What Is Rock Climbing?

This article is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Rock climbing is awesome.

It's an activity in which you push the boundaries of your physical and mental capabilities, often leaving you bursting with a vibrant excitement that you never knew existed.

Climbing takes on many forms: from 'pulling on plastic' indoors to 'crushing hard' at the sport crag or 'bagging' the summit of an elusive alpine mountain after an 'epic shaky run-out on micro wires'.

Our Rock Climbing Basics book introduces you the very basics of indoor climbing, which is the safest place to begin.

It's important to take the time to become competent at these basic skills before you move on to more advanced styles of climbing. It won't take long, and with a solid understanding of these techniques, you'll find it easy to progress in whichever discipline of climbing suits you.

Girl rock climbing indoor gym

Types of Rock Climbing

Free Climbing
Free climbing is a general term used to descibe the act of using your hands and feet to ascend natural features on a rock face. In the majority of cases, free climbers use a rope and protection to keep them safe if they fall.

The most common confusion among non-climbers is to think “free climbing” means climbing without a rope, or “free soloing".

Free climbing is usually safe. Free soloing is usually not safe.

Sport Climbing
Sport climbing means ascending a rock which has been pre-equipped with bolts. As you climb, you clip quickdraws into these bolts, and then clip your rope into the quickdraws. This keeps you safe if you fall.

The goal of sport climbing is to reach the top without falling or resting on any bolts. Sport climbing is relatively safe and therefore allows you to push your free climbing ability.

Sport climbers often rehearse a climb until they are able to ascend it in perfect style, climbing from the ground to the top without falling. This type of sport climbing (projecting) is similar to gymnastics, where you practice a routine to perfection.

Sport climbing outside

Traditional (Trad) Climbing
Trad climbing is a type of free climbing where you place your own protection in the rock as you go. Your partner climbs up after and removes the gear, so all you leave on the rock are a few chalk prints.

Rock climbing outside

Bouldering
Bouldering is the game of climbing small rocks. Bouldering is great for working on body movement, strength and technique before transitioning to roped climbing.

Usually, bouldering is practiced on rocks up to around 5 meters tall. It is the most physically difficult and gymnastic of all climbing disciplines.

Because the only gear you need is a pair of shoes, chalkbag and a pad, bouldering has become a very popular and social activity.

Rock climbing bouldering

Aid Climbing
Aid climbing means using gear to ascend a cliff which is too difficult to free climb. Aid climbers place gear in the rock, then clip a nylon ladder to that gear. They use the ladder to stand up higher and repeat the process.

Aid climbing


Can I Climb?

People of all ages, genders, backgrounds and abilities enjoy climbing. Rock climbs are graded by difficulty, with the easiest being similar to walking up a flight of stairs.

You don't need to be an athletic superhero with a rippling six-pack who can do 50 pull-ups. In fact, you never need to do any pull-ups, ever. So, why not give it a try? It might even be fun...

Climbing Gear – What Do I Need To Get Started?

This article is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Rope
Your rope is the main piece of climbing gear. It connects you, via your harness, to the quickdraws on the wall and to your climbing partner. Ropes have an inner core and an outer sheath.

Harness
Your harness keeps you safely attached to the rope. It is made of really strong, flat webbing, with buckles to fasten it tight and padding to make it comfortable.

Screwgate Carabiner
There are two main types of carabiner: screwgates and snapgates. A screwgate has a rotating tube which can be fastened over the 'nose' of the carabiner. This stops it from being opened accidentally.

What gear do I need to go rock climbing?

Belay Device
A belay device is a metal tube that you use together with a screwgate carabiner. The rope is fed through the belay device and carabiner, and the belayer holds the rope underneath. If weight is applied to the rope (e.g. if the climber falls) a huge amount of friction is created so that it is easy to hold their weight and stop them falling.

Quickdraws
A quickdraw is the 'clippy thing' that attaches your rope to the wall. They're made up of two snapgate carabiners which are joined together with a fabric sling.

Shoes
Special climbing shoes make standing on small bits of rock a lot easier! They are designed to be tight fitting (like a sock) and have a rubber sole that sticks to rock really easily.

Chalk
Chalk is kept in a small bag with a draw-cord closure at the top that you can dip your hands into to 'chalk up'. The chalk is used to stop your hands getting too sweaty to hold on to the rock.

Climbing Gear: The Harness

What is a rock climbing harness?

Gear Loops
These low strength loops are for clipping climbing gear to, such as carabiners and quickdraws. This way, you can take gear with you as you climb.

Buckle
These can be used to adjust the size of your harness for a comfortable and tight fit. It's important that they are fastened correctly.

Waist Belt
This fastens around the smallest part of your waist.

Elastic
These low-strength stretchy pieces of fabric help to stop your leg loops from sliding down at the back. They can be adjusted too.

Leg Loops
These fasten around the top of your thighs.

Belay Loop
This super strong loop connects the waist belt to the leg loops. You use it to belay from (more on this later). It's important not to get this confused with gear loops or any other part of the harness.



