Buying Your Own Gear
The outdoor gear industry is a large and confusing one, with contradictory marketing claims and highly subjective opinions more common than comparable facts. This page is intended to give you a few pointers if you're considering buying your first few bits of outdoor kit, and don't yet know what to look for. We've also included examples of outdoor retailers in and around Oxford and online (correct at time of writing); this list is not exhaustive, and there are evidently many others available.
We've tried to avoid including our own opinions too much, but obviously some of this information is based on our own experiences. If you disagree with any of this information, please bring your objections to the Gardeners Arms on a Wednesday night. Everybody loves a good gear debate.
If you're new to outdoor pursuits, then the best place to start is your outdoor wardrobe. Good outdoor clothing can make climbing experiences a lot more enjoyable, whatever the weather.
Whilst indoor climbing clobber is all about maximising movement (and posing opportunities), outdoor clothing should be about maintaining a balanced temperature in a wide range of challenging environments. In order to prevent overheating on long walk-ins, and freezing temperatures on mountain belays, a layering system is recommended. This usually consists of a breathable base layer, an insulating mid layer, and a waterproof shell.
Waterproofs are, for most if not all times of year, essential for climbing in Britain. Not only do they keep you dry, they also provide a windproof layer which can help keep you warm whilst climbing, walking and, belaying. A good waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers are a must.
There is a massive range available, in terms of both performance and cost. Whilst you may not want to spend a fortune on a first waterproof, it pays to be wary of some of the cheaper options available. For example, some cheaper waterproofs, whilst rainproof, may not be as breathable as some other brands. Sweat condenses on the inside of waterproof fabrics; breathable fabrics allow moisture to escape so you won't get as wet during active pursuits such as climbing, mountaineering and hill walking. Moreover, some of the more lightweight fabrics available, whilst great for sports such as cycling, may not withstand the wear and tear of climbing and scrambling.
In some instances it may be worth paying a little more for the more trusted brands of waterproofing (Gore-Tex or eVent, for example) in order to stay dry, warm and safe on the mountain.
The most tried and tested mid-layer option is the fleece, which come in various weights and thicknesses and can be picked up pretty cheaply at most outdoor retailers. However, other options, including Powerstretch materials and softshell layers, provide an increasingly available alternative to the traditional layering system.
It's definitely worth investing in a decent base layer. These help to keep you cool when moving and prevent rapid cooling when you stop. It is essential that these are made of a breathable material. Synthetic materials like polyester provide a cheap option to wick sweat away from the body in warm conditions; natural fibres like merino wool are more expensive but provide an effective warm wicking layer, even when wet. Wool also has the added advantage that it doesn't smell quite so bad after a couple of days on the hills, although many synthetic base layers now come with antibacterial treatments to improve the odour.
Remember, cotton kills. Cotton layers (like jeans, joggers or normal t-shirts) dry very slowly, which, in cold weather, can lead to rapid cooling. Synthetic base layers and fleeces can be picked up very cheap, so don't take the risk.
Getting to the bottom of climb can often be one of the trickiest parts, and a decent pair of walking boots or 'approach' shoes can be very useful. Many climbers use lightweight approach shoes for walk-ins in mild conditions, as these don't wear your legs out and are generally better ventilated. However, keep an eye on the weather; if conditions turn sour, you may be glad of a pair of warm, fully waterproof walking boots.
Again, there is a huge range available to suit different pursuits, but remember - if they don't fit, they don't work. Always try on walking boots in a shop before buying, as everybody's feet are different; there's no need to massacre your feet in the walk-in (your climbing shoes will do that for you later!).
Climbing in your own shoes is infinitely preferable to climbing in a pair that have been worn by 482 other smelly climbers before you. There is some debate as to exactly how a good pair should fit; however, close-fitting doesn't have to mean toe-crushingly tight. There shouldn't be any large pockets of air around your feet, but no painful pressure points either. Again, try as many different pairs as you can, as they can vary massively in terms of fit even within the same brand or model. When you find a model you like, try the size above and below, as climbing shoe sizes are very relative.
Whilst a more '''aggressive' fit may help you achieve that one crucial move on that one crucial problem, they may leave you crippled on longer mountain routes. The most flexible option, although obviously more expensive, is to own more than one pair of climbing shoes; a close-fitting, technical pair for indoor, sport and bouldering, and a more comfortable pair for all-day mountain routes.
