What to Wear When Rock Climbing

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It may seem like a ridiculous question, but it is one that many new climbers find themselves contemplating. What to wear when you go rock climbing?

Like many other sports, rock climbing-specific clothing is available. And as in other sports, they generally trend towards higher price points to reflect their niche market.

But just as you may choose to wear your comfy everyday clothes for a pick-up basketball game or a friendly game of football, the same rules apply for rock climbing.

The clothes you choose to wear are dependent on the nature of the climbing you’re engaging in. While you may choose to wear certain clothes to the gym, they may not be appropriate for climbing outdoors. In fact, for certain types of climbing, it is essential to wear the correct gear.

In this article, we will outline what to wear when rock climbing and to consider when certain items are appropriate.

What to Wear for Indoor Rock Climbing Gyms?What to Wear for Indoor Rock Climbing Gyms?

When climbing indoors, it isn’t necessary to consider environmental factors such as the weather or the time of year. Being able to disregard these concerns allows you to focus on comfort.

For the gym, clothing with a lot of movement, be it loose or tight, is ideal. This fit allows you to give your maximum effort without worrying about being unable to perform a technique.

Bear in mind that clothing that is too loose, especially around the ankles, may get in the way and hinder your performance instead of enhancing it. In the same way, clothing that is too tight without give will limit your ability to stretch and maximize your reach.

An essential factor to consider when climbing is the amount of protection your clothing provides. While shorts are comfortable and highly versatile, they leave your legs exposed, increasing the risk of abrasions. Furthermore, specific techniques such as knee bars are far more comfortable when wearing pants that end below the knee.

For a complete guide to rock climbing pants, check out our article the best pants for rock climbing.

Recommended Indoor Rock Climbing Clothing for Men

Most of the time, whatever clothes you feel comfortable wearing when going to the gym or even comfortable street clothes are adequate. A few things to bear in mind are the stretch of the clothes, especially the pants.

An excellent option is stretchy jeans such as those offered by Axiom or even generic versions available from many retailers. Remember to have a tighter fit around your ankles and waist to avoid stepping on loose fabric or having it bunch up under your harness.

If you choose to wear shorts, keep in mind that any exposed skin is open to abrasion. That being said, shorts that are too short run the risk of flashing those below you. An excellent option is to wear gym shorts under your regular shorts, giving you a comfortable fit without running the risk of exposing more than you intend.

When choosing a top, most men prefer to wear a simple tee. However, any shirt that allows you freedom of movement will serve for gym climbing.

prAna Men's Standard Stretch Zion Pant, Mud, 32W x 32L
  • THE ROLL-UP PANT: The Stretch Zion Pant takes every adventure head-on; Made with our original Stretch Zion fabric and featuring roll-up leg snaps, you can tackle the crag and have beers after too
  • CASUAL STYLE: Rugged, simple design in neutral colors that pair well with anything; Features an adjustable waistband, ventilated inseam gusset and an angled dual-entry cargo pocket
  • WATER REPELLENT: Quick-dry Stretch Zion woven fabric, a durable water repellent (DWR) finish and UPF 50+ protection keep you cool and dry on sunny days

Last update: 2021-09-18 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Recommend Indoor Rock Climbing Clothing for Women

While the same criteria when selecting gym climbing clothes for men apply to women, women have a few additional options. In addition to shorts and pants, leggings, yoga pants, and unitards are a favorite choice for women in climbing gyms the world over.

Not only are these options extremely comfortable, but they offer the maximum freedom of movement and decrease the risk of loose clothing getting in the way.

  • Top: Any T-shirt or Vest
    • Coral Bells Tech Tank
  • Bottom: Pants, Shorts, or Leggings with stretch
prAna Women's Petite Halle Pant, Black, 4 Short
  • Stretch 'Zion' fabric with durable water repellent (DWR) finish
  • Trouser styling with button front fly. Slight boot leg

Last update: 2021-09-18 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What to Wear for Outdoor Climbing at the Crags?

What to Wear for Outdoor Climbing at the Crags?

Unlike climbing in the gym, outdoor climbing is subject to significant temperature variations and exposure to the elements. These variables require that you consider these factors when choosing what clothing to wear for a day at the crag.

For those climbing trips where you’re climbing from sunup to sundown, the temperature can change significantly. Dressing appropriately will considerably improve the enjoyability of the excursion. By dressing in layers, you will ensure that you can adapt to the changing conditions by merely removing or increasing the layers you have on.

