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What to Wear Rock Climbing at the Gym and Outdoors

Man rock climbing

Header photo credit: Brian Stone

Just like any sport or outdoor activity, your choice of what to wear rock climbing can make a huge difference to your performance. And there sure is some mega technical climbing specific clothing available. In some scenarios, especially outdoor climbing, specialist rock climbing apparel is essential to keep you protected from the elements. In other situations, however, just wearing something comfortable will be just fine.

What’s most important is that your rock climbing clothes are comfortable, non-restrictive, and suitable for the environment in which you’re climbing. Whatever happens, your choice of what to wear climbing shouldn’t be the excuse why you don’t send that project you’ve been working on!

In this article we’ll take you through our choice of clothing for rock climbing, both indoors and outdoors, with advice and tips on what to look for in climbing clothing.

What to wear indoor rock climbing

Comfort and unrestricted movement are the two main things to consider when choosing your indoor rock climbing outfit. You can wear as many technical layers as you like or opt for your favourite cotton t-shirt and jeans, if that’s how you roll. Just make sure they’re mega comfortable, allowing your body to move freely.

One other thing to consider is how baggy your clothing is. Loose fitting items are often the most comfortable, but excess bagginess can get in the way. I’ve worn wide-legged yoga pants for climbing before and found myself treading on the excess fabric at the ankles. So reign in the slack and you’ll be just fine wearing your comfies on the wall.

That said, there are certain items of clothing for indoor climbing that are tried and tested. So if you’re not sure what to wear then here’s what we like rocking when we go indoor climbing:

  • Tshirt

    T-shirt or vest

    Properties: Comfortable, fitted, long enough to fit underneath a harness
    Fabric: Whatever you want: cotton, merino, synthetic — all fine. If you’re a sweaty person then maybe avoid cotton
    What Joey wears: Decathlon vest
    What Rob wears: Mountain Hardwear Metonic Short Sleeve Shirt

  • Outdoor-Research-Ferrosi-SHorts


    Properties: Long enough to wear with a harness, stretchy, not too baggy, hard wearing, gusseted crotch
    Fabric: Synthetic or cotton
    What Joey wears: Jack Wolfskin shorts
    What Rob wears: Outdoor Research Ferrosi

  • Prana pants

    Pants or leggings

    Properties: Hard wearing, fitted, stretchy, gusseted crotch
    Fabric: Synthetic or cotton
    What Joey wears: So Solid Tights
    What Rob wears: Prana Stretch Zion Pants

Woman rock climbing

Photo by Brian Stone

What to wear outdoor rock climbing

When heading outdoors, much more consideration needs to be taken when choosing what to wear climbing. You’ll need to stay warm between climbs and when belaying, but not overheat when on the rock. As with hiking clothing, layers are your friend when climbing outdoors.

Of course what you wear climbing outdoors largely depends on the conditions and weather. Outdoor climbing in the hot summer sun requires shorts and a sports bra, and not much else! In the header picture I’m wearing the shorts and vest that I wear indoors. Later in the day, when the crag was in the shade, I put on all my layers! I was climbing in Spain in March.

If you’re climbing in winter conditions, however, you’ll need to be much more careful about your climbing clothing choices, opting for fully water and windproof outer layers and well insulated mid layers.

Here are some women’s rock climbing clothes options, worn by me (Joey), and some men’s options worn by Rob:

baselayers gear guide

Climbing shoes

If you are totally new to rock climbing then you can get away with wearing sneakers or pumps for your first few sessions. However, you can rent climbing shoes from most indoor climbing centres. This is well worth doing as you’ll have much better grip and feel for the wall than in regular shoes.

If you are ready to invest in your own pair of climbing shoes, or are branching out to a different style of climbing, these are the three main types of climbing shoes to choose from:

  • Neutral-climbing-shoe

    Neutral climbing shoes

    Best for: Beginners, trad climbers, multi-pitch climbers
    Properties: Fairly flat, comfortable, hard wearing, not particularly sensitive
    Recommended shoe: La Sportiva TarantuLace

  • Moderate-climbing-shoe

    Moderate climbing shoes

    Best for: Sport climbing, bouldering, wall climbing
    Properties: Slightly cambered, tight-fitting, good sensitivity, medium stiffness
    Recommended shoe: Five Ten Quantum

  • Aggressive-climbing-shoe

    Aggressive climbing shoes

    Best for: Performance climbers, overhangs,
    Properties: Down-turned at the toes, not very comfortable, tight fitting, stiff, good sensitivity
    Recommended shoe: Butora Acro

climbing harness gear guide

What to look for when choosing rock climbing clothes

The fit

The fit of clothing for rock climbing is probably the most important thing to consider. Items should be mega comfortable and totally unrestrictive. To ensure that is the case, choose clothing that is:

  • The right length in the leg — shorts should be long enough to wear a harness over the top and pants shouldn’t be too long in the leg or they may get in the way of your footwork on the rock.
  • No too baggy — pants that have excess fabric at the crotch or at the ankles can get in the way or become restrictive. Keep your clothing fitted.
  • Long in the torso — items worn on your upper body should be long enough to wear underneath a harness.
  • Stretchy — ideally, your rock climbing clothes should have a degree of stretch to them. This will ensure that all of your movements are totally free and unrestricted.

Fabric properties

The fabric of your rock climbing clothing depends on whether you are climbing indoors or outdoors. It’s less important to wear technical fabrics when climbing indoors — focus on comfort instead.

When climbing outdoors, however, the ideal fabric properties of your clothing should be:

  • Moisture wicking — removing moisture away from your body
  • Breathable — allowing air and moisture to move through the fabric
  • Windproof — prevents wind from penetrating the fabric
  • Quick drying — doesn’t hold moisture in or on the fabric for long
  • Hard wearing — tough and won’t rip or tear easily

Special features of clothing for rock climbing

Climbing clothes brands often design items with practicality in mind, as well as comfort. These features make using and wearing climbing gear easier and more comfortable.

When choosing rock climbing clothing look out for the following features:

  • Gusetted-crotch

    Gusseted crotch

    This is a piece of material that is added to crotch area of shorts, leggings or pants. It allows for a greater (and more comfortable) range of movement and lowers the risk of splitting your pants during challenging moves!

  • Helmet compatible hood

    Helmet compatible hoods

    Jackets or mid layers with hoods are designed to have a low profile with flat seams that fit comfortably underneath helmets. Some outer layers have hoods that are large and adjustable to fit over the top of a helmet.

  • Harness-over-jacket

    Harness compatible

    Hand pockets of jackets or mid layers should sit high up on the waist so that they can be accessed when wearing a harness. All upper body layers should also be long enough to sit comfortably underneath a harness without rubbing on seams.

  • Chalk-bag-loop

    Chalk bag loop

    Many climbing specific pants or shorts have a handy chalk bag loop sewn into the back of the waist band. This is especially good for boulderers who don’t wear a harness to clip a chalk bag onto.

  • Zippered pocket

    Zippered pockets

    If your rock climbing clothing has pockets that it’s mega useful if they are zippered. This means you can carry small emergency items, snacks or even your camera, up the wall with you.

Knowing what to wear climbing can make your time on the rock much more enjoyable. Whether you’re heading out on multi-pitch epics, or training at your local indoor wall, being comfortable in the right climbing clothes leaves more time for you to worry about the more important tasks in hand!

Climb on, happy climbers!

Joey Holmes

Joey Holmes
Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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