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Safety Over Strength: Essential Climbing Skills for Safety

by Christopher Schafenacker

getting the most out of your home climbing wall

Rule number one of training for climbing is: don’t get hurt. Most often, this means don’t push past your body’s limits, and be wary of protocols that commonly lead to injury (yes, I’m looking at you, campus board). However, all the careful warming up, finger care, and restraint in the world won’t protect you from nature’s objective dangers when you head out onto real rock. Injuries resulting from inadequate safety knowledge are—at the least—damaging to your progression, and need to be taken at least as seriously. A broken ankle from a bad belay sets you back more than any pulley injury, and a rock to the head can put a permanent end to your gains. Don’t let these things happen by ensuring your safety skills are as complete as your training knowledge. The list below is a primer to get you started.

Safety Skills to Ensure You Live Long Enough to Send Your Project

1. Know What You Don’t Know

Climbing can refer to everything from pebble wrestling at your local boulder field to carefully picking your way up Mount Robson’s Emperor Face on ice tools. Safely engaging in the former amounts to little more than heading out with pads and spotters; safely engaging in the latter is more complex.

If you don’t want to die while climbing, don’t do things you don’t know how to do. Never cleaned an anchor? Don’t try to learn while 100 feet off the deck. Never crossed a glacier? Don’t rue your mistakes while trapped at the base of a deep crevasse. Being humble enough to admit ignorance is, in fact, not ignorant at all. It could save your life.

2. Wear a Helmet

Climb long enough, and eventually someone in your circle will die or be seriously injured by rockfall. Make sure it isn’t you by wearing a helmet. Period.

3. Inspect the Fixed Gear

Complacency kills, especially when you’re high off the ground. Any time you climb a new route, ensure you take the time to inspect the bolts, anchor, fixed draws, webbing, and anything else you might rely on for protection. Don’t know what to look for? Here’s an article to get you started.

4. Learn Proper Belay Technique

Bad belaying is second only to training in its propensity to cause injury. In the worst case, you risk dropping (and killing) your partner; in the best, you might cause a nasty sprained ankle. Belay-related injuries are so common, because belaying is a part of every climb you undertake. A lot of words would be required to cover all the intricacies of the craft and even then, we’d fall short. The best way to learn proper belay technique is to take a course, and then practice a lot…and then some more. Before you venture outdoors, make sure you know when a hard catch is appropriate versus a soft catch, and that you are able to appropriately assess the terrain for ledges and other features that may complicate the belay.

5. Find a Mentor (or Contract a Guide)

It used to be that, to begin climbing, you needed a generous mentor willing to take you out and show you the ropes. Nowadays, you can simply sign up at a gym, or build a home wall to get started. The strength and technique you gain from this approach are only a part of the puzzle, though. To safely climb outdoors, you still need someone to teach you how to properly place protection, clean anchors, manage the rope, respect outdoor etiquette, and so on. All too often, people attain these skills through trial and error with their equally-green indoor companion. This ease of access is great for the growth of our sport, but dangerous for the individuals involved. Save yourself the close calls (or worse) that can result, and invest in a guide or seek out a mentor who can assure you you’re doing everything right before you discover you aren’t, and you get hurt.


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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