As a new climber, it’s sometimes confusing to know what to buy when it comes to climbing shoes and equipment, and where to buy it from.
Despite all the information provided in this guide, I urge you to speak to your fellow climbers, and if possible, have some form of introduction to the equipment club members already own and use. This will give you the opportunity to understand why that equipment was chosen (its suitability for location and type of climbing), and learn how to use the equipment before committing to purchasing your own.
As a beginner climber, the main equipment you will need are as follows:
- At least 1 Locking Carabiner
- Belay Device
- Chalk & Chalk Bag (optional)
Recommended extras for outdoor climbing:
- Guidebook (optional)
For regular outdoor climbing, this is enough to ‘second’ any climber who has their own rack. If you want to consider assembling your own rack, speak with the people you are already climbing with, who will suggest what other equipment you may need such as ropes, nuts, cams, slings, etc.
Climbing shoes are used because they provide more support to the foot and better grip than trainers. By using the strength of your legs and good footwork, it takes a lot of the weight off your arms, enabling you to climb harder and longer.
You may hear people say things like “go down a size from your regular shoe”, however climbing shoes are notorious for inconsistent sizing, so this isn’t always good advice. Wherever possible, it is always recommended to try shoes on in person. Even shoes from the same manufacturer will vary in size between one model and another, so trying on many pairs is the best way to find the size and shape that fit you best. Your foot should fill the shoe and there should be no dead space between your toes and the front of the shoe. Equally, your heel should fit snugly in the back of the shoe and shouldn’t slip off if you try to remove the shoe once it’s fastened closed. If they are painful, you’re probably not going to enjoy climbing in them, so go up a size.
Climbing shoes differ in shape depending on their intended use. A neutral or moderate shoe is a good starting point for a beginner. They are usually flat or slightly downturned, reasonably comfortable, quite stiff and offer a good thickness of rubber on the sole. The stiffness helps support your weight on small footholds and edges, helping to improve your footwork, while the thick rubber sole is more resistant to wear and will last longer than a more technical shoe.
Shoes described as severely downturned or aggressive are intended for steeper, overhanging routes as they allow your toes to hook holds more effectively. They are normally softer, with a thinner rubber sole to allow you to ‘feel’ more through your feet and be more precise with your footwork. While you may benefit from these features as a beginner, you will likely wear them out quickly and they are usually more expensive, so it is probably not worth it.
Climbing shoes can be made of natural or synthetic materials, or a combination of the two. As a general rule of thumb, shoes made of natural materials, such as leather and suede, will stretch and mould to your foot with use, whereas synthetic materials won’t. Lined leather shoes are a combination of natural and synthetic, where the lining material helps prevent the leather from stretching as much.
This should be a a consideration when it comes to size, as some shoes (especially those without laces) may stretch up to a full size or more over time. Be sure to ask the retailer or read the description on the website to gauge how the shoe may change with use.
This is a simple one. Climbing shoes come with one of three closure methods: laces, velcro, or slip-on. Laces offer more adjustment and allow you to customise the fit more closely to your foot, but they can be slow and annoying to take on and off (plus laces snap). Velcro is a quick to use alternative which allows some adjustment, but not as much as laces. Lastly, some shoes are a slip-on fit. With these, it is incredibly important to get the right size, because if they don’t fit perfect, then there is no adjustment. Also, as mentioned above, slip-on shoes tend to stretch more as there is no method to retain the shape and structure of the shoe. That being said, they can be very comfortable and convenient.
When it comes to other equipment, such as harnesses, carabiners, ropes, etc, it is less important to buy in person, but may still be beneficial if sizing is a factor.
The most common types of harnesses are the ones shown below. The one on the left is commonly called an alpine harness and features one main attachment point (yellow) for tying-in and belaying. These are commonly used by climbing centers and clubs as they are widely adjustable, but are not recommended when purchasing your own harness. The harness on the right is a more common sport harness and features an independently rated belay loop. The tying-in point on these harnesses is through the same channels that the belay loop runs which is safer and more versatile when climbing and belaying, particularly outdoors. They are also cushioned around the waist and leg straps for comfort.
The other main variations when it comes to harnesses are adjustment and gear loops. Cheaper harnesses have a single buckle around the waist and fixed leg loops, whereas others may come with double waist buckles and adjustable leg loops. Depending on what type of climbing you intend to do (indoor, outdoor, ice climbing, big wall) you may also choose a harness based on how many gear loops it offers. It is all down to preference and comfort.
You will need at least 1 locking carabiner to belay other climbers safely. This can be a screwgate, twistlock, or any other system which prevents the gate opening unintentionally. You may also want to consider a standard carabiner with a solid or wire gate for carrying accessories such as your belay device or nutkey when not in use.
If climbing outdoors, it is always useful to have multiple locking carabiners so you have options when it comes to anchors for belaying or top-roping.
If a club member teaches you how to belay, it will most likely be with a standard manual belay device, such as the Black Diamond ATC (or ATC XP). If this is what you have been taught to use, then it’s recommended you buy something of a similar design. There are belay devices which offer assisted-braking or assisted-locking, such as the Petzl GriGri. These should not be considered “auto-braking” or “auto-locking”, as your full attention is still required to use these devices. Unless you are familiar and confident using one of these devices, it is recommended you stick with a manual belay device for most types of climbing.
Before we discuss where to buy equipment, I want to mention safety. Climbing equipment is there to protect you and save your life in the event of a fall. Also consider that we mostly climb with other people, so not only is your safety on the line, but theirs as well.
There are technical standards that equipment must meet to be be deemed safe to use for climbing. The gear you buy should ideally be UIAA rated or at the very least, CE and/or EN certified, providing it is the appropriate certification (e.g. EN 12275 is for rock climbing, but EN 362 is only for industrial use).
READ – Online Budget Gear: The Perils of the Bargain Buy (UKClimbing)
READ – Online Climbing Gear: are you buying safe equipment? (BMC)
READ – Online Climbing Gear: are you buying safe equipment (UIAA)
WATCH – Fake Britain : Climbing Gear (BBC)
As these articles show, there are products available, often at attractive prices from retailers such as Amazon, which are advertised as “suitable for climbing”. Avoid products which you cannot guarantee are certified, and instead buy from reputable retailers selling reputable brands. There are too many shops and brands to list them all, but the shops listed below are trusted retailers, as are those listed in the link below for BMC discounts.
If you’re in any doubt about the equipment you’re buying, you can check if it is UIAA certified using their Certified Equipment Database or ask the opinion of an experienced climber.
Where to Buy
Now, when it comes to buying equipment, unfortunately you won’t find anything locally. That leaves two options…visit an outdoor shop when travelling to the UK or abroad, or order online.
The BMC provides a list of retailers who offer a discount to BMC members. Some of these discounts are only valid in-store (in the mainland), but others are available as online discount codes. You can find the full list here:
BMC: Get discounts in shops nationwide
If shopping in the mainland, be sure to carry your BMC membership card with you.
There are dozens of outdoor equipment shops that you can buy from, but here is our pick of the best online shops which deliver to Jersey.