When i first started climbing i was completely clueless and unprepared. As a climbing beginner there are a lot of things to consider. Here I share essential tips and tricks for a fast and easy start into the world of climbing.
Climbing for beginners
Why we climb
Climbing is more than just a sport for occasional fitness training. Climbing might be the entry into a whole new world of adventure.
- Sooner or later you will spend more and more time in nature.
- Climbing opens doors to beautiful places you would never have discovered otherwise.
- The climbing community is filled with interesting personalities and free spirits from all walks of life.
- Climbing makes you physically and mentally stronger, it never gets boring, and the training is a lot of fun.
The benefits of climbing
16 Tips for climbing beginners
We start right away with the most important tip for beginners:
Foot work 1
Use your legs as well as your arms. Here you can save most of your energy, especially as you are new to climbing. Almost all beginners (especially if they are sporty and have strength) tend to pull themselves up with their arms instead of pushing themselves up with their legs.
Your legs are much stronger than your arms – follow this advice and you will always be one step ahead.
Foot work 2
Climb on your tiptoes and lower your heels.
Do not try to put your whole foot onto the hold – instead place your forefoot and toes precisely onto the footholds.
Lower your heels – to increase grip and save strength. Climbing shoes are designed to transfer the power through the tips of your toes onto the footholds.
We Tested Rock Climbing Shoes.
Take a look at the 9 Best climbing shoes.
The heavier and longer the climbing route, the more important it is to climb efficient. If you tense all your muscles all of the time, you won’t get far.
Climbing with straight arms activates only those muscle groups that are actually needed. Not only does it look more elegant, but it is also more relaxed and much more effective to climb with straight arms.
Try to hold on with as little effort as possible. It‘s the only way to climb long and difficult routes.
Hips close to the wall
Try to pull yourself as close to the wall as possible – hip pushed up against the wall.
The closer your body’s centre of gravity is to the wall, the more energy you save and the more effective you will climb. If your hips are close to the wall you can put weight on your legs and take the weight off your arms.
Do not allow anything to drag you down – including your own bottom.
Find “rest positions“
Use every opportunity to recharge your batteries. Sometimes there are obvious points of rest – for example a big jug where you can hold on with one hand, whilst you give the other a break.
Sometimes resting points are “hidden” and only helpful if you position your body accordingly.
Every climbing beginner makes this mistake.
As soon as they are in a difficult sequence they tend to tense up, hold their breath and totally forget about breathing. Try to maintain deep and conscious breathing – from start to the top.
Take your time
Beginners tend to be a bit nervous and therefore climb hectic and fast. Almost as if they want to get it over with as soon as possible.
Take your time. Consciously climb every single movement to the top. Breathe, and notice what happens.
Remind yourself by repeating the following mantra:
Take your time… be calm.
In a calm and relaxed state, you will become a more supple, elegant, effective and better climber.
Practice how to fall – Climbing beginners
Begin as early as possible with the practice of easy, controlled, and safe falls.
In this way you can build up trust in your belay partner and slowly reduce the fear of falling.
8 more Tips for Climbing Beginners
1. Learn about the grading system
At which grade of difficulty do beginners climb? There are different grading systems, depending on where you climb:
a.) USA -Yosemite Decimal System ( 5.9, 5.10, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, … to 5.16)
b.) French scale (from 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6c, 7a, … to currently 9c)
c.) UIAA scale (from V-, V, V+, VI- VI, VI+… to current XII)
The typical difficulty level for beginners is in the range of 5.6 – 5.8 (According to the French scale difficulty level of 5a-5c.) The currently most difficult climbing route in the world is a 5.16!
How long does it take to climb a 6b (5.11)?
It takes between 1/2 and 3 years, depending on the amount of training and basic athletic ability, until you can climb 5.10c – 5.11a (6b-6c) solidly. Provided you train regularly (2x per week), you can reach these grades within a year.
2. Climbing and sore muscles
Finger strength (forearms) is the limiting factor for climbing beginners.
This is usually also where you feel sore after the first attempts of climbing. But finger strength increases rapidly and, in the end, the whole body is put to the test.
A fast recovery after climbing is important for beginners and professionals. In our article “Climbing – recovery. 15 tips for fast recuperation.” you will find some odd but helpful tips.
