There is not a set wardrobe to wear for rock climbing outside. Picking out the right clothing items to wear and bring along with you is key to having a great time climbing outdoors. Wearing the wrong things can turn the prospect of a fun day climbing into a miserable time that ends up being cut short.
In general, wearing loose, lightweight, and breathable clothing is the best for outdoor rock climbing. Layer clothing items to stay warm while climbing in cold weather and avoid wearing cotton during hot and humid climbing days.
While I wish I could tell you exactly what to wear for your next outdoor rock climbing session, there is not just one right answer. What you should wear depends on a laundry list of factors. With that said, there are specific items you will always want to wear/have along and certain qualities that you will want to look for in your outdoor climbing clothes. These items and qualities are discussed further in the article below as well as the factors that will influence what you end up wearing.
What To Wear Rock Climbing Outdoors
Some daring climbers will totally ignore this article and end up going climbing completely naked besides their necessary climbing gear. While this is fine in the secluded backcountry with like-minded individuals hours away from the nearest people, this is definitely not a family friendly route to go and should not be done in public. Unless you are trying to get arrested.
On the other side of the spectrum, some new climbers will spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on big brand name climbing clothing items that they honestly could get by without. This article is not going to throw these at you or try to force you into buying them. That said, I will link which of these items I personally recommend below in case you are wondering how expensive they are or if you are considering purchasing them in the future.
Men’s High Performance Climbing Clothing Items
- Climbing Jacket: Black Diamond Highline Shell Jacket
- Climbing Hoodie: Black Diamond Crag Hoodie
- Climbing Pants: prAna Stretch Zion Pants II
- Climbing Shorts: Black Diamond Notion Shorts
Women’s High Performance Climbing Clothing Items
- Climbing Jacket: Black Diamond Highline Shell Jacket
- Climbing Hoodie: Black Diamond Alpenglow Pro Hoodie
- Climbing Pants: Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants
- Climbing Shorts: Arc’teryx Gamma LT 6″ Shorts
For the rest of you, this article will discuss what you should wear while outdoor climbing, starting with your head and working its way down to your feet.
Although some climbers are not fond of wearing climbing helmets, I believe that every single one should have one on. This goes for the belayers as well. While they may not seem hip or cool, they are there to protect your noggin. All it takes is one bad whipper, one loose rock, or one piece of dropped gear to change your life.
Being safe is being cool in my book so protect yourself and wear a helmet. Check out which climbing helmets I think are the best bang for your buck.
While not as necessary as wearing a helmet, having a good pair of sunglasses for those really sunny days can be a life saver. You may never realize how important they are to have around until you are scaling a slab staring directly up into the sun. In addition to this, polarized sunglasses can help reduce the glare off of really shiny rock and make the holds easier to pick out.
Just make sure you have a strap on them in case they fall off. Your partner on belay would likely be unhappy if your glasses dropped down at them.
Another optional item to bring with you are belay glasses. These can help save your neck and stop you from having to crane your head up constantly. I feel these are more important for climbers who plan on having a long day on belay. If you will only be climbing for a short period of time or will be bouldering for the majority of the time then you can likely get by without a pair of these.
Check out the current price of popular belay glasses on Amazon here.
For the most part you will want to wear a sports bra, tank top, t-shirt, or light weight long sleeve shirt while climbing outside.
Which of these you end up choosing will depend on the factors that we will discuss later in the article.
In general, I recommend wearing a base layer of either a t-shirt or tank top and having a long sleeve shirt or crew neck along with you just in case you need it. You will likely be able to get by with just one or the other but if it starts to get a chilly out you will have an extra layer to toss on and stay warm.
I recommend always bringing a light rain jacket along with you as well. It seems that weather people always end up getting something wrong whenever I go climbing outside. It is best to be prepared and have a rain coat along just in case an unexpected rain storm rolls in. If one doesn’t roll in then your raincoat will just stay in your bag the whole time. No harm no foul.
Unless you will be crack climbing, chalk is typically the only thing that you will wear on your hands.
If you will be crack climbing, you may end up taping up your hands/fingers or wearing crack gloves. To see the differences between crack gloves and taping up, check out my ultimate crack climbing gear list article.
In general, you will want to wear climbing pants, stretchy jeans, leggings, or shorts while rock climbing outside.
Climbing pants are the best option of the three but are not completely necessary for some climbers. If you are only going climbing on occasion then you can likely get by just fine by wearing some good fitting pants or shorts that you currently own. Make sure that they fit well around your waist however as you do not want to be constantly pulling them up while climbing.
