Rock Climbing Tips
Starting out with any new hobby can feel can feel a little bit daunting and pardon the pun, but a bit of an uphill struggle! That’s certainly true of something that’s not just physically but technically demanding like rock climbing. In between getting the right fitting rock climbing shoes and the rock climbing ropes that quite literally might end up saving your life, you may have to force yourself out of your comfort zone and scale dizzying heights. All the while figuring out how to safely use all the new gear you’ve just invested in and getting au fait with that rock climbing slang that the fraternity your about to join seems to use. Try not to get overwhelmed in the face of your first climb or be intimidated as rock climbers are generally a friendly lot and have a strong code of protective brotherhood, looking out for each other and always on hand with a useful tip or two! Talking of which, we have some handy pointers of our own to impart that will take some of the guesswork out of your new pursuit. The last thing you want to realize, 10 meters up a mountain face, is that you forgot to fasten your safety harness! So buckle up and let’s take a look at 15 Useful Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners.
1. The importance of using your feet
Let’s assume that you are not quite at Tom Cruise Mission Impossible level and your upper body strength can’t support you dangling precariously off a precipice! You’re a newbie, after all, so the most important thing to understand is that your feet are a vital component in rock climbing. As are the rock climbing shoes you have upon said feet! You rock climb with your entire body, not just your arms so by using your whole body and working out the strategic placement of your feet and not just your arms, you will have a much better chance to reach your next hold and not falling off. Take it easy, be measured in picking out your route and use your entire body to support you.
2. Don’t be too worried about falling occasionally. It’s all part of the process
The idea of falling is probably filling you with dread right now, especially as a beginner, but it’s not half as scary as you might think, and sometimes a strategic fall or purposeful drop might be better than trying to stay stationary, clinging on for dear life to a hold that is going nowhere. Over time you will develop and increase your grip, but you also need to trust in your gear too. Those rock climbing ropes have a purpose. Trust in that purpose and know that they are there to guide and support you. Taking a fall early on will give you the confidence to know that there’s no situation you can’t comfortably get yourself out of and that your harness and ropes really are doing their job. Plus, it’s a little bit cathartic and also an adrenalin rush and let’s face it, you’ve probably decided to take up rock climbing because you enjoy high octane extreme activities; otherwise, you would have bought a set of bowling balls and some lawn shoes.
3. Learn the ropes
You need to learn how to belay correctly, even if you are going out as part of a team and in fact, you do need to be fully certified before you even consider going out solo. Taking a class is the best way to get the basic education you need and just some of the things that you will get to grips with as part of your rope work are how to tie a figure-eight and a fisherman’s knot. How to keep a break position or home base and how to create slack.
4. Persistence pays dividends. Don’t give up
All new sports, hobbies or challenges of any kind (be they mental or physical) require commitment, dedication, discipline and strength of character to succeed. No-one masters something the first time they try it, and no one route is going to be the same as another so some days the climb will seem more difficult than others. Embrace that feeling and enjoy pushing your body, mind, and character to the limit. Don’t give up. Take a break, grab your flask. Have a well-earnt sip of water then crack on. In the early days of rock climbing you really are learning one move at a time so enjoy that freedom and especially the sense of achievement when you do successfully reach the summit. Even if it is a small one!
5. Trust your gear but better still, get yourself a good Belayer
No matter how reliable your new climbing ropes, climbing helmet and gear might be, if the person on the other end is on their phone while you are trying to assail the side of a cliff, you might still come to a cropper! You need to know that the person on the other end of those ropes has got your back. Ideally, partner up with a buddy who’s roughly the same bodyweight as yourself. This will make it so much easier and safer for them to belay you.
6. Consider taking lessons from a professional first
Tempting though it may be to answer the call of the wild, pack up your new gear in your waterproof backpack and head out to some bolder for the day, don’t just pick the basics (and potentially bad habits too) from your mates. Try and learn the ropes so to speak from someone with professional experience who can impart their years of safe knowledge on your and prevent you from getting into potentially dangerous bad habits or costly shortcuts. Indoor climbing walls are a great, safe place to start and most will provide short courses on how to do the basics, especially the important things like how to tie a harness and what gear you really need to be investing in for climbing outdoors.
