What To Wear Rock Climbing Outside | Clothing Guide

Last Updated on 05/07/2022

What To Wear Rock Climbing Outside

What To Wear Rock Climbing Outside

When deciding what to wear rock climbing outside there are just three things that really matter. Comfort, flexibility, and safety. If what you plan to wear meets these standards then it will work just fine for outdoor rock climbing.

You can realistically wear what you want when climbing, as long as it is comfortable, flexible, and promotes safety when climbing. However, we do advocate for tighter-fitting clothing and inexpensive clothing as there is a lot of scope for wear and tear. 

For women specifically, we suggest gym wear, such as sports bras, yoga pants, and layers if the weather is poor. This allows for flexibility when doing dynamic movements as well as comfort in the harness.

For men, we suggest comfortable (ideally sleeveless) tops, shorts, or specialist climbing pants or jeans. These are specifically designed with features such as a gusseted crotch to avoid tearing and to allow for a wider range of movement.

Climbing outdoors leaves you open to exposure, bring warmer layers, gloves, and raincoats for when the weather is bad, and particularly for when you are belaying as this is mostly a static role and you will quickly get cold.

Rock Climbing Safety Equipment You Need

Outdoor rock climbing is an extreme sport that comes with its own sets of hazards. This is why safety equipment is important and necessary to avoid injuries.


When outdoor rock climbing, there is a high risk of rockfall, as rocks in the wall could be loose, fragile, or get dislodged as you climb. Wearing a helmet will protect your head and brain from injury.

Rock can fall from above the climber, or rock could become dislodged by the climber and fall to the belayer. Therefore, wearing a helmet is equally as important for the climber as it is for the belayer holding the rope at the bottom.

Rockfall is dangerous for everyone – the lead setter, the climber, the belayer, and even the people resting at the bottom of a route. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure they are climbing safely.


While you climb, you have to wear a harness as you are attached to the belayer by a climbing rope. 

It is important to pull the harness up so that the waist belt is above your hips so that your hips hold it in place and you cannot slide out of it. The waist belt should be snug but not uncomfortably tight. 

You should tighten the thigh loops so that they fit snugly on the body, however, these do not need to be as tight as the waist loop. 

You should then put any loose harness straps (either at the waist or thighs) into their safety loops so that there are no freely dangling straps in your way as you climb

Note, that as the harness is worn over clothes, we recommend that you wear tighter, lighter clothes when climbing, instead of heavy or baggy clothes.

wearing pants for rock climbing outdoors

Outdoor Rock Climbing Clothing

Because outdoor rock climbing is a dangerous, dynamic, and difficult sport, it is important to wear clothes that promote safety and allow for a broad range of movements. 

Women: Top Half

On the top half, we would recommend that you wear a sports bra in order to assist with agility and mobility as regular bras can be limiting or uncomfortable when doing dynamic movements.

If the weather is going to be nice, we would recommend wearing any comfortable and stretchy sports top that you have. Bear in mind that when outdoor rock climbing, the rock surface can be rough so you may snag your clothing, so it is best to wear something you don’t particularly care about. 

If the weather is going to be less than optimal, we would recommend layering your top half – so a fleece over your comfortable top, and a raincoat on top of that if the weather requires it. 

Women: Bottom Half

Ideally, yoga pants or shorts would be the best choice, depending on the weather. Yoga pants allow for a wide range of movement and should be comfortable. They also mean the harness will sit close to the body, which is good for safety.

Shorts are good for when it is sunny. However, avoid anything denim or otherwise intended for fashion. Also bear in mind that whoever is belaying you will be staring up at you from below the whole time, so wear shorts that cover you up nicely!

Men: Top Half

If the weather is lovely and sunny, there is nothing stopping you from climbing topless, just be mindful that you might scratch, cut or bump yourself off the wall as you climb.

A comfortable tight-ish fitting t-shirt or long-sleeved top is also good if the weather is less than ideal. However be aware that if you wear a long-sleeved top, you might tear it doing more dynamic or long-range movements.

As with the women, if the weather is poor, layer up with a fleece or raincoat that fits close to the body and avoid anything with straps, open pockets, or loose bits to avoid snags or catching yourself on the rock

Men: Bottom Half

There is a good range of options for what to wear rock climbing for men. Shorts are good as they are breathable and allow for a wider span of movement. The only concern is the lack of protection on your knees but should be fine if you’re careful.

