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.

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

The Figure-8: How to Tie In to a Climbing Rope

This article about the figure of 8 knot is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Unless you are bouldering, you'll need to tie the end of the rope to your harness before you climb. The best way to do this is using a rethreaded figure of 8 knot. It's important that you do it correctly, as this knot connects you to the whole climbing system and keeps you safe. Try to avoid talking to someone or distracting them while they tie in.

Likewise, once you start tying your figure-8, keep going until you’ve finished before responding to any questions. Accidents have happened because climbers were distracted halfway through tying in and then fell with a half-completed or incorrect knot.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure 8

How To Tie In with the Figure of 8 Knot

Step 1
Make a loop about a meter from the end of the rope. Wrap the end of the rope around the base of the loop, then push the end through as shown.

How to tie in to a climbing rope

Step 2
You should end up with an '8'. Make sure the knot is around 90cm from the end of the rope. The exact length varies with ropes of different diameters.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing

Step 3
Pass the end of the rope through both of the two points on the front centre of your harness – the same ones your belay loop runs through. It is important that the rope goes through your harness in exactly the same way as your belay loop does.

How not to tie a figure of 8 knot to a rope for rock climbing


Step 4
Use the end of the rope to re-trace the figure-8. Follow the twists of the rope starting from where it joins your harness.

How to tie into a climbing rope with a figure eight

Step 5
Continue following the twists until you end up back at the start of the knot.

Pull the whole thing tight.

Figure of 8 knot and stopper knot climbing rope

Step 6
Make sure the end of the rope is around 25cm long. If it is shorter, you'll have to untie and start again. After this, you will need to tie a stopper knot. Loop the short section of rope around the main length.

Tie into a rope for rock climbing

Step 7
Do this twice, with the second loop closer to you than the first.

How to tie into a rope with a figure of 8 knot for rock climbing

Step 8
Push the end of the rope through these two loops as shown.

Step 9
Make sure the stopper knot is pushed right up against your figure-8 knot. Pull it tight.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure eight

The Stopper Knot
The stopper knot has no bearing on safety as long as you tied your figure-8 correctly, so don’t panic if the stopper knot starts to unravel as you climb.

The purpose of the stopper knot is to ensure that you have left enough tail to stop the figure-8 failing – a short tail could slip through the knot.

Also, if you left a long tail dangling without a stopper knot, it could be mistaken for the main rope when clipping quickdraws, or the anchor. Always tie a stopper knot for these reasons.

If you didn't have enough rope left to tie a stopper knot, you'll need to retie the figure-8 so that you do.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure 8


Tying In To a Climbing Rope: Common Mistakes

Incorrect 8 shapes

tie to a rope for rock climbing with a figure eight

Only threading rope though one part of the harness.

tie to a climbing rope with a figure eight

Safety Check: Have You Tied In Correctly?

Rock Climbing Infographic: Have you tied in to the rope correctly?

Visually inspect your knot, and your partner’s knot, before every climb.

If someone asks you a question or distracts you when you are tying your knot, wait until you have finished before answering. Do nothing else until the knot is complete.

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?

Basic Rock Climbing Technique

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

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

With good climbing technique, you'll be able to cruise up the wall with minimum effort. The climbing technique you use will differ depending on the angle of the climb, the shape of the holds and how far apart they are. As you get better, you'll encounter overhangs and moves that require some serious finger strength. However, you'll build this naturally as you progress towards harder climbs. So to begin with, here are the basics.

Extended Arms
Keep your arms extended when looking for foot holds or moving your feet. Having bent elbows puts unnecessary strain on your biceps.

Hips Close to the Wall
The more you lean out from the wall, the more you rely on your fingers and arms. This drains your energy quickly and will almost definitely hurt your fingers over time. Instead, keep your hips close to the wall by pointing your knees to the side, like a frog. This will keep your weight on your legs.

Good Footwork
If you're struggling to reach a hand hold, try moving your feet higher first. Beginners often scuff their feet across the wall, wearing out their shoes fast. Focus on placing your foot precisely (like a ninja creeping across eggshells) and you'll soon be confident with the smallest foot holds. Learn more about footwork.

Basic rock climbing technique for beginners

Use Your Legs
It may feel natural to use your upper body muscles to pull yourself up the wall. But doing this will cause you to tire out very quickly. Your legs are naturally much stronger, so focus on pushing up with your legs instead of pulling up with your arms.

Relaxed Grip
Focus on using hand holds purely for balance; use them to pull yourself into the wall, rather than up the wall. Over-gripping will soon give you epic 'forearm pump'. Learn more about using hand holds.

Plan Moves In Advance
Before you climb, think about the best way up the route. Visualize exactly which holds you will use with each hand and foot. The more time you spend unsure where to go, the more tired you'll get.

Move Deliberately
You may see other climbers 'dynoing'. This advanced climbing technique is mainly used to impress other climbers rather than being an efficient way up the wall. To start with, you should focus on moving slowly and fluidly, treating the climb more like a slow dance and less like a mosh pit. Learn more about movement.

Find Resting Points
A good rest spot is anywhere you can comfortably stand with most of your weight on your feet. It gives you time to plan the next few moves and relax your arms. You should be able to take one arm comfortably off the wall to chalk-up and shake out your arms. Let them hang and give them a gentle shake to dislodge some of the lactic acid that has built up.



