May 10, 2024

Climbing Gym Gear: Our 7 Must

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of using “whatever gear” at the climbing gym — just showing up with your crag pack, chalk bag, and beat-up old rock shoes.

Using second-tier gear or a setup that’s better suited for outdoor climbing can lead to frustration, hassle, and decreased performance indoors. I think of the times I stopped in at my local gym on the way home from the crag but only had my outdoor gear with me. And the hassle of trying to find a cubby for my giant crag pack. Or struggling in the bouldering cave with a stiff pair of edging shoes. And finally, using my chalk bag like a chalk pot and spilling it all over.

I’ve slowly wised up to having specific climbing gym gear. A gym bag or tote ready to go, preloaded with indoor-specific gear. This includes a harness, a belay device, belay glasses, a water bottle, and a little spray bottle for moistening my hands between goes (I have dry skin).

I also bring snacks, a chalk bag, a chalk pot, brush/es, a sling, and a carabiner for max hangs. I bring a weighted vest for pull-ups. Finally, I have at least two pairs of shoes: a softer pair of slippers or Velcro shoes for bouldering and a stiffer pair for roped climbing, especially vertical routes.

Pro Tip No. 1: Gym-wall surfaces and pointy jibs are tough on rock shoes, smoothing out your rubber and poking holes in your toebox. Keep a few pairs of rock gym-only shoes to sacrifice to this wear and tear.

Pro Tip No. 2: Buy an ultralight, gym-only harness; that way, your outdoor harness isn’t loaded up with belay-certification tags.

In recent rounds of testing climbing gym gear, a handful of items have come my way that, though they may overlap with outdoor climbing, also seemed perfect for indoors. Two, in fact — the Mystery Ranch Superset 30 pack and the SCARPA Veloce — were designed only for the gym, showing the importance of this ever-expanding gear niche.

Here are seven must-haves for your 2023 (and beyond) gym season.

My local gym posts a “please remove wet shoes” sign on snowy or rainy days. It makes sense — wet, muddy feet trash gym floors. But it can be a pain if you’re wearing snow boots or laced approach shoes. The Sleuth Slip-Ons ($80), which, per the name, slipped easily on and off. And they solved that issue and the dreaded bathroom-break dilemma too. I don’t want to go in there with my rock shoes on! But I also don’t want to go barefoot or put my street shoes back on either!

The Five Ten Sleuths are advertised as low-profile mountain bike shoes that slip well into the pedals. They look like boat shoes. But the sole is grippy Stealth rubber. Five Ten uses a dot matrix of the white, nonmarking Marathon Classic compound, which was great in winter when the “approach” to the gym (i.e., my sloping driveway and the gym’s parking lot) was a slushy, icy mess.

The biggest bonus was the collapsible heel, which further shortened entry time. This was clutch when I felt lazy or my hands were full. Ditto when I wanted to keep my rock shoes on but off a gross bathroom floor. The Five Ten Sleuth Slip-Ons kept getting positive comments from my buddies at the gym too. Clearly, we all face the same footwear issues!

I’m a big fan of Mystery Ranch packs. They can be spendy, but it’s always worth it for a well-built, comfortably carrying, hard-wearing item. I’ve rocked its Tower 47 crag pack for 4 years. I was excited to see the Superset 30 ($165), essentially a gym version of the Tower 47. It likewise has tons of pouches, zipper pockets, and carrying straps. Mystery Ranch wants to keep your kit hyper-organized.

One issue at the gym is shared space. It’s polite to keep your stuff accessible without a yard sale, as with a tote or duffel. The Superset 30 addressed this problem with its double-option closure system. Thanks to the full-length back-panel zipper that accesses the main body, it’s a top-loading backpack and a duffel.

