All you need to know on how to start rock climbing.
I am a rock climber for almost 20 years now – I believe these tips will be useful and make it easier for you to get started.
How to start rock climbing – in short
- Try Bouldering first.
- Then move on to Sport Climbing.
- Beginn indoors – The Climbing Gym is a good place to learn the basics.
- Seek instruction – Take a class or find a mentor.
- Practice climbing technique and become really good at belaying.
- Gear up and get outside.
Step 1 – Try Bouldering first
If you haven’t already, it is best to start out in a bouldering gym. Bouldering will give you a good sense of what it is like to climb a wall.
You will experience which muscles are involved in climbing, how hard it is, and most of all, how much fun it is to move your body somewhat gracefully on a vertical wall.
- Bouldering is like climbing just without the rope and belaying.
Which makes it so much easier for beginners – you can just focus on the climbing itself.
- You can learn the basic climbing technique without worrying too much about falling or rope management.
Step 2 – Seek instruction
Join a Class our Course
This is probably the most common way to learn how to rock climb. In every single Climbing gym you will find classes for beginners.
Usually those classes are very affordable and include the day pass to the gym, as well as rental gear.
Find a Mentor
Another great way to learn is to find someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Usually the problem with this method is, that this kind of people are hard to find.
If you are lucky and find a person who is knowledgeable and can teach you one on one – you should definitely take advantage.
What you need to learn for Rock Climbing:
- How to Belay
This is the most important skill you will have to learn. In Rock climbing the belayer is responsible for the safety of the climber. If the climber falls (which often happens) it is the belayer who needs to react and provide a save catch.
There are strikt rules and certain subtleties to the art of belaying which can only be mastered during hours of focused practice.
- Rope and Quickdraws
You will need to learn how to handle the rope and how to properly protect a route with quickdraws.
- Grading system
Some routes are more difficult than others – to always find the proper route (for your current level of climbing) familiarise yourself with the grading system.
- Learn the basic climbing technique
It is best to start with the correct technique right from the start. This will save you a lot of energy and you will be able to improve much faster.
Become a Better Climber / Boulderer
- Improve your Footwork
- Improve Positioning
- Improve overall Technique
Can you teach yourself to rock climb?
Yes, you can teach yourself how to rock climb. For most people though, it is not recommended. Please keep in mind that climbing can be a dangerous sport and often there is no “space” to make any mistakes. A mistake in belaying or setting up an anchor point may well lead to serious injury or even death.
Step 3 – Top Rope Climbing
Let us clarify some terms right from the beginning:
Rock Climbing: is a broad and general term, it includes several forms of climbing like:
- Sport Climbing
- Trad Climbing
- Alpine Climbing
- Multipitch Climbing
Sport Climbing can be divided into two parts:
- Top Rope Climbing
- Lead Climbing
What is Tope Rope Climbing?
Climbing while tied into a rope anchored at the top of a route. The climber is belayed by a partner at all times.
Top Rope Climbing is often the fist step in becoming a rock climber.
The big advantage of Top Rope Climbing
Because of this super save setup, you will be able to climb up the wall without the risk of ever falling. It is great for beginners to learn and improve their climbing and belaying skills.
Top Rope Climbing – what you will learn
- Get used to the height.
- Learn and practice the basic belying technique.
- Learn to trust your equipment.
- Get used to handling the climbing rope and quickdraws.
- Improve skills and climbing technique.
Step 4 – Lead Climbing (Indoor)
Lead Climbing requires a lot more knowledge and especially belaying skills.
Here (unlike in Top Rope) the rope is not anchored at the top of the route – the rope runs directly from the belayer to the climber.
The climber has to work his way up using the bolts and quickdraws as protection. These protection points have a certain distance – if the climber falls in between two protection points – he or she will fall the distance to the last protection.
In case of a fall, the belayer is responsible for catching the climber and therefore needs to know exactly what he or she is doing.
