Gear Advice

Indoor Climbing

See the BMC Feature on Kit for Starting Indoors

Building up a Climbing Gear Rack

Also see the UKC Article on Buying a Rack


Climbing covers a variety of disciplines from climbing walls, gymnastic sport routes through traditional mountain cragging to the full Alpine experience.

First Steps

The first step is to find a club, like the Ipswich Mountaineering Club, with members who are willing to introduce you to the sport. A list of clubs affiliated to the representative body, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), is available at the shops. So your first and best bet is to contact the Ipswich Mountaineering Club and go along to their weekly social meets. Perseverance may be required but climbing clubs have helped thousands over the years to experience their first rock climb. You can normally borrow the basic kit, and transport to the crags is arranged. This is the easiest and cheapest way to get into climbing. The most time efficient, and probably, safest way into climbing is to go on a course with a qualified instructor. Contact either the BMC or the Association of Mountain Instructors or the British Mountain Guides. If none of the above are options, then go down to our local indoor climbing wall at Mid-Suffolk Leisure Centre on a Monday or Wednesday evening and be sociable.

First Time Out

Take some spare warm clothing as the crags are normally exposed to the elements. As with most other outdoor activities a layering system is most effective, synthetic thermals work well as a base layer since they keep a warm cushion of air next to the skin and wick away any sweat whilst allowing a full range of movement. Avoid cotton, climbing is a stop – start activity, and cotton damp with perspiration is great for reducing body temperature. A windproof top is worth its weight in gold. If you haven’t got any rock boots try to borrow some.


Once you have decided that climbing is for you, all you want to buy is the basic climbing wall kit. The first items you will need are:

  • Harness
  • Rock Boots
  • Belay Device and Screwgate Krab
  • 1 x Chalk Bag and Chalk

First Trip to Rock

Nut key, essential to remove well placed gear, best kept on a Krab, with a short loop of cord to place over the wrist to stop the chances of dropping it.


The harness is your connection to the rope. The waist belt should be a comfortably snug fit, sitting above the hips and being unable to slip past them. The belt should give good support to the lower back, whilst notrestricting movement of your torso. The most comfortable harnesses often have a different cut with greater padding at the rear and scalloped sides. The leg loops should again be a close fit that allows a full range of movement for wide bridging and high steps. The distance between the waist belt and leg loops is an important factor in determining the over all comfort of the harness, particularly on women. All sit harnesses are suitable for adults using a top-rope. Troll’s Granite Harness is ideal for this purpose. They are simple, cheap and have a pre-threaded foolproof buckle that is perfect for group use. Young children, being top heavy and having undeveloped hips, need a full harness, such as the Petzl Ouistiti. Leading routes means the possibility of fall and so a padded harness is recommended for the added comfort it gives both in a fall and on hanging stances. The number of gear loops is also important, a minimum of 2 for sports routes and 4 for traditional climbs. Plastic is better than thin cord for the loops. If you are thinking of straying into winter climbing you’ll need a fully adjustable harness so that it can cope with the extra layers of clothing and be put of SAFELY whilst wearing crampons. It’s also useful to be able to drop the seat so that you can answer calls of nature whilst staying tied up.

You should preferably choose a rock climbing style harness with adjustable legs for pure rock climbing, but if you want to do mixed rock and Alpine climbing then an Alpine, diaper style, harness can be used for easy rock climbing. The only method of deciding whether a harness is comfortable is to hang in it, all shops have a suspension just for this purpose. So it’s worth trying a few models on. Wear a pair of shorts and take extra leg wear such as tracksters or similar when doing this, a harness should fit snugly no matter how many layers of clothes you wear, dependant of the weather. Climbing walls are deceptively warm, and the usual shorts may be comfortable, but in early Spring it can be a lot cooler, even down to freezing point!


