Sport Climbing Holidays - What to pack and why
Around this time of year many climbers based in northern Europe will be turning their thoughts to a ‘hot rock’ holiday to warmer, sunnier climes. Wherever that may be, there is a certain amount of basic equipment that will be required for a safe and enjoyable holiday.
Here we cover those items and a few extras. Of course it is up to the individual what they choose to put in the suitcase, but please put priority to rope length and condition, and helmets.
Harness: An integral part of any climbing trip. This should be in good condition have at least 4 gear loops and ideally be fitted with a PAS (personal anchor system). Using either the ‘Kong Slide’ or ‘ Petzl Connect’ are our recommended methods. A daisy chain or knotted sling will also work, but not as well.
Belay device: With so many belay devices now on the market, it can be a bewildering choice. The cheapest option is to use your regular belay device. But this may not be the best option, this will depend on what sort of climbing you normally do. For a trad climber, a bug type device may be used at home, and whilst they do work for sport climbing, there are better devices out there.
Gri Gri (Petzl) – this is currently the number one choice for sport climbers, particularly those pushing grades and climbing hard. It offers assisted braking and makes it far easier to hold a climber whilst they rest on the rope. The Gri Gri Plus also has an ‘anti-panic’ feature so a more novice Gri Gri user is very unlikely to lower a climber too fast! A slight disadvantage of the Gri Gri is the belay method is different and must be practiced in a safe environment. It can take a while to become proficient at using this device.
Revo (Wild Country) – this has the advantage of working in exactly the same way as a regular ‘tuber / bug’ type belay device, so there is no new learning to take on board. It also offers assisted braking and can help hold a resting climber, although not as well as the Gri Gri. The assisted braking only kicks in should the belayer actually drop the climber, so it feels more like a back up device and as such should offer great security than a Gri Gri, although in practice this still comes down to the belayer and their methods.
Click Up (Climbing Technology) – this sits somewhere in between the above 2 devices and also offers assisted braking. It is easier to use than a Gri Gri but still takes some adjustment from the belayer. It isn’t a device we have used extensively so are unable to comment quite so much.
Any of the belay devices mentioned above are ideal for a sport climbing trip. They will give many years of service but are quite expensive, considerably more than a trad type device. We think having at least one of these is well worth the investment.
In case any abseiling may be encountered during your trip, carrying a standard belay device is a good idea as these are far better for abseiling.
Rope: Depending on where you’re going and what routes you have in mind will depend on what length rope you will be needing. Generally 60m is the minimum for sport climbing, this allows 30m routes to be climbed. Climbs are getting longer though, so it is worth considering a longer rope. We recently invested in an 80m rope to complement the range of 60’s and half ropes we already have. The 80m has already been very useful. Check through the guidebook and buy whatever rope fits the routes best and gives a few metres spare.
A single rated rope is usually most appropriate for sport climbing and somewhere around 9.5 – 10mm diameter works well, although buying a skinnier rope will mean less weight. Lightweight (skinny) ropes tend not to last as long as a thicker rope, and they will almost always be more expensive in the first place.
Regular trad ‘draws will do the job here, but not as well as a dedicated sport ‘draw and they will get trashed pretty quickly. So it is worth considering a set of quickdraws specifically for sport climbing.
A clean nose, bent gate, and fat ‘dog bone’ are what you’re looking for. Having a clean nose on the carabiner allows for quicker and easier clipping / unclipping from bolts. This may not sound important, but when feeling the pressure and needing a quick clip it can feel like the most important thing in the world! Having a bent gate on the rope end of the quickdraw has 2 advantages. First it gives fast identification of which end is going to the bolt, secondly it makes for easier clipping of the rope.
We have been using Wild Country ‘Proton’ draws for a couple of years now and really like them, they are standing up to regular use well. DMM also make some excellent sport draws.
Having a selection of lengths is useful. At least half a dozen short and around 12 longer works for many routes.
Prussic: just because this is sport climbing doesn’t mean prussics aren’t required. They are needed for abseiling and for any rescue techniques, even the simple ones. A prussic cord may also be used to help back up an anchor. Carry at least 2 and ideally 3 on your harness and know how to use them. If unsure of how to effectively use a prussic it may be time to book on a course and learn some new skills.
Knife: Ok so this one may seem a little over the top and most of the time it is. But they are perfect for cutting bread and cheese to make the crag sandwiches! On a more serious note, a sharp knife may be needed if the rope needs to be cut. Whilst this sounds drastic, there are various situations when it may be the best solution.
Firstly to back up or equalise an anchor a short length can be cut from the climbing rope. Secondly, the rope may become jammed when pulling it down from a route, sometimes climbing back up is an option, but sometimes not. Cutting off what you can means not loosing the whole rope.
Screwgate carabiners: If only doing single pitch routes having a couple of screwgate carabiners is usually plenty. One for the anchor and to tie the rope back into your harness. If on multi-pitch climbs having half a dozen will be preferable as anchors should be constructed at least partly (and better completely) with screwgates.
Slings: These are very useful if doing any multi-pitch routes as they allow for fast and efficient equalising of belay anchors. Also useful for any self-rescue or aid climbing. If abseiling a sling makes for a perfect way of extending the belay device away from the abseiler to allow easier control.
