Aid climbing is about owning, placing, and using a lot of climbing equipment. Aiding is gear intensive. You are always using all kinds of gear when you’re climbing an aid route, whether it is a two-pitch nail-up or the 30-pitch Nose of El Capitan. The personal climbing gear that you own for sport or traditional climbing—rock shoes, harness, belay device, locking carabiner, and helmet—is the backbone of the personal gear you need for aid climbing.
Personal Gear for Aid Climbing
Your personal gear, however, for aid climbing will eventually be different from the equipment you use for other types of climbing, but for starting out, what you have will work great. Below is the essential equipment you need for aid climbing and some tips for buying new stuff.
Comfortable Rock Shoes
Aid climbing requires you to have super comfortable rock shoes because you will be standing in aiders (ladders made from webbing) for long periods of time and most performance rock shoes will hurt your feet. Count on that happening. The best rock shoes for aiding have rigid soles and good arch support. This is important because you will be standing on your arches for long periods of time; on big walls it will be not only when you lead, but also when you clean pitches by ascending the rope and if you are standing in slings at a hanging belay. Also make sure the shoes don’t rub at pressure points on your feet.
Wear Shoes for Free Climbing too
It is good for your aid shoes to have a flexible toe and sticky rubber simply because most routes do have mandatory free climbing and they make it easier. That said, lots of climbers on big walls like El Capitan wear approach shoes like Five Tennies.
Buy a Sturdy Harness
The harness you have is fine when you start out aid climbing, as long as it has gear loops. It’s best, however, to have a beefy comfortable harness like the one you wear trad climbing with a padded waist belt and wide padded leg loops. The harness should also be easy to adjust and easy to tighten the leg loops. If you are climbing a big wall, you will also want to have a harness that has leg loops that can be undone so that you can free your legs from bondage when nature calls. Make sure the harness has four gear loops for racking cams, carabiners, and other gear, as well as a runner-strength haul loop on the back because you will often be towing an extra rope behind you and a belay/rappel loop on the front.
Belay and Rappel Devices
The belay and rappel device that you use for sport climbing is fine for aid climbing. You need to use a device with two slots in it that can accommodate two ropes for rappelling. You won’t need a GriGri unless you are climbing some hard aid route and will spend hours at a time belaying the leader. Clip a beefy auto-locking carabiner to the device and carry it on one of your rear gear loops.
Two Daisy Chains
Two daisy chains, slings that have sewn loops every three or four inches, is an indispensible part of your personal aid gear. While daisy chains should not be used to clip into anchors, they are designed to be used for aid climbing. The daisy chains, each at least three feet long, are girth-hitched to your harness, usually the belay loop, and then are either each attached to separate aiders or one is clipped directly to the piece that you are standing on. The advantage of being clipped to the aider is that if you accidently drop the aider, it is still attached to you.
Personal Anchor System
It is debatable if you need to carry and use a personal anchor system, like the Metolius PAS or Bluewater Titan Loop Chain. The anchor system, a series of ultra-strong sewn webbing loops connected together, connects you and your harness to a belay anchor on the side of a cliff. It’s safer and easier to use than daisy chains, which are not designed for that purpose. It is, however, another piece of webbing gear attached and carried on your harness, taking up valuable space and getting in the way of gear that you need to remove from gear loops as you climb. It’s up to you to decide if you need to bring a personal anchor system or if tying the rope into the anchors with an equalizing figure-8 knot is good enough.
Fifi Hook Keeps You Clipped
A fifi hook is a metal hook that connects you at your harness directly into the piece of gear that you are standing on in your aiders. The fifi hook is girth-hitched to your harness on a piece of webbing from two- to four-inches long. The hook allows you to quickly attach yourself to waist-level gear placements, taking your weight off the rope and your belayer. They are especially good to use on overhanging rock.
Aiders Get You Higher
Aiders, also called aid slings, stirrups, or etriers, are webbing ladders that allow you to ascend steep blank faces by standing in their rungs or steps. Aiders usually come with either four or five steps, although some have only three and some as many as seven. The best aiders are either the four or five steppers. Be sure they have a grab loop at the top and reinforced rungs that keep them open, allowing you to easily place your foot on the step. Climbers use either four aiders divided into two pairs or two single aiders. With four aiders, you always have a separate step for each foot. Single aiders can, with practice, allow you to faster and lighter. Four or two? It depends on the type of route and your preference. It’s best to probably start out with four aiders and hone your high-stepping skills before graduating to using two aiders.
Always Wear a Climbing Helmet
You need to buy and wear a good helmet for aid climbing. Rocks fall off walls and will kill you if they hit your head. A bad placement can pop on you and the piece of gear can rocket into your head. Wear a helmet and keep your brain happy. Remember to buy a UIAA-approved climbing helmet that supply proper cranial protection for rock climbing.