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How to choose your harness, helmet and rock shoes

By Cotswold Outdoor
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The way that we select the fit of our clothes is largely down to personal preference. Some people like their t-shirts tight and trim, some like their jackets long and protective, but in the end this decision is largely based on style and form.

However, with certain pieces of rock climbing equipment a very different set of rules apply. To ensure the highest possible standards in safety, testing and engineering, most recreational climbing kit is classed as personal protective equipment (PPE). This means that in order to work correctly and safely all PPE must fit or interact with the body in a very specific way. This is clearly outlined in a written set of instructions that must accompany all forms of PPE and to get the correct fit it is vital that the end user reads the instructions.

Our expertly trained staff can help you make the best decision for yourself, and this guide is designed to get you thinking about what to look for when finding the perfect fit.

Helmets

When choosing a helmet you will have a number of options available to you. Much of your decision making will be made by how effectively the shape protects your own head (as each design will be different). Once again it is important to follow the instructions provided to ensure that it is fitting as the manufacturer intended, but other things you will need to consider are:

WHAT MATERIAL DO YOU WANT?

Hard helmets are more robust, whereas compressed foam options are much lighter but may damage easier and wear out quicker. This means that they may need to be replaced more often.

WHAT GENDER ARE YOU?

Many helmet manufacturers now make helmets for men and for women. The differences in these are largely down to size and shape, although there can be a few features that set them apart. For example, some women’s helmets are designed to take into account a ponytail or allow for adjustments to be made without tangling up in longer hair.

WHERE WILL YOU BE USING THE HELMET?

If climbing in a hot country you may want to consider a helmet with greater ventilation, this has the added benefit of making the helmet lighter. However by increasing the amount of air holes, certain issues regarding durability may arise. Even the lightest, most ventilated climbing helmet is still safe, but the wearer needs to think about what characteristics they want to prioritise.

Shop All Climbing Helmets »

Harnesses

Modern climbing harnesses classically comprise of a high, padded waist belt and two leg loops connected by strong, reinforced pieces of webbing and elastic. The main purpose of a harness is to attach you to your rope and subsequent safety gear, comfortably arrest any falls and enable the user to hang in a seated position without tipping backwards or forwards.

The way that a harness is designed to fit around your body, as well as how the safety buckles adjust and lock shut will be dictated by the manufacturer in their attached instructions. When considering a harness it is important to think about:

WHAT TYPE OF CLIMBING WILL YOU BEEN DOING?

If you are going to be sport climbing where weight can be critical then you may want a lighter harness with less padding whereas a trad harness may have a greater focus on comfort and more gear racking. There is however, the possibility that you will want the harness to perform well on both, in which case think about the amount of gear loops and padding you’ll require.

MALE OR FEMALE?

Many modern harness manufacturers make specific designs for both men and women. For example, women’s harnesses have more distance between the waist belt and the leg loops, as well as differences in diameter. However, the differences in various designs are predominantly for comfort. As long as the harness fits according to the instructions there is no reason why a male cannot wear a female harness and visa-versa.

HAVE YOU TRIED IT ON?

All of our stores encourage you to try on harnesses and many even have a rope hanging from a fixed bolt so you can sit with your full weight suspended. Take time to discuss with the assistant how the harness feels across the back of your legs, around the waist and whether you feel stable and secure.

 

Shop All Climbing Harnesses »

Rock Shoes

Rock shoes are designed to fit as closely as possible so you can get the best possible feel and grip from a foot hold. They do this by having a heel that pushes the foot forwards so your toes are tight up against the front of the shoe. Some entry level shoes are relatively flat, whereas other more technical pieces have a more ‘aggressive’ down turned shape. Although they are not technically a piece of PPE, rock shoes still have some very specific characteristics, so it important to consider:

WHAT SIZE TO CHOOSE?

Your climbing shoe size will most probably not be your street shoe size. As a rough guide, take your normal shoe size and then go 1 or 2 sizes smaller. This however is not a rule; you may want your first pair to be more comfortable, then as you progress you will tolerate smaller sizes more willingly.

LACES OR VELCRO?

Laces allow the user to get a more tailored fit around the entire foot. This means that you can tighten areas where you need it, and loosen where you don’t. Velcro still provides a nice fit across the foot, but its main advantage is quick removal. This is especially relevant with super technical pieces. The moment the climb is over, the shoes are loosened, offering relief.

THEY WILL STRETCH

Like any pair of boots or shoes, you will eventually break them into your shape. However the amount of stretch will depend on the material and construction of the shoe. As a general rule a shoe made from real leather will stretch more than one made from a man-made fabric so bear this in mind when you make your selection.

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