Footholds on rock vary a great deal in shape and size, depending largely on the rock type and difficulty of the climbs being attempted. Boots with stiff mid soles and robustly constructed uppers are most suited for use on positive footholds. Those with these features are often best for beginners, as they provide greater support for the foot and ankle. They also tend to use a harder rubber compound on the sole that is more forgiving in imprecise footwork. The down side is that these boots tend to be insensitive and not suited to more technically demanding climbs. Higher grades and rounded footholds require a softer, thinner sole and low cut for greater ankle flexibility. The boot or shoe which will suit you best depends on many factors such as your climbing style, the rock types on which you wish to climb, the shape of your foot and even your weight. The Ballet, Ace and Lynx are good all-rounders. The fit should be tight enough to avoid movement between your foot and the boot and your toes should touch the end. There should be no dead space in the boots and enough gap between the laces to take up the stretch that will occur in the suede uppers. Suede is used as this stretches to give a glove like fit, lined suede will stretch a ½ to ¾ of one UK size, unlined one to one½ sizes. Ninja’s stretch even more!

Belay Devices

Belay devices either give a static or dynamic belay. Dynamic belay devices normally take the rope through a series of tight turns and the friction generated by these enables the belayer to hold the leader in a fall. However, in a fall a small amount of rope slippage will occur, which reduces the forces that develop in the system. In turn this decreases the risk of you stripping your protection and also helps to prolong the life of your rope since it has to absorb less energy. The stitch plate with spring is a firm favourite as it is easy to lock off, but does not jam against the krab. The Tuber and ATC are faster devices more suited to experience climbers and climbing walls.


It has to be admitted that helmets are not universally worn for rock climbing. But we recommend that a helmet is worn for all climbing activities and you are definitely safer with a helmet than without. If you are winter climbing, doing big mountain routes or climbing in the Alps, it is suicidal not to wear a helmet. The first choice is between glass fibre and plastic. Fibreglass absorbs more energy than plastic and so does not just rely on the inner cradle to give protection. This also means that fibreglass helmets tend to sit lower on your head. Fibreglass helmets also last longer than plastic. The main advantage of plastic helmets is that they are lighter. Above all make sure the technical specification is correct for your intended activity and that the helmet feels comfortable and does not slide around. It must not fit too high either. Two other considerations for alpinists are that the helmet will take a head lamp and that it has ventilation holes. In warm weather a light coloured helmet is cooler.

Belaying and Rope Management

This is beyond the scope of this information. If you wish to know more talk to experience club members, go on a course or read a decent book on the techniques employed. The Handbook of Climbing by Ian Peters and Alan Fyffle is excellent but there are many others on rope techniques.

Rock Protection

These are used as belay anchors or as intermediate (running belayed) points to hold lead climbers in case of a fall. There are essentially two types of protection, passive and active. Passive devices e.g. nuts, have no moving parts and are used in cracks, seams and pockets. Active protection e.g. friends and quadcams, have moving parts, which move to fit the crack / placement. Both types come in a wide range of sizes and styles, and most climbers will carry a variety of both.


These are metal snap links used to connect the rope and climber to protection devices, and to hold gear. The most frequently used are ‘D’ shaped, as they have a high strength to weight ratio, and a good gate open clearance. Locking karabiners have a threaded or sliding sleeve to lock the gate closed, and are a good choice for belays, essential protection etc. For use with most belay devices, a large oval screwgate karabiner is recommended (usually called an HMS karabiner).


For today’s climbers, the kernmantle rope is the best choice. The ‘Kern’ is the core of the rope and the ‘Mantle’ is the woven sheath which helps to protect the ‘Kern’ from abrasion. These are two primary rope types – single and double. Single ropes can be used on there own, whilst double ropes must be used in pairs. Double ropes are popular in Britain because they help reduce rope drag on long climbs, and allow greater freedom to place protection on either side of the climbing line. Most single ropes are approximately 11mm in diameter whilst most double ropes are approximately 9mm in diameter.

REMEMBER, ALWAYS TREAT YOUR ROPE WITH CARE – YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!!! Don’t step on your rope, or allow it to become dirty, as this will greatly reduce its life. You should also keep your rope away from chemicals, excessive heat and out of direct sunlight as much as possible. If you climb of sea cliffs regularly you should rinse your rope out in fresh, cold water as often as possible, and air dry (out of direct sunlight).

