An Equipment Overview
The world of climbing is huge, particularly once you start trying to navigate the vast inventory of rock climbing equipment available. Help is at hand with our starter guide to bestow an idea of what to buy as a beginner climber and how long it will last.
What to Wear Rock Climbing?
Your clothing shouldn’t limit your freedom of movement, yet it shouldn’t be baggy as to interfere with belaying. Think of the shapes you will be moving your body into – will your clothes allow you to get there?
Climbing indoors is simple – easy to move in with some abrasion resistance.
Climbing outdoors you should also consider other factors… The weather – is it hot and dry or cold and wet? How long is the walk in? – Don’t forget the walk out! How much are you going to sweat during? Are you going to be waiting on belay for extended periods of time? Then of course in the UK with our changeable climate, will this change throughout the day?
The Best Climbing Shoes for Beginners
The first bit of kit you should aim to buy is a pair of climbing shoes. Surely the less time you spend in hire shoes the better?
As someone just getting in to climbing, comfort is priority. To find the right pair, you may need to try on many different models and brands, they can vary a lot! Something to bear in mind while trying them on, you must be able to stand on small holds and smear onto surfaces in confidence and without pain.
Ideally you should have a snug fit all over, with no gaps, baggy areas or spots that are tight enough to cause pain or excessive discomfort in the toe area. Good footwork technique is key to climbing, your climbing shoes play a big part in this – if you can’t press on or pull off a hold with maximum force it won’t help!
If, like a lot of people you have one foot that is slightly bigger than the other, buy for the bigger foot. Cramming a bigger foot into a smaller shoe will lead to pain, discomfort and faster wear on that shoe.
Climbing shoes with a flat soles designed for all-day climbing will normally offer more comfort than those that have downturned toes – look at how they sit on a flat surface. The heel tension is another factor influencing comfort – more tension will push/keep your toes forward into the toe box, great for precision foot placements, not so much for max comfort…
The best advice we can give you is try on everything! Try on as many pairs as you can, multiple times if that’s what it takes. Go for the shoe that fits best and is most comfortable.
How Long Will Climbing Shoes Last?
If you climb in them, they will wear. How long this takes depends on a few things – the type of rubber on the shoe, where you are climbing (what type of rock/wall), how often and how good your footwork is.
The rubber on climbing shoes is not all equal. Some feature harder rubber compounds that compromise friction for better durability and secure and supported edging.
High friction ‘sticky’ rubber – good for smearing, will allow more confident foot placement but will wear out faster. Climbing on high friction rock types, climbs with lots of smearing and indoor climbing especially on new walls and holds will ‘burn’ through your rubber faster.
If you’re climbing regularly (especially indoors), most people average wearing through a pair of climbing shoes in about a year. That said there are a few things that can be done to help increase the mileage of your rock boots…
- Keep Them Clean
Without cleaning, dirt and rock will ingrain itself into rubber breaking it down faster, not to mention eroding softer rock types faster, and annoying the climbing wall staff… Internal shoe conditions should also be considered – air them out after climbing! Not only will it help to stop the shoe decaying but your climbing partner(s) will appreciate it.
- Wear the Right Shoes
Climbing in the wrong footwear will wear out shoes faster, downturned ‘aggressive’ shoes are best for steeper terrain with small edges – big flat holds and ledges will bend and flex the shoe away from its desired (and designed) shape, wearing down edges and the ‘pointiness’ faster. Shoes that are too small (not just tight) will wear faster where your foot/toe is pressing most on the inside – not to mention being uncomfortable and bad for your feet.
- Climb More
Paradoxically, despite climbing being the number one cause of climbing shoes wearing out, the more you climb – the better your technique and footwork will get (hopefully!). Better footwork means less wasted rubber from dragging and slipping.
If you climb in them, no matter how well you treat them you will eventually wear through the rubber. Edges round off first followed by the dreaded toe hole. Their saga doesn’t have to end there. It is completely possible to re-sole and renew your perfectly broken-in climbing shoes. Alternatively take the opportunity try to something new. A sticker or more enduring rubber? More aggressive toes? A different brand?
Rock Climbing Harnesses
All-round, general purpose climbing harnesses, make great beginner climbing harnesses. They tend to be a bit heavier and less breathable than more specialised models but have more padding for comfort whilst retaining the strength and functionality across climbing disciplines.
When fitting, it should sit just above your hips and be tight enough so that you can fit two fingers between you and the harness. The tail or end of webbing once tightened should be at least 10cm. The harness should be able to be made smaller and larger from this size.
Leg loops come with adjustable buckles and/or elastic sections to create and maintain a snug fit. Thinking about the weather we enjoy in the UK and maximum versatility, climbing harnesses with the adjustable buckles will allow for wearing more or thicker clothing when outside (or some indoor walls) in colder weather or indeed during actual winter.
It’s important to try on and if possible hang from something in a harness at least once before buying. When loaded, the waistbelt should not move too much or dig-in causing uncomfortable pressure points, if it does, tighten and/or try a different harness. Check gear loops are reachable and work for you, it’s worth clipping some gear to each loop to check this.