Harness: While the club has a number of harnesses to lend out at Brookes and on meets, buying your own will allow that bit more independence. Furthermore, your new harness is likely to be more lightweight, comfortable and versatile.
Different designs offer varying levels of comfort and utility. Gender-specific designs in range of sizes are available to get the best fit; a good outdoor shop assistant should be able to help you choose. Certain designs will have considerably more gear loops, haul loops and accessory loops. Whilst these are not immediately necessary for indoor climbing, they may be worth thinking about if you intend to start climbing outdoors.
Belay Device: A belay device is also essential in both indoor and outdoor climbing. Simple tubular devices, such as a Bug or ATC, will suffice for most types of climbing. On longer mountain routes, guide-type plates can be very useful, but require a particular technique to operate properly. Assisted braking devices such as the GriGri are popular amongst sport climbers, but are more expensive and complex than other common belay systems.
Helmet: Whilst not necessary for the indoor wall, ALL members attending an outdoor club meet must have a helmet. The club has some to lend out. It is also very advisable to wear a helmet when climbing outside at other times; falling rocks are not uncommon at most crags.
Helmets vary in size and shape, so again it's worth trying plenty on before buying. If your helmet fits well, you'll barely notice you're wearing it.
Where to go
Whilst it may sometimes be more expensive than online, it's always worth trying on harnesses, helmets and especially shoes in store to ensure a good fit. Unfortunately, Oxford's awkward geographical position means that there are very few options available. See below for a list of retailers near the Oxford area. Opening hours and maps for each can be found by clicking the link.
Fortunately, OUMC currently have a special arrangement with the Llanberis-based retailer V12 Outdoor to bring their leading range of climbing gear to a pop-up store in Oxford each year. With a huge range of gear and special discounts available only to OUMC members, this is a great opportunity to stock up on equipment for the climbing season. The pop-up store will take place in Michaelmas term, shortly before the North Wales meet; keep an eye on the termcard and emails for details.
Many outdoor shops offer a discount in the region of 10% to all BMC members (which includes all members of OUMC). If you have a BMC membership card, take it to the shop with you and ask about their discount.
- Decathlon - Good value outdoor clothing and a small range of climbing equipment including shoes, harnesses and belay plates
- Cotswold Bicester - Outdoor clothing and climbing equipment, but about 10 miles outside Oxford
- Blacks - Pricey outdoor clothing (no climbing gear) but worth a look when there's a sale on
- Go Outdoors - Outdoor clothing and climbing equipment. Stocks most climbing gear and will price match online retailers, which can be very helpful.
It is also worth noting that most climbing stores have a no returns policy when it comes to climbing gear (this includes harnesses, belay devices and helmets), so make sure your harness has been fitted properly before you purchase.
Buying gear online is generally cheaper than buying in store. For items that don't require fitting, or if the fit is less important, buying on the internet might get you the best deal. However, for items like shoes, boots, harnesses, helmets and some types of clothing, it's always worth going to a decent outdoor shop to make sure your new gear will work for you.
- V12 Outdoor - Good range of climbing hardware and some outdoor clothing, and their loyalty card scheme is definitely worth a look
- Needle Sports - Excellent outdoor retailer with very useful advice pages throughout their website
- Outside - Often has good deals on
- UK gear exchange
Above and Beyond are offering a discount card to all OUMC members which entitiles you to 15% off RRP. To get a discount card and take advantage of this deal please contact the President (president AT oumc DOT co DOT uk).
Outdoor gear can be very expensive, and buying used kit is potentially a good way remain solvent as a cash-strapped student. Noticeboards at climbing walls will often have space for sale adverts. Online auction sites, Facebook pages like this one, and the 'For Sale' Forums on UKC are also worth a look.
Please note - While usually cheaper, used gear has the obvious drawback that you don't really know how it's been used or abused in the past. While this isn't too much of a problem for kit like clothing, it can become a significant hazard when using second-hand safety equipment. A seller might claim a rope or cam "hasn't taken any falls", but this is unlikely to be true in practice.
It's really up to you how careful you want to be, but as a general rule of thumb we recommend buying any gear that's likely to take your weight on a climb (e.g. ropes, protection and harnesses) new from a reputable retailer. It's also a good idea to avoid second-hand helmets; it might look alright, but invisible damage could cause sudden failure in an impact or fall.