Rope, rack, shirt on your back. Rope and rack are easy enough, but what shirt are you supposed to wear? Is it going to be cold? Windy? Are you sport climbing? Bouldering? The variety of situations that fall into the category of “climbing” is immense, and so are the clothing options available for these activities. Though there is not a single outfit that works for everything, there are a set of foundational principles that dictate the climbing dress code. From bouldering to big wall climbing to training in the gym, every climbing outfit should have three key components: freedom of movement, comfort, and durability. Depending on your discipline, other features, like moisture-wicking qualities, harness compatibility, and weather protection, may come into play, but every climbing outfit should be comfortable and easy to move in—bottom line.

In this article, we will outline the basics of dressing for a few different types of climbing: bouldering, sport climbing/cragging, and multi-pitch/alpine rock climbing. Obviously, what you wear bouldering will be quite different than the attire worn on an all-day mission into the alpine, but the underlying principle is: look-good-climb-good. Don’t underestimate the power of a good outfit.

A climber gets a spot from a friend on a boulder problem.


Bouldering, because of its (generally) lower-commitment nature, provides the most leeway in apparel choices. From jeans to slacks to leggings, it's all fair game in terms of pants. The Notion Pants are good options for stretch cotton pants with a bit of durability, freedom of movement, and comfort. For women, the Session Tights are a staple for the gym and the boulders. In warmer weather, many people prefer to wear shorts bouldering. The Notion shorts fit the bill perfectly.

Basic tees and tanks are common for tops—it's generally not as necessary to think about base layers or layers with moisture-wicking properties when bouldering since it’s not very aerobic.

Easy-on/easy-off is the guiding principle for layering in the boulders. Warm layers are crucial for standing around, but you want to be able to de-layer to feel light and flowy on the blocs. The Belay Parka is a staple for cold-weather bouldering. Worn with the Project Flannel or a cotton hoody, you’ll be styling, and warm.

Sport climbing

If you’re headed to the sport crag, chances are you’ll want to wear something that’s a little bit more technical than the attire described above. Most cliffs have some kind of approach, making sport climbing more aerobic from the start. Between hiking, cranking out pitches, and giving long belays while your partner susses beta, you’ll need an arsenal of clothing to stay comfortable throughout the day.

For bottoms, depending on weather, you can climb in either pants or shorts. For summer days or times when you need to strap on a knee pad, we recommend the Dirtbag Shorts, the Session Shorts for women, or the lightweight Sierra Shorts. For cooler climbing days, the Technician Jogger or the Notion SP Pants both provide harness compatibility and freedom of movement.

On top, a tee shirt or tank top is typically enough for most sport climbing conditions. Some folks like to climb in cotton, while others prefer a more technical base layer for cragging, like the Lightwire Tech Tee. For a slightly warmer climbing layer that won’t restrict movement but will still provide some warmth when you’re on the wall, look to the Lightwire Long Sleeve or the Alpenglow Pro Hoody.

Belaying and standing around the base of the crag can get chilly, especially if you’re in the shade or out for a full day. With this in mind, it’s important to have a variety of layers to choose from. A Coefficient Hoody or something similar is nice to layer under a warmer jacket on cold climbing days. An insulating layer, like the Approach Down Hoody or the Belay Parka is also important to have in your pack for belaying. Plus, you’re cragging, so there’s no real need to worry about weight—bring it all!

BD athlete Conner Herson sport climbing in Squamish, BC.

BD Employee Adam Peters belaying a climber.

Multi-Pitch & Alpine Rock Climbing

Things start to get a little more technical as you move away from the comfort of the boulders and the base of the crag. On multi-pitch climbs, you and your partner need to be a self-sufficient unit once you leave the ground—carrying everything you need for the day on your harness or in an on-route pack. This means that layering takes a little bit more consideration than a simple day of cragging or bouldering.

Two climbers at a belay ledge on a multi-pitch route.

Climbing pants in these situations are very much personal preference; some people like to climb in cotton pants like the Notion, some are fine wearing a pair of Session Tights on a multi-pitch, while others may want a more technical pant like the Technician Alpine Pants when climbing off the deck.

On top, a long sleeve or a sun hoody is a versatile way to go. These layers provide protection from the sun and a little bit of warmth for times when the afternoon wind picks up or when the route goes into the shade. A protective wind layer is also useful to have on hand—we love the Alpine Start Hoody for its compact size, packability, and durable softshell construction.

You will probably want to bring an insulating layer along as well. Sometimes one is enough to share between you and your climbing partner, and other times, you’ll each want to bring your own, depending on the weather and conditions. The Vision Hybrid Hoody is a packable, synthetic jacket that works well on-route and can be clipped to a harness. The Approach Down Hoody is also a packable, insulating layer that is great as long as it stays dry.

Of course, some days are colder than others and sometimes there’s rain in the forecast and you go anyway. For these days, it’s useful to have a few extra layers. Stashing a rain shell in the bottom of your pack is good insurance for unpredictable weather days in the mountains. When the temps are cold, or there’s wind in the forecast, or you’re headed for a shady, north facing line, it might make sense to climb in an insulating layer, like the Coefficient Hoody or the First Light Stretch Hoody. These are less packable layers but provide warmth and breathability when you’re trying hard in cold conditions.

Bottom Line

No matter what style of climbing you may be pursuing, your attire should make you feel good on the wall, protect you from the elements, and be versatile enough to keep you comfortable throughout the day.