I strongly recommend rock climbing as routine exercise for geeks. Figuring out how to get up a route is very strategic in a puzzle game type of way, and you never have to lift more than your own weight. It also gives you nice muscle tone all around. Here are six things you'll need to invest in to start.
1. A harness.
A harness is what you tie the rope to &mdash the rope that keeps you from falling. Very important! In the gym, I use the Aura harness by Black Diamond (the men's version is called the Ozone) &mdash it's super lightweight and has a special webbing design that allows it to skimp on thickness while maintaining durability. For outdoors, though, I prefer one that's a little bit more rugged, with adjustable leg loops and with more carabiner and chalk loops like the Petzl Luna (the men's version is called the Adjama). These harnesses cost about $80-100.
2. Climbing shoes
If you only get two things, get a harness and shoes. Read my shoe reviews here. Prices vary from about $80-150.
3. A belay device
Rock climbing is a social sport &mdash unless you're bouldering or you're crazy and like to free climb, you always need at least two people, one to belay while the other climbs. There are many different kinds of belay devices on the market &mdash Mammut's new Smart Belay is designed to soften long falls, and Petzl's self-braking Grigri prevents accidents entirely. If you're lead climbing with more than two people outdoors, though, you'll need something that fits two ropes like the Verso. Expect to spend $30-100 on a belay device.
4. A helmet
A lot of climbers think they don't need a helmet, but seriously? If you're planning to hit the outdoors, you really don't want shards of rock or someone else's hardware falling on your head. (I dropped my belay device about 300 feet at Lover's Leap &mdash luckily, it didn't hit anyone. But you never know what's gonna happen.) Pictured here is Petzl's Meteor 3. It's light, it's airy, and it's one-size-fits-all. I've also tried BDE's Tracer, which is just as light as the Meteor and equally resistant to falling belay devices. Cost = $100, give or take.
5. Comfy clothes.
This is very important. A lot of climbers also do yoga because it increases flexibility, and flexibility enhances your range of movements, which is key in making sure you don't get stuck in the middle of a huge granite wall and not being able to hook your toe on a good hold because you're too stiff. Get some solid climbing-friendly clothes &mdash pants that are long enough so you don't scrape up your knees, but short enough so that you don't end up stepping on them. Mountain Hardwear makes abrasion-resistant pants with SPF50, and Prana, the company that makes the yoga mat that Xeni reviewed in April, has a wonderful selection of capri-length pants and comfy tops you can move around in, as well as the last thing you definitely need: chalk bags.
Sweaty hands = major problem when the grip of a finger could make or break your ability to not fall off a rock. Make sure you get some chalk and a chalk bag that hooks onto your harness or pants so that you can un-stickify your fingers when they're starting to feel useless. Chalk is cheap, I just bought a refill for my chalk bag for $4 at REI.
Also, think about picking up a climbing book to get started: I read Girl on the Rocks, which is written by a super-cute female climber named Katie Brown.