Lead Climbing – What you will learn
- How to use protection equipment aka. quickdraws.
- How to belay a lead climber.
- Falling Practice: Learn how to fall and how to safely belay a fall.
Step 5 – Lead Climbing (Outdoor)
Climbing outdoors will require some additional gear and skills. Here a list of all the things you might need to consider:
In the climbing gym, the quickdraws are permanently attached to the wall.
Outdoors at the climbing crag – this is not the case.
For Outdoor sport climbing, you will need to bring your personal Quickdraws and attach them to the bolts.
Lead Climbing is required
At the crag, there are no fixed top ropes setups. Whenever you want to top rope a route, someone has to first lead the climb and attach the rope to the anchor point at the top.
Reading the Route
Outdoors the holds are not marked by a certain color – which makes it way harder to find the right beta.
Beta: Specific Information on how to best complete a climb like – Sequence of holds and footholds, positioning, resting points, where and how to exactly grip the holds, etc.
The grading of climbing routes is not an exact science and different crags may have slightly different gradings. In general, the grading in the climbing gym tends to be a little “softer” which means – the routes in the gym are generally easier.
Attention: just because you can climb a certain grade indoors, it does not mean that you can also climb this grade outdoors. Outdoor climbing is usually a bit harder – especially for beginners.
In the gym, the protection points are perfectly aligned. At the crag, due to the natural environment, it is not always possible to keep the bolts perfectly aligned.
To prevent “rope drag” it may therefore be necessary to use some longer quickdraws to keep the rope in a somewhat straight alignment.
Often there are longer distances between the bolts. Which will increase the falling distance in case of an actual fall.
Therefore it can be (even on easy routes) psychologically more demanding to climb outdoors.
Essential Gear for Sport Climbing
What to wear rock Climbing
For rock climbing, as well as for bouldering, wear clothing that is not restrictive and won’t get in the way of you or the rope.
Choose breathable and lightweight materials that dry fast so that you can stay warm and comfortable while climbing.
For climbing outdoors bring clothes for changing conditions just as you would for hiking.
Rock Climbing Shoes
Climbing shoes provide sensational friction even on tiny little footholds. Make sure to choose a beginner shoe with no, or only moderate, downturn. If the shoe is too tight or too aggressively shaped your feet will hurt so much you won’t be able to climb for long.
Climbing shoes should fit tight – but must not be painful.
For more tips and tricks for finding the perfect climbing shoe – check out “How to choose the perfect climbing shoe”
For beginner climbers, I recommend an all-around climbing harness with a comfortable fit. Nothing to fancy – keep it simple. Later on, you might choose one of the lightweight climbing harnesses, but for now go with something more affordable like:
Chalk + Chalkbag
To prevent from slipping off holds – climbers use chalk to keep their hands and fingers dry. Sweat and moisture are an absolute no-go – only dry fingers ensure maximum grip. The chalk is carried in a little bag – you guessed it… the chalk bag.
For Climbing you can not just use any rope – Climbing ropes are super resistant and more elastic than normal static ropes. A certain stretch in the rope will absorb the energy of a fall and provide a softer catch.
Climbing ropes are abrasion-resistant but still quite soft – which makes them easier to handle while belaying.
- Super save and durable
- Soft catch
- Best bang for the buck
Catching a fall or safely lowering down the climber from top to bottom – A belay device helps the belayer to control the rope. There are different kinds of belay devices – ranging from simple tubular devices to assisted braking devices.
I personally use and love the Petzl – GriGri. Though a bit expensive it is a great device with lots of extra safety built into it.
For all sport climbing, it is strongly recommended to use some kind of assisted braking device – simply because they are safer.
My recommendation for beginners would be the Mammut smart or the Black Diamond ATC Pilot.
HMS – Carabiner
The carabiner connects the belay device (and rope) to the harness of the belayer. Some belay devices include the carabiner – most of them don’t. You can get one of these HMS-Carabiners for about 15 Bucks.
