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What Gear Do I Need to Start Lead Climbing Outdoors?

Virignia has been climbing both indoors and outdoors for the past 5 years.

Let's discuss some essential gear for outdoor climbing.

Let's discuss some essential gear for outdoor climbing.

So, you’ve decided to progress from indoor to outdoor climbing. Great!

For lead outdoor climbing you need all the gear for indoor climbing plus the following:

  1. Rope
  2. Helmet
  3. Nuts and cams
  4. Nut tool
  5. Slings
  6. Quickdraws
  7. Karabiners
  8. Cordelette


Buying the right rope is of paramount importance for your safety. Buy only from reputable sellers, such as Black Diamond. I bought this Black Diamond rope about a year ago and it still serves me well. It is certified by the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA), which is a federation responsible for testing the safety of climbing ropes. If the rope you are interested in doesn’t have the UIAA standard, do not buy it! Purchasing a cheap rope will save you a few bucks but it could cost you your health or even your life.

The Black Diamond rope is dynamic, which means that it stretches when the climber falls. Pay attention to whether the rope you are buying is dynamic or static, as the latter does not absorb the impact of falls. Static ropes are not suitable for climbing.

The Black Diamond rope is great for beginners. It is 9.9 mm thick, which makes it very durable and suitable for all weather conditions. After having used it all year (sometimes very intensely!), my rope has no traces of wear and tear. What I also like about the rope is that it’s dry-treated, which means it doesn’t absorb as much water as ropes without dry treatment. Although dry-treated ropes are more expensive, the investment will pay off for those who want to climb in humid conditions. Wet ropes lose a lot of their strength.

Pay attention to what size you choose. A 40-metre rope should be enough for most beginner climbs; however, later on in your climbing adventure, you may need a longer one. Remember that the rope should be at least double the climb you want to tackle. In other words, with a 40-metre rope, you can climb a 20-metre pitch. On the other hand, a longer rope weighs more and chances are that as a beginner you won’t need that additional length anyway. Before deciding on the rope, check how tall the climbs you want to tackle are.

A good rope is essential for your safety.

A good rope is essential for your safety.


Nuts are the basic passive protection for every climber. Passive just means that they have no movable parts. Nuts are pieces of gear you place in cracks when you are lead climbing. This DMM Nut Set should cover all the bases if you are just a beginner. I bought them more than one year ago, and they are sufficient for the majority of short climbs. On some climbs, I need more small nuts on some routes, but I usually rely on my partner to supply those. The price may be prohibitive for some, but buying the whole set is cheaper than buying nuts separately, and they are going to last you for many years to come. My friend recently replaced his DMM nuts after 10 years of use. And even after that time, they were perfectly safe to use, and the only quibble was that they were terribly scratched.

DMM nuts set very well in rock, which is great for protection. Unfortunately, they are sometimes difficult to take out, and that’s why you should always have a nut tool with you. Despite those difficulties, I’ve never had to leave any of my nuts behind.

Useful tip: guidebooks usually contain information about what size of nuts you need for your route, so that you don’t have to carry all your nuts with you at all times.


Cams are the most popular active protection gear. Because of their moving parts, cams are easier to place in cracks and crevices and easier to get out than nuts. Unfortunately, they are also more expensive than nuts. My cams have served me extremely well and rescued me during some pretty nasty falls when I was lead climbing. You can buy a set of cams for a few hundred bucks. However, if you don't have that kind of money don't despair—you can always buy them separately for about $50-60 per piece, depending on your requirements. Acquire them gradually as your climbing skills improve.


A well-fitted helmet is indispensable for outdoor climbing to protect you from falling rocks. You can buy a new or a second-hand one. Always put on a helmet when you are close to the climbing station, even if you’re just belaying. When putting on a helmet make sure that it covers your forehead entirely. A good helmet can save your life.

Quickdraws, Slings and Cordelettes

Quickdraws are pieces of rope that are used to attach the rope to your pieces of protective gear. They can be used on straight routes. However, when the route between the lead climber and the belayer is more winding, use slings to make alpine draws. Slings, in contrast to quickdraws, give you more flexibility in terms of length. For beginners, it is recommended to buy about 6 – 10 quickdraws and the same number of slings.

A cordelette is a piece of cord that is used for many purposes, such as anchors and backups. It is very cheap and useful to have.


You’ll need about 20 – 30 screwgate karabiners. They are used for everything from belaying to attaching yourself to protective pieces. I would advise you to buy karabiners in sets to save money. A set of 5 DMM screwgate karabiners will cost you less than $40.

You’ll also need about 3 – 4 locking karabiners, which are used for building anchors.

Nut Tool

A nut tool is very useful for taking out nuts and cams that got stuck in the rock. Basically, if you don’t want to leave your precious pieces of protection behind, get a nut tool. Nut tools on Amazon are relatively cheap (about $10 – $15), and as your life doesn’t depend on them, you can compromise on quality with this one.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Virginia Matteo