Must-Have Indoor Rock Climbing Gear

Indoor rock climbing is a casual, fun, and challenging activity, and it's a safe way to acclimate yourself to the sport of climbing before harnessing up in the great outdoors. That said, if you're new to climbing, it's perfectly normal to feel a little nervous before your first trip to the gym. When you combine an unfamiliar sport with the need for unfamiliar gear and a workout in an unfamiliar environment, it's only natural for the nerves to start humming. The good news is, most facilities offer rental harnesses, shoes, and chalk, so you don't need to stock up on supplies before your first attempt, but if you enjoy the experience and want to make a habit out of indoor rock climbing, then you'll want to invest in gear of your own. 

"I have so many climbing customers say climbing is 'painful' and 'uncomfortable' when they use rental shoes at gyms," says Suzy Williams, an Expert Gearhead and Account Manager at Backcountry. "It breaks my heart because they're given the wrong size or simply presented the wrong shoe for their abilities, thus desensitizing them completely from the sport." 

The lesson? Go ahead and use those rental shoes the first time out, but don't write off the entire activity if your shoes feel uncomfortable. If you had fun otherwise, get your own gear and see if the entire experience improves. Check out Williams' favorite picks. 

1
Good Climbing Shoes

indoor rock climbing shoes
La Sportiva / Backcountry

According to Williams, there are a few reasons to buy your own shoes, not the least of which is to ensure proper sizing.

First, it's more sanitary. Renting shoes is fine, but it's much like renting bowling shoes. You're shoving your feet into shoes that have been worn by countless people before you. While climbing gyms do sanitize their rental shoes after every use, it's hard to know how thoroughly clean they get. 

Second, rental shoes typically aren't the best on the market. "Most rentals don't have rubber suitable for catapulting your climbing technique," Williams says. "[Climbing gyms] get bulk and baseline climbing shoes that rarely have the features people need." 

Williams emphasizes that if you're looking to buy shoes for the first time, you don't need the most expensive version on the market. She points to options like the La Sportiva Oxygym (available in men's and women's varieties) or La Sportiva Finale (also available in men's and women's varieties) as good choices that are priced competitively and are significantly better than most rental shoes.

"My advice to help distinguish signs of quality is to look for unquestionably good rubber! For instance, the Vibram XS Edge found in La Sportiva, or Stealth Rubber in FiveTen, are the two I personally prefer for intensified grip on small holds," Williams says. 

Finally, think about whether you prefer shoes with laces or Velcro closures. "This is up to personal preference of the customer," Williams says. "Laces accommodate wider feet and people with pressure points or hot-spots, whereas Velcro plays to quick on/off aptitudes for the "on-the-go" climber."

2
A Chalk Bag

indoor rock climbing chalk bags
Prana / Black Diamond / Backcountry

Indoor rock gyms will most likely provide harnesses and ropes for use on the wall, but you can't be guaranteed they'll provide chalk or a chalk bag. Chalk provides extra friction when holding onto grips, and it helps soak up sweat and oils from your hands. It really does make it easier to climb effectively, and if you want to be able to chalk-up whenever your hands get sweaty, you're going to need a bag to attach to your harness. Options like the Black Diamond Gym Chalk Bag and the Prana Color Block Chalk Bag feature gym-friendly features like extra pockets to store lip or hand balm, and clips for gym certification tags.

3
Chalk

A chalk bag's no good without chalk. There are lots of options on the market, from loose chalk to liquid chalk to chalk bags, so it may take some trial-and-error to find the version that's right for you. Williams' personal pick is Friction Labs' Unicorn Dust, an extra fine magnesium carbonate chalk to help absorb sweat.

4
Apparel Appropriate for Rock Climbing

rock climbing apparel
Collage by Laura Williams, Apparel on Prana and Backcountry

There aren't too many rules when it comes to rock climbing gear, but it's a good idea to opt for clothing that will stay put and allow movement in all directions. That means standard jeans are probably out. Look for high-quality workout tights or pants that are comfortable and breathable. Close-fitting tank-tops and tees are also a good choice. Just remember that gyms are often kept cool, and while you'll work up a sweat climbing, you might get a little chilly between runs. Consider stocking a lightweight long-sleeve cover-up in your gym bag so you can throw it on as needed.

Williams' top apparel choices for women include the Alo Yoga Epic Legging, La Sportiva Rocky Mountain Pant, Free People High Neck Strappy Back Bra, and Ibex Woolies 1 Racerback Tank Top.

Guys, you can't go wrong with the men's gear from Prana, like the Stretch Zion Convertible Pant and the Hardesty Sleeveless Tank.

5
Hand Balm

Just because you're not climbing on an actual rock doesn't mean your hands won't take a beating. This Metolius Hand Repair Balm is perfect for cuts, scrapes, and chapped, dry hands. Keep it in your chalk bag for easy access before, during, and after tough climbing sessions.

6
Cross-Training Slackline

slackline industries rock climbing cross-training
Slackline Industries

If you decide to get serious about rock climbing, you can set up a fun cross-training station in your own backyard. Slacklines are great for balance training, proprioception, and coordination, all of which play an important role in rock climbing. The 50-foot, two-inch Baseline Kit from Slackline Industries comes with a handy carry bag and two tree protectors wraps for eco-friendly set ups.