You're interested in checking out rock climbing. But wait. What in the world are you supposed to WEAR?
Let's go through some of the functional aspects of rock climbing outfits first, then we'll talk about how to have some fun and creative freedom with your outfit.
Top Priority: You need to wear comfortable clothes while rock climbing.
Don't worry about what you've seen other people wearing in the climbing media or the news. You don't need a $400 Patagonia jacket to be a rock climber, trust me. If this is your first time going out climbing, or you're a relatively new climber just looking to fill up that climbing wardrobe, comfort and functionality should always be your number one priority.
Now that your first priority is clear, let's talk about how to achieve that goal of all-day comfort while still looking great!
(Kat Vick & M. Mou getting pysched for 24HHH)
Step 1: Pants for rock climbing
Choose pants or shorts that have some stretch to them. Depending on where you're going climbing, you'll have some different options here, but one thing you will want to make sure of is that your pants have some stretch to them.
Climbing indoors? Any pants or shorts you would normally wear to the gym will probably work out fine without too much trouble. Leggings, basketball shorts, hiking pants, and sweatpants are all acceptable options. Running shorts are the only thing I maybe wouldn't recommend, especially for conservative climbers. Why? Since you'll be climbing above other people's heads, the view they might get from your high-cut running shorts might be a little more than you're comfortable showing off. But hey, if that's your thing, we're not stopping you!
(Patrick Cook eying up for the ring swing)
Going outside to climb? This scenario takes a little bit more foresight. First of all, check the weather and see what the day's temps looks like. Find out if you'll be climbing in the sun or in the shade, although it's generally a good idea to be prepared for both. Temperatures can be wildly different from the sunny side of the rock to the shady side, and you don't want to ditch your long pants just because it's a hot day in the sun but end up freezing your butt off belaying in the shade.
For your outdoor climbing pants, you'll want something more durable than your regular gym shorts or sweatpants. We like hiking pants or shorts that have a bit of stretch to them like this one. You'll inevitably have to do some hiking to get to your climbing area, so you get the best of both worlds (durability and stretchy comfort) this way.
If you're not sure if your destination will be hot or cold, and you're not settled on whether you'll be in the sun or shade, you can prepare for either option. It's not hard at all! Just remember that you can layer leggings under your shorts, or you can get convertible pants that zip off and turn into shorts. Mind blown, I know!
For women, check out this list of climbing pants that we've already compiled because it's a really great guide to many of the styles of climbing pants out there and gives our top recommendations. Guys, we're in the process of writing your climbing pants guide. So hang tight!
Step 2: Rock Climbing Tops
Now that you have your comfy, stretchy, durable pants picked out for the day, what top are you going to wear?
Your best choice is a lightweight t-shirt or tank top that is neither too tight nor too baggy for ultimate climbing comfort. We recommend a lightweight shirt because you will get warm while you're climbing, and since you're moving vertically, you don't want heavy clothing weighing you down.
(Jen Harman enjoying those sunny desert skies)
But why does the fit matter?
If you wear a shirt that's too tight, you might experience some cinching in your armpits or your shirt might ride up while you're climbing. Again, if this is what you feel comfortable in and it's totally your thing, go for it. But if this does not sound like the climbing experience you want, just opt for a shirt that has more of a relaxed fit.
On the contrary, the downside to wearing shirts that are too baggy is that your shirt might get caught on nearby holds or gear. This can actually become a safety issue if you get clothing material stuck in your belay device or if you're trying to make a move and your shirt snags on some rock and stops you from getting there.
Now that the fit and materials are out of the way, let's talk about YOUR climbing style
We LOVE graphic tees for climbing. Why? Because it's such a great opportunity to show off a little bit of your unique style. Rock climbing is a wonderful place to meet people and strike up all kinds of conversations, and we've found that wearing an expressive climbing t-shirt can often be exactly the thing that's needed to start a conversation and make new friends.
(No skin, no problem! Photo courtesy of Erica Hsu)
We receive so many emails and messages from climbers who wear our t-shirts and make new friends while climbing because they struck up a conversation around their Dynamite Starfish climbing shirt! All of our shirts are meant for climbing, and we hand-pick each product to make sure it's comfortable and durable enough for your rock climbing adventures.
(Sarah Hintz expressing her love for plant power)
Step 3: Climbing & Approach Shoes
There are two types of shoes you'll need for climbing. Climbing shoes and approach shoes.
We've written up an article about some of our favorite climbing shoes here, so if you're looking for some guidance on what climbing shoes to buy, check it out. You can't wear your climbing shoes while hiking to get to the climb. We have seen it done, but don't recommend it. Seriously.
Of course, you can wear sneakers or regular hiking boots, but those will only get you so far. Gym trainers aren't really meant for walking on dirt, so you'll find that they will feel slippery on the trail. Regular hiking boots tend to work pretty well, but if you're going to be doing a lot of hiking over rocks, you might want something that has more grip.
Enter... the approach shoe! There are many types of approach shoes from casual to rugged, but they all have one thing in common: sticky rubber soles. The same shoe rubber that goes into your climbing shoe is applied to a walking shoe in this case. This gives you extra grip while walking on rocks and scrambling over the boulders to get your climbing destination. In most cases, approach shoes are designed to have enough tread to make walking on dirt trails much easier than with your standard road running shoe.
Some approach shoes even come with hard rubber on the toes so that you don't hurt yourself when you accidentally bang your toe on a rock. No matter how much experience you have, it happens to the best of us!
The world of approach shoes is very wide, so have some fun picking out your next pair. For beginners who aren't doing any kind of extensive backcountry hiking to get to their climbs, we really like the Evolv approach shoe for its lightweight build and casual look. You can use it for your everyday casual shoe and it performs well on the rocks too.
For a more heavy duty approach shoe, the Scarpa is popular choice with a rubber toe protector and sturdy build.
Step 4: Should I Wear Socks With my Climbing Shoes?
It's an age-old debate in the climbing community. To sock... or not to sock?
Non-sock wearers will often make fun of sock wearers and vice versa. But which is ACTUALLY better?
The answer is: It depends!
If your climbing shoes are big enough and wearing socks just makes you feel better in them, wear them! There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. If your climbing shoes fit tight, and you feel fine without socks, go barefoot!
Socks can provide an extra layer of protection for your feet on really cold days. Especially if you're on a long climb, your shoes will get cold and your toes can totally go numb from the low temperature. In this case, socks are a total godsend, and the warmer the better! We love a good merino wool sock for its moisture wicking properties and ability to provide warmth while being lightweight.
If you're climbing aggressively, that means climbing something that is physically demanding, you may want to opt for going barefoot underneath those climbing shoes. Why? Because you'll be able to feel more with your feet and the added sensitivity will give you a little bit more control so you can get that move you've been trying to get over and over again. Besides, if you're climbing something challenging, it's likely you'll be trying hard and working up a sweat, so it isn't all that likely you'll suffer from being too cold on the climb.
(Ricky McFerrin going sockless for max sensitivity on this overhanging boulder)
But remember — there are going to be some circumstances where you're working on something challenging in very cold weather where you'll just have to consider the pros and cons of socks.
Step 5: Just get out there and climb!
Worrying about what you're going to wear to the climbing gym or on your first climbing adventure isn't all that fruitful. We hope this article has given you some ideas about what to wear climbing. Chances are, you probably don't have to go out and buy anything just to try it out. You can rent climbing shoes, chalk bags, and harnesses at your local gym, if that's where you'll be spending the day. If you have comfortable and durable clothing at all, you can very likely get by with that for your first foray into climbing.