A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO ROCK CLIMBING AND BOULDERING
With more and more indoor climbing centres and outdoor areas opening up, you don’t need to live near cliffs and mountains to get involved. From indoor bouldering to outdoor lead climbing, it’s a fun but challenging way to get fit. This guide has everything you need to learn the lingo, gear up, and get started.
What to wear
What climbing equipment you need differs depending on whether you’re staying indoors or heading out, and whether you want to rope climb or boulder, but whatever you choose you’ll need three key pieces of kit.
Climbers use chalk to improve their grip; it absorbs the sweat and oils from your hands increasing friction, leaving you less likely to slip.
Chalk is usually carried in a small pouch clipped or tied round your waist and comes either in a ball or loose. For indoor climbing balls of chalk are preferred to keep the dust to a minimum, whereas loose powder is better for quick application outdoors.
You might also see liquid chalk. Chalk is mixed with alcohol to form a liquid; when you applied it to your hands the alcohol dries quickly, leaving behind an even coating of chalk. It can be easier to apply and longer lasting than the alternatives but can be a faff to apply on the rock and is more likely to dry out your skin.
The most important tip to remember is to ensure that whatever climbing clothing you wear it does not restrict your movement and cannot catch on the rope.
It helps if it’s breathable and sweat-wicking for temperature control.
Climbing shoes are designed to protect your feet while providing the grip you need. They are stiff and tight-fitting (and can be uncomfortable to start with) to ensure you get the power and control you need.
Although versatile in style, varying from lace-up to Velcro climbing shoes, they usually have a downturned shape known as a camber. All climbing brands offer a slightly different fit so we recommend visiting us in-store to get expert advice as you try on a few pairs.
Climbing shoes are never going to feel like slippers, but there’s a notable distinction between tightness and pain. If you’re new to the sport, it will take a few sessions to get used to their snugness and break-in new shoes.
Basic climbing technique
As you begin climbing, the key lesson to remember is that your footwork, because where you place your feet, is much more important than where your arms go.
As a beginner, focus on moving sideways traversing the climbing wall, stepping down if necessary, to practise your footwork. Once you feel more comfortable on foot and hand holds, you can begin moving upwards.
Always try to maintain three points of contact with the rock or wall and lean slightly away from the wall to give you a clear view of your next move.
Different types of climbing
Indoor bouldering offers close to the ground climbing heights of about 3-4 metres, allowing you to quickly climb down or jump if needed. This means you don’t need technical equipment or knowledge like climbing ropes and harnesses, just you, your climbing shoes, and ideally a chalk bag.
You also don’t need a climbing partner to start with. Bouldering in particular is a very sociable sport so you’ll soon find other climbers striking up conversation or giving you tips on how to solve a route if you get stuck.
Indoor climbing is a great way to build basic technique and strength while getting to grips with the equipment needed. Split into two types, top-roping and lead climbing, it’s also an ideal environment to get comfortable with heights and your belaying partner.
To get started you’ll need a comfortable, properly fitting harness, a belay device to help the belayer smoothly control the ropes movement, and a climbing carabiner or two to connect the rope and belay device to the belayer’s harness.
Top-roping is where the climbing rope is fixed at the top, with your belaying partner tying in one end and you on the other. It’s your partner’s job to take up the slack as you ascend and control your descent.
Lead climbing does not have a pre-placed anchor at the top for safety. Instead, the climber clips their climbing rope into carabiners along the route to the top while the belayer holds the rope at the bottom. Often you’ll need to bring your own climbing rope.
A fall will be limited by both the belayer and the rope but as the climber travels some distance between each clip in falls can be further than with top-roping.
Bouldering outside can be more challenging than indoor, making the reward that much greater. Routes are often more difficult as you don’t have the comfort of easy-to-see colour coded hand and foot holds or soft bouldering mats to break your fall, it’s always recommended you bring your own.
You won’t always be able to easily jump so it’s important to learn how to find a safe path down, known as topping out. Boulder outside with an experienced partner for safety and advice.
Outdoor climbing requires more forward planning and more equipment. Even on warm, sunny days you could find yourself exposed to cold winds and changing weather out on the rock. Your climbing kit needs to be durable, resistant to abrasive, jagged surfaces, and highly breathable to keep you cool and comfortable when you need it most.
Like indoor climbing, outdoor is split into two types. Both require a more extensive kit list, known as your rack, to include climbing harnesses, climbing ropes, belay devices, quickdraws, and carabiners.
You’ll also need a climbing helmet to help protect yourself against falls as well as falling debris overhead.
Sport climbing is where fixed bolts are already in place on the rock allowing you to clip your rope in as you ascend, similar to indoor lead climbing.
This is the most adventurous of all climbing; you set the routes yourself. It demands a higher level of expertise, skill, and equipment. Trad climbing, or traditional climbing routes, only have a few permanent anchors; the lead climber must protect themselves from a fall by placing protection into fissures in the rock. The second climber cleans the route by removing this protection.
Always trad climb with an experienced partner for safety and advice.
Essential climbing safety tips
Whatever method of climbing you choose always follow best climbing practises to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you.
- Be alert and aware of other climbers
- Always use the right equipment
- Always safety check your knobs, rope, belay device, and harness before climbing
- Ensure you trust your belayer
- Stay within your limits
- Test foot and handholds before using them
- Wear a helmet when climbing outdoors
- Avoid areas of loose rock; if a piece falls shout “rock” to warn other climbers below
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