What Do Rock Climbers Do? A Beginner’s Introduction

Rock climbing is a challenging and exciting sport that requires strength, skill, and mental focus. Whether you’re climbing indoors or outdoors, there are many different types of climbs to explore, from bouldering to multi-pitch routes.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll take a look at what rock climbers do and what you need to get started.

Types of Rock Climbing

1. Bouldering

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that involves climbing short, challenging routes without the use of ropes. This activity is typically done on large boulders or small rock formations and usually takes place close to the ground. Bouldering is a great way to build strength and technique and is a popular type of climbing for beginners.

2. Sport Climbing

Sport climbing involves climbing routes that are bolted to the rock face. Climbers use quickdraws to attach themselves to the bolts as they climb. Sport climbing routes are typically shorter and more difficult than traditional climbing routes and are often found at climbing gyms.

3. Traditional Climbing

Traditional climbing, also known as trad climbing, involves climbing routes without the use of pre-placed bolts. Climbers place their own protection, such as cams and nuts, into cracks in the rock as they climb. Traditional climbing is typically done on longer routes and is considered more challenging than sport climbing.

4. Multi-Pitch Climbing

Multi-pitch climbing involves climbing routes that are too long for a single pitch. Climbers climb multiple pitches, or sections, of a route, stopping at belay stations along the way to rest and switch gear. Multi-pitch climbing can take several hours or even days to complete and is considered the most advanced type of climbing.

Gear and Equipment

1. Climbing Shoes

Climbing shoes are specially designed shoes with sticky rubber soles that provide maximum grip on the rock face. Good climbing shoes should fit snugly but not be too tight or uncomfortable.

2. Harness

A harness is a piece of equipment that climbers wear around their waist and legs to attach themselves to the rope. Harnesses come in different sizes and styles and should fit comfortably and securely.

3. Rope

A rope is used to protect climbers in case of a fall. Climbing ropes come in different lengths and thicknesses and should be chosen based on the type of climbing you’ll be doing.

4. Belay Device

A belay device is used to control the rope while belaying, or holding the rope for the climber. Belay devices come in different styles, including assisted braking devices, and should be chosen based on your skill level and the type of climbing you’ll be doing.

5. Carabiners

These are used to attach the rope to the gear and the gear to the harness. Carabiners come in different sizes and styles and should be chosen based on the type of climbing you’ll be doing.

6. Helmet

A helmet is an essential piece of safety equipment that protects your head from falling rocks and other hazards. Helmets should fit snugly and be worn at all times while climbing.

Getting Started

1. Climbing Gym

A climbing gym is a great place to start if you’re new to rock climbing. Climbing gyms offer a variety of routes for all skill levels and provide a safe and controlled environment to learn and practice.

2. Classes and Instruction

Taking a class or getting instruction from a qualified climbing instructor can help you learn the basics of climbing and develop good habits and techniques.

3. Climbing Partners

Having a climbing partner can make climbing more enjoyable and safer. Look for climbing groups or classes in your area, or try posting on social media to find other climbers in your area.

4. Climbing Etiquette

Climbing etiquette refers to the unwritten rules of behavior that climbers follow to ensure safety and respect for the environment and other climbers. Here are some common climbing etiquette practices:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings and be respectful of other climbers.
  • Always ask before climbing on someone else’s rope or gear.
  • Don’t hog a route or belay station for an extended period of time.
  • Clean up after yourself and leave the climbing area better than you found it.
  • Follow established routes and don’t create new ones without permission from the landowner or park authorities.

Training and Techniques

1. Strength Training

Rock climbing requires a significant amount of upper body, core, and finger strength. Incorporating strength training exercises into your fitness routine can help you build the strength you need to climb more challenging routes.

2. Technique Training

In addition to strength training, developing good climbing technique is essential for success in climbing. Taking classes or getting instruction from a qualified climbing instructor can help you learn proper technique and develop good habits.

3. Mental Training

Rock climbing can be mentally challenging, as well as physically challenging. Developing mental toughness and focus can help you stay calm and focused while climbing and improve your overall performance.

Outdoor Climbing Guide

1. Choosing a Route

When choosing an outdoor climbing route, it’s important to consider your skill level and experience. Start with routes that are within your ability level and gradually work your way up to more challenging climbs.

2. Safety Considerations

Outdoor climbing comes with additional safety considerations, such as rockfall, weather conditions, and access restrictions. Always check the weather forecast and be aware of any access restrictions or closures before heading out to climb.

3. Leave No Trace

When climbing outdoors, it’s important to practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. This includes packing out all trash, staying on established trails, and avoiding damage to vegetation and wildlife.

Common Climbing Mistakes to Avoid

1. Over-Gripping

Over-gripping, or holding onto holds too tightly, can cause fatigue and decrease your performance. Try to relax your grip and use proper technique to conserve energy.

2. Poor Footwork

Good footwork is essential for efficient and effective climbing. Focus on placing your feet carefully and using the right foot position for each move.

3. Skipping Warm-Up

Skipping a warm-up can increase your risk of injury and decrease your performance. Take the time to warm up properly before climbing, including stretching and doing easy climbs to get your body ready.

Related: What Pants Should You Wear While Climbing?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Is rock climbing dangerous?

Rock climbing can be dangerous, but with proper safety precautions and training, it can be a relatively safe sport.

Q: Do I need to be in good shape to rock climb?

Rock climbing requires a certain level of fitness and strength, but there are routes for all skill levels and abilities.

Q: How do I find climbing partners?

Look for climbing groups or classes in your area, or try posting on social media to find other climbers in your area.

Q: Can I climb outdoors without a guide or instructor?

It’s not recommended to climb outdoors without proper training and experience. Consider taking classes or getting instruction from a qualified climbing instructor before attempting outdoor climbing.

Q: What should I wear for rock climbing?

Wear comfortable, stretchy clothing that allows for a full range of motion. Climbing shoes, a harness, and a helmet are essential pieces of gear.

Q: How do I care for my climbing gear?

Proper care and maintenance of climbing gear is essential for safety and longevity. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the care and storage of your gear, and replace any gear that shows signs of wear or damage.

Q: What is the difference between indoor and outdoor climbing?

Indoor climbing takes place in a controlled environment, such as a climbing gym, while outdoor climbing takes place on natural rock formations. Outdoor climbing requires additional safety considerations and skills.

Q: How long does it take to learn how to climb?

The time it takes to learn how to climb depends on the individual’s skill level, experience, and training. Some people may progress quickly, while others may take longer to develop the necessary skills and strength.

Q: Can children participate in rock climbing?

Yes, children can participate in rock climbing with proper instruction and supervision. Many climbing gyms and programs offer classes for children and youth.

Q: Can I climb if I have a fear of heights?

It’s possible to overcome a fear of heights through exposure therapy and proper training. Talk to a qualified climbing instructor or therapist for guidance on overcoming your fear.


Rock climbing is a challenging and rewarding sport that requires physical and mental strength, technical skill, and respect for the environment and other climbers. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced climber, there is always room to learn and improve your skills.

By following proper safety practices, training and developing good technique, and respecting climbing etiquette, you can enjoy the thrill of climbing while minimizing your impact on the environment and others.

So grab your gear, find a climbing partner, and start exploring the vertical world!

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