There’s also a pack-bottom stash pouch for stinky clothes or that “fragrant” pair of rock shoes. There’s a main-body laptop sleeve and three see-through interior zip pockets for items like tape and snacks. It sports a pack-front zippered organizing area with two zippered see-through pockets and elasticated sleeves. These organized small items or work-related stuff like pens, chargers, etc. The exterior has one water-bottle holder and adjustable elastic straps for a gym rope or yoga mat.

Before this, I used a giant tote, which took up mad square footage. I bring a lot of stuff to the gym (see intro), including as many as three pairs of rock shoes. So I was worried I might not fit all my climbing gym gear in the compact Mystery Ranch Superset 30. But it hasn’t been a problem, and there was still room to spare in all the various stash spots.

The Mystery Ranch Superset 30 has been an ingenious little organizer. And it took up a modest amount of space on the floor or in a cubby, sparing me glances for being a space hog. The pack carried well too (the back panel is padded). I could also tuck away the shoulder straps for full duffel mode.

Here’s the deal with brushes: They all clean holds, and their functionality is universal. And back in the day, before the first boar’s hair brushes came along from Lapis, we all happily used toothbrushes.

These days, there are a ton of brush options. They all initially seem to do the job well. But diligent usage quickly separates the excellent from the mediocre. With the lesser options, the head/neck often snaps due to plastic fatigue, or the bristles wear out too quickly. Also, some brushes are just too bulky to fit easily in your chalk bag’s brush sleeve.

The Metolius Razorback ($10) is an excellent, all-around brush with none of the usual shortcomings. The bristle density was impressive and was flexible and soft. The Metolius Razorback cleaned holds perfectly, from gym slopers to granite credit-card crimps. Its 7-inch length, ribbed, ergonomic, 0.75-inch diameter handle, and square head let me get deep into inset holds without any knuckle-dragging.

The neck is thick and sturdy. Even when using the Razorback for lichen removal on a new climb and bearing down hard, I never snapped it. And the brush fit well in my chalk bag’s brush-holding sleeve. I tested it with both a Black Diamond and an Allez chalk bag. It’s so well built that I sawed off half the head once the bristles wore down and kept using it another month or so without snapping. I milked about 3 months’ use out of my Metolius Razorback, including a 6-week road trip to the Red River Gorge. This is an incredibly long lifespan for a climbing brush.

Talk is cheap, but good climbing chalk most definitely is not. And a chalk-pot spill is always a minor financial tragedy. Osprey addressed this issue with its Zealot Chalk Bucket ($35). It has the traditional roll-top closure you see with chalk buckets but adds three embedded magnets around the collar. The bucket automatically snaps shut when not rolled down. In other words, you can pull open the Zealot, chalk up, then drop or even fling it to the pads. It will automatically snap shut, retaining your precious chalk.

This feature was so handy at the gym. Chalk spills inevitably arise from falling to the mats and creating a temporary depression that upsets an open chalk pot. I tested the closure time and time again on my home wall and at local bouldering gyms. I put the Zealot stupid-close beneath me on boulder problems. I fell or jumped down to see what would happen, which, well, was nothing. No spillage, and even when I landed on it, it only exhaled the tiniest puff of chalk.

The Zealot has also proven to be well-built, with bluesign-approved, recycled 840D nylon for its body panels and bottom. It was plenty bomber to take outside.

The chalk pot is stripped down. It has just two brush holders and two zippered pockets on the exterior. But it was appealing in its minimalism. Meanwhile, the interior is unlined, which is the way to go to minimize waste. I mean, do we really need our precious powder-saturating fleece?

The older I get, the more recovery tools live on my exercise-equipment shelf. And these days, some make it into my chosen climbing gym gear selection. There are knots and kinks to unravel, swollen forearms, and trapped lactic acid to flush out between burns. The latter is probably our biggest concern as climbers.

While it’s not a forearm-specific tool, the R1 Percussion ($129) has been a great portable self-massager. It certainly worked well on the forearms, mainly via its bulb tool. It was also an amazing pressure-point/deep-tissue massager for the rest of the body. It lasted a long time. ROLL Recovery promises a 7-hour battery life via a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. This made it easy to keep in my gym bag and whip out as needed.

