How to choose a bag for your climbing gear
To take part in climbing on a regular basis you will need gear. It is more cost effective to purchase your own gear verses renting gear every time you go to a climbing center. At some stage you will accumulate enough gear to need a bag or a place to store your gear. Choosing the right bag is a task you want to get right. I am not one to spend money, so when I do spend money I like to spend it wisely. For me that means buying a product that is value for money. A product that meets as many of my needs as possible and lasts a long time. It is not always easy to identify the correct product at the purchase stage because value for money often depends on how durable the product is, and how well it suits your needs when using it. I often look at products other people have, and find out as much as I can about what they like and dislike about the product to help identify the right product for me.
Below are the bags my family takes to the crag or climbing center for a days climbing. They all meet our differing needs and have proven to be good purchases.
The bag I use is the red DMM Flight on the left. I didn’t get to purchase the bag, my wife gave it to me as a Christmas gift. At the time I was looking into buying a bag and I had done some research and had found the bags I was researching in the shops to establish their build quality. After touching and feeling the bags I narrowed the list down to the DMM Flight. I was hesitant to purchase due to the cost and not finding anyone that had one of these bags to find out their likes and dislikes and to see how well the bag weathered.
The choice of gear for climbing is extensive and the price of similar items varies greatly from brand to brand. I often come across people who have duplicate pieces of gear and when asking why, they often say they rushed into buying the item and didn’t know enough to make the right purchase for them. The question that follows is usually “What made you buy the item you prefer to use now?”. And most of the time the answer is they used a friends, and found it so much better they went and purchased one.
This is where the climbing community is brilliant. Everyone is friendly and willing to help / give advise, so make use of it. If you see someone using a piece of gear you have been looking to purchase, ask them what they like and dislike. In some instances they might let you test the piece of gear so you can see what it is really like.
A lot of climbing gear is safety critical and made to exacting standards which usually results in a good quality product. Climbers tend to build a trust like relationship with the gear they use, and hence land up trusting the brand. The suppliers work hard to keep this relationship strong and hence produce quality accessories like bags.
So we have a wide choice of quality bags to choose from, which is great. The trick is choosing the right bag. It will ultimately boil down to what suits you best. So lets have a look at some aspects to consider when buying a bag for climbing.
Type of climbing you do / looking to do
Climbing grows on you and as you develop your skills and grow as a climber you will most likely go from just climbing indoors to outdoors and then climbing on holiday. The size of your bag and what it caters for will change.
Try and find a product that can cater for the different types of climbing you do and meet as many needs as possible. For instance my DMM flight caters for all the climbing I do. It is permanently packed, just pick it up and go climbing. I use it for indoors, outdoors, and traveling on a climbing Holiday. The only climbing it doesn’t cater fully for is Trad. I only go trad climbing with friends who have racks so I still use my bag. However I will probably need a different bag when I get my own rack and set of Half Ropes.
You need to get a bag that is big enough to take all you gear. When we were looking for my wife’s bag, color and comfort were top of the list. Hence we went through three different bags being delivered over a number of weeks, and a couple trips to different outdoors stores till she found a comfortable bag that housed all her gear and was an acceptable color. The interesting thing was that all the bags were the same size in liters, but varied greatly in shape. The change in shape made a massive difference with regards to what we could get into the bag. Make sure you test the bag with all your gear. Either take all you gear to the shop to test the bag, or order bags online to test at home and then send it back if it isn’t right.
Compartments / Pouches
Having a number of compartments / pouches to separate items is a must and improves the bags versatility. Have a good look at the bag and make sure you have compartments that are sealed and hard to get to that can only be accessed from the inside, and ones that can be accessed from the outside. Are there pouches for specific items like water bottles, helmets, clip sticks. Are their external arears to attached spare ropes or clothes.
Comfort is more important if you are going to go and climb outdoors. Extra clothes, food and water for a whole day’s climbing makes your bag much heavier. The last thing you want is an uncomfortable pack when walking to and from the crag. A weekends climbing with my friends comprises going to a couple crags each day for two to three days in a row. A comfortable bag makes a massive difference on a long walk to and back from the crag. Make sure the bag has lumbar support, a waist strap and adjustable shoulder straps with good padding.
Climbing gear can be expensive and after a while requires replacement. I try to avoid spending lots of money on non safety critical gear. So find a bag that suits as many of your criteria as possible for leased amount of money. Then decide based on the frequency of use if it is better to purchase a more expensive bag that is built better in the hope that it will last longer.