Is rock climbing something you’ve always wanted to do? These tips will help you get started, so there’s no need to hold back!
Climbing is one of the best sports you can do to improve mental health and increase strength, especially if done in combination with many other sports. It is so much better for your body than intense weight lifting and the associated pressure on your joints. And there are so many places to go explore, camp, and climb—being outside to climb is one of the best things about the sport.
Growing up in America, and especially California, I’ve been blessed with several different types of rock formations and areas to climb locally: in the mountains, deserts, and beaches. There are many granite stones and limestone rock formations to climb, and many gyms continue to pop up in every large city now on the west coast.
If you’re interested in giving climbing a try, the first step is to grab a few friends and go find a local climbing gym. Most gyms have deals for certain nights of the week, so be sure to give them a call or check their website online to see what the best and most ideal option is for you and your friends.
Climbing at the Gym
My favorite activity, and one I highly recommend once you have a little experience, is free climbing, or “bouldering.” You can typically get a lesson on how to boulder, usually by a gym employee after signing your liability waiver, but if you find it does not suit your expectations, or is a bit scary to solo climb a wall without a rope, then try top roping! Sometimes not being tied up by a rope can be a bit freaky and strange, so try to take a belay lesson at the gym and get your certification that day.
Once you and your partner are good to go and know how to tie yourselves in and into your ATC (or grigri device), then you’re ready to go climb an even taller wall at the gym! Top roping is much more relaxed since you can take breaks while ascending up the wall, and you don’t feel as pressured to complete the route as fast as possible, as it may seem while bouldering.
With bouldering, there are some routes you may not want to start all the way from the beginning but may need to, based on the orientation of the course. The good thing about top roping is you can understand different routes, the holds system, and how to use your legs much more, which most climbers forget about when climbing. Top roping is a great option for getting involved in climbing and is very easy to do at most climbing gyms.
The rating system used in the U.S. is based on a 5.0 system going from 5.5 up to 5.15a/b/c, different from the bouldering rating system distinguished by the V system, which ranges from V0 up to V15 and can be approximately correlated to the difficulties of top roping. You’ll find that 5.5 is similar to a V0 depending on the gyms, sometimes a 5.6 and 5.7 could be also comparable.
Once you’ve practiced in a gym, the next step to grow as a climber is to get out in the real world and test the ropes in a real rock wall setting. Definitely go out with more experienced climbers, to be able to learn from them when setting anchors to climb, watching them clip in, going out, and so on. Plus, it’s always more fun to be able to camp, hike, and bond with new friends.
Ultimately though, going out into an outdoor setting will give you a chance to push yourself. It gives you scenarios without giving the answers. You get to make up your own routes, your own holds, learn what works for your body, and be creative and use your skills and strengths. It also helps you to build some real calluses.
There are always new spots to go climbing, but sometimes the easier and close ones are best. You can ask your local gym employees where they go outdoors and if there are groups that go out regularly on the weekends. At the very least, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
While you have them there, ask the employee where the best place to purchase equipment is, if you need it. I’ve found a few different websites that have been great for outdoor gear in general, such as backcountry.com which also has reasonably priced climbing equipment. However, for climbing equipment specifically, there are a few items you must always buy new, as you don’t know what has happened to pre-owned ones and if they’re still safe. The articles you must buy new include a harness, a rope, and hard equipment such as quickdraws and ATC/grigri devices.
Shoes you can definitely buy used, and even at a REI used sale if you find some your size! Side note for climbing shoes is that they need to fit extremely snug for the most part, but going half a size down is tight enough for me for the most part. I tend to get ones that fit more to my true size so I can wear them for a prolonged amount of time without my feet killing me.
However, there are usually outlets for companies such as 5.10, Evolve, Scarpa, and La Sportiva where you can get shoes for a discounted price. Sometimes climbers will buy the wrong size of brand new shoes and sell them fairly inexpensive and barely worn, so try to check a local corkboard or postings at your gym. The best places to buy hardware gear is REI, Madrock Climbing, Metolius Climbing, Black Diamond, Nomad Venture, Adventure 16, and many other outdoor stores that specifically carry a few brands I have mentioned thus far.
I would recommend investing in your own gear after the first couple times of attending the gym and renting it. You’ll get a sense of what your sizes are and what you prefer as far as brands and equipment goes at the gym, and having your own is a great investment. And if you end up not climbing as much as you thought you would, you can save the equipment for someone in your family who can trust your equipment and knows its usage history. Also, by getting the gear you’ll have more of an obligation to get out and actually use it!
Climbing from Beginning to End
For beginners, the main thing to remember about climbing at first is it can take a while to build up strength in your ligaments, your hands, and even forearms for most people. To gain your strength quicker, consider going climbing every other day to give your body some healing time but also keep you going consistently enough to keep your calluses, as is essential.
Once you have your gear and have had your introduction to climbing in a gym, you’re ready to explore the geological terrain to begin “sending” some routes. In the end, the great thing about climbing is the unlimited potential to grow. There are so many ways to progress and keep climbing: ice climbing, leading, sport-climbing, trad climbing, and more. All have their difficulties to learn to overcome, but they all help you grow very much as a person to overcome fears even you might not know are instilled in your DNA. Any continent you go to there will be climbing of some form, and it is a sport you can easily take with you wherever you may travel.