If you're kitting out a budding climber, a harness and helmet that properly fit them are basic essentials, and neither are worth cutting corners on. Although it's possible to make do with trainers for top roping the odd Diff, keen kids will get a lot out of real rock shoes too. The quality of childrens' gear varies, but even if your family ambitions don't run beyond the occasional wall trip or sunny weather cragging picnic, gear that's comfy to wear and easy to get on and off will make their lives - and hence your own - that bit nicer. Edelrid's Fraggle II harness, Kids Shield II helmet and Crocy rock shoes make a great set. Over several months we've trialled this combo of top notch kid's gear on a number of children, ranging in ages from 3 3/4 to 11. The responses have been positive across the board.
© Dan Bailey
© Pegs Bailey
Smaller children need a full body harness - they simply don't have the hips to fit safely in a conventional sit harness without shoulder straps. At their worst, full body harnesses for kids are a bit like scaled-down adult models, a fiddly mess of twisted straps when you pull them out of the rucksack, and not particularly comfy-looking even when you have managed to untangle them and get junior to stand still long enough to put them on. In contrast the Fraggle II actually looks like it's been modelled from the ground up on a child's body shape.
"It's comfy when you're hanging on the rope like a real climber. And I like the colours"
Putting it on
The harness holds its shape well when not in use, so it is almost impossible to get tangled or twisted. As a result, fitting it is also extremely easy, even with a fidgety littl'un. Once they've stepped in, the harness first secures at the front with a little plastic clip. This is not load bearing, but is simply there to hold everything in place before you've got the rope on them. It's a good touch: If they are mucking about at the bottom of the crag before or after climbing, as kids do, then the shoulder straps aren't going to just slide off.
The key size adjustment points are on the shoulder straps, with two metal auto-lock buckles. These are very smooth and quick to adjust even with a squirming occupant. When fitting the Fraggle II to a smaller child the redundant lengths of strap are held securely in place with three sensibly spaced elastic retainers, so you're not left with long hanging tails that get in the way. There's also a further plastic buckle at the rear, which is not load bearing but just helps fine-tune the fit of the padding at the back of the waist.
The main twin tie-in points at the front are rigid and reassuringly robust. For security and comfort they are placed high, well above the centre of gravity of a smaller child, though the tie-in point does move lower relative to the body as the shoulder straps are lengthened to fit a larger occupant. For convenience you could clip onto the rope via a screwgate through the twin tie-in loops, but for security I'd generally favour tying directly into the rope; it only takes a few seconds longer after all. Should you feel the need to suspend your child from the back - perhaps they've been naughty - there's a single rear attachment point up between the shoulders. Edelrid suggest it can be used when skiing, or to help guide junior on steep terrain, and though we've not used it I can picture circumstances in which you might - helping them up a step on a scramble for instance.
Sizing and comfort
Padding is good and firm to offer plenty of support, and there's lots of it too - over the shoulders, down the back, across the back of the waist and around the whole circumference of the leg loops - basically, anywhere that's going to cause pressure when the child is suspended. For freedom of movement and a closer fit, the padding is 'jointed', ie. it's cut into several separate sections. These pads are threaded onto the load bearing webbing, and to an extent they are free to slide up and down, which again helps with achieving a good snug fit without compromising movement. Because it's so well padded, Edelrid have been able to use slimline webbing, which being soft and supple again seems rather less restrictive than the broad tape you'll see on some kids' harnesses.
It is at the younger end of the age range that a full body harness is most useful, since by the time a child has hit 9 or 10 (if not before) most are easily big enough to fit a small sit harness. The Fraggle II comes in two sizes: XXS and XS. We've been using the XS, which has enough play in the length of the shoulder straps and the rear waist band to fit even fairly large children. With its upper size limit of 40kg we've been able to test it on a range of ages from three to 11, and it's more at the smaller end that we've hit its limits. When our youngest was still three, the fit was only just feasible, and she'd obviously have been better off with the rather smaller sizing of the XXS. They grow fast though, so over time we will be likely to get more use out of the XS.
The leg loops are fixed length, with no adjustment. For younger kids that means there'll be a lot of 'slack' here, particularly with the larger sizing of the XS version. For simply top roping them up routes and lowering them back down, however, we've found this does not seem to matter. And by the time our girls are actually leading anything, they'll have graduated to an adult style sit harness anyway. The leg loops are linked together with elastic strips, which do not hamper movement but do help hold the harness all together for easier fitting.
The harness comes with a neat zip-up carry bag; we've taken to storing the Crocy shoes in this, as its mesh sides help them air between uses.
