Climbing can be quite the adventure. However, when you start climbing as a beginner, you’re probably wondering what the most important safety tips are to keep in mind. Fear not! This article offers the top rock climbing safety tips to know before you go.
There are three main categories of safety for rock climbing: education, gear, and attention. Let’s take a look.
Find a Guide, Mentor, or Class
In order to make sure that you’re staying safe and learning things the right way from the first moment, you’ll need a great guide, mentor, or class. The expert you choose can teach you important skills like how to prevent injury, proper belay technique, ideal gear placement, rope management, building safe anchors, and so much more. But how do you find the right way for you to learn the basics (and, eventually, the more advanced skills)?
There are a few great options:
- Classes at your local climbing gym can offer the type of information you need in a convenient, safer location than the outdoors. Gym classes range from teaching hand and foot placement all the way up to learning to lead climb and take lead falls.
- Experienced friends can teach you the very basics, like etiquette and the rating system, so you can find the right climbs for you. These friendships might even blossom into something more, like a mentorship, where you get to learn advanced skills that can take you to the next level. Just be sure that your friend (and later, mentor) knows what they are doing and has plenty of experience.
- Professional guides are an amazing resource. If you’re hoping to climb outdoors for the first time, or simply learn a new skill outdoors, hiring a guide is a great way to do so. Do a little research in your local area or a place you’d like to travel to for climbing, and you’ll find what’s accessible and affordable for you.
- Workshops through climbing organisations are another perfect solution. Your local climbing organisations are a great way to meet other climbers, learn new skills, and even give back to the climbing community through conservation.
- Books and online articles are another great way to find information. Ensure you’re getting your tips and tricks from trusted sources, and learn at your own pace (with plenty of in-person practice with trusted pros).
Pick Safe, Reliable Gear
Rock climbing does require gear, and that gear is very important for your safety. Rock climbers usually need rock climbing shoes, chalk, ropes, protection, carabiners, harnesses, belay devices, and a bunch of other items, as well. Gear is how climbers stay safe—the thing that connects the climber to the rock.
It’s a great idea to check out your local climbing gym or a guiding service to rent gear for your first few climbing trips. You can make sure that the gear they provide is a good fit for you before you buy what you need for yourself.
After you know what works for you, choose high-quality, safe gear:
- Climbing clothing can make or break a climb. You’ll need clothing that breathes, wicks sweat, and dries quickly. When you’re outside, you want to make sure you have enough clothing for all the weather conditions you might experience while you’re outdoors.
- Climbing shoes are equally important. Made to protect your feet and also provide the friction that keeps you on the wall, you need to make sure the shoes you choose are right for your foot and the types of climbs you’re doing.
- Climbing helmets are mandatory for outdoor climbing. They are designed specifically to protect your head from falling rock and debris, and some can even keep you safer during falls. You should have a helmet every time you climb outside.
- Climbing harnesses are also necessary, unless you are bouldering. Made up of waistbelt and leg loops, these special harnesses let you tie into the rope to stay secure. Make sure you buy your harness from a reputable source, and that it fits correctly. You’ll need to try it on and hang in it to make sure it works for your body before you take it on your first climbing trip.
- Belay devices are needed if you’re going to be belaying people who are lead climbing or top-roping. There are many different styles available, but, like with your harness, you’ll want to make sure you buy it from a reputable source and know exactly how to use it.
- Carabiners are the way that you keep your climbing rope connected to climbing protection. To start roped climbing, you’ll need at least a locking carabiner that is able to be used with a belay device. As there are many types, try a few out before you buy one and double-check with an expert to ensure it will work safely for your purposes.
- Climbing ropes are also required for most types of climbing. As a beginner, it’s challenging to know what type of rope you’ll need—so it’s a great idea to start with the ropes that your gym, mentor, or guide provide. From there the type of climbing you’re doing and where you’re climbing will determine which rope to get. Buy a rope new and from a trusted source.
- Climbing protection is needed for roped climbs. As a beginner, you won’t be setting anchors or placing protection, so there is no need to purchase any gear. If you decide to learn more advanced techniques, take classes or find a mentor who can teach you how to place protection (“pro”) correctly and help you decide what gear you need to buy.
- Crash pads are important for bouldering. Before you pick one of these dense foam pads, make sure you know where you’ll be climbing, how far you’ll be carrying it, and exactly how to set it up below yourself or other climbers. Remember, you’ll need a spotter to help, too.
It’s so easy for even the most experienced climbers to get caught up in the moment in gorgeous scenery outside or the adrenaline of a gym. But whether you’re climbing or belaying, it’s so important to pay attention to what you’re doing and double and triple-checking everything—for yourself and your climbing partners.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Communicate properly with your climbing partners and the people around you. Make sure that everyone you are climbing with uses the same verbal and visual communication, and double-check experience levels, knowledge, and preferences before anyone begins climbing.
- Double-check knots and gear. No matter how experienced a climber you are, it’s imperative that you pay attention while tying your knots and double and triple check them. Then, be sure to have your partner check them as well. After all, gear and techniques are only as safe as you make them, and human error accounts for the vast majority of climbing accidents. If you’re climbing with a rope, you’ll want to make sure that your harness is snug and your belt and leg straps are securely attached and doubled back. If you’re bouldering, ensure the crash pad is in a good location and your spotter is ready.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Whether you’re climbing inside or outside, being aware of your surroundings is incredibly important. Outside you’ll want to look for loose rock and debris—which can fall and cause accidents. Inside, be wary of other climbers. Never climb under or above another person, and be sure you note where others could fall before you begin a route nearby.
With the proper education, gear, and attention, learning to rock climb is easy and fun!