Rope bag: Sport climbing crags are often dusty places and this will find its way into your rope pretty quickly if you’re not using a rope bag. Grit in the rope will shorten its lifespan and put more wear and tear on the in-situ gear at the crag. A rope bag is cheap and they work a treat, so treat yourself to one before heading off on that sunny holiday. Also makes carrying the rope around the crag from route to route much easier.
Rock shoes: It is likely to be much warmer than your typical UK crag, so take into account your feet will expand slightly. If your shoes are already uncomfortably snug they will bring you pain during a hot day of climbing. It is worth considering a slightly larger pair. If the larger pair turn out to be a little too big, a pair of socks will fix that.
Chalk: Climbing at a warm and sunny crag can get pretty hot. It won’t be long before your hands are sweaty and start to loose friction on the rock. To help absorb the sweat a small amount of chalk can be applied to finger tips. Please use chalk sparingly as the quarrying of it is not environmentally friendly, neither is it good for your skin.
Belay glasses: These are a fairly modern addition to the sport climbers kit list. With the use of a prism they allow the belayer to simply look straight ahead rather than straining their neck to see what the climber is doing.
Clip stick: Nowadays clip sticks have got much smaller and fit into luggage with no problem.
Some bolted crags have high first bolts, if falling whilst clipping things can turn nasty. A quick solution is to clip from the ground so the climber sets off with a ‘top rope’ for the initial moves. Clip sticks can also be used higher up a route, for example if the climber can’t manage to do the moves to finish the climb, so the whole route can actually be ‘top roped’ if needs be.
I have seen some exceptionally talented climbers regularly using a clip stick for the initial 1 or 2 bolts. It isn’t something to feel bad about, it isn’t cheating, remember you’re on holiday and a sport climbing holiday at that. It is about having fun and not getting injured. We upgraded to the Beta stick this year and have so far been very pleased with it. Very small so easy to carry and even fits in my backpack.
Panic stick: These come in the form of a rigid quickdraw and can be useful if you can’t quite reach the next bolt and want to get it clipped before a difficult move. They cost a little more than a regular quickdraw and we think worth it. We have a couple of ‘panic sticks’, both are from Kong and both work very well. The shorter stick works better and if I was to choose again I would only have a short version as these are easier to use.
Helmet: There are no excuses for not wearing a helmet whilst climbing and belaying, this item is a must as without it the risks are significantly increased.
Long gone are the days of unfashionable and heavy helmets, now there is a huge amount of choice and most are lightweight, comfortable, and colourful. Many climbers see sport climbing as a safer form of climbing when compared to trad and for this reason they leave helmets at home or even worse, in their backpacks! Put it on your head, no questions. Whilst working and playing at a variety of popular sport climbing venues across Spain I have witnessed a number of significant rock fall incidents. I have also helped a climber with a head injury whilst he was at the top of a sport route in El Chorro, having been struck on the head with a very small rock, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Thankfully he recovered fine, but it was the end of his climbing day.
Only last week I was climbing with a group of friends on the crags of Costa Blanca and we had a very lucky escape from rock fall. Blocks that were likely dislodged by Goats or other wild animals came trundling down from above the crag and directly towards us, we all narrowly escaped serious injury. We were all wearing a helmet.
It is equally, or possible even more important for the belayer to wear a helmet. They are standing at the base of the crag and holding the climbers rope, so getting knocked out would be a very serious situation. Minimise the risks, wear a helmet, please.
First aid kit: This can be small and simple, but well worth having at least a few plasters, anti-septic wipes, a couple of bandages, and some form of pain relieve.
Skin repair balm: If you’re pushing your grade your skin will soon start to moan and fingers will take on a distressed look. Looking after your skin is a good plan and not exactly hard to do.
We switched to FeGoo skin repair balm a couple of years ago and have enjoyed good results when used in warmer climes such as Southern Spain. It is made in the UK and wherever possible organic ingredients are used. We recommend applying to fingers each evening just before going to bed, thus allowing it to work some magic overnight, leaving you ready to fight another day at the crag.
Guidebook: Well without this you’re a bit stuffed really. Find the most up to date rather than going for second hand and possibly out of date as routes change and crags are further developed, often quite rapidly. A good guidebook will be packed with useful information about how to reach the crags, what the routes are like, where offers sun/shade, where is good if it rains. For sport climbing in Europe we have been using Rockfax guides for years and have found them to be invaluable.
Sunscreen: We live in Cumbria so don’t see lots of sunshine. When travelling to Europe to climb we always pack plenty of sunscreen and wear it. Getting burnt may spoil your holiday, it may also lead to longer term health problems. If like us you’ll be travelling from a cold and wet land, don’t forget the sunscreen.
Phrase book: Ok so maybe we’re going over the top now! But certainly learning a few words of the local lingo will go a long way to getting on with the locals and it’s always appreciated. Can be quite fun too.
A back up plan: If on your planned week of sunshine and hot rock the weather gods get all moody and send some rain, it’s worth having a plan b. A little research about the local area can be really helpful at times like this. There could be some amazing walking or mountain biking trails, or loads of culture. An hour or two of Googling in advance could help save the day should the rain follow the plane!!
Thanks for reading. We offer climbing and other mountain based courses in the Lake District and Costa Blanca. Check out our activity page here