What to Wear Rock Climbing: Complete Guide to the Basics

Finding the right apparel to match your climate & your climbing needs takes some experience. Here's our guide to what to wear for rock climbing.

If you’re heading out to an indoor wall or to a National Park to do some rock climbing, what are you going to wear? Most people just throw on whatever old clothes they have lying in the wardrobe, and head off for a climb.

However, like with all other sports, there is specific clothing and gear that suits rock climbing. Finding the right apparel to match your climate and your climbing needs takes some experience. After a few climbs, you’ll figure out what works for you and what you can leave behind at home.

If you want to skip the learning curve, then this article focuses on the best apparel to wear during your first climb.

What to Wear During Indoor Rock Climbing?

Sure, you might want to head off to El Capitan in Yosemite, but the reality is that most climbers start their climbing career in the gym. Learning the basics on a wall with the right safety equipment, PPE, and qualified instructors help you get a feel for what you can expect in a real-life rock climbing situation at a National Park.

When learning to climb on an indoor wall, comfort is your top priority when choosing your wardrobe. Loose-fitting shorts and a t-shirt are all you need to learn the basics of climbing indoors. Most facilities will have equipment and climbing shoes for rental, which you can use until you decide whether or not the sport is for you.

Let’s take an in-depth look at how men and women should dress for their first day on the wall.

Read: The 5 Best Rock Climbing Gloves

Indoor Climbing Gear for Ladies

Ladies heading to the climbing club for a session should consider wearing stretchy pants with a good fit. Adjusting your pants as you’re scaling the wall is not an option, and can leave you feeling somewhat embarrassed if they start to creep below your panty line.

Synthetic leggings or spandex are your top choices for an indoor climb. These pants and leggings won’t slip or creep as you move your body along the wall. The elastic waistband and stretchy materials provide excellent levels of comfort and flexibility, giving you a full range of motion in your hips.

If you intend to climb with ropes, then make sure the waistband of the leggings sits above your waistline to prevent the harness and ropes from pulling your pants down.

If it’s hot out, and you want to keep your legs cool, then try climbing in some loose-fitting Capri shorts. Avoid wearing regular-cut shorts, as the harness will make them creep toward your waist, exposing your panties to all the players.

When it comes to selecting the right t-shirt, we prefer sleeveless options that allow for freedom of movement in your shoulders. Avoid wearing cotton t-shirts, as your sweat will cause the shirt to stick to your skin, making you feel uncomfortable during the climb.

Read: The 5 Best Crash Pads – Top Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

Indoor Climbing Gear for Men

For the guys, climbing on an indoor wall doesn’t require any special clothing. You’re fine if you use your regular street clothes. A t-shirt (preferably made from moisture-wicking material), and a pair of shorts are all you need when heading to the gym.

However, some guys might find that their shorts don’t provide them with the range of motion they need in their hips and legs. The shorts might be constrictive, disabling your movements. Wear a pair of athletic pants to mitigate this issue, and the stretchy fabric will ensure you can reach any hold with your feet.

Avoid using basketball or gym shorts when climbing. These shorts are typically baggy and loose. While that’s great for the basketball court, they catch on the harness and ropes during your climb. Choose shorts with stiffer or stretchy materials for the best experience.

When it comes to selecting the right t-shirts for guys who climb, the same rules apply as they do to women. Climb in a sleeveless top, made from a moisture-wicking material.

There are plenty of specialized climbing clothes available from brands like Patagonia, the North Face, and many other climbing apparel companies. However, if you’re heading to an indoor climbing venue, then these specialized clothes aren’t entirely necessary while you’re learning.

