How Climbing Gear Has Evolved Over the Past 50 Years

·3 min read

This article originally appeared on Climbing

This article originally appeared in Climbing No. 372.

A rock climber in 1970, attempting a free ascent of Yellow Spur or the Naked Edge in Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, would get out of his car in a pair of Kletterschuhe wearing corduroy knickers, knicker socks, and a cotton T-shirt. He would tie a swami belt around his waist, put a gear sling over his shoulder, and rack up about 15 Chrome-Moly pitons and 15 to 20 aluminum carabiners, both oval and D. A hammer holster for his piton hammer was attached to his swami belt, and the hammer itself was already tied to a parachute cord looped over the other shoulder, so it could never be dropped more than about 24 inches. A couple of four-foot-long, flat nylon runners and three very short loops of flat 5/8 inch webbing completed the rack. A coiled 45 meter, 11mm twisted nylon leading rope was then thrown over the shoulder, and his partner had a duplicate rope (8mm or 9mm) for a haul and/or rap line. The climbers might carry a pint of water to the base (or up on the rock) and possibly a Snickers bar in the pocket. The large climbing pack was often left in the car or at camp. Off to the climb!

In the 50 years since, much has changed, and were you to gear up for either climb today, your kit would be much different--safer, lighter, and was more specialized and streamlined. Here are the big evolutions I've seen in gear during my 58 years in the sport, going back to my first climbing excursions at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, in 1962, on up through the present where you'll often find me pulling plastic in the rock gym.

None
Jim Erickson in Eldorado Canyon, CO, in 2020, demo'ing gear from 1970.Mike Mills

A rock climber in 1970, attempting a free ascent of Yellow Spur or the Naked Edge in Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, would get out of his car in a pair of Kletterschuhe wearing corduroy knickers, knicker socks, and a cotton T-shirt. He would tie a swami belt around his waist, put a gear sling over his shoulder, and rack up about 15 Chrome-Moly pitons and 15 to 20 aluminum carabiners, both oval and D. A hammer holster for his piton hammer was attached to his swami belt, and the hammer itself was already tied to a parachute cord looped over the other shoulder, so it could never be dropped more than about 24 inches. A couple of four-foot-long, flat nylon runners and three very short loops of flat 5/8 inch webbing completed the rack. A coiled 45 meter, 11mm twisted nylon leading rope was then thrown over the shoulder, and his partner had a duplicate rope (8mm or 9mm) for a haul and/or rap line. The climbers might carry a pint of water to the base (or up on the rock) and possibly a Snickers bar in the pocket. The large climbing pack was often left in the car or at camp. Off to the climb!

In the 50 years since, much has changed, and were you to gear up for either climb today, your kit would be much different--safer, lighter, and was more specialized and streamlined. Here are the big evolutions I've seen in gear during my 58 years in the sport, going back to my first climbing excursions at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, in 1962, on up through the present where you'll often find me pulling plastic in the rock gym.

 

For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.