7 Serious Rock Climbers Share How They Pack Their Bags Before a Climb

Rock climbing is serious business, so you don’t just go to the nearest rocks and start climbing!

To make sure things go as planned, you need to some serious thinking about how you prepare and pack for your climbs.

To improve how we pack our bags, we have talked with 7 experienced rock climbers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (all 7 rock climbers have lots of experience, so they know what they are talking about!).

Rock climbers with lots of gear

The 7 Experts

Roanne van Voorst
I’m a writer and a researcher (Ph.D), specialized in overcoming fear. I’ve written several books on fear in climbing (check out www.fearthebook.com) and offer online trainings on the theme to help people overcome their fears – all based on scientifically-proven methods.

Although I travel all around the world for work, my two home bases are located in Amsterdam and Philadelphia – I travel back and forth between those places a lot, because of my long-distance relationship.

I started climbing when my back-then boyfriend took me to an indoor gym. He knew I loved hiking and thought I’d like climbing, too. He also thought it would be a fun, first experience. Well, he was wrong. I was terrified! Although I loved the vibe and the movements of climbing, it appeared that I had extreme vertigo. Ever since, I’ve had to learn to overcome my fears, babystep-by-babystep. I’m now mostly comfortable at the rocks, despite of my vertigo, and my love for climbing has only grown. It was extremely convenient for me that I’d done so much research on the topic of fear and courage already; now I could finally test all the methods I’d studied in theory, before, and it eventually allowed me to develop a method that worked not just for me, but for many people, all around the world.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

  • My journal and a book, which is ridiculous because they are heavy and big items. But I love writing and reading whenever I feel inspired, and therefore don’t mind the extra weight.
  • I also take my dog Jax with me whenever I can – even when he needs to be carried during parts of the approach. He loves playing and running about at the crag, and thus always reminds me of the fact that simply being outdoors in stunning nature, is something to consciously enjoy and appreciate – even on days when the climbing is off. Also, camping with him in one tent, fighting over who gets to use the sleepingbag: I can’t think of anything more cozy.
  • And then there is food: crucial! I always carry some extra nuts, fruit and a vegan bar, just in case I might climb longer than anticipated. I’d hate it if I’d had to say ‘no’ to an unexpected multi-pitch opportunity, just because I’m hungry.

How do you bring things with you?

I love using the Patagonia Cragsmith 35 liters backpack. It’s big enough to bring all gear plus plenty of food and water; small enough to be counted as hand-luggage by most air companies. I stuff my things in a completely unorganized way, to be honest, although I do start with the heavy stuff and then add with the lighter items. To top it off with everything I nearly forgot. 😉

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

For me, more important than how light my backpack is, is that I have the gear and items with me that give me that extra-good feeling at the rock. If that’s a particular belay device that makes me feel safe, I’ll take that; if it’s a ginormous bag of food that gives me the confidence I will not run out of fuel, then I’ll happily carry it around! They are my personal powerboosters and help me feel strong and undistracted – that’s half a route climbed!

Even when I’m in the Netherlands – a country virtually flat – and even amidst my crazy travel schedules, I try to make sure I regularly reserve time for hiking and climbing trips. My super simple but highly effective tip for getting out of the door and not just dream about it, is to plan it. I’ll set up dates for ‘outdoorsy stuff’ with girlfriends and climbing buddies. We agree on a couple of weekends or days, block the dates in our calendars, book tickets, rent cars, and then amend the exact plan on the basis of weather forecasts and the way we feel. If it rains and we all feel very tired, we’ll still go outside, but we might opt for a long beach walk followed by coffees and pie, rather than a full-on climbing-weekend trip. If the sun’s out and internal and external conditions are good-ish, we go for the real deal.

Sometimes, right before we leave, I kind of regret that we planned ahead – some days I long for a weekend at home. But I go – because I promised the others and arranged the whole thing beforehand – and afterwards, I’m always happy I stuck to it. Being outdoors re-energizes me every time, and being outdoors with friends is a lovely way to spend valuable time together.

