Whether you’re competing in your regional boulder bash or you’re headed to Nationals, you will have to face the ever intimidating isolation zone—that enigmatic place behind the curtain at all onsite competitions.
Both as a competitor and as a coach, I’ve spent up to six hours in iso at a single comp. It sucks, especially in these modern times when, to feel truly comfortable, your phone needs to be within an arm’s reach at all times. Not the case with iso. No phones, no laptops, no tablets, no bluetooth headphones and no smartwatches allowed. It makes for some trying, first world struggles.
After over a decade of iso experience, I’ve dialed in what needs to be packed. Here it is, in all its glory.
Shoes, harness, chalk bag, chalk and tape. Everything you normally train with. Duh. Easy to forget, but the most important stuff to pack.
Therabands are a great tool for warming up. Keep in mind that warm-up space in iso is often limited. Therabands are a nice way to get the blood moving if it’s cold or there are too many other athletes on the wall.
Like a normal one. Digital watches are fine, so long as they don’t have smart capabilities. There’s usually a clock in iso, but it’s not always in place you want it to be. Since iso is stressful enough, better to just bring your own watch instead of craning your neck through a hoard of people to see how much time you have left.
This one’s for the coaches. Iso zones are often packed with too many kids and too little space. If you were hoping to point circuits for your kids using the trusty ol’ broomstick, think again, because chances are another iso coach has already nabbed it. Get with the times by bringing in one of the few pieces of technology that is actually allowed.
Athletes should pack small hand towels to wipe their shoes on before climbing. This one is especially important if the gym is extra chalky or if its an outside venue that, say might be wet from rain. It happens all the time.
These are important for lead and top-rope competitions. Binoculars will help you see from the ground just how good that foot is or maybe where the setter left a chalky thumbprint on an otherwise invisible thumb-catch. It may feel sneaky, but it’s perfectly legal.
Hair Ties, Feminine Products and Nail Clippers:
Just throw a pack of each in your bag so it’s no longer an issue. Good hygiene will set athletes up for a much better day.
Snacks and Water:
Most iso zones will not provide snacks or water. Bring lots of both! It’s easy to get dehydrated when your nerves are causing multiple trips to the bathroom. And when hunger strikes, don’t be empty-handed! Bring snacks that are carb heavy for quick energy. Stuff like dates, bananas or dark chocolate.
For when the worst happens, be prepared with a bottle of NSAIDS. Iso zones can be packed, holds often spin and pads are usually bad. It’s a fact that ankles get sprained and arms get broken. Plus, headaches are common with the blaring music, screaming children and shouting parents.
Books are a good choice. Maybe cards, sudoku or word puzzles. An old iPod shuffle is another good one. Anything to keep your mind preoccupied.
Sunscreen for Outdoor Venus:
If the wall is outdoors, bring a bottle of sunscreen to pass around, especially if the competition is also at altitude. Sunburns can be draining and take away the energy that’s best put to use on the inevitable steep climb in your next round.
Most iso zones are furnished à la porta-potty. Don’t be that climber that wipes their butt and then grabs some holds. Hand sanitizer may seem like the obvious choice, but remember that alcohol can burn. Wipes are the superior cleaning agents for climbers’ fingers.
Extra Warm Clothes:
Pack an extra jacket and a pair of sweatpants. Iso zones can be very cold, especially during the winter months. Regardless of sub-freezing temps, most iso volunteers will leave the door open during check-in times to expedite the process. Don’t be caught freezing in iso for several hours before it’s time to warm-up.
The Right Attitude:
Everything depends upon your attitude, right? Remember that comps are fun! If you’re a coach, bring the psych up energy and make sure your climbers are excited to do what they do best. And if you are a climber, just smile and focus on the task at hand. For the times the butterflies in your stomach won’t go away, focus on your breath, which is a timeless trick for a reason.
Links to gear mentioned in vid: