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Climbing in a new place, especially a new country, is always an adventure and planning it should be part of the fun. Over the years, I’ve climbed in a number of different countries including the US, England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, and France. Whether your sights are set on multi-pitch climbing in the Dolomites or deep water soloing in Kalymnos, these tips will help you make the most of your trip.

Sweet Dreams – Katoomba – Australia

Decide the When and Where

The first thing you’re going to want to do is decide what climbing you actually want to do and the time of year you can go. If you want to climb long sport pitches while wearing a t-shirt in December, Scotland is likely not for you. Figure out what’s most important to you (are you desperate to get to Spain? Are you only able to travel in June?), then find somewhere that aligns with what you want.

Do Your Research (Like Any Other International Trip)

Same as any international trip, you’re going to want to research the country. Do you need a visa? Is there a language barrier? What currency do they use? What’s the culture like? Where should you stay? Whether or not you’re climbing, these questions stay the same.

Applebee Dome, Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

Get a Guidebook

While you can find a lot of information on sites like Mountainproject and UKClimbing, you’ll get more reliable information with a guidebook. Additionally, most guidebooks will give a good explanation of the area’s grading system and how it compares to other places (often something similar to this chart). A guidebook can also help you assess with your climbing partner or group what level you want to climb and what’s realistic. Plus, guidebooks often give good suggestions for accommodations, pubs, and local supermarkets.

Once you’ve decided on an area, UKClimbing can offer recommendations for a good guidebook to get. Make sure to get the latest version so you can get the most information on any new routes.

Set Goals

To make sure you get the most out of your time, it helps to already have an idea of some routes you want to do before you get there. Pull out some sticky notes and that guidebook and start bookmarking routes that get you excited. Again, be realistic about this list — if you’re there for a week, you may not have the time to get to 15 different multi-pitch climbs. You’ll also want to keep this plan flexible. It might rain one (or five) days or you might find a route you want to project and skip the others on your list.

Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand

Gear to Pack vs. Gear to Buy

It’s nice to have your own gear because you know where it’s been and you’re comfortable with it. However, lugging around that much gear can get exhausting especially if you’re doing any non-climbing travel. Some gear you may decide you want to buy when you get there to avoid bringing on the plane or carrying around for the rest of your trip.

Be Flexible

Regardless of how well you plan, something will likely not go the way you want it to. That’s part of the excitement of travelling! Enjoy the unexpected moments (or laugh about them later).

Bellbird Wall, Pulpit Rock, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

I’ll admit, when I first started seeing people with belay glasses, they were generally old white guys in gyms. I thought the glasses were a gimmick or just not worth the money unless you were rich, lazy, and elitist. Then, on a climbing trip to Spain, my partner was having some neck issues and couldn’t look up, so we rented a pair for the first few days. They were life saving (literally). My partner didn’t have to constantly be in pain to belay me and belaying was generally way more comfortable. It took a couple rounds of wearing the glasses to get used to them, but once I did, I couldn’t imagine belaying without them. If they hadn’t cost a small fortune at the time, I would have bought them on the spot.

Belay glasses use prismatic lenses which take in the view from above and reflect it back to your eyes straight on. Basically, it’s like a pair of mirrors angled perfectly for you to see what’s above you without having to look up and since it’s reflected twice you don’t see everything backwards. The glasses then go on like any other pair of glasses or they can sit in front of sunglasses or prescription glasses.

With belay glasses, I can keep my head in a relaxed position as though looking straight ahead and still be able to watch my climber above me. No more “belayer’s neck.” With a good pair, I’ve found that I actually see my climber better through the prisms than when I’m just squinting up at them. Because of this, I have a better idea of when they’re climbing, clipping, or taking a break and I can accurately adjust how much rope I give or take. Without the glasses, I tend to alternate between looking up and stretching my neck. With them, I don’t have to compromise between my own comfort and watching my climber in case they fall. Bonus: if my partner is projecting a route, I’m happy for them to take their time since I don’t have to hold an uncomfortable position.

Belay glasses aren’t an essential piece of gear like a belay device or a harness is, but they make a huge difference for single pitch sport or any type of indoor rope climbing. Even for multi-pitch climbing, I can stash the glasses in their case and clip that to my harness when I’m climbing or rappelling.

So yes, belay glasses do look a little silly and a good pair will likely burn a small hole in your wallet. But they do make belaying easier on the neck and for those of us who spend most of our time looking at computers, that makes all the difference.

Whether you dream of pulling on plastic gym holds, scaling big walls, or ascending mountain peaks, basic rock climbing knowledge is essential. It’s the foundation of all mountain activities — but to get started rock climbing, first you need the right rock climbing gear. If you’ve never gone rock climbing before, we suggest starting in a gym where you can safely learn the basics before you set out on your first outdoor expedition. Take a class or find a mentor and remember that the upfront investment might be costly — but the physical and mental rewards are huge. Rock climbing is one of the fastest growing sports around the world offering a blend of fitness, fun, and adrenaline. This guide will help you pick out the rock climbing gear you need to get started.

