Have you been indoor rock climbing for months or years, and now want to transition to rock climbing outdoors?
As climbing gyms become more and more popular across the U.S. and the world, there are an increasing number of climbers who want to make the transition, but might not know how. That’s what we’re here for: to help you understand what you need to know, and show you the gear you need to buy to start rock climbing outside.
As your gym instructor hopefully emphasized, redundancy and safety are top concerns in rock climbing. There are even more safety concerns when one starts rock climbing outdoors, as a cliff is a less controlled environment than a gym. The rock climber’s bible is Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.
This book covers everything: climbing gear, sport climbing, trad climbing, alpine climbing, big wall climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, camping, rescue techniques, knots… anything really. While it may be a bit overkill for someone who just wants to top-rope on real rock, anyone who wants to continue progressing as a climber would do well to invest in a copy of this book early.
Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is the gold standard in climbing instruction. You won’t find a better, more thorough resource anywhere. Highly recommended, especially for those of you looking to move outside without the aid of a mentor.
What Gear Do I Need to Climb Outdoors?
The basic answer is you need a climbing rope, a set of 10-14 quickdraws, plus your harness and belay gear. Many new climbers also appreciate having a personal anchor system like the Metolius PAS-22. You probably already have the harness, belay device, and shoes if you’re a gym climber. But we’ll go over all of it, just in case.
Climbing ropes come in different lengths and diameters. The most common climbing rope lengths are 50 meters, 60 meters, and 70 meters. 60m is the de-facto standard, although a 70 meter rope can be useful if you don’t mind the extra weight. 50 meter ropes are a bit out of fashion, although still useful in alpine or multi-pitch settings where weight may be an issue, and the pitches tend to be short.
The diameter of a rope affects its weight and how easy it is to catch with. Most beginners tend to go with 9.8mm or 10.1mm ropes. If in doubt, it’s better to go thicker. If you find you prefer a thinner rope, you can buy a second one after you’ve thrashed your first.
Quickdraws are a piece of specialized lead climbing equipment, designed to catch falls. Sport climbers clip these devices to pre-installed bolts on the route, while trad climbers attach quickdraws to their own, removable gear.
Quickdraws are pretty simple devices— a beginner sport climber doesn’t need anything fancy. Most people we see on the crags these days tend to favor the Black Diamond Posiwire Quickdraws. These are solid, affordable quickdraws. Their popularity is justified. Buy them in 5-packs to get a bit of a discount versus buying them in singles.
Petzl Djinn Quickdraws are another popular choice.
Belay Device and Locking Carabiner
IF you’re looking to move from gym climbing to outdoor climbing, chances are you already own this equipment. But for maximum usefulness in outdoor climbing situations, you should purchase a large pear-shaped locking carabiner (so you can use a Munter Hitch), and a guide-style belay device, such as the Black Diamond ATC-Guide or a Petzl Reverso. Guide-style belay devices can be used to belay from the top of a route—very convenient if you want to eventually break into multi-pitch climbing.
Personal Anchor System
Sport climbers require some sort of tether device to clean routes before rappel. Many new climbers favor Personal Anchor Chains, while more experienced climbers will usually make do with a basic nylon or dyneema sling, paired with a few locking carabiners.
Self-explanatory. Make sure you get one that you feel comfortable hanging in.