Out of all of the “high performance” climbing clothing items listed in the first section above, I think the climbing pants would be the most worthwhile. If you are unsure if you should get a pair of climbing pants or not, check out my article that explores if climbing pants will be worth it for you.
While wearing standard jeans is possible while climbing and are good at preventing your legs from getting scraped up, they typically are not the most flexible option. If you have a pair of jeans that are stretchy and give you the flexibility you need then by all means wear them. Just make sure you aren’t wearing them in too hot of weather because denim does not breathe.
When wearing shorts you will likely want to wear spandex or some other tighter fitting item underneath. Your climbing partners will be staring up at you as you are climbing and if you go for a wide foot hold you may give them more of a view then they were expecting. Guys – keep this in mind before tossing on your favorite pair of loose athletic shorts.
While rock climbing you obviously will want to be wearing a pair of climbing shoes. However, you will not be able to walk in these and will need to wear something else when getting to the climbing area.
In general, you will want to wear climbing shoes while actively climbing and wear either athletic shoes, approach shoes, or hiking shoes to get to the outdoor climbing area. Which shoes you wear to get to the climbing area will depend on the approach distance and the terrain you will encounter.
The certain scenarios in which you would want to wear the different shoe types is discussed later in the article.
Other Important Clothing Items To Bring Rock Climbing Outdoors
Besides the clothing items and gear listed above, there are a few other things that you will want to wear or at the very least bring with you.
Comfortable Sandals or Moccasins
You will want to take a break from your climbing shoes eventually. Having a nice comfortable pair of sandals or moccasins will give your feet a much needed break and let them air out without getting full of dirt.
If you are lucky enough to basically just have a drive up crag, you may not even have to bring other footwear along with you. Just hop out of the vehicle with your sandals on and climbing shoes at the ready!
Having a flashlight (and better yet a headlamp) at the ready will come in handy for anytime you are hiking in or out in the dark. I’m looking at you early birds.
Headlamps are far superior to flashlights because you will likely be hauling all of your climbing gear in with you. You will want all of the extra hands you can get. Check out my favorite headlamp on Amazon here.
In addition to using it while climbing, your headlamp will come in clutch for a lot of miscellaneous activities in your everyday life. I think they are quite worthwhile investments.
While not as flat out cool as break away pants, zip-offs can really be nice to have for climbing. Some days will be at in-between temperatures where you will be cold while belaying in shorts but hot while climbing in pants. This is where zip-offs really come in handy.
They also give you a “safety blanket” where you can adjust your clothing based on the climbing conditions without having to change clothes. Getting too hot? Zip them off. Starting to cool down a bit? Zip ’em back on!
As you can tell, zip-off pants hold a close place to my heart. Check out the current price of my favorite zip offs on Amazon here!
While this technically isn’t a clothing item or accessory, deodorant/antiperspirant is highly recommended. It will save your nose and your climbing partner’s from all the stink that climbing builds up.
I get that a lot of climbers like to rough it and affectionately call themselves dirtbags but put deodorant on for the people around you.
Guys Vs Girls Outdoor Rock Climbing Clothes
There really isn’t too much of a difference in what girls and guys wear for outdoor rock climbing. The main differences are that girls will typically wear sports bras and leggings whereas guys will not. That said, both guys and girls will want to follow the general clothing guidelines discussed above.
When picking out what you will wear, you should look for clothes with specific qualities that lend themselves to be great for outdoor climbing. These qualities are discussed further in the next section.
Best Clothing Characteristics When Rock Climbing Outdoors
When picking out what to wear outdoor rock climbing, you will want to look for a few specific qualities in your clothes. These are discussed further below.
The high performance items listed above in the article are specially designed with these qualities in mind to provide for the greatest climbing experience and performance.
Rock climbing is a very physical activity and requires climbers to stretch out in between holds. Wearing tight or restrictive clothing will make the difficult sport even harder.
While most shirts will typically be flexible enough and provide the range of motion necessary, some pants will not be. This is especially evident in standard jeans that prevent you from getting your feet onto high foot holds.
As you know by now, climbing involves getting up close and personal with the rock. You will likely end up rubbing against it pretty frequently throughout your climbing session.
Having clothes that are durable enough to stand up to this is key. Soft, fuzzy, and flimsy clothing will get caught on the rock and start to fray and pull apart. Not to say that durable clothes will come away in pristine condition or anything, but they will stand up to the abrasive rock much better and last longer.
Leave your knit sweater at home.
You will end up sweating while rock climbing outside. It is important that you have clothes that breathe, especially when climbing for long periods of time.
Wearing clothing that doesn’t breathe well like jeans and a long sleeve cotton shirt can cause you to get overheated in hot weather. On top of this, wearing a cotton base layer while climbing in cold weather can even cause you to get hypothermia under specific circumstances.
