So you’re done with bumming gear from your mates and playing athlete’s tootsies with rental climbing shoes. Congrats! Getting your own rock climbing gear is a big step for any beginner rock climber, but it can be tricky to know what to buy, what’s useful or marketing hype and what you can safely buy second hand.
As with many sports, the most expensive or high-performance rock climbing gear might not always be the best for beginners, it could actually be worse! You also don’t need to get everything at once – as your climbing style develops and you nut out your preferred type of climbing your needs will change. We chatted to the legends at Mountain Equipment and our climbing obsessed mates to create this guide to choosing beginner rock climbing gear.
We’ve listed the items in the rough order that you could expect to buy them, but this is flexible. As always, it’s important to note that climbing can be dangerous and that you should always be going with guides or experienced climbers if you don’t know what you’re doing. Here’s how to get into climbing if you’re unsure.
Your own pair of climbing shoes is definitely the first piece of rock climbing gear you should be considering. It’s also one of the more complicated purchases because it’s so personal and there are so many options out there. It’s worth it though, as one of your 4 points of contact with the rock you’ll want it to feel like you’re wearing nothing at all.
What Type Of Shoe?
If you’re new to climbing your feet won’t be very strong and aggressively curved or bent shoes will really hurt to stand on. That’s ok! Those features are useful for roof climbing and tricky boulders that are probably past your skill level if it’s your first pair.
What you want is neutral rock climbing shoes. These shoes are pretty flat and straight, making them comfortable to wear around the climbing gym or all day at the crag.
Luckily neutral shoes generally feature a bunch of other things that you’re looking for in an entry-level shoe: they usually have a firm “last” that supports your foot and thicker, firmer rubber. Thin and sticky rubber is great for the pros but if you’re inexperienced you’ll tear through it in no time.
Get The Right Fit
You might’ve heard of climbers crowbarring their feet into shoes 7 sizes too small before waddling up to the wall, sending a single climb and hastily ripping them off again.
Don’t do this.
Climbers wear tight shoes to minimise slip between their foot and the shoe when on tiny holds, it’s why most people don’t wear socks with their climbing shoes. You want your first pair of shoes to feel snug everywhere but not tight or painful anywhere.
Head to your local climbing shop in the afternoon (your feet swell up during the day) and try on a bunch of shoes. Every brand has a slightly different fit so, starting with your normal shoe size, try on a range and talk to the staff to find one that eliminates dead space and allows your toes to stay straight or very slightly bent. Lace ups are generally best for customising the fit but if you feel great in the velcros (a la Macklemore) or slip ons then go for it.
Shoes that are made of unlined leather can stretch up to a full size, while lined leather will only stretch a max of half a size. Synthetic shoes are becoming more popular as well; they’re vegan and don’t stretch but they don’t breathe as well so air them out well!
Remember that the stretching can only happen on top, the rubber is fixed so if your shoes are too short that won’t change.
- Buying online is pretty sketchy, avoid it if possible.
- It’s safe to buy second hand shoes (if you can get the right fit!)
- It’s fine to wear women’s or men’s shoes, whatever fits best.
Are you ready to enter a world of comfort? Rock climbing probably isn’t the sport for you then. Getting your own harness can help though, they’re more comfy than rental tape harnesses and require less adjustment. If you’re looking at getting into bouldering you can probably skip this point but remember the words of the Sterling Rope company: “Bouldering is dumb.”
What Type Of Harness?
You’re looking for a sport climbing harness, they’re light, simple and pretty cost effective. They have a single adjustment on the waist belt and no adjustment on the leg loops (you don’t need it) and a few gear loops.
Simply grab a harness, tighten it up so that you can slide your hand between the harness and your belly, but not bring it back through once you’ve formed a fist. Easy!
Good stores will have a setup to let you hang in the harness to get a better feel for which style is most comfortable.
- Harnesses are safety gear and legally can’t be returned once bought.
- Avoid buying a harness second hand, it’s very hard to guarantee its history.