A woman’s climbing harness is slightly different to a man’s, the waistbelt may be shaped differently considering the female form. A longer rise (distance between the leg loops and the waistbelt), and there may be a reduction in the leg loop to waistbelt ratio.
When should you replace your harness?
Like your climbing shoes, there are variables that influence when your harness requires replacement. Unlike shoes though climbing harnesses will not keep indefinitely.
Visually inspect your harness often – putting it on before a climb is a good time (though when packing for a trip also makes sense). Falls, Abrasion, cuts and wear, corrosives and sunlight will all reduce the lifespan. If there is any visible damage you should retire the harness.
All manufacturers provide an estimated lifetime in the instruction manuals that come with every harness, 10 years is the maximum shelf life – stored in a cool, dark room and never used. For normal use it will last around 3 years, for heavy use – every other day (or more often), with plenty falls you might want to think about replacing sooner.
To help maintain and prolong your climbing harness clean it in lukewarm (Max 25°C) water when dusty/dirty and especially after exposure to sea water/air. You should never store the harness wet and where possible keep it in a cool, dry, dark place in a chemically neutral environment away from heat sources and excessive humidity.
There is no better time to get into a good habit than when you are new to something. When climbing outside, wear a climbing helmet – Protect your head! With modern lightweight construction, better ventilation and much more photogenic colours and styling there is no reason not to.
Rock climbing helmets fall in to two main categories;
- Hardshell Climbing Helmets – Plastic or polycarbonate outer shell usually with some foam for added protection and comfort, though some are more minimalist with only an internal cradle to maintain positioning. Originally designed with stone fall in mind, hardshell climbing helmets are best for winter conditions. These helmets will take more abuse, especially from a top impact, often without showing any sign of damage but a hard knock shouldn’t be ignored.
- Expanded Foam Climbing Helmets – constructed using expanded polystyrene foam these offer a very lightweight helmet with good side impact protection but sacrificing durability to achieve the lightest possible weight. Be extra careful with foam helmets, especially when you aren’t wearing them – Don’t sit on them!
We would suggest for your first climbing helmet to go for a hardshell or hardshell/hybrid type helmet – it will take more knocks and is a bit cheaper.
When fitting, apply helmet to head, adjust headband to fit but before securing the chin strap give your head a shake. The helmet should move very little or not at all. Secure chin strap and all should be well. If there is any discomfort at all try another helmet – your helmet can’t protect your head if you don’t wear it, removing the disincentive of discomfort can only help.
How long should you keep a helmet?
As with climbing harnesses, there is a maximum lifespan. DMM and Petzl for example, have 10 years is the limit for all their plastic and textile products from date of manufacture. Using the helmet will reduce this, you may even need to retire the helmet after one use (or before!) High intensity of use, sharp edges, extreme temperatures, and chemicals all have the potential to immediately end your helmets usefulness. If you have any concerns, ask someone for advice or consider replacement.
Look after your climbing helmet – clean and dry when required – especially after use in salty environments, remove from bags even if cleaning isn’t necessary. Limit UV light source exposure as much as possible. Avoid heat and chemicals. Don’t compress the helmet with weight – i.e. don’t sit on it and if possible, it should be the last thing into and first thing out of your rucksack.
Belay Devices for Entry Level Climbers
Probably the first bit of climbing hardware that every climber buys is a belay device. There are many different variations and designs but they all perform the same role – to act as a brake on the rope by applying friction by forcing the rope through bends and round internal corners of the device (and carabiner). The two styles of belay device most suitable for entry level climbers are the assisted braking device and the tubular belay device.
Tubular Belay Device
Lightweight and compact but with a simple design. These devices work with a good range of rope diameters all year round. Ideal for single and multi-pitch climbing. Will also allow abseiling on two ropes.
Assisted Braking Device
There are two kinds of assisted braking device, Active – where there is a moving internal camming mechanism, or passive – much like tubular devices but shaped to ‘assist’ with catching a fall. Both work in a similar way, when a climber has a sudden fall the device will ‘catch’ or jam.
Carabiners for Belaying
Attaching your rope and belay device to the belay loop of your harness will require a carabiner. Though any large pear-shaped locking carabiner will securely connect, manufacturers do make carabiners with extra features specifically for belaying.
It should be a locking carabiner, once attached and the gate secured you shouldn’t have to worry about it opening. Ideally the top of the carabiner would have a larger radius and rounder profile for better rope control and longevity. At the other end a flat bottom is beneficial to help the carabiner sit better against the belay loop of your harness.
Many carabiners designed specifically for belaying have some form of device or mechanism for helping to maintain the orientation of the carabiner during belaying to prevent cross-loading, this can take the form of a spring-loaded gate or a bar.
Generally, the lifespan of metal products in not limited, though regular visual and mechanical inspection should be carried out. Any defects and excessive wear will weaken the strength. Sharp edges, extreme temperatures and hostile environments can all have a detrimental effect on the useable lifetime of climbing hardware.
Consider also the effect that one piece of equipment has on another – a well-worn carabiner with a great big rope groove worn into it or belay device that’s taken a big knock leaving sharp edges could both easily damage a climbing rope while in use – Something you really don’t want. Again, if you have any doubts about a piece of equipment, seek advice and/or retire it.