A typical lead climbers rack of gear for rock climbing

The following is a rough guide to a typical rack. An ideal rack is a matter of personal preference and depends on the areas climbed and experience.

  • 1 x 11mm rope or 2 x 9mm ropes
  • 1 x Abseil rope for coastal sea cliffs access, using your climbing rope in an emergency is fine, but at sea cliffs the abseil rope is left in place as an escape route if you cannot complete the climb
  • 1 x Climbing Helmet
  • 1x Harness (sit with leg loops)
  • 1 x pair of rock boots or rock shoes
  • 1 x belay plate e.g. Cosmic Arrester or Beta Brake etc.
  • 1 x HMS screwgate karabiner (for belay plate)
  • 1 x Figure of 8 descender, essential for coastal cliffs as many require abseiling in to get to the start of the climbs
  • 3 x screwgate karabiners (2400 kg or above)
  • 25 – 35 Snap Gate karabiners (2400 kg or above)
  • 10 – 15 Quickdraw slings of different sizes (10, 15 and 30 cm)
  • 2 x 4 ft Circumference Slings (20 or 25 mm tape)
  • 1 x 8 ft Circumference Sling (20 or 25 mm tape)
  • 1 – 2 Complete sets of nuts on wire (i.e. Wild Country Rocks or DMM Walnuts)
  • 3 – 6 Pieces of larger protection (i.e. sizes 6, 8 and 10 hexes) and / or Camming Devices (i.e. sizes 1, 2 and 3 friends)
  • 2 – 6 Microprotection (specialist use only, essential for Slate)
  • 2 x Prusik loops
  • 1 x Nut key

Of course you won’t be able to buy all this at one go, but that has been the way for all climbers. You build a gear rack up slowly. Your first few weekends away you will be seconding more experienced climbers to gain valuable experience in gear placement, and setting up belays. If you feel inclined to have a go at leading then most experienced club members will be more than happy to lend you some gear to gain experience in using different types of gear. From their guidance you will be able to decide which bits of gear to buy next, to slowly build up you very own gear rack.

Winter Kit List

Important Consideration – The more gear carried, the slower you move.

  • Clothing
    • Boots
    • Socks 1 or 2 Pairs
    • Thermals
    • Long Johns and long sleeve T-Shirt
    • Trousers or Salopettes
    • Shirt
    • Fleece jumper
    • Fleece jacket
    • Spare warm dry clothes
  • Waterproofs
    • Trousers or Salopettes
    • Jacket
    • Gaiters
    • Gloves or Mitts
    • Hat or Balaclava
  • General Kit
    • Whistle
    • Maps
    • Compass
    • Head torch and spare batteries
    • First aid kit
    • Goggles
    • Rucsac 40 to 60 litre
    • Waterproof Rucsac liner
    • Knike
    • Water bottle
    • Small thermos flask
    • Food
    • Small toilet roll
    • Polythene survival bag
    • Sleeping bag, 4-5 season rating
  • Climbing Gear
    • Climbing helmet
    • Harness
    • 2 Climbing axes, one hammer head, 1 adze
    • Crampons
    • Walking axe
    • Telescopic walking poles
    • Snowshoes
    • Transceiver
  • Group Kit
    • Stove
    • Billies
    • Rations
    • Water carrier
    • Matches/lighter
    • Small tool kit
    • Shovel
    • Avalanche probe
    • Bivi bag
    • Bivouac shelter
    • Survival strobe or flares
  • Climbing Equipment (This must suit the type of route to be climbed)
    • 1 {11mm} Rope or 2 {9mm} Ropes, dry treated, 60m in length
    • 1 or 2 Dead man anchors
    • Long slings
    • Short slings
    • Karabiners
    • Nuts 1 to 10 on wire
    • Nuts 6 to 10 on Spectra
    • Hexs 8-10-12
    • Pegs – Lost Arrow – Angle-offset blade
    • Ice Screws – Warthogs – Drive in-Screw out
    • Screwed in by hand – Titanium ice screws
    • 1 or 2 Bulldogs
    • Technical Friends
    • 2 Prusik loops
    • 1 Belay plate
    • 1 Figure of 8