The Difference Between Top Rope and Lead Climbing

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

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

There are two main types of climbing system; top roping and leading. Both of these use the rope and gear to catch a fall, but in different ways. Most beginners start top rope climbing, as it's the safest and easiest way to learn. Once you've mastered the basics you can move on to leading.

Top Roping
- Rope is through the top anchor
- Safer
- Easier to belay

Lead Climbing
- Climber clips the rope into quickdraws as they climb
- Bigger fall potential
- More advanced belaying skills needed

Climbers at an indoor climbing wall

Top Rope Climbing: How It Works

* These steps are discussed in more detail in Rock Climbing Basics.

Step 1
The climber ties into one end of the rope (it doesn't matter which end).

The belayer attaches their belay device near to the other end of the rope.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 2
As the climber moves up the wall, the belayer takes in the slack (extra rope) through their belay device. This is known as belaying.

It's important to learn this skill well before you trust someone's life to it.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 3
If the climber falls, the belayer simply holds them where they are – the friction from the rope running through the belay device makes it easy to hold their weight.

Climbers top rope lead climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 4
Once the climber is at the top (or if they just want to come down at any point), the belayer lowers them back to the ground by letting the rope slide through their belay device under control.

Climbers lead climbing at an indoor climbing wall


Lead Climbing: How It Works

Step 1
The climber ties in to one end of the rope. The belayer attaches their belay device to the rope next to the climber.

Climbers lead belay climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 2
The climber clips the rope into quickdraws on their way up the climb.

The belayer switches between feeding rope out and taking it in, depending on whether the climber is below or above a quickdraw.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 3
If the climber falls, the belayer holds the fall via the rope running through the highest quickdraw.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 4
When the climber reaches the top, they clip the rope through the top anchor.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 5
The belayer lowers the climber to the ground by letting the rope slide through the belay device under control.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Step 6
The climber unties and the rope is pulled down.

Climbers top rope climbing at an indoor climbing wall

Top Rope Climbing Calls

'Top Rope Climbing Calls' is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Climbing calls are certain words that climbers use so everyone knows exactly what is happening. These calls may seem a bit excessive when you're standing next to each other in the gym, but they help to avoid any confusion when you're starting out. Once you're 50m away from each other outside and the wind is howling, you'll see why they're essential!

Note: These are the climbing calls commonly used in the UK. Climbers in other countries often use slightly different terms. Before you climb, make sure that you and your partner are familiar with the same climbing language.

Take In
Once the safety checks are complete, the climber tells the belayer to 'take in' the slack rope.

The belayer pulls the rope through the belay device until it is tight on the climber.

Climbing calls what to say when rock climbing belaying

That’s Me
When the rope is tight, the climber tells the belayer 'that's me'. This lets the belayer know that the rope is tight to the climber and not twisted or stuck anywhere else.


On Belay
When the belayer is ready to belay, they tell the climber they are 'on belay' and they can 'climb when ready'.

Climbing calls what to say when rock climbing belaying

Climbing
As a final check the climber tells the belayer they are 'climbing'.

But the climber doesn't leave the ground until they hear 'OK' from the belayer. Everything's good to go!

Climbing calls what to say when rock climbing belaying


Take
If the climber wants a rest, they can tell the belayer to 'take'.

This informs the belayer to take in all the slack from the rope and hold it tight with both hands. Once they have done this, the belayer replies 'OK'.

Climbing calls what to say when rock climbing belaying

Lower
If the climber wants to be lowered down at any point (or if they reach the top), they tell the belayer to 'lower'.

The belayer replies 'lowering' and then lowers the climber down.

Climbing calls what to say when rock climbing belaying

Safe
When the climber is back on the ground, they tell the belayer they are 'safe'.


Off Belay
The belayer removes the rope from their belay device and replies 'off belay'.

Climbing calls what to say when rock climbing belaying

Top Rope Climbing: How To Belay

'Top Rope Climbing: How To Belay' is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

This article explains how to belay for top rope climbing.

Using a belay device makes it possible for the belayer’s limited grip strength to control the large forces generated in a fall. How easy this is depends on:
- The belayer’s grip strength
- The weight of the falling climber
- The diameter of the rope
- The angle of separation between the rope strands

In most cases, it is very easy to stop a fall once you have mastered the techniques. However, it’s important to understand that heavier climbers and thinner ropes make it more difficult. To compensate for this, consider wearing leather belay gloves for extra grip.

There are 3 main techniques that you'll need to master to top rope belay safely:

How to belay top rope climbing

Note: The descriptions on the following pages assume that you’re right-handed (i.e: your right hand never leaves the brake rope). Feel free to switch right and left hands if it works better for you.

The Angle of Separation

To safely operate a belay device, you must first understand the angle of separation. This is the angle between the rope strands which determines how much friction is produced. More friction makes it easier to hold a fall.

Little friction is produced when approaching 0 degrees. In this position, you have very little control over the belay and it is impossible to hold a fall.

How to belay top rope climbing

Some friction is generated as the angle increases to 90 degrees. Depending on the design of your device, this is a good angle for taking in rope.

How to belay for climbing

At the maximum angle of 180 degrees, enough friction is generated to control the full force of a fall. This is the most effective lock-off position.

