So you want to start climbing? Get thee to a gym. There are a lot of snobby/foolish/elitist climbers out there who scoff at people who climb indoors rather than outside, but many of the best current climbers started in gyms (check out Josh Levin for one). That, and, maybe you don’t have a handy climbing area outside your back door makes it the best option, maybe your only one.
To get started at the gym, you don’t really need anything except comfortable clothes that move with your body and stay tucked in (unless you’re totally hot and then by all means show off what you got). The gym will have shoes, harnesses, and chalk bags you can rent. At the start, there’s no reason to go out and buy gear, unless you’re like me and love to do research and then buy, buy, buy (love the smell of new gear in the morning!).
Heading to the gym solo is fine, but it’s a lot more fun if you have climbing friends that can guide you or are newbies like yourself and up for new adventures. Sign up for lessons if available – a little technique goes a long way when you’re starting out.
All right, you’ve gone to the gym, flailed a bit (or sent everything ‘cuz you’re a natural), and the bug has bit you. Bad. Time to move up from the one-size-fits-all harness, slightly sloppy fitting shoes, and chalk bag that flops over like a drunk on the wall late at night. Here’s where research becomes paramount. What works for your buddy, the climbing beauty/adonis you’ve been ogling, and the pros in the magazines, as nothing to do with what fits you. Do the research, find your acceptable budget, and buy something you’ll be happy with for a few years (or a few months if you really have the climbing bug).
First purchase: climbing shoes. Your feet need to be comfortable for you to climb happily – that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to break in your new shoes, but you shouldn’t be in total agony either.
Next: the harness. If you think that you’re only going to buy one harness and you’re eventually going to get outside, get a harness with gear loops and the added bells and whistles. Otherwise, a simple and secure, one-size-fits-all harness like the Black Diamond Vario Speed Harness is similar to the rental harness though perhaps higher quality. Again, comfort is paramount – if it’s not comfortable wearing around the store, it’s not going to be comfortable when you’re climbing.
That’s all you need to go climbing at the gym. Apart from the membership, these essentials can be purchased relatively inexpensively and will last for years in the forgiving environment of the gym. Unless you don’t have an outdoors store nearby, I urge you to try everything on, more than once if possible. Some retailers have more lenient return policies (free return shipping!) – order several pairs of shoes or harnesses, try them on at home, and keep only the one that works for you.
If you really feel the need to buy something else, a chalk bag is probably next on the list. While you can buy loose chalk to fill the bag, I prefer a chalk bag that contains most of the chalk until you need it (it’ll still get all over everything all the time but definitely on a smaller scale).