‘You have been asked by your line manager to start a Rock Climbing club for your local youngsters. Detail and justify the choice of equipment that you would recommend.’

Nick Sherriff



Climbing by its very nature covers a plethora of skill levels and fields of operation from basic indoor wall climbing to highly technical alpine ascents and with this comes an abundance of potential equipment for the climber.

From climbing’s humble beginnings using only standard Victorian clothing, Hawser-laid rope and little or no protection apart from the occasional body or direct belay it has developed into a cutting edge sport. (The Edge. 1997) Much of the equipment having been developed as a result of the 2nd World War at least in terms of karabiners, pitons and ropes, the latter moving to a Hawser-laid Nylon which was more dynamic. During this time the Commando Cliff Assault Wing (CCAW) had been set up opening up climbing to what could be suggested a different section of society and to a certain extent at a higher climbing standard.


The present day technology has made such advances in terms of textiles, materials and practices that safety is uppermost in the manufacture and use of equipment. At this point it is important to note that no rope or harness for example is completely safe, that is the nature of adventure, it is the risk that drives the climber and the management of such risks that determines the relative safety of the adventure (climbing). It is with safety in mind that the task of starting a Rock Climbing club should be approached; the providers and instructors of which have a ‘duty of care’ to the club members (youngsters).

Living in the West Country near Plymouth facilitates a plethora of climbing especially for the novice with many climbs at the lower end of the grading system and top-rope possibilities, depending on the weather and outbreaks of ‘foot and mouth’ of course. Various indoor walls are relatively close to hand such as Lipson Community College, The Kittow Centre and Stoke Damerell School all of which have supervised climbing or hire the facility to groups including the ropes. Outdoor crags are particularly good with Dartmoor so close at hand encompassing the climbing areas of the Dewerstone, Haytor rocks, Bench Tor and Sheeps Tor to name but a few. The surrounding area forms pillows of granite to crack-laden limestone incorporating inland and sea cliff climbing in places such as Chudleigh, Torquay, North Devon and Cornwall (Alston, C in White, N .1995:19).


From the outset all of the equipment must carry the mandatory seal of approval from the Community European (CE). Although an extra seal in the form of the Union Des Internationale Association A’Apinisme (UIAA) may be present which, is often of a higher standard, both however prove the adequate testing and passing of such equipment. This piece of work details the basic requirements for top roping which caters for the beginners as well as more experienced climbers incorporating indoor walls and outdoor natural crags. Leading or seconding equipment is the logical progression from top roping but requires a great deal of experience, cost and is very much dictated by the area or type of rock that is climbed on. For instance Dartmoor with its distinctive pillows of granite and flared cracks lends itself to the need for camming devices or large Hexes/Rockcentrics as opposed to the finer, often crack-laden limestone which neccessitates RPs and Wires. Therefore a general recommendation will be given on the grounds of introduction or cost leaving the subtle nuances of differing equipment to personal choice and climbing style/experience. For the purposes of starting a rock-climbing club the following considerations should be taken into account, a definitive list of recommended equipment can be found at the end of the piece.


Arguably the single most important piece of equipment is the climbing rope itself. Unlike the static Hawser-laid rope used by earlier climbers like Collie and Murray modern ropes are Dynamic, i.e. they stretch, and if it carries the UIAA seal will have to exhibit less than 12 kN impact force (the amount of force transferred to the climber in a fall), static stretch no more than 8% and hold a least five test falls without breaking just to meet the minimum UIAA standards (Bluewater. 1996).  Due to such rigorous testing the choice of ropes must take into account other considerations such as length, durability, single or double. For use indoor on a climbing wall only a 50m rope could be halved to facilitate two 12.5m climbs, whilst this initially saves on cost it negates the progression onto longer single and multi-pitch routes therefore it would seem prudent to buy full length ropes and adapt their use to suit the situation, although most climbing walls provide ropes and inclusive of the cost.  Single ropes are less complicated to operate with the belayer only having to concentrate on the one rope, which lends itself to the novice. Mammut make a 10mm rope but whilst cheap it is not so hard wearing therefore until a complete climbing season has elapsed it is recommended that half the ropes are the Edelweiss Emotion 10.5mm which is very hard wearing and much more water resistant. The Mammut is relatively inexpensive but is mass-produced and comes in all colours as long as they are black and white. (Needle Sports.2001) This rope is also not waterproof which therefore requires a rope bag for protection however it is recommended that all ropes be used in conjunction with a rope bag to stop the degradation of the equipment by dirt and grit. A note of caution is needed at this juncture, in light of cheaper mass manufactured ropes. Although initially less expensive these cheaper ropes are often much less durable and are prone to chaffing on course rock such as gritstone. Rope such as the Edelweiss Emotion (£100) is much more hardwearing but more expensive therefore the terrain and type of use should be a major consideration before purchase.