3. Find a climbing partner
Climbing partners can be found in climbing gyms (see postings) and on climbing portals. Good friends of mine even met and fell in love on a climbing date. This is not really surprising since climbing and belaying have a lot to do with trust.
Nevertheless, I advise you to climb only with people who really know how to belay! I have had my fair share of experience – and it ended with a broken heel bone.
Just because someone says that he/she can belay does not necessarily mean that he/she can. Belaying is a complex matter that requires a lot of practice. Trust, but verify.
Dynamic Belay Technique – lern how to provide a soft catch:
4. Improve climbing through lots of climbing.
At the beginning of your career the best training is climbing itself.
Especially early on it is important to expand your repertoire of movements. The possible movements whilst climbing are infinite – So you better get started.
The necessary strength and body tension will improve automatically. For Beginners there is no specific training necessary – just go climbing as much as you can.
What are the main weaknesses of beginners?
- Finger strength (forearms are the weakest link in the muscle chain)
- Body tension (Core muscles mostly still weak)
- Technique (footwork, balance..)
- Movement repertoire (twisting, layback..)
- Fear of falling (fear blocks and costs energy)
- The 30 Best exercises
- 3 Training Plans
5. Communication with your climbing partner
Many climbers love this sport because they are out in nature and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Simple and clear communication
Also, simple and clear communication is the best way to avoid confusion and misunderstandings when climbing.
Here are a few suggestions of common commands that ensure clear communication:
- Take! (Signal to the Belayer to pull in rope – the climber wants to rest or is unsafe)
- Rope or Slack! (The climber needs extra rope in order to clip or to finish taking apart his belay anchor.)
- Down! (The climber has hooked the anchor (at the top) and signals that he is save and can be lowered. (Important on the rock when there is no visual contact)
Long fingernails are not suitable for climbing.
7. Tie up hair
Long hair can get caught in safety devices, quickdraws or rope. Climb safely and tie up your hair.
Climbing equipment for beginners
For the first day of climbing in the gym you don’t need anything except training clothes which allow for sufficient movement. The necessary equipment (rope, shoes, harness, carabiners, belay device) can be rented in the climbing gym.
Once you have gained a little experience and you enjoy climbing, it is time to invest in your own equipment. (You also save the recurring rental fee).
All details of the climbing equipment are described in detail below.
Learning to Climb & Be Safe
My first tip: take a climbing course!
To learn climbing there are basically 3 possibilities.
1. You teach yourself.
Disadvantage: it takes longer and can be dangerous. We learn mostly from our own mistakes. That may be true, but 20m above the ground is no place for mistakes. So, save yourself time and nerves, attend a course and learn how to climb safely.
2. You know someone who can teach you to climb.
Disadvantage: It can be dangerous under certain circumstances (depends on your instructor). If your instructor does not know exactly what he/she is doing, you might learn something wrong and put yourself and your rope partners in danger.
3. Climbing course – ideal for climbing beginners
The safest, fastest, and best way to learn to climb. Take classes at:
- Climbing gym
- Alpine Club
- Mountain guide
Climbing can only be done in pairs. A climbing course is fun and the ideal way to meet new people or future rope partners.
– My recommendation!
- Super save and durable
- Soft catch
- Best bang for the buck
Who can climb?
Anyone can climb from young people to older people, from big to small. (Even people with a fear of heights)
When climbing, strength is not everything! Technique, agility, endurance and mental strength are just as important. This combination of necessary skills is the reason why women are able to perform on a similar level than men do.
Start climbing – indoor or outdoor?
The fastest, easiest and safest way to learn climbing is in a professional climbing gym. There you will learn all the basics and safety aspects of climbing.
Later on, you can transfer this knowledge to the rock outside.
What are the differences?
- Quickdraws are already installed in the wall.
- The distance between bolts are standardised, i.e. always the same.
- Straight climbing routes – No rope drag.
- Maintained regularly.
- No helmet necessary.
- Holds are obvious and easy to recognise as they are marked using different colours.
- Anchors are super save – they usually consist of two fixed carabiners.
Outdoor – Crag
- Bolts are available, quickdraws need to be attached.
- Distance between bolts vary, and are usually greater.
- Climbing routes are not always straight – rope friction can occur (This can be compensated with longer quickdraws).
