So You Want to Start Rock Climbing?




Introduction: So You Want to Start Rock Climbing?

Rock Climbing is awesome, it's a lot of fun while being challenging, good exercise, and rewarding. It can be a great hobby too! However getting started can be tough if you don't know what you're expecting or know anyone that can teach you. Here are some tips to help you get started. But first a brief word of caution.

Nothing you read here is a substitute for hands on training and experience this instructable is not all inclusive either it is designed only as a brief introduction to the sport that will allow you to know what to expect as you enter the awesome world of climbing.

Also this is my first instructable so let me know what you like or don't like in the comments

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Step 1: Getting Started.

I recommend starting by finding a climbing partner. Now you don't absolutely have to find someone but it's good to have someone to go with and you'll need someone to belay unless you're only going to boulder (I'll explain what all that means later).

You'll also want to find a good climbing gym, now you don't want to just go anywhere a local fitness center isn't going to cut it you need to find an actual climbing specific gym. You want to find one like the picture above which is my gym (well for a few more weeks anyway until they close it when the new one opens). The reason I suggest going to a gym instead of just showing up a crag someplace is because it does a few things:

1 Safety. For a sport like climbing you should have training by a professional in a controlled environment. That's something you can't get online from reading articles or watching videos, I can't even do that through an instructable.

2 You won't need to buy all the expensive gear right away that way if you don't like climbing after one try you don't already have a huge investment in it.

3 A gym lets you try out all kinds of climbing and will have other experienced climbers there that are willing to give you advice. Most climbers are friendly so don't be afraid to ask for help or advice.

So you've found a gym and a partner, now there are a few things you should learn before you try it out.

Step 2: Stuff to Know Before You Go

I'm going to tell you a little bit about types of climbing, some basic skills you should learn, and a brief dictionary on the climbing lingo you'll hear.

First types of climbing

There are a few more types of climbing than what I'll list but these are the basics that you'll find in most gyms all of these types of climbing will fall under these categories,

Sport Climbing (indoor climbing is known as indoor sport climbing)

Traditional Climbing (commonly known as Trad)

and Bouldering.

Honestly though most climbers I know don't really use those terms (well other than bouldering) instead we refer to them by these different types,

Top Rope

Lead Rope

Crack Climbing

and Bouldering. Here are some brief explanations of the above terms (some of these are from a expert advice article as they explain it better than I can).

Sport Climbing

This "clip-and-go" style of climbing allows the leader to progress upwards without the worry of placing protection. A "bolted" climb requires only a rope, quickdraws (described below), shoes and a chalk bag. It refers to routes that have pre-placed anchors and protection where you can attach your rope (just like you would with indoor climbing). Carabiners and quickdraws clip into the anchors and connect your rope to the rock.


Trad climbing is true adventure. A trad route is one that has few permanent anchors. The lead climber protects himself from a catastrophic fall by placing protection—nuts or camming devices—into fissures in the rock. The second climber removes the protection, and it's then placed again for further pitches. Carabiners and quickdraws are used to connect the rope into the protection.


This requires the least amount of time and gear. Basically, bouldering is close-to-the-ground climbing without a rope, going only as high as you can jump off without risking serious injury. Beginners can traverse (move along the rock horizontally, parallel to the ground), thus working on strength and movement without going high. Bouldering requires only climbing shoes, a crash pad (to cushion your jump or fall off the rock) and perhaps a chalk bag. You can also bring along friends to "spot" you.

Top Rope

If you've ever climbed a rock wall at a gym or an amusement park you probably done top rope basically this is where the rope is anchored at the top of the wall and one end of the rope goes to the climber and the other to the belayer it's the most common kind of gym climbing.


This is a more advanced climbing type the level of difficulty is usually higher and it requires more skill and practice to do. What you do here is as you climb up the wall you clip into anchor points that are fastened at certain points on the way up. Don't worry about this too much because you won't be doing any lead climbing for at least a few months for some it may take as much as a year or more before they are skilled enough to attempt their first lead route.


This is where you climb along a crack or crevice in a rock wall jamming your hands, feet and sometimes your arms to keep leverage to climb up it.

Now some basic skills, there aren't too many when you're just starting out in a climbing gym but you should know how to do the following things.

Tying a figure eight on a follow through, this is the knot you should use to tie into your harness even though some use other knots this is the safest knot to use so use it. There is a video on how to tie it above.

Gripping a rock hold. Most everyone will instinctively grip a hold the wrong way the pictures above show the correct and incorrect ways to grip a hold. What you don't want to do is have your thumb on your index finger if you slip and tighten your grip that can actually break your finger. You also don't want to curl your fingers up it puts extra stress and strain on your fingers, tendons, hands, and forearm muscles and will tire you out quicker and is likely to lead to injury down the road. The right way is to have your fingers at a 90 degree angle.

Standing on a foot hold or foot chip. You want to avoid having your heels drop when you stand on a hold when your heel drops below your toes your foot will start to slip off the hold which is bad. The best way is to either keep your heel level with your toes or stand on your tippy-toes.

