Are you new to rock climbing? Were there any questions you thought about but didn't ask in your introductory lesson? Here are some answers to questions frequently asked by newcomers to the indoor climbing scene.
1. What should I wear?
Everything you find comfortable to move into.
Some people like yoga-style lycra clothing; others prefer a loose, loose style. As long as you can move your arms and legs freely, and can see your hands and feet as you climb, you should be good to go.
2. Wouldn't it be better to wear gloves?
Gloves can protect your skin, but they prevent you from feeling the grip properly. For climbing, feeling the friction and details of the cleats helps you “stick” to them better. Your skin will be sore at first, but over time it will harden and develop small calluses so it doesn't hurt anymore.
There is an exception to the no-glove rule; many people who do some kind of specialized rock climbing called "crack climbing" wear partial gloves. These types of gloves keep the fingers free for dexterity and rock feel, but protect the skin on the backs of the hands - especially the joints - from scratching as the hands are repeatedly “stuck” in the cracks.
3. How much chalk do I need?
Climbing chalk, like gymnasts chalk, is a white powder of magnesium carbonate designed to absorb sweat so that there is more friction between your hands and the grips. You don't want slippery hands when climbing and excess moisture can leave the wedges sticky for the next climber. Ugh.
However, if you use too much chalk can build up on your hands, reducing friction and the sheets getting dirty. Excessive chalking can also create clouds of white powder for people to breathe in. So be careful and “fear” just enough to keep your hands dry. The amount will vary from person to person.
4. What does brushing do?
Cleans the holds.
You might have seen people at the gym pull out small brushes (about the size of a toothbrush to a hairbrush) and brush the sockets on the wall before climbing up. These people are removing the mud and grime that has built up on the holds over time through the sweat and excess chalk of climbers (see Q3). Brushing the cleats gives them more friction and friction means you can hold onto them better (see Q2).
5. What is the color ribbon used for?
The band indicates the holds during a climb, and sometimes the difficulty of the climb.
Many climbing gyms mark bouldering issues and routes with colored tape. Each grip and foot will have a piece of colored tape next to it so climbers will know which holds belong to the problem or route they are trying. Sometimes, instead of duct tape, the sockets themselves will all be the same color. Designating routes by color is especially useful when there are overlapping routes on the wall.
Sometimes the color of the tape (or sockets) also indicates how difficult the problem or route is. If this is the case, there will be a caption somewhere in the gymnasium informing climbers of the grade or range of rank that the different colors represent.
6. What do the numbers mean?
They tell you how difficult the climb is.
The number assigned to a climb indicates its degree of difficulty. For routes, the score will be a decimal number which always starts with 5. The number after the decimal increases with difficulty. Therefore, the easiest routes are rated between 5.4 and 5.7, and the more difficult routes in the gymnasium are in the range of 5.11 to 5.13.
For bouldering, all levels start with V. As with routes, lower numbers correspond to easier problems and higher numbers correspond to more difficult problems. You will likely run into issues rated V0 to V12 in the climbing gym.
7. How should my shoes be fitted?
You don't want your feet to move in your shoes because good climbing requires precise foot placements, and for that you need to feel the details, such as small edges, on the foot blocks. On the other hand, if your shoes are too tight, they will go numb and you will not feel a thing.
Your shoes should definitely be tighter than your regular street shoes. Thus, it is quite common for climbers to take their shoes off at regular intervals, even as often as between climbs, to give their feet a break. (Note that many gyms require flip flops or socks if you take shoes off).
8. When should I buy my own equipment?
As soon as you understand how awesome climbing is!
More seriously, however… it will take 7-10 visits to the gym before you have spent the cost of purchasing your own equipment on rental fees. For the bouldering all you need is entry level shoes and a chalk bag, which costs between $ 100 and $ 130. If you are going to be climbing routes, you will also need a harness and a belay device, which adds an additional $ 80 to $ 180.
So maybe renting for the first time and if you are still happy now is a good time to buy your own gear. Take into account that you are probably more likely to go if you invest in the equipment and are discouraged if you have to pay the additional rental fees every time you want to go ...
9. When do I go to the wall when it's crowded?
When there is a reasonable deviation.
Climbing over a crowded boulder wall can be intimidating; there is no obvious alignment as there is often in rope climbs. The timing of hitting the wall is a nice balance between patience and confidence. Think of it as a conversation; don't interrupt but talk in spaces (or someone else can talk all night).
