Climbing Equipment

Climbing equipment enables climbers to get from point A to point B, whether in the gym or on a rock face. Exactly what gear is needed depends on the style of climbing, the location, and when a climber is out in the field, the season. There are literally dozens of pieces of equipment climbers need to ensure a safe ascent and descent. Many are used in nearly all climbing or mountaineering applications, while others have a very specific use or are designed to improve performance. Climbing equipment prices range from $5 to $1,000 or more depending on the component. Some of the most trusted brand names in the industry include Mammut, Petzl, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Mad Rock and Bluewater. With all these options, big wall, competitive, alpine, gym, traditional and ice climbers as well as bouldering enthusiasts can equip themselves with everything they need.

Climbing Rope

Climbing rope is used for recreation, rescue and commercial applications. The two primary types are static and dynamic. Static rope has extremely high tensile strength and low elongation, meaning it doesn't stretch much. It's meant for rappelling, belaying, descending and ascending. It is not used for lead climbing as a safety rope. Dynamic climbing rope, by contrast, is designed to stretch and absorb the weight of a climber should she fall. Unlike static rope, it has a low impact force. Dynamic rope is rated for the number of falls it can take in its lifetime, typically five to sixteen. All climbing rope varies by weight, measured in grams per meter, and diameter. Rope is usually between 7 and 13 millimeters thick depending on its use. Costs hover around $0.75 to over $1 per foot (prices current in 2011). Most recreational climbing ropes are between 30 and 80 meters long.

Carabiners and Quickdraws

Carabiners, or simply 'biners, are incredibly strong metal loops with gates that open. They are frequently used in all types of climbing to set anchors, hook to a rope for safety or simply attach gear to a harness or sling. They are typically made from hot-forged, 7000-series aluminum. 'Biners may be oval, D-shaped or asymmetrical. They hook onto rope or webbing through their opening gate, which may be locking or non-locking. Straight, bent and wire gates are three basic non-locking styles. Locking 'biners feature a twist-lock mechanism that must be manually engaged, while non-locking models push open and automatically snap shut. Quickdraws consist of two carabiners connected with a length of pre-sewn webbing and are used to connect ropes to bolt anchors, reducing friction on multi-pitch routes.

Harnesses

Harnesses are a component of all types of rock climbing except bouldering, and most are worn around the waist and legs. They are made from some combination of nylon webbing, breathable mesh and closed cell foam. They are designed for strength and comfort and may feature padding around the lumbar region and on the leg loops. A harness may be designed for mid-climb adjustment, while leg loops may or may not be removable; each of these options for leg loops is appropriate in certain instances. Standard features include a belay loop for lowering, two or more gear loops and a rear haul loop for attaching gear. They come in men's, women's and children's styles and usually cost no more than $135 for recreational styles.

Helmets

Helmets are designed to protect the head from impact with a fixed object or from falling debris. They are a necessity when mountaineering and should always be worn on mixed, ice and traditional climbs. Helmets come in suspension and foam styles. Foam helmets are lighter and slightly less durable, but they will permanently deform upon impact, whereas suspension helmets usually retain their original shape. Typically costing between $35 and $150, helmets feature a variable number of vents, adjustable chin straps and a headlamp attachment area.

Technical Ice/Mixed Gear

For highly technical ice or mixed climbs, special gear is needed. In addition to extreme-temperature clothing and boots, crampons, an ice axe and/or a specialized ice pick are must-haves. Ultra light and priced from about $150 to $225, crampons are made from high-grade aluminum or stainless steel and attach to the bottoms of boots. They provide biting traction on ice or packed snow and allow vertical ice climbers to gain footing without having to cut steps. Step-in crampons attach to special boots in the same way as ski bindings. Others strap onto boots. Ten- and 12-point crampons are the most common. The 12-point variety features two front-facing spikes to penetrate ice when climbing, while all crampons feature up to 10 ergonomically set vertical spikes for walking.

Ice axes and picks are multipurpose tools that can be used as walking sticks or to clear snow, cut steps or arrest a climber from sliding or falling should he lose his footing. They feature a curved or straight shaft that is durable and light and a head with a pick on one side and an adze on the other. Technical ice tools range in price from about $75 to $300. Other ice-climbing tools include ice screws, safety leashes and replacement axe head components.

Shoes and Boots

Climbing shoes are worn when bouldering, scaling big walls, gym and sport climbing and on the approach. There are hundreds of available styles from Mad Rock, Five Ten and others, and they range in price from about $50 to $150 a pair. Made to provide a comfortable fit and sticky traction over rock, shoe designs differ by use. Cambered (down-turned) shoes are great for toe hooking and jamming into cracks, while semi-flexed shoes are more like standard shoes with a slight upward curve to the sole. Closure types include lace-up, rip-and-stick, hook-and-loop and slip-on. They are made from leather, synthetic material or a combination and are worn indoors or in fair weather.

Boots are worn by mountaineers and alpine and ice climbers. Durable, waterproof and ultra warm, climbing boots from La Sportiva and others may be steel-reinforced and/or molded. High-altitude boots are all synthetic and made for the most extreme conditions. Boots can cost anywhere from $250 to $900 or more depending on their function.

Other Equipment

Other climbing equipment includes a wide selection of webbing, slings and runners. These are lengths of nylon or other material made into loops for hauling gear, making quickdraws, building anchors or climbing aids like etriers and daisy chains. Some pre-sewn webbing can bear 6,000 pounds or more. Other accessories and gear include climbing holds for building indoor rock walls, crash pads for bouldering, belay devices, bolts for anchoring and numerous bags used for everything from hauling gear, storing rope and holding chalk.