How to top rope belay climbing


How To Belay: Locking Off The Rope

To hold a climber's weight on the rope, you need to 'lock off' the belay device. Remember that the climber could fall off without warning, so you have to be ready to catch them at any point.

Step 1
Move your right hand down towards you. This causes the rope to kink through your belay device, which creates the friction needed to hold a fall.

Rock climbing belaying locking off the rope tight

Step 2
Hold the rope tight.

If you are holding the climber for a while, it can be more comfortable to hold the brake rope with both hands.

Rock climbing belaying two hands on brake rope

How To Belay: Taking In Rope

As the climber moves up the wall, you'll need to take in the extra rope that is created. You should aim to keep the rope tight enough so they won’t fall any distance, but slack enough so you don’t interfere with their movement. Watch the climber carefully so you can take in rope appropriately as they move up.

Step 1
Put your left hand on the live rope above your belay device, and pull down to take in the slack rope. Your right hand should be on the brake rope below your belay device.

At the same time as your left hand pulls down, move your right hand slightly up (keeping hold of the rope), so the angle of separation is around 90°. This makes it easier to pull the rope through the device.

How to belay for rock climbing top rope

Step 2
Move your right hand back down towards you to ‘lock off’ the device.

Make sure you perform these two steps quickly. If the climber falls as you're taking in, it's harder to hold them.

How to belay climbing

Step 3
Your right hand will now be further down the rope towards the ground. You'll need to move it back up towards your belay device before you take in any more rope. It's important that you do this without letting go of the rope.

Bring your left hand down and grab the brake rope just below your right hand. Hold on tight with your left and loosen your grip with your right hand. Then slide your right hand back up the rope to just below your belay device.

Rock climbing belaying top rope take in slack rope

Step 4
Now you're 're-set' and ready to take in more rope.

It's easiest to only take in about 20-30cm of rope at once.

Rock climbing belaying lock off rope


How To Belay: Lowering The Climber

When the climber reaches the top, or just wants to come down, you'll need to lower them.

Step 1
Take in any remaining slack and lock off the rope. You should be able to feel the climber’s weight on the rope. Hold the rope in both hands, with your left hand above your right.

Rock climbing belaying top rope lowering climber

Step 2
Keep hold of the rope with your right hand and loosen the grip with your left.

Move your right hand upwards so some rope slides through your left hand and then through the belay device. This will lower the climber a short distance.

Rock climbing belaying lower climber down

Step 3
Once your right hand is up against your left, hold on tight with your left to lock off the rope. Then slide your right hand back down.

Repeat this over and over until the climber is back down on the ground.

Rock climbing belaying lowering a climber down on top rope

Step 4
The climber should lean back on the rope, with their feet against the wall in front of them, as if they're sitting in a chair. The climber 'walks' their feet down the wall as they are being lowered.

Make sure to lower the climber slowly and in control so they don't bash into the wall.

Indoor rock climbing belaying lowering a climber down on top rope


Good Belaying Technique

- Ready to take in, give slack or lock off

- Rope fairly tight

- Hands correct distance away from belay device

- Tight grip on rope

- Holding the brake rope in the correct downwards direction

Example of good belaying rock climbing technique

Remember: Keep Hold of the Rope!

When belaying, you need to keep at least one hand on the brake rope all the time. This is what stops the climber from falling to the ground. Letting go of the brake rope is like letting go of the steering wheel while driving on a fast country road. Avoid the temptation to loosen or release your grip, even just for a second.

Use your other hand to wave to friends, get something out of your pocket or scratch your butt. Or better yet, just wait until you’ve finished belaying. Your partner’s life is literally in your hands. If they fall while your hand is loose or off the rope, you probably won’t catch the fall.

Rock climbing bad belaying

Lead Climbing: How To Lead Climb

'How To Lead Climb' is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Before you lead climb, there are 2 other things you need to do which you wouldn't do if top roping:
1) Stack the rope
2) Attach quickdraws to your harness

How To Stack a Climbing Rope

You'll need to 'stack' the rope before every lead climb 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. The climber ties into the top end of the rope.

Stacking a climbing rope

Top Tip
If you are storing your rope for a while, or carrying it somewhere, it can be best to coil it instead.

Coiling a climbing rope

How To Attach Quickdraws To Your Harness

Some indoor walls have quickdraws already attached to the wall, but if yours doesn't, you'll need to bring your own.

Clip half of them to the gear loops on the left side of your harness and the other half on the right side. Clipping them to your gear loops with the bolt-end carabiner will make it easier when you come to use them.

Make sure you bring enough quickdraws with you. You'll need one for each bolt, plus a couple of spares in case you drop one half way up or if a mystery bolt appears that you couldn't see from the ground.

Quickdraws on climbing harness quick draws

While you lead climb, there are 4 other things you'll need to do that you wouldn't do if top roping:
1) Clip quickdraws to bolts
2) Clip the rope into the quickdraws
3) Clip the rope into the top anchor
4) Pull the rope back down when you finish



How To Lead Climb: Clipping Quickdraws To Bolts

If the quickdraws are not already attached to the wall, you'll need to clip one on first. Simply clip the bolt end of your quickdraw to the bolt in the wall. It doesn't matter which way it faces.