Other tips: don't stand too far from the wall or no one will know you're waiting to try the problem. Don't spend too much time on the wall when it's your turn. Make a solid attempt when others are waiting; if you swipe to the beginning, it's probably cool to start over right away. Otherwise, it should follow some kind of natural rotation of the attempts of those working on the problem.
10. How can I become stronger?
At first, you just have to climb.
A typical remark when people start to climb is how tired and sore they are, especially in the forearms. Even people who are physically strong and good at other sports are likely to feel weak when they start to climb. This is normal because, as with any new sport, there is a technical learning curve and your body has to get used to using new muscles in new ways. The best way to get stronger for climbing, to begin with, is to climb.
You will notice an improvement as you strengthen these climbing specific muscles and your technique improves, because when you are more efficient at moving on the wall, you save energy. You may want to consider taking a technique lesson for this reason.
Many climbing gyms these days have an area with equipment you would see in a cross-fit or weightlifting gym, and climbing-specific training equipment. These can be useful later.
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Rock climbing is everywhere these days. From the Dawn Wall to your Instagram feed to the new gym going up in town, climbing is no longer the fringe sport it once was. Kids are starting to climb almost before they can walk, and now more than ever, there’s no reason for you not to give it a try as well. However, climbing can be one of those intimidating hobbies to begin. Many ask, “How do I get started ? ” citing fear and feeling overwhelmed with gear and safety as huge barriers to entry. We get it, and so what follows is everything you need to know to get out on the rock'n'roll.
The term “rock climbing” encompasses a great number of techniques, from bouldering to big wall climbing, to mountain climbing and mountaineering. Before you begin, it might be important to first identify what style of climbing you are interested in, or perhaps to ask, “Why do I want to climb ? ” Do you want to summit peaks, boulder at your local gym, or perhaps learn to lead climb at the local crag ? Do you want to make friends, be outdoors, or get in shape ( or all three ) ? Once these questions are answered, you can work out the potential steps you’ll need to take to get there. Below ( in the Sport vs. trad vs. bouldering section ) we attempt to inform this decision by breaking down the various types of climbing; each has its own specific culture, gear, and learning curve.
Climbing is a complex sport : it’s potentially expensive to get into, difficult to find mentors, and can be dangerous if not done correctly. With the evolution of climbing gyms, however, it’s easier than ever to give climbing a try : just grab a friend and head to the nearest gym, rent a pair of shoes and a harness, and jump on the bouldering wall. However, if and when your progression leads you to climbing on ropes and outside, technical skills become essential to safety. Many choose to learn from friends; however, safety is so important that we recommend enrolling in a formal class. The easiest and best way to learn the essential skills, which include belaying and tying proper knots, is by taking an introductory course at your local gym. Or, if you’re interested in climbing outside or even more specifically climbing in the mountains, seek out a chic either through your gym or a local guide.
The first indoor climbing gym opened in Seattle in 1987. Now just 30 years later, there are 430 gyms across the nation, with over 50 more in construction at the time of writing. Areas like the Denver metropolis have as many as 10 gyms, all stuffed to capacity each day. Whereas climbers used to be a tiny community of mostly adult men with access to the wilderness, the climbing gym revolution has brought climbing to the masses. It’s safe to say that more people now climb indoors than outdoors. The climbing gym has developed its own culture, and climbing inside - “pulling on plastic, ” as climbers often say - is vastly different from climbing outdoors. It is arguably safer, much more convenient to access, and far more social; for these reasons, the gym is an excellent place to begin climbing. Gym passes cost anywhere from $6 to $30/day, with monthly memberships being the best option for those who go regularly. Outdoor climbing takes place on boulders, on cliff bands, and in mountains - anywhere where there is solid rock'n'roll, climbers can be found. Some of the most popular genres of rock'n'roll to climb include granite, sandstone, limestone, basalt, and conglomerate blends. Each of these kinds of rock'n'roll has its own style of climbing, from overhanging jugs much like gym climbs, to technical slabs, to splitter cracks. Climbing outdoors demands a higher level of spécialité than climbing in the gym, as there are more variables and risques on real rock'n'roll. Weather can be a factor, as well as rock fall. Climbers will also need to possess a great deal more gear to climb outside, including their own rope and harness, quickdraws or other protection, a personal anchor and locking carabiner, and a helmet. Although many climbers begin in the gym, some learn to climb immediately outside, most commonly with the help of a guide or an instructional course.
