No equipment is more integral to the sport of rock climbing than footwear. From beginners to outdoor hobbyists to Olympic sport climbing hopefuls, all climbers are familiar with the unique shape, fit, and feel of climbing shoes. Designed to be worn snugly without socks, all climbing shoes feature a dense rubber sole that spans from the back of the heel to the top of the toes. This rubber sole gives climbers the friction necessary to use footholds and avoid slipping along the route. Climbing shoes are designed with subtle variations in order to create specialized shoes for different types of routes. There are three basic variations of climbing footwear. Neutral shoes have a flat sole and a more comfortable, natural fit. Moderate shoes are arched slightly with moderate heel tension. Aggressive shoes are significantly arched with a hooked toe and high heel tension. Aggressive shoes can be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time but allow for the exploitation of challenging footholds that cannot be utilized in less aggressive shoes.
Paired with a rope, the harness is the most important safety apparatus used in rock climbing. During a fall, the harness distributes the climber’s weight across the waist and thighs to keep the climber upright and safely secured to the rope. Harnesses are designed to be flexible, light, and strong. They are worn by all competitors in the sport climbing disciplines of speed and lead climbing.
Climbing ropes are made of nylon with a diameter between 9 and 10mm, tied to the harness using a figure of eight knot. Climbing ropes are designed to support large amounts of weight and the sudden intense force of a fall. The nylon provides elasticity that assists in the stopping of a fall. In lead climbing, the athlete must clip the rope into quickdraws placed periodically along the route. At the base of the wall, a belayer holds the opposite end of the rope via a harness to secure any potential falls. Speed climbing, due to the rapid elevation changes and equally rapid falls, uses an auto belay system as a safer alternative to a rope.
Quickdraws are an essential safety feature of outdoor climbing that also factor into the lead climbing discipline. They are specialized carabiners, attached to a sewn sling, that provide an anchor point for the rope to catch on during a fall. The carabiners are non-locking and shaped to make the process of clipping in the rope as easy as possible, often using one hand. In outdoor climbing, climbers often must bring their own quickdraws and attach them to the wall as they climb, but in competitive lead climbing the quickdraws are already installed.
It is rare to find a serious climber anywhere in the world without a bag of chalk strapped to their hip. Chalk dries moisture on the hands and allows for a more secure grip on holds. Climbers chalk up once before attempting an ascent and, depending on the duration of the ascent, often multiple additional times while suspended on the wall.
Modern artificial climbing holds are usually made of polyurethane resin, but with a rough, pumice-like surface to provide friction. Each hold is bolted into a porous wall in at least one place. There are several types of holds and infinite sizes and shapes from which route setters can chose from to form routes.