Climbing helmets are an essential part of a climber’s kit especially in the outdoors with loose or overhanging rock and it is good practice to get youngsters in the habit of wearing them. At this point it is important to note that because this is a youth group and not a school it therefore comes under the remit of the Activity License as well as the County Council, which requires the use of helmets by minors. Helmets come in two main types, fibreglass and polycarbonate/plastic all of which are acceptable although experience shows that fibreglass can be prone to chipping at the rim of the helmet once the plastic protector wares out. Keeping helmet colours the same allows for the ease of identification of not only the helmets but also the youngsters wearing them, especially at a busy crag or wall. Prices are relatively similar at around £44.99 with the Petzl Ecrin coming with an alternative replaceable liner for smaller heads ideal for youngsters. However deals can be found and Rock and Run offer the Kong Magic UIAA approved helmet for only £29.99 (2001).


Harnesses come in many forms that cater for simple indoor wall climbing to alpine mountaineering. Above all the harness should be comfortable and simple to use, for the purposes of starting a climbing club it would seem prudent to have a selection of harnesses that encompasses the novice and the more experienced climber. The Petzl Club fits from 22” to 49” but has no gear loops but does have adjustable leg loops which does therefore lend itself to the novice (Needle Sports. 2001) as modern kids come in various shapes and sizes. It is also recommended that a small number of full body harnesses be purchased for smaller children. The Petzl Club has a high tie on point which lowers the centre of gravity thus tipping is less likely to occur. It also has only one simple tie on point which whilst simple and easy to use sits the knot of the tie on point rather high. Care should be taken when tying on the beginner in order to stop the knot hitting them in the face if they slip or fall. Cheaper options catering for the more experienced climber comes with the Wild Country PLJ from Rock and Run, which at £27.50 is value for money. Another very good budget harness is the Rock Empire from Needle Sports at £36.50 however it suffers from the lack of adjustable leg loops which is only a problem if you are on the rock possibly in winter or the back end of the summer and require the harness to be worn over waterproofs or Salopettes. Harnesses that cater for the latter are expensive at around £50-£60 and it is suggested that they are confined to the SPA trained or instructional members of the club. The cheapest available at the time of writing this was the Petzl Corax at £50.00. (Rock and Run. 2001)


Climbing shoes or Rock boots are an immensely personal item not only in size but also in terms of hygiene and therefore it is strongly suggested that the purchase of such items is left to the individuals. Climbing in trainers is acceptable on rock especially at the novice grades but some indoor walls may not allow them in which case a hire facility is usually available. Rock boots as opposed to shoes are built higher to cover the ankle, which is more comfortable and protects the ankle when climbing on granite or grit stone, especially cracks. Depending on your style of climbing and the type of rock you climb on will dictate to an extent the equipment you purchase. Generally a firmer sole is better for edging than a soft sole that is better suited for smearing, therefore it may be wise to buy a cheaper all round shoe until you become more experienced. The Mammut Tusk is a good beginner shoe and relatively inexpensive at £39.99 (Needle Sports. 2001). As technology advances new materials and designs appear as seen with the Five Ten Ascent all day shoes. These are built to be used walking to and from the crag and give better grip when descending after the climb, usually via a goat track. Extra suckers and dimples cover the heel designed to give grip on wet grass something that dedicated climbing shoes/boots do not. The price as with all cutting edge technology is often the draw back and the Five Ten Ascents are no different at £73.99 (Needle Sports. 2001).


Choosing a belay device must take into account the ability of the user and the equipment it is to be used with.

“It is possible to end up with an incompatible rope and belay device, compounded by the incorrect choice of karabiner.”

(British Mountaineering Council – ‘Don’t let your partner down.’)


