In recent years, the sport of climbing has skyrocketed in popularity. With new events being added to the olympic games, the popularity of indoor climbing gyms on the rise, and finding a fun, adventure-filled way to get a good workout, it’s easy to see why climbing has become so popular. Perhaps you’ve been pulling plastic (climbing indoors) for a minute now and you’re ready to take your climbing game outside. Here are a few quick tips to help you transition from indoor to outdoor climbing.
Before you head outdoors to the crag, there are a few important safety things you’ll need to understand. First, you’ll need to know how to build an anchor. A lot of climbing gyms offer classes or discounts on classes for climbing outside. Take one, so you can get proper instruction on building anchors for outdoor climbing.
Sport climbers (lead climbing with bolts in the rock), will also want to know how to properly clean a route. Again, it’s important to get certified instruction on how to clean and build anchors. Remember, most of the climbing accidents in the US happen when someone is rappelling – a common cleaning technique. Fully understanding the proper steps and safety is paramount.
Get the Gear
Chances are if you’ve only been climbing indoors, you’ll need to pick up a few key pieces of a gear to get outdoors. For both top ropping and lead climbing you’ll need:
- A climbing-specific helmet
- A climbing-specific dynamic rope (opt for something in the 9.5 to 10mm range)
- Rope back (optional, but very handy)
- Anchoring materials (cordolette/nylon slings, 2 HMS carabiners, and 2 locking carabiners).
Lead climbers also need additional gear to lead climb outside. Make sure you have everything you need or find a partner that you can combine gear with. Always inspect your gear before climbing. Never climb on a rope that has excessive wear, a core shot, or feels funny in your hand.
Find a Solid Beginner Crag
Even if you’re climbing at tough grades in the gym, you’ll want to start your outdoor climbing career on easier terrain. This is because there are many safety factors that are new in the outdoors.
Select a crag that has plenty of easy, lower-grade routes (aim for at least 2 grades below what you would climb in the gym). Outdoor grades tend to be more difficult than gym grades, because there is no indicator of where to go, and finding holds is an art unto itself.
Some areas tout themselves as “great beginner areas” and may have special features such as anchors at the ground, closely spaced bolts, or easy top rope access for practicing and getting familiar with an outdoor environment.
Find a Mentor
Mentorship in climbing is huge. Do you have a friend that likes to climb? Ask if they would be willing to take you on your first outdoor climb. Take a friend you know and trust, preferably someone you’ve actually been climbing indoors with.
If you don’t have anyone willing to show you the ropes (see what we did there?) then consider hiring a certified guide for the day. Guides love to teach and it would be a great way to build a solid outdoor climbing knowledge base.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Chances are the first time you climb outside you’ll be a little intimidated. The stakes are higher, the bolts further apart, and real rock feels a bit more harsh than plastic holds. First, that’s totally normal and perfectly okay. That fear can keep you focused and alert.
The only way to really overcome that feeling of fear or intimidation is to keep getting out there. Find steady outdoor partners. Climb in the same area a few times until you’re comfortable with the systems and routines of outdoor climbing. Then check out other climbing areas to get a feel for what else is out there.
When it comes to outdoor climbing, I’ve seen it all. Unfixed dogs running around off leash, people not paying attention to their kids (or worse, their climber while they are on belay), people kicking rocks, etc. Here are a few quick tips for being respectful at the crag:
- Don’t play music. Communication is key at the crag and everyone needs to be in good communication with their belayer. Sound amplifies off of walls, so don’t play music.
- Keep your dog leashed or leave overly-active, aggressive, or disobedient dogs at home. Having dogs run around the crag is dangerous. If your pup is too distracted, leave her home for the safety of those around you.
- Don’t litter and don’t spread your gear all over the crag. Try to keep your gear stash neat and tidy. It can get crowded on tiny belay areas, so think of others too.
- Don’t kick rocks and rubble. Take extra care to check the holds you are grabbing, are they attached? Loose? If so, use something else. If you do dislodge a rock, drop gear, or let anything else fly, be sure to holler “ROCK!” to the people below.
Going from indoor to outdoor climbing is a huge leap. We can’t possibly cover everything in this post, so don’t be afraid to talk to gym instructors or other outdoor climbers about climbing outside. Be prepared for your first outdoor climb and take your gym climbing game to the real rock.