Climbing Gear: Quickdraws

A quickdraw (or just 'draw') is the 'clippy thing' that attaches your rope to the rock. They're made up of two snapgate carabiners with a fabric sling (known as a dog-bone) to join them. Using just one carabiner on a bolt would cause the rope to get tangled in it - a quickdraw spaces the rope safely away from the bolt.

Most walls will require 4-10 draws for the height of the routes. Check with the staff how many you'll need before you start climbing up. Quickdraws are available in many different lengths with a huge combination of carabiners. But some between 10-12cm long will be just fine to start out with.

Bolt
The quickdraw needs to be attached to something in the rock to hold it there. At the wall this will be a bolt. Many indoor walls already have quickdraws attached to the bolts for you. If yours doesn't, you'll need to bring your own.

Bolt-End Carabiner
Quickdraws are made up of a bolt-end carabiner and a rope-end carabiner. The bolt-end carabiner is the one which moves freely on the fabric sling, and is the one which you clip to the bolt.

Rope-End Carabiner
The rope-end carabiner usually has a curved gate and is 'held in' with an elastic or rubber loop. You clip the rope through this carabiner.

It's important not to get these two carabiners mixed up. The sharp edges of bolts can notch the bolt-end carabiner, which will damage your rope if you swap them over. We recommend using quickdraws with different coloured carabiners so it is easy to identify them.

What is a rock climbing quickdraw?

Climbing Gear: The Belay Device

A belay device is a metal tube that you use together with a screwgate carabiner. The rope is fed through the belay device and carabiner, and the belayer holds the rope underneath.

If weight is applied to the rope (e.g. if the climber falls) a huge amount of friction is created so that it is easy to hold their weight and stop them falling.

What is a rock climbing belay device?

Climbing Gear: Assisted Braking Belay Devices

Some belay devices, such as the Petzl GriGri have 'assisted braking', which means they lock almost by themselves if the climber falls. They must be used differently to normal belay devices.

Learn how to belay with a GriGri.

What is a rock climbing grigri belay device?


What Are Carabiners?

Carabiners (often shortened to 'crab' or 'biner') are the mainstay of the climbing system. They're used to attach the rope to pieces of equipment, or to join two or more pieces of equipment together. Carabiners are generally made of aluminium. Shapes vary, but it's always some kind of elongated triangle or oval, with an opening gate on one side to allow you to easily clip and unclip stuff. There are two main types: snapgates (non-lockers) and screwgates (lockers).

Snapgate climbing carabiners

Snapgates are the simplest carabiners. They're used for clipping the rope to gear, but not for anything really important such as belaying or anchors. The gate can be made out of solid metal or a loop of wire: both work in the same way. Snapgates cannot be locked. Instead, a spring system snaps the gate shut.

Screwgate carabiners are used when you need to be 100% sure that the gate won't pop open. They're slower to use than snapgates, but safer. The gate features a rotating tube which spirals around a screw thread. The gate is locked when the tube is positioned over the carabiner’s nose. To unlock it, simply unfasten the screw. Don't be tempted to tighten the screw too much – it’ll be hard to unfasten.

Screwgate climbing carabiners locked and unlocked
Autolocking screwgate climbing carabiner

You may also come across autolocking carabiners. The locking tube on these isn't threaded, but instead springs into place and needs twisting in a certain way to unlock. They're just as safe as screwgates, but can be fiddly to use at first.

How Strong are Carabiners?

Climbing carabiners are always rated to at least 20kN (kiloNewtons). You don't need to understand the numbers, but that's REALLY strong. Strong enough to hold an elephant.

They are weaker if you 'cross load' them (load them sideways) or load them with the gate open (another reason to use screwgates for important stuff).

Rock climbing elephant
Different ways to load and cross-load a rock climbing carabiner

The kN rating will always be written on the side of the carabiner; this is how you know your carabiner is safe for climbing and not just for your key chain.

Rock climbing kiloNewtons ratings


How Many Carabiners Do I Need To Start Climbing?

Here's the good news: probably just one! When you're starting out at the climbing wall, you'll just need one screwgate carabiner for your belay device (see later).

If you want to climb outside, you can build up a 'climbing rack' over time that will include a lot of carabiners. There's no rush though; learn the basics first.

An Introduction To Climbing Shoes and Chalk Bags

Types of Climbing Shoe

Special climbing shoes make standing on small bits of rock a lot easier! They are designed to be tight fitting (like a sock) and have a rubber sole that sticks to rock really easily. There are many types of climbing shoe on the market. To get the best fit, you should try a few different pairs on before you buy.

Look for something that's quite flat and stiff soled. If it's too downwards bent ('aggressive') they'll probably make your feet hurt. These are designed for much harder climbing than you'll be doing to start with.

Climbing shoes for beginners

Really flexible shoes will also be painful on your feet. Pick something stiffer until your feet get used to balancing on the end of your toes.

Climbing shoes come with different fastenings – lace up, velcro or elastic. Just pick whichever you like – lace up or velcro offers the most adjustment.