- Not all Climbing areas are regularly maintained.
- A helmet might be useful. Natural rock can erupt, animals or people can kick stones off the edges.
- Routes are harder to “read”. It takes some practice to find the right beta.
Is climbing dangerous?
Yes, climbing is a potentially dangerous sport. However, the dangers of climbing can be minimised by taking the right safety measures.
# 1 source of danger are errors in belaying.
Correct belaying must be learned and practiced. Professional training is absolutely necessary.
What does it cost to start climbing?
|Entrance – Climbing Gym||$10-20|
|Chalk – Chalkbag||$30|
|10 Quickdraws (Outdoor)||$100|
Basic climbing terms
The climber ties himself into the climbing rope by means of a “figure-of-eight knot“.
Figure Eight Knot / Double Bowline Knot
The two most common knots to connect the climbing rope with the harness.
Intermediate safety devices which are connected to the wall using bolts
The climbing rope is clipped into the quickdraws.
A fixed point (usually two carabiners) at the end of the route, from where the climber is released.
The climber is constantly protected via the anchor (mainly for beginners).
The climber himself has to “clip” the quickdraws and clip the rope into the anchor point.
Falls are possible (advanced climbing).
Basic equipment – climbing beginners
Admittedly, buying climbing shoes can be a bit confusing at first, as there are special shoes for almost every form of climbing. Anyway, even if you are a natural athlete, I always recommend buying a beginner’s shoe as your first pair.
Advantages Beginner’s Shoes
Beginner’s shoes have a slightly different shape compared to “professional shoes”, have a thicker sole and are generally more comfortable to wear. Furthermore, beginner’s shoes are cheaper.
The ideal shoe for beginners is one with no or slight downturn. Shoes with extreme downturn are much more uncomfortable and have absolutely no advantages for beginners.
Everything you need to know about beginner’s climbing shoes can be found here: How To Choose The Perfect CLIMBING SHOES | Tips & Examples.
Climbing harnesses have a relatively long life span and here it is worth buying something with foresight. The models differ depending on the area of application:
More weight = more comfort. Especially if you sit in the harness for a long time (alpine climbing, big wall) it is worthwhile to have a wider hip belt and leg loops.
- Adjustment options (leg loops, hip belt)
- Gear loops (for alpine climbing you have more material on the harness)
- Sport climbing harnesses are generally somewhat lighter, have fewer adjustment possibilities and less material loops.
Harnesses are better padded, have more adjustment possibilities (leg loops can be adjusted) and more material loops. Slightly heavier but comfortable.
For beginners I recommend a more comfortable model with a padded waist belt and leg loops. I had my first harness (Petzl Adjama) for almost 5 years and with it I have done everything from sport climbing to multi-pitch climbing and ice climbing.
A good climbing harness is:
We tested 14 climbing harnesses – take a look at the 6 Best Climbing Harnesses.
Belay device and carabiner
A rough distinction is made between “Assisted Braking Devices” and “Dynamic or Tubular belay devices“.
- “Assisted Braking Devices” refers to devices with braking support, while so-called dynamic bely devices do not provide assistance.
- Dynamic belay devices are advantageous in alpine or multi pitch climbing, while assisted Braking Devices have advantages in sport climbing or in climbing gyms.
Assisted Braking Devices decrease the chance of fatal belying errors.
For sport climbing Assisted Braking Devices are the best and safest choice (recommendation of several Alpine Associations around the world).
I personally use the Petzl-GriGri, which is one of the best and most popular devices and is used around the world. It is more expensive but the investment is definitely worth it.
No matter which device you choose, every fuse device has its peculiarities, which you have to know and master. Qualified training and practice under supervision are essential.
HMS – Carabiner
The carabiner connects the climbing harness with the belay device. Used are pear-shaped Carabiner – so called HMS-Carabiners.
(HMS stands for the German word “Halbmastwurfsicherung” which means ‘half clove hitch belay or ‘Munter Hitch’
To be on the safe side, I recommend so-called “Safe Lock” carabiners with a high degree of closure safety.
My personal combination: Petzl GriGri + Belay Master.
Climbing ropes are a so-called “dynamic single ropes”. Dynamic because the rope stretches in case of a fall, thus reducing the impact force.
