How to Save Money when Rock Climbing

“I find that rock climbing is the finest, most healthiest sport in the whole world.
It is much healthier than most;
look at baseball, where 10,000 sit on their ass and watch a handful of players (sic).”
— John Salathé, 1974.

Although this is one of those hobbies that will make your life insurer squeamish, The climbing bug is a voracious and hardy little insect. Once it has sunk its iron jaws into a victim, it is there to set up shop. Ever since Royal Robbins first crawled up Half Dome’s northwest face in the verdant Yosemite Valley, climbers have been itching to strap on their shoes, grab a “jug” and hoist away.

Rock Climbing on a BudgetIn recent years, thanks to the endemic spread of indoor climbing gymnasiums, participation in rock climbing has exploded like a hydrogen bomb. Everyone from nine-year-old girls to 40-year-old men dreams of frolicking on the rocks with Chris Sharma. Unfortunately, such dreams come hand in hand with a price tag. While an indoor climber can be sufficient with a pair of shoes and a chalk bag, outdoorsmen require a full set of gear, to wit, a fat wallet.

Not to fret. Here are five ways to “send” the Nose of El Cap itself without even shelling out $10.

That may have been slightly hyperbolic.

Tip 1: Don’t Buy It

Seriously, it is that simple. Some gadgets and gear, while useful for 5.14a professional athlete, are superfluous for the amateur climber.

• Hangboards. Tiffany Levine might be able to do one-finger pull-ups, but the rest of the world can barely pull up their pants, let alone their bodies. Hangboards require Herculean forearm and finger strength, both of which make short work of the hand’s tender tendons and ligaments.
• Campus boards. Same story as hangboards, except worse.
• Sliding nuts, wide-crack anchors and other specialized pieces of protection. The fresh climber can barely crimp a flake and place a nut, much less properly position a twin-axle SLCD (spring-loaded camming device). Plus, improperly placing specialized gear like micronuts can prove deadly in a fall. While advanced climbing gear certainly has its place, it is not on the rack of the inexperienced traditional climber.
• Pitons. Those who don’t get this joke never summited anything steeper than their stairway.

Tip 2: Purchase an All-Around Climbing Shoe

Professional performance rock climbing shoes look butch. Built around foot-shaped models called lasts, they have downturned sticky rubber roles for optimum grip. Unfortunately, they are as stiff as Kevlar and torque the uninitiated foot into a shape resembling abused Play-Doh. While these performance shoes are superb for tough crack climbing and gymnastic bouldering, Average Joe has no need for them. Rather, flat-soled shoes with Velcro straps or laces are the perfect solution. Examples include the 5.10 Spires, Mad Rocks New Phoenix and La Sportiva Miura.

Tip 3: Buy with the Rock in Mind

Unfortunately, not all rock artists can afford multiple racks. So buy with the rock in mind.
• Granite, a strong and durable rock, makes up many big wall routes and famous crack climbs. In traditional climbing, nuts (chocks) and SLCDS are most often used when climbing granite.
• Limestone, a smooth and temperamental rock, is famous for its variety of features: slopers, flakes, pockets and everything in between. Tri-cams, nuts and small SLCDs work well when “trad” climbing a limestone line. Beginners should avoid twin-rope systems.
• Sandstone, a sticky and soft rock, is renowned for being a boulderer’s playground, no protection needed. Other sandstone, such as the type found in Joshua Tree National Park, is legendary for crack climbing and is well suited to SLCDs and tri-cams. “Bomber” holds are sparse, and wet sandstone may be “chossy” or rotten.

Bonus Tip: Ingratiate yourself with a climbing partner with a full rack and use his or her gear for free!

Tip 4: Buy Online

This paragraph begins with a caveat or two. Some bits of gear, such as shoes, should be purchased in brick-and-mortar stores if at all possible. Other products, such as ropes, slings and carabiners, should be purchased with extreme care, as there is no way to know how many 40-foot falls a rope sold on eBay has sustained. With that said, harnesses, helmets, slackline and other equipment can be bought from reputable online retailers at discounted prices, potentially saving a climber hundreds of dollars.

Tip 5: Climb Locally

Sure, every man or woman who ever hooked a heel has fantasized over Cordillera del Paine in Patagonia, El Capitan in Yosemite, the Cirque of the Unclimbables in the Northwest Territories, and Fontainebleau in France. Unfortunately, not everyone is Lynn Hill. Climbing internationally can become ridiculously expensive. Even cheaper summits such as the Matterhorn or Mt. McKinley require permit, travel and gear fees. Why not climb locally? Even the pancake-flat Midwest offers limestone bluffs and granite boulders in Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois.

Go on. Put one up.