In addition to considering the appropriate clothing for climbing, it is also worth considering the approach to your climb. If it is long, you may need to bring extra clothes to make the trek more comfortable.

Recommended Outdoor Climbing Clothing for Men

In warm weather, wearing what you wear in the climbing gym works for out on the crag. However, by wearing layers, you can easily regulate for any temperature fluctuations that may occur in the day.

When climbing in colder temperatures, it is essential to dress appropriately. In these situations, climbing-specific clothing shines as they provide the necessary protection while providing the characteristics vital to climbing.

  • Top: Layers from Base to Outer Layer
    • Base: Icebreaker Oasis
    • Mid: Patagonia R1
    • Outer: Spray Way Palmer Jacket
  • Bottom: Pants or Shorts with stretch
Skins Men's A400 Compression Long Tights, Black/Gold, X-Large
  • Specifically placed Memory MX panels offer maximum support to key muscle groups and help reduce IT Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS)

Last update: 2021-09-18 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Recommend Outdoor Climbing Clothing for Women

Climbing clothing for women is similar to those for men. In the same way, what is worn in the gym can be worn to the crag on most days.

When necessary, there are many options to choose from specific to women climbers that will provide all the essential characteristics.

  • Top: Layers from Base to Outer Layer
  • Bottom: Pants or Shorts with stretch
    • Base: So Solid Leggings
    • Outer: Patagonia Venga

Last update: 2021-09-18 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Should You Wear Something Different if Bouldering vs. Sport or Trad

Should You Wear Something Different if Bouldering vs. Sport or Trad

What to Wear Climbing?

A major determining factor of the type of clothing you should wear is the style of climbing that you are pursuing. While the basics remain the same—comfort and maneuverability—the environmental factors play a much more significant role in the various styles.

What to Wear Bouldering?

When bouldering, comfort, and maneuverability are paramount. As these climbs tend to be highly technical and require a lot of power, you don’t want to wear clothing that will restrict your movement. Furthermore, as the climbs tend to be short, environmental factors are negligible, as you can put on and remove layers after each attempt.

What to Wear Sport Climbing?

Depending on your level, sport climbs can be fairly cruisy or challenging. This variation requires that you wear clothes that fit your needs. As sport climbs are more prolonged than bouldering routes, yet shorter than trad routes, environmental factors are a more significant concern. You don’t want to be halfway up a face and regret not having enough layers because of a slight yet chilling breeze and have to descend. Depending on the length of the climb and the amount of time you spend on the rock face, you may want to dress in layers.

What to Wear Trad Climbing?

Trad climbs, by and large, are lengthy multi-pitch routes that can last from relatively short hour-long routes to multiple day ascents. For these serious climbs where downclimbing isn’t an option, being prepared is essential. It is crucial to bear in mind that as you ascend the rock face, you are exposed to the wind, and wind chill becomes a vital factor. It is essential to dress in layers to stay warm and minimize the risk of exposure.

Climbing Pants vs. Climbing Shorts: Who Wins and When?

Climbing Pants vs. Climbing Shorts: Who Wins and When?

Choosing to wear climbing pants or shorts is entirely a matter of preference.

Many climbers feel that less material equates to an easier climb, while others find that the extra material provides necessary protection. Both options come with their pros and cons.

Pants: the benefits of wearing pants lies primarily in the protection they provide. This protection comes in the form of protection from the elements—such as the cold or wind—and from injury sustained when climbing—such as abrasions.

Many climbers find the pant legs themselves to be particularly useful for cleaning the soles of their shoes when attempting complicated maneuvers.

Climbing Pants vs. Climbing Shorts Who Wins and When

Shorts: shorts are an advantage in hot weather or when performing techniques where any additional clothing is a hindrance. When wearing shorts, it is advisable to wear shorts that reach at least to the knee. These shorts have the advantage of protecting the climber when performing techniques such as kneebars.

How is What You Wear When Climbing Important?

How is What You Wear When Climbing Important?

The choice in clothing worn when climbing is essential in several ways:

First and foremost, the clothing you choose to wear must not be restrictive and allow you freedom of movement. There are few annoyances in climbing as irritating as pushing for a difficult move only to be brought up short by inflexible clothing. On the other hand, it cannot be so loose as to get in the way or get caught on the rock.