Rock climbing shoe for beginners

Climbing Shoe Size

Which size you buy is also important. It will feel strange to wear such tight shoes to start out with. Pick a size where your toe is snug into the end of the shoe, but not crunched up.

Climbing shoes are sized just like normal shoes, but different brands tend to fit differently. Just start trying on whichever size you would normally wear and go up or down from there. If you shop online, make sure you know exactly what size and type of shoe you need.

Climbing shoe for beginners

Climbing Shoes: Keeping them Fresh

Most climbers prefer to wear shoes without socks, for increased sensitivity. This can cause your shoes to smell terrible after a while. Don’t leave sweaty shoes buried in your bag for days – air them out after each climb and use shoe fresheners when you store them.



Climbing Chalk and Chalk Bags

Most climbers use a chalk bag and chalk. The chalk absorbs sweat, and therefore increases friction between your hands and the rock.

Chalk is available either loose or in a small mesh ball. Using a ball is easier and less messy to start with, and many indoor walls don't allow loose chalk.

Climbing chalk bag for beginners
How to wear a climbing chalk bag

You'll also need a chalk bag to put it in. This is a small bag with a draw-cord closure at the top that you can dip a hand into to 'chalk up'.

You can either attach the chalk bag to your waist with a piece of cord or a webbing belt. Alternatively, clip it to the back of your harness with a carabiner.



Climbing Ropes

This article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Your rope is the main part of the climbing system. Climbing ropes connect you, via your harness, to the gear in the wall or rock and to your climbing partner.

Climbing ropes are available in a variety of lengths, types and diameters. There are made of two parts; an inner core and an outer sheath.

Blue climbing rope coiled

Single Climbing Ropes

Most beginners start with a single rope. They are thick, durable and easy to belay with. Single ropes are marked with a '1' symbol at the end of the rope. A 60m length with a diameter of between 9.4 – 10.2mm will suit most beginners and last well into your climbing career.

Uses:
- Gym climbing
- Sport climbing
- Top roping
- Less complex trad

Rock climbing with a single rope

Half Ropes

Many trad climbers use half ropes (also known as double ropes) instead of a single rope to help reduce rope drag on wandering routes. They also double the length of the abseil you can make - essential for epic retreats! Safety is increased on complicated terrain where there are sharp edges that risk cutting the rope. If one rope is cut, you still have the other to catch you.

Half ropes need to be used as a pair - climbing with just one isn't safe. Half ropes are marked by a ½ symbol. 60m ropes will be great for most trad routes. When buying half ropes, make sure the colours are very different. Ideally, you will be able to tell them apart in the dark.

Uses:
- Trad climbing
- Alpine climbing

Rock climbing with half ropes

Twin Ropes

Twin ropes are designed to be clipped together into the same carabiners as you climb. It's important not to get these confused with half ropes; twin ropes cannot be clipped to gear individually.

Uses:
- Ice and mixed climbing

Rock climbing with twin ropes

Static Climbing Ropes

Static ropes have very little stretch, so they cannot absorb the force of a fall like other ropes. They are mainly used as a 'fixed' rope to ascend or descend. They are usually marked with a EN1891 code. Never lead climb on a static rope!





Things To Consider When Buying a Climbing Rope

Number of Falls
Every climbing rope is rated for a certain number of falls. This is the number of falls using a specific test which indicates how many falls a rope can take before it breaks. Every UIAA certified rope is tested far more severely than you are likely to experience when climbing, so you don’t need to retire your rope just because it’s rated to six falls and you’ve taken seven.

In real climbing situations, a rope will withstand hundreds of falls. They don’t fail unless they run over a sharp edge of rock, which cuts it, or if they have been stored amongst sharp objects or acidic chemicals such as bleach or leaking batteries. They do, however, wear out over time, especially if you take a lot of falls.


Maximum Impact Force
Ropes stretch to absorb energy. The more energy a rope can absorb, the lower the force on your protection.

This isn’t much of a concern for sport climbing, where protection is always bomber bolts. However, for trad climbing, a rope with a low impact force will generate less force on your gear, making it more likely to hold the fall. Lower impact forces are better.

After a fall, let your rope “rest” for five minutes to recover its elasticity. If you get straight back on the rock and then fall immediately, the impact forces will be much higher.

Dry Treatment
Some climbing ropes are made with a special dry-treatment which helps to prevent water being absorbed into them. This means they will be safer in wet conditions then an untreated rope.

The treatment also helps to stop dirt and sand getting into the rope's fibers, which means the rope will run across the rock and through carabiners with less friction than if it was untreated. It's worth the extra cost for a dry treated rope if you plan on climbing in wet/snowy environments.

Different types of climbing rope

Diameter
Climbing ropes come in many different diameters. Basically, thinner ropes are lighter and thicker ropes are more durable. Be aware that the diameter of your rope may affect which belay devices you can use it with. Some devices are not compatible with very thin or very thick ropes.

