Most climbing gyms have their own set of written rules, but outdoor climbing areas don’t usually have written rules. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have rules of rock climbing, though. Both indoor climbing gyms, bouldering areas, and outdoor climbing crags all have rules. These rules are there to keep everyone safe as well as to ensure that everyone gets to enjoy their day out climbing.
This article will go through many of the most common unspoken rules of climbing areas and general climbing safety rules. If you are new to climbing or just want a refresher on what’s generally expected of you in a climbing gym, bouldering gym, or at an outdoor crag, this is a great article for you.
Unwritten Rules of Indoor Climbing Gyms
1. Don’t wear your climbing shoes to the bathroom
Please don’t wear your climbing shoes into the bathroom, it’s just gross. Most gyms have signs up stating this, but in case yours doesn’t, just don’t do it. The floors of bathrooms aren’t the cleanest places, and if you wear your climbing shoes in there and then climb, you’re spreading those germs to everyone who touches the holds that you stood on.
2. Keep children under control
People come to climbing gyms to climb, not to dodge children. Although climbing gyms can be a great place to take your kids, especially since kids are often amazing climbers, you need to make sure that your kids are under control and not causing a scene. Excessive noise can distract people or make it hard for belayers and climbers to communicate, so try to keep the noise down.
3. Minimize chalk in the air with a chalk sock
Every gym has its own rule about chalk, but in general, it is polite to do everything in your power to minimize the amount of chalk that you’re throwing up in the air. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the easiest and most common way is by using a chalk sock. This is simply a sock-like bag that holds your loose chalk while it’s inside your chalk bag to prevent a big poof of chalk from coming out into the air every time you use chalk.
4. Don’t cut others in line for a climb
Everyone is at the gym to climb, so make sure everyone gets to. If someone is waiting for a climb, don’t cut them off. Respect the fact the people will often wait to get a chance on popular routes, so make sure nobody else at the base of a climb is in line before you hop on. This is just basic climbing gym etiquette.
5. Avoid beta spraying
Beta is a climbing term that means the moves of a climb. Even if you’ve climbed a certain climb 20 times and know every move like the back of your hand, don’t tell everyone you see struggling on the route exactly what to do. Many people love the problem-solving aspect of rock climbing, so give everyone space and time to work through the challenges on their own. If you really want to give beta, ask if the climber wants beta and if they say no, make sure you respect that choice.
6. Give people space for a project, you’ll get your turn
Harder climbs are often used as project climbs in a gym, and while you shouldn’t take up too much time hogging a hard climb just because it’s your project, you also shouldn’t rush others off their projects. Give people some space to work through the moves. If you really feel that they are hogging the route, ask politely if you could get on the route soon.
7. Be hygienic
This means preventing the spread of germs from you to a climbing hold to someone else as best as possible. If you feel sick, it’s not really the best time to go indoor climbing. It’s polite to wash your hands before you start climbing, but make sure that you wash your hands after you climb and especially before you eat.
Being hygienic also means taking care of the holds that you’re using. Make sure you are wearing climbing shoes or clean sneakers for small children if that’s what your gym does. Don’t be that guy who tries to climb barefoot or in socks. Nobody wants your foot germs all over.
Most gyms have very direct rules about blood, but if you start to bleed, don’t just put chalk on it and keep climbing. Take the time to see if you got blood on any holds and let an employee know. Wash any blood off of you and make sure that you put a bandage or tape on the wound to prevent more blood from getting anywhere.
Looking for a climbing gym? We’ve written a comprehensive guide on the best climbing gyms here. Be sure to check it out.
Unwritten Rules of Bouldering Gyms
There are some rules that are specific to a bouldering gym or indoor bouldering space. The rules listed here are the generally agreed upon bouldering rules.
8. Pay attention to the fall line
Bouldering gyms can often feel like a free-for-all with climbers everywhere, people talking, and people falling. The most important thing to be aware of in a bouldering gym or the bouldering section of a climbing gym is to be aware of your surroundings. Make sure that you don’t walk or climb under someone or through their fall line.
The fall line of a climb is the direction that the climber would fall if they were to let go. This can be straight down, but it could also be out away from the wall or even to the left or right, depending on the direction of pull and the slope of the wall. Make sure you are aware of the people climbing around you since a falling climber taking you off the wall could seriously injure both of you.
9. Don’t climb under climbers
This is a major safety concern, but also just really annoying. It can freak a climber out to have someone climb under them and put an undue amount of stress on them to not fall. Pay attention to your surroundings, and make sure that you are not going under anyone as you climb. This is especially important if you choose to traverse.
Unwritten Rules of Belaying
Belaying is a contract between climber and belayer to keep the climber safe while they are climbing. While this might seem like it’s mostly between the climber and the belayer, there are ways to be respectful of this contract even if you are not the climber or the belayer.
