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...

VDiff sport climbing book

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.

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

VDiff sport climbing book

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.

Climbing Technique > Footwork

'Climbing Technique: Footwork' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb ebook

This section introduces the most common foot, hand and body positions used in rock climbing. How you grip handholds or stand on footholds depends on their shape, size and position. How you position your body depends on the location of these holds and the angle of the rock.

Practising in a climbing gym builds strength, endurance, flexibility and technique, but to climb well on real rock, you’ll need to actually climb on real rock.

improve sport climbing technique

Brightly coloured holds in a gym are obvious to find, but they are much more subtle on rock. Often a foothold is just a slightly lower angled dimple, or a series of tiny edges that require precise foot positioning.

Finding holds will get easier once you’ve learned to ‘read’ real rock. With practise, you’ll be able to use all kinds of weird rock features quickly and efficiently. Watching experienced climbers or hiring a climbing coach will help. But ultimately, improving your climbing movement requires plenty of real rock practise.

Climbing Technique: Footwork

Beginner climbers often concentrate on looking upwards for something to grab with their hands, forgetting about their footwork.

Having good footwork takes an enormous strain off your arms, making the climb much easier. There are basically three ways of using footholds; smearing, edging and hooking.

sport climbing footwork technique

Climbing Technique: Smearing

Smearing is a technique used to stand on poorly-defined, sloping features. The aim is to have as much surface contact between the sole of your shoe and the rock as possible, therefore maximising friction.

Focus on pushing your foot against the rock with your weight concentrated over your big toe.

Over time you will develop the ability to find tiny irregularities in the rock. Smearing on a dimple which is just a couple of degrees lower in angle can make a big difference.

rock climbing footwork technique smearing

Keep a high heel if smearing on small scoops. This keeps the pressure on the front of your foot.

Keep a low heel if smearing on a uniform slope. This gives more shoe-to-rock surface contact and therefore more friction. It also puts your calf muscles in a more relaxed position.

rock climbing smearing technique

Climbing Technique: Edging

Edging means placing the very edge of your shoe on a pronounced edge of rock. Although any part of the shoe can be used to edge, you normally do so with the inside front part of the shoe, beneath the big toe.

With a good edge on vertical or overhanging terrain, you can pull in with your toe as well as push down. This moves your lower body closer to the wall and reduces the strain on your arms by keeping more weight on your feet.

rock climbing footwork technique edging

For tiny pockets and edges, you can edge on the front point of the shoe. This positions you neutrally so you can turn your body in either direction for the next move. It also gives you a little extra reach if you stand up on your tiptoe.

rock climbing edging technique

For techniques such as back-stepping, it is necessary to use the outside of the shoe (normally beneath the base of your little toe) to edge.

rock climbing footwork edging

VDiff sport climbing book

Climbing Technique: Heel and Toe Hooking

Heel hooking is the technique of using the foot as a ‘third hand’.

By hooking your heel over a flake or edge, you are able to pull with your leg. This allows you to move more fluidly and controlled through what would otherwise require a ‘dyno’.

On overhanging terrain, a crafty heel hook often helps to pull you into the rock, stops you from swinging out and provides extra reach.

rock climbing heel hook technique

You can also employ a toe hook in a similar way to a heel hook.

rock climbing footwork toe hook

A ‘foot cam’ can work in the same way too. Be aware that you may break your ankle if you fall with your foot in a really good heel-toe lock.

rock climbing footwork heel toe hook

Climbing Technique: Footwork Tips

* When you step from the ground to the rock, make sure to wipe the dirt and gravel from the soles of your shoes.

* With marginal smears or edges, it is important to keep your foot in the exact same position while your body moves up. Use your ankle as a hinge to absorb your movements. Any disruption to your foot position will probably cause you to slip off.

* To minimize strain on your upper body, use foot holds which are directly beneath your hands.

* When you’ve found the best hold, visualize how your foot will be positioned on it. Don’t move your foot until you know exactly where it’s going.

* Push your feet in opposite directions (stemming) to keep the weight off your arms.

* If you’re not sure whether to edge or smear, remember that you can smear an edge, but you can’t edge a smear.

Climbing Technique > Handholds

'Climbing Technique: Handholds' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb book

The weight on your arms increases as the rock gets steeper and the footholds get smaller. Beginners often ‘over grip’ the rock and burn out their forearms too soon, making it impossible to then hold onto anything.

The challenge, therefore, is to use the lightest possible grip to make each move.

There are endless ways of using handholds, but four basic types are described below.

