Rock climbing is inherently a risky activity, but there are a variety of ways that you can mitigate that risk during both indoor and outdoor rock climbing. If you check your knots and systems and follow the safety rules and precautions that are laid out for you, you can really minimize the chance of any severe injury quite a bit.
Of course, the equipment can always fail, but that’s why it’s important to take proper care of your climbing gear and to make your systems redundant when possible. With proper safety measures in place, the most common injury you will get from rock climbing is a few bruises, and some scraped up knuckles.
Climbing Safety Tips: Fundamentals for Indoor Climbing Walls
Most indoor climbing walls have their specific rules listed somewhere clearly visible, so make sure you talk with the staff when you first arrive and keep the rules in mind. That being said, there are some commonly accepted rules for most indoor climbing walls.
Although many indoor climbing gyms don’t require you to wear a helmet, some do, so just make sure to check what’s allowed with your gym.
In general, any gym that offers indoor bouldering will have mats placed beneath the boulder problems for you to fall on, so the best practice to avoid injury to yourself or others is to just be very aware of you and the other people around you. Paying attention to your surroundings is a great way to minimize risk.
Another common practice is spotting or having someone on the ground watching the climber so that if they fall, their fall can be directed towards the mat. The spotter’s job is not to catch the falling climber, but simply to help protect the climber’s head, neck, and back from landing off the mat or from hitting other holds or walls.
Every gym that offers top-rope climbing has its own set of specific safety rules in regards to who is allowed to belay and what belay drive you should be using. Some gyms allow you to bring your own, but some prefer you to use their devices. The main thing to remember is to take time to load the device properly and to lock your carabiners.
Other things to check before you start roped climbing at a gym are your harness buckles, the rope and anchor set-up, and the climber’s knot. Many places have belay tests that you’ll have to pass before you are allowed to belay at their gym, but there are some fun acronyms that can be used to help you remember all your safety checks.
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One of the most common safety check acronyms is BARCK:
B: buckles; check that your harness buckles are tight and doubled back
A: anchor; check that the anchor is secure and trustworthy
R: rope; check that the rope is not twisted and looks in good condition
C: click/carabiner; check that the belay carabiner is locked
K: knot; make sure that the climber’s knot is fully tied with at least a six-inch tail
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Climbing Safety Tips at the Crag
Rock climbing outdoors introduces a whole new series of risks and challenges for you to deal with. Although many of the basic safety checks remain the same regardless of if you are climbing indoors or outdoors, there are more things for you to keep in mind while climbing outdoors.
One of the main differences is obviously that you are outside. This means that there’s a multitude of environmental hazards to be aware of, including dangerous plants and animals and any extreme weather. These risks can be mitigated with knowledge and being prepared for any type of weather.
Another challenge that gets added to outdoor climbing is the prospect of things, be it rocks or someone else’s gear, falling on you. This is why many outdoor climbers have started wearing helmets. Although not every climber wears a helmet, the percentage of climbers who wear a helmet while climbing outdoors has increased in recent years. It won’t cost you much to get a good quality helmet, and it can save you a lot in medical bills if something does happen.
A big transition point from indoor climbing to outdoor climbing is learning about how to safely build rock climbing anchors. Regardless of if you lead climb up to the anchor or have a top approached anchor, building a safe anchor is essential for safe outdoor rock climbing. Your anchor is what you will be trusting with your life, so you want it to be good.
Many guide services and even some gyms offer classes in building anchors. If you’re just starting out with building anchors, it’s probably a good idea to look into taking a class. An anchor is an essential part of climbing safely, and you don’t want to risk messing it up. There are acronyms to help remember safety checks when building anchors, too, and one of the more common ones is EARNEST.
E: equalized; check that all pieces of gear are equally bearing the weight
A: angle; check that all angles are under 90 degrees, but ideally under 60 degrees
R: redundant; check that every part of your anchor is redundant
NE: no extensions; check that if one part were to fail, would it shock load the other
S: solid; check that your anchor is solid
T: timely; try to build the best anchor you can without taking all the time in the world
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Must-Own Safety Equipment for Climbing
Owning your own climbing harness is one of the easiest ways to start to take your own safety into your hands. If you know the care that the harness has received, and you check it regularly, you are able to access the risk yourself.