Best Selling Rock Climbing Gloves

Bestseller No. 1
Outdoor Full Finger Half Finger Climbing Gloves,Using for Climbers,Rock Climbing, Adventure and Outdoor Sports (M)
  • 1.Size:M L XL
  • 2.Colour:BLACK
  • 3.Type: Full Finger Climbing Gloves/ Half Finger Climbing Gloves
  • 4.Character: Gloves adopt wear-resistant microfiber material which is wear-resistant, anti-slip, flexible, lightweight, wnt and faater resistast drying make them much functional and comfortable.
  • 5.Method for choosing the size,According to palm circumference not including thumb refer to size chart. Circumference of the palm: M(7.5"-7.9",19cm-20cm)L(7.9"-8.7",20cm-22cm) XL(8.7"-9.4",22cm-24cm)
Bestseller No. 2
Seibertron Full Finger Padded Palm Lightweight Breathable Climbing Rope Gloves for Climbers, Rock Climbing, Rescue, Adventure, Sailing, Kayaking, Outdoor Sports Black S
  • Method for choosing the size,According to palm circumference not including thumb refer to left size chart.
  • Circumference of the palm: XS(6.3"-6.9",16cm-17.5cm) S(6.9"-7.5",17.5cm-19cm) M(7.5"-8.1",19cm-20.5cm)L(8.1"-8.7",20.5cm-22cm) XL(8.7"-9.3",22cm-23.5cm)XXL(9.3"-10", 23.5cm-25cm)

Do You Need to Wear Socks with Your Climbing Shoes?

This question is somewhat controversial in climbing circles. Expert climbers prefer to wear their climbing shoes without socks. The pros state that socks reduce the feel of the surface under your feet. Therefore, leaving your socks off when climbing gives you a better feel for your environment.

However, if you’re a beginner visiting the wall for the first time, the chances are that you’ll be renting your shoes. If this is the caser, then make sure you bring along a pair of socks. The last thing you want to happen is to catch a case of athlete’s foot from someone else.

When it’s time for you to purchase a pair of climbing shoes for yourself, you’ll need to decide whether you prefer wearing socks when climbing, or if you want to go without socks. Climbing shoes require a tight fit around your foot to avoid chaffing and blisters forming while you climb.

Therefore, if you purchase a pair of climbing shoes, and you fit them with socks, they might be too loose if you decide you want to go barefoot.

Best Selling Rock Climbing Shoes

Bestseller No. 1
Five Ten Men's Gambit VCS Rock Climbing Shoe - SemiSolar Green - 8.5
  • Stealth C4 rubber for best grip available
  • Cotton lining has minimal stretch, no painful break in time
  • Leather upper for durability
  • Velcro closure for easy on and off
  • Stiff midsole reduces foot fatigue

What to Wear for Rock Climbing Outdoors?

When you think you’re ready to venture into the Great Outdoors for your first real rock climbing experience, it’s time to change your wardrobe from what you were wearing in the gym.

The indoor climbing wall is a closed environment, but outside in the real world, you have to deal with other environmental factors, such as the weather. In most cases, the clothes you wear in the gym will suffice for real rock climbing, but you’ll probably need the addition of a few items to your rock climbing wardrobe.

There are plenty of brands such as Patagonia, Prana, and La Sportiva that design climbing-specific clothing designed to provide the ultimate climbing experience for the wearer.

While wearing technical clothing designed for climbing is ideal, it’s expensive, and you don’t need to break your bank account if you want to buy climbing gear.

When assessing your clothing for your climb, we recommend that you take the following into account before you start planning your climbing wardrobe.

What’s the Length of the Approach?

Climbing shoes are a critical component of your climbing wardrobe, but you can’t use these shoes to walk the approach to your climb. Climbing shows have unique shapes for climbing walls and finding holds. They feature a curved sole that makes them unsuitable for walking.

The approach requires additional footwear other than your climbing shoes, and the terrain determines your footwear choice.

The length of the approach your taking on your climb defines the type of footwear you need. If you’re traveling a short distance to your approach, then you can wear any kind of comfortable shoe you like, you could even get away with sandals if it’s the right environment.

For longer approaches, you need a comfortable pair of sneakers or walking shoes. If you’re going to be traversing rocky or difficult terrain during your approach, then stick with some hiking boots to protect your feet and ankles. Spraining your ankle on the approach will leave you at the bottom of the face while the rest of your team makes the accent.

The idea behind selecting footwear for the approach is to keep your feet supported and comfortable before the climb. Climbing stresses your feet, and you need them in tip-top shape when you arrive at the foot of the cliff or mountain.