Obviously, if you fall before clipping the first quickdraw, you'll land back on the ground.

Climbing quickdraw carabiners

How To Lead Climb: Clipping The Rope Into Quickdraws

The easiest way to clip a quickdraw is to place your fingers around the back bar of the carabiner, then use your thumb to flick the rope through the gate. The pressure of you pushing the rope on to it will open the gate; you don't need to open it with your fingers.

How to clip climbing rope to quickdraw

If you're clipping with your other hand, you'll need to hold the back bar with your thumb and use your fingers to flick the rope through instead.

How to clip climbing rope to quickdraw

Another way is to steady the carabiner with your middle finger and then flick the rope through with your thumb.

How to clip climbing rope to quickdraw

Warning: Back Clipping Quickdraws

The rope needs to be clipped through the quickdraw so that the end of the rope attached to you comes out of the front side of the quickdraw. If you fall, the rope will stay clipped through the carabiner.

How to back clip climbing rope to quickdraw

If you clip it the wrong way round, the rope could snap through the carabiner's gate if you fall. This would unclip the rope from the carabiner. This is known as 'back clipping'.

If you're belaying a leader, keep an eye out for them accidentally back clipping, and let them know if they have!

How to back clip climbing rope to quickdraw


Warning: Cross-Loading Carabiners

Make sure your carabiners do not become 'cross loaded' when you climb (loaded sideways). Also make sure the carabiner's gate has snapped shut after you've clipped the rope through it. Either of these will make your carabiner much weaker.

Cross loaded carabiners

How To Lead Climb: Clipping The Top Anchor

Once you get to the top of the wall, you'll need to clip the rope through the top anchor. Different walls have different systems for this – some have two snapgate carabiners, some have one or two screwgate carabiners that you'll need to unscrew first. Ask one of the staff before leading if in doubt!

It's important to make sure that the anchor you clip does not have another rope already running through it. Having 2 ropes through the same anchor can damage them.

Once you've clipped your rope through the top anchor, you can be lowered down in the same way as if you were top roping.

However, if you've attached your own quickdraws on the way up, you'll need to collect them on the way down. Simply lower down, unclipping them from both the bolt and rope and then clipping them back to your gear loops. The belayer will need to stop lowering you at each bolt so you have time to do this.

Bolted climbing anchor

Pulling the Rope Down

When you're pulling a lead rope down, shout 'rope' before it falls, so that everyone around you is expecting it – a falling rope in the head hurts!

Make sure to pull the rope through so that the falling end drops down through the clipped quickdraws – this will slow it down and make it safer.

Pulling down a climbing rope

Lead Climbing: Understanding Fall Potential

Leading for the first time can be pretty scary. Suddenly you're exposed to a much greater fall potential than on a top rope. The consequence of a fall while leading is more serious than when top roping, as you can fall much further. This increases your chances of hitting something (such as a large hold) as you fall.

If you fall while below a quickdraw you've just clipped, the fall will be similar to falling on top rope, as the rope is running through the carabiner above you.

Rock climbing fall

But if you fall when above the last quickdraw you've clipped, you'll fall below it, about the same distance as you were above it, or a little bit further (as the rope stretches to absorb the force of the fall).

Rock climbing fall

It's important not to clip quickdraws too soon. It can be tempting to pull through meters of rope to clip way above your head. But doing this means there's a lot of slack rope in the system so you'll fall a lot further if you slip while clipping.

Instead, wait until the quickdraw is between your shoulders and waist, then clip it. Not only will you not fall as far if you slip, it's also less strenuous and quicker.

Rock climbing fall

Top Tip
Try to clip from a resting position. It's much easier to clip a quickdraw while you're hanging from a big hold on a straight arm than from a tiny hold on a bent arm.



Lead Climbing: Where To Position the Rope

When lead climbing above a quickdraw, make sure the rope is running over the side of your leg. If you fall with the rope between your legs, it can flip you upside down, causing you to hit your head on the wall and get 'rope burn' behind your knees.

Rock climbing technique lead climbing

Lead Climbing: How To Lead Belay

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

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Step 1
Attach your belay device so there is just a few meters of rope between it and the climber's knot.

How to lead climb

Step 2
When the climber is moving up the wall, you'll need to feed rope out to them instead of taking it in.

Place one hand on the rope above the belay device and the other on the brake rope below. Use both hands to shuffle rope upwards through the belay device.

Then slide your hands one at a time back down the rope so you are ready to give more slack. Make sure not to let go of the brake rope!

Lead belaying and Climbing

Step 3
Once the climber has clipped the quickdraw but is still below it, they're effectively on a mini top rope, so you'll need to take in a small amount of rope until they're level with the quickdraw.

This ensures that slack rope is kept to a minimum. Remember that the climber will need enough slack to make the next move, but not so much that you create unnecessary fall potential for them.

Continue to give slack as the climber moves up, and take in rope as required.

Lead belaying

Step 4
To catch a lead fall, hold the rope downwards in the lock off position.

If the leader takes a big fall from above a bolt, the force will be much greater than a simple top rope fall, so it will be much harder to hold – keep a tight grip on the brake rope and pay attention!

How to lead climb and belay a climber

Lead Belaying: Belay Position

Before the First Bolt
Before the leader reaches the first bolt, you'll need to 'spot' them, just the same as if they were bouldering.