Single rated ropes can be as thin as 8.5mm, making them great for alpine routes. Skinny ropes are safe – they pass the UIAA lab tests. But at the crag, they are more susceptible to abrasion on rough rock or being cut over a sharp edge.

For high-use situations (e.g: big walling, top-roping or working a sport route) a thicker, more durable rope is much better. Your rope is your most critical piece of gear – it’s better to carry a bit more weight than to skimp on safety.


Middle Markers
Most ropes have some kind of mark on their sheath to identify the middle. This is useful in many situations such as gauging how much rope a leader has left, or when setting up an abseil where you need the rope to be perfectly centered at the anchor. Some ropes even have a different colour or pattern on each half to identify the middle.

Remember that if you shorten your rope (such as to remove a frayed end), the middle marker will no longer be correct.

How To Extend Your Climbing Rope's Lifespan

- Keep it out of the dirt. Grains of rock and sand can cut tiny fibres inside the rope.

- Keep your rope away from sharp edges and loose rock by extending your gear.

- Wash your rope occasionally in lukewarm water and allow it to dry in the shade. Prolonged UV light can damage your rope just like it can damage your skin.

- Store your neatly coiled rope in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight and away from acidic chemicals.

- Only use it for climbing.

How To Inspect Your Climbing Rope

You should check your rope for damage frequently. Starting at one end, feed the rope through your hands, looking and feeling for non-uniform sections. Things to look out for:

- Cuts
- Burns
- Flat or soft spots
- Sheath bunching up over the core

A slightly fuzzy sheath isn’t a problem. However, severe fuzzing may make a rope unsafe. As a general rule, if you can see a rope’s inner core, the sheath has worn too thin and you should retire the rope.

If your rope is damaged, it should be retired. Make a nice rug out of it, or use it as a washing line.

Damaged cut climbing ropes


How To Choose a Climbing Harness

Trying a Harness On
Climbing harnesses are made in different sizes and shapes with different amounts of padding. It's worth going to your local shop and trying some on rather than ordering online.

Select a few harnesses that fit correctly, then hang in them. Good shops will have a facility for you to do this.

The leg loops should hold most of your weight, with the waist belt supporting your upper body so you don’t tip upside-down.

measure climbing harnesses

Leg Loops
Harnesses either have fixed size or adjustable leg loops. They should fit closely around your thighs without hindering movement. Adjustable leg loops are useful if you plan to climb in cold environments where you'll need to wear thicker pants, or if the fixed size options just don't quite fit.

Waist Belt
The waist belt should fit around the smallest part of your waist, above your hips. It needs to adjust small enough to fit tight over a t-shirt, with enough adjustment to get it on easily or wear a jacket underneath too.



The Rise
The rise is the distance between the waist belt and leg loops. Think of it as the measurement between your belly button and crotch. Women's harnesses tend to have a bigger rise, to fit women's body shapes better.

If the rise is too short, you won't be able to get the waist belt all the way up to the smallest part of your waist.

Woman measures climbing harness rise for rock climbing

How To Wear a Climbing Harness

'How To Wear a Climbing Harness' is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb free e-book ebook

Step 1
Open up all the buckles on your climbing harness so both the leg loops and waist belt are at their biggest size - but don't undo them completely. Lay the harness on the floor, with the leg loops underneath, so it's easy to step in to. Make sure the belay loop is at the front.

Step 2
Step one foot in to each leg loop and pull it up so it sits well above your hips. The waist belt needs to be on the narrowest part of your waist, not sitting low on your hips.

Stepping into a climbing harness

Step 3
Next, you'll need to fasten the waist belt. Start by feeding the webbing through the square.

How to fasten a climbing harness

And pull it tight.

How to fasten a climbing harness

Step 4
'Double back' the end by feeding it back through the buckle.

How to fasten a climbing harness

And then pull it tight. You should be able to slide a couple of fingers between it and your waist, but no more. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but it's essential in case you fall upside-down – then you won't fall out of your harness!

How to fasten a climbing harness

Step 5
Tuck the loose end of the strap away (there's usually elastic or a tab for you to do this). If there's a second buckle on your waist belt, repeat this step with it. The buckles on your leg loops will also need fastening, if there are any.

How to fasten a climbing harness

Step 6
Fasten the leg loops in the same way, if they have buckles (some harnesses have fixed size leg loops).

Woman wearing a climbing harness

Step 7
Check that your climbing harness is fastened. If you've done it correctly, the buckle makes a 'C' for closed.

How to fasten a climbing harness

If you've forgotten to 'double back', the buckle makes an 'O' for open. This is not safe.

How not to fasten a climbing harness


The Quick-Adjust Climbing Harness

Some harnesses have 'quick-adjust' buckles which are always 'closed'. They simply need pulling tight. When it's tight, tuck the loose end of the strap away.

How to fasten a climbing harness

To release, just pull up on the buckle's edge.


Make sure you know which type of buckle you have and be certain you understand the manufacturers instructions on how to fasten your particular harness.