Rock climbing is generally broken down into three categories : sport climbing, traditional ( trad ) climbing, and bouldering. Climbers tend to specialize in or prefer one discipline over the others, though many climbers participate in all three. Sport climbing is a style of climbing where the leader attaches quickdraws to pre-existing bolts, looping the rope through the quickdraws for protection while ascending the cliff. Sport climbs are often one-pitch climbs where the leader then comes back to the ground after fixing the rope to the anchor, though in some cases these climbs might continue up larger faces for multiple pitches. As a discipline, sport climbing focuses on difficult movement, résistance, learning to face fears, and risking a fall ( and being caught by the rope, bien sûr ! ). Trad climbing is the most rootsy and historical form of climbing, in which the leader climbs weaknesses in the rock ( generally, cracks ) and places gear in these weaknesses that will hold the rope in the case of a fall. Although trad climbs can be single-pitch routes like the majority of sport climbs, they often ascend features that are more than one rope length and end at a summit ( these are called “multi-pitch climbs” ). Trad climbers generally love long and adventurous days of climbing in wilderness areas, focusing on movement, logistics, technical rope and gear skills, and partnership. Bouldering is perhaps the most modern form of climbing, and certainly the fastest-growing. Boulderers ascend boulders or bermuda cliffs ( generally 20 feet and under ), using pads and spotters at the base for protection instead of ropes. Bouldering is a form of climbing that focuses on difficult movement and problem solving, and is more social than the other techniques. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a few other forms of climbing : aid climbing, alpine rock'n'roll climbing, speed climbing, and deep water soloing. Pick your poison ( or shall we say passion ) : each has its own set of joys and défis !
One of the first things you’ll learn when starting to climb is how to choose a route that suits your ability level. In the gym, climbs generally are labeled with a difficulty rating; outside, climbers use guidebooks and often a phone application called Mountain Project to identify the difficulty of climbs. In the U. S., climbs are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System; in bermuda, 5. 3 is a very beginner climb, and 5. 15 is an expert-level route. These ratings do not denote danger, only difficulty. As a beginner, you’ll most likely be choosing routes 5. 7 and under, and often routes that can be top-roped. Top-roping means that the climber establishes an anchor from the top of the climb so that the rope is already in place, rather than leading the route from the bottom. Many routes in the gym are set up with top ropes; outside, climbers can often hike to the top of the cliff or feature to drop a rope down over the climb.
Each discipline of climbing necessitates a different set of gear. For all variétés of climbing, however, a beginner will need a pair of climbing shoes. For just starting out in the sport, we recommend finding a comfortable pair of climbing shoes ( don’t be persuaded by the salesperson at your local gear shop to purchase painfully tight shoes ). Delicate footwork will come later in your climbing career; for now you will just be developing an ability to stand on your feet and trust the rubber of your new shoes. All climbers will generally want to carry a chalk bag and chalk as well, which they will either wear around their waist or keep on the ground ( sometimes the case while bouldering ). Climbers dip their hands into chalk to dry off sweat and keep them from slipping off the rock'n'roll. Boulderers will need the above two pieces of gear, in addition to a bouldering pad ( and friends with bouldering pads ! ). Bouldering pads are placed in the fall zone of a boulder problem, and the more the merrier ( and safer ! ). to climb on ropes both in a gym or outside, climbers will need a climbing harness. Climbing harnesses come in a range of weights and specifications - some for sport climbing in particular, some with larger gear loops or more padding for trad climbing. Harnesses need to be replaced every few years for safety reasons, so we again recommend purchasing an affordable harness and replacing it when you have a better understanding of your needs. Along with a climbing harness, it is essential to own a belay device and locking carabiner. This equipment will enable you to belay your partner in the gym or outside, and rappel if needed. If climbing outside, a helmet is extremely important in case of rock'n'roll fall. The above-mentioned gear provides the basics for personal gear needed for a day of climbing or bouldering, either in the gym or with an experienced and well-equipped partner. If you are looking to buy gear so that you can be fully self-sufficient ( and not need a partner or a group with shared gear ) you’ll want to also purchase a climbing-specific rope ( 60-70 meters, 9-10mm in diameter, dynamic ), a personal anchor ( PAC ) or daisy chain, extra locking carabiners, cams, nuts, quickdraws, and slings. It is extremely important to buy new gear or to know the history and age of the gear if acquiring used. Both soft materials and metals degrade over time and with wear and should be carefully assessed before using.
We wholeheartedly recommend taking a course taught by professionals before attempting to climb or belay on your own. Climbing is inherently dangerous, though when done correctly can be very safe. After all of the proper skills have been learned, it is still incredibly important to stay on top of safety at every moment. Before leaving the ground, or transitioning from climbing to lowering/rappelling, there are a number of safety checks that must be completed.