Rock climbing is a great sport. It can be a super welcoming and open community, making it a great sport for anyone to try. Starting rock climbing can feel overwhelming, but don’t worry, we’ve all been in your shoes and are completely ready to help you out. This article should answer some of your burning questions about starting to rock climb and give you the tools you need to start climbing.
Why Should You Try Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing is an amazing activity for a variety of reasons. Not only is it a great full-body workout, but it is also great for your mental health. It can help you keep your brain engaged through the problem-solving aspect of climbing and can give you an almost meditative experience while on the wall.
Many people start climbing for the physical workout but stick with climbing for the mental benefits or the amazing community. The rock climbing community is known to be super supportive of new climbers, and it is becoming more diverse. There are groups out there that will be more than willing to help you get started regardless of your age, size, and race.
What to Expect Your First Time Rock Climbing?
The first time you go rock climbing, you should expect your body to feel sore afterward and probably the next day too. Remember that it is a different style of movement from what you are used to and, since it’s your first time, you aren’t likely to have great technique yet. This simply means that you won’t know how to optimize your muscles’ energy and conserve your strength, so you are likely to tire out fast and feel sore afterward.
Don’t feel discouraged if rock climbing is super challenging for you the first time. Even so-called easy routes can be hard if you aren’t used to climbing and don’t fully know the moves yet. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. So many people are more than willing to come help new climbers out and encourage them along.
What are the Types of Rock Climbing?
The general breakdown of rock climbing is indoor versus outdoor climbing. Both indoor and outdoor climbing have many of the same styles available, but obviously, one is inside while the other is outside. Indoor rock climbing is typically more accessible to a beginner and usually requires less gear. Outdoor rock climbing tends to take a good monetary investment to get started and often requires a larger amount of gear.
Bouldering can be done both indoor and outdoor and is generally the same in both places. It consists of working your way up climbs, called problems, but not going too high. It uses no ropes or harnesses and instead protects you from injury with a mat below that you can fall on safely. Bouldering is generally the style of climbing that requires the least amount of gear and initial monetary investment.
Top-rope can also be done both indoor and outdoor. The main difference is that when you are top-rope climbing indoors, you generally don’t have to think about how the rope and anchor are set up. Outdoor top-rope climbing often requires a working knowledge of basic anchors and the gear required to set them up, making it slightly more gear and knowledge-intensive than indoor top-roping.
The general picture of top-rope climbing is a rope with both ends on the ground. One end of the rope is tied to the climber while a belayer holds the other end. The middle of the rope goes through an anchor at the top of the climb. Climbers typically, although not all the time, climb up to the anchor and are then lowered down by the belayer.
Sport (lead) climbing
Sport climbing can also be done both indoor and outdoor. It starts with the rope completely on the ground and the climber tied into one end. The belayer has the rope slightly down from where the climber is tied in, and they let the rope out as the climber goes up, as opposed to taking the rope in like they would in top-rope climbing. This general principle of leading up a wall is what is called lead climbing.
The sport aspect of sport climbing comes with the bolts and the way that the climber protects themselves as they climb up the wall. There are bolts bolted into the wall every so often as the climber goes up that they then clip the rope into. This protects the climber in case of a fall, but the falls in lead climbing are bigger than the falls in top-rope climbing.
Any type of lead climbing takes more knowledge and gear than top-rope climbing, but sport climbing is the simplest form of lead climbing to get into. Not every gym is able to offer sport climbing, but starting sport climbing in a gym is a great way to learn in a controlled setting.
Trad (lead) climbing
Trad climbing, or traditional climbing, is a set up from sport climbing and can only be done outdoors since you need the natural features of the rock in order to trad climb. Trad climbing is still lead climbing, where you bring the rope up with you as you go and clip it into protection, but you use significantly different protection than you do in sport climbing.
In trad climbing, you place gear into cracks in the rock to protect yourself as you climb. This gear can be passive, such as stoppers or hexes, or active, such as camming devices. There can even be gear that can be both active and passive, such as TriCams. This gear takes a huge amount of knowledge in order to use it safely and a large financial investment to get the gear and maintain the gear.
If you’ve seen the movie Free Solo, you’ll have some idea what free soloing is. This is not a style of climbing to be done by anyone, though, as it takes immense amounts of practice and self-awareness. Free soloing is climbing top-rope or lead routes, but with no rope. If you fall while free soloing, you will either end up seriously injured or dead, so we don’t recommend this style, but it is good to know about it.
We also want to take a moment to talk about the difference between free soloing and free climbing. Top-rope, sport, and trad climbing are all examples of free climbing, meaning that the only thing that you are pulling on to advance up the wall is the wall. Free soloing is the specific term that means that there’s no rope involved. These are easily confused but are very different.