Secondly, depending on the environmental conditions, the right clothing provides protection. Climbing in the cold besides being uncomfortable can cause your muscles to cramp, making it difficult or impossible to ascend.

Finally, some climbers choose to wear their everyday clothing when climbing. While this choice is cost-effective, this clothing lacks the benefits inherent in dedicated climbing clothes provided by manufacturers.

What Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Climbing Outfit

What Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Climbing Outfit

The Fit

The most crucial factor to consider when choosing your outfit, whether at the crag or in the gym. It is imperative that your clothing is comfortable and unrestrictive. Also, consider clothing that:

  • It is not too loose: pants or shirts that are too baggy can get caught on the climbing surface or stepped on.
  • It has a lot of “give”: the deal clothing can stretch as far as you are. This stretch ensures that your movements are free and uninhibited.
  • It is the right size: make sure your pants are not too long so as not to step in them while shorts are long enough that they can be worn comfortably with a harness and don’t bunch up. Furthermore, shorts that are too short leave little to the imagination for climbers below you.

Fabric Properties

The fabric you wear plays a massive role in the comfort levels you experience in the gym and on the crag. When selecting clothing, be sure to consider:

  • Breathability: this property allows for air and moisture to pass through the fabric, reducing sweat and, in turn, preventing the material from sticking to your body.
  • Moisture Wicking: another feature that reduces sweat, this property removes moisture from your skin.
  • Quick Drying: this property allows the fabric to dry quickly.
  • Wind resistance: an essential factor to consider on trad climbs or cold, windy days, this property prevents wind from penetrating your clothing and chilling your body.
  • Heat Retention/Dissipation: a vital factor to consider when climbing outdoors, depending on environmental factors. This property ensures that you stay cool when it’s hot out and warm when it’s cold.
  • Durability: the toughness of the fabric will ensure that your clothing lasts over seasons of climbing and does not need to be replaced over much.

What Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Climbing Outfit

Additional Features

A benefit in buying climbing-specific clothing from reputable manufacturers are the nifty features that are included in the garment. These include but are not limited to:

  • Gusseted Crotch: this feature is an additional piece of fabric that is added to the crotch in clothing worn on the lower portion of the body. This feature allows for a greater range of motion and increases the durability of the fabric.
  • Harness Compatible: this feature ensures that clothing does not bunch up under a harness as well as keeping pockets out of the way and usable in both upper and lower body clothing items.
  • Chalk Bag Loop: a nifty feature that allows you to attach a chalk bag directly yo your pants. Especially useful for boulderers who want to take their chalk with them.
  • Brush Holders: like a chalk bag loops, this feature allows you to carry a brush with you up the rock face easily.
  • Zippered Pockets: a handy feature, zippered pockets will prevent you from dropping valuable items such as your phone that you choose to ascend with.
  • Helmet Compatible Hoods: clothing worn on the torso designed with a low profile to accommodate a helmet. Other items include a large hood that can accommodate wearing a helmet.

Environmental Factors

When climbing outdoors, it is crucial to be prepared. This means that you need to be weatherproof! Depending on environmental conditions, you may need to bring additional clothing for the approach to the crag.

If the weather is extremely cold, this may consist of additional warm pants, a jacket, a hat, gloves, and socks. Remember, in cold weather, layering is imperative!

For warmer weather and long approaches, appropriate hiking footwear may be needed.

Style: not the most essential factor to consider, many available options transition seamlessly from the crag to the bar or office. These items are either made to be stylish or mimic regular clothing such as stretchy climbing jeans.

Wrapping Things Up: What to Wear When Rock Climbing

While many climbers find that clothing specific for climbing is unnecessary, finding the right apparel for each situation, especially when climbing outdoors, can make a world of difference. The freedom of movement, breathability, and protection offered are valuable traits and, when combined with durability, make the purchase of even a single set of dedicated climbing clothes a worthy investment.

With a large variety of climbing-specific clothes to choose from, every climber will find the clothes that work best for them. It is important to remember that the clothing worn is dictated by location, the style of climbing, and, ultimately, environmental factors.

By following our guide, you will easily find what to wear when rock climbing and what works best for you.

Since you read this post, you might also like to read our post on what to wear indoor rock climbing here.

Looking for climbing gear? Then make sure to check out our reviews on the best climbing gear:

> The Best Climbing Pants

> The Best Beginner Climbing Shoes

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