Peak District rocks

Important things you should know when buying your first set of rock climbing equipment.

Rock climbing equipment can be a very daunting thing to buy. There is a huge range in climbing gear, each with its own niche. I hope to clarify and enable you to buy the correct gear with confidence.

The Shoes

When buying all your climbing equipment, shoes can cause the greatest problems. Many new climbers are given bad advice and end up buying a pair of shoes that are unsuitable for their needs. Climbing shoes can be expensive, so the last thing you will want to do is spend £50 on a pair you only use once.

Hire the shoes for a while: I have seen many enthusiastic beginners buying their first pair of shoes and in a couple of weeks find that they have bought a pair that are too large. A pair of climbing shoes is designed to fit “snugly” around the feet. If the shoes are too big the feet will roll around in the shoes. At first, this is not a problem as you will be climbing on large footholds, but as soon as you progress onto harder climbs you will find the shoes very hard to use. My advice would be to hire climbing shoes from your local wall or use a climbing instructor that lends climbing shoes as part of their climbing course. This will allow you to get used to the “feel” of the climbing shoe before spending your hard earned money on a pair that does not fit.

Pain is insane: The second biggest problem that people are told they have to buy climbing shoes that are a size smaller than their normal shoe size. This is because tight climbing shoes work better on tiny footholds. Climbers starting out will not be using these tiny holds for quite a while and end up with a pair of shoes that they can’t wear for more than 5 minutes at a time. Do not be persuaded to buy shoes that are too small. I am a size 9.5 and my climbing shoes are 9.5 and I have never had a problem with my feet moving around in the climbing shoe. Most climbing shoes are on the small side anyway. A size 8 climbing shoe often feels like a 7 to many people.

A good shop will have a small wall where you can try the shoes. If you can stand on a small climbing hold using your toes without any pain, the shoes should be OK.

Price DOES Matter: You could spend up to £150 on a pair of shoes, don’t. You can buy a set for £40 that will be just as good.

Models, makes and styles: There are many different type of climbing shoe on the market. Each make of climbing shoe has a different shape of foot. I find that 5.10 shoes fit my feet very well but Sportiva shoes are very loose around my heel. Find a pair of shoes that fit your feet. This will involve trying many pairs of shoes, but this is time well spent. Some shoes are designed for different styles of climbing, such as shoes for overhangs or shoes for slabs. When you progress and start climbing more technical climbs you will need more technical shoes, which will cost more money and be less comfortable (until you get used to them). But right now, while your feet are learning technique and getting used to the shoes. All you will need is a pair that feels comfortable.

Velcro Vs Lace up: This is down to your personal preference. I find lace ups provide a better fit, but Velcro are much more easy to take on and off. This is not that important, buy a pair that fits your feet.

Breaking In: 10 years ago, climbing shoes used to stretch. This meant that people bought shoes that were too small so after they have stretched the shoes became a good fit. These days, shoes don’t stretch that much, but they do tend to mould themselves to your feet. You will find that after a couple of weeks the shoes will become more comfortable. Many climbers try to speed up this process by wearing the shoes around the house. I find that if you feel that you need to do this, your shoes are too small!

The Harness

The most important thing you should do when buying a harness is try it out. Most shops will have a rope you can clip yourself to so you can find out what the harness is like to hang in. Spend 5 minutes in the harness, it should not be painful.

Gear loops: I like a harness with 6 gear loops as I spend most of my time doing traditional climbing using lots of climbing gear. Sport climbers will only need 4 gear loops for their quickdraws.

Size: Make sure you buy a harness that is in the middle of its size range. If you buy a climbing harness that will not go any smaller, it may not fit in a couple of months if you lose any weight. The same goes for putting on weight, make sure the harness will still fit if this happens.

The Helmet

Helmets are simple to buy. Get one that is designed for climbing and feels comfortable to wear.

The Chalk Bag

Not much to worry about here, the most important thing is you buy one that looks cool and your hands fit into it.

Belay Plate and Krab

You may decide that you don’t need to buy these yet, but if you are super keen there are a couple of things you will want to consider.

Belay plate: There are many different types of belay plate; my best advice is to talk to the people in the shops. These people tend to be “gear freaks” any will know everything about each belay plate. I would buy a simple one that allows you to use two ropes (very useful for abseiling). Don’t get a semi-locking plate such as a Gri-gri as these can only be used for sport climbing. I would not worry about “magic plates” that have a guide mode, as most climbers don’t use these anyway.

Karabiners: Again there are many types of krabs; pear shaped, HMS, oval ect. There is not a hard and fast rule about what type to get. Some people use pear shaped krabs, as they are less likely to get jammed in the belay plate. Other people like oval krabs as they work whichever way round they are. You can also get a krab called a belay master, this has a bit of plastic that keeps the krab the correct way round and also makes sure you have closed the krab.


Association of Mountaineering Instructors Mountain Leader Training Association National Navigation Award Scheme British Mountaineering Council Environmentally friendly climbing courses
© Mountain Trips 2020