equipment for top roping

How to get set up with the right gear for top roping

Article by Mark Watson

Top roping is a fun entry point to the wider world of rock climbing, allowing you safely try climbs without the stress of clipping bolts, placing trad gear or falling off. Top roping is a quick way to speed up reading the rock, learning moves and gain strength and confidence. This article outlines the basic equipment you need to get going, using fixed anchors for top roping.

If you’re completely new to climbing, consider taking a course, or at the very least get some instruction from an experienced friend before you go about setting up a top rope. 

Mad Rock Mars Harness

Sit harness

A comfortable sit harness is standard rock climbing equipment, and if you advance past the basics and start lead climbing you’ll be able to use the same harness, so it’s worth finding one that fits well, has an easy to use buckle closure and has good racking (loops to clip gear to).

Harnesses usually come in two to four sizes, and some have adjustable leg loops, which are useful if you plan to share the harness with someone, or will wear it for alpine use, when you have thicker pants on. Lighter weight harnesses are desirable once you start lead climbing. 

Mad Rock Lifeguard

Belay device

A belay device allows you to control the rope safely for the person climbing, but you can also use most models for abseiling on single or double ropes too. You’ll need a basic locking carabiner to clip the device to the belay loop on your harness.

A regular belay device such as the Trango Aires is the cheapest and lightest option, and is useful for all round rock climbing including lead climbing and multi-pitching. 

An assisted braking device, such as the Mad Rock Lifeguard locks automatically when a fall comes on to the rope, although it still requires the same caution and attention as a regular belay device. If you plan to do a lot of top roping or move on to lead climbing, these devices are well worthwhile as they are safer and use less energy to operate.

Regular climbers usually own one of each type.

Trango Agility 9.8mm rope

Dynamic rope

Climbing ropes come in a variety of different diameters and lengths. The best option for top roping and beginner climbers is something in the 9.8 mm to 10.5mm range and 60 metres length. The thicker the rope, the longer it will last, but it will also be bulkier and heavier. If you’re planning to top rope only, buy a larger diameter rope, with a thick sheath, but if you plan to lead climb too, a thinner rope (such as a 9.8mm) will be nicer to use in the long run.

Features to look out for are whether the rope has a middle mark or is bi-colour (a different colour sheath on each half) or is waterproofed. Waterproof ropes are slightly more durable and will not saturate as much when you get caught in the rain.

Mad Rock Hulk locking gate carabiner


Locking gate carabiners

This style of carabiner has a small sleeve or mechanism that prevents the gate from opening accidentally. These are used on anchors, on the anchor focal point (where the rope is clipped in) and for attaching your belay device to your harness. 

To set up a typical top rope anchor off a bolted belay, you’ll need four at a minimum, but a couple more might be useful if the anchor is more complex. Normally you’ll use two locking gate ‘biners on the anchor focal point, and one locking gate ‘biner on each bolt.

The carabiners you use for the anchor focal point (sometimes called a power point) should be your thickest and strongest ones, as they will receive more wear from the rope. Look for alloy that is round shaped, rather than I-beam, or at least round shaped on the rope basket (the wide end of the ‘biner). We recommend 2 x round and 2 x (or more) I-beam.

When you are top roping you should never run the rope directly through the fixed anchors, as this will accelerate wear on them.

Non-locking carabiners

Two to four non-locking carabiners can be a useful part of your set up if you need to extend anchors, attach a rope protector, or clip your shoes to your harness. They are essential if you plan to lead climb too and can be used to rack slings or trad equipment. Simple full size oval or offset-D ‘biners are best. 

Trango 16mm slings


Webbing slings (or a cordelette) are used to create an equalised focal point for you to clip the rope to for your top rope. You might also use them for extending anchors, or for anchoring to trees or rock horns. It’s best to have one or two 120cm slings and a 60cm sling. Avoid the ultra light 8mm style that’s used for multi-pitch climbing and look for something stronger with 16mm wide webbing. If you think you might progress to lead climbing and want something lighter but less durable, 11mm is a good compromise. 


A cordelette is a five to seven metre length of climbing cord tied in a loop or knotted into a bight at each end. Essentially they do the same thing as a long sling, but are cheaper and the length makes them more versatile: able to equalise multiple or far apart anchors, and anchor to large rocks or trees. 7mm diameter cord is best for top roping. 

Mad Rock Phoenix

Rock climbing shoes

Trying to rock climb without the proper shoes is like trying to paddle a kayak with a stick. Sure, you can do it, but you’re not really in control, and it’s not as much fun. On all but the very easiest climbs, rock shoes are the way to go, because you’ll be able to use your feet with precision.

Rock climbing shoes have soles made with ‘sticky’ rubber that grips the rock, and the soles are designed to work on all sorts of holds, from edges to slopers. Beginner climbers tend to drag their toes and scuff the shoes around a lot, so beginner shoes usually have thicker or harder rubber that will be longer lasting. Save the fancy shoes for when your footwork is dialled in. 

Velcro closures are quicker to open and close, but lace up shoes are precise and work just fine too. Buy them tight for precision (about one size down from your usual street shoe size), but not so tight that they are uncomfortable to the point of distraction while you’re climbing.

Singing Rock Penta Climbing Helmet


Climbing helmets protect you both from objects or rocks falling from above, but also falls. In a top roping scenario, they’re more useful for the former, but when you lead climb, fall protection is desirable. Hardshell helmets usually have a tough knock-resistant hard plastic shell and a small amount of foam inside. This style is probably the longest lasting, and they’re better as sustaining blows from falling objects. Expanded foam helmets have become very popular in recent years and look a bit like a bike helmet, with thick foam. Generally this style is lighter and more comfortable, and will protect your head better in a lead or top rope fall. Either style is appropriate for top roping.  

Mad Rock Koala chalkbag

Chalk bag

Chalk is by no means essential for rock climbing, but it’s recommended because it improves your finger and hand contact with the rock by absorbing moisture. With chalk you’ll feel more secure on small or sloping holds, especially when it’s hot. Using a chalk ball is a good way to make powdered chalk last longer, as you won’t use as much, and you can squeeze it to cover your palm with chalk.

Optional equipment

Singing Rock Steel Oval Carabiner Screw Gate

Steel locking gate carabiner

Steel carabiners are much more durable than alloy ‘biners which are typically used for climbing. If you plan to do a lot of top roping, consider using steel carabiners on your anchor’s focal point.

Edge pad

An edge protector pad can save your rope from abrasion if the rope is running over the edge of the cliff.

Rope bag

Rope bags usually include a large mat that you can put on the ground to keep your rope clean. At the end of the session you just roll the rope up in the mat and secure it in the bag. Keeping your rope clean will considerably prolong its life. 

Personal anchor system

A personal anchor system, or PAS, is what you use to secure yourself to climbing anchors at belays or at the top of the cliff while you’re setting up a top rope anchor. You can use a spare sling for this purpose, but dedicated systems are recommended and you can leave it attached to your harness always. You’ll need a locking gate carabiner to use with it.