It's a basic rule of child-rearing that kids will find alternative uses for whatever gear you give them. Aside from its obvious use as a place to put chalk, our son uses his chalkbag as a container for twigs, leaves, and neat-looking pebbles; we sometimes use it to stash snacks, tissues, and other essentials too big for Canaan's pockets.
While we have a variety of bags, Canaan's all-time favorite is a monkey-shaped bag from RokRok Chalkbags, complete with arms, legs, and a tail that flop around as he climbs. The Chicago-based artist behind RokRok, Leilani Pierson, crochets and sews chalkbags from a variety of materials, from wool to old linen tea towels, each of them handmade and unique. Prices vary, depending on the bag you want.
So long as your little ripper is dressed for whatever Mother Nature happens to throw your way, you can still have fun in the Great Outdoors with a minimum of whining. This goes double for family climbing trips, where frigid mornings, stormy afternoons, and mud puddles are all commonplace.
Ollie and Stella Children's Outfitters' Ducksday Rainsuit is by far the most versatile and elegant solution we've found so far. The waterproof and windproof one-piece is easy to get on and off, and has a hood and stirrup feet to keep noggins and toes dry. For cold days, a one-piece fleece midlayer (sold separately) adds warmth without adding bulk, and can be worn separately for dry-but-nippy weather.
It's a no-brainer that every kid climber needs a solid harness. Thankfully, there are a host of options available. Our family swears by the Trango Junior, a full-body harness that fits little chargers between 25 and 80 pounds. In our experience, it's much easier to get Canaan into this harness without creating a tangled mess than is with other models. The padded leg loops provide extra cushioning and comfort, which is a blessing for both aspiring crushers and kids who prefer swinging in their harnesses to actually climbing in them.
Climbing is an intrinsically risky sport, so it's important to buy a little insurance wherever you can, especially where your kids are concerned. Petzl's Picchu is one of the few climbing helmets on the market that's designed for itty-bitty noggins. It's also the only one that meets the safety standards for both cycling and climbing, so you can double up.
The straps on the Picchu, which looks like a shrunken version of Petzl's adult offerings, are easily adjustable for a wide range of head sizes. While it's intended for children 3-8 years old, it fit two-year-old Canaan easily, and its hard-shell design is durable enough that it should last us for the next five years or so. My favorite part about it? He actually enjoys wearing it.
If you're trying to buy shoes for a young or small child, expect to spend a lot of time looking: Most brands don't offer anything smaller than a toddler's 11. One exception is La Sportiva, whose Stick-Its come in sizes as small as an 8/9. Far from the performance fit that most adults prefer, these shoes are comfortable enough for kids to keep on all day. Even sized up, they enabled Canaan to use smaller footholds—and have more fun—than he would have been able to in street shoes.