Climbing Handholds: The Crimp

Crimping works best when the thumb is held over the index finger. This ‘closes’ the crimp and makes the position stronger. This is because your thumb is much stronger than your fingers in this position.

If the hold is too small to fit all your fingers, give priority to the middle finger (the strongest), followed by the ring finger, the index and finally the pinky.

Be careful when crimping sharp edges. If you slip off suddenly, you’ll probably slice your fingertips.

rock climbing crimping technique

Climbing Handholds: The Open Grip

The open grip is mainly used to hold onto large or rounded features. Search for the best position on the hold and then pull.

If the hold isn’t incut, you will rely on friction between your hands and the rock to hold on. For this reason, having more surface contact gives you more grip.

An open grip on sloping holds works in a similar way to your shoe when smearing.

In the long term, the open grip puts less strain on the joints and tendons than crimping.

rock climbing open grip technique

Climbing Handholds: The Pinch

You pinch a hold in the same way as a crab pinches it’s claws. An effective use of the technique is to pinch a hold between your thumb and the side of your index finger.

rock climbing pinching grip technique

VDiff sport climbing book

Climbing Handholds: Pockets

To hold onto a pocket, you essentially use an open hand or crimp but with less fingers.

If you can fit two fingers in the pocket, it’s often better to use the middle and ring fingers, rather than a middle and index finger combo. This balances the load on your fingers much better.

If the pocket is only big enough for one finger, your middle finger will be strongest.

Be careful - the edges of pockets are often sharp. When you pull hard on a pocket, you are effectively grinding your finger tendons over that sharp edge. A common injury is to strain or break the delicate ligaments in the fingers due to excessive crimping and pocket pulling.

rock climbing finger pockets

Climbing Technique > Movement

These articles about climbing techniques are part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb book

Climbing is like a dance. The aim is to choreograph different types of holds and moves into one fluid movement.

It is much more efficient and enjoyable to move up fluidly, methodically and in balance. Frantic, jerky movements are clumsy and will tire you out faster. Once this becomes second nature, you will soon begin to develop your own style and move on to more advanced climbing techniques.

learn sport climbing technique

After climbing each route, review the techniques that you used. Ask yourself what worked, what didn’t and what you could do to climb the route more efficiently.

Practise makes perfect!

Climbing Techniques: Sidepull

It’s impossible to pull straight down on a vertical crimp. Instead, these types of holds are used as sidepulls.

Lean from the sidepull and use your feet to oppose the force. This counter-pressure keeps you in balance while you use your legs for upward progress. Sidepulls often give you more reach than a horizontal hold.

You can sometimes turn a sidepull into a pinch if there is a catch for your thumb. This will create more inward pulling power if you need it.

rock climbing sidepull technique

Climbing Techniques: Gaston

A gaston is the opposite of a sidepull. Push outwards on the hold with your elbow pointing away from your body.

rock climbing gaston technique

Climbing Techniques: Palming and Stemming

Palming is similar to an open grip but you use your palm instead of your fingers. You can push yourself into a corner by palming on both sides of it.

To stem, smear your feet on either side of the corner. The opposing pressure of pushing inwards keeps you in balance.

rock climbing stemming technique

Climbing Techniques: Underclings

Underclinging relies on the counter-pressure between your hand pulling out from the hold and your feet pressing onto the rock.

This technique is often used to keep a climber in balance while searching for a better hold above.

On consecutive undercling moves, such as traversing under a flake, try to use footholds as much as possible and keep your arms straight. This takes the strain off your arms.

rock climbing undercling technique

Climbing Techniques: Mantling

Mantling is the technique of surmounting a ledge when there are no holds above it to help with this (imagine getting out of a swimming pool without using the stairs). The following is a common mantling method, though many variations exist.

Step 1 - Step High
A high, well-placed foot is the foundation of the mantle. With your hands on the ledge, walk your feet up to the highest possible foothold. You may even be able to heel hook the ledge.

rock climbing mantling technique

Step 2 - Pull and Press
Pull up and switch your hands to a palm down press. Search above the ledge for any hand holds. Leaning forward and pulling yourself in with one hand makes the next step easier.

rock climbing mantle technique

Step 3 - Foot Up
If your foot isn’t already on the ledge, you can probably put it there now.

You may have to shuffle your hands to make space for your foot.

mantle rock climbing techniques

Step 4 - Rock Over
Shift the weight onto your high foot and stand up.

Try to avoid using the knee, as this will make it more difficult to stand up.

mantling rock climbing techniques

VDiff sport climbing book

Climbing Technique: Dynamic Moves

‘Dynos’ are probably the most spectacular climbing move. It is a way of using momentum to reach between distant hand holds.It is almost always more efficient to move statically between holds, but if a hold is too far away, a dyno may be the best way.