Make sure to have just enough slack in the rope so they can reach the bolt.

How to spot a climber when bouldering

After the First Bolt
Stand close to the wall, and in-line with the leader. Maintain a good stance in a position where you can see them.

The rope should go up and out from your belay device to the climber with minimal slack in the system.

How to lead belay correctly


Lead Belaying: Common Mistakes

Leaving too much slack in the rope.

How not to lead belay correctly

Standing too far back from the wall.

How not to lead belay correctly

Lead Belaying: Learning Tips

For your first few times belaying (for either top rope or lead), it can be useful to ask a qualified member of staff to hold the brake rope too.

This acts as a back-up so the climber will still be safe if you fail to hold the rope correctly.

How to lead climb and belay on top rope

It's also possible to have a top rope set up in addition to the lead rope. This means you can practise the techniques of leading, with the increased safety of a top rope.

Ask a qualified member of staff for help with this.

How to lead climb belay

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

Bouldering Basics

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

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Bouldering is a simple form of climbing low down without using ropes. Indoor boulders are generally around three or four meters tall with padded mats beneath them to absorb your fall.

There are a few things to be aware of to boulder safely:

Clear Landing Zone
Work out where you might fall before you start. Clear away any water bottles, chalk bags and other objects that are in your fall zone. Ask anyone who's sitting on the mats to move away.

While you're climbing, keep an eye out for unobservant climbers or stray children who may wander underneath you. Your spotter can help with this too.

Be Aware
Climbing walls can get busy. Make sure to stay out of the potential landing zone of other climbers.

Many routes share space on the wall, so be aware of where your route goes compared to others. Keep a reasonable distance between yourself and the next climber, so that you won't swing into each other if you fall.

Spotters
A spotter is someone who stands beneath a climber and helps them fall correctly. The point of spotting is to push the climber so they land on their feet – you are not trying to catch them!

Hold out your arms and be ready to push them onto the centre of the pad, aiming for their mid back or shoulders. Some climbers prefer to tuck their thumbs in to their palms to avoid dislocating them.

Some boulder problems cause the climber to change the way they lean from holds. This changes the trajectory of a potential fall and can be difficult to spot. For problems like this, consider having two or more spotters, each with their own spotting zone.



Fall Properly
You will fall a lot when bouldering – sometimes with no warning. Practise using your cat-like reflexes to land on your feet.

When you hit the pad, buckle your knees, then collapse your torso and use your hands and arms as the final shock absorbers. Bend your elbows to avoid injuring them.

Some moves, such as heel hooks, cause you to ‘helicopter’ off. Think about the fall before you commit to a high heel hook. If your hand slips, will you be able to release the heel in time to get your feet under you?

basic indoor bouldering safety

Unless you are positive that you can make the next move, set your heel lightly so you can release it instantly. Alternatively, avoid the hook and try a different sequence. Intentionally avoiding a heel hook usually makes a problem harder, but the fall safer.

Dyno falls can be dangerous too. If you lunge for a hold and stick it for a second while your feet swing out, you risk a twisting fall that you are unlikely to control.

You may think that dynos are impressive, but doing a lot of them is a great way to get injured.

Be Subtle
Beware of small pockets, underclings or sidepulls which may stress your finger tendons. The least damaging grip is the open-hand.

Also watch for shouldery moves and big dynos. Consider making subtle changes to the moves rather than just trying to pull harder with each attempt.

Pads
Make sure the pads are underneath you and you know where the edges of the pads are. You could twist your ankle if you land with your foot on the very edge of a pad, or between pads. Ask your spotter to move the pad as you climb if needed.

If climbing with multiple pads, lie them flat, rather than stacked. Arrange pads so there are no gaps between them, and check the pads after every fall because they can move. Fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle so they present as few exposed edges as possible.

If bouldering alone, carefully visualize where you are most likely to land, and set the pad there.

Warm Up
Bouldering is generally very powerful and dynamic. It puts a lot of strain on your body. Make sure to warm up properly before you start. Be especially careful with your fingers – climb on big holds first, slowly warming up your finger tendons before using smaller holds.

Remember to warm up again after breaks of longer than 15 minutes. Cool down at the end of your session too.

Climb Down
When possible, climb down from the top of the wall instead of jumping. Use the biggest holds to make this easier. Not only is it safer for you and those around you, but you'll save your knees too.

Bouldering on the Main Wall
Some climbing walls will allow you to boulder low down on the main roped wall. If yours does, find out how high you're allowed to go (often there's a painted line) and remember that roped climbers have priority.

Never boulder underneath a roped climber, even if they're high up.

Rest
Rest sufficiently between attempts. Avoid trying the same problem too much in a short space of time. Move on and try something else on a different angle and with a different style of holds, or have a break and review your sequences.



What is Sport Climbing?

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

VDiff learn to sport climb free e-book ebook

Sport climbing is physical.

It’s a relatively safe form of rock climbing in which you push the boundaries of your physical capabilities, often achieving goals that you previously thought were impossible.

The sport climbing routine is basically the same as leading at an indoor gym; clip the rope into quickdraws as you climb, reach the anchor and lower down. However, there are many more skills to learn before you make the transition from plastic to rock.