Other than those simple things you'll have to learn the rest as you go for the most part but those few things will really help you out in the beginning.

Now on to the lingo here is a link to a full dictionary at but here are some common ones you should well.

Belay - vb. the process of paying out the rope to the lead climber, or taking in rope for a follower, while he/she climbs, and of protecting the climber in the event of a fall. Belaying allows a climber to fall and live to try again. (2) n. - the place where a climber belays, and the anchor is set up attaching the climber to the rock, normally at the beginning and end of each pitch. (See belay station.) Also, a session of belaying.

Beta - n. information about a route.

Campus - (1) vb. to work out on a campus board. (2) vb. to climb with feet dangling as if using a campus board.

Campus board - n. a runged ladderlike training device used to train for climbing. Originated by the Late Wolfgang Guillich, this simple device has been largely responsible for advances in climbing difficulty around the world.

Crank - v. Slang for pulling on a hold at your maximum power.

Crux - n. the most crucial, difficult part of the climb.

Dyno - n. abbreviation for "dynamic movement", a move that requires some use of momentum. (antonym: static movement) 2. (vb.) to perform a dyno. A dyno usually requires your feet to leave their holds almost like jumping. This is a really powerful movement.

Flash - n. completion of a climb first try with no falls. 2. (vb.) to perform a flash.

Grigri - n. An auto-locking belay device working on a similar principle to car seatbelts, where a shock loading will tighten a sprung camming system and hold the rope. Does not allow dynamic belaying, so a large impact force results.

Onsight - n/vb. a clean ascent with no falls, first try, with no prior knowledge of the route. If you can do this on a hard route it means you're awesome!

Route - this is a path up a rock wall in most gyms it's marked either with tape or color coordinated holds. They are also graded as follows


















Completely ridiculous

You might see a letter after the last number like 5.10a,b,c, or ,d which means that the route is harder than a 5.10 but still easier than a 5.11

Problem - this is a what a route is called when you're bouldering. These are also graded but it's a bit different instead of 5.0-5.15 they're graded v0-v16

Step 3: Gear.

The first time you go climbing you don't need any gear you'll be able to rent all of that at you local climbing gym. If you like it and want to keep climbing you'll eventually want to invest in some of your own stuff so here are my tips for that.

First though is a brief summary of the gear you'll need to climb at a gym once you head outside you'll need more stuff but this is the basics so don't worry about that yet.

A harness

Rock shoes

Chalk and a chalk bag

Belay device


So if you've decided to start buying gear now that you've been climbing for a few weeks the first thing you should buy is your own harness, belay device, and chalk bag.

Don't buy your harness used! Always buy this new! A used harness could be old or damaged and will not be trustworthy. Plus some stores sell packages with a harness and chalk bag a locking carabiner and belay device at a slight discount.

Also a quick word on carabiners. Only use climbing approved biners and for your belay device always use a locking biner.

As belay devices go the cheaper ones will work fine at first like the black diamond ATC but as you progress you'll probably want to upgrade to a grigri which is auto locking and is better for taking big falls while lead climbing.

For shoes I recommend buying used shoes at first while you're still learning your footwork as you'll go through them more quickly. Once you've started to progress and you're not eating through the rubber on your shoes then start buying new and more aggressive shoes to help you continue to develop your foot work.

Step 4: Last One Some Tips Tricks and Final Notes.

There's only so much I can do writing this so now you have to get out there a try climbing for yourself. There's a lot you'll still learn as you go climbing but some stuff is better experienced than taught.

Here are some tips and tricks though.

If you're afraid of heights you can still climb bouldering doesn't require you to climb high and when you're up on a rock wall it doesn't seem a high as it is.

Lots of people have a hard time falling or letting go of the wall you just have to trust the equipment and your belayer then take a deep breath and embrace the fall it's not as bad as you think.

There is no substitute for practice

Climbing isn't as dangerous as many people think especially at a gym.

You don't need to be super strong to be a good climber the most important thing is developing your grip strength which will take time as the tendons in your fingers take much longer to strengthen than muscles in your arm. So don't worry if you don't seem to be improving it just takes time

Have fun most of all climbers are a fun group no one is that serious that they can't laugh at they're mistakes.

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    3 Discussions


    3 years ago

    The best way to start rock climbing is a trip! You meet amazing people and get all the training and gear you need to try this incredible sport!

    These are all great tips for getting started. I can't climb myself (bad shoulder from an old wrestling injury) but I have a bunch of friends who are really into it!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! And you might be able to get into climbing still even with your bad shoulder. Start out on easy routes (5.6-5.8s) in your local climbing gym and learn good footwork you might be surprised how much more important your footwork is than upper body strength! If you get really comfortable on those level routes you might even be able to get to the top without using your arms at all!

    Learn to look at routes as a puzzle and that will help you out. I'll be posting some more tips in my next instructable coming up