A Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing

Whether it is the need for adventure or just a fun way to stay in shape, rock climbing has something for everyone. The objective of the Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing is provide a centralized resource giving new climbers all the information they need to confidently get started in the sport.

Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing – Getting Started

There are two basic forms of rock climbing, aid climbing and free climbing. When people refer to “climbing” or “rock climbing” they are usually referring to free climbing so that is where we will focus.

Free climbing has many sub-disciplines. The two most relevant for new climbers are bouldering and top rope climbing:

By mariachily [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bouldering (Image by mariachily licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).
Bouldering – Free climbing where no ropes or gear is used to ascend a boulder, small rock feature, or short problem. Bouldering usually refers to climbs less then 20′, although more advanced problems may go higher.

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Mouses Misery Chris
Top roping.

Top rope climbing – Free climbing where a rope runs from the climber’s harness through an anchor system at the top of the climb and then back to a belayer. The belayer’s job is to take in slack and keep the rope tight as the climber moves upward so that if the climber falls, the rope catches them.

Although both these styles of climbing are highly respected in their own right, if performed correctly and executed safely, both offer an excellent introduction rock climbing in a low stress environment. For this reason, bouldering and top roping are the styles of climbing predominantly offered at indoor rock climbing gyms.

Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing – Learning Climbing Technique

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Beginner climber practicing climbing technique.

As anyone who has stepped on a climbing wall for the first time can attest, there is more to it then just “pulling down.” Rock climbing is a very subtle sport… it is about positioning your body in specific ways to create opportunities for putting weight on your feet, utilizing your skeletal system, and moving efficiently.

These movement skills, or rock climbing techniques, and the sport specific strength to properly execute them are developed over time as your body adapts to moving on vertical terrain.

•Rock Climbing Technique – Intro to Rock Climbing Technique (article coming soon)

As such, the absolute most important thing for a beginner climber to do is climb and climb consistently. Because of that, I highly suggest beginner climbers start by joining a local indoor rock climbing gym.

•Indoor vs. Outdoor Rock Climbing for Beginners (article coming soon)

•Indoor Rock Climbing – Getting Started Indoor Rock Climbing (article coming soon)

Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing – Learning Technical Skills

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Figure Eight on a Bight
A basic rock climbing knot – Figure Eight on a Bight

Rock climbing technical skills refer to the “hard skills” such as knot tying, belaying and anchor building. Sometimes, “technical” is used to describe a climb as requiring precise footwork/technique, so I wanted to be sure to make the distinction in order to avoid confusing readers.

Learning the technical skills involved in rock climbing is essentially the starting ground for roped climbing. The two areas beginner climbers focus on when starting out are basic knot tying and top rope belaying.

Seeking Exposure – Rock Climbing Technical Skills

Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing – Getting the Right Climbing Gear

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Beginner Gear Pile
Basic beginner rock climbing gear.

The first step is developing a solid foundation of climbing strength/technique as well as getting a good understanding of the technical skills involved in rock climbing. The next step is to consider investing in a pair of good quality climbing shoes as well as a basic climbing harness.

If you are starting outdoors, adding a climbing helmet into the mix is a necessity. Depending on your indoor climbing gym, you may also have to provide your own belay device.

Choosing the right gear can be a pretty daunting task for new climbers.  To make the process a little easier, I would highly suggest reading:

Beginner Climbing Gear List

As well as checking out the buying guides below…

Rock Climbing Shoes – How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes 

Climbing Harness – How to Choose a Climbing Harness

When it comes time to actually purchase your rock climbing gear, you can either lean toward a local climbing shop or a large retailer. Each has its own pros and cons, but in general:

Store Type Pros Cons
Local Climbing Store Better gear advice from actual climbers More stringent return policies
Large Retailer Employees may not have actual climbing background More lenient return policies

If you do decide to use a large retailer, I have had very good experience dealing with Backcountry, REI, and Moosejaw.

Backcountry – Rock Climbing Gear

REI – Rock Climbing Gear

Moosejaw – Rock Climbing Gear

Backcountry has the best selection by far, but for purchases like climbing shoes where there is a good chance you will have to make a return, I tend to lean more toward REI or Moosejaw. The reason is because they have actual “brick and mortar” stores so you have more flexibility making returns (obviously depending on where you live).

Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing – Transitioning to Outdoor Climbing

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Just enjoying the view!! Not bad for this climber’s first time outdoors…

Pulling plastic is great, but rock climbing is all about just that… getting on real rock! There is nothing like your first outdoor climbing experience–breathtaking views, the sun on your face, the feel of the warm rock on your hands. It is an absolutely magical time and for many, myself included, once you experience it… it is pretty hard to go back to whatever you were doing before.

Transitioning from the climbing gym to the outdoors can be a very intimidating experience, and rightfully so. There are a lot more things that need to be taken into consideration. To help make that transition easier, be sure to read…

•An Indoor Climbers Guide to Transitioning Outdoors (article coming soon)

Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing – Summary

To quickly summarize the Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing in order of progression:

1.) Join an indoor rock climbing gym.

2.) Climb as often as possible.  Shoot for 3-4 days a week and be consistent.

3.) Build a solid foundation of climbing technique and sport specific strength.

4.) Invest in rock climbing shoes, a climbing harness, and whatever other basic climbing gear is necessary.

5.) You have worked hard. Now transition your new found rock climbing skills outdoors.

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