The following advice should be taken with a grain of salt, as I am in no way qualified to give the advice, I am just a bit of a gear geek. I would suggest doing some of your own research and talking to other club members before buying any climbing gear; gear can be difficult to return. I would also like to mention this is not a list of must-have gear as all the gear below can be provided by the club.
Finding the Right Fit
Climbing shoes are likely the first piece of climbing equipment you will purchase. The world of climbing shoes is full of jargon but there are a few things to remember when buying your first pair. The most important being, try before you buy. The fit of a climbing shoe is the most important thing to get right. No matter how good a shoe is; it is useless if the fit is wrong.
You may have heard that climbing shoes should be tight. This is true but they should not be painful. The shoe should be snug with no dead spaces. With some shoes your toes are meant to be flat, and with others slightly curled. You also want to make sure the heel fits well, as you often use the heel while climbing.
However if it's not possible to try shoes on, there are a few places to help you work out the correct size. Banana Fingers can predict your size in a particular model. However this does not take into account the shape of your foot and is only a prediction, so trying the shoe on is always better.
Some brands such as La Sportiva state whether a shoe is designed for wide or slim feet, as can be seen in the chart below. I would still strongly suggest trying the shoes on first. Shoes perform a lot better with a really good fit.
What to look for in a shoe?
Stiffness: Climbing shoes can be soft or stiff. Stiff shoes tend to be better for standing on small edges. Soft shoes are more sensitive and better for smearing, where there is no proper foothold, and standing on volumes. For your first pair it is advisable to look for something stiffer. This is because soft shoes require stronger foot muscles to be useful, which you simply won't have as a beginner.
Asymmetry: Another feature of climbing shoes is how asymmetrical they are. The more asymmetric the shoe, the more power it provides and the less comfortable the shoe is. For your first pair lower asymmetry is advisable.
Downturn: The downturn of a shoe is how much the shoe is curved downwards. Downturned shoes tend to be more aggressive and less comfy than flat shoes. Downturned shoes are useful for overhanging climbing, whereas less downturned shoes tend to be better for less steep climbing like slabs.
Upper material: There are two main upper materials, leather and synthetic. Synthetic uppers don't stretch, so will stay the size you bought them as. Leather uppers do stretch, so sizing can be harder, but after they are worn in tend to be more comfy. Some additional notes are; leather shoes with a synthetic liner don't stretch much. Synthetic shoes tend to be vegan whereas leather are not.
Rubber: The last feature we will talk about is the rubber of the shoes. You get soft and hard rubber compounds. Soft rubbers such as Vibram XS Grip 2® will provide more friction on rock, but wear quicker than hard rubbers. Along with being harder-wearing, hard rubbers like Vibram XS Edge® are better for edging and will often provide more support to your foot. New climbers tend to wear rubber quicker. For a new climber a hard rubber can be a good idea, as it will last longer. There are also different levels of rubber, with more expensive shoes having better rubbers such as C4, XS grip and XS edge.
Different shoes also have different thicknesses of rubber. Thin rubber (2mm) offers more sensitivity whereas thick rubber (>4mm) offers more support and durability. For a first pair of shoes, thicker rubber is advised as it should last longer.
Are climbing shoes unisex?
The short answer is yes. Some brands offer men's and women's versions in a shoe. However, your sex doesn't determine which shoe would be best for your foot. Women's shoes tend to have a lower volume and tighter heel. Women's shoes are also designed for lighter climbers and have different rubber or thickness of rubber. In reality, it depends on your foot shape and size as to which shoes you should go for, which is why many brands have a high and low volume option instead.
What shoe should I go for?
As mentioned above, try the shoes on first, to find the shoe that fits you best. The better the fit, the better the performance. The shoes below are just a few examples. spend some time doing further research like reading reviews. For your first pair of shoes you can't usually go too wrong with a beginner's pair, as long as they fit. However, it is worth thinking about spending a bit more on an intermediate pair, as they may serve you better as you progress with your climbing. The shoes are mostly all-round shoes that should allow you to do everything from bouldering to trad climbing.
La Sportiva Tarantula and Tarantulace: You should be able to find a pair of these for around £60. They are one of the most popular choices for a first shoe. They are relatively stiff, flat and have low asymmetry. They come in both laces and velcro. Laces offer more size adjustment whereas welcro allow you to take them on and off quicker. They come with a 5mm Vibram FriXon® rubber. This rubber, though not as sticky as the Vibram XS rubbers, is more durable.
Scarpa Velocity V: This is Scarpa's competition to the Tarantula, and once again you can find it around the £60 mark. Much of what was said about the Tarantula goes for the Veolcity as well. The main differences are that it only comes in velcro and uses Scarpa's own rubber compound instead of Vibram. The Velocity comes in both men's and women's versions. Try both, as one may fit better than the other depending on the foot shape. The difference is that the women's have a narrower heel and lower volume.
Scarpa Vapour V: The Vapour V is a slightly downturned and asymmetric shoe, which can be found for around £96. This means it will perform better on overhanging climbs, but can deal with slabs as well. It comes with Vibram XS Edge® 3.5mm rubber. This shoe will likely be slightly less comfortable than beginners' shoes, but is still relatively comfortable. The shoe has a relatively large rubber toe patch, making it good for toe hooking. There is also a women's version of the shoe, which is lower volume and comes with Vibram XS Grip 2® 4mm, making it better for lighter climbers. There are lace versions of these shoes, which are slightly stiffer.