The Roll Recovery R1 (read our full review) has four heads, four speeds (800 rpm, 2,200 rpm, 2,600 rpm, and 3,200 rpm), and notably quiet operation. There was no loud buzzing to turn heads at the gym. Even at its top speed, it seemed no louder than an electric toothbrush. There’s a fair bit of heft to the R1, and it fits well in my palm. This made it easy to dig deep into problem areas. You’ll need to play with the heads and see what works best since the included instruction manual is minimalist.

I’ve been in a training cycle this winter. And, as usual, weighted pull-ups, plus all the typing I do, knotted up my back, pecs, and shoulders. Desperate the other night after a punishing, 4-hour gym session, I whipped out the ROLL Recovery R1. Ten minutes later, my body sagged with relief at the release of tension.

I’ve used the SCARPA Velcoe for almost 3 years now — the same pair, in fact. They’ve been indestructible. The shoes mostly lived in my garage. I used them on my home circuit walls with jib feet and a 40-degree MoonBoard. But I took them to the gym too. It was funny — I didn’t totally love the shoe at first, as I’m used to more precision than you get from the rounded toebox.

But I kept defaulting to the SCARPA Veloce for plastic because they did everything well without killing my feet. The last was forgiving, and I was able to keep them on for up to 5 or 10 minutes at a time. I could keep them on longer if I went up half a size. They felt tighter in my garage, with its cold, nerve-pinching temps.

True, I didn’t get the drive-hard-into-the-big-toe precision you get with, say, the higher-end, pricier La Sportiva Solution Comp ($199), a shoe also designed for plastic. But there was just enough precision to make the Veloce reliable, even on jibs and edges. And the shoes gave killer feedback. The soft feel and thin sole (4 mm) were what I wanted for indoor climbing. They also smeared remarkably well — SCARPA’s S-72 rubber is a soft compound. It was welcome on volumes and slabs while hooking and scumming competently for a relatively stripped-down boot.

We tested and reviewed the best women's climbing shoes of 2023, including picks from La Sportiva, SCARPA, and more. Read more…

Even if you aren’t a serial chalker, the holds are always so gunked up at the gym that you have no choice but to fill your pores with magnesium carbonate. I already have leathery skin prone to dry-firing, splitting, and cracking, especially during Colorado’s cold, dry winters. So I immediately head to the bathroom after gym sessions to wash my hands and get the chalk off. But that alone isn’t enough — we gym rats also need our lotion.

One favorite is Rhino Repair ($19 for a 3.5-ounce bottle), which I slathered on post-climb. It’s perfectly formulated for dry or chalk-battered skin. It’s a blend of water, various tree and plant oils, xanthan gum, emulsifying wax, and other ingredients. It felt cooling and hydrating on my pelt but didn’t leave a greasy residue. I especially loved it after long sessions when my tips burned from crimping. It dulled the pain and made it so I could use my hands the rest of the day for typing, household chores, etc.

Best of all, unlike other lotions or balms I’ve tried, it easily washed off the next morning if I was going climbing. I’ve yet to experience the greasy, dreaded “lotion seepage” effect with Rhino Repair.

Using second-tier gear or a setup that’s better suited for outdoor climbing can lead to frustration, hassle, and decreased performance indoors. harnessbelay device two pairs of shoesMystery Ranch Superset 30 packSCARPA VeloceUpperMidsoleOutsoleClosureSizesWeightVolumeDimensionsMain materialsTower 47 Superset 30DimensionsColorsBristle materialMetolius Razorback WeightDimensionsMain materialsClosureZealot Chalk BucketBatteryWeightSpeedsHeadsPowerR1 Percussionread our full reviewUpperMidsoleOutsoleSymmetryClosureSCARPA Veloce La Sportiva Solution CompSizesRhino Repair