10. Don’t walk between a belayer and their climber
One of the best ways to show this respect is by letting the belayer do their job. This includes not distracting them while they’re belaying and also understanding that a conversation with someone who is belaying comes second to their belaying. If you’re talking to your friend while they are belaying, don’t be offended if they interrupt you so they can communicate with their climber. That is their job, after all.
Another thing to be aware of with belaying is to try and not walk between a belayer and the wall. If you need to pass by someone who is belaying, try to walk behind them and not in front of them. If there’s no space to go behind them, don’t be afraid to ask the belayer if they can step forward a little or if their climber is at a good spot for you to step in front of them. You don’t want to just walk around the base of a crag without paying attention to where you’re going, and that goes for both indoors and outdoors.
11. Your climber should have your attention
As a belayer, your job is not to be having conversations with everyone that walks by. Your job is to keep your climber safe, and the best way to do this is to make sure that your focus is on your climber. You can have side conversations, but you have to be ok with stopping the conversation mid-thought to communicate with your climber. Remember, your climber’s safety is in your hands, so respect that trust that they are putting into you.
Unwritten Rules of Outdoor Crags
Climbing outdoors is vastly different from climbing indoors. Not only are there not often less defined rules, but there are also a lot more hazards to also be paying attention to. Climbing outdoors has amazing benefits, but you really have to know what you’re doing and where you’re going to be able to safely climb outdoors.
12. Keep your area organized
In terms of general crag management, you should make sure that you and your climbing group keep your area organized and out of the way of any trails. People often have to walk through one group at a crag base to get to the next climb or climbing crag, so keeping your belongings, as well as any kids or pets that you have with you, organized and contained out of the way is super important.
13. Minimize tripping hazards as much as possible
Safety goes hand in hand with organization. Outdoor climbing brings with it a variety of extra risks, many of which can be mitigated by maintaining a good organization. Keeping the area organized minimizes the amount of tripping hazards and objects that could impede movement around the area in case of an emergency.
14. Keep your noise down
While this may just seem like common courtesy to not annoy others, it can have some real safety implications with climbing. Too much noise can prevent climbers and belayers from hearing one another clearly, especially on longer routes.
Make sure you keep your noise down and try to communicate in concise statements with your climbers to prevent too much yelling. Using names when you are saying things such as “take”, “slack”, or “ready to lower” can also help minimize confusion when there’s a lot of noise around.
15. Practice LNT
If you don’t already know the principles of LNT, or leave-no-trace, you should take some time to learn them. These are seven principles that define how you should be acting in an outdoor setting in order to take care of the outdoor spaces for future visitors. These principles guide how you should interact with plants and the natural features of the land, as well as any animals you might encounter and other humans.
These are the seven LNT principles and how they relate to an outdoor climbing crag:
- Plan ahead and prepare
In terms of climbing, this means understanding what is available at the crag before you go. Some crags have bathrooms nearby, and some don’t. Some have trash cans available, and some don’t. Make sure you know everything there is to know about a crag before you go as well as any local rules or restrictions.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
While camping may not be as important to spending a day at a climbing crag, traveling on durable surfaces is super important. Stay on designated trails and avoid trampling vegetation or walking on loose ground. This will help preserve the area for future use.
- Dispose of waste properly.
This includes disposing of your trash properly, either in a designated trash can or by packing it out with you, and your human waste. If there isn’t a bathroom nearby, make sure you know the rules of the area for going #1 and #2 and follow these rules.
- Take only pictures
The more you take from an area; the less others will be able to appreciate it. There’s a saying in the backcountry that goes, “take only pictures, leave only footprints”. This will help minimize your impact and preserve the area.
- Minimize campfire impact
If you are in an area that allows campfires and choose to have one, make sure you do so only in approved fire rings and put your fire out completely. Campfires have been known to start forest fires, if not put out properly, so make sure you put your fires out completely and follow any local rules and regulations for minimizing the impact of your fire.
- Respect wildlife
Remember that you are a visitor to the wildlife’s home and respect both them and their home. Leave wildlife alone and observe any animal you do see from a distance, making sure that you aren’t scaring them.
- Respect other visitors
This is super important to climbing since you will most likely end up near other climbers, especially if you are at a popular crag. Make sure the ways that you choose to enjoy your day out climbing don’t limit other people’s enjoyment of the crag. Keep your group’s noise to a minimum and respect other people’s space.
Wrapping Things Up: The 15 Unwritten Rules of Climbing
In general, respecting other climbers and observing and following all safety-related rules are the best way to not upset others while you are climbing either in a gym or at an outdoor crag. Many of these rules may seem straightforward, but you would be surprised how many people disregard many of these seemingly simple rules either in a gym or at an outdoor crag.
You can only control your own actions, so make sure that you respect others and the space that you are in. It’s ok to point out how others’ actions may be harmful to other climbers or the world around them, but make sure you do so politely. Remember that not everyone has been told the unwritten, yet expected, rules of climbing gyms and outdoor crags, so don’t be too harsh on anyone.
Did you enjoy this article? You might also be interested in our other climbing tips here.