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  • Writer's pictureKhristina Rhead

Top Secret Tips to Optimize Your Climbing Closet

Climbing can be an unpredictable sport when it comes to weather and what to wear. One minute you're on the ground feeling hot in a short sleeve t-shirt, and the next you’re in the middle of the wall freezing from wind gusts and wishing you had a jacket.

Ambassadr Maya Madere. Photo by Dan Gajda.

Another scenario: you're wearing one of your favorite pairs of leggings, you’re going for a sick move, and your leggings get stuck on a jagged rock and rip. Clearly, there are multiple factors you should take into consideration when deciding what to wear climbing. Hope the following information will save you some time and heartache (R.I.P leggings) when planning your next outdoor adventure.

The first thing you want to think about when choosing clothes for climbing is their durability and stretchiness. While climbing you have to deal with a lot of sharp rocks and awkward body positions. There's the potential for a lot of splits, high knees, and balancing in weird ways. That’s why it’s important to wear clothes that can withstand rough surfaces while also allowing for a plethora of body movements. When it comes to pants, look for ones that are loose-fitting, quick drying, stretchy, and durable. In terms of fabric, synthetic, like nylon, is your best bet. This type of material meets all the requirements for a good climbing pant.

Ambassadr Tim Kang.

If you’ll be partaking in climbing that requires a harness, i.e. top roping or lead, you’ll want to consider pocket placement. It’s a good idea to have pockets either above or below the harness, otherwise, you may run into some problems: you won’t be able to have access to items in your pockets while climbing, and if the pockets contain zippers or buttons, they may irritate your skin by rubbing against it. If the type of climbing you’re doing doesn’t require a harness, i.e. bouldering, feel free to wear shorts if it’s warm and disregard the in-depth discussion on pockets.

Photo courtesy of Ambassadr Alexa Romano.

Next, you’ll want to think about layering. If climbing indoors at a gym, this won’t matter. If you’re climbing outdoors, however, this is very important to consider. Weather can change at any moment, especially at different altitudes while you’re climbing. You’ll want to bring clothes that prepare you for the changing conditions. The type of climbing you do will also determine what’s necessary in terms of what clothes to bring. If you’re bouldering or doing one pitch climbs of any sort (top rope, sport, trad), a change in altitude won’t really happen. You can expect to keep most of these layers in your backpack to have on hand just in case. Multipitch, however, is a whole different beast. You may be up on the wall for hours or days. And as you ascend into higher and higher altitudes, the weather will change. That’s where the layering system comes in handy.

Start with a base layer: a short or long sleeve shirt. It’s best if the shirt is moisture wicking and quick drying to keep you warm and avoid chafing. Synthetic or merino wool is a good fabric choice. Sticking with a light-colored shirt that reflects the sun’s rays rather than absorbs them is also a good move. You don’t want to be burning up when you’re heading into the crux of the climb!

After the base layer comes the mid layer. The importance of this layer is that it keeps you warm. For this one, you’ll want to pick a long sleeve shirt that is insulating and moisture wicking. It’s good to choose an option that’s made out of down, merino wool, or polyester fleece. If you decide to go with another type of fabric, you’ll want to pick something that will trap your body heat and keep you toasty on those cold days. Remember, you don’t want this layer or the base layer to be too bulky or restrict movement. For the mid layer, try to choose an option that’s stretchy, yet warm, and can fit comfortably under the last layer. Check out the fleeces section on Switchbackr for good options.

Ambassadr Nahla Gedeon Achi in a great insulating layer and stretchy pant!

The final element in the layering trifecta is the outer layer. This is the layer that protects you from rain, snow, and wind. As expected, the outer layer consists of a hard-shell jacket that is windproof, water resistant, stretchy, and breathable. The jacket will be made out of some type of synthetic fabric. As with pants, it’s important to think about pocket access if you’re climbing with a harness. If taking sick pictures while you’re on the wall is important to you, pick a jacket that has a chest pocket for easy access above the harness! Also, get one with zippers so you don’t drop your phone!

Even if bouldering for the day, chuck a few of these layers in your pack to keep warm as you rest between sends.

Photo courtesy of Ambassadr Nahla Gedeon Achi.

My last piece of advice about what to wear when you go climbing has to do with the size, shape, and weight of the clothes you pick. With all three layers, you’ll want to choose options that are easy to put in a backpack and are lightweight. Sometimes climbs require a hike to get to and being able to fit your extra clothes in a backpack with your gear is the best.

About the Author

Khristina Rhead is a rock-climbing fanatic, writer, and environmental activist. She studied Cultural Anthropology in college, but discovered her true passions to be outdoor recreation, storytelling, and environmentalism in the last couple of years. Khristina cares deeply about diversifying the outdoors. With her travels, outdoor recreation, and social media she hopes to inspire other women of color to get outside as much as they can, and to try new things.

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