Visit Roanne van Voorst’s website

Paul McSorley
From Toronto, Canada. Left as soon as I was old enough to know better. I now live in Squamish, BC. I became a lifelong climber after skipping a track meet and climbing at the Niagara Escarpment. Why? Very few other activities “lock you in” to nature the way climbing does.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

Medical Tape always goes in the bag, it’s a first aid kit and repair solution in one. Lip chap works like sunscreen and helps you stay hydrated (evaporative moisture loss from the lips is a real thing!) Make your knife a multi-tool, it’s crucial for cutting rope to make anchor slings and removing splinters!

The most useless/distracting thing people bring on a climb is a Personal Anchor System (PAS). Take a pass on this fumbly, snaggy, superfluous item and use the gear you already have!

Think about using items that serve more than one purpose. Eg.: My chalk bag belt is also my personal prussik.

How do you bring things with you?

For a typical day of cragging, multipitch or Alpine Climbing, I carry a 35-45L pack like the Arc’teryx Alpha. This size range, with today’s lightweight gear, can accommodate everything you need for a single or multi day mission. I don’t have an organizational strategy but I do fill in the “dead space” in a pack by stuffing jackets, sleeping bags, etc. around all the angular items to make the pack balanced. I rarely. if ever, use stuff sacks.

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

Be willing to suffer a bit (it’s worth it!). You don’t need toilet paper, deodorant or a mascara while climbing or camping. Pack in whatever style works best for you, but if everyone in the group is staring at you ready to go while you search for that “perfect spot” for your water bottle, consider a speedier system. On that note, don’t have anything essential on the outside of your pack, one day, you’ll lose it. Best practice: Everything inside the pack.

Visit Paul McSorley’s website

Michael Meadows
I was born in Brisbane and am still living here happily after almost 70 years. I developed an interest in the outdoors from an early age when my parents used to take me, my brothers and my sisters (six kids in all!) for trips to national parks in southeast Queensland. Brisbane is located close to a large number of national parks and state forests and it was those early excursions, particularly into the sub-tropical rain forests, that inspired me to discover more about our landscape. With my two brothers, I started bush walking (hiking) along the hundreds of kilometres of graded walking tracks in the region and gradually, we set our sights on more challenging destinations.

In 1966, we climbed the incomparable Mount Barney (1354 metres) for the first time, beginning a life-long association with that amazing massif. Although not the highest summit in southeast Queensland, it is the highest viewpoint and I still make regular ascents up its various ridges each year.

Rockclimbing was a natural progression as we began to explore steeper and potentially more dangerous terrain as teenagers. We soon acquired our first rope — made from hemp — and some rudimentary climbing equipment like mild steel pitons and carabiners, learning how to use them by reading every climbing book we could find.

In 1968, with my brother, Chris, and my (later) brother-in-law John Shera, we made the first ascent of the 410 metre North Face of Leaning Peak on Mount Barney, spending a planned night on a ledge about 60 metres from the top. It is still amongst the longest trad routes in the country. It was a defining moment in my life as climbing became something of an obsession for the next decade or so. My decision to pursue an academic career eventually pushed climbing to one side and although I kept up my bush walking interests, I started rock climbing again in earnest in 1998 following a 20-year break. It was as if I had never stopped as the same sense of fulfillment and euphoria returned. However, I must admit that these days, I climb well within my rather modest limits. But that’s the beauty of climbing: The difficulty of the route is irrelevant. Just being there is what it’s all about, for me at least.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

My kit is no different from the vast majority of trad climbers: Rope, draws, a rack of protective devices (nuts, cams, etc.) and slings.

I can’t think of three special or unusual things I pack but I always take a helmet (I have seen numerous climbers without them) and carry a box of matches. And I’ve used the matches several times after being caught out on a mountain after dark with no food, shelter or water. On one occasion, we had just one working head torch (mine) amongst four people and so decided to spend the night in a safe place, rather than risk injury on steep cliffs on the descent. I was able to light a small fire to keep the small group of us warm (it was winter) and it certainly cheered us all up.