Get your feet up high and focus on the hold. Push up with your legs and pull with your arms. Move your hand quickly towards the hold. Grab onto the hold when your body reaches its apex.

A dyno is much easier if you can keep your feet on the footholds. This way, most of your weight is still on your feet when you grab the hold.

The disadvantage of dynoing is that you cannot be sure how good the hold is until you’ve committed. And committing is the most important part of the dyno. If you make a half-hearted attempt, you’ll be unlikely to stick the hold.

rock climbing dyno technique

Climbing Technique: Core Strength

Your core is the area between your lower chest and your mid-thighs. Engaging the core while climbing keeps you in control.

Without a tight core, you are likely to ‘sag’ beneath your arms, causing you to lean out from the rock, butt first.

Think of your core as something which dictates the movements of your arms, rather than something which you are simply dragging up the crag.

Climbing Technique: Slab Climbing

Climbing slabs (rock which is less than vertical) requires less strength and more balance than steeper angles of rock.

Your body should remain in the same upright position as when you’re walking. With gravity forcing the weight onto your shoes, you have more friction on the rock. Essentially, you will hold onto features for balance while pushing up with your legs.

easy sport climbing

Friction slabs are generally devoid of any positive features to crimp or edge on. To climb a friction slab, you must rely on the surface contact beneath your palms and feet. Small steps are generally more efficient. High steps tend to disrupt the delicate balance needed to stop you from sliding off.

On sustained slab climbs, where most of your weight is on your feet, it’s common to get ‘calf pump’ or ‘disco leg’. Make use of any good footholds by standing with your heel on the hold and your leg straight, so that your center of gravity is over your heel.

Climbing Technique: Vertical Rock

It is invariably more strenuous on the arms to climb a vertical rock than it is to climb a slab of the same grade.

It’s much more efficient to keep the weight off your arms as much as you can. This is done by pushing your hips and chest close to the wall and by using the minimum amount of energy to complete each move as possible. Remember that your feet provide the upwards thrust, while your hands primarily pull you into the rock.

learn sport climbing

Keep your hips perpendicular to the rock by standing on the inside edge of one foot and the outside edge of another. This is known as back-stepping. It allows you to use footholds on either side of your body with either foot.

Take advantage of any rests. Opposing your feet against each other across a corner (stemming) allows you to keep the weight off your arms. If you can’t get a two-hands rest, then alternately shake out your arms when you find a good handhold.

It’s often better to do a series of small moves, instead of a long one. Being stretched out tends to disrupt your balance and often makes the next move more strenuous.

Climbing Technique: Overhanging Routes

To climb efficiently on overhanging rock, you need to keep your hips close to the rock and your arms straight whenever possible. Bent arms will tire out much faster.

One way to do this is to use the dropknee. Place the outside edge of your shoe on a hold and twist your knee downward. Be careful though, dropknees put a lot of tension on the ligaments in your knee.

how to sport climb

As with other angles of rock, it is more efficient to pull yourself into the rock with your arms and push yourself up with your legs. This is much more physically demanding on steep routes, but even the poorest footholds will help ease the strain on your arms and give you something to push from.

Sport Anchors – Part 1 of 4 – Introduction

These articles about sport climbing anchors are part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb e-book

Many climbs have bolted 'sport anchors' at the top. This is the standard for sport climbs worldwide, but is also common at many North American trad climbing venues.

These bolted anchors will usually be equipped with mallions (quick links) or lowering rings, sometimes connected with chains. You won’t be able to simply clip your rope through this type of anchor like you would at the gym. Instead, you’ll need untie from the rope and thread it through. After that, you can either abseil, or have your partner lower you down.

It’s important to learn how to do this in the correct order. If you thread an anchor incorrectly, you could drop your rope and be ‘stranded’ at the anchor, or even become completely detached from the bolts.

Sport anchors lowering chains

Sport Anchors: Lower, Abseil or Walk Off?

There are basically three ways to descend; walk off, lower or abseil (rappel). You will either lower or abseil to get down from most sport routes. Your choice largely depends on the type of anchor, how it is positioned and what you plan to do after the climb.

Lowering from a sport anchor is quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings and your rope. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

If the next climber is going to top-rope the route, you should make an anchor from your own gear and lower down from that.

If you are the last person to climb the route, you’ll need to clean all your gear from the anchor before you descend.

