When it comes to comparing indoor rock climbing to outdoor rock climbing, they really are two totally different beasts. There are no brightly colored holds or thick gym mats; instead, the great outdoors offers chalk smudges, uneven ground…and a whole new wonderful world to discover. If you have been thinking about transitioning from plastic to schist, gneiss, limestone, or granite (or all of the above) there are a few things you should know before making an appearance at your local crag.
It’s natural to have lots of questions if you are heading outside for the first time. I mean, nobody wants to be that person who unintentionally does something unsafe or rude. All climbing comes with inherent risks, especially outdoors, but with the right knowledge it can be a fun experience for everyone involved.
We have compiled a list of dos and don'ts to help you be a safe, responsible visitor to the many climbing areas available to us in the U.S.
Do your research
Before heading to the crag, do your research. Climbing areas can be found on federal, state, or private land. These areas always have rules, regulations, and—sometimes—permit requirements, which are usually posted at trailheads, online, or—if the area is represented by a group that monitors the crag— with them. Using these lands for rock climbing is a privilege that we cannot take for granted. We need to ensure that we maintain ourselves as stewards of this land. Losing climbing access because of carelessness or disregard for the regulations would be a devastating consequence.
Other ways to prepare are to make sure there are no area closures where you intend to go, carpool to the crag to reduce your impact on the environment and take up less space in the parking lot, and pick up a guidebook or get beta from the locals.
Leave No Trace (LNT)
Part of being a good steward is adhering to the seven Leave No Trace principles. This applies not only to rock climbing, but whenever you are enjoying the outdoors. Make sure while at the crag you are packing out whatever you brought in. Don’t leave behind your Clif Bar wrapper or any other food items. Make sure to bring a wag bag to pack out human waste if there are no facilities available. Also, stick to designated trails and paths. Many crags have fragile plants and other vegetation that we shouldn’t be trampling all over.
The base of the cliff shouldn’t look like your gear room exploded all over it. As climbers, we tend to bring a lot of stuff with us. Eventually that stuff tends to end up on the ground. While it is understandable that you’ll need to unpack in order to prepare your gear or make lunch, try to keep your stuff contained. This means off the main walking areas, and preferably stored on a durable surface.
Keep the noise down
We may be used to chatting it up in the gym and jamming out to some pump-up music, but when climbing outside, excessive noise can be dangerous and annoying. Most people go outside to enjoy being in nature and do not want to listen to your boombox bumping. If you need music to get you psyched, put your headphones in. Also, when speaking to friends or other people at the crag, be considerate of your voice levels. If it’s a busy day, it can be difficult for belayer and climber to communicate, and all it takes is one moment of inattention for an accident to happen.
Use best climbing practices
With the growing popularity of outdoor climbing, there may be times when you roll up on a climb to find a line of people waiting to get on it. Don’t be champing at the bit for the people ahead of you to finish. Park yourself in the line and embrace the wait. You will probably make some new acquaintances this way!
Understanding what type of hardware is used for bolts and anchors is also very important—as well as the preferred way to clean and lower from the route—and can differ from place to place. Some areas prefer climbers to lower from fixed gear, while other places ask climbers to rappel the route. Make sure you and your partner have a plan for cleaning the route, and that you are comfortable with the process. If you intend to top rope the climb, bring your own top-rope anchor to clip in to the anchor points. Fixed hardware is not cheap, and it will wear out quickly if used carelessly.
As a climber, you are part of the community regardless of whether you are new to the sport or have been climbing since the Stone Age. Take the opportunity meet some new people. The climbing world is small. You might surprise yourself with the connections have with your fellow climbers.
Overall, get out there and have fun. Climbing outside opens the doors to so many possibilities beyond the gym. Take the time to learn the skills and enjoy the newness of it all. If you are already an experienced outdoor climber, use your knowledge and experience to teach a newbie something valuable.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
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Watts, P.B., Daggett, M., Gallagher, P., Wilkins B., Metabolic Response During Sport Rock Climbing and the Effects of Active Versus Passive Recovery (2000). Int J Sports Med, 21:185– 190.
Wilson, J. M., Marin, P. J., Rhea, M. R., Wilson, S. M., Loenneke, J. P., & Anderson, J. C. (2012). Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2293-2307.
Augste, C., Winkler, M., Künzell, S. Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlich fundierten Leistungs-diagnostik im Sportklettern (2020). Augsburg University.