What to get when you get started

What to get when you get started

Posted by Candice Bagley on 20th Jan 2020

So, you’re hooked. And it’s about now that you can give some thought to investing in climbing gear. Up until now you’ve probably hired gear from your gym or borrowed from a friend. You can continue this, but sooner or later it will be useful to have your own. There is a plethora of climbing gear available and you can go all out from the start, but, we recommend that you get an idea of what gear you’ll need for each stage of your climbing development. At this stage you will need a few basic ‘personal’ items. 

Every climbing shoe model has its pros, cons and specific applications. The sticky rubber is designed to help you stand on the most non-existent footholds. In the climbing gym, climbing shoes add an element of hygiene to the gym operations by preventing dirt from getting on the climbing holds. The shape of the climbing shoe is specific to the type of climbing that the shoe is designed for, but, some basics apply.

Generally, climbing shoes fit snuggly around the foot with little room to move, providing maximum control and no chance of your foot slipping within the shoe. Furthermore, climbing shoes aid in focusing power into the front edge of the shoe or toward the toe, specifically in the case of downturned/aggressive models.

Every climbing shoe manufacturer has a different set of recipes. You may wish to own more than one pair of climbing shoes. It is advisable to own a pair for training as these are usually comfortable and designed to be ‘abused’ in the gym. Gym climbing can wear down your shoes considerably, as can climbing on rough terrain such as granite slabs. Trad climbing, specifically multipitch trad climbing, involves wearing your shoes for an extended period and often involves scrambling on vegetated or dusty terrain. A hard- wearing, comfortable shoe will be more appropriate in these contexts. On the other hand, you may want a softer, more precise pair of shoes if you are climbing difficult sport routes. Bouldering requires an even more technical pair of shoes. High level boulderers have been known to choose shoes for specific problem types. To the extent that it is common to see a boulderer trying their harder projects in two different shoes, one model on each foot, as a result of different shoes being specific to different moves – an ideal heel hook for example, or a perfectly precise toe.

To begin with, we suggest you select your first pair of shoes as an all-round pair. Once you have mastered the basics and begin progressing to more technical climbing, these can later become your workhorse shoes, so they will not be wasted, and you may select a more aggressive, or indeed more specific pair as you decide the types of terrain you wish to focus on.

Sizing your shoes as you progress is as technical as choosing the correct model for the terrain you select. Each shoe design will fit your feet differently. It is important that you find a model that has the correct shape for your feet while performing the function you intend it for. When climbing short, hard boulders you want your shoes to fit tightly, as you do not need to wear them for too long and you want to maximise their performance. When climbing short sport or trad routes you will need to decide what to do about comfort versus performance, depending on what is most important to you and the level at which you are climbing (because there may be small footholds on more challenging lines). Remember that the pair of shoes that is a little bit uncomfortable when you’re standing in the store is likely to be unbearable after your feet have swelled a few pitches up, in the sun. It is in your interest to fit shoes for longer routes much more comfortably.

We don’t think of ourselves as sweaty creatures, but we are. While this is our evolutionary advantage, it is less advantageous when trying to climb, since sweaty hands are slippery. Our porous skin can sweat as much as a litre of water an hour, and when we are climbing, sweat is released from our hands. We use magnesium carbonate (chalk) to dry our sweaty palms and fingers. You can buy chalk in either block or powdered form – a matter of personal preference. Chalk is carried in a chalk bag. Chalk bags come in dozens of designs, and purchasing one is a matter of taste.

In some high-performance scenarios and in humid environments, you may wish to use liquid chalk. This is ethanol mixed with chalk which you apply before leaving the ground. The ethanol allows the chalk to adhere to your hands, forming a base layer and meaning you need to chalk up less, thereby saving energy as you climb.

On popular boulder problems and routes, chalk cakes up on the holds, becoming unsightly and making the rock more slippery than ever. Scrub it off with a brush carried in a small sleeve sewn to most chalk bags for that purpose.

Attaching your rope to yourself may have, in days gone by, been done by wrapping the rope around your waste. In modern style, we advise you to use a padded harness.

Harnesses that are fully adjustable are used for schools, scout groups or in a rental scenario where a harness gets passed back and forth between different sized climbers. However, when it comes to owning your own harness, there’s no need for such adjustment. You will find these harnesses often sacrifice comfort for adjustment and affordability.

When choosing your own harness, it is worth investing in a padded harness that fits securely around the waist and with leg loops allowing your legs to move freely, without dangling uncomfortably.

Most modern harnesses have single-pull buckles that are permanently thread – leave them this way, and don’t fully unbuckle them. Older harnesses, or those specific for big wall climbing or route setting may have a buckle needing to be rethreaded through itself. In this case you will notice an ‘O’ shape on the buckle when it is open, and once double backed, you will see a ‘C’ shape, which indicates that the harness is closed.

When purchasing or using a different harness, be sure to understand the safe way to fit it. Climbers have had serious fatal accidents as a result of neglecting to properly buckle their harnesses.


Carabiners are metal links with a gate which allow points to be attached to one another in multiple climbing scenarios, for example, they fasten ropes to your protection, they anchor climbers to the belay but shouldn’t be clipped to one another for reasons, mostly related to wear patterns. Carabiner designs come in many shapes, sizes and each of them have specific functions in mind.

If you climb with a rope you will need a belay device. This is a metal device that relies on friction to bite down on the rope, allowing you hold a fellow climber who has fallen and lower them safely, or use it to descend a rope by abseiling. These devices come in many shapes and designs, but generally, there are two basic designs, the tubular and assisted braking devices. The tubular device is the most economical and versatile, letting you belay and abseil on single and double ropes, an advantage for multi-pitch routes with descents .

Assisted-braking devices, such as the popular Petzl Grigri, are cam-based devices that let you hold a falling climber without straining your hands, a point that makes them popular among sport climbers, who might catch dozens of falls for hours at a time on a single route. It’s weight, expense, bulk, and the fact that it doesn’t work with double ropes are its drawbacks. There are many other devices on the market that are worth looking into. More become available every year. Geometry-based devices, such as the Mammut Smart Alpine, for example, can take one or two ropes and costs much less. Regardless of the design you prefer, make sure your belay/abseil device is built to work with the diameter of your rope. Not all devices work with all rope diameters.

Many climbers use tubular belay devices, which work similarly: if you don’t hold the brake end, or dead end, of the rope, the device will not work. You clip the device with the lead rope threaded through it to a locking carabiner on your harness belay loop (check the manufacturer’s instructions). Double-check to see that you’ve locked the carabiner, and periodically re-check it. The belayer will manage the rope using the device to either feed or take rope through the device. This is applicable whether the device is an Air Traffic Controller (ATC), Bug, or other similar belay device. The guide hand operates the rope on the climber side of the device, while the brake hand holds the rope on the other side and locks down to catch any fall. The single most important tenet of belaying is never to let go with the brake hand.

Many climbing stores, including CityROCK gear shop hold specials that benefit the first time gear buyer. So if you’re psyched to get a good deal first time off, ask any gear shop assistant about the starter kit specials.