Leading a sport climb in spain

It's important to take the time to become competent at these basic skills before you commit your life to them at the crag. It won't take long, and with a solid understanding of these techniques, you'll find it easy to progress.

Can I Sport Climb?

People of all ages, genders, backgrounds and abilities enjoy sport climbing. Sport climbs are graded by difficulty, with the easiest being similar to climbing up a big step ladder.

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...



The Sport Climbing Grading System

Sport climbing grades

Finding a Climbing Partner

There are a few different ways to find a climbing partner, including:
- At the indoor climbing gym
- On a climbing course
- At a climbing club
- Through friends
- On internet forums

However you find a partner, it’s important to assess how safe they are. A good ‘first date’ is to climb at the gym. Be upfront and honest about your skills but be aware that some people will exaggerate their abilities in order to impress.

Rock climbing in california

If you are unsure of their abilities, have a staff member test you both on belaying and lead skills before you climb together. Progress to a single pitch crag after the gym. Inspect the quality of their equipment and their anchor building techniques carefully before you move on to more committing multi-pitch routes.

Don’t blindly trust someone with your life until they have proven themselves trustworthy. Stop climbing with someone who does strange or dangerous things. Instead, recommend that they take a course, or read this website, or both.

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

What Is Trad Climbing?

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

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

When climbing indoors, or at a ‘sport’ crag, the leader clips their rope, via quickdraws, into pre-existing bolts.

On a bolted route, it is generally safe to fall at any time. Having this high level of safety allows the leader to focus on the physical aspect of climbing up the rock.

rock climbing bolts

When trad climbing, the leader must place their own gear in the rock.

To be safe when trad climbing, the leader must focus on finding gear placements and then select the right piece of gear to fit. This adds a technical and mental aspect to the route.

With a good understanding of trad climbing skills, you can branch out from the indoor walls and sport crags to reach unique places that would otherwise be inaccessible.

rock climbing nuts and hexes

Can I Trad Climb?

Yes!

Learning to trad climb is similar to learning to drive a car. It takes time, effort and commitment. It can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing, or very safe once you become competent.

The articles on this website focus on the physics behind trad gear and the reasons for using different rope techniques. This is so you understand why each technique is used, and therefore you'll be able to adapt them for any situation.

So, learn the skills and practise them safely. Start with small adventures to build up your problem solving ability before you move on to anything bigger. And remember to have fun!

trad climbing girl

Trad Climbing Etiquette

There are different rules when you venture outside of the climbing gym. When you go to a new climbing venue, ask the locals what the special considerations are.

Generally, it all comes down to being polite, respecting other climbers and having common sense. Here are some basic etiquette guidelines:
- Avoid making excessive noise
- Keep your stuff in a small, tidy pile
- Take your litter and human waste home
- Stick to recognized trails to avoid trampling vegetation
- Keep pets on a leash or leave them at home
- Don’t alter the natural environment (never chip holds)
- If other climbers arrive at a route before you, they get to climb first
- If you’re moving slow on a multi-pitch, it is polite to allow faster teams to pass if you have plenty of time and there is no danger of rockfall – but you have every right to say no

Finding a Trad Climbing Partner

There are a few different ways to find a climbing partner, including:
- At the indoor climbing gym
- On a climbing course
- At a climbing club
- Through friends
- On internet forums

However you find a partner, it’s important to assess how safe they are.

A good ‘first date’ is to climb at the gym. Be upfront and honest about your skills but be aware that some people will exaggerate their abilities in order to impress.

If you are unsure of their abilities, have a staff member test you both on belaying and lead skills before you climb together.

Progress to a single pitch crag after the gym. Inspect the quality of their equipment and their anchor building techniques carefully before you move on to more committing multi-pitch routes.

Don’t blindly trust someone with your life until they have proven themselves trustworthy. Stop climbing with someone who does strange or dangerous things. Instead, recommend that they take a course, or read this manual, or both.

learn trad climbing

Route Finding

Some trad routes follow straightforward crack systems, and others weave an intricate path through a labyrinth of small features.

It is wise to scope complex routes during the approach and match the features you see with the guidebook description. Plan the descent too. Even if the main route is obvious, the handholds, footholds and gear placements (micro route finding) may not be so clear.

On popular routes, the clues are:
- Chalked handholds
- Polished footholds
- Lichen and dirt free rock
- Difficulty which matches the grade given

Be careful about continuing if you are off-route. It is usually better to downclimb to the last point when you were definitely on-route and reassess from there.



Your First Trad Climbing Lead

Leading trad for the first time can be pretty scary. Suddenly you're exposed to greater dangers than you would leading a sport route, or following a trad route. Here are some tips for your first few times on 'the sharp end':

Practise Placing Gear
It is important to learn how to place trad gear well before you lead anything. A good way to start is to walk along the base of your local crag and place every piece on your rack in as many different spots as you can find. Get used to placing and removing each size and type of gear.

Assess each piece carefully; which way will it be pulled if you fall? How solid is the rock around the piece? Could it be pulled out by movement in the rope as you climb past? Could you remove it easily?

When you find a place which has three good pieces close together, practise equalizing them together with a cordelette or a long sling to make a belay. Have your experienced partner check the gear and give you critiques about whether it was placed correctly.