Rock Climbing Harness

This is one of the most essential pieces of rock climbing equipment — necessary for all forms of the sport except bouldering. It’s recommended you start out top-roping in a gym so you can learn proper belay and climbing technique. A harness needs to be comfortable, supportive, and safe. A climbing harness comprises a multitude of important components:

  • Waistbelt: This is the part that sits snuggly over your hips and will support you when you’re belaying and catch you in the event of a fall.
  • Leg loops: As the name implies, these fit around your legs, one loop for each leg. Some leg loops are designed to be adjustable and others are completely removable.
  • Belay loop: You attach your belay device from this loop. The belay loop encloses your two tie-in points.
  • Tie-in points: These are the points located above and below your belay loop. This is where you will thread your rope through and tie in. It’s important to remember to always tie in to both points simultaneously.
  • Gear loops: These are attached to your waist belt, used for holding equipment including quickdraws, cams, and your belay device. If you’re just starting out, a harness with two or four gear loops is sufficient.

There are a variety of types of climbing harnesses, including those dedicated for sport climbing, trad climbing, gym climbing or ice climbing. We suggest you start out with a basic harness designed for gym and outdoor top-roping. This is a great first choice for a harness.

Belay Device

CT Doble-V Belay Device

Learning to belay is just as important as learning how to rock climb. This partner-centric sport requires another person to belay you while you climb, so you’ll need to do the same for them in exchange. In order to belay, you’ll need a belay device. There are so many different options on the market it might be confusing to determine which device is appropriate for you. The two most common types are tubular and assisted braking. While there are varying opinions on which belay device is most appropriate for beginners, you can’t go wrong with a basic tubular device. This is a great first belay device.

More important than which belay device you choose to use is learning how to use it properly. Belay devices provide for friction on the rope that will assist in catching a fall or lowering a climber. You can view our comprehensive guide to belay devices for more in-depth information on different types of belay devices.

Locking Carabiner

CT Aerial Pro Screw Gate Carabiner

In order to use your belay device, you’ll need a locking carabiner designed to attach it to your harness. While you’ll likely accumulate quite a collection of carabiners throughout your climbing career, the first one you’ll need is a locker for your belay device. Locking gates provide for extra protection against accidental gate openings. There are tons of different styles of lockers, including twist locks and screw gates. This is an ideal first carabiner.

Climbing Shoes

Along with a harness and belay device, this will be one of the first pieces of equipment you’ll need for rock climbing. Climbing-specific shoes provide for the friction you need to grip footholds. Rock shoes are meant to be snug — but not painful. When you first start rock climbing you’ll probably opt for a more comfortable shoe, and as you develop your skills then progress to a more aggressive style. There are lace-up and velcro options — with your preference being key to selection. Check out this article on rock climbing shoes for more in-depth information.

Chalk and Chalk Bag

Galaxy HelmetClimbers utilize chalk for better grip and to decrease palm perspiration. Often climbers will chalk up before and during a climb. A chalk bag holds the chalk and hangs from your harness or a cord around your waist. When you reach a good resting spot during a climb, it’s the ideal time to dip your hands into your chalk bag and chalk up before you continue climbing. This is a great basic chalk bag, chalk, and a classic chalk ball to eliminate the mess often created by loose chalk. While some climbers opt to go without, the majority love the benefits of chalk and as a beginner, it’s worth giving it a try — it might make a world of difference in your climbing progression.

Dynamic Rope

Rope R7CTC

While this won’t be the first thing you buy when you start rock climbing, at some point you’re going to want a rope of your own. Gyms usually provide their own ropes for top roping and lead climbing but if you climb enough you’ll quickly reach that point where you want to take your climbing to the great outdoors — and your own rope will be required. Dynamic ropes are used exclusively for climbing while static ropes are used strictly for rappelling and rescues. All climbing ropes are tested and rated for safety. The length of the rope you buy depends on personal preference, with 50m, 60m, and 70m ropes being the most common. This is a great first 60m rope. Ready to buy? Read this article on how to properly care for and clean your climbing rope.

Climbing Helmet

CT Galaxy Climbing Helmet

Although not necessary for indoor climbing, once you progress to the outdoors you’re going to want something to protect your head. Rock climbing can be a dangerous sport — so use your best judgement in making it as safe as possible. There’s no excuse to go without a helmet when climbing outdoors. Here’s an ideal basic climbing helmet.

Ready to start rock climbing? Now that you know the gear you’re going to need, it’s time to start hitting the climbing gym. Sign up for a class, find a qualified mentor, and give it a try.