How to fasten a climbing harness

How To Attach a Belay Device

'How To Attach a Belay Device' is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

When the climber has tied in to one end of the rope, the belayer must attach their belay device to the other end of the rope and also to their harness. The following description assumes you will be doing a 'top rope' climb. The setup is different for lead climbing.

Step 1
Push a loop of rope through one of the slots on the device. There are two slots on most devices, it doesn't matter which one you use.

Rock climbing belay device

Step 2
Clip a screwgate carabiner to your belay loop.

Rock climbing belay device atc

Step 3
Clip the screwgate carabiner through the rope loop and also through the cable on the belay device. It is important to clip through both of these.

Rock climbing belay device and carabiner

Step 4
Fasten up the screw on your screwgate carabiner.

Rock climbing belay device on harness

Friction Notches
Some belay devices have friction notches on them. These notches provide extra help in holding a fall.

You should make sure the notches are on the same side as the brake rope (the section of rope which doesn’t go to the climber).

Rock climbing belay device carabiner harness


Safety Check: Have You Attached Your Belay Device Correctly?

Rock Climbing Infographic: Have you clipped your belay device to the rope correctly?

How To Coil a Climbing Rope

If you are storing your rope for a while or stuffing it away in a back pack, coiling a climbing rope is worth the effort and will save you lots of time untangling knots that have mysteriously tied themselves in the middle of it.

Coiling a Climbing Rope

Step 1
Hold the middle of your rope in one hand and loop both strands over your shoulders.

Some ropes have a convenient middle marker to make this easy. If yours doesn't, find both ends and hold them together. Then shuffle both the strands of rope through your hands until you get to the middle point.

How to coil a climbing rope

Step 2
Reach across and grab the rope below your other hand.

How to coil a climbing rope

Step 3
Pull your hand along the rope, creating enough space to flick the next two strands over your head, so they rest on your shoulders with the first two.

How to coil a rope

Repeat this with your other hand in the opposite direction.

How to coil a rope for climbing

Step 4
Keep draping the rope over your shoulders until there is about four meters left.

How to coil a rock climbing rope

Use both hands to take the rope off your shoulders, and drape the middle of the loops over your arm.

How to coil a rope for rock climbing

Step 5
Wrap the two ends of the rope tightly around all the coils near the top. Do this three or four times.

It's best to go from the bottom upwards.

How not to get a tangled climbing rope

Step 6
Push a loop of each end through the top of the main coils as shown.

Coiling a climbing rope so it doesn't tangle

Step 7
Pass the two ends of the rope through these loops.

Pull it all tight and your rope is coiled!

Coiling a climbing rope

Step 8
If the tails of rope are long enough (at least 1 meter), you can tie the rope on your back.

Pull the tails over your shoulders, cross them over your chest, then wrap them in opposite directions around your back. Bring the ends in front of you and tie them together around your waist.

How to coil a climbing rope on your back


How To Stack a Climbing Rope

Coiling a climbing rope is useful when you need to carry it or pack it away neatly, but you'll need to 'stack' the rope so that it will feed out without tangles while you're climbing.

Beginning at one end, simply feed the rope into a pile on top of your rope bag, or a clean area of the ground. Tying the ends of the rope into the straps of your rope bag makes it easier to find them. When preparing to lead climb, the leader will tie into the top end of the rope.

How to neatly stack a climbing rope

Sport Climbing Gear – What Do You Need?

'Sport Climbing Gear - What Do You Need?' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb free e-book ebook

Sport Climbing Gear: Rope

You’ll need a ‘single-rated’ rope for sport climbing. They are marked with a '1' symbol at the end of the rope. A 70m length with a diameter of between 9.5 – 10.2mm will suit most beginners and last well into your climbing career.

There are many factors to consider when buying a rope (such as dry treatment, maximum impact force and whether you will use it for other disciplines of climbing).

Learn which climbing rope is right for you.

Sport climbing rope

Sport Climbing Gear: Quickdraws

Any type of quickdraw will work, though sport-specific draws are often lighter. They also usually have a bent-gate carabiner at the rope-end which is held in place by a piece of rubber. This makes the draw more rigid, and quicker to use.

Sport climbing quickdraws

Quickdraws with ‘keylock’ gates are less likely to get stuck in an incorrect orientation on bolts than the hooked nose style.

hooked nose carabiners

10-12 quickdraws will be enough for most routes. For longer routes, you may need 15 or more. It’s also useful to have a few extendable quickdraws for bolts which are far to one side or underneath a roof.

Sport climbing extendable quickdraws

Sport Climbing Gear: Harness

Sport climbing harnesses are built to be light. To save weight, they have minimal gear loops and padding.

If you plan to use your harness for trad climbing too, you should consider getting an all-round harness which has more gear loops and a padded waist belt.

Learn how to choose a climbing harness.

Sport climbing harness


Sport Climbing Gear: Belay Device

Sport climbers usually belay with an ‘assisted-braking’ belay device such as the Petzl GriGri. If the rope moves quickly through the device (e.g. if a climber falls) a cam inside it rotates and pinches the rope. This makes it easier to hold the fall.

