This is the downside to mountain climbing: it’s expensive. There are of course other downsides, but this one is pretty key. To do it right, and safely, there is at least a minimum investment in gear and equipment. Like most things, the more you do it and the more serious you get about it, the more you need to spend.
When I started with just rock climbing (top-roping), the gear was relatively simple: shoes, harness, chalk-bag. The relatively small amount of stuff I needed allowed me to get new gear: REI proved invaluable in this case. Scarpa shoes and a Petzl harness and bag. The shoes aren’t too bad in cost, nor is the harness…but you’re still talking about more than $100 to get it all (again, brand new).
For my first alpine climb, though, the situation has changed. Now the list of gear I need is long, with a number of high dollar items on it (see boots, sleeping bags, and packs). If I follow the gear list for my Mt. Adams climb exactly, and get everything new, it’s easily a “few” thousand dollars. So that leaves two options: don’t get everything on the list (still investigating) and getting as much used gear as possible (!).
Used-gear is a great way to go, kind of. You can get good or great stuff at a steep discount, as long as you don’t mind the fact that it’s been used by someone else. As when buying anything used, you need to be mindful of a few things. First, it’s condition. It it broken? Or is it degraded in such a way that it’s less than fully functional? Second, is it real? It seems that the climbing equipment world is a victim of counterfeit goods as well. Third, how far away is it? If I need item X for a climb this weekend, I don’t want to buy it from someone 3,000 miles away (unless I want to pay a lot for shipping). Fourth, can you trust the seller? Is their description of the gear accurate (luckily third party sites can mitigate this to some extent). With all of these potential issues, it makes buying used-gear a bit more complicated than buying new gear. Walking into an REI I feel much better about the quality and authenticity of what I am purchasing.
That being said, used-gear is a great way to go, especially being new at the sport. Why spend untold thousands when I have yet to really get a sense of what brand/type of gear works best for me? Or what part of climbing I will end up wanting to do the most?
For my Adams climb, I am using three methods to acquire the gear I need: 1) buying some items new (things that I just can’t find used, or if I can, the price difference is negligible), 2) buying some items used and 3) renting some items.
For new items, there are many, many retailers. Sadly so much of the stuff is so specialized that I can’t find a local store to “try out” the item before I buy it (this is also because I live somewhere with practically zero climbing culture, thus few stores to cater to it). But everything from REI to Moosejaw to EMS and 5,000 more sites exist via the internet for this very purpose. For used items, my options dwindle fast. First and foremost, there is eBay. eBay is reliable, and has a system in place that can protect both the buyer and seller in case problems arise in the transaction. I’ve already tested this method, as I got a set of barely used Black Diamond trekking poles last week from a seller in Washington State– the price of the poles was about 40% of the retail price. Score one for the newb! But eBay isn’t the only option. The SummitPost site has a used gear buy/sell forum as well. Better selection (specialized site) but lacks the buyer protections that eBay offers. There is always the search on Craigslist….but this is perhaps the riskiest way to acquire gear. One site I recently found was GearTrade, which seems like a step towards the eBay direction. It has sellers and their ratings, a great selection of stuff, and pretty killer prices. I’ve only been browsing it thus far, but I am thinking I might get a bunch of stuff from here. Another option I found is Second Ascents. This looks similar to GearTrade, though the website looks a bit more polished.
Rental is the third way to get gear, and I am using it for Adams as well. Certain pieces of gear I think are best rented for a first timer, including crampons. Northwest Mountain School gave me some recommendations for places to rent gear as well.
I have plenty of time to acquire everything I need before the climb in August, and as the above makes clear, plenty of options for where to get it all.