- These harnesses have an expiration date and wear out over time.
- Harnesses are pretty simple, you don’t need any fancy features.
Time to make a statement! Chalk bags are simple as heck but they give you something to fill with chalk (see below) and stop you being a dirty chalk scab. Since they’re so simple there’s a massive market for custom chalk bags and many people take the DIY approach.
The only essential features are that it closes and that it has loops to attach to a belt or harness. Other loops for a brush (so you can blame dirty rocks for falling off once you’re better) and a zipper pocket for small items can come in handy.
Wait why do I need chalk? Like at school? Climbing chalk is similar to the chalk that gymnasts or weight lifters use and is designed to dry sweaty hands. It’s usually made of magnesium carbonate, it’s white and powdery and it’s strangely addictive. Hmm.
Don’t worry about the fancy branded chalks, you’ll have to be climbing some pretty spicy climbs to notice the difference.
If you’re thinking of heading outside for some rock climbing, firstly, good on ya, nothing compares to the feeling of climbing on real, natural rock, secondly, it’s much more dangerous.
Climbing outdoors brings you out of the controlled environment of the climbing gym and even though a crag can be well-established and bustling, it can still be unpredictable. Small stones or pieces of gear can kill from a height and helmets provide some protection during a big fall.
Surprisingly, helmet use in rock climbing isn’t black and white and many climbers (and belayers) climb without helmets despite the risks.
While we’re not saying that you have to wear a helmet on every climb, it’s good to have one ready to go in your gear stash for when you need it. They’re pretty comfortable and light nowadays so what’s more important – your brain or looking stylish? (Don’t answer that).
What Type Of Helmet?
You’ll be looking for a climbing specific helmet that’s been certified. Bike and skateboard helmets won’t cut it as they’re not designed to cope with falling objects, plus you’ll look like an absolute gumby if you rock up with one of these lids.
There are hard-shell helmets which feature a hard plastic outer and thin foam suspended underneath and foam helmets that are constructed in a way more similar to bike helmets.
Both do a neat job but have different benefits. Hard shells are generally cheaper and more durable (they’re harder to crush) while foam is lighter and usually breathes better.
Get The Right Fit
I promise I’ll stop saying it, but trying on a bunch of helmets is the only way to know what’s comfortable for your noggin’. It’s important too, if a helmet is comfy enough it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it and you won’t make excuses to leave it behind.
You should be sitting somewhere within the head and chin strap adjustments, not maxed out at either end, and wearing the helmet snuggly adjusted it shouldn’t shift if you move your head around.
- Helmets are safety gear and legally can’t be returned once bought.
- Avoid buying a helmet second hand, it’s very hard to guarantee its history.
- Helmets have an expiry date and should be retired after taking a solid knock.
Boulderers, you’re gonna have to huck your pad in with you for an outdoor boulder session. If it’s come time for you to get your own pad and disappear into the wilderness there are a few things you should know.
First up, don’t use a mattress, they’re just not firm enough and you’ll probably do an ankle. I’ve heard stories about home-made bouldering mats too but they always end with “And then I went and bought one.”
What Type Of Bouldering Pad?
Bouldering pads come in two main styles: hinge and taco. Both can be worn on your back for the walk in.
Hinged pads fold in half (or thirds) meaning they pack up easily and lay nice and flat. Unfortunately the hinge is a “failure point”, though new models place the hinge on an angle or add more foam to help solve this.
Taco pads solve the hinge problem by bending the foam around when stored. They don’t store as well and don’t lay as flat, but they’re better on uneven surfaces.
If you’re fairly new then you can probably expect most bouldering areas you visit to be pretty well developed and flat beneath the climbs, so a hinged pad is probably a better choice. As for size and firmness, pads that are on the smaller side are easier to store and easier for your mates to spot you with, so don’t go too crazy. You shouldn’t need to go too firm either, unless all your local problems are highball climbs.
Get The Gear And An Idea