Ballpark Estimate: $890 to $2,335 and up
Unless you live within a stone’s throw of an outdoor climbing area, the easiest and most convenient place to learn how to climb is at an indoor climbing gym. In fact, these days, most outdoor climbers start out in a gym. Many of them get good fast indoors, and eventually put their gym skills to the test on real rock.
IMPORTANT- Climbing outdoors is a very different sport from climbing in the gym.
The most obvious difference, of course, is that you are very unlikely to die climbing in a gym. The routine and surroundings are familiar; the gear is minimal; the hand and footholds are red, green, and blue; and the routes are marked with colored tape. Outdoors, on the other hand, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and there’s no one around to point out that you forgot to double back the buckle on your harness, or that your figure eight knot is all fouled up. There’s no staff member peeking over your shoulder to see if you’re using your belay device correctly. No one is going to yell- “Hey! Wake up!” if your attention strays from belaying, as your partner clings to tiny holds eight feet above the last piece of protection.
Before you begin climbing outdoors, you need to buy some gear. Guiding services are happy to supply you with whatever you need to climb outdoors, but if you’ve been climbing in the gym for a while, you most likely already own a harness, shoes, and chalk bag.
Basic gear cost: $110 to $285
- Climbing shoes: $40 to $150
- Climbing harness: $35 to $90
- Locking carabiner: $10 to $20
- Chalk bag, belt, and chalk: $25
A quick word about shoes- talk to your climber friends or a knowledgeable salesperson and let them know you’ll be climbing outdoors. You’ll want a shoe with a little more arch and ankle support and a tougher rand (the rubber that surrounds the shoe above the sole). And because outdoor climbs are usually longer than gym climbs, you may not be able to take your shoes off when your feet hurt. So buy them tight, but not so tight that your toes hurt.
For this article, let’s assume you’re a beginner. Maybe you visited the gym a few times, maybe not. Where should you start?
Simple- Go online and search for “rock climbing guide services” in your area. Or ask at your climbing gym. Or ask at your local mountaineering or climbing store where ropes, climbing shoes, and gear are sold. The store will probably have its own guide service and will be happy to set you up with a beginner class.
Questions to ask when selecting a guide service:
- Do you have a low student to instructor ratio?
- Are your guides well-trained and experienced climbers? (The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certifies rock climbing guides.)
- What gear do you provide? What do I have to bring? Are helmets provided?
- Will we be top-roping, or climbing 1-pitch or multi-pitch climbs? (A pitch is the distance of climbing between two belay points, no longer than the length of the rope.)
- Will the climbs include a variety of climbing styles and grades of difficulty?
- How many hours or days is the duration of the course? Outdoor beginner classes can last anywhere from 3-4 hours (half day) to 6-8 hours (full day) to a weekend or more.
- How long a drive to the climbing area? How long and difficult an approach hike?
- What skills are covered in the course? Look for climbing safety, knots, communication, explanation and use of basic gear, belaying, rope handling, basic rock climbing, rappelling, and anchors. Ideally, you’ll learn a few face, friction, and crack climbing techniques, as well.
Approximate Prices Per Person
Basic climbing class ½ day: Group $70 , Private $150
Basic climbing class full day: Group $95 to $160 , Private $250 to $300
Intermediate class ½ day: Group $85 to $90 , Private $160 to $180
Intermediate class full day: Group $100 to $125 , Private $205 to $250
Lead climbing classes: Private classes only $180 to $320*
*price dependent on distance traveled, length of climbing day, difficulty of climb, and # of days.
If, after taking classes, you feel ready to go out on your own, you’ll need to purchase more essential gear.
More Gear to Buy
Climbing Rope: $150 to $225.
Ropes come in different weights, diameters, and lengths. Ask your climbing friends what works for them, but if you’re on your own, go to any reputable mountaineering store and look for a 60-meter rope with a 9.5 mm to 10.5 mm diameter. Stay away from 8mm ropes for now. These are “half” ropes, meaning that they’re one half of a two-rope belay system. Some ropes will be labeled “dry.” This means they’ve been treated to resist moisture absorption, friction, and dirt. Dry ropes are thought to be more durable and perform well even in wet conditions.
