Every experienced climber has some moments in the early days of their climbing career that they look back on and cringe. Whether it’s the time they showed up at the crag with fifteen people blasting Beyonce and got a stern talking to from a local, or the time they got in way over their head on a route, got benighted, or had to leave behind gear, there are so many things we probably wish we didn’t have to find out the hard way. Check out this list of 22 tips that I wish someone had told me sooner.
1 – Don’t size your shoes too tight.
A lot of really strong climbers, especially boulderers, tend to size their shoes extremely small, as much as two full sizes smaller than their street shoes. You might see them struggling to get their feet into their shoes and then taking them off as soon as they get to the ground because they’re so uncomfortable that they can’t keep them on for more than five minutes at a time. When you first start climbing, however, tight shoes are entirely unnecessary. For the average beginner climber, a snug but comfortable fit will work perfectly fine. Sizing your shoes super tight when you first start climbing will actually probably hurt your performance, as the pain caused by your shoes will make you to want to use your feet less and it will make it so you can’t climb for as long due to pain.The precision of tight shoes won’t even benefit you much if you’re still working on easier climbs with bigger holds, so wear comfortable shoes for as long as you can, and don’t size down expecting that to make you a better climber.
2 – Learn the Lingo
Climbers have a whole bunch of vocabulary that will sound unfamiliar to new climbers. Check out some online resources that give definitions for climbing lingo, so you’ll know what people are talking about when they start spraying beta at you (now go look up “spray” and “beta” if you don’t know what I’m talking about)
3 – Don’t be afraid to start climbing even if you don’t know anyone who climbs yet
The gym is a great place to meet other climbers and make friends, so don’t worry about showing up alone. If you’re friendly and excited to climb, you’ll make plenty of climbing friends in no time. You can also find climbing partners on websites like Mountain Project or through facebook groups for climbers in your area.
4 – Watch other people climb to learn new techniques
Climbing alone can be really fun, but if you spend all your time alone on the bouldering wall or running laps on the auto-belay with your headphones in, you’re missing out on a great learning opportunity. Climbing with friends gives you the chance to learn new techniques and to notice how different people use different beta to climb the same routes. If you have a lot of upper body strength, you might use big, powerful moves to get through hard sections, but you could learn a lot from watching someone with less upper body strength climb that same route, probably using better technique and more precise movement.
5 – Know when to re-sole your shoes
Climbing shoes are really expensive, but if you re-sole them you can make one pair last for years. The key to getting a good resole, though, is knowing when it’s time to send your shoes in. Don’t wear them until your toes are sticking out the ends of the shoes. As soon as you start to notice that the sole is worn out to the point of exposing the rand, it’s time to re-sole your shoes before they blow out. If you wear through the rand a resole becomes more expensive and compromises the shoe’s performance, so do your research and know when it’s time to re-sole so you can get the most out of your shoes and save tons of money in the long run.
6 – Focus on your footwork
Beginning climbers tend to focus on their hands and upper body strength way more than their footwork, but if you start working on your footwork early on you’ll progress much faster and have better technique from the get-go. It’s easy to always focus on your hand placements because they are right in front of your face and easy to see but try climbing with your eyes on your feet more. Choose your next foot placement before your next hand placement, and try to actively push up with your legs rather than pulling yourself up with your arms.
7 – Find a mentor
One of the best ways to improve as a climber is to find a mentor. Especially if you’re transitioning from the gym to climbing outside, a mentor can be an amazing source of information and inspiration. Ask a friend who’s been climbing for a long time to take you under their wing and show you the way–you’ll improve much more quickly and safely than by learning on your own (although if you don’t have the opportunity to be mentored, teaching yourself and epicing with your other newbie friends can be equally rewarding in its own right)
8 – Take days off
Climbing is super addictive and many new climbers get so hooked that they want to climb every day. Remember that in order to improve you have to let your body recover! Take days off and don’t overtrain.
9 – Learn how to project
It can be tempting to go to the gym or crag and only climb things that you know you can do, but learning to project routes or boulder problems will help you improve and challenge you mentally. When choosing a project, pick a climb where you can do some of the moves but not all of them. Maybe there is a boulder problem where most of the moves are pretty chill but one section feels almost impossible. Then commit to working that climb until you can do the move, practicing it over and over again, thinking about different beta that might help you unlock it, or figuring out what weakness is keeping you from doing the move and then training to get stronger until you can do it. Long-term projects like this will challenge you in a unique way and you’ll feel so accomplished when you finally figure it out.
10 – Train your weaknesses
It’s tempting to figure out which style of climbing suits you best and then always climb routes that fit that style, but the best way to become an all-around strong climber is to train your weaknesses as much as you train your strengths. If you’re really good at overhanging, juggy climbs, don’t let yourself spend all your time climbing that kind of route. It’s totally okay to climb the routes that suit you sometimes, but make sure you also dedicate a good amount of your training to practicing moves that don’t come so naturally, like slab climbing or vertical face climbing or even crack climbing.
11 – Climb outside as much as possible
Climbing in the gym is really fun and a great way to train and meet people, but if you have the chance to climb outside you should take it! Climbing outside might feel intimidating or scary at first, but in the end it’s what you’re training for climbing in the gym and the sooner you transition to climbing outside, the better you’ll get! Climbing outside is so different from climbing in the gym because the hand and footholds aren’t mapped out for you with color-coded holds or tape. You have to be creative and figure out which way is the best way for you to get to the top, and this kind of creative thinking will challenge you and make you a better climber, plus it’s really fun.
