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The 10 Essentials of Sport Climbing

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Get kitted up — and don’t forget the dog food.

If you’re a crusty old dinosaur like me then you probably remember being taught the importance of the 10 Essentials upon your introduction to climbing and the mountains.

While these items (map, compass, food, water, umm, uh, hmmm . . .) are just as important to safe mountain travel as they ever were, the ultra-committing realm of modern sport climbing has yet to see the creation of its own list. Here it is, in no particular order:

1. GriGri. Still short-roping your partner with a cord-kinking belay plate? Get hip to Petzl’s GriGri, a veritable godsend for belay-challenged sport climbers. Not only does this self-locking belay device make it much harder to drop your climber, it also lets you go “hands-free” when the hangdog-a-thon begins.

2. Belay gloves. Ropes are dirty, and rope handling will coat your hands with a gloss so insidious as to potentially spoil a redpoint attempt. Unless you dig cleaning up with baby wipes between belay sessions, wear gloves (thin leather or BMX-type gloves work well) to protect your precious mitts.

3. Water. Many climbers neglect to hydrate properly during the day, a bad practice that can lead to reduced performance, muscle cramping, and brittle tendons. Drink regularly and make sure your urine is clear (not Pine-Sol yellow) for optimum hydration.

4. Food. Sure, you can starve yourself all day and feel a bit lighter on your feet, but at a certain point the novelty of the low-blood-sugar stupor wears off. Everyone has his or her own opinion about crag food. Avoid sugary foods and anything you find hard to digest lest your belly bloat and diminish your body tension.

5. Extra clothing. You probably won’t freeze to death at most sport climbing areas, where the car is rarely far away. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to keep warm — especially when belaying — so your muscles stay limber and loose. Fashion-conscious folks should sport trendy down jackets while the more “alt-minded” set should opt for a grittier brand like Carhardt.

6. Cell phone. Testimonials abound about how useful these otherwise irksome devices are in crisis situations. They can also be used to telephonically troll for beta, as in “Hey dude, I’m out at the Super Sleazy Cave and I’m wondering where that 14th kneebar goes in on Spuzz Bucket.” Don’t forget to leave the ringer off at the crag.

7. A big, wet dog. These aren’t actually that essential but people love to bring them climbing anyway. What’s up with that?

8. Kneepads. A necessary evil, kneepads are part of any smart sport climber’s bag of tricks. Most cognoscenti prefer their kneepads with a patch of shoe rubber sewn to the front for greater adhesion.

9. First-aid kit. Get all the necessary emergency-care items in here, plus a skin-repair kit. As my friend Jean, a die-hard sport climber, once said, “If the back of my hand touches the rock it’s not climbing!” Though most sport routes don’t require the use of crack gloves, athletic tape over a thin layer of tincture of benzoin helps with tendon support and skin repair. An emery board for filing down calluses and a set of nail clippers are also de rigeur.

10. Stick clip. The potential for abuse is high with these. Some find them handy for high first clips while others find them handy for aiding up routes full number grades over their head. The choice is yours.