Climbing is a great sport, isn’t it?
If you recently got hooked and want some guidance on what to do now, here are 19 beginner climbing tips just for you.
Want to get stronger?
These tips will help you figure out how to start down the right path.
Want climbing friends?
They’ll help you figure out how to make some.
From gear to warm-ups to calluses, there’s a little nugget of wisdom for every aspect of the sport that you might be clueless about. (Yes, I did just call you clueless.)
Let’s dive right in!
1. Buy the Right Gear So You Don’t Waste Your Money on Rentals…
Renting gear each time you climb will nickle and dime you into poverty.
If you’ve committed to climbing for at least the foreseeable future, purchasing your own gear is the better long-term investment.
But, you don’t need every piece of gear yet. You’re probably not climbing outside enough to warrant dropping hundreds of dollars on certain items.
Here’s what you need right now:
- Beginner climbing shoes
- Chalk bag
- Harness (sport climbing only)
- Belay device (sport climbing only)
- Locking carabiner (sport climbing only)
- Climbing brush (optional)
- Helmet (optional, but recommended if climbing outside)
(If you’d like more info on beginner gear, check out our guide to climbing gear for beginners.)
Yes, that’s quite a long list. But don’t freak out.
Notice that half the items listed are only needed for sport climbing. Lots of people suggest beginner climbers start out with bouldering for this reason — it’s less expensive and more accessible.
I started out with bouldering myself and second this advice. Only needing three things to climb (shoes, chalk, chalk bag) made starting out an easy financial burden to swallow.
Bouldering is also a much simpler form of climbing that allows you to focus on climbing itself rather than the accessories that come with sport climbing (belaying, tying knots, etc.).
2. …But Avoid Buying Gear You Don’t Yet Need
Getting gear happy is a surefire way to blow your money on things you don’t even know if you’ll use yet. Wait until you know you absolutely need something before buying it.
Also, know that most climbers build up their gear stocks over years. For example, I bouldered consistently for a year before I bought a crash pad.
In case you’re unsure, here’s what you probably don’t yet need as a beginner:
Everyone’s situation is different, but many new climbers won’t need the majority of these things until later on.
3. Find a Partner in Climb
Everything is more fun with friends, right?
Climbing is no different. If you’re just starting out, try to find a friend who’d be interested in getting into the sport with you. Or exchange phone numbers with a fellow beginner at your climbing gym.
Sport climbers will obviously need a partner (or partners) in climb since you’ll need a belay partner. It usually isn’t too hard to find someone to belay for you once you’re at the gym, but you’ll make going to the gym much easier on yourself if you have someone to go with.
Personally, I was quite intimidated my first time going to the climbing gym. So, I recruited a friend and we went together. Had I not gone with her I might have never gone by myself for fear of looking lost or clueless.
We ended up having a blast and talking with a couple of gym regulars who explained the basics of grades and bouldering to us. I signed up for a membership that day and was hooked ever since.
4. Make Climbing a Routine by Joining a Class or Training Group at Your Gym
One way to make yourself stick with and be serious about climbing more is to take a class or training team at your gym.
I had no clue how to climb or improve at climbing when I first started. Luckily, my gym offered an adult (non-competitive) climbing “team” that met twice per week. It cost me extra to sign up but it was worth the money.
We met every Tuesday and Thursday for two hours with a coach who instructed us through a warm-up, footwork drills, climbing drills, off-the-wall workouts, and more.
Also, since I was paying extra for the team, I was motivated to never miss a practice. I always made time for climbing, and having it the same time every week made it easy to make it a part of my routine. What’s more, after getting to know the other people in the group, they took me climbing outside.
This can all happen to you if you join a team, which is why I can’t recommend it highly enough. The other members of your team can become your friends. The coach can help you get stronger. The structure and accountability can make it easy to make going to the gym a habit.
5. Have a Basic Understanding of Grades…
If you don’t understand bouldering grades or route grades, just take a few minutes to educate yourself.
Doing so will make it easier to navigate the gym as well as the crag. It will also help you get a basic understanding of your skills.
