For those just starting out, rock climbing can appear to be an intimidating sport, very physically demanding with a long list of strange sounding jargon like “carabiner and “crag” often thrown around. No fear- we’re here to break down everything you need to know before you learn to rock climb.
In the 1880’s rock climbing evolved from a part of the popular sport of mountaineering into a distinct activity of its own. Over the years, the sport grew into something of a movement.
So first, what are the benefits of climbing?
- combines cardio and strength into a single workout!
- increases flexibility and balance.
- helps improve your mental strength, including hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills.
- is a beautiful way to connect with nature.
- is both a physical and mental challenge that will help you to conquer fears!
Different styles- Choose your poison!
Indoor or Outdoor?
Indoor climbing on artificial climbing walls is advantageous for a few reasons:
- You can climb year-round and easily rent any gear you may not have (we’ll dive into what gear you actually need further down!)
- There will be knowledgeable staff and climbers around to assist you as a beginner.
- The routes are clear and color-coded. This does not equate to the routes being easy, but there are clear paths to follow that differ in grade, allowing you to easily find routes suited to your level.
- Most indoor gyms have bouldering and top-roping, so you can learn to climb both!
Outdoor climbing has a few more mental and physical components at play, but of course one of the most compelling reasons to climb outdoors is because of just that- you get to climb outdoors! If you’re a beginner and want to learn to climb outdoors, we recommend that you venture out with a guide or a group of experienced climbers who can show you the ropes (literally!).
Different types of climbing
Top-roping is a style of rock climbing where as you climb the face of the rock (or artificial wall), the climbing rope is always anchored above you, attached to the face (or wall) and to your harness. This minimizes the risk and fear of falling as you can only fall a few feet until the rope catches you. Top-roping is a great style of climbing for beginners and can be done indoors or outdoors. This type of climbing requires two people- the climber and a belayer.
Bouldering is performed without ropes or harnesses, on small rock formations or artificial rock walls not more than 12 or 15 feet high, requiring only climbing shoes and a crash pad. Routes, known as “problems” typically require only a few short, but very intense moves. Bouldering is a great type of climbing for beginners for a few reasons: you can climb solo, it minimises fear of heights, and requires the least amount of time and gear.
More advanced types of climbing
In traditional, or trad climbing, climbers place and remove all their protective devices as they climb, with a lead climber responsible for placing the gear in position, and the second climber removing it as they go. In contrast to trad climbing, sport climbing relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock. Sport climbing places more emphasis on endurance and strength rather than the adventure and self-sufficiency that trad climbing entails. As you get more experienced, you may encounter these types of climbing, but neither are suitable for beginners, so we won’t go into much detail in this climbing guide.
Gear EssentialsLet’s start by going through the most important gear. Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are some climbing basics for you to think about before your first ascent. As mentioned previously, you’ll most likely start out at an indoor climbing gym or with a guide, where the gear will be provided for you to use or rent.
Rock Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes are designed specifically for rock climbing; they typically have a close fit and a sticky rubber sole to protect your feet and provide the friction you need to grip footholds while you climb. Choosing proper footwear depending on your climbing level is essential and can help you to climb longer and harder routes.
Helmets are not required for indoor climbing but should always be worn when climbing outdoors. These are specifically designed to protect your head from falling rocks as well as protection in case you fall. It’s important to note that not all climbing helmets are designed to protect from falls, so be sure to do your research before purchasing your helmet!
Except for bouldering, you’ll always need a harness when climbing. A harness consists of two basic parts, an adjustable waist belt and two leg loops. Before climbing you will secure the rope to your harness, but don’t worry, you’ll learn how to do this when you learn to rock climb.
The essential for all climbers, whether beginner or pro, chalk is crucial for the improving grip. It is generally carried in a pouch which hangs from the waist, but in indoor gyms you’ll find bags floating around.
Gym and Outdoor Climbing Etiquette
It can feel like there’s a lot to learn, but in this section of the climbing guide we’ll break down the most important aspects of the sport, ensuring you feel ready to take on your first climb!
Rock climbing, like any other adventure sport, has its own unique set of “rules” or etiquette, and of course valuable climbing tips. Here we’ve laid out the most important tips to keep you confident as navigate the various rock climbing techniques.
- Stay alert! This is the number one rule of climbing- always be aware of your surroundings. Watch for other climbers when you’re on the wall and waiting to climb.
- Expect to fall-- a lot! Coming down from the wall, or rappelling, can seem scary at first, but if you’ve taken all the safety precautions, you have nothing to worry about! When bouldering, ask a friend or nearby climber to spot you for some extra support.
- When in doubt, ask. Climbers tend to be very welcoming, supportive people so if you have a doubt, don’t be shy.
- Don’t be afraid veer off course. Especially as a beginner, the routes are great guidelines, but it’s okay to grab a hold off-course. Just getting on the wall is accomplishment enough!
- Take turns. If the walls are busy and you’re feeling rushed, feel free to ask climbers waiting around if it’s okay to start.
- Before you climb, check that your route doesn’t cross over someone else’s if they’ve already started.
- Anchor- A point of attachment for securely connecting a climber or rope to the climbing surface, can be temporary or permanent.
- Belay- The system that stops a climber's fall, including the rope, anchors, belay device and the belayer.
- Belayer- The person who manages the ropes as the climber ascends and rappels, in case of a fall or slip.
- Carabiner- A specialized type of metal loop with a spring-loaded gate on one side used to connect various parts of the climbing system.
- Crag- A cliff, used to refer to a climbing area.
- Figure-8- A climbing knot tied in the shape of a number 8, used to securely tie the climber’s rope to the climber’s harness.
- Rappel- To descend from a cliff or wall, by lowering oneself on a fixed rope.
- Route- The path of a specific climb.