Indoor climbing ropes
Have a higher sheath percentage and are therefore somewhat heavier but more durable. Ideal for the gym – usually no long approach and straight climbing routes.
Climbing rope – Outdoor
Whoever wants to climb outside needs a solid all-round sport climbing rope. For beginners I recommend a slightly thicker rope (around 10 mm). Water resistent ropes are a little more costly but last longer.
My recommendation for beginners:
- Rope thickness
10 mm (thicker ropes have slightly more friction, which is better for beginners).
- Rope length
For pure indoor climbers, a 40 – 50 m rope is sufficient (depending on the height of the gym).
Sport climbing on rock – I recommend a 70 m rope (for most routes a 60 m rope is sufficient but depending on the climbing area you can often find longer routes. With 70 m you are usually on the safe side.
- Middle marking
All ropes are marked in the middle. Do not climb past the middle mark when lead climbing! A knot at the end of the rope prevents possible accidents.
Top 4 Indoor Climbing Ropes
For the Gym Climbing Rope Review, we tested the most popular indoor climbing ropes. Take a look at the 4 best ropes.
This is a small bag filled with magnesium powder (chalk), which is attached to the harness.
If your palms are sweaty, you will inevitably slip off small holds. The special powder increases the grip and prevents slipping.
Quickdraws are the link between rope and the bolts in the rock.
- In the climbing gym quickdraws are usually already attached.
- Outdoors the lead climber needs to attach the quickdraws.
Tip: Get 3-4 longer quickdraws to straighten the path of the rope in order minimise rope drag.
Depending on how long the rout is, you will need between 8 and 15 quickdraws. Best to get 15 and be on the safe side.
As soon as you climb outside on rock, it is good idea to wear a helmet (Depending on the quality of the rock).
Holds can break off, loose rocks might fall down from the top of the wall.
I myself was “lucky” several times already – when falling rocks just barely missed me. A good helmet makes the difference between a serious injury or a minor scratch.
Top 5 Climbing Helmets
- We extensively tested 12 climbing helmets.
- A detailed review of the 5 BEST climbing helmets and their respective strengths and weaknesses.
Useful additional equipment (optional)
To transport the rope and keep it clean or to protect it from damage (outdoor) it is worth investing in a rope bag.
There are also some practical all-in-one backpacks for climbing that are ingenious.
These are glasses with an inbuilt prism mirror. So you don’t have to look up constantly to keep an eye on your climbing partner.
They work great – you can belay comfortably and save your neck unnecessary strain.
These glasses are more than just a “nice to have” item. In my article about postural damage I will go into the long term damage caused by bad posture when securing (overstretched neck).
Investing in a good pair of climbing pants is definitely worth it. They are especially made for climbing, are designed not to restrict bodily movements.
It’s annoying if you can’t get your leg up because your pants are not stretchy enough.
Different typs of climbing
Rock Climbing / Sport Climbing
In sport climbing, the climber is secured with a rope via the belay system. In case of a fall the climber is held by his partner. The climbing is quite athletic and powerful compared to alpine climbing . Depending on the length of the route, strength and endurance are required. The height of the routes are usually between 8 and 30m.
Because of the relatively low height, climbing is done without harness and rope. Complex belaying techniques are not necessary. The focus is on a few, high-intensity movements. Working out the individual moves and movement sequences is even more fun in a group and I would generally describe bouldering as the most social form of climbing.
Alpine climbing / multi-pitch climbing
Here high rock walls (70m and upwards) are climbed in several rope lengths by a team of usually 2 people.
The climbing is long and enduring, psychologically demanding and requires a high degree of skill and belaying technique. Know-how and experience are required.
In the Free Solo, walls are climbed alone and without any safety devices. Psychologically they are extremely demanding!
Film tip: Free Solo (Oscar winner 2018, best documentary)
Deep water soloing
This involves climbing on rock faces above deep water.
There is no need for safety devices because the climber will fall directliy into the water. In case of an unfavourable impact it can be painful. You can climb barefoot (picture) but also with climbing shoes.
Climbing on frozen water (waterfalls, glaciers, ice walls). Climbers use crampons and ice axes to move themselves upwards. Ice screws are used as intermediate safety devices. Technically very demanding. Additional safety-relevant factors are the condition of the ice and possible danger of avalanches. Often very, very cold.