June 29, 2016
Some outdoor enthusiasts are looking for more exhilarating ways to enjoy nature and improve their fitness at the same time. Sport climbing answers the call on both counts. According to an Outdoor Foundation study in 2014, about 5 million Americans participated in sport climbing, which includes both indoor and outdoor climbing. Though many in that number likely tried climbing just once or twice at a summer camp or a rock wall at a birthday party, many young adults like the fitness test, mental challenge and social aspects of climbing at gyms and outdoors.
Climbing does not require an excessive amount of gear, but because of its high-risk nature, the climbing gear must be of good quality.
A well-fitting climbing harness is a vital piece of safety gear. There are different types of harnesses that fit different types of climbing (sport or gym harness for indoors, traditional, or mountaineering, for example). Find a harness with a waistbelt that fits comfortably just above the hip bone and has enough belt material to double-back through the buckle for security. The leg loops, many of which are padded, can be snug (more comfortable when hanging) or somewhat loose (increases freedom of movement); the choice is yours. Your harness should have a sufficient number of gear loops for clipping on equipment, and a reliable belay loop (the load-bearing part of the harness).
Like the harness, the climbing helmet is essential safety gear. It protects your head from falling debris or gear and bumps against the rock. When looking for a good fit, take into consideration the helmet’s adjustability, layering (cold climates may require the helmet to fit over a hat or balaclava) and comfortable chin straps. There are three types of helmets: hard shell/suspension, foam and hybrid. Suspension helmets start with a webbing system on the head (to help absorb blows) and a solid shell on top. Foam helmets have outer shells that give quite a bit so the inner foam layer absorbs the impact. Foam models are generally lighter. Hybrids have the best of both worlds: a durable hard shell with a light, foam interior.
This is one of the key points where the climber meets the rock. Climbing shoes are specially designed to support a natural yet protective grip for your feet on the rock wall. Generally they are very snug fitting, secured with either a strap, laces or an elastic closure. Climbing shoes can be classified as neutral, moderate or aggressive based on the downturn of the toe area. There are different types of shoes for indoor climbing, distance climbing, all-day wear, and more, so think about your goals and environments for climbing before you settle on a pair.
As with most adventure clothing, climbers should wear fabrics that are breathable and wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you comfortable and dry. Clothing should not be restrictive, but not so loose as to get in your way or interfere with the rope. Always prepare for changing conditions if you climb outdoors.
Climb with ropes approved by the international mountaineering and climbing federation (UIAA), which tests a rope’s durability in falls. There are two basic types of ropes: static and dynamic. Static ropes are somewhat stiff and do not stretch. They are used for rappelling, hauling gear up or down, and rescues. Dynamic ropes have a bit of stretch to them, making them able to absorb energy in a fall. Dynamic ropes are used for top roping and mountaineering.
– Ascender: A mechanical device used to ascend a rope.
– Belay device: A mechanical device used to control a rope during belaying. Belaying is the technique of exerting tension on a rope so a climber doesn’t fall very far. Styles include figure-8, tubular and self-braking.
– Carabiners: A metal loop with a “gate,” used to clip on equipment, harnesses, chalk bags, ropes, etc.
– Chalk and chalk bags: Chalk is used to improve grip, absorbing perspiration on hands. Chalk balls are u
sed in indoor sport climbing while powder form is preferred outdoors. Bags are connected to the harness to keep the chalk close at hand.
– Quickdraw: A webbing strap connecting two carabiners. One end can connect to an anchor point and the other carabiner allows rope to pass through it freely.
Visit a reputable outdoor retailer to learn more about the specifics of wearing, fitting and using climbing gear.
By Rich Kenda