However, be mindful that they are not too loose as your belayer will be looking up at you the whole time you climb. Definitely wear underwear

There are specialist climbing pants or jeans that you can wear whilst outdoor rock climbing. However, there is nothing stopping you from also wearing jogging pants if that is comfortable for you. Just make sure to attach your harness accordingly if the joggers are a bit larger or looser.

Outdoor Rock Climbing Footwear

Proper climbing shoes are non-negotiable when climbing. These do vary in price and style, based on climbing aptitude and budget.

Your climbing shoes should fit snugly but not painfully. It is generally advised that you size down by one or two sizes, but it is best to try on several pairs before you buy. 

If your shoes are too loose, if there are gaps or lots of dead space, your foot will move around in your shoe as you climb which will reduce the sensitivity in your foot when placing them on the rock, and it will make advanced climbing techniques difficult (such as toe/heel hooks or when you cam your toe into a crack). 

If your shoes are too tight, this could result in bunions, corns, nerve or blood vessel compression, it could also result in your big toe becoming angled in, and as a general rule, it is just not good for foot health.

There are arguments that tighter shoes allow for bigger gains in performance, but the evidence for this is negligible. We recommend a snug fit with no dead space in the heel or arch and where your toes are touching at the front and slightly curled.

However, do not purchase climbing shoes that actively hurt. This will make your climbing experience neither fun, pleasant, or enjoyable – going for tightness won’t help your climbing and it can do lasting damage. 

Go for a good fit.

Best Women's Climbing Shoe for beginners

Do You Wear Socks With Climbing Shoes?

You should not wear socks when rock climbing, as this can make your foot more likely to slip around in your shoe. Socks add space between the wall and your foot, which is less optimal as this reduces the sensitivity to the rock and footholds.

That being said, be aware that this will make your climbing shoes smell pretty badly – it might be an idea to invest in some form of odor control spray

Can You Wear A Hat Under A Rock Climbing Helmet?

It is not ideal to wear a hat under your rock climbing helmet as it could make the helmet sit incorrectly or be too loose on your head which could affect safety. If the temperatures drop too low you can use a headband or neck buff to go around your ears and some tight-fitting balaclavas may work.

Can You Wear Shorts For Rock Climbing Outdoors?

You absolutely can wear shorts climbing. Just be aware that the rock surface can be rough, and if you fall, you will probably acquire some scrapes, bruises, or cuts. When deciding between shorts and pants consider the type of rock you will be climbing (is it sharp or smooth?) and also the weather forecast.

Can You Wear Sneakers For Outdoor Rock Climbing

You should not wear sneakers while you climb, however, while you are belaying for a fellow climber, there is nothing stopping you from wearing sneakers, as that is often more comfortable than your climbing shoes.

However, be mindful that depending on where you’re climbing, the ground may be uneven, gravelly, or loose. Therefore it might be better to wear proper hiking boots or shoes and to have your laces done properly – trips and falls on the ground will result in injuries to yourself and the climber.

What Kind Of Pants Do You Wear When Rock Climbing?

As long as the fabric is stretchy and comfortable, you can wear pretty much anything you want. We would just suggest you avoid anything with a lot of pockets, belt hoops, or dangly bits.

Climbing pants are ideal as they breathe well, are flexible for movement, and are tough around the knees and bottom which is where the most wear occurs.

If the rock isn’t too rough or if the weather is good, most shorts (not denim) are a good choice as they would offer the most stretch around the crotch.

Natural materials are good, such as bamboo or cotton fibers. If it is an exposed or windy mountain day, stretchy soft shell climbing trousers are good to alleviate the sting of the wind.

What Should I Wear On A Climbing Date?

Just like on a hiking date, you should wear whatever you feel most comfortable in, but equally whatever you feel the safest in. Whilst you want to feel and look good on a date, if you’re going climbing, safety still comes first.

We would suggest you avoid expensive, loose-fitting clothes, anything with bits that dangle off (e.g. zips, tassels). It’s also best to remove any accessories as well, such as rings, necklaces, and bracelets – they can get caught or damaged.

Lastly, remember to wear sunblock, even if it’s cloudy!

Can You Wear Jeans For Climbing Outdoors?

Regular jeans? No. Climbing jeans? Yes!

Regular jeans will most likely tear. However, some companies make jeans specific for climbing, such as Prana’s Axiom Jeans, which features stretch denim to allow for a full range of motion and a gusseted crotch to avoid tearing.

You should now have a pretty good idea of what to wear rock climbing outside. Let us know what you thin in the comments.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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