What Kind of Climbing Are You Doing
What Kind of Climbing Are You Doing?

What Kind of Climbing Are You Doing?

While your spandex pants and leggings are fine for use in an indoor climbing environment, they’re not suitable for use when climbing outdoors.

Outdoor climbs up jagged and sharp cliff faces can damage your leggings, putting holes in them. Leggings also provide minimal protection to your legs from scuffing and scraping that goes on when climbing on real rock surfaces.

Leave the leggings at home, and invest in a pair of decent climbing pants from a leading brand like Patagonia. Dynama pants are a good option, and while they’re somewhat thin, they provide excellent insulation in colder weather, and they’re light enough to keep you cool when the weather turns warm.

However, if you’re going out for a day of dragging or boulder-walking, then a comfortable pair of leggings or shorts are all you need for the trip.

Consider the Weather Conditions Before You Climb

Any good rock climber will always check the weather before they plan and execute their climb. In a closed environment like the indoor climbing wall, you don’t have to contend with nature. The weather and wind play a significant role in your climb, and if it turns bad, you might have to cancel your climb for safety reasons.

When looking at the weather forecast for your climbing day, check the wind speeds, temperature, rain, and whether its sunny or cloudy. All of these climate factors play a role in how you dress for your climb. Assess the conditions, and then plan your wardrobe accordingly.

Climbing Gear Materials

Climbing requires movements that can stress the fabrics in your clothing. Even specialized gear from leading brands ends up succumbing to the rugged use during climbs.

One of the tips we can give you in selecting your clothes is to avoid cotton at all costs. Cotton is durable and flexible, but it absorbs moisture. If you’re wearing a cotton t-shirt when climbing, you’ll find that you quickly drench it in sweat, even on a colder day.

Climbing an open-rock face is wet clothing is uncomfortable. The colder wind at higher altitudes will rack your body with cold, making it feel like you’re wearing a cold, damp rag.

We suggest you look into t-shirts or sleeveless vests made from moisture-wicking materials. While a t-shirt from a leading brand might cost you a bit more, you’ll notice the difference in the efficiency and comfort of your climb.

Wool-spandex or synthetic-spandex fabrics are your top choices when selecting the right materials for your climbing gear.

There are plenty of professional climbing clothes available
There are plenty of professional climbing clothes available

How to Layer Your Clothes for Climbing?

To ensure you stay comfortable during your climb, you need to master the layering technique. Remember the number-one rule of climbing clothing – Never wear cotton! If you have plenty of warm layers on, with a cotton t-shirt underneath, it will still absorb your sweat and will feel cold against your skin when you stop moving.

Cotton is fine if you’re going bouldering or cragging, but when you up on the face at altitude, you’ll really feel the cold. Switch the cotton for a synthetic or wool base layer.

Ladies can wear a sports bra made from synthetic materials, add a thermal base layer, and then cover everything with a climbing jacket if it’s cold outdoors. The Patagonia R1 is an excellent choice for a climbing jacket.

You can also bring along a lightweight down or fleece-lined jacket in your daypack as well, and a hoody or windbreaker as well.

Layering your clothing is effective, and allows you to strip your layers as you start to feel warm during the climb. However, it’s critical to assess the weather before you head out for the day. Plan your wardrobe per the environmental conditions you expect to encounter on your climb.

Climbing in the summer requires fewer layers, but you’ll also need to contend with more sweat coming off of your body. If you’re climbing on a hot summer day, make sure you take along some sunscreen and a hat as well!

In Closing

There are plenty of professional climbing clothes available, but if you’re a newbie to climbing, then you don’t need to kit yourself out right away. We recommend sticking with the basics until you’re ready for your first outdoor climb.

When purchasing your first pair of rock climbing shoes, we recommend you break them in with two to three sessions on the wall before you head out to tackle whatever nature puts in your way.

Adrienne is a traveller and blogger with many years experience of the outdoors life. An adrenaline junkie at heart she loves to try different sports and activities all year round. With a degree in journalism she combines her love of sports with writing here at Contact

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