We think climbing is the best sport around for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that it is accessible to all, and this includes adults and kids alike. Climbing, and especially gym climbing can be perfectly scaled to suit any user of any age, height or ability. The result is that the perceived physical and mental challenge can be the same for an elite athlete as it can be for a six year old trying it for the first time with a few tweaks of a route setters drill and a change of holds.
We’ve all seen rock climbing growing as a sport locally and internationally the move away from dirtbag culture to the mainstream. Gyms popping up across every major city, comps growing nationally, internationally and even into the Olympic sphere. This growth has lead to youth climbing in particular becoming a major part of the scene. The industry as a whole and even the government through the AIS is heavily investing in youth climbing because this now represents the next generation of One lympic athlete hopefuls. Now some youth specific climbing gear like harnesses are can basically be paired back adult versions which is great in that context, but when you do the same thing with shoes it can lead to issues in the growing feet of children.
Kids Climbing Shoes - The Red Chili Puzzle
Youth climbing shoes are a conundrum especially in the performance and competition spheres. This is because generally in a performance shoe we are looking to aggressively fit our feet into the shoes for the most power in our toes. this is done with a tight heel that pushes your toes into the end of the shoe, a down turn and often asymmetry in the last (read our climbing shoes article for more info). But all of these characteristics are detrimental to growing feet as they put them in unnatural positions which can cause injury.
Red Chili developed the Puzzle as the first performance oriented climbing shoe to cater towards the anatomical and ergonomic needs of growing feet.
The Puzzle is designed to be very soft and flexible, thereby promoting young people's natural stepping behavior of "grabbing" footholds with the feet. This natural "claw effect" is supported by a slightly deeper rand in the toe area. At the same time, a moderate downturn provides sufficient pre-tensioning to pull on even smallest grips on overhangs without being too much as to cause injury.
The heel is narrow and straight so as not to excessively irritate the Achilles' heel and to not put too much forward pressure on the feet. The toe box at the front of the foot offers plenty of room for the toes without overly compressing them being a wide last with a soft upper.
In general when buying rock climbing shoes for growing kids it's not a bad idea to initially have them sized while the child is wearing socks. This way as their foot grows you can take the socks off and get some more life out of them as they won't grow out of them quite as fast. Kids can also have a tendency to keep climbing shoes on for the whole time they're at the gym or crag. As annoying as it might be, it's a good idea to encourage them to take them off when not climbing or just give their feet a rest.
Kids Climbing Harnesses - The Edelrid Finn III, FraggleIII and Rock Exotica Zuni
First of all when looking at youth harnesses we need to talk about fit. For the youngest kids full body harnesses are the way to go. As young children don’t have pronounced hips if they are put into a traditional sit harness and they invert in a fall they run the risk of sliding out of the harness. We can mitigate this risk by putting them in a full body harness or pairing a sit harness with a chest harness if they are a little larger. Also young climbers often don't have the core strength to support their upper body and back in the case of a fall. This is more of a minor issue because generally young kids are on top rope but never-the-less a full body harnesses can be that added bit of safety.
The Rock Exotica Zuni is a go to full body harness, it is an ideal harness for young climbers as it is very adjustable and has padding around the base of the legs for comfort where most of the weight is in a full body harness. It is designed to grow with them till they are ready for a sit harness.
The Edelrid Fraggle III full body harness is not quite as adjustable as the Zuni, hence it coming in two sizes. However it has a couple of really great features that make it the premium option. Firstly is that it is much more padded throughout the whole harness. Secondly is that it has tie on points on both the front and the back. This can be particularly useful for outdoor climbing and scrambles for attaching a "leash" so that kids can scramble below you with a tether. Also some very young kids can find it off-putting to have the rope in front of them so you can also move it behind for this reason.
The Finn from Edelrid is our go to Youth climbing sit harness, the wide padded waist and leg loops are ideal for long hanging sessions while they’re working their latest route. The gear loops are large enough for even the most ambitious young leader and are reinforced compared to most gear loops in case you need to grab them in the event of a wild child running around at the top of a cliff. It is also produced sustainably and in a resource-conserving manner in accordance with the strict bluesign® system. Investing in gear from companies that care for the environment is an easy way to help reduce your footprint.
Once kids get to the ages of around 10 they're often old enough to start fitting into the XS sizes of standard rock climbing harnesses. When making this transition however it is important to make sure that when done up the harness cannot be pulled down over their hip bones. It's also good to size the harness so that when put on and adjusted, the adjustment is at the smaller end of the harnesses sizing. That way it gives the most room to grow and you won't have to replace it any time soon.
The great thing about kids and youth climbing is that there isn't too much of an outlay for them to have all the gear they need for the sport. Generally we're just talking shoes, harness and chalk bag. From here, apart from just climbing often, the best thing is to check out one of the many kids and youth squad classes that the climbing gyms offer. Keep the climbing varied to always maintain the fun and excitement. Visit different bouldering gyms, roped climbing gyms, go outdoors as much as possible bouldering or just scrambling over rocks. With its creativity, problem solving, exploratory nature, as well as stimulation of the mind, body and sole, climbing is always a good choice for kids and youth to get in to.
Written by @flynn_does_adventures