The fundamentals of placing gear are easy to learn. But recognising subtle constrictions in cracks and maximising rock-to-nut surface contact is an art only learnt through experience. Practise makes perfect!

Follow the Leader
Once you've practised placing gear at ground level, the next logical step is to follow, or 'second', an experienced leader on a single pitch route. When you are removing the gear, try to understand how they placed it and why they chose that exact place instead of another. Remove each piece and then place it back in the exact same spot.

Lower Your Grade
Choose a route that you find easy. A HVS trad route may equate to around F5+ on a grade conversion chart, but in reality it's much harder to climb the trad equivalent. While the actual moves are the same physical difficulty, it takes much longer to find potential gear placements, and to place gear well, than it does to clip a quickdraw. Also, without a line of bolts and coloured holds to follow, you'll often end up doing many more moves to reach the same point, and not always going the easiest way.

Take Your Time
Have a look around for better gear placements and take time to figure out the moves. Focus on placing each piece as perfectly as it can be. Make slow and controlled movements, committing to holds only when you've explored the best way of holding them.

Make a Belay Plan
It's a good idea to assess the top of the crag first to find potential anchor points and figure out your belay position. Remember what gear you will need for the anchor and make sure to still have it when you reach the top!

Single Pitch
Try a short climb first. If something goes wrong, it'll be much easier to get down from a single pitch than a multi-pitch.

Be Ready
We strongly recommend that you take a course with a qualified climbing instructor. Once you have gained approval from them, you can lead your first climb. Wait until you're ready, but don't postpone it too long or you may never try. Be brave, take your time and focus on making the climb safe. And make sure to have fun!



Learning the techniques of placing gear and building anchors isn't enough to make you a proficient trad climber. Unexpected situations often arise, especially on multi-pitches (such as not having enough rope to reach a solid belay, or retreating from a climb with damaged ropes and poor anchors).

It's important to develop the ability to adapt your trad skills to suit situations like these that do not have a textbook solution. Being able to solve problems quickly is a vital skill which can only be learnt through experience.

So get out there, and climb some rocks!

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.

How To Abseil

This 'How To Abseil' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Abseiling (or rappelling) is a simple method of descending ropes that gets you back to the ground quickly.

You can walk down from the top of many climbs, but if that isn't an option, you'll have to abseil.

climber abseiling rappelling

How To Abseil: Check the Anchor

In most situations, there will be a fixed abseil point (such as two equalized bolts or some slings around a tree). This anchor must be bomber. Check the bolts, webbing or cord carefully. If the anchor fails, you will most likely die, so be prepared to replace it.

A bolted abseil anchor should have two bolts of 3/8” diameter or thicker, which are well placed in solid rock. Inspect the rings or maillons too. If they are rusty or have a groove worn in them, consider backing them up with a carabiner.

Rock climbing bolts

Closely inspect anchors made with webbing or cord, especially around the back of the feature. Slings which have been in place for years may be stiff or faded – signs that they have been severely weakened by ultraviolet radiation. Animals sometimes chew webbing too, so check thoroughly. If in doubt, add to it or replace it with webbing, cord or slings of your own.

Some anchors in seldom-climbed areas may be missing a ring or carabiner at the central point. In this case, you’ll need to add one of your own.

Rock climbing tree anchor

The rope should not run directly over nylon slings or cord. Nylon on nylon generates tremendous friction. When you pull your ropes, they will cut into the abseil slings, leaving them dangerously weak for the next team. For the same reason, you should never be lowered from an anchor this way. Your rope will probably cut through the slings before you reach the ground.

Always make sure your ropes are attached to the anchor with metal. Two carabiners with gates opposite and opposed works well.

lowering from a sport climb

How To Abseil: Attaching to the Anchor

The entire climbing team should attach to the anchor while rigging abseils. A common way of doing this is to girth hitch a short sling through your belay loop and clip it to the anchor with a screwgate.

On bolted abseil anchors where the two bolts aren't joined together, you can use two slings with separate screwgates. Attach one sling to each bolt.

Climbing slings girth hitched to belay loop on climbing harness
Ready for abseiling

Warning
Make sure not to climb above the anchor when attached only with a sling. High forces are generated if you 'static' fall (without a rope in the system) the full length of your sling which may damage or break it. Learn more.



How To Abseil: Tying the Ropes Together

You can abseil with either one rope or two. Whichever you use, you'll need to get the middle of your total length of rope onto the anchor.

If you're using one rope to abseil, feed one end through the abseil point. Then holding both rope ends together, pull the ropes through until the mid-point of the rope is at the abseil point. Some ropes have a 'middle marker' to make this easier.

If you are using two ropes, you'll need to tie them together. A simple and safe way to do this is to use the overhand knot described below.

Step 1
Thread the end of one rope through the anchor.

Then hold one end of each rope together and make a loop at least 60cm from the end.

How to tie climbing ropes together to abseil

Step 2
Put the ends through the loop to make an overhand knot.

How to tie climbing ropes together to rappel

Step 3
Pull each strand of rope very tight on either side of the knot, making sure the knot is neat.

How to tie climbing ropes together for rappelling

Step 4
Back it up with another overhand knot immediately next to it. Pull that tight too.
You should have at least 30cm of rope left after the knots.