If our kids have one criticism, it's that there's no rear loop for a chalk bag. Since chalk is for them more a role playing prop than something they actually need on an 8m Diff, I can't say speaking as an adult that this is a particularly notable omission.
A unique full body harness with jointed padding for children up to 40kg
For more info see edelrid.de
"It's not too heavy and it makes my head feel safe"
Built of expanded polystyrene foam inside a robust polycarbonate case, the Kids Shield II offers plenty of protection, and a great fit, without excessive weight. A helmet for kids is only any good if you can persuade them to happily wear it, and in this regard the Shield II succeeds very well.
It's a nice comfortable fit for a wide range of sizes, suiting heads between 46cm and 58cm in circumference - which takes you from three-ish to, effectively, a very small adult. Quickly adjusted via a wheel mechanism, the large plastic cradle at the rear hugs the back of the head really snugly, while side adjustment points in the webbing allow you to further fine tune the fit. Add some removable internal padding, and the result is a helmet that sits firmly in place without slipping forward or back. If you've ever pinched your child under the chin while fastening a buckle you probably heard all about it; on the Kids Shield II the buckle is offset, sitting under one ear for maximum comfort.
At about 250g its weight is not a great issue. Though the lightest full sized adult helmets are lighter than this, the kids certainly haven't complained about the weight of the Kids Shield II - I suspect because it simply fits so well. Once it's on they seem to forget they're wearing it. The generous amount of venting helps here, especially in warmer weather when you can imagine a small child quickly getting hot and bothered in a less well-ventilated helmet.
Down at the crag you want to know that your child is as safe as possible, and this bike helmet style polystyrene lid offers maximum reassurance; it protects them not just from falling objects, as a shell style plastic helmet would, but it's also designed to soak up some impact in the event that they bang their head in a fall. In terms of the amount of protection it offers, the Kids Shield II lives up to its name, with a wee rim at the front to help deflect things away from the face, and low coverage at the rear to properly guard the back of the head. It might not be as robust as an old style plastic helmet, but so far ours has stood up fine to some pretty careless handling.
All the important practicalities aside, you can't miss those eye catching graphics. The Kids Shield II's friendly goggle-eyed bug character is a lot of fun, and smaller kids in particular really seem to enjoy wearing him. This brings us back to the key point - it's much better if you don't have to cajole the children into putting on their helmet. Here Edelrid have done the hard work for you. Ours have never needed any persuasion; it even gets worn at the dinner table.
Our popular softshell helmet with a stylish design perfect for children
For more info see edelrid.de
"I like my crocodile shoes and they help me stick"
When it comes to kids' climbing shoes, the name of the game is keeping them happy - ie. comfortable - because if they're not, then the day at the crag won't be fun for anyone. Edelrid score top marks here.
With a wide down-to-the-toe opening, a big pull tab and loads of velcro to fine-tune the fit, the Crocy shoe is quick and faff-free to get on - a consideration for sprogs who haven't yet learned to tie their own laces. Their soft padded mesh tongue and unlined leather are cool and comfy in warmer weather, too.
Flat-soled, and built on a symmetrical last, the Crocy won't cramp their style or risk damaging small growing feet. As a parent, that, for me, is essential in a child's shoe. At the toe end it's quite broad and rounded - again, a good thing for growing nippers. Nevertheless it has a reasonably precise look (I can't vouch for the feel), so it's unlikely to be a limiting factor to their developing footwork (we live in hope). Ultimately though, comfort is the prime concern here, while technical performance comes much lower down the order of priorities - after all, you try telling a four year old that they have to accept a bit of pain as the payoff for precision! We want them to want to go climbing. A heel that's not too aggressive helps in this regard, with only light elastication so as not to hurt the achilles. This elastic insert means the shoe can stretch to cover two full sizes, which seems sensible given the rate that nippers seem to expand.
The forgiving feel of these shoes is also down to the soft rubber that Edelrid have used. As you'd expect, the Crocy is more smeary than edgy, which we have found complements a smaller child's climbing style (they tend to just stick their feet anywhere). Nevertheless there's a good depth of rubber at the front end, so I would not be expecting these shoes to wear out quickly. Having used an adult shoe also soled with Edelrid's E-Grip rubber, I'd say it offers a good balance of durability versus grip on a variety of rock types. The kids mostly just say "look at my crocs". In addition to the cheery crocodile character on the velcro tab, each pair also comes with a little rubber croc keyring. I'm not sure what he has to do with climbing, but that doesn't seem to bother the children. The key thing from a parent's perspective is that Edelrid have made wearing climbing shoes fun - no easy task.
The perfect shoe for the rock stars of tomorrow
For more info see edelrid.de
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