One of the most important things to own to keep yourself safe while climbing is a helmet. As we mentioned before, a helmet can keep you safe if rocks fall or if someone above you drops any gear. More and more climbers are wearing helmets since it is a great way to minimize the risks of climbing.
If you intend to do any multi-pitch climbing or are going to be taking your friends climbing with you, it is a good idea to learn some basic climbing rescue skills such as how to take over a weighted or unweighted belay. You should also be able to ascend a rope and perform a variety of hauls to help get people out of any risky situation they may end up in. To do most basic rescue skills, you won’t need much extra gear, just a lot of extra training.
The easiest and most basic kit of gear that you can keep on your harness at all times to be able to handle most situations is a double-length nylon sling, a prusik cord, a grigri or other assisted braking belay device, and three or more locking carabiners. With this amount of gear, you will be able to solve most simple climbing catastrophes. Again, it is important that you do this with the correct training, so we recommend taking a class or finding an expert to talk with.
Common Causes for Climbing Wall Injuries
Many common climbing injuries, both indoor and outdoor, are simple injuries such as sprained ankles or wrists, and cuts, bruises, or scrapes. These injuries can be caused by a fluke, but the likelihood of them happening to you can be increased with reckless climbing or by being unaware of your surroundings. Make sure you don’t walk under climbers, particularly when they’re bouldering, but it’s a good practice to not walk under any climber.
Another common cause of climbing injuries is the misuse of gear. Not finishing tying your knot will lead to your knot becoming untied. If you don’t lock your carabiners, they could come unclipped. Many of these can lead to more severe injuries but are also the easiest to prevent. By understanding how to use your gear correctly and making sure you take the time to check that you are using it correctly every time you climb will help minimize these risks.
Other injuries could come from a failure of gear altogether. While gear does naturally degrade over time and there are random failures that can’t be explained, in general, if you care for your gear well and keep a good eye on it as it wears, you can prevent your gear from failing. This includes cleaning your gear with the appropriate measures that won’t harm the materials, protecting your gear against sharp edges, and making sure your gear dries out well and is stored well between uses.
If you are doing multi-pitch climbs or any climbs that require you to rappel down or use a handline, this is also a common place for injuries to happen. Many climbers reach the top of their climb and assume that the risks have all passed. Then they slip on the way down and hurt themselves. Remember that you are not fully safe until both you and your climbing partner are safely back on the ground. Don’t slack off and forget your safety checks and rules just because you are going down.
Tips for Communicating with Your Climbing Partner
There are some generally accepted and understood terms to communicate safely with your climbing partner. These terms are universal, meaning that even if you climb with a different partner, you will still be able to utilize the same terms. Communication is key to a safe climbing experience as it builds trust and starts the contract between a belayer and a climber, in which the belayer agrees to keep the climber safe.
These are the universally accepted terms using “C” for climber and “B” for belayer:
At the start of a climb:
C: On belay?
B: Belay on.
B: Climb on!
At the top of a climb:
B: Got you
C: Ready to lower
At the bottom of a climb:
C: Off belay
B: Belay is off
Wrapping Things Up: How to Stay Safe When Climbing
Climbing is risky, but it doesn’t have to be as dangerous as your relatives probably seem to think it is. Many people who have never climbed before assume that since you will be high up in the air, that climbing is a very dangerous sport. People who haven’t climbed before don’t realize that there are so many ways that you can keep yourself safe while climbing.
The best thing we can recommend for you to do to keep yourself safe while climbing is to take a class. Learning from experts is a great way to learn new skills and make sure that you are practicing old skills in the safest way possible. There are so many people, books, and resources out there to help you learn to climb safely, so don’t hesitate to ask at your local gym, gear shop, or in your local climbing community.
Did you find this helpful? Then also check out our other climbing tips here.
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