There are a lot of things in the world that you don’t need to buy brand new. Go to any used gear shop and you’ll find a plethora of water bottles, clothing, shoes, and packs lining the racks. Outdoor brands are going to create new, better, lighter, more durable, more colorful gear for all of time but you don’t need to buy the latest and greatest for everything - especially if you’re just getting into a new activity.
Buying used gear is an awesome way to keep things out of landfills, to save the planet, and to save your money. Within the climbing community, you can often also borrow and share gear with your climbing friends and partners - saving money and storage space, as we discussed in this article.
In the same vein, there are a few things you need to keep an eye on when buying gently used rock climbing gear. There is some equipment you NEVER want to buy used and there are other things that you can confidently purchase second-hand if you know what key elements to look for when shopping.
Shoes are one of the best pieces to buy used. You can see the wear very clearly and many of the potential issues can be fixed. You can resole shoes that are losing some of their rubber, you can replace worn out laces and clean velcro straps.
You DO NOT want to buy climbing shoes that have blown out toes, tearing seams, or significant wear. These are very tricky (and often very expensive) to fix and it would likely be
worth your while to buy a set brand new rather than have to deal with these overuse issues.
When it comes to buying used sport climbing gear or used trad climbing gear, you CAN buy climbing packs, clothing, chalk bags, stick clips, brushes, and other non-life-saving gear with relative confidence. These items aren’t imperative to keeping climbers safe and they make your climbing experience more enjoyable so feel free to splurge on used pieces!
On the other hand, you want to be extra careful with equipment that is meant to save a life. This includes gear like ropes, slings, webbings, harnesses, belay devices, carabiners, and helmets.
Ropes, slings, webbings, harnesses, and helmets are tricky and can hide a lot of damage. These can’t be properly tested when bought used and oftentimes don’t come with instructions or evidence of the original color which means you can’t guarantee age, UV damage, comfort, or integrity. Even if a rope has been sitting idle in the closet seeing no climbing activity for months, there could be damage caused from discontinued use.
Anything with a fabric component should be approached with extreme caution and likely avoided altogether. If your best friend or climbing mentor or other highly-trusted climbing partner is upgrading or selling gear, it might be ok to fill your rack with their off-shoots but if you’re considering buying from a stranger - don’t.
The metal components of climbing gear are much easier to determine damage and are generally more reliable over the long-term BUT because these things are life-saving devices, you shouldn’t risk buying used ones. The cost difference isn’t that great between new and used metal equipment and your life hanging on the line should be worth investing in new pieces.
Used climbing gear isn’t inherently dangerous - it’s all ‘used gear’ once we take it out and put it on the wall for the first time. What is dangerous is damaged climbing gear.
When you’re seeking out used climbing gear for sale, keep these tips in mind. You don’t always know what the piece has seen prior to your contact with it so you have to use your experience, best judgement, and trust in the seller when deciding whether a piece of gear is worth investing in or not.