One of the first questions I hear from new climbers is: “can I buy used gear?” (or “where can I buy used climbing gear?”).

I had this same question when I started out. With nobody to ask, I bought a used harness off Craigslist. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about harnesses so I just looked for wear, and it didn’t have much, so I bought the harness. Turns out the harness was an older one–not a totally bad thing, except that meant there were no instructions how to use it and it was an (older) uncomfortable style. I used it 3 times, once incorrectly, before I spent real money and got a new one.

Back to the point: Can I buy used climbing gear?

The answer is mixed: Maybe. Yes, for some of the equipment, No for some of it and there’s also a big gray area of when it’s ok. Let’s expand on that.

 First, gear NOT to buy used:

  • Rope – There’s no guarantee that a rope hasn’t been stored improperly or taken a lot of falls even though it looks brand new. You don’t know the original color–the whole rope could be UV damaged but you can’t prove it. A rope that sat in a closet and not used for many years can also be a cause for concern because of it’s lack of use (manufacturers give a 10 year max recommended lifespan).
  • Harness – You can’t try a harness on and hang in it when you buy it used, so there’s no guarantee it will fit well. An ill-fitting harness is problematic for comfort and safety. Used harnesses rarely come with instructions too. More safety features have been added in the last few years, like wear markers and smarter/faster buckles, that make it worth spending the money to buy new (and perhaps waiting for a 20% off sale).
  • Helmet – There’s no guarantee that a helmet hasn’t taken a crazy fall just because it doesn’t have any cracks, deep scratches, or dents. There’s no way to totally ensure the integrity of a used helmet.
  • Webbing/Slings – Heavy use will not necessarily show in the weave. There may be no visual signs of abuse/problems yet the holding power may be compromised.

Technically you could buy these items used and not die. But at the same time, you’re taking a huge risk because all of this gear is directly responsible for saving your life. All this gear can also give misleading signs of “looking good” while it could still be damaged.

The only exception to buying this type of gear used would be if your best friend, that you trust with your life, got into climbing, but didn’t like it, and wants to sell his gear to you. Or your super trustworthy climbing mentor upgraded their gear, and they’re getting rid of their starter setup.

Climbing gear that is fine to buy used:

  • Clothes
  • Mountaineering Boots
  • Ice Axe
  • Crampons
  • Rock Shoes
  • Sleeping Bag / Tent / Stove

This list is all soft goods, or gear that doesn’t directly hold your life on the line.

Just because you’re buying gear that we’ve stated is fine to buy used, does not mean that you can skip inspection before purchase.

Sources to buy the above gear from:

The biggest problem with buying online is you can’t hold it and do an incredibly thorough inspection, or try it on to see if it actually fits. Always avoid sellers who do not know about the gear and/or it’s history. Or a person who won’t send you photos. Selling “for a friend” is definitely a red flag.

I bought a sleeping bag off Craigslist after reading about what a great deal it was compared to MSRP. The reviews for the sleeping bag seemed perfect, “super warm” and “classic” were common terms, and it was made by a top name brand, exactly what I needed for my mountaineering efforts! I asked the guy why he was selling, and he said the bag was great, but he doesn’t camp much. He seemed genuine in his report but in retrospect I don’t think he ever went backpacking with it (I never asked HOW he used it). That synthetic long bag (I’m 5’2”, not 6’6”) took up half my pack!  Now I use the bag as a super comfy car camping bag, but I never put it in my backpack. Bottom line: buying used, and then only using it once to find out it doesn’t work/fit right = Money Wasted.

Gear that is questionable, but could be OK to buy used:

  • Carabiners – make sure the gate pin(s) are in good shape, the gates open and close without sticking, the lock (if any) works well and the body isn’t bent or out of alignment in any way. You should note any significant wearing like deep scratches or grooves. Read this post about when to retire carabiners to see other signs of wear.
  • Belay Device – $20 will buy a new one that lasts over 10 years so why buy the “old” version used? If you insist on saving $5 buying used, check for wear, does the belay device still have its original color? Know that pyramid-shaped tube devices haven’t been made in years. And, it’s worth noting you can can sometimes find gear on a close-out sale brand new that is cheaper than used gear online.
  • Active/Passive Protection (cams, nuts, hexes) – best to handle in-person (at a minimum ask for lots of photos of its an online buy). Check for frayed wires, deformity, integrity, sling condition, and visual wear.

If you don’t know the anatomy of the gear you’re buying, don’t buy used.

The best resources to buy this type of gear used, other than your climbing partners/mentors, would be trusted climbing forums–your local forums or MountainProject or SuperTopo. Buying from a user who has a lot of “credibility” or “karma” built up through posting and is a known local is much better than somebody who just signed up for the site, a Craiglist ad, or Ebay posting.

One of my friends found (and subsequently purchased) a full set of Metolius Master Cams from Cascade Climbers (a local Pacific NW climbing forum). She’s been climbing for many years and knew exactly what gear she wanted. When considering the purchase, she made sure the seller sent her up close photos of each piece of gear, along with specific information about use. Given the price and the described wear, she decided to buy them. When she received the cams she inspected each one–they were all as described, and in great shape. She did some quick maintenance before using and that was it. Overall she found the experience to be rewarding (especially financially).

On the other hand, here’s an example of a post I wouldn’t trust:

Example of a Craigslist Climbing Ad
Note the lack of details, no pictures, and misspellings. What type of “rope” are they selling? It’s probably a rope for glacier travel, not rock climbing, but who knows (this seller may not even know). Or it’s stolen.

The more details the better, and the more photos, the higher the chance that you’ll come out unscathed from the deal. If buying used gear seems sketchy, but you’re still looking for a cheaper price there are some alternative stores that sell closeouts & cosmetic blemishes (aka “blems”). Or you can wait for climbing gear sales. WeighMyRack.com lists each type of gear and you can sort by gear that’s on sale.

Here’s a rundown of places that sell climbing gear closeouts and blems:

Our recommendation: Buy used gear when you’re an intermediate/advanced climber, not a beginner. When you’re beginning the costs may seem high, but they’re actually lower if you continue the sport (you’ll get much pickier along the way). If you’re not completely comfortable with gear anatomy or if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, don’t buy used.

If/when you expand to leading and outdoor climbing, and after you’ve done a lot of gear research, it’s a much better time to explore buying used because you’ll know how to look (and test) for safe gear.

Think of buying used gear as a calculated risk. There’s a reason that stores do not sell used climbing gear. Even though REI allows you to return climbing gear, they destroy it. It’s not re-sold.

The above recommendations are a great starting point, not set in stone rules. We all know climbing can be dangerous. Climbing gear is here to protect your life (otherwise we’d all be free-soloing). Every time you buy a used piece of gear you’re adding on another layer of risk and decreasing your level of protection. It’s up to you to decide if the risk is worth the monetary savings.

If I missed any safe “cheap” gear resources, let me know and I’ll add them in. Or feel free to tell tales of your gear buying experiences in the comments!

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Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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