Climbers who have bought their own gear know the struggle of trying to get the best gear out of your budget as possible. As this is a question of trying to get the most out of your budget the less money you spend on any pice of gear the more other things that you can buy. So the balancing act of standard verses premium begins. Where the climber has to decide if it is worth it to spend another $50 to get a slightly better jacket or not. In this list I have picked out several vague categories and given my opinion on if it is worth it to spend the extra money to get the premium equipment or if it is better to just go with the cheaper standard stuff.
1. Belay device (ATC, Grigri, plate...)
The first pice of gear that you learn how to use is your ATC or Air Traffic Controller which is more commonly known as a belay device. This takes the rope bends it around a 180 degree bend then down to your hand to make a pinch point. Despite the simple task that they are designed to accomplish there is hundreds of different kinds of belay devices with a huge price range from simple ATC's at $20 to a $800 MPD for rescue work. Personally I go for a simple $25 (ish) ATC and a Grigri because it is nice but not entirely necessary. I think that the standard ATC will do all kinds of climbing and everything you need it to do tell you began more complicated outdoor multi pitch climbing so for the price it is a good deal.
2. Climbing Shoes
Our company includes climbing shoes in every trip that we offer, this is because having the right shoes makes climbing substantially more fun and safer. Most climbing shoes have a sticky rubber for the sole and a plate under the big toe, yet the details are where the price can change. For about $30 one could get a starter climbing shoe, this is a shoe that will do anything and be substantially better than street shoes yet will be limited in life span and wont be specialized like other shoes that you may require for more niche tasks. I have a $110 dollar pare of moderately aggressive shoes which do some of everything. This is a much more personal call, if you are a new climber it may not be worth the price but if you are going to be putting lots of time into these shoes get the best you can as they are not only your first line of safety but the way that you will get up the wall so I suggest picking the premium.
Your shoes are your first line of defense to keep you from falling, every other safety precaution against falling centers around your harness. I go with a premium harness for several reasons, cheap harnesses are uncomfortable and not that practical as they miss things like gear loops and padding. By spending more money you will get a lighter, more practical, and more comfortable harness. Thus I think that the premium harnesses are worth the price.
The most useful tool that a climber has available to them is a good rope. Once you decide to make this purchase you have to pick a rope, the price range can go from cheap $100 rope to several hundred dollar ropes. This range in price is related to the kind of rope that you pick and not necessarily correlated to fitting your needs. Light weight water proof ropes will be more expensive than cheaper single pitch ropes. I use a mid range 9.7 mm rope due to the ratio of price and function, it is not water proof and is heavy. Really the rope choice comes down to how full your wallet feels. If you are going to do a big wet alpine route a dry rope is worth the investment, but as the seal on a rope can degrade rapidly most climbers don't find it worth it to buy expensive top quality ropes and will do just fine with the standard ones.
When you go to the gym for the first time it is fine to carry your shoes and chalk in a carrier bag, once you go outside with a rope, helmet, shoes, quickdraw, and snacks, approaches of any distance are practically impossible without a backpack. Thus picking the right backpack is critical, once again this is a category where you can spend your life's savings in a day. I find that a good backpack can last for years, and because a good climbing pack can be used for a lot more than climbing it will be used for hiking trips, grocery trips, and what ever else you need it to do. Thus it is worth your money to get a good backpack.
The idea of modern climbing is to get to silly places while sacrificing as little comfort and safety as possible. To do that the most important thing that you can have is a good coat, (or in my case many good coats). Puffey's are good for light warmth but are not great when wet, soft shells are good for wind and morning starts but are not great in the rain, and shells are warm and water proof but heavy. In and amongst all these choices is a pattern, one coat can not do everything but all coats are good for specific things. Thus the idea is to find the fewest coats that preform as many tasks as possible, naturally the more money that you spend the more the coat will be able to do. Personally I like my puffy rain coat combination as it does cold and wet very well. Like the backpacks the versatility of coats as well as the relative inexpensiveness makes coats worth the price.
7. Climbing Gear
By far the broadest category that I will talk about is simply climbing gear. This includes everything from carabiners to slings to ascenders and everything else that is used to attach the climber to the wall that is not a rope. Despite the broad nature of this category most of this equipment is hyper specifically geared towards climbing making it hard to be used for other sports. That said I think that paying up and getting the premium equipment is not always worth your money, while yes the cheap carabiners will occasionally seize up the extra $20 will be used to make the gate screw smoother or the quick draw 5 grams lighter. The cheaper option will do the same task with 99% of the function of the expensive option. So I think that it may not be a great use of your budget to blow a bunch on expensive carabiners.
When I made this list I was trying to help the reader decide what price point to go with, that said let me talk a bit more about what I think premium and standard mean. When I say premium gear I tend to be referring to the fancy brand name equipment, and not the fitted harness with gold plated carabiners. So premium does not necessarily mean a huge about of money just more than some of the other options. As for standard, I chose not to use the word inexpensive or cheap as nothing that is worth your time really could be described as cheap. Remember your life depends on your equipment so when choosing the standard option pick stuff that is functional not just inexpensive.
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Do you agree with my list? If not leave a comment countering my point and a example of how a different price point has worked for you.