For anchors which are in a poor position for lowering or abseiling (e.g: far back across a ledge), it is much better to belay your partner from the top of the climb. You can then walk off.

Each of these scenarios requires a different anchor setup. These are described in the following articles.

Sport Anchors – Part 2 of 4 – Setting Up a Top Rope

'Sport Anchors - Setting Up a Top Rope' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb ebook

With the security of an anchored rope above, top-roping is the safest way to climb. A top-roped climber can rest on the rope whenever they are too tired to continue, safe in the knowledge that they will only fall a few inches. Top-roping is great for beginners, large groups or for experienced climbers who want to push their physical limits.

You Will Need:
* Four screwgate carabiners
* A cordelette/ long sling

Best Situation To Use this Method
- If the next climber will top rope the route

Step 1
After leading up to the anchor, clip a screwgate carabiner directly into each bolt. They will usually be better orientated if you clip them underneath the lowering rings.

Sport climbing top rope anchor

Step 2
Clip the sling or cordelette to both carabiners. Pull it down in the middle so both strands of sling are equal.

Sport climbing top rope cordelete anchor

Step 3
Tie an overhand knot in it.

Sport climbing top rope

This creates a central point.

Sport climbing top rope belay

Step 4
Clip two screwgate carabiners into the central point with their gates facing in opposite directions.

Sport climbing top roping

Step 5
Clip the rope through the carabiners from the back so the rope is coming out towards you.

Step 6
Ask your belayer to take you tight. You are now ready to lower and the top rope is set.

A more advanced, but often better, alternative is to use the quad anchor.

How to make a sport climbing top rope anchor

VDiff sport climbing book

Setting Up a Top Rope from Above

At some crags it is possible to set up a top-rope by walking to the top and equalizing anchor bolts or trees. Be careful when walking around the top of a crag un-roped. You may need to make an anchor further back from the cliff edge and then be put on belay while you set up the top-rope anchor.

If the bolts are set back on a ledge, or situated in a place which causes the rope to rub over an edge, you should extend the anchor and pad the edge.

Make sure to double up the slings or cordelettes which extend the anchor over the edge. An old piece of carpet, foam pads or garden hose pipes (without metal lining) make good padding.

How to make a top rope anchor climbing

Even if your anchor is bomber, extended and well padded, it is wise to check it periodically if it is being used repeatedly. Setting up a trad anchor using trees or other trad gear is explained here.

Sport Anchors – Part 3 of 4 – Cleaning the Anchor

This 'Clean a Sport Anchor' article is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb book

Cleaning a sport anchor means removing all of your gear from it. Three of the main ways to do this are described below.

Which you choose depends on the type of anchor and whether you plan to lower or abseil.

Types of climbing anchor

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 1

This method is suitable for anchors with a central point which is big enough to feed a bight of rope through. You will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:
* Two spare quickdraws
* One screwgate carabiner

Step 1
Clip your rope through a quickdraw on one of the anchor bolts.

How to clean a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 2
Clip another quickdraw into the other anchor bolt and clip it directly to your belay loop. Rest your weight on this quickdraw.

clean a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 3
Pull up a little slack and push a bight of the rope through the main anchor point as shown.

thread a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 4
Tie a figure-8 on the bight and clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

How to thread the rope through a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 5
Untie from the end of the rope.

How to clean a bolted anchor

Step 6
Pull the end of the rope through the main anchor point.

How to clean a bolted sport anchor

Step 7
Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

How to clean a sport climbing anchor

Step 8
Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

How to clean a sport anchor

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 2

Sometimes, you won’t be able to push a bight of rope through the anchor. This depends on the thickness of your rope and the type of anchor. In this case, you must use a slightly different method. As with method 1, you will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:
* Two spare quickdraws
* One screwgate carabiner

sport climbing anchor chains and bolts

Step 1
Clip two quickdraws into the anchor bolts; one clipped through the rope and the other clipped directly into your belay loop, just the same as method 1.

Rest your weight on the quickdraw.

How to clean a sport anchor

Step 2
Pull up some slack rope and tie a figure-8 on a bight. Clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

What to do at the top of a sport rock climb

Step 3
Untie from the end of the rope.

What to do at the top of a sport climb

Step 4
Feed the end of the rope through the main anchor point(s).