Climbing Protection – Sport Climbing
Quickdraws connect the rope to the pre-installed protection points (bolts) in the wall. The lead climber climbs from one bolt to the next, places the quickdraw, and clips in the rope into the draw.
As soon as the rope is clipped in, the climber is on belay and therefore safe. In case of a fall, the climber will only fall till the last quickdraw.
Trad (Traditional) Climbing
The difference to a sport climbing route is: a Trad Climbing Route has no pre-installed protection points aka bolts. This means – the climber uses only the features of the rock to place protection.
As you can imagine this kind of climbing requires a lot more skill and knowledge. It’s best to start out with sport climbing and move your way up to trad climbing.
We Tested Rock Climbing Shoes.
Take a look at the 9 Best climbing shoes.
Is rock climbing hard for beginners?
All Climbing routes are graded – easier routes are accessible also for beginners and can be climbed by almost anyone. Rock climbing requires next to basic physical abilities some knowledge about safety, belaying, and rope management. All the necessary skills can be learned in a climbing gym.
How much does it cost to start rock climbing?
Including all the essential gear it costs around 400 USD to start climbing in a gym.
Rock Climbing outdoor will cost around 550 USD because you have to buy additional gear.
Check out my article on “How much does it cost to start rock climbing”. You will find a detailed list of all expenses.
Types of Rock climbing
What is Bouldering?
Bouldering is a form of climbing. It is performed on small rock formations or artificial rock walls. Because of the low height, no ropes or harnesses are used. Bouldering mats (crash pads) help prevent climbers from becoming injured when falling. The essential gear for Bouldering is climbing shoes and a chalk bag.
What is Sport Climbing?
Sport Climbing is a form of Rock Climbing and is performed on routes where bolts are pre-drilled for protection. The climber uses quickdraws to connect the rope to the bolts. The rope is connected to the belayer who is responsible to catch a possible fall and lower down the climber after clipping the rope into the anchor point.
What is Top rope Climbing?
Top rope Climbing is a form of sport climbing where the rope runs through a securely attached anchor point at the top of the route. This is a safe way to rock climb and is used especially for beginners and children.
What is Lead Climbing?
Lead Climbing is also referred to as Sport climbing. The Climber hast to work his way up to the anchor point and use the rope and protection equipment (bolts and quickdraws) for safety. The rope is connected to the belayer who is responsible to catch a possible fall and lower down the climber after clipping the rope into the anchor point.
What Traditional (Trad) Climbing?
Traditional Climbing is a form of rock climbing where no pre-installed protection equipment is used. The Climber has to place all the protective gear required to protect against falls and ensure safety. When the climb is complete the gear is removed. Compared to sport climbing it requires additional skills and gear.
A good climbing harness is:
We tested 14 climbing harnesses – take a look at the 6 Best Climbing Harnesses.
What is Multi-pitch Climbing?
In Multi-pitch Climbing the climbers have to ascent more than one climbing route (pitch). At the end of each pitch is a belay station, where the climbers regroup and prepare for the following pitch. The lead climber ascends the pitch by either using preinstalled bolts or by placing protection gear to ensure safety. The climber is connected to the belayer who is responsible to catch a possible fall.
What is Big Wall Climbing?
Big wall climbing is a form of rock climbing where climbers ascend huge walls. It is much like multi-pitch climbing – just on really big walls. It is not uncommon for climbers to spend several days hanging on the wall. Using so-called “portaledges” to sleep on the wall.
What is Free Solo Climbing?
Free solo climbing is a form of rock climbing where the climber climbs alone and does not use any kind of protective equipment.
Deep Water soloing
Deep water soloing also known as “Psicobloc” is a form of rock climbing where the climber ascends a suitable cliff. The climber does not use any protective gear and relies on the water underneath to protect against injury. In case of a fall, the climber falls directly into the deep water.
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