5.10 Anasazi Velcro: These are a flat asymmetric shoe that is good for edging, they can be found for around £90. They have the legendary stealth C4® rubber 4.2mm. These shoes are better for less steep terrain. They also come in a low volume (LV) shoe with a 2mm rubber sole, this will be better for people with smaller feet. This shoe was used by Shauna Coxsey until the release of the Anasazi Pro, which has greater heel tension and a rubber toe patch, in the bouldering world cup to win in 2016 and 2017. However, many people can find the heel can pop off when heel hooking.
La Sportiva Mirua VS: This is a stiff, downturned edging shoe, that can be found for around £90. This is another shoe that excels on overhanging ground, but can also deal with slabs. The men's version comes with XS edge® 4mm, and the women's version comes with XS grip® 3.5mm. Don't mix up these shoes with their lace-up namesakes, as they are very different shoes. If you ask me I would be happy to bore you with the differences.
The important point to take away from this is to try shoes on as if they don't fit well climbing shoes are useless and can even be harmful to climb in. The other point is think about what you want from a climbing shoe. If you are psyched and going to climb a lot I would suggest an intermediate shoe. If you are not sure how much climbing you are going to do or know you will only be doing the odd bit, I would suggest a beginner shoe. The final piece of advice is to talk to other members of the club. They will be more than happy to talk about different types of shoes and go into even further detail than I have done in this guide.
Chalk and Chalk Bags
Chalk: Climbing chalk helps to keep your hands dry while climbing. There are many different types of chalk. My advice is just to get a middle-of-the-road priced chalk ball to start with. This is simple and many gyms prefer chalk balls to loose chalk, as they create less dust. For anyone who happens to live by the white cliffs of Dover you cannot save money with a trip to the cliffs with a pickaxe. Sadly climbing chalk is MgCO3, not CaCO3. However on the bright side, you can climb the cliffs with ice axes.
Chalk Bags: Chalk bags can be buckled around your waist using the strap so you can chalk up while climbing. I would say this is the best way to carry chalk while starting off. More expensive chalk bags don't really offer anything more than cheaper ones. If you desire you can pay more for fancy looking ones.
Chalk Buckets: While bouldering, you may see people using boulder buckets which aren't carried up the wall with you. I would advise a chalk bag as a better starting point as it is more versatile.
What To Look For
There are many different types of climbing harness; sport, alpine, big wall, ski touring, etc. A good beginner's harness is an all-rounder or multipurpose harness. There are some features which are good to look for when buying a harness. One is speed buckles as you can just pull them tight and they are safe, no need to back them up. Another thing to look for is a belay loop and tie-in point that go through both the leg and waist loops, as this is safer. If you wish to learn trad climbing, I would suggest having at least 4 gear loops. Once again it is important to try before you buy, not as important as it is with shoes but still a good idea.
Black Diamond Momentum: This is quite simply a great harness at a great price as it can be found as cheap as £30. I have linked the size chart.
Belay Device: You get many different types of belay device. The most versatile of these is a double tuber style. This will work for climbing in the gym. Having a double tube device is important for trad climbing and for abseiling, where you use two strands of rope. I would also suggest getting one like the models mentioned below which have teeth to help control the rope.
Black Diamond ATC XP: £15
Petzel Verso: £15
Wild Country Pro Lite:£15
Guide Mode: All the above belay devices come in a guide mode version as well, which can be useful for trad climbing but tends to be a little more expensive.
Carabiner: The important thing is that you get a locking carabiner. It is also advisable to get a HMS carabiner; this is an abbreviation for Halbmastwurfsicherung, which simply means you can tie an Italian hitch on it. An Italian hitch is a knot that can be used instead of a belay device. A basic locking HMS will work great, but you can pay more for fancy carabiners claiming to do things better. These carabiners may be twist lock carabiners, which don't need screwing up, or have clips for keeping the belay loop out the way.
DMM Aero HMS: A simple no fuss carabiner, works great. £9.
DMM Belay Master:Like the Aero, but with an added safety feature. £15.
Salewa Belay Twist Lock Carabiner: This carabiner has a clip to keep the belay loop out the way, and a twist lock so it locks without needing to be screwed up. £16.
Types of Helmet
The most important point with helmets is that a more expensive helmet does not mean it will protect you better. All climbing helmets on sale have to reach a minimum safety standard. If you pay more for a helmet it will likely be lighter. It is a good idea to try helmets on, as I have found some designs are just not comfortable for me. If you have long hair, you may wish to buy a women's helmet; they are designed with space for you to tie your hair up, whereas unisex helmets are not.
Decathlon: If you are looking for a budget helmet, Decathlon sells climbing helmets from £20.
Petzl: Offer a range of helmets, from the classic Elios to the lighter Meteor and Sirocco.
This is an essential piece of kit to own if you are climbing outside, and can quite literally save your life. All you need to tie a Prusik is 1.2m to 1.5m length of 5mm cord, this should cost £1 to £2. The cord should then be tied into a loop, using a double fisherman's knot. Please do ask for help with the knot if you need it!