the moving pieces (gate or trigger action). Keep in mind these are just guidelines, and the ultimate decision lies with an educated, personal assessment!
- Soft goods in climbing generally have a lifespan of 5-7 years, depending on how frequently they were used, abraded against rock, and exposed to UV light. As a general rule, don’t buy sun-bleached slings or slings with visible fraying. Most modern slings have a tag attached with the year of manufacture.
- Climbing ropes are a tricky item to buy used. We advise you to use great caution when buying used ropes. As the major non-redundant item in your climbing system, having trust in your rope is essential. The lifespan of a rope is a hotly-debated topic amongst climbers, and is highly variable, depending on a number of factors. We don’t have space to go over it all here,so will make the general recommendation: don’t buy used ropes. If you want a more detailed breakdown of exactly what factors can affect the lifespan of a rope, and why buying used ropes is so tricky, see our article, here.
THE DIRTBAG ADVICE
The simple fact is: new climbing gear is expensive. And even if you’ve already got the equipment for gym or outdoor sport climbing, taking the jump into multipitch trad climbing costs too much money. “It costs too much to get into trad climbing,” is a common complaint among climbers aspring to advance further in their craft. And they’re not wrong.
A bare-minimum standard trad rack at standard retail prices (2/2018):
- Black Diamond Camalots #.5-3 ($350)
- Neutrino Rackpack ($40)
- Black Diamond Nut set, #4-13 ($110)
- Nut Tool ($15)
- 8x Alpine Draws ($156)
- 2x Cordalette ($27)
That’s $700, and assumes you already own all the equipment to sport climb (e.g. a rope, quickdraws, some locking carabiners, shoes, harness, etc).
Much of this equipment can be found at pretty good discounts online, though, if you’re a bargain hunter. Check out our article on good online deals for climbing gear, here.
So if that’s the new price, the logical next question is…
How Much Does a Used Trad Rack Cost?
This is again a highly variable answer, depending on what type of gear you want, whether you buy it piece by piece or all at once, and where you’re located.
Used climbing gear (used trad climbing gear in particular) holds its value pretty well. For instance, Black Diamond Camalots, the most popular cams on the market, retail new for $50 and up (larger sizes costing more). On the secondhand market, these units are rarely sold for less than $30. Often they will sell for just 10 or 20 dollars under the original purchase price.
But if we had to just eyeball it, we’d say you can purchase a used trad rack for about half the cost of buying everything new. Maybe 2/3 the price, maybe a bit less than half, just depends on the seller and their motivations (as well as how much money you’re willing to drop at once—sellers are often motivated to give a discount if they can sell everything in one go).
So, there are some good savings to be had by buying used.
Where Are the Best Places to Buy Used Climbing Gear?
There’s certainly no shortage of used gear to be found in the world. People get injured, need to pay their rent, or simply get bored of this sport, all the time. Many people simply have more money than time, and buy equipment which they never even end up using. If you have the patience to look, all of these situations can be turned to your advantage. Below are just a few places to get started shopping for used climbing equipment online.
- Mountain Project’s Used Gear Forum is a great place to start; these people know what they’re talking about
- Your local Craigslist (under “Sporting Goods)
- Your local used gear shop!
- Ask your climbing partners if they have anything they’d like to get rid of
But there are also some downsides to buying used climbing gear.
THE STANDARD ADVICE
Okay, now that we’ve seduced you with the prospect of low-cost climbing gear, let’s take a look at the responsible side of this equation.
The adult thing to say here is this:
Once they’re sure they want to get into the sport, new climbers should always buy their starter equipment brand-spankin’ new.
- Your shoes are your most important piece of gear — buy them new, size them right, and they will last for a long time. Don’t skimp on this.
- As a new climber, trusting your safety system is important. Try on a lot of harnesses, and buy the one that’s the most comfortable and gives you the most confidence. Almost any harness will serve equally well for your first few years climbing. Once you have put some miles under your feet, only then can you start to understand the appeal of some more advanced features. So, to start— don’t stress, buy something new but affordable.