Probably the most useless item I have seen (twice) is a boombox, pounding out music while its owners were climbing somewhere high up on a crag. Needless to say we switched it off! I also always carry a small, compact action camera (a Sony Actioncam). It fits in a pocket and can be quickly whipped out for a picture or HD movie in the most delicate situations, capturing the moment. I love it.

How do you bring things with you?

Because I most often climb trad multi-pitch routes, I always carry water, some food, approach shoes and sometimes waterproof/windproof gear depending on the weather forecast. I use a Vaude 26 litre Ellesmere pack I bought in Canada. It’s light and roomy, big enough to stuff in a 60 metre 9.8 mm climbing rope if needed, along with the usual conglomeration of trad gear. It is comfortable when fully loaded (with a light internal frame) and has a good waist clip to stop the pack moving around when I’m climbing. I always try to place the heavy items like water and shoes at the bottom of the pack with crushable items (like lunch) in the top pocket. Items that are potentially fragile (like a mobile phone), I tuck inside into the compartment against the pack frame. I’ve found that 26 litres is just right for my purposes. I also use it for day climbs in places like Mount Barney and Mount Lindesay in the Queensland-New South wales border ranges.

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

If you are a trad climber, you often have to carry extra gear along, just in case. But if I repeat climbs, I try to remember which pieces of gear I need and leave as much behind as possible. However, I always seem to find a hidden crevice I missed on the previous ascent and don’t have the right piece to place there! So I usually add a few extra pieces to my rack, just in case. But the aim is to keep it as light as possible without leaving yourself short of protection. The vast majority of rock climbers these days are doing sport routes, which means not having to worry about a rack. A fistful of draws, some slings and the usual safety gear makes it a lot lighter.

I reckon climbing gyms are good places to start because they are safe and you’re more likely to run into like-minded people there. Gyms are also great for working on climbing technique (practicing using your legs and feet as much as your arms) and strengthening hands and fingers (the most easily injured parts of a climber’s body). If you have some climbing experience, then I’d suggest approaching a local rock climbing club who are only too pleased to welcome new members. Going on club trips is a great way of finding out about climbing locations and meeting friends. As rock climbing has become more mainstream, it’s common now for families to go out on club trips where everyone can have a go. This is a significant shift in emphasis that is far more inclusive than the old model that was very male-orientated. The social dimensions of a club also seem to attract far more women into climbing, again making it more accessible and enjoyable for all.

Ironically, when rock climbing first began in Australia, women climbers sometimes outnumbered men in the large parties that climbed in the Glass House Mountains north of Brisbane. It seems we are gradually getting back to that situation. I’ve written about this in my book on Australian and Queensland climbing history, ‘The Living Rock’, and in various columns for the online climbing magazine, ‘Vertical Life‘. But the main thing to remember is that you should climb at your own level so as to get the same degree of satisfaction out of it because it is such a personal experience. Don’t be drawn into hard routes too early unless you enjoy pushing yourself a lot. It’s far more enjoyable to work up through the grades and have fun out there. After all, isn’t that what it should be all about?

Visit Michael Meadows’ website

Miel Pahati
I’m born and raised in Metro Manila; I live now in Quezon City with my wife Ina. I became a rock-climber during my college days. A mobile indoor wall was set-up during the sports-fest where I first tried wall climbing. From there I became member of the UA&P climbing org and I learned the basics of wall climbing and later on progressed to rock climbing. I’ve been climbing for 18 years now and rock climbing has brought me to adventures all over the world.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

  • Cap: Being in the outdoors more often than not you are exposed to the sun and having my trusty cap help me stay focused on the tasks in-front of me;
  • Climbing brush: Rock climbing deals a lot with friction to stay on the wall and having my climbing brush makes sure I can clean those holds that are chalked up already;
  • Knee bar pad: A climbing accessory that wraps around my thighs to help make jamming your legs between cracks to rest more comfortable.