You can also belay with a standard ATC.

Sport climbing belay device

Sport Climbing Gear: Anchor Kit

To set up a top rope at the anchor, or to prepare for abseiling you’ll need:

* 4 spare screwgates

* 2 short slings

* A cordelette/ long sling

Sport climbing anchor kit

Sport Climbing Gear: Helmet

At many sport crags, it is rare to see anyone wearing a helmet. The main reason is that sport crags tend to be overhanging, making both the leader and belayer safely sheltered from rockfall. Although it’s possible to injure your head in a leader fall, this rarely happens on steep, overhanging rock because the leader will fall into ‘space’.

However, you should wear a helmet at a sport crag if:
- There are any signs of loose rock above
- There are people directly above you (e.g: on a multi-pitch)
- You are leading a vertical or slabby route

In these cases, it is better to be safe than fashionable.

Learn more about helmets.

Sport climbing helmet

Sport Climbing Gear: Shoes

For beginners, the right climbing shoe is one that fits your foot and your wallet the best. Look for discounts, and get a general use shoe. A beginner with sloppy foot technique will wear out this first pair of shoes fast.

For your second pair of shoes, it largely depends on what type of climbing you will be doing.

For slabs, a shoe with a soft sole and a low-cut upper works well. For steep routes, you’ll be better with a tight-fitting shoe that has a pointy toe, good lateral support and a very low-cut upper for ankle flexibility.

Different brands favour a wider or narrower foot, so make sure to try them on before you buy. Only shop online if you’re certain which type and size you need.

Whichever shoes you get, your foot should not rotate, nor should your toes be painfully crushed up in the toe-box. A good fitting shoe is more important than one designed for the style of climbing you want to do.

Remember to air your shoes out after use and store them in a cool, dry place.

Sport climbing shoes


Sport Climbing Gear: Chalk

Chalk soaks up finger and hand sweat, therefore increasing your grip on the rock.

However, too much chalk on holds can actually make them less grippy. Many climbers carry a brush to scrub these holds clean.

An excessively chalked route can be an eyesore. It also reveals all the key holds, making the route much less exploratory for the next climbers.

Rain usually cleans away chalk marks from exposed rock. But overhanging routes tend to stay sheltered and so the chalk remains through all but the windiest storms. In some areas, you must use specific rock-coloured chalk. Consider your impact on the environment before you ‘chalk up’.

Sport climbing chalk

Used Sport Climbing Gear

You'll probably begin climbing using other people's gear but at some point you’ll have to invest in your own. Be prepared though – climbing gear is expensive.

Pieces of equipment which your life depends on (e.g: ropes, harness, carabiners) should be bought new. You can save money on other gear (e.g: shoes, chalk bags) by getting it used. With your own gear, you will know the history of it and therefore know it's reliability.

How To Belay with a GriGri

'How To Belay with a GriGri' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb free e-book ebook

Belaying at the crag is more difficult than belaying indoors. Uneven ground, falling rocks, strong sunlight, wind, insects, stray children and dogs are just some of the factors which complicate the task.

Any type of belay device can be used for sport climbing, though using an assisted-braking belay device (such as the Petzl GriGri) is the most common. The GriGri functions like a car seat belt. You can pull rope through slowly without it catching, but if the rope moves through quickly (e.g. if a climber falls), a cam inside the GriGri rotates and pinches the rope. This makes it easier to hold the fall. It also requires much less effort to hold a climber while they rest for a few minutes.

GriGri's are not auto-locking; you still have to hold the brake rope at all times, just like you would with a normal belay device. This is especially true with thinner ropes, very light climbers or if there is rope-drag on the route. The GriGri can be a safe belay device, but accidents have happened due to improper use.

GriGri's are designed to work with the following rope diameters. Make sure you're using the correct rope for your device.
Other assisted-braking belay devices have different specifications. Check the manufacturer's instructions before you use them.

grigri rope diameter sizes

How To Attach a GriGri To Your Harness

Step 1
Open the device and feed the rope in as shown. (Diagrams for rope installation are engraved on the interior and exterior of a GriGri).

How to attach a grigri

Step 2
Close the GriGri.

How to use a grigri

Step 3
Clip a screwgate carabiner to your belay loop.

Clip a screwgate carabiner to your belay loop.

Step 4
Clip the GriGri to the carabiner and fasten the gate.

How to belay with a grigri top rope


GriGri Belaying: How To Take In

Simply pull rope through the GriGri as you would with a normal atc-style device, making sure to keep hold of the brake rope.

How to belay with a grigri

GriGri Belaying: How To Lock Off

If the climber falls, lock off downwards. The Grigri’s camming action will hold most or all of the weight. Pulling the brake rope down also helps the cam to engage rapidly.

How to belay with a grigri

GriGri Belaying: How To Give Slack

Giving Slack Slowly
To give slack slowly, pull rope up through the GriGri as you would with a normal atc-style device, making sure to keep hold of the brake rope.