Rope Bag: $35 to $40
If you will be climbing in a particularly muddy, dirty, or dusty area, you might want to purchase a rope bag – a handy and lightweight tarp that protects your rope when it’s lying on the ground, and then allows you to gather it up in a compact bundle for carrying around.
Helmet: $60 to $100
Try on a selection of helmets and choose the one that feels most comfortable and most secure. Buy one that you love, so you’ll wear it every time you climb.
Belay Device: $14 to $86
If you’re a gym climber, you probably feel most comfortable with a Gri-Gri, the self-locking belay device made by Petzl. However, they can only be used with a 10 –11 mm rope, they weigh 8 oz., and they cost a bundle – as high as $86. Still, a Gri-Gri is fine for top-roping, or if your partner tends to hangdog climbs (falls off and hangs on the rope, endlessly, before trying the moves over and over again). Talk to your friends or instructors, and consider getting a more basic belay device like a Black Diamond ATC, a Trango, or even a Figure 8, all of which are lightweight and can easily be used to rappel as well as belay.
Climbers’ Guidebook: $20 to $50
Unless it’s completely undiscovered or so small and nasty that no one goes there, every climbing area has a guidebook and you’ll probably find it at your local climbing store. These books describe the history and geology of the area and list most of the climbs by name along with their locations, difficulty, length, a rough estimate of gear required, and sometimes a bare bones description of the moves. A local guide book is a necessity and can save you from the gut-wrenching realization that the 5.5 you thought you were on is actually 5.10b and you have no idea how to get down. Don’t go climbing without one.
Another way to get information about your climb is to ask other climbers for “beta” – perfectly acceptable in the climbing world.
Most stores also carry a nice selection of guidebooks to other areas, so you can do some serious armchair climbing at home, and dream about future climbing adventures.
Your First Rack of Gear: $300 and up
Specialty Gear Prices
When you’re shopping for gear, ask for advice from friends, instructors, guides, and knowledgeable salespeople. If you know what kind of climbing you’ll be doing, that can help you decide what pieces and how much gear you need:
Top-roping requires that you set up a secure anchor at the top of the climb and thread the rope through that anchor before climbing. You may also want to anchor your belayer to the ground.
- Top-Roping Rack:webbing, slings, carabiners, quickdraws, and some trad gear for placing anchors. Cost $300 to $375
Sport climbing requires only that you clip quickdraws into bolts already in the rock, and then set up a rappel at the top
- Beginner Sport Rack: 10 to 12 quickdraws, 3 locking carabiners, 6 regular carabiners, 6 to 8 slings, and some webbing. Cost $320 to $455
Trad (traditional) climbingrequires all of the above, plus a healthy selection of camming devices and wired nuts (also referred to as “pro” or protection), more slings, more carabiners, a gear sling to hang all your stuff on, and a nut tool for the second climber in case gear placements are hard to extricate from the rock. Again, ask around, assemble your rack a few pieces at a time (unless you win the lottery or have a very generous grandma), and read your guidebook to choose your climbs and find out what pieces of gear they require.
- Trad Rack: $550 and up
Bouldering. If the idea of all that gear is getting you down, you could give bouldering a try. All you need is climbing shoes, a chalk bag, a crash pad, and a bunch of good friends who will spot you and catch you when you fall. A crash pad is a thick foam pad that folds in half and straps to your back for easy hiking. Well, sort of easy hiking.
- Bouldering Crash Pad: $100 to $280
Choose your climbing partners carefully. Climbing is an inherently risky sport, so look for a partner with more experience than you. The ideal partner knows the area, is smart, competent, and cautious, loves to climb, enjoys your company, and owns plenty of gear. Gender and age are irrelevant, but good judgment and skills are paramount.
Don’t buy too much too soon. Climbing gear (especially trad gear) is surprisingly expensive. For instance, if you decide you really like climbing wide cracks, you’ll spend around $100 a pop for the massive #5 or #6 C4 Camalots – camming devices extraordinaire.
Buy some colorful electricians’ tape and mark every piece of your new gear so, at the end of the day, it’s easy to sort your stuff from your partner’s.
Be wary of used gear. NEVER buy used ropes, helmets, or harnesses. Those items have a life span, and the last thing you want is to be depending on them when that life span expires.