So you’ve been to the wall once with a mate, and you’re keen as a dog to climb as much as you can. A great way to get off to a good start with your climbing is to get your own equipment.
But as with anything requiring gear it’s easy to lose out by buying into false advertising and bad advice. So, we have produced an honest, straightforward, and unbiased guide to the kit you need to get crushing.
Climbing boots (shoes) are different to your normal shoes in 3 key ways:
THEY’RE STIFF: Climbing boots are made from a thick rubber sole that is very stiff. This allows you to stand on tiny edges using just your toes and directs power. Some shoes are stiffer than others, but you don’t need to worry about specifics at this point.
THEY’RE STICKY: The rubber that the sole is made from is engineered to produce a high amount of friction without being so soft that it rolls off holds. There are many rubber manufacturers available and some companies produce their own rubber. Again, at this stage you don’t need to worry too much about what you get but ask your local shop/wall for recommendations for shoes if you are unsure.
THEY’RE SNUG: Very snug. Climbing shoes have to be extremely tight-fitting to function as they are intended. The stiffness of the soles and the shape of the shoe is designed to support your foot and transfer power to the contact point with the foot hold. If the shoes are loosely fitted, your foot will have to work harder to stand on the smaller holds and the shoe can even slip off when using heel hooks. The fit of the shoe is THE MOST IMPORTANT consideration when buying shoes. Try to find ones that leave no empty spaces around your feet and can close securely. Lace-up gives the most secure fit but are not as quick to put on/take off as Velcro.
Don’t be encouraged to wedge your feet into tiny shoes as you may see some pros doing – you want a snug fit that isn’t unbearable. Shoes don’t stretch much but your feet do get used to the tight fit. Try to ignore colours or designs at this point and don’t be afraid to try men’s/women’s shoes to get the right fit.
It is also important to try as many manufacturers as possible as they use different moulds to produce the shoe shapes from. Some manufacturers trend towards larger/wider feet, and some suit smaller low-volume feet better. Just try everything!
You need chalk to protect you skin from those nasty flappers and blisters that come after a long session, or slipping on a hold. Chalk absorbs the excess moisture that your hands produce when they’re working hard and helps stop the layers of skin from sliding over each other. It can also help give your skin a small amount of extra friction.
Chalk comes in either a ball or loose blocks. Balls are the most practical as they often come with their own bag and are less messy, but loose chalk does give better coverage and is sometimes of higher quality. Remember that if you’re using loose chalk then you will need a chalk bag.
Hints and tips
Properly fitted shoes and chalk are important pieces of kit to have, and will allow you to concentrate of having fun and being a better climber. There are other accessories that are designed for bouldering which are not necessities but it’s good to know about them.
Holds become clogged up with chalk and rubber with use and this reduces the grip on them. To improve the ‘condition’ of the holds you can use a brush to clean the grime off. They’re of most use when climbing outside as the thick bristles are great to clear out moss, dust, old chalk etc. The best brushes are Lapis wooden ones, but you can get away with a toothbrush although they snap easily and the bristles don’t last as long.
Those bright, baggy trousers and vest tops are the idiosyncrasies of the modern boulderer. Not only do they award second-looks and challenge fashion ideals, but they are also very practical for climbing in. Unrestricted movement is an important consideration in clothing choice and if climbing outside it’s important to have a pair of pants that will not easily tear. A pair of loose, stretchy jeans and a t-shirt will suffice.
Potions and Lotions:
There is a dazzling array of lotions, balms, creams, and ointments all intended to rebuild and repair your tips after climbing. Some of these DO work, but they are only an aid to skin maintenance. You will do well to simply:
- Use enough chalk.
- Climb carefully.
- Wash hands after climbing.
- File away calluses
- Moisturise with a reputable solution.
- Use Marigolds!
If you do want to add a climbing-specific treatment to your hands, use a well-known and regarded brand such as Climb On or Climb Skin, and avoid such medications as Antihydral treatments.
In time your skin will thicken and you will be able to climb for longer, but it requires some care and attention to your paws.
The best thing about bouldering is that it is accessible, laid-back, and sociable. The requirement for kit is minimal and you really don’t need to stress over your gear. The important points are:
- Be comfortable, warm-up properly, and enjoy yourself.
- Get a pair of shoes that FIT PROPERLY, they don’t have to look good.
- Use adequate chalk.
We hope that this guide is of some use to you and that your equipment choice has been made less stressful. In time you will become more aware of which manufacturers are good for what, and what the ideal kit for you is – ultimately it is a personal decision.