How Difficult is Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing can feel super hard when you first start out, but if you take it slow and allow your body to get used to it, rock climbing can begin to feel like second nature. If you want rock climbing to be a meditative, mentally-calming experience for you, then you can find routes or boulder problems that work for you. There is no need for rock climbing to be extremely hard just for it to be enjoyable.
If you do want a challenge, rock climbing can give you that as well. If you want to go on big-scale adventures and really push your body to it’s limit, you can totally do that with rock climbing. You can make rock climbing as difficult or as easy as you want it to be.
One of the many pros of rock climbing is that you can tailor your experience to what works for you. There is no one correct way to enjoy rock climbing. All that matters is that you have fun and stay safe.
What Equipment Do You Need to Start Rock Climbing?
This depends totally on what style of climbing you are looking to get into. Generally, indoor climbing, either bouldering or top-roping, will require less gear, and you can often rent gear from your local gym until you are ready to invest in any. We recommend taking this course and trying out gear and learning about the different options out there before investing in any of your own gear.
If you are really excited about climbing though and want your own gear, we’re going to break down the general gear that you will need for many of the styles of climbing we talked about above.
Climbing shoes, chalk bag*
Climbing shoes, crash pad, chalk bag*, brush*
Indoor Top-Rope Climbing
Climbing shoes, harness, belay device of your choosing, chalk bag*
Outdoor Top-Rope Climbing
Climbing shoes, harness, belay device of your choosing, chalk bag*, helmet, rope, anchor gear
Indoor Sport Climbing
Climbing shoes, harness, belay device of your choosing, chalk bag*, rope, quickdraws
Outdoor Sport Climbing
Climbing shoes, harness, belay device of your choosing, chalk bag*, helmet, rope, anchor gear, quickdraws
Climbing shoes, harness, belay device of your choosing, chalk bag*, helmet, rope, anchor gear, trad gear (camming devices, nuts, hexes, TriCams, etc.)
*optional items, these are things that you may want to get at some point, but you don’t absolutely need to get started.
When thinking about what gear you need, make sure you know how to safely use all the gear you have. Don’t go spending all your money on brand new trad gear or anchor gear if you have no idea how to use it all safely. This gear is all designed to be used in a particular way, so take some time to learn how to use it from experts before you start experimenting on your own.
How Often Should You Climb as a Beginner?
How often you should climb is totally up to you, but we wouldn’t recommend climbing more than five or maybe six days a week. Remember that climbing is a full-body workout, and you want to make sure that you’re not overworking your body and that you are giving your body ample time to rest. If you don’t allow your body to rest fully, you run the risk of some pretty serious injuries.
It’s a good idea to ease yourself into climbing, since it can be straining on parts of your body that you may not normally strain, such as your fingers and wrists, and you don’t want to hurt those areas. Make sure that you listen to your body, and when it tells you that you need a break, you should give it a break.
If you want to add rock climbing into an existing workout routine, maybe think about doing cardio 3 or 4 times a week, rock climbing 2 or 3 days a week, and weight training 1 or 2 days a week. Pick which workouts you want to pair with one another, but make sure that you remember to give yourself at least one full rest day a week.
The best preparation for climbing is to make sure that you start out with your body feeling good. If you strained your muscles the day before, you are much more likely to fall and hurt yourself, so take good care of your body and don’t overwork it.
Things to Consider When Starting to Rock Climb
Learning to rock climb is a process, so don’t worry if it doesn’t feel natural at all at first. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to understand as you start rock climbing, so it can feel a little overwhelming at first. That being said, there are so many people who are willing to help you get started with rock climbing, so take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that they want to share with you.
One of the best tips for rock climbing beginners is to take a course. This can be either from a climbing gym or from a rock climbing guide, depending on if you want to climb indoors or outdoors. Since rock climbing can be dangerous if you don’t understand all the safety measures well enough, it can be super important to have someone with experience help you get into rock climbing.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t go to your local gym and just start climbing, but you will need someone to teach you at least some skills if you want to do anything other than indoor bouldering. Most gyms offer short and relatively inexpensive belay courses, which offer a great progression through rock climbing for beginners wanting to expand their options.
Another thing you should think about as you start rock climbing is what kind of financial investment you are willing to make. This will help you decide what style of climbing is best for your budget. Many gyms have discounts available for memberships, and many organizations offer sponsorships to help get rock climbing beginners started out.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Start Rock Climbing?
Overall, climbing may seem intimidating, but it can be very open. Take some time to figure out which style of climbing is right for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. With the rapid growth in the popularity of climbing in recent years, there has also been a growth in groups out there to help you get started. All you have to do is find these groups and people that want to help you find how climbing can fit into your life.