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Getting Started Climbing: Gear

Getting Started Climbing: Gear

Today, Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor Esther Foster, who is based in the Lake District, takes us through the first steps to choosing gear if you’re ready to take those steps.

Starting to climb outdoors can be a daunting experience, especially when you consider all the technical skills you need to learn and the amount of kit you may have to buy. Don’t let these things hold you back though; we have more information and opportunities available to us than ever before, and there is a whole world of rock climbing just waiting to be explored!

This series aims to give you a few pointers on those first steps and decisions as you progress towards more outdoor climbing. The first article looks at the gear you might need, and how to go about purchasing it, with the next two articles showing you suggested racks for trad climbing and sport climbing.


My first piece of outdoor climbing gear was a nut key that I found in lost property when I worked in a climbing wall in my late teens. I then just about managed to afford six quickdraws and a set of 1-10 nuts when I moved to university. For the next few years I very slowly built my rack up piece by piece, and tried to make friends with climbers who owned all their own equipment and had a car. Twelve years on I now own more climbing gear than I have space for, and even have a car! I remember the excitement of owning my first cam, first harness, and first quickdraws, and now it’s a pleasure to pass on some advice and see others start their outdoor climbing journey too!

#1 Should I buy everything all at once, or build it up little by little?

This decision will mostly depend on your financial situation, and is totally up to you.

Buying a trad or sport rack all at once can be great for making sure you are all set to go outside and are fully independent. However, I would suggest that if you are a new outdoor climber, it’s really beneficial to use other people’s gear a little bit and work out what you like and how things work, so that you can make the best decisions in the shop about what you actually want to buy.  

If you are a little more cash-strapped, don’t be afraid to ask if you can use your partner’s climbing gear (social distancing rules dependent) when you are outside. Climbers are generally a friendly bunch and happy to share, and to be honest, a lot of us would prefer to use our own climbing rack anyway. When I’m trad climbing, I like to use my own rack as I know the colours and system so well that it’s easier to use. If you are using your friend’s rack and ropes, there will always be other ways you can contribute; perhaps by doing the driving, bringing a cake, or just generally being great company!

#2 Which gear should I really take my time deciding on?

Here are some items I would suggest paying a bit of extra money for, or taking your time to buy the right one for you:

  • Helmet: If you don’t like the look of it or it isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it. Go to a shop with plenty of choice and try them all on. 
  • Harness: Tips on choosing a harness could probably take up a whole other article. The fit is key and sizes will vary between brands, so again I would recommend trying one on first, and considering what designs best suit your needs.
  • Cams: For trad climbing, I would highly recommend paying the money for a good set of double axle cams (e.g. Black Diamond Camelot’s or DMM Dragons). They are incredibly well designed, fit in a large range of cracks, and are hard to get stuck. 
  • Rope: There are some more detailed blogs on ropes here, but essentially take your time considering what length, diameter and design will best suit your needs. Often when people start climbing, a 50m single rope will suffice, but as you progress, you might need double ropes for trad climbing, or a longer rope for sport climbing abroad. 

Other equipment such as quickdraws, nuts, slings and carabiners are easier to choose. Shops will sell a variety of brands that are all good quality, and, although I’ll give you some pointers in the next two articles you can generally just take your pick of the price and design that suits you. 

#3 Should I go to a shop, buy online or buy second hand?

I would highly recommend buying any key safety kit brand new. Your life depends on it, and you don’t know how second hand kit has been stored or treated (take a look at our rope article for more info about this). Clothing, rock shoes, guidebooks and bags can all be bought second hand. Outdoor Gear Exchange on Facebook, EBay, and UKClimbing.com are all good places for this….you can find some real gems and quality, barely used items on there, and it’s great to encourage kit to be reused rather than thrown away.  

Another consideration is that the world of online shopping is really taking its toll on local businesses and high street shops. We all want a bargain, but if you an afford it, consider buying your gear from an outdoor shop where possible. 

And finally…

What exactly should I buy?

The decisions about exactly what gear to buy can seem tricky, so Esther has shared her thoughts on a first trad rack and a first sport climbing rack here:

First Trad Climbing Rack

First Sport Climbing Rack

If you don’t know what we’re talking about, don’t worry – perhaps it’s time to join us at one of our meetups where you can meet other climbers and start to learn about gear, and what works for you, before taking the first steps. That is just one of the many great things about our meetups!

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