What to do at the top of a rock climb

Step 5
Tie in to the end of the rope.

threading rope through climbing anchor

Step 6
Remove the screwgate carabiner and untie the figure-8 on a bight.

threading rope through sport anchor

Step 7
Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

How to clean a sport route

Step 8
Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

How to clean a sport route anchor

VDiff sport climbing book

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Abseiling (Rappelling)

In most cases that you clean a sport anchor, you will lower down - this is much quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

You will need:
* A belay device with a screwgate carabiner
* A prusik cord with a screwgate carabiner
* Three spare carabiners (two of these must be screwgates)
* Two 60cm slings

Step 1
Girth-hitch both slings through your belay loop and attach them to the anchor bolts with screwgate carabiners.

You can now tell your belayer that you are ‘off belay’.

abseil from sport climb

Step 2
Pull up some slack and tie the rope to a carabiner. Clip this to your belay loop. You don’t necessarily need to use a screwgate carabiner here, and it doesn’t matter too much what knot you use. The point of this is so you can’t accidentally drop the rope during the following steps.

Some climbers clip this to a gear loop, since it will not be weighted. This is okay, but it’s possible to break your gear loop if the rope gets stuck on something, meaning that you would end up ‘stranded’ at the top of the climb without a rope.

rappel from a sport climb anchor

Step 3
Untie from the end of the rope.

How to abseil from climbing anchor

Step 4
Feed the end of the rope through the main anchor points.

Tying a knot in the end of the rope stops it from zipping through the anchor if you accidentally let go of it during the next step.

How to rappel from a sport anchor

Step 5
Remove the carabiner from your belay loop and untie the knot. Pull the rope down so that both ends are on the ground. Some ropes have a convenient middle marker to make this easier.

Ask your belayer to confirm that the ends are down. If the ends are only just down, or if you’re abseiling to an exposed ledge, you should tie knots in both ends of the rope. These knots stop you from accidentally abseiling off the end of the rope.

How to abseil from a sport anchor

Step 6
Attach your belay device and prusik to the rope.

How to rappel from a sport route anchor

Step 7
Weight your belay device to check the setup. Then remove the slings. You are now ready to abseil.

How to abseil from a sport route anchor

Cleaning Sport Anchors – Top Tips

* Always double-check the setup before you untie each knot. A mistake could be fatal.

* Make sure to communicate with your partner so they know if you plan to lower or abseil. If you plan to lower but your partner thinks you will abseil, they will take you off belay! Be clear about what you are doing.

* Look out for sharp edges beneath the anchor. Consider abseiling, rather than lowering, if your rope could run over a sharp edge.

* It’s important that you don’t add wear on the anchor rings by top-roping off them. Make sure to use your own screwgates and slings for top-roping so any wear is on your own gear rather than the rings.

* Always inspect the quality of the anchors and the rock around them before trusting your life to them.

* Never thread a rope directly through a bolt hanger. The square edges are likely to damage or cut your rope. Only thread your rope through round-edged metal.

Sport Anchors – Part 4 of 4 – Belaying from the Top

'Sport Climbing Anchors - Belaying from the Top' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff sport climbing book

For most sport climbs, you will belay from the bottom – just like you would at the indoor gym. However, you should belay from the top of the route when the anchor is in a poor position to lower from or abseil, or if you intend to walk off the top.

Step 1 - Equalize
Attach a cordelette to the anchor in the same way as if you were setting up a top rope.

How to set up sport climbing anchors

Step 2 - Attach
You'll need to attach yourself to the anchor in a way that you can see your partner as they follow the pitch and brace yourself if they fall. Once you are tight to the anchor, make sure you are positioned in a straight line between the central anchor point and the climber. You shouldn’t be pulled sideways if the climber falls.

You'll often need to extend your anchor to get into the optimal belay position. There are many ways to do this, each with their own advantages and limitations. The most common attachment and belay methods are described below.

belay position for sport climbing anchors

Step 3 - Choose a Belay Method
Pull up all the slack rope in the system until it's tight on your partner, then choose a method to belay them.

Three of the most common belaying methods are described below. It's important to understand the advantages and limitations of each, and be able to adapt these methods to suit any situation.

VDiff sport climbing book

Attaching to Sport Climbing Anchors

Method 1 - Clip Directly
Clip your belay loop into the central point directly with a screwgate carabiner.

- Simple

- No dynamic aspect to the anchor (using the rope is much better. See methods 2-4)
- Very difficult to adjust belay position

Best Situation to Use this Method
If extending the anchor with the rope would put you in a bad position to belay.

How to belay sport climbing

Method 2 - Tie to the Central Point
Tie your rope to the central point using a clovehitch. Then fine-tune your belay position by adjusting the clovehitch; just shuffle rope through and pull it tight. The rope between you and the central point will need to be fairly tight.

- Only uses a small amount of rope

- Belay position must be close to the central point

Best Situation to Use this Method
If the central point is within reasonable reach of your belay position (up to 2 meters or so).

