Learn everything about climbing in this article. Which courses are important, what basic equipment you need and many other exciting aspects.
von Chris Sharma
You might be brand new to climbing, so let’s start off by answering an important question.
What’s the difference between bouldering and climbing?
Unlike climbing, you don’t use a belay device when you boulder. You are basically within ‘jumping distance’ of the ground at all times, so you don’t need to be secured with a rope. In rope climbing, on the other hand, the person who is doing the climbing wears a safety harness and their partner stays on the ground, using special safety gear to secure the person who is climbing. In other words, you can just start bouldering and don’t really need any extensive instruction. In contrast, if you want to climb at a an indoor climbing gym, you need the right equipment and instruction from a certified trainer. The best idea is to start off by booking an hour or two of instruction to get a feeling for the wall.
If you are an absolute beginner, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the basics at an indoor climbing gym. Once you’ve gained enough experience, it’s time to take it outside and get started with outdoor climbing.
Gyms offer a safe, simple environment where you can learn the essential basics of climbing. The trainers there can teach you everything you need to know about the right equipment, technique and routes and give you helpful advice for making your climbing trip a success. You can also rent basic climbing equipment at the gym before you take the plunge and buy all the equipment yourself.
As we mentioned before, it’s always a good idea to book one or two hours of training and then take a top rope class for beginners. What does top rope mean? The top rope is the rope that connects you to your climbing partner. In top rope climbing, the rope is already securely attached at the top of the climb. As long as you use the right safety techniques, it’s impossible to fall. If you get tired, you can just sit back in your harness and take a breath or two.
Now that you’ve mastered the top rope technique, next up is lead climbing. Lead climbing means you bring the rope to the top yourself and clip it through the top anchor. The top anchor marks the end of the route and the point at which the action is reversed from the climb to the descent. If you fall, the anchors set along the way are used to keep your fall as minimal as possible. In other words, the height of the fall from the point of the fall until you are finally secure on the rope as the belay takes hold. You are then hanging below the last anchor, so it is essential to pay attention to the slack, because the more rope has been let out, the further your fall will be.
You basically work your way to the top from anchor to anchor. It’s important to keep your eye on the distance between the anchors when climbing a rock wall, because in that situation you are responsible for your own safety on the wall. But we’ll talk more about that later.
A brief interlude – Indoor climbing routes
We always use the same difficulty grades are always used whether you’re climbing indoors or out. This scale ranges from about 3-10+. To distinguish the routes from each other, the handholds and footholds are set using a particular color to mark each route. The degree of difficulty is typically indicated at the start of each route.
What about fitness? Do you have to be in particularly good shape to climb? Let’s make one thing clear – anyone can climb. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, slender or athletically built. Even people with a handicap can climb. You always set your own pace and can choose your routes based on your personal skills and goals. The most important thing in climbing is having fun!
There’s no doubt that you’ll build muscle and get stronger if you climb regularly. But strength isn’t the most important thing in climbing. Flexibility, mental strength and, most of all, good climbing technique play a role as well. Once you’ve optimized your technique, you’ll quickly notice that you don’t even have to use that much energy.
So, always pay attention to the following:
→ Precise leg work (as you step up onto the footholds)
→ Flowing movements (not stiff or rigid)
→ Use your resting position efficiently
→ Center of gravity (shift your body weight to effectively position your center of gravity)
→ Footholds and handholds (place your weight and use the different shapes correctly)
Unfortunately, you can’t always climb, especially if the gym is closed or the routes are being reset. But don’t worry, there are other activities that you can do that complement climbing and give you the chance to do some cross-training. Which activities do what?
Running is effective cardiovascular training and can boost your endurance. When done at lower intensity, it can even be good to help the body recover.
Yoga improves your flexibility and core strength. It also helps you recover. Another key component of yoga is its focus on mental training and meditation. The idea is to move with your breath, something that is also very important to do when you climb.
Now let’s talk about the gear that you need for indoor climbing.
Now you’re ready for your indoor climb.
Climbing is great for kids, too. How old should a child be before they start climbing? The best way to answer this question is: as soon as the child can pull themselves up and climb by themselves. The motor skills of children around the ages of 3-4 are developed enough that they can climb. Still, it’s important to keep the experience fun and not put any pressure on them to be good. If possible, the best approach is to let them climb in their everyday environment, maybe on smaller rocks, the tree in your backyard or on wall bars (under supervision, of course). Special classes for kids are generally offered starting at age six.
There are many aspects that make climbing beneficial for kids.
We’ve talked a lot about gyms and indoor climbing, but when do you know it’s time to start climbing outdoors? Do you have some climbing experience, know how to belay and know all of your knots? Then you’re ready for the crag. But remember, climbing outdoors is different. To make sure your first outdoor climbing experience is a good one, let’s go over what you need to keep in mind and what equipment you need.
The backpack you take for your first outdoor climb will definitely be heavier because you need to bring a few extra items with you.
The Munter hitch is a knot used in the descent and for the safety of your climbing partner. The safety method that uses this knot is called HMS, which is short for the original German term, Halbmastwurfsicherung.
And there are other aspects to keep in mind as well. Climbing outdoors just feels entirely different. To make sure you are completely safe, it’s a good idea to take an outdoor climbing class. Afterall, taking another class isn’t really that much of a hassle and you’ll be able to rest assured that you know how to tackle the crag with confidence.
Now time to quickly sum it all up:
|Bouldering||Indoor climbing||Outdoor climbing|
|● Climbing at jumping distance
● No belay system needed
● No need to take a class
● Can be done indoors and outdoors
● Short routes with challenging sections
● The floor of the gym is covered with mats
● You can take a crash pad with you when you boulder outdoors
|● Handholds & and footholds are well-marked (colors)
● Anchors are already attached to the wall
● You can rent your equipment if you’re just starting out
● Anchor distances (standardized)
● You can also do it in bad weather
● The gym can get quite full, but there’s always someone to ask if you have a question
|● Handholds & footholds are not that easy to see (you need to be able to ‘read’ the route)
● Anchors are not attached to the wall
● Requires extra equipment (helmet, longer rope, etc.)
● Longer distances between anchors than at the gym
● Weather conditions are important
● Just you and nature & not very crowded depending on the location
If you look at climbing from an exercise perspective, it’s clear that it has tons of benefits. Climbing is an effective full-body workout that can help improve back problems and even prevent them. Not only does it train your endurance and physical strength, it also trains your mental strength. When you’re stuck at a tricky spot on the wall, you might feel scared or uncertain and that’s where mental strength comes in. It’s situations like these that teach you to face your fears, stay calm and control the inner chatter.
That makes climbing a great way to achieve mind-body balance.