How to tie climbing ropes together for abseiling

How To Abseil: Throwing Ropes

You should throw your ropes down in a way that they are unlikely to get tangled together or stuck on something. The following is a simple method of reducing your chances of a stuck rope.

Step 1
Tie knots (such as the triple barrel or overhand) in the bottom end of both strands of rope. This stops you from accidentally abseiling off the end.

Tie knots in the end of climbing ropes for rappelling

Step 2
Prepare to throw the ropes down. It's better to do this one rope at a time. Starting from the end, stack one rope in coils over your arm.

How to throw ropes when rappelling

Step 3
Shout ‘rope’ to anyone who may be in the area below. When you are certain that no-one could get hit by your ropes, you can throw them.

Take the first half of the coils in one hand and the second half in your other hand. Throw the second half of the coils down, closely followed by the first. Keep an eye on the ropes at the anchor. With all the weight on one side, the rope could zip through the anchor at this point.

How to throw ropes when abseiling

Step 4
Stack the other rope and throw it down in the same way. If there are climbers below, either wait for them to finish climbing, or ask them if you can slowly lower the ends of your ropes down. This may cause your ropes to snag on features, but will be much less dangerous for the person leading up.



How To Abseil: Attaching your Belay Device

Step 1
Clip your belay device to your belay loop with a screwgate (don’t lock it yet).

How to abseil

Step 2
Pull up about a meter of both strands of rope.

It will be heavy, so have your partner hold the rope up, or step on it to create slack so it’s easier to clip in.

How to abseil rock climbing

Step 3
Push the ropes through your belay device making sure it is orientated the correct way up.

How to abseil for climbing

Step 4
Clip both of the ropes and your belay device through the screwgate carabiner and fasten it.

You don't need to remove the screwgate from your belay loop when doing this; you are more likely to drop it if you do.

How to abseil a rope

Step 5
Lean into the anchor and pull any slack rope through your belay device.

Then holding the ropes in the lock-off position, sit back and apply your weight to the belay device. This allows you to easily check the setup.

How to abseil ropes

Using a Prusik Knot

For most abseils, it's wise to backup with a prusik knot. A correctly tied prusik will autolock if you let go of the ropes.

Step 1
Wrap the prusik around both ropes a few times and then clip the ends together with a screwgate carabiner. More wraps will create more friction around the ropes, though four wraps are generally enough. Pull the knot tight, make sure it is neat and the double fisherman’s bend is away from the ropes.

How to tie a Prusik knot for abseiling and rappelling

Step 2
Clip the prusik to your leg loop. The prusik will slide down the ropes if you hold it close to your leg loop and lock around the ropes if you let go. Test this before you abseil.

If it doesn't lock, take it off and re-tie it with an extra wrap around the ropes.

If your prusik loop is too long, it's possible that it could jam into your belay device during the abseil. If this happens, it can be difficult to control your descent. To avoid this, you can extend your belay device with a sling.

Attaching a prusik to belay loop to abseil


How To Abseil: The Descent

Before you unclip your attachment point from the anchor, check:

How to abseil how to rappel climbing

Step 1
With one hand holding both ropes in the lock-off position, unclip your sling from the anchor and clip it out of the way on the back of your harness.

Using a prusik to abseil
Using a prusik to rappel

Step 2
Put your second hand over the prusik. Your hands should be in the same position as they would to lower a climber while belaying.

Step 3
While keeping a firm grip, lean your weight back and allow some rope to go through your belay device, remembering to slide the prusik down as you go.

Continue feeding rope through as you lower yourself down. You'll soon be able to figure out how fast to feed the rope while staying in control.

Using a prusik to abseil

Step 4
Sit back in your harness and keep your body in an L shape with your feet wide apart. Walk backwards down the rock, making sure to look behind to see where you're going.

Move smoothly down the ropes. Don’t bounce, jump or swing around – this puts much more force on the anchor and is likely to damage your ropes if they pass over rough edges.

To abseil past a roof, plant your feet on the lip and lower your body down. Once your body is below the roof, cut your feet loose to avoid hitting your head.

Abseiling with a prusik cord

Step 5
If you are the first in your group to abseil, you may have to deal with tangles of rope hung up on ledges, flakes or in bushes.

Always deal with tangles when still above them. Lock off the rope with your prusik and pull the rope up to unfasten the tangle or flip the rope free of the snag.

When you're safely attached to the next anchor (remember to inspect it first) or on the ground, remove your belay device and prusik and shout up to your partner that you're 'off rope', so they can begin abseiling.

Abseiling rappel with a prusik cord

Step 6
When everyone is down, you can retrieve the ropes. Unfasten the knots from the ends of the ropes and pull down on the rope that you didn't thread through the anchor.

Keep an eye on the other rope as you do this to make sure it doesn't go up with a mysterious auto-knot fastened in it.

When the ropes are about to fall down, shout ‘rope’ to warn your partner(s). Be aware that the falling rope may bring down loose rock with it.

Climbers pulling ropes after abseiling

The Fireman's Belay

If a less experienced climber is worried they may not be able to control the abseil, they can be given a fireman’s belay.

The more experienced climber descends first, then holds the ropes while the other climber descends. A simple pull on the ropes will lock their device.

This is also useful if one climber has forgotten their prusik – they can abseil last with a fireman’s backup.

firemans belay