How do you bring things with you?

I use a North Face Cragaconda for daily trips to the walls; It has a full lay-flat opening for complete access and loading of climbing gear. I can fit all my climbing gear from shoes, harness, draws, belay device, rope and food. It has internal racking points that is a big help. One of the features I love the most is the helmet holder feature on the bag. I always like to travel with everything in one bag.

It has a total of 45 liters volume capacity.

Other than that, I have always trusted the The North Face duffle bags for long haul trips, which comes in various sizes from small to extra large (which can fit an Asian person inside).

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

  • Packing light normally means paying more so maybe it’s best to choose the gear where to go light on, I would suggest going for lighter quick-draws as they consume a lot of weight.
  • I also think using the thinner ropes such as a 70 meter 9.4mm or a 9.2mm rope help lighten the load vs a70 meter 10.5mm rope.
  • Normally climbing outdoors will need to be at least a group of two so coordinating and sharing the load helps everybody out.
  • Best is to just wake up and get out the door.

Visit Miel Pahati’s website

Gian Carlo Jubela and Sheila Abellanoza

Hi! We are Gian and Sheila. We are rock climbers, mountaineers, travelers, trekkers, scuba divers, and adventurers. We own the adventure blog Adrenaline Romance, which has been running for six years now.

We became rock climbers when we realized that we may have to climb or go down steep cliffs during our mountaineering escapades. After learning the basics of ropework and climbing cliffs, we became interested in the sport itself. Thus began our rock climbing journey, which became our passion.

We’re just here in Cebu, Philippines. We have some of the nicest rock climbing sites in the country. 🙂

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

  • Top quality and well-maintained equipment. We don’t scrimp on these; they hold your life up there:
  • – harness
    – 60 or 70-meter dynamic rope
    – quickdraws
    – carabiners
    – belay device
    – rock climbing shoes
    – chalk and chalk bag
    – safety helmet

  • Food and drinks.
  • Trust and confidence in yourself and on your belayer.

The nice thing about these manufacturers is that their R&D is very active. They are always researching on new materials, techniques, etc. to improve and over-engineer the quality of their equipment.

On the other hand, useless things would be attitude problems.

How do you bring things with you?

We usually carry our things in our Deuter backpacks, either our Futura or ACT Lite series. We are product ambassadors of Deuter.

As for bag organization, it’s difficult to explain. It’s better to actually demonstrate that. The only thing that we can explain clearly is that the heaviest items should be close to your back, closer to your center of gravity.

Our bags have enough room. We choose bags that are the right size. Too big, and you’re carrying extra weight. You will be tempted to carry things that you don’t actually need. The backpack becomes unbalanced.

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

Well, just do it. Don’t be intimidated by the cliff and the sport itself. If you have a good belayer, a thorough understanding of safety protocols, a quality set of equipment, and great attitude, you will definitely be fine. Rock climbing is fun, cool, and healthy.

As for packing light, a complete set of rock climbing equipment is already heavy. The trick is not to carry items that are not essential: Laptops, books, etc. In fact, when we rock climb, we only carry our extra shirts, water, and rock climbing equipment. We just buy our food from the local carenderias.

Something we see a lot of rock climbers do wrong:

  • Not paying attention when belaying a climber;
  • Not learning the safety techniques involved in rock climbing;
  • Ostracizing beginner climbers and climbers who are not competitive. Unfortunately, some of the “hardcore” ones think that rock climbing is a competition, and sees everyone who climbs as a competitor. They fail to understand that some climbers just do it for fun or for fitness;
  • having attitude problems.

Visit Gian Carlo Jubela and Sheila Abellanoza’s website

Leslie Timms
Kingston, Ontario (born and raised). Thornbury, Ontario (current residence).

