Outdoor rock climbing calling your name? I don’t blame you.
The great outdoors, friends, adventure, being super strong… what more could you ask for?
In other words, it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.
Well, before you grab your dirt-less climbing shoes and head to that well-known crag not-too-far from home, there are some genuinely important things to consider.
Okay, here’s the quick and dirty lowdown of how to start outdoor rock climbing for beginners.
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Educate Yourself! | Outdoor Rock Climbing Education
Take Rock Climbing Classes
Let’s be honest here: rock climbing is a dangerous sport.
I’m not trying to scare you, but the truth is that one small mistake could be a catastrophic event.
And this is why it’s so, so, so important (did I mention that it’s kind of important?) to learn the basic safety and technical skills from a qualified rock climbing instructor.
Wait, what do you mean there isn’t a belay or anchor system already set up?
DUDE, that’s half of the fun!
Climbing outside means you get to set up your own anchors, which are just one of the many essential components that create your literal life line when sport climbing or traditional climbing.
Take an Intro To Rock Climbing class to learn the following skills (and then practice at home or in the gym to eventually become a rock climbing wizard):
- Building & Cleaning Anchors
- Climbing Systems
- Safety Checks
Where can I learn these rock climbing skills in a hands-on environment?
- Your local rock climbing gym is likely to offer classes.
- Athena Rock Climbing Courses
- REI Outdoor School
Hire A Guide To Take You Rock Climbing Outdoors.
So now that you’re familiar with the skills needed for outdoor rock climbing, it’s time to put them to use in the outdoors. 😎🤘
But you’re a super smartypants, so you already know that the next step is to go out with a highly experienced, pro guide (or some other setting with a professional climbing instructor).
They’ll take you out and uh, show you the ropes. *okay, ending dad jokes now*
Ask all the questions and try all the things.
It’s important to have a safe and open learning environment with pro supervision to help keep you safe and build your confidence.
Gear Up | Outdoor Rock Climbing Gear
Let’s talk about gear, baby!
Depending on what type of outdoor rock climbing (keep reading to know what the heck I’m talking about) you’ll be doing, your gear needs will vary.
In this article, we’re just going to go over the most basic gear needed.
Regardless of what type of climbing you’ll be doing, you’ll definitely need some rock climbing shoes.
- Crash Pad
- Chalk Bag
Although not everyone needs to have a crash pad when headed to the crag, it honestly keeps everyone safer, it’s good etiquette (like bringing a little somethin’-somethin’ to a potluck), and at the very least provides a great mini couch for you and the homies.
Sport Climbing and Trad Climbing
Usually, most outdoor rock climbing newbies try sport climbing or bouldering as their first gym to crag experience.
But if you do happen to experience “trad” climbing for your first real rock exposure- first of all, congrats 👏 because that’s pretty special- just know that you’ll only be expected to have your basic gear, not a full rack.
Let’s make helmets cool again, okay? Okay. 🤗
You only get one noggin. So let’s protect that precious thing!
Rock fall is a real thing. Whippers are a real thing. And accidents are, unfortunately, real.
So wear a helmet so you can continue to climb for many, many years to come.
If still you’re not convinced that you should invest in a helmet, then I recommend you go follow @whippersandzippers on the gram. Because you WILL BE CONVINCED after watching a few of those videos. 😱
And don’t forget to come say hiiiiii on the gram. 👋
A harness is needed (yeah, obvi 😉) for any type of roped climbing. Invest in a quality harness and you’ll be stoked with how long these things last, assuming that you’re fairly nice to it.
I recommend starting with an ATC for your first belay device. If you’re not feeling very confident with your belay skills, be sure to chat with your guide, take a class at your gym, and book this article on how to pass a belay certification like a pro.
A “locker” is totes necessary to make sure that important things don’t slip out of important places.
I LOVE me a good ol’ auto locker. 🤩
Where To Get Gear
Save your dollars and borrow your friends’ gear if possible. Sharing is caring. 💛
Most likely, you can rent gear from your outdoor rock climbing guides. Other places to look are REI and your local climbing shop.
My top recommendations are to shop at your local climbing shop (if there’s one near your community) or shop with REI.
Top reasons for shopping with REI include:
- one year satisfaction guarantee on gear. So, that means if you buy a pair of climbing shoes that ended up being too small or the buckle on your helmet broke, you can return or exchange it even after you use them for up to a year.
- If you end up returning gear, REI resells it back to their members for killer prices at their “garage sales”. Yes! #dontfeedthelandfills
- 10% of all your regularly priced items if you a member. If you’re not already a member, you should totally do it.
Related: How to Save Money on Outdoor Gear
Dress for Success | Outdoor Rock Climbing Clothing
One major difference between gym climbing and outdoor rock climbing is being exposed to the elements.
For every outdoor rock climbing adventure, be sure to pack:
- stretchy clothing to help you send.
- sun protection (UPF clothing, sunscreen, hat, sun glasses, etc.).
- skin protection (long pants, maybe even long sleeve shirt).
- a jacket for when the temps drop.
Outdoor Rock Climbing Styles for Beginners
The most common outdoor rock climbing style for beginners are bouldering and sport climbing.
Bouldering requires a lot less gear (shoes & a crash pad) and, typically, a lot more power movements where the climber.
In this style of climbing, the routes are called “problems” and you typically won’t find yourself over 20 feet off of the ground.
No ropes. No harness. All guts.
Sport climbing is a style of rock climbing that consists of clipping into already placed bolts and there’s usually a bolted anchor at the top of the climb.
If it’s your first time outdoor rock climbing, you’re most likely going to be top roping. This means you’re not leading the route aka the anchor (see below) has already been set up and you are having a good and safe time climbing.
How To NOT Be A Jerk Face At The Crag | Outdoor Rock Climbing Etiquette
If you’re not already familiar with the Leave No Trace 7 Principles, get familiar homie!
They’re the 7 principles all outdoor adventurers should always embrace so we can protect the outdoors and allow others the opportunity to enjoy their experience outside, too.
Similarly, be sure to check out this post on the Climber’s Pact to learn the 13 promises every awesome climber should make.
Here a few other quick takeaways for awesome outdoor rock climbing crag etiquette:
- Use your outdoor voice only when you really need to. Not only is being excessively loud at the crag just weird and distracting in a close space, but it’s a straight up safety issue. Climbers need to hear their belayers and belayers need to hear their climbers.
- Similarly, leave the bluetooth speaker in the car. This is not the place to bump your viking metal, that’s for after climbing. 🤘And if you really want to listen to some jams before a climb, bust out your beloved headphones. 🎧
- Call people by their name when communicating to avoid confusing the party next to you. For example, “Hey Bri, ready to lower!”
- Keep your beta to yourself, please. Always ask the climber if they’d like to hear your beta, just don’t assume.
- Share routes. Communicate with other parties who show up at the crag and ask if they are looking to get on the route you’re currently on. If so, let them know how long you estimate you and your friends will be on that route and be mindful of your time.
- And on a safety note, wear your helmet during burly approaches, when belaying, and chillin’ at the crag (even if you’re not on the wall). Rocks pop off of walls and gravity can be very unforgiving.
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn when it comes to outdoor rock climbing for beginners!
Be patient with yourself, take responsibility for your education, and surround yourself with smart and safe seasoned climbers.
I’m so excited for your outdoor rock climbing journey! 💛