If you are only going to be climbing for a short time then you can likely get by with wearing what you want. That said, wearing a moisture wicking item that breathes can make your time much more enjoyable.
You don’t want to be wearing a lead blanket while climbing up the wall. Climbing is hard enough as it is. Having light clothes will let you climb harder for longer as you won’t have as much weight to move around. This is really noticeable on long climbing days where it seems like every ounce counts.
Besides these clothing characteristics, you will want to consider a few very important factors when climbing outside.
Important Factors To Consider When Determining What To Wear
Failing to think about and account for some of the factors below can result in you being very unprepared for your day of climbing. This can make your planned out fun day of climbing into an absolutely miserable one.
Temperature and Humidity
This is one of the most important (and maybe one of the most obvious) factors to take into account when trying to pick out what you will wear climbing outside.
What To Wear Rock Climbing In Hot and Humid Weather
When climbing in warm and humid weather, you will want to make sure you are wearing lightweight and moisture wicking clothing. Common warm weather climbing outfits include tank tops/sports bras/t-shirts paired with shorts.
Just be careful when you are showing a lot of skin out under the sun. Make sure you are putting on sunscreen and drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
I recommend bringing an extra hat along to keep the sun off of your head if you are climbing in an exposed area. If your climbing destination provides ample shade then you can probably get away without having one.
What To Wear Rock Climbing In Cold Weather
When rock climbing in cold weather, you will want to wear a moisture wicking base layer covered by additional clothing layers to keep your body heat in. Common cold weather climbing outfits include a moisture wicking short sleeve shirt base layer, long sleeve shirt or crew neck, and a jacket paired with climbing pants, leggings, or stretchy jeans.
If you are an avid hiker or backpacker you will likely have heard the saying “cotton kills”. This can apply to rock climbing as well. When climbing in cold weather, you will still be sweating and getting your base layer soaked. Cotton does not wick away moisture and instead gets saturated and sticky. This takes away any insulation the shirt was providing you and can actually lead to hypothermia.
Avoid cotton at all costs when climbing in cold weather.
I recommend bringing a stocking hat, gloves, and hand warmers along if it is very cold outside to keep yourself warm. Hand warmers are essential as the cold rock will be sucking the heat from your hands constantly while climbing. Also, you can drop them in your approach shoes/boots to keep your toes warm when off the wall.
The Time Of Day You Will Be Climbing
Depending on the time of year and your climbing location, the temperature throughout the day can change drastically. It could fluctuate 15 to 25°F from when you start climbing to the hottest part of the day.
You will want to make sure you have the needed clothes to stay warm during the coldest times and can take them off for when it gets warmer.
How Long You Will Be Climbing For
If you will be climbing for a relatively short period of time then you can likely make do with what you have. On the other hand, if you will be climbing for an entire day or days at a time, it is essential to make sure you have enough clothing.
Make sure you have the proper clothing to account for the temperature swings as well as any unforeseen weather conditions such as an unexpected rain storm rolling in.
What The Approach Is Like
How long and treacherous the approach is will affect what type of shoes you will need to wear to get to the climbing area.
If you are able to drive right up to the crag and only have about a 20 foot walk, then it really doesn’t matter what shoes you decide to wear. You could step out of your vehicle in open toed sandals or Crocs and be perfectly fine.
On the other hand, if you are having to hike over 10 miles to get into the climbing area, open toed sandals would be a terrible choice. Hiking shoes would be the preferred foot wear in this situation.
The same sentiment goes for having to traverse boulder fields and very rocky uneven terrain on the approach. In this scenario, approach shoes would be the best bet and would even outperform hiking shoes.
If you are curious to know what the difference is between hiking shoes and approach shoes then check out my article here. It can help inform you to which choice may be better for you.
I recommend tailoring your footwear for each climbing area you are going to. It is always better to be overprepared than it is to be caught without what you need.
What Climbing Style Is Required By The Route(s)
Climbing very physical offwidths that involve you jamming your entire body into the rock will be a much different experience than technical slab climbing. It also will favor a bit of a different clothing style.
If you know that you will be jamming a lot of your body into the rock, then I recommend wearing long sleeves and pants to cover as much of your body as possible.
What Type Of Rock Will You Be Climbing On
Certain rocks will be more abrasive and harsher on your clothing than others. For example, granite on average is more abrasive than limestone. To see which rock types are typically more abrasive than others, check out the climbing environment and abrasivity section of this article.
When climbing on these really abrasive rock types, you will want to be extra sure that your clothing is durable. Otherwise, you will likely end up tearing it up pretty good.