Belay devices work in two ways, those that use friction and those that pinch all of which have degrees of difficulty in use especially when transferring from holding to lowering. Slick devices (ATC and Wild Country VR); those that transfer easily; maybe considered a little to advanced for the complete novice as they require the belayer to apply force to hold and lower the climber which may feel a little uneasy. Grabbing devices however such as the Stitch plate, the Tubu and Cassin provide greater friction and whilst lowering may feel a little safer and give greater confidence to the novice. Other belay devices such as the Grigri and the Single Rope Controller (SRC) are known as locking or semi locking and whilst making holding the climber relatively easy the transfer to lowering requires ‘skill and judgement’ (BMC-Don’t let your partner down). All belay devices have an obvious use for climbing but the way and when they are introduced is important to offer climbers the experience of working and understanding different devices. Many devices have dual uses such as abseiling and climbing, single and double ropes with the most basic set up involving a stitch plate, a single rope and the new ‘Screwgate Belaymaster’ karabiner (Needle Sports.2001).


The karabiner that is used with the belay device is vitally important, too small and it will not operate with double ropes or Italian Hitch, too large and it has the possibility of turning and effectively cross-loading the gate, which drastically decreases the strength of the equipment. The ‘Belaymaster has a plastic gate that closes across both bars of the karabiner effectively stopping the possibility of cross-loading, however this also detracts from the multi-purpose aspect of the karabiner by effectively halving the space available for rope and equipment. It is suggested that the Belaymaster should be used as a training device for the novice but should not detract from learning experience of using other karabiners and set-ups, after all the closable sleeve on the Belaymaster is plastic and likely to break at some point. Anchoring the belayer to a fixed point could require the use of slings especially for the novice who may not understand the rope work needed. This is an important point made equally by the BMC who suggest that ‘ Many preventable accidents occur due to inattentive belayers, often combined with poor rope management skills.’ (BMC-Don’t let your partner down.) Slings are reasonably cheap and come in many lengths and are nearly always made of Spectra or Dyneema. A selection of sizes is recommended catering for many situations.


Finally it is recommended that the instructors be issued with a basic lead rack, which should encompass items such as Ascenders (Jumar), Prussiks, Camming devices, wires and a nut key. This will cater for basic lead instruction or arrival at an unfamiliar crag with no obvious belay points. However it must be stressed that the local terrain and the instructor’s experience will govern individual items purchased. The top-roping equipment could also be used to keep down costs with karabiners and knotted slings used as quick-draws. The price list for lead racks is at the end of the piece.


In summary, all climbing equipment is more mass produced than in the past due to the increasing popularity of the sport and as such suffers and benefits from the market forces. Consumers (climbers) can therefore often find bargains or heavily discounted prices, at the time of this piece of work Needle Sports were offering various harnesses for £14.99, rock boots for £19.99 and many offers on climbing racks. However cost should always be tempered by value for money, cheaper does not often mean better for instance the latter harness has no adjustable legs. All equipment should not only be logged for its use but rather an ethos of checking equipment by all members should be strived for. Many pieces of equipment will have a shelf and use life, which should be recorded and checked by the club. Finally, all equipment is safe if used correctly and therefore the equipment is only as good as the instruction given combined with sensible equipment husbandry. The following page contains a list of recommended equipment in order to start a climbing club of no more than 20 climbers and two instructors taking in to account all the previous discussions.











Alston, C. (1995) Historical in White, N. A Climbers Guide – South Devon and Dartmoor: Cordee.


The BBC. (1997) The Edge – One Hundred years of Scottish Mountaineering. BBC Worldwide Limited.


Bluewater. 1996. Dynamic Ropes. [online]. Available from; http://www.splean.com.au  [Accessed 27 February 2001].


British Mountaineering Council Safety Leaflet (2001).


Inglesport. 2001. Climbing Gear. [online]. Available from: http://www.inglesport.co.uk [Accessed 16 March 2001].


Kayaks and Paddles. 2001. Rock Climbing Hardware - Ropes. [online]. Available from: http://www.kayaksandpaddles.co.uk [Accessed 16 March 2001].


Needle Sports. 2001. Climbing equipment. [online]. Available from: http://www.needlesports.com/acatalog/ [Accessed 27 February 2001].


Rock and Run. 2001. Shop. [online]. Available from: http://www.rockrun.com/rr/shop/ [Accessed 28 February 2001].


Wild Day. 2001. Climbing Gear. [online]. Available from: http://www.wildday.com [Accessed 16 March 2001].


























Birkett, B. 1988. Modern Rock and Ice Climbing. London: A & C Black.


Fyffe, A, and Peter, I. 1997. The Handbook of Climbing. London: Phelham.


Shepherd, N. (1996) A Manual of Modern Rope Techniques. London: Constable.

 Back to guest page