I started climbing in college, a bunch of friends took me out to a boulder near our school and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I now run a successful climbing guiding company – On the Rocks Climbing Guides. We provide climbing courses and adventures from May-Oct each year in the Beaver Valley and Milton region with fully certified climbing guides. In the winter months I travel and push my limits on the rock all over the world.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

Staples that I always have in my climbing pack, outdoors:

  • Climbing necessities (harness, helmet, belay device, etc.)
  • Headlamp
  • Packable down/synthetic jacket
  • Hiking shoes
  • Water (1L minimum)
  • High energy snacks
  • Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, sun shirt)
  • Rain coat
  • FA kit (know where the closest hospital is)
  • Cell phone (there may not be service!)
  • Multi-tool (knife)
  • Climbing tape

Less ordinary stuff to bring climbing:

  • Extra climbing brush to brush off holds. I always drop/lose these so it is nice to have an extra.
  • Extra climbing shoes, I generally always have at least 2 different pairs (maybe 3) of climbing shoes in my pack. Then I am prepared for any style of climbing, I have even worn two different shoes on certain climbs.
  • Knee pad/OR Splitter Gloves, you never know when you may have to do a painful knee bar or hand jam.
  • Zip lock bag to pack out toilet paper/garbage.
  • Bail biner/mallion + Sterling Hollow Block for bailing off a climb.

Most useless:

  • Climbing gym belay tags. Take these off when climbing outdoors, otherwise they will fall off and be unnecessary garbage at the cliff.
  • Unleashed Dogs, disrupt wild life and others.

How do you bring things with you?

50L pack with good support. I LOVE the Arc’teryx Bora AR 49 pack. Perfect size, extremely durable and incredibly support.

I usually keep my knee pads in the bottom to protect the base of the pack from being punctured from sharp climbing gear, then I put heavy gear (rope/trad rack) on top of that, good to keep heavy stuff on the bottom so the pack isn’t top heavy. Then I layer in my harness, shoes, clothes, chalk bag and then I put my helmet/hat on top of that. I keep other stuff like climbing tape, brushes, knife, FA kit, belay glasses in organizational pockets and water in the front pouch zipper of my pack so it is accessible.

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

Be respectful of the dangers, environment, climbing access and others—Learn the Climbers’ Code or Respect on www.rockrespect.ca before climbing outside!!

Visit Leslie Timms’ website

Lydia Yang
I am Lydia Yang, an avid rock climber and travel blogger from Singapore. I started these two passions and hobbies five years ago and couldn’t get enough of it since!

The reason I picked up rock climbing was that I was looking for a good outdoor sport that I could find a balance of fun, challenging and a nice workout. It turned out to be the best hobby I had ever found and it has brought me climbing outdoors in places all over the world like Thailand, South Africa Europe and more. I document all my climbing and travel adventures in my blog Lydiascapes.com.

What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all rock climbers bring?

Three things I find extremely important to take along in any climbing trip would be a one-hand navigatable water bottle that you can clip onto your harness. It proves extremely useful. Headlamps are also critical items that many climbers forget to bring. Lastly, insect repellent is one thing I cannot live without, as it deters bugs from coming after you!

These items have brought me a lot of comfort and through a lot of unforeseen circumstances during my climbing adventures.

How do you bring things with you?

Cez, my travel buddy and partner from etramping.com has experimented with many different types of bags over the year as we climb. We have gone climbing with our Black Diamond Alpine Speed 30 backpack and then switched to a Thule Chasm M 70L backpack recently, which was bigger and could accommodate our growing amount of climbing gear.

What are your top tips for other rock climbers?

I would say just keep climbing and enjoying the process.

It’s not just about getting to a higher grade, but also about the experiences of the places you go, the people you enjoy it with that matter.

Packing for climbing will never be a light affair, but it is always good to plan your gear properly before setting out for a day climb, and bring the necessities depending on the climate you are climbing in (eg. any possibility of rain) and potential factors that you will face in the place you are at.

My last words of advice, don’t just sit around and complain you don’t have friends to climb with or travel with, be outgoing and go out there to find them, and don’t stop ’til you do.

And when you do that, opportunities will open up and present to you beyond what you can imagine.

Visit Lydia Yang’s website

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