How to attach to a climbing anchor

Method 3 - Loop Through the Central Point
Clip the rope through the screwgate on the central point, then walk to your belay position. Attach a screwgate to your rope loop and then clovehitch the rope to it.

- You can fine-tune your belay position without moving back to the anchor.

- Uses more rope and one extra screwgate than method 2

Best Situation to Use this Method
If the central point is out of reach from your belay position.

How to clip to a sport climbing anchor

Method 4 - Attaching Directly to the Bolts
Clovehitch the rope to both bolts, leaving a little slack between the two. Then clovehitch the rope to your rope loop with another screwgate.

- Equalizes two points
- Doesn’t require using a cordelette

- Must be close to the anchor in order to fine-tune your belay position.
- The central point is created at your belay loop. This means that you must belay directly from your harness (you can't use guide mode).

Best Situation to Use this Method
If you forget to bring a sling/cordelette.

How to clip to a climbing anchor

Sport Climbing Anchors: Belaying from the Top

Method 1 - Redirected Belay
Clip another screwgate carabiner to the central point and run your partners rope through this, then down to your belay device. You'll be able to belay as you normally would on a top rope.

Your belay device will need to be at least 1.5 meters away from the central point. This reduces the chance of you being sucked into it if your partner falls.

Also, make sure that the rope isn't rubbing against your attachment knot at the central point.

- Most of the weight of a falling climber is transferred to the anchor, not your harness.

- It's possible to get pulled into the central point if your partner falls, particularly if they are heavier than you. In this case, there is a real danger of losing control of the brake rope.

Best Situation to Use this Method
When you have a nice ledge to stand on and the central point is just above your head.

Indirect belaying redirected belay

Method 2 - Belay Directly from your Harness
Attach your belay device to either your belay loop or rope loop. This can be set up so the brake rope comes out of either the top or bottom of the belay device – choose whichever way is easier to lock off the brake rope.

In most situations, the weight of a falling climber will pull down from you, not up. Because of this, you will need to lock off upwards not downwards.

- You can use this method for almost every belay situation.

- If your partner falls, it's possible that their weight will pull uncomfortably on your harness or over your legs.

Best Situation to Use This Method
If you have used your rope to equalize the anchor.

Belaying directly from harness

Method 3 - Guide Mode
Some belay devices have a 'guide mode' function - they can be set up in a way which locks automatically if a climber falls. They can be used as a normal belay device too. Guide mode often works well on sport climbing anchors.

Read our article about how to use guide mode.

How to use guide mode climbing

Where to Put the Spare Rope

There are basically two options. Either stack it into a neat pile somewhere or stack it through a sling.

For the sling method, start by pushing a long loop of rope through the sling. Continue doing this, making smaller loops each time (bigger loops are more likely to get tangled into each other when you are belaying the leader on the next pitch).

However you choose to stack the rope, make sure it is within reach and that you can do it one-handed; you'll need to belay at the same time!

How to use guide mode climbing

Rope Loop or Belay Loop?

You can belay either from your belay loop or from your rope loop.

In some situations, using the rope loop can be more comfortable - it allows you to transfer the weight of a fallen climber onto the anchor, rather than having their weight pulling on your harness.

If you are unsure, just use your belay loop.

Belaying directly from harness

Sport Climbing – Lead Skills

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

VDiff sport climbing book

Lead climbing a sport route is similar to lead climbing at the indoor wall, but with a few more factors to consider.

Quickdraw Ends

Quickdraws have a bolt-end carabiner and a rope-end carabiner.

The rope-end carabiner usually has a curved gate and is 'held in' with an elastic or rubber loop.

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.

Leading climbing a sport route quickdraws

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.

Clipping rope to quickdraw carabiner

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.

Clipping rope to quickdraw lead climbing

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

Make sure you're comfortable clipping quickdraws with both hands, in either direction.

Clipping rope to carabiner

Reducing Rope Drag when Lead Climbing

You should use the correct length of quickdraw on each bolt so your rope runs as straight as possible without creating unnecessary fall potential.

If the bolts are in a fairly straight line, use short draws to limit your fall potential.

Leading a sport climb

If the route wanders a little, use longer draws on the bolts which are furthest from the center line. This keeps your rope running straight and therefore reduces rope drag.

Leading a sport climb

If a bolt is far to one side or underneath a roof, use an extendable quickdraw.

Leading a sport climb

When To Clip

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 hanging from a tiny hold on a bent arm.

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- you'll fall a lot further if you slip while clipping.