How to belay with a grigri lead climbing

Giving Slack Quickly
If you try to feed slack through too quickly, the cam will engage and lock the device: not ideal when your partner is trying to clip a quickdraw. To avoid this happening, there is another technique you can use:

Step 1
Hold your index finger out while gripping the brake rope tightly with your other three fingers.

How to lead and top rope belay with a grigri

Step 2
Place your index finger under the lip on the side of the GriGri.

How to feed slack rope with a grigri

Step 3
Put your thumb over the back edge of the handle and push it down. This temporarily disengages the locking mechanism.

At the same time as doing this, pull out slack rope with your left hand.

How to give slack with a grigri

Step 4
As soon as you've pulled out enough rope, go back to the primary belaying position. If the climber falls when you are disengaging the locking mechanism, immediately remove your thumb and continue to hold onto the brake rope.

It's important to perform these steps quickly.

How to lead belay with a grigri


GriGri Belaying: How To Lower a Climber

Lock the rope with your brake hand, and slowly pull the handle back until you feel resistance. This will disengage the locking mechanism slightly. Hold the handle at this point and slowly lower the climber, making sure to keep hold of the brake rope. To stop lowering, simply let go of the handle.

It's important not to pull the handle all the way back. This will completely disengage the locking mechanism, making it very difficult to keep control of the device.

Remember to practise these techniques well in a safe environment before you belay someone at the crag.

How to lower a climber with a grigri Gri Gri

GriGri Belaying: Common Mistake

A bad habit while giving slack is to keep the handle held down without holding the brake rope. If the climber falls when you are in this position, you will not be able to quickly lock-off the rope (or lock-off at all).

Lazy belaying can kill your partner. If you hold the handle down to give slack, even just for one second, make sure to keep hold of the brake rope and release your thumb straight away.

How not to belay with a Gri Gri

GriGri Belaying: Directly from the Anchor

You can belay directly from the anchor with an assisted-braking belay device in a similar way to the guide mode technique. This method can be very dangerous if used incorrectly (see below).

Set the device up as shown. Make sure the device is orientated so the handle is away from the rock. If the handle is pointing into the rock, it could get jammed if the climber falls. This means it will not catch the fall.

This technique is useful only when there is absolutely no chance of the handle catching on something or getting pressed into the rock, such as on an overhanging belay.

belaying directly from anchor with a grigri

To lower a climber, use a re-direct on a high point of the anchor. Failure to do this will make it extremely difficult to lower a climber in a controlled manner.

The manufacturers of assisted-braking belay devices recommend against belaying directly from the anchor due to the chance of the handle pressing on the rock in a fall.

If you are not completely certain that your anchor is suitable for this type of belaying, you should use another method instead.

Belaying in guide mode with a grigri

Trad Climbing Gear > When To Place Gear

'When To Place Trad Gear' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Where Should I Place Trad Gear?

Trad gear is normally placed in cracks, behind flakes and around blocks. The important thing to remember is that these features are weaknesses in the rock. Some of these features are solid, and some are incredibly unstable and dangerous. To a beginner, these may appear the same. You must pay close attention to how solid the rock is. You can test flakes and blocks by hitting them with your fist; loose rock sounds hollow. Look for fracture lines (super thin cracks) around features and visualize how they are attached. If a block isn't securely attached to the main part of the rock, then look for something else. Gear placed behind loose features is likely to be pulled out in a fall, along with the feature itself. This could potentially hit your belayer or cut your rope.

Because most trad gear relies on friction to stay in position, you must make sure the rock is clean and dry. Gear placed in a crack coated with dust, mud, ice or water is much less reliable.

There are no definite guidelines of exactly which type of protection should be used for each particular situation. The important part of learning to use trad gear is understanding the physics behind it; how and why each piece generates force on the rock.



How Often Should I Place Trad Gear?

Here are some things to consider:

Trad Gear is Less Reliable than Sport Climbing Bolts
It's generally safe to fall at any time on a bolted sport route, whether indoors or at the crag. However, if the same attitude is applied to trad climbing, you'll soon get injured.

Nuts can wiggle out, slings can lift off and cams can walk out of position. This is caused by movements in the rope as you climb past. As a general rule of thumb, you should place two good pieces of trad gear for every bolt you would clip on a sport route.

learn to place trad climbing gear

Where is Your Next Gear?
If gear placements are far apart, poor quality and/or difficult to find, you should place gear at every opportunity. As a beginner, however, 'runout' climbs like these are best avoided.

learn to place climbing gear

Bigger Falls Generate More Force on Gear Placements
Most pieces of trad gear are strong enough to hold an enormous 'whipper'. The gear itself probably won't break. However, the force of a huge fall is more likely to break the rock which holds it in place.

The higher you climb above a piece of gear, the less reliable that piece becomes. Click here for more information about fall factors.

learn to place trad gear

How Good is Your Last Protection?
If the pieces below you are sub-optimal, place solid gear as soon as you can.


