The State of the Climbing Gear

One thing that has stood out to me at the last couple of Outdoor Retailer trade shows is the general lack of serious innovation occurring in climbing gear. This makes me wonder if gear has evolved to a mature state, from which it can only get lighter and more refined. Of course, it’s often hard to imagine what’ll come next, or I could take that next million dollar idea to BD and make, well, millions. But looking back on things like the camming device, harnesses with leg loops, GriGri’s and leashless ice tools, it makes you wonder, what, if anything, is coming next that will be a true game changer?


Like most climbing gear, these have gotten progressively smaller and lighter, but you could argue that 8.9 is pretty close to the end of the line, no pun intended. Smaller than that and they get pretty hard to handle, at least for cragging type situations. The future here seems to be in making them more durable, like the Beal Unicore technology, and yes lighter. Perhaps the ultimate rope would be something so light you barely know it’s there, with zero rope drag and a super soft catch, plus the burliness to stand up to some serious abuse.


Not much has really changed since these things came out. Sure they got smaller, and more flexible, but the principle is the same. The Link Cams were probably the last “major” innovation, but where can it go from here? I’ve often thought it would be nice to have something that could work well in flaring placements, and Totem cams seem to be taking this one on, but it’s probably a super small market. The ideal for a cam seems to be something with as wide a range as possible, that doesn’t weigh much, and can be used in any placement imaginable.


I’m always amazed at the number of climbing shoes out there, but I guess when you think about it, there are a lot of different shaped feet. For my money I could wear Muira’s the rest of my life and I’d be OK, but it is fun to check out new styles and shapes. The quest for stickier rubber will continue, and the trend of specialization, of having a shoe that is designed for a very specific task, will likely be refined. In the meantime I’m still waiting for the ultimate Indian Creek shoe, although the TC Pro and Grandstone come close. I want my toes to lie flat, but not be loose, encased in cushiony shoes with durable rubber on the bottom and top, and a nice chiseled toe for those small cracks.

Wish List

So while we are dreaming of new gear, how about a couple things that aren’t likely until about the same time we have spaceships like those in Star Trek? Some kind of protection that could protect blank faces and then be taken with you when you leave. Maybe it phases into the stone and then can be rephased back out. How about glasses you could wear with programmable beta, so they would replay the moves for you as you climb, and you can go over the route while sitting on your couch at home. And how cool would a pair of shoes be that contains a micro chip and modifiable rubber, so you set the setting for the type of climbing you will do and the shoe molds itself into the best fit around your foot and the best shape for the rock type at hand? Now that’s sounds nice…

So while I love the trend of things getting lighter, I wonder if we are at a standstill of sorts until some new technology comes along that changes the game yet again. What do you think?

14 Responses to The State of the Climbing Gear

  1. Is the Unicore technology being sold in the US in 60 or 70 meter lengths?

    Blue February 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm
  2. Great post echoing thoughts of my own regarding progress in climbing. In bouldering one big hurdle is cutting down weight and bulk in foam so that more padding can be carried in and not left to rot in the form of stashed pads.

    peter beal February 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm
  3. I miss CCH Aliens – climbing is in a sorry state without them.

    Kevin L. February 3, 2011 at 1:55 am
    • @kevin – supposedly the design/patent/whatever is up for sale, so perhaps you haven’t seen the end of them yet.

      @peter – that would be cool, some ultralight big pads!

      @blue – not sure, beal is distributed through Liberty, prob should check with them.

      BJ Sbarra February 3, 2011 at 7:30 pm
  4. I’ve always thought that a three-ended rope would allow for some amazing developments in climbing efficiency.

    stevesliva February 3, 2011 at 2:29 am
  5. I agree with you that new product development is at somewhat of a standstill. I don’t think we will see any new, or revolutionary products for a long time. The problem is that climbers are sometimes stuck in their ways. Nuts and cams works… why change it?

    Things will get progressively lighter and stronger, but it will all come down to cost. No one is going to pay for a titanium cam or nut. There will need to be a materials breakthrough in many products (pro, rope, plastics) that is stronger, lighter, AND about the same price.