It is often safer to do one more move and then make the clip.

Leading a sport climb

Rope Position

When lead climbing above a quickdraw, make sure the rope is running to the side of your legs.

Sport climbing rope around leg

If you fall with the rope around your leg, it can flip you upside down, causing you to hit your head on the wall and get 'rope burn' behind your knee.

Climbing rope around leg

VDiff sport climbing book

Quickdraw Orientation

If you will be traversing far to the left after clipping a draw, it’s better to orientate it so the rope-end gate faces right, and vice versa.

If the gate faces in the same direction as you, there is a greater (but still very small) chance of the gate opening in a fall.

Sport climbing quickdraw direction

Back Clipping

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.

Sport climbing quickdraw backclip

If you clip it the wrong way round, the rope could snap through the carabiner's gate if you fall when lead climbing. 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!

Back clip climbing quickdraw backclip


A carabiner is ‘cross-loaded’ when it is loaded sideways. This makes the carabiner much weaker, meaning that it could break during a fall.

A common cross-loading situation is when the rope-end carabiner moves out of position. The rubber attachment is designed to stop this – check your draws to make sure the rubber is still intact.

Cross-Loading carabiners

Carabiners can also be cross-loaded over an edge of rock. Use a longer quickdraw to avoid this.

Cross-Loading carabiners over rock

Hooking Up

Hooking-up is when the square edge of a bolt hanger gets caught in the hook of a carabiner’s nose or the recess between the gate and the nose.

A hooked-up carabiner is extremely weak and could break during a fall.

hooked up carabiners

A carabiner with a hooked nose design, a shallow angled top bar or a recess between the gate and nose is more likely to get stuck in this orientation.

sport climbing carabiners

Check you have clipped each bolt correctly and avoid using carabiners with these features.

carabiners for sport climbing

Sticky Gates

Make sure the carabiner's gate has snapped shut after you've clipped the rope through it. If it stays open, the carabiner is just as weak as if it was cross-loaded.

This can happen if the gate is resting against a rock edge. Use a longer quickdraw.

Open carabiner

Stick Clipping

If there are hard moves with a bad landing before the first bolt, consider using a ‘stick clip’ to clip the first bolt.

Stick clipping climbing

Double Up

If clipping a critical bolt (e.g: when accidental unclipping would result in serious injury), it’s a good idea to clip two draws into the bolt, if they’ll fit.

Clip the longer draw on top so it won’t be loaded unless something goes wrong with the other one.

Alternatively, you could have a dedicated ‘critical’ quickdraw which has screwgates on either end.

Two quickdraws one bolt

Lead Climbing Runout Routes

Sport climbs are not always bolted as well as gym routes. Outside, bolts tend to be less evenly spaced, and further apart.

Unfortunately for the beginner, the easier routes at a crag are sometimes sparsely bolted. This is because they are considered as ‘warm ups’ and therefore the leader is unlikely to fall off. Try to stay away from runout routes when you’re starting out.

Be aware that some bolted routes are designed to be supplemented with trad gear to make them safe. You may also need trad gear to build an anchor at the top of these routes. These are not ‘sport’ routes. Make sure you know what you’re climbing before you leave the ground.

Nylon on Nylon

Never clip the lead rope through a carabiner which has a sling, cordelette or other nylon item attached.

If you fall, the rope will rub over the sling. This will damage the sling and also your rope.

nylon on nylon


If a climb is too difficult or dangerous, and you can’t reach the top, the easiest and safest way to bail is to leave carabiners on the top two bolts.

Simply replace your quickdraws on the highest two bolts with single carabiners. If a bolt is dubious, clip a third too.

Lower down and remove the rest of your quickdraws. It’ll cost you a couple of carabiners but it is far safer than lowering from a single bolt.

how to bail from sport climb

Sport Climbing – How To Descend

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

VDiff sport climbing e-book

Lower, Abseil or Walk Off?

There are basically three ways to descend; walk off, lower or abseil (rappel). You will either lower or abseil to get down from most sport routes. Your choice largely depends on the type of anchor, how it is positioned and what you plan to do after the climb.

Lowering from a sport anchor is quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings and your rope. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

If the next climber is going to top-rope the route, you should make an anchor from your own gear and lower down from that.

If you are the last person to climb the route, you’ll need to clean all your gear from the anchor before you descend.

For anchors which are in a poor position for lowering or abseiling (e.g: far back across a ledge), it is much better to belay your partner from the top of the climb. You can then walk off.

Walking Off

When walking off is a common descent method, there will usually be an established trail back to the base.

