Can you rock climb by yourself? Yes, if you plan on bouldering, that is. Can you teach yourself to rock climb? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. Rock climbing is an inherently dangerous and quite technical skill where one small mistake can lead to some pretty serious injuries, so teaching yourself rock climbing might not be the best plan. That being said, paying someone to teach you can be costly.
Don’t worry; we’re here to help you figure out what aspects of rock climbing you can safely teach yourself and what aspects of rock climbing are unsafe to learn on your own. We’ll help you break down the pros and cons of teaching yourself and hiring a guide so you have all the information you need to decide your best choice.
How to Start Rock Climbing as a Beginner
Figuring out how to learn rock climbing can be challenging, especially when you are first starting out. Luckily for you, there are a lot more resources available now to help you get started than there were even ten years ago.
Generally, starting to learn how to rock climb is easiest indoors. With so many indoor climbing gyms, most people have access to this type of controlled space where you can worry about your climbing ability without having to think about all the hazards that can come from climbing outdoors.
We recommend starting out at a gym and renting the gear you need until you really start to figure out what you want and need. This will allow you to test out different gear and have knowledgeable staff and professionals there to help get you pointed in the right direction. Activities like bouldering are great for beginners since they don’t involve the technical rope aspects that can make climbing so dangerous.
Self-Taught Rock Climbing vs. Guided Rock Climbing
While there are things in rock climbing that you can teach yourself, either through practical experience or online, there are also aspects of rock climbing that would be incredibly dangerous to teach yourself. Understanding what you should and should not attempt to teach yourself will help you be as safe as possible when rock climbing.
Skills such as blister care, training, and technique are great skills to learn on your own. With so many resources available online, climbing skills that are not life-or-death skills are super easy to teach yourself.
There’s another category of skills that you could learn from a climbing mentor or a fellow climber, such as belaying and tying knots. Skills in this category really require someone to watch you while you are learning them, and these are not skills that are safe to teach yourself since a mistake could lead to major injuries.
Other skills, such as multi-pitch anchor building or trad climbing, should be taught by a professional or someone you trust. You don’t want your casual climbing partner from the gym trying to teach you trad climbing, but if you have a friend who has been climbing in Yosemite every summer for 20 years, they might be able to step in and teach you some of these more dangerous skills.
Pros and Cons of Self-Taught Rock Climbing vs. Guided-Rock Climbing
Of course, there are a lot of pros and cons to both self-taught climbing and guided rock climbing, and they can be a little challenging to sort through. Here are our favorite pros and cons when considering self-taught rock climbing vs. guided rock climbing.
Pros and Cons of Self-Taught Rock Climbing
Pros of Self-Taught Rock Climbing
The pros of self-taught rock climbing are primarily the ease and the cost. Rock climbing can be quite expensive, so teaching yourself what you can and doing your own research can help you save money.
The other major pro is the ease of teaching yourself. This allows you more flexibility when first starting to teach yourself rock climbing. You don’t have to schedule a time or even stick to a routine to be able to teach yourself.
Cons of Self-Taught Rock Climbing
The cons of teaching yourself rock climbing generally come in the safety side of things as well as how far you can go on your own. By choosing to only teach yourself and not receive any training, you really are limiting how many styles of climbing you can do. If all you want to do is go bouldering, you may never need someone to teach you, but if you want to lead climb, trad climb, or go on a multi-pitch climb, you really need to learn from others.
Safety is the biggest concern that starts becoming a concern as you get better at rock climbing. There are things in climbing that are safe to teach yourself, but there are a lot of things in climbing that are not safe to teach yourself. When one mistake could cost you your life, it’s a good time to start seeking some outside help.
Pros and Cons of Guided-Rock Climbing
Pros of Guided-Rock Climbing
The main pros of guided rock climbing are that you are able to learn highly technical skills in a safe way. Not only does this open you up to tons of new things that you would not be able to teach yourself, but you do it all in a safe way with someone checking your systems to make sure they are safe.
Safety is essential in climbing, so learning technical rope skills such as rescue skills and trad climbing, including anchor building, that have a high potential for accidents is best done with a trained professional. This person will be able to teach you the best practices for things as well as keep an eye on you to help prevent beginners’ mistakes from happening. Learning on your own could lead to some pretty serious injuries.
Cons of Guided-Rock Climbing
The biggest con of guided rock climbing is the cost. Paying a guide or instructor to take you out can be pricey. Not only are you paying for someone with a lot of technical knowledge at an hourly rate to teach you, but you are also paying a higher rate due to the risks of teaching someone so dangerous.
Many first-time climbers can’t afford the high rates of guided instruction, so they opt to continue climbing in the ways they already know how or make the risky choice to teach themselves. Ultimately, the cost of instruction and gear is a huge barrier to climbing entry and keeps many people from practicing the sport as much as they might otherwise.
How to Teach Yourself to Rock Climb: 3 Ways
If you plan on teaching yourself the basics of rock climbing for beginners, there are a number of resources out there at your disposal. These are a few of our favorites:
1. The Internet
The internet might seem like the most obvious place to look when teaching yourself rock climbing, but it can also be filled with misinformation. Luckily, climbing forums like Mountain Project and Reddit pages are great places to ask fellow climbers their views on the things you read online. Of course, make sure you take everything you read online with a grain of salt and don’t learn any life-or-death skills this way.
Websites like REI are known for publishing great introductions to a lot of climbing topics, so they can serve as a good starting point. While the internet is a great place to start, it is by no means the only free info out there to help you teach yourself rock climbing.
2. Climbing gyms
While climbing gyms might seem like an odd place to teach yourself climbing, they are also a place filled with people who love climbing. Even if you choose not to take advantage of the free lessons and workshops that many climbing gyms host, gyms are a great place to meet other climbers.
Finding a climbing partner at a gym who can take you out and help guide you through learning to climb is a lot more reputable than meeting up with a random person online. You can also ask any questions you might have of other climbers you meet, giving you a good idea of whether the information you read was correct.
3. Climbing Guide Books
You might have to pay for guidebooks, but keeping a good guidebook in your pack can help answer any questions you might have when climbing in the field. Local guidebooks are great at telling you all about the local climbing scene, directing you away from potential hazards, and listing some local climbing groups.
There are also plenty of books that are designed to help teach you technical skills. These books are written by professionals and are much more trustworthy than reading random information online. It is still a good idea to have someone watch you and make sure you don’t make any silly mistakes when you are first starting out with a technical skill like anchor building, but books offer a great resource.
Wrapping Things Up: Can You Teach Yourself Rock Climbing?
Now that rock climbing is skyrocketing in popularity, and there is a lot more information out there to help you learn how to climb. From the internet to guide books, from climbing gyms to guides, there are so many places you can find climbing information. It is up to you to decide what you can learn yourself and when you need the professionals to come in and help.
We hope that we have given you the tools you need to make those choices. Understanding the cost of paying a guide and the potential risks of making a technical mistake when climbing can help you start to determine what skills are safe for you to teach yourself and what skills you should seek professional help to learn.