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The Best Climbing Gear For Beginners (2023): Harnesses, Belay Devices, And Helmets

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A Belay DeviceBlack Diamond ATC Guide

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Or an Automatic Belay DevicePetzl GriGri

Read moreClimbing can feel like a daunting hobby to pick up. There are knots, anchors, more knots, and nearly as much opaque lingo as Cockney rhyming slang. And then there’s also the constant reminder that your life literally depends on getting it all right. Relieve yourself of one worry by checking out our favorite climbing gear for beginners, which will provide everything you absolutely need and nothing that’s just marketing fluff. Most climbers get acquainted with the safety routines, jargon, and gear when climbing indoors. But it’s fine to start outdoors if you fall in with the right climbers or enroll in an American Mountain Guides Association-accredited course. 

Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, you’re going to need some essential gear. I’m keeping it simple and affordable in this guide, since it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the jargon for technical gear. You’re also not going to be a climbing lead until you’re more experienced, so I’ve omitted items like rope and quickdraws, which your climb leader will have. You can get by with any flexible clothes (no jeans!), but I suggest you veer toward technical synthetic layers for climbing outside. 

Updated January 2023: We’ve added recommendations for pants and a climbing shirt, as well as adjusted pricing and availability.

Photograph: Backcountry

A HarnessBlack Diamond Solution

A climbing harness keeps you tethered to a climbing rope. This one from Black Diamond has been my go-to since the beginning of 2018. It’s well padded and super comfy, and the fixed leg loops have never given me trouble. It has enough gear loops for carabiners and quickdraws to lead and follow on sport routes, but not enough to carry anchoring equipment for trad climbing. That’s fine. As a beginner, you’ll be sport climbing anyway.

Photograph: Scarpa

Climbing ShoesScarpa Origin

Shoes are an intensely personal choice, and you’ll probably have to try on a few pairs to find the right ones. Remember: you don’t wear socks in climbing shoes. They should be tight but not painfully tight. Some people prefer laces to cinch them up. Others prefer Velcro because it’s quicker to put on and take off between climbs. I like the Origin from Scarpa because they’re a well-built, relatively non-aggressive (flatter-soled) shoe good for beginners. 

As you take on more difficult climbs, you’ll eventually want to buy a pair of more aggressively curved climbing shoes, like the excellent La Sportiva VS Miura for $199 (men’s sizing, women’s sizing). But the Origin will always have a place in your rotation when your climbs demand a lot of sole-to-rock contact, like granite slabs.

Photograph: REI

A Belay DeviceBlack Diamond ATC Guide

When top-rope climbing, the person on the wall is secured via the rope to the anchors on the wall by a partner—a belayer—who stands below with hands on the rope, ready to catch the climber when they fall. They use a belay device to do so. The ATC Guide is the benchmark to beat. Tough, versatile, and usable in the gym or outdoors, mine has never let me down. Fun fact: ATC stands for “air traffic controller.”

Photograph: REI

Or an Automatic Belay DevicePetzl GriGri

The GriGri is another belay device. You don’t need an ATC Guide and a GriGri. It’s an either-or situation. The GriGri is an assisted-braking device, which means that when the climber falls, the device catches them rather than the belayer—though the belayer still needs to stand ready with hands on the rope for safety. 

The big risk isn’t equipment failure, it’s operator failure. Every so often a belayer freezes up when their climbing partner falls, and they forget to let go of the brake release lever. Then the falling climber decks (hits the ground). So if you’re going to use an assisted-braking belay device like the GriGri, drill it into your head to get your hand off the lever when your climber falls. That said, many belay partners have caught my falls with the GriGri, and I trust myself to them.