12 – Take care of your fingers
Finger injuries are a climber’s nightmare. If you feel pain in your finger tendons or pulleys, listen to your body and take some time off. It can be tempting to climb through the pain because climbing is so fun, but a pulley injury can put you out for months and can continue to nag and hinder your climbing for years afterward, so really be careful when it comes to your fingers.
13 – Make stretching part of your routine
Flexible hips are a game changer for climbing. Beginning climbers tend to focus a lot on getting stronger, especially in the upper body, but you can improve your climbing drastically by becoming more flexible, so try to incorporate stretching into your climbing regimen. It will also help prevent injury and make you feel good, so really there’s no reason not to.
14 – Plan your route before you even start climbing
When you pick a route to climb, start by sizing up as much of the route as you can see. Try to figure out where the crux might be before you even start. Look for where you might get a good rest, or where you might need a spotter. You can even visualize yourself doing the moves, or mime the moves from the ground. This will help you climb smoothly and efficiently, and you won’t pump out as much since you won’t have to think out every move while you’re on the wall
15 – Don’t think of falling as failing
It’s pretty common to see people fall off a climb and then get really frustrated or yell “I suck at climbing!” While it’s easy to get mad at yourself for falling of your project, it’s much more productive to think about why you fell of the climb. Don’t think of falling as failing, but rather think of it as an opportunity to learn and improve. If you want it to be easy, then climb a route that’s easy for you, but if you want to be challenged then learn to accept that falling is part of the process, and remember that climbing is fun!
16 – Don’t get caught up in the grades
Beginning climbers are so lucky because there are so many new routes to be climbed! Don’t limit yourself by thinking “I’m a 5.10 climber in the gym so I need to climb 5.10s outside.” Start on 5.7s or 5.8s or whatever route looks fun, new, or interesting, or challenge yourself on a 5.11 toprope. There’s no reason to limit yourself to the grade you think you should be climbing. Climb whatever’s fun, and try not to get frustrated if you fall off a climb just because of its grade. Ask yourself, would I still be frustrated if I fell here and the book said it was a 5.11, or a V4, or whatever the grade may be?
17 – Take care of your equipment
Climbing equipment is expensive and important! Make sure you learn how to use your equipment properly and follow the care instructions. If you buy a rope, use a tarp or rope bag to keep it out of the dirt. Store your harness, quickdraws, and other soft gear in a cool, dry place out of the sun and keep your gear away from stuff that could spill, like sunscreen or cleaning supplies. Get in the habit of inspecting your gear regularly. All of these things will make your gear last longer as well as ensure your safety.
18 – Take time off if you aren’t feeling psyched
Sometimes you just might not feel like climbing, and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, taking some time off from climbing won’t cause your bulging forearms to atrophy or set you back years in terms of your finger strength. Your technique will stick with you even through a long climbing hiatus, and fitness and strength are much easier to get back than they were to gain the first time around. If you’re feeling sick of climbing, or feel like you’ve hit a plateau and just aren’t improving or enjoying yourself anymore, take a few weeks off. Maybe you were overtraining and this rest will help you, or maybe you just weren’t psyched and some time off will help remind you why you like climbing so much so you can return with regained stoke and focus.
19 – Don’t pretend you know more than you do
Climbing partners put a lot of trust in each other, so always be honest with your partner about your skill level, experience, and knowledge. If you aren’t comfortable with something or don’t know how to do something, let go of your ego and just ask your partner. Having an open, learning-focused mindset will make climbing more fun and will help you improve much faster, plus it will make you, a better, safer partner. It’s always better to ask or clarify something you aren’t sure about than the wing it and then worry that you’re doing something wrong or unsafe.
20 – Learn about the history and ethics of the areas in which you climb
Every climbing area has a unique history and its own set of ethics, so it’s important to do some research or talk to the locals to get an idea of what’s expected of climbers in that area. Some crags expect climbers to lower off when cleaning, while others expect climbers to rappel. In some areas it’s okay to use a power drill to bolt routes, while in other areas you have to use a hand drill. Knowing about the folks who put up the routes you’re climbing will give you a better understanding and an appreciation for the area, plus it will help you make sure you aren’t accidentally doing something that’s frowned upon in that climbing area.
21 – Familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace practices
Many of the world’s best climbing areas are located on public lands like National Parks, State Parks, or National Forests. Many of these areas are thriving, sensitive ecosystems on top of being world-class climbing areas, so it’s very important to be a steward of the land by being conscious of your impact on the area and reducing your impact whenever possible.
22 – Remember that in the end climbing is about having fun
It’s easy to get competitive or obsessive when it comes to climbing, basing your self-worth on whether or not you send your project or spending all your time training your butt off in the gym or doing hangboard workouts instead of actually going climbing. Sometimes climbers lose sight of the fact that climbing is a recreational activity that we all started doing because we think it’s super fun! Try to remind yourself of this if you start getting down about your performance, and don’t climb things you don’t want to. Have fun and enjoy the process and the places that climbing takes you!