Get Out and Clip Some Bolts!
So maybe you started climbing in the gym and you’re ready to take your newly acquired skills and psych out onto some real rock. Maybe you’re a seasoned trad climber and you’d like to gear up to hit your local sport crag. Or maybe you’ve done some sport leads using friends’ gear and you want to build your own rack. Regardless of the circumstance, there are some crucial pieces of gear that every climber should have in his or her sport rack. Here at Outdoor Gear Exchange we’ve selected some essential items that you need to have a safe and enjoyable sport climbing experience!
Sport routes have a fixed line of bolts drilled into the rock to protect the route and a set of fixed anchors at the top, so sport climbers just need a rack of quickdraws—two non-locking carabiners connected by a sewn sling—to protect a route.
Quickdraws typically come in two lengths; a short version that is 10 to 12 cm long, and a long version between 15 and 18 cm long. Shorter draws are lighter and less bulky on your harness. They are good for straight forward routes. Longer draws reduce rope drag and are great for meandering routes or overhung cliffs. A set of quickdraws made up of a mixture of the two lengths gives you the option to use long or short draws depending on the character of a route.
Typically, you need a draw for every bolt on a route, two for the anchors, and an additional two or three in case you need more in a tricky situation. On average, 12 to 16 draws will be enough for many sport crags. However, it is important to look at the areas where you will usually be climbing and determine how many quickdraws you need to bring along.
Petzl Spirit Express Quickdraws are super lightweight, with a wide dogbone for easy handling and a rubber piece on the rope end so that the carabiner stays in place when clipping the rope. The Spirit Express draws come in 12 or 17 cm lengths.
Down-turned, High-Performance Climbing Shoes
Some of the most unique and hardest sport climbing routes in the country, like those at the Red River Gorge or on the Waimea crag in at Rumney, are very steep or overhung and require aggressive, down-turned climbing shoes with a pointed toe. This style of shoe keeps your feet from cutting on overhung sections and allows you to utilize toe hooks.
A good option for sport climbing is a velcro closure shoe, which is easy to remove while belaying or moving to a different route.
The La Sportiva Miura VS shoes are some of the best technical climbing shoes and feature a performance fit and a down-turned shape. The Miura VS is a great do-it-all shoe that also works well for gym climbing or bouldering. La Sportiva also makes a version of the Miura VS specifically for women.
A Sport Harness
While all climbing harnesses are primarily designed to distribute weight and catch you when you fall, many harnesses are specifically designed for the unique needs of different types of climbers. Sport climbing does not require a climber to hang heavy gear from his or her harness, so sport harnesses are built with minimalist design features like fewer gear loops. Since many sport routes are single pitch and don’t require hanging all day in a harness, sport harnesses have thinner leg loops and waist belts.
Eliminating unneeded features from a harness makes it much lighter and allows sport climbers to push harder. While an all-around harness will still work well for sport climbing, a sport-specific harness is a perfect option for someone who primarily hits the gym or a local sport crag rather than trad routes, big walls or alpine ice.
The Black Diamond Solution is not only lightweight at 11 oz, but also perfectly contoured to relieve pressure-sensitive areas while you’re hang-dogging on your project.
The Right Rope
In sport climbing, weight is an important consideration in all aspects of your gear. When you’re trying to send a tough project, using a rope that you can clip easily and that won’t weigh you down when you’ve reached the final moves of a route is crucial.
A 9.5mm or 9.6mm rope is a great all-around sport rope that is lighter than larger diameter ropes, but can still withstand numerous falls while working a route or getting some leads under your belt. Ropes in this range are easy to handle when belaying, unobtrusive while climbing, and relatively compact for transporting to the crag or from route to route.
The Mammut Infinity 9.5 dry rope is a light, high performance rope with a dry treatment, making it an excellent go-to rope for sport climbing.
An Assisted Braking Belay Device
For extra safe belaying, bring an assisted braking belay device like the Petzl Grigri or the Trango Cinch with you to the crag. This style of belay device has an assisted braking function that pinches the rope under weight. The belayer uses classic belay technique to pay out rope and stop a fall, while the assisted braking device adds increased friction for safety and control.
For lead-belaying on a sport route, an assisted braking device is an excellent choice. During a lead-fall, the shock weighting of the rope activates the camming mechanism in the device. Since falls can occur frequently while sport climbing, it is ideal to have an assisted braking device for security and to lessen the fatigue on a belayer from repeatedly catching falls.
A Chalk Bag and chalk
Every climber needs a chalk bag. Chalk dries moisture from your hands and gives you a secure grip on holds. Chalk bags are a simple item, but look for one that has a waist belt, a draw cord that prevents your chalk from falling out, and a soft, comfortable inner lining. PrAna’s basic chalk bag with a belt has everything that you need. You can fill it up with some Metolius Super Chalk and you’ll be ready to go!
Many sport climbers don’t wear helmets and their use is certainly optional. However, with today’s ultralight helmets, the old complaints that they are too bulky, heavy or hot to wear when climbing hard are becoming increasingly unfounded.
Helmets shield against rockfall that can occur even at sport crags. They also as protect your head if you were to end up inverted from a fall with the rope behind your leg, or you clip your foot on outcropping rock.
The Petzl Sirocco helmet sets a new world standard in lightness at just 165 g, while still maintaining excellent impact resistance and high levels of ventilation.
A Crag Bag or Rope Bag
At a sport crag, climbers have the unique opportunity to climb a route, clean it, then move a few yards away and set up another climb fairly quickly. Using a rope bag, usually resembling a simple duffel bag with a rope tarp inside that can be deployed quickly, or a crag bag, which is a utilitarian pack made to hold a rack of quickdraws, shoes, a rope and a few accessories, sport climbers can get gear from the car to the cliff easily.
The Mammut Neon Gear Pack is a perfect choice for sport climbers. Featuring organizational gear loops and specialized pockets for shoes and a chalk bag, as well as an integrated rope bag, the Neon Gear Pack has everything you need to set up your favorite warm-up and then quickly jump onto the 4 star route down the wall as soon as it opens up.
A Stick Clip
On hard sport routes, it’s nice to give yourself some reassurance that you won’t deck before you clip the first bolt. A stick clip allows you to place your first quickdraw, with the rope already clipped to it, before you leave the ground. Using an extension pole and a specially designed attachment to hold your quickdraw, you can ensure that you stay safe on difficult routes.
Don’t get a sore neck from belaying all day at the crag; pick up a pair of belay glasses! Belay glasses may not be the coolest looking piece of gear, but they significantly reduce the strain on your neck from looking up at your climber. At a sport crag where you may be climbing a large number of routes and spending half of the day belaying and staring straight up, belay glasses will make your day much more enjoyable!