Pulling Crux Moves
A crux move will be much harder if you stop in the middle to place gear. If possible, place a few pieces as high as you can just before the crux, and then commit to the moves. Place gear again once past the crux.

Obviously this is only safe if the gear is good and the consequences are minimal.

If the crux section is long, you will need to seek out the best points to place gear during it. Utilize large hand holds or good stances and look for spots where the gear is quick to place.



Consequences of a Fall
When you climb above a ledge, spiky flake, or any other nasty rock feature, make sure to place gear to stop you from hitting it.


The Likelihood of Falling
If the chance of falling is near zero, because the rock is solid and the moves are incredibly easy, you can justify placing less gear.

If the chance of falling is high, because the moves are insecure or the rock is brittle, you should place lots of gear close together.

Be careful of getting into the bad habit of placing minimal gear, even on super easy terrain. If you’re carrying the gear anyway, you may as well use it.

Holds can break or you might find a weird move with no protection. If you placed gear on the easy terrain below, it could save you from a long fall. Easier ground tends to be blocky and slabby – a long fall down this could be fatal.

place trad climbing gear

Safeguarding the Follower
When climbing traverses, make sure to place enough gear to keep your partner safe as they follow.

If there is a traversing crux, you’ll need to place good gear immediately after it to prevent them from taking a dangerous swing if they fall.

placing trad climbing gear

Saving Gear for the Anchor
Make sure to ration out your gear so you arrive at the anchor with a sufficient amount of protection to build a solid anchor.


The Golden Rule
Always keep at least two good pieces between you and the hospital!

Rock Quality

Trad protection is only as strong as the rock it is placed in. Placing gear behind loose flakes or blocks is very dangerous. Not only is the gear unlikely to hold a fall, but it could dislodge loose and sharp rocks which could hit your belayer or cut your rope in a fall.

place trad gear

Rock Type
Granite, limestone and sandstone are the most prevalent types of rock in climbing areas, though many other types exist.

Each rock type has a different strength and probability to have loose features. Generally, ‘soft’ rocks (such as some types of sandstone and slate) are likely to have brittle edges and loose features.

Harder rocks (such as granite) lend themselves to more reliable protection. Even though granite is solid, you will often find loose blocks or bands of
poor quality choss in random areas.

Some types of sandstone are coated with a hard patina of mineral-hardened rock. This makes the surface strong but masks an underlying soft layer. When a cam is heavily loaded, the lobes can punch through the patina into the softer layer, causing the unit to skate out of the crack. For this reason, it’s wise to place protection more frequently in soft rock.

Cams in Poor Rock
Because of the large forces applied outwards on the sides of the crack, cams should always be placed in extremely solid rock. If you fall on a cam which is behind a loose flake, the cam lobes will press outwards and force the flake away from the main wall, meaning that your cam will be pulled out.

If the rock seems a little suspect, try finding a constriction to place a nut instead, since nuts apply far less outwards force when weighted.

Visual Test
Look at the feature and figure out how it is attached to the main part of the wall. If it looks detached, don’t touch it.

Some features have very thin fracture lines around them, which suggest poor rock quality. These fracture lines are sometimes covered in lichen or otherwise hard to see, so look carefully.

Tap Test
If you are still uncertain about the quality of a rock feature, give it a gentle tap and listen to the noise it makes. Loose rock ‘echoes’ and sounds hollow.

If you must climb through a small band of brittle flakes, determine which are the best holds and selectively distribute your weight between them. Pull down on holds, rather than out.

Climbing Helmets

This 'Climbing Helmets' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

A climbing helmet is the first thing you should buy when you start trad climbing. They protect your head from things falling on you (rocks, equipment, etc..) and also from your head hitting the rock if you fall.

Climbing helmets are generally not worn in the gym or on steep sport routes. The main reason is that sport crags tend to be overhanging, making both the leader and belayer safely sheltered from rockfall. Although it’s possible to injure your head in a leader fall, this rarely happens on overhanging rock because the leader will fall into ‘space'.

In any other situation, it is worth wearing a helmet when climbing or belaying. Rocks can fall and gear can be dropped. If you knock your belayer unconscious, they won't be able to belay you!

There are two main types of helmet on the market – rigid shell and foam.

Rigid Shell Climbing Helmets

These are made of hard plastic, with an inner 'cradle' of foam or webbing so the plastic sits away from your head. They are more durable but don't tend to protect from side impact (you falling off) as well as the foam type. They also tend to be cheaper than the foam type.

Rigid shell climbing helmets

Foam Shell Climbing Helmets

These closely resemble a bike helmet (don't use your bike helmet – they're designed for different impacts!). They tend to be lighter than the rigid shell, but are less durable. Be careful about throwing them in your bag then throwing it around or sitting on it!

The most important factor when buying a helmet is getting one that fits your head snugly – it shouldn't move when you tip your head. A sloppy fit reduces the helmet’s ability to protect your head.

Your helmet should adjust to accommodate a hat, and a ponytail if you have long hair. Also, make sure the headlamp attachments are compatible with your headlamp.

Foam shell climbing helmet