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13 Gear Mistakes New Climbers Make—And How to Fix Them

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If you’re ready to take the plunge and start buying your own gear, here are a few of the most common mistakes new climbers make, with some common-sense solutions.

You plant a foot on a large, green, egg-shaped hold. You’re sweating, breathing hard, and can feel your heart racing. Don’t look down, you say to yourself. Pushing through your feet, pulling with your hands, you reach the final hold on the wall. It’s your first day in the gym, and … you’ve caught the climbing bug!

New climbers are lucky these days: Climbing gyms are way more common than they used to be, and so are the resources to get you going. Plus, it’s never been easier to network, find clubs or meetup groups, and even access a coach. Anyone can now safely pick up the sport, at any age.

Still, one of the biggest hurdles to climbing is the cost, especially when it comes to equipment. The fact is, some gear can be skimped on, while some cannot. Knowing what to buy and when to buy it (plus, how to maintain your gear) can be tricky terrain to navigate, especially for beginners. For those who are ready to dive into climbing, here are a few of the most common gear-related mistakes new climbers make, with some solutions.

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1. Buying stiff shoes for the gym. Most beginner climbers learn the craft indoors. As such, those climbers should have a shoe that fits the turf. Time and again, I’ve seen new climbers make the mistake of purchasing a pair of TC Pros (or something similar) because their buddy told them that the shoe is good, or they saw it in a climbing film. And don’t get me wrong, TC Pros are great shoes, but not for the gym: Like all stiff shoes, they’re better on technical free climbs such as those on vertical granite. For those just starting out, you’re looking for a middling soft slipper or Velcro shoe—something that has enough support to get you going while your foot muscles strengthen but that will also teach you to pull with your toes because it allows you to feel the surfaces underfoot. Plus, softer shoes are excellent for volume-hopping.

[Also Read: How to Find and Fit Your Next Climbing Shoe]

2. Neglecting hangboards. Yep, beginners can use hangboards, too—you just need to start slowly and cautiously, using the largest holds and taking weight off with pulleys if need be. First, check out the hangboards at the gym, and experiment with intermittent hangs. A good protocol is described here, in Mark and Mike Anderson’s Guide to Hangboard Training. Later on, if your love affair with the sport continues, hangboards are a good investment, since they round out an at-home training routine.

[Also Read: Are You Ready To Start Hangboarding?]

3. Neglecting other equipment. The best way to get better at climbing is by climbing. That said, climbing is an athletic activity, and it requires base-level fitness. I’d highly recommend weight training and core strengthening to all climbers to build strength and stability. Weights can be very expensive, but most climbing gyms have at least a few lying around you can play with.

[Also Read: Interview: Coach Justen Sjong on Weight Training]

4. Not owning a brush. If you’re venturing outside—or even for gym climbing—buy a brush and clean up after yourself. An over-chalked hold is a slippery hold, which isn’t a great way to leave it for the climber who comes next. Besides, brushes are cheap, with most ringing in around $5–10.

5. Underutilizing gear rentals. Did you know many gyms allow you to rent crashpads—and sometimes camping equipment as well? Some facilities even allow you to rent shoes and take them outdoors. You simply have to check—renting allows you to play with gear and figure out what you like, without a huge cash outlay

6. Overpaying for apparel—buy used. Geartrade is a great place to look, as are outdoor-gear consignment shops. Unless you’re going to Everest, no one really needs shiny, new apparel. And if you’re just cragging, or better yet, just going to the gym, you do not need technical apparel. Your standard cotton Tee and running shorts will do just fine.

7. Not owning a helmet. No, your bike helmet doesn’t count. Buying a proper climbing helmet is especially important for beginner climbers going outside. Even if you’re at a crag with solid rock, the risk of flipping over in a lead fall (especially for the inexperienced lead climber) is always there. Hell, I’ve been climbing for over 13 years, and I flipped a month ago when the rope got behind my leg. Plus, as told in the story below by Senior Editor Alison Osius, the unexpected can always happen. Helmets aren’t the cheapest piece of climbing equipment ($60–150), but they’re cheaper than hospital bills.

[Also Read: Murderball]

8. Putting too much stock in “performance” and “send” gear. You should buy gear that’s appropriate for your goals and skill level. Do you love toproping? Then don’t get a skinny send rope, which will wear down quickly and cost more than you need. Instead, look for words like “workhorse,” and anything above 9.5 millimeters in diameter. Also, don’t buy a tiny sport “performance” harness—you’ll want something thicker and comfier (and likely cheaper) for your first few years learning the ropes, when you’ll be doing lots of hanging.

9. Going pee at the gym while wearing your climbing shoes. Yuck. I feel I shouldn’t have to spell this one out, but here it is: No one wants to pull on holds that have been stepped on by shoes that were in contact with a dirty bathroom floor. Plus, you really shouldn’t be walking around (or belaying!) in your climbing shoes anyway; doing so will wear them down and eventually ruin the lasts. Climbing shoes are meant for climbing. Put on your street shoes for potty breaks.

10. Not having a dedicated “rock-side” and “rope-side” carabiner for each quickdraw. The straight-sided carabiner clips into the bolt hanger, and it’s fine if this one gets nicked up by the metal-on-metal contact. However, the carabiner with the curved gate is for your rope—and you don’t want your rope running over a nicked-up surface. If you’re unsure which carabiner is which, look your draws up on the manufacturer’s site!

11. Thinking that your sole two-panel crashpad will be enough coverage for every boulder problem. It won’t, and no climb is worth your ankles. See point No. 5 for a way to easily access more pads.

12. Bringing a 15-liter daypack to the crag and clipping everything to the outside of your pack because it doesn’t fit inside. I’ve seen this happen thousands of times: A climber has an itty-bitty gym pack that holds their shoes and chalk, and maybe their harness, too. But then they go outside and suddenly they need extra space for food, water, draws, possibly a rope, extra clothes … you get the idea. Instead, just buy a dedicated crag pack, one with 30 or more liters of volume.

13. Buying knock-off climbing gear. I haven’t climbed in knock-off gear myself, but have heard of it happening, which is enough for me to include it here. Again, there are certain items you can skimp on, such as apparel, chalk bags, and camping equipment, but when it comes to hardware and ropes—and rock shoes—buy new and from accredited brands and dealers.

[Also Read: This Incident Was So Unsafe It’s Unbelievable, But It’s True]

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Delaney Miller is a digital editor at Climbing.

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