Make sure to always be securely connected while cleaning the anchor. You will often have to do a ‘mini pitch’ in order to reach safe walking terrain. If you plan to walk off, make sure to bring a couple of long slings so you can make an anchor (such as slings around a tree) for this purpose.

Best Situation To Walk Off
- When the anchor is situated in such a way which means lowering or abseiling would be difficult or dangerous (e.g: far back from the top of the crag or on a ledge covered in loose blocks).

Walking off the top of a sport climb

Lower Off

Lowering is the simplest method of descent.

You Will Need:
* Two spare quickdraws

Best Situation To Use this Method
- When someone else will lead the climb after you
- When you plan to leave all your quickdraws on the bolts for the next climber

Only lower down like this if you are leaving your quickdraws on the bolts in the pitch for someone else to lead next. The highest lead quickdraw acts as a back-up in case your anchor draws unclip as you descend. It is dangerous to lower down or top-rope from only two quickdraws. If you want to remove the quickdraws on your way down, you’ll need to either set up a top rope anchor or clean the anchor.

Step 1
Clip a quickdraw into each bolt. Make sure the rope-end carabiners have their gates facing outwards.

If there are chains or rings on the bolts, clipping your quickdraws underneath puts them in a better orientation.

Sport climbing anchor lowering chains

Step 2
Clip the rope through the quickdraws from the back so the rope is coming out towards you.

Sport climbing lowering chains

Step 3
Ask your belayer to take you tight. You are now ready to lower.

climbing anchor lowering chains

Removing Quickdraws

If you have cleaned the anchor, but your quickdraws are still in the route, you’ll need to retrieve them on your way down.

This is easy on a straight-lined, vertical route. Simply lower down and unclip them from the bolt and the rope.

The belayer will need to stop lowering you at each bolt so you have time to do this.

how to lower from a sport climb

Overhanging Routes
Removing quickdraws is more difficult on overhanging or traversing routes. To make it easier, clip one end of a quickdraw to your belay loop and the other end to the rope. This ‘lowering quickdraw’ keeps you in the same line as the route while you descend.

On your descent, unclip the lead quickdraws from the rope and then from the bolts.

lower from a sport climb

Removing the Last Quickdraw
Be careful when removing the last quickdraw. If you remove it in the same way as the others, you’ll swing out from the rock and pull your belayer with you.

Step 1
If it is a safe swing (i.e: you wouldn’t hit anything or anyone), unclip your lowering quickdraw from the rope and attach it directly to the bolt. Then allow your weight to hang on this quickdraw.

get down from a rock climb

Step 2
Remove the other quickdraw from the bolt and the rope.

Give your belayer time to take in the extra slack which is created.

how to get down after climbing up

Step 3
Remove the last quickdraw from the bolt.

To make this easier, use holds on the rock to pull yourself in. Be ready to swing out!

how to lower from top when climbing

Be careful when removing the last quickdraw. If you remove it in the same way as the others, you’ll swing out from the rock and pull your belayer with you.

how to descend from a climb

Make sure the swing is safe.

how to get down from a sport climb

If it isn’t a safe swing, lower to the ground as shown below, and then climb up to retrieve the quickdraw.

This works best if you have a bouldering pad and the first bolt isn’t very high.

how to come down from a sport climb

Clipping into Quickdraws
If you have top-roped an overhanging or traversing route, and someone else wants to top-rope after you, you’ll need to clip the rope to some of the quickdraws on your way down as ‘directionals’. These directionals stop the next climber from swinging wildly across the rock if they fall.

Simply clip your rope into the quickdraws as you lower. Depending on the route, you may need to clip them all, or just a couple.

Sport climbing how to get down

Pulling the Rope Down
Untie any knots from the rope before you pull it down.

Shout 'rope' before it falls so everyone around you is expecting it – a falling rope in the head hurts!

Pull the rope so the falling end drops down through the quickdraws (if you are leaving them in). This will slow it down and make it safer.

Sport climbing anchors

VDiff sport climbing book

Extending the Anchor

Never connect quickdraws together like this.

If you need to extend the anchor for lowering or any other reason, make sure to use a sling or cordelette instead, as described here.

clipping quickdraws together


The following description is for abseiling on a single rope where the descent is less than half of your rope’s length. For longer abseils, you’ll need two ropes. Learn more about abseiling.

Best Situations To Abseil
- If the lowering rings are already showing signs of wear (Abseiling puts much less wear on the rings than lowering).
- If your rope would rub across rough edges when lowering.

Attaching Your Belay Device and Prusik

Step 1
Attach yourself