- Buying your first climbing rope is a sacred moment for a young climber. Buy it new, love it well, and use it for many years.
OK, But What About if I’m NOT a Beginner?
As you advance your outdoor climbing skills, you will find you need more and more equipment in order to pursue your objectives, which will naturally get bigger and bigger. Your need for gear depends on your chosen discipline:
Be wary of purchasing used crash pads. The biggest issue with buying a used crash pad is if the foam is worn out. This happens naturally when people fall, sit, or step on the pad. Most bouldering pads can’t withstand more than a season or two of heavy use before becoming saggy, hollowed-out shells of their former selves. Sure, you can buy them for cheap — but cheap’s not going to help you pay for your ER bills when the pad fails to protect you.
On the other hand, plenty of people buy crash pads, use them once or twice, and decide they just prefer bouldering at the climbing gym. If you can find one of these, it’s usually a steal.
If you are buying used bouldering crash pads, inquire about the use history (how long the previous owner has had it, how often he or she used it, if it saw a lot of falls, etc), and ask to feel the foam before buying.
The equipment needed for sport climbing is just quickdraws and a rope.
Buying a rope new is always recommended, especially for new climbers that might not be able to understand the signs of wear on a used rope.
Quickdraws cost about $50-$80 for 5, and most outdoor sport routes can be climbed with 10-15. Buying used quickdraws is generally ok, but the savings often aren’t great. Many climbers prefer to pay the small premium to buy new.
The final-boss of rock climbing equipment, used trad gear is quite common. Why? Easy:
- It’s extremely expensive
- You can literally always use more
Although many guidebooks will refer to a ‘standard rack’ (we even did so earlier in this article), the truth is that trad climbing gear comes in so many different shapes, sizes, makes, and manufacturers, there’s no set standard. The only way to decide what you like to to use as much as possible: buy some pieces, put em on your rack, see how they work. Climb with other people’s equipment as often as possible; maybe you’ll find that you prefer their pieces to yours. Maybe you’ll trade. Maybe you’ll want to sell yours and buy something new.
Maybe you found a piece of gear abandoned at the base of a wall or stuck in place on a pitch and you “bootyed” it. This sort of gear transfer is pretty common and accepted. Standard advice for trad climbers would be: if it looks okay, feel free to use it.
Ice Climbing Gear
Buying used ice gear can be tricky, as the most important factor for ice gear is the sharpness. Crampons can be filed down and ice tools can have new picks added, but these things are time-consuming and/or costly. Ice screws, once they are dulled, cannot be re-sharpened.
For this reason we recommend extreme care when purchasing used ice climbing equipment.
IS OLD GEAR OUT-OF-DATE??
There have been significant advances made over the years in climbing technology.
If you want the best, safest, stuff, buy new.
If it worked for the Stonemasters, it’ll work for you.
The most significant advances in climbing technology over the last 30 years or so are mostly related to saving weight. Compare the first-generation Chouinard Camalots with the modern, Black Diamond C4 version:
They’re still the same basic design!! Forty years of engineering and innovation later, and the basic mechanism is almost unchanged.
Of course manufacturers have new, ‘essential’ innovations to sell every year — but when it comes right down to it, people have been climbing safely for decades. If the gear worked for those guys, it’ll work for you. Using old, heavy gear will build character — and it’ll really help you appreciate the lighter, newer stuff when you finally get to use it.
If you’re serious about getting into outdoor rock climbing, it’s best to consider your safety equipment an investment — a high upfront cost that will pay off years down the line. Sure, dropping $60 on new quickdraws or a single cam can feel like a lot of money, but every time you climb for the next five years, you’ll have that equipment.
It’s best to buy equipment which will keep you satisfied in the long run, and not cheap out on something that you will want to replace within a year. Buying multiple low-quality pieces and replacing them is always more expensive than just buying high-quality right off the bat.