    Gif February 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm
  6. I think pants that make your legs and lower section invisible would be great for belayers so we don’t have to stare at man asses and packages all day long…

    jimmy February 9, 2011 at 6:40 pm
  7. I wish there were some advancements in tendinosis/tendonitis treatment. For most, time and injury present the most significant hurdles in climbing progression. Can’t do much about time and obligations, as most of us don’t have the opportunity to have climbing pay the bills, but sketchy advice/diagnoses from quack doctors and long recovery times are definitely a contributor to plateaus.

    I think super light and durable rope is awesome, other than that, if things get too technologically advanced, I think it would detract a little from the natural setting, and the purity of learning and conquering routes on your own.

    Jake February 10, 2011 at 4:31 am
  8. I just wish that someone would come out with a jacket that was a little bit MORE breathable and a little bit MORE waterproof and a little bit LIGHTER. That would change everything.

    Andrew Bisharat February 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm
    • Keep dreaming little dreamer, I don’t know where you are ever going to find such a thing.

      BJ Sbarra February 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm
  9. Beal just introduced the first OUTDOOR version of the Unicore. The Diablo. I suspect that will be available in the US in 60m and 70m

    Cams: Totems are really cool. I think they’re here to stay if only in a small user group. Aliens will be back at some point. CCH will sell and the new company will make them better. Then I’ll have Totems AND Aliens (and Offset Aliens) on my rack. Yeah!

    Shoes: Same here. I would be happy in my TC Pros, Miuras,and Katanas (and possibly Katana laces when I get some) – no more innovation needed. Note how certain models (Miura) have been around a LONG time. Seems like they’ve got those dialed in. IC shoe – Supermocs have me hoping!

    Rubber: The climbing community is gonna reach a point where rubber “improvement” becomes “cheating” and there’s backlash. Sooner rather than later See the MI6 rubber. As cool as that is, I’ll have only cheated my self if I get on GPA and send Hall of Mirrors with MI6 rubber. I think we’re pretty close to that point now with the Vibram Edge and Grip 2 and 5.10 C4,Onyx, Mystique etc.
    This is kinda like the backlash mixed guys had with heel spurs…

    Biners: Pretty close to done. Any lighter (smaller) and they’ll be useless. I still think something the size of a WC Helium is the best size around. Just refinement of shapes at this point. DMM seems to be the one pushing this the most with well designed stuff. Frankly, you can’t get much better than 30ish grams, full size and 9-10kn open gate. Maybe something like a locking wiregate?

    Harnesses: The new laminates like Arcteryx et al are doing will get refined. I’m waiting for Misty Mountain to make their Cadillac with something akin to the WARP tech. Drool. Maybe Dyneema reinforcements? Like belay loops with that new Edelrid hybrid webbing?

    Belay Devices: GriGri2 is here – the market is pretty much full at this point. It looks like DMM has some new thinking via Jim Titt on devices with the Chicane. Like to see what the come up with for a Guide Model. Innovation in assisted double rope belaying…

    Nuts: This is where I’d really like to see some work. Specifically finding something that won’t get kinked up. Nuts with stiff cord? Different types of cable that don’t kink nearly as much? A hinged cable termination point? SOMETHING

    Still waiting for the ultimate anchor rigging device. Low bulk, high strength something.

    Matt M February 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm
    • @Matt – Good point on the nuts, when’s the last time something innovative happened there? Offsets have been around a long time…

      BJ Sbarra February 23, 2011 at 8:55 pm
  10. I think they should just escalators everywhere. WOULDN”T THAT BE JUST SWELL!

    GMONEY December 18, 2011 at 3:42 am
  11. Greetings BJ,
    Not sure who this “GMONEY” is from Dec.18 at 3:42am. But it sure ain’t me! Seems like a real class act…
    Happy New Years, splitterchoss!!
    -Chris Goplerud

    Chris Goplerud January 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm
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