Yes, climbing is accessible to big guys, just like everything else. But since we're carrying a little more weight, it's especially important to find gear that fits and wear it correctly.
And that's just the first consideration.
In this post, we'll offer a guide for big & tall men to find climbing gear that works.
Harnesses can be difficult to measure for big guys. There is surprisingly little research on the topic. Generally, recreational harnesses aren't meant for climbers weighing over 300 lbs. (there are many exceptions for professional uses, typically defined by employers). However, only a limited number of harnesses even meet that weight requirement.
Unfortunately, a harness's ability to fit around your waist doesn't necessarily mean that it'll hold your weight. Weight distribution plays a significant role, and it can vary greatly from person to person. Because of this, a harness that holds your 275 lb. buddy may not support your weight if you're in a similar range.
For bigger guys, it's safer to consider a harness's credentials. There are many industry certifications designed test harnesses in certain scenarios. For example, the NFPA rescue harness standard requires a harness to support up to 300lbs, regardless of weight distribution. While rescue harnesses aren't typically chosen for recreational use, they may be the only choice for heavier climbers. Here are the class specifications for NFPA harnesses:
Class I: A seat harness that must support up 300lbs.
Class II: A seat or full-body harness supporting up to 600lbs.
Class III: A full-body harness supporting up to 600lbs.
Here's a quick list of our top harnesses for heavier climbers:
PMI Bravo Tactical Harness (for climbers weighing up to 275lbs)
PMI Avatar Seat Harness (NFPA tested up to 300lbs)
Finding the right shoes is usually straightforward. Whatever your regular shoe size is, just go up half a size. This usually works even if you wear a wide size. For example, my regular shoe size is 13 wide, but I still wear a pair of 13.5 climbing shoes.
Just remember, climbing shoes are supposed to fit snugly. Even at half a size larger, you may think they're a little tight for comfort. This is normal.
Of course, you still don't want your climbing shoes to fit too tightly. Contrary to what some "experts" claim, your shoes shouldn't be so tight that they cause pain or cut off circulation to your feet. Granted, they may feel a little painful when you're first breaking them in, but that shouldn't last.
Chalk & Chalk Bags
Carrying more weight necessitates a better grip. The right chalk is essential. For bigger guys - especially those just starting out as climbers - we recommend the Gorilla Grip chalk by FrictionLabs. It's just chunky enough to easily feel for the amount you need without wasting too much.
For a better grip, you may also want to consider a liquid base layer of chalk. This helps chalk last longer during and between climbs. The FrictionLabs Secret Stuff chalk makes a great base layer and, as an added bonus, is proven to kill COVID-19.
Chalk bags are straightforward and largely depend on climber preference. Lightweight is always best for larger climbers, but chalk bags are inherently lightweight to start with. Just ensure the opening is large enough to fit your hand but closes enough to prevent chalk from falling out.