7. Communication while climbing is key
Check in regularly with your climbing partner or belayer. Yes, you need to concentrate on the route ahead, but feedback and communication with your partner will help you feel safer and more confident. They can act as an extra pair of eyes and ears and may be at a different visual vantage point to you which means they can provide feedback on where you next hold should be. Plus, they can also offer much-needed encouragement when the going does get a little bit tough.
8. Adopt the correct straight arm position
This might sound and look counter-intuitive when you are starting out. After all, you’re probably more used to flexing those arms muscles. But this actually puts more strain and fatigue on your muscles and keeps them under constant pressure so where you can hang, chilled as you possibly can in a straight-armed position. If you spend any time observing experienced rock climbers, you will see that in between moves they relax and keep their arms straight which helps to conserve energy. This isn’t because they are nonchalant but because they know that this more chilled approach decreases fatigue and improves your chances of reaching the summit successfully.
9. All the gear, no idea!
When it comes to rock climbing, you definitely need to be investing in good and reliable equipment and especially your shoes. Don’t be tempted to cut corners when it comes to your rock climbing shoes and definitely don’t be tempted to buy some dodgy looking knock-offs or something from eBay that’s been well used and definitely seen better days. A good pair of climbing shoes, alongside your climbing ropes, are the most essential bits of gear you will own so do your research and invest wisely in a quality pair. You’ll be using your feet all day, so they need to be comfortable, durable and provide adequate support. While we are talking gear, make sure that you have a good survival knife too packed in your backpacking backpack. It’s one essential tool we’d never leave home without.
10. It’s not a race so take your time
Yes, it’s exciting and adrenalin fuelled stuff but take the time to do your preparation, plan out your route and take your time moving from one hold to the next. The priority is to reach the top safely, not to reach it as quickly as possible. Make sure that you have thoroughly completed all your safety checks first too and don’t be tempted to cut any corners. Ensuring that you have the safest as well as most enjoyable climb possible should be the objective.
11. We’re all continually learning so take advice when its given
This is especially true when you are just starting out. Leave your ego behind and take on board advice respectfully where its offered. Everyone looks at the world, never mind a wall, with a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective so listen up as you might learn something new. Also, if someone has just gone before you and already figured out what pitfalls you can avoid, doesn’t it make sense to take this on board rather than finding out the hard way? Challenging yourself is good but enjoying a spot of climbing camaraderie is even better!
12. Get with the lingo!
We talked about communication earlier and the importance of having constant feedback with your belayer. Check out the basic set of climbing commands that will make life much more comfortable. Want to take a water break and enjoy a refreshing and invigorating drink from that insulated water bottle you brought along, then shout out “Take.” It’s easy when you know how!
13. Power up and engage your core
We already talked about that upper body strength and using all your body, especially your feet, but it’s vitally important that you properly engage your entire core. It’s no surprise that people from a gymnastic background quite often transition into the sport of rock climbing as they’re used to having that incredible core strength. You could try incorporating some Pilates or Yoga into your own strength training and conditioning or adding some dynamic kettlebell exercises into your workouts to really help you power up your rock climbing performance.
14. Plan out your route ahead of time and know the complexity and difficulty rating
Rock climbing routes, like ski-runs, have their own unique coding system. They’re not denoted by colors but rather by number and decimal points. The higher the decimal point, the harder the route, so if you are a beginner, you want to go for something like a 5.5 and not a 5.12. Make sure you’re not inadvertently opted for a vertical boulder incline! They start at VO and go upwards from there. As you get more experienced, you will be able to read sequences that other climbers have followed before you and be able to detect signs of chalk for example or rubber marks from shoes that all indicate you are going up a route that has been successfully assailed by someone ahead of you.
15. Preparation is key
Don’t leave home without having planned out carefully all your backpack essentials. We’ve already talked about the importance of your equipment, but it’s also equally important to ensure that you are adequately hydrated on what might be a long, punishing and hot climb so make sure you have a plentiful supply of water either taking an insulated water bottle or a flask with you. We also recommend you back some energy-boosting snacks too.
With these 15 useful climbing tips for beginners, you should be well on your way to enjoying many exciting new outdoor adventure and seeing the world from a different perspective.