However, there is a “but” here.
Read the next section to find out.
6. …But Try Not to Pay Too Close Attention to Them
Grades serve a useful purpose. They make it easy to compare the difficulties of different routes and problems.
That is about where their usefulness ends.
However, many climbers focus so much on grades to their own detriment. They treat grades as the only evidence of progress. They think if they aren’t constantly moving up the grades then they aren’t improving or getting stronger. They can get insanely frustrated and down on themselves as a result.
You might already know someone like this at your gym. They beat themselves up and call themselves weak when they can’t climb something that has a grade they think they should be able to climb.
Clearly, they aren’t enjoying themselves too much. Mostly because of their obsession with grades.
Don’t sweat the grades. Acknowledge them but don’t focus on them too much. Try to focus more on having fun.
7. Ease Into Climbing So You Don’t Get Injured
When I first started climbing, my body could barely handle two climbing sessions per week.
I’d be sore to the bone. And, on top of that, my bones themselves would be sore. It’d be hard to grip things or do a single sit-up.
And I was hardly unique. That’s how virtually everyone starts out. Climbing is tough on the body and your body needs time to adapt to the stresses of the sport.
However, it is easy to think that you should be able to climb more often as a beginner. After all, you hear about professionals training five or six times a week. And aren’t the routesetters and gym rats at your gym climbing nearly every day?
What you might not realize is how long it took the pros and any strong climber to develop the endurance to be able to climb so often.
How long did it likely take them?
Hardly anyone who starts out climbing that often makes it through injury-free.
It is also easy to be so excited to climb that you don’t listen to your body telling you to take a break. So, listen to your body! Pay attention to persistent aches and pains. They’ll telling you something if you’ll listen.
Let me illustrate the consequences of not listening to your body with a personal story:
One time my right wrist developed a slight, nagging pain. I ignored it for a couple months (yes, I’m that hardheaded) until the pain was so bad that I couldn’t pinch anything. Not listening to my body led to an overuse injury which sidelined me for eight months. And I had been climbing for over a year by that point!
Think about that for a second. My unwillingness to rest when my body was telling me to caused me to stop climbing for eight months. Eight freaking months! In hindsight, I would have gladly rested a week, two weeks, or — hell — even eight weeks to have been able to continue climbing.
Learn from my mistake. Ease into climbing. Give your body time to adapt. Rest adequately and listen to your body.
8. Learn a Basic Warm-Up and Do It Before Each Climbing Session
A good way to limit injuries is to warm-up before you climb. We all know this, yet many climbers don’t do it.
What I’m advocating here is that you adopt a basic, no-frills warm-up that you can do in less than 10 minutes. Make it easy on yourself to warm-up. Then incorporate it into your climbing session and make it a habit.
A basic warm-up can just be a mix of some simple exercises. You can put together your own warm-up by picking and choosing from this list:
- Jumping jacks
- Leg swings (front-to-back, side-to-side)
- Arm circles
- Wrist circles
- Light, easy climbing (do last)
For an even more in-depth warm-up and cool down, check out this article.
9. Improve Your Footwork by Practicing “Silent Feet”
Every beginner climber starts out with horrible footwork. It’s inevitable.
You can make quick improvements, though, by practicing the drill “Silent Feet” while climbing.
Silent Feet is exactly what it sounds like. Pick a route or problem and, while climbing it, try to make as little noise as possible when you place your feet on the footholds. You should not be able to hear your foot touch the hold.
It is a straightforward drill, but incredibly effective at improving footwork. You’ll find you’ll have to engage your core to control your feet better. You’ll also have to pay more attention to your footwork which is always a good thing.
10. Learn How to Move on the Wall by Watching Strong Climbers Climb
While waiting to climb or taking a break, closely watch the strong climbers as they climb. Pay attention to their footwork, their body placement, how they grip the holds, etc.
You will slowly internalize some lessons from watching them.
11. Take Care of Your Calluses and They’ll Take Care of You
As you get further along, you’ll notice that you’ve developed some gnarly calluses. Obviously, these bad boys help protect your skin from the beating it takes. They’ll help you climb longer.
If they get too big, though, they can catch on holds and wrip off. Say hello to your first flapper.
Learn how to take care of your calluses so they serve you. You can also check out our climbing skin care guide.
12. Put Together a Basic Training Plan if You’re Serious About Progressing
Most climbers go to they gym for one of two main reasons:
- Get better at climbing
- Something else (have fun, see my friends, get some exercise, clear my head, etc.)
Any reason is perfectly valid. If you generally go for the first reason, though, then you’ll progress more quickly if you inject some structure into your training.
Now, you don’t have to get crazy with it. Some structure could be as simple as knowing which days you’ll come to the gym and what you’ll allocate your time to while at the gym (e.g. footwork drills, 4x4s, projecting, volume climbing).
Giving you a specific training plan is beyond the scope of this article. Plenty exist online, though. Consult our bouldering training guide for more info.
13. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Beta
Lack of strength is sometimes not the reason you can’t climb a problem. You might just have bad beta.
Beta is the strategy you use to climb a route or problem. There are multiple ways to climb each route or problem, so, accordingly, different climbers will use different beta.
If you’re stuck on a particular climb, ask someone else for their input. Ask them how they climb it. They will likely be more than happy to show you.
Beta sharing is as common as chalking up. Don’t think you have to solve every problem by yourself. You’ll learn a lot by giving and sharing beta that you wouldn’t otherwise. You’ll also be able to climb more stuff. 🙂
14. Get Outside ASAP So You Can Catch the Climbing Bug
If you’re really into climbing then there’s nothing like getting your hands on some real rock. It’ll make you fall in love with the sport even more.
My personal recommendation is to go with a group of more experienced climbers for your first handful of times outside. That way you’ll get outside quicker and be safer. They’ll (literally) show you the ropes and likely have the gear which you don’t have yet.
15. Become a Part of the Community by Saying “Hi!” to Other Climbers at the Gym (and Crag)
I played five other sports before climbing (swimming, tennis, basketball, soccer, and baseball). Of all of them, the climbing community is by far the most welcoming and friendly sports community I have ever been apart of.
My personal pet theory is that — since we are hardly ever competing against each other — everyone is on the same team, breeding a greater sense of camaraderie than competition.
Whatever the reason, most climbers are laid-back, easy-going, and incredibly friendly. You’ll find that it’s easy to make friends at the climbing gym or crag.
Just start by saying “hi”.
16. Keep Climbing Fun with Games and Competitions
One day, you might find yourself focusing on grades too much or bemoaning what feels like a lack of progress. When this happens, spice up a gym session with some climbing games. Or challenge a friend to a climbing competition.
Play a climbing game, or see who can dyno the furthest or climb a route the fastest.
I know I just said that the lack of interpersonal competition makes climbers very friendly and supportive. But, once you’re friends with someone, there’s nothing as fun as trying to kick their ass at a game.
17. Practice Falling — Future You Will Thank You Some Day
Falling is an inevitable part of climbing. So you might as well get good at it.
Boulderers especially should learn how to fall correctly so that they limit the chances of injuring themselves. You will tally thousands of falls over the course of your climbing career, so learning how to fall now can save your ankles, knees, and hips from years of repeated impact.
Here’s a good video on the topic:
18. Learn How to Pace Yourself
If you’re like me, you did more cardio-intensive sports before starting to climb.
If you’re like me even more, you’ll try to bring the fast pace of a cardio-intensive sport to the climbing gym. You’ll climb a problem or a route, come down, and immediately hop onto the next one. With no rest in between.
This is a surefire way to get pumped and exhausted.
Take a break after each climb. Drink some water. Catch your breath. Chat with the person next to you. Learn to embrace a slower pace in the beginning.
Since you aren’t sweating profusely you might feel like you aren’t getting a good workout. But trust me, you are.
19. And for the Last Time: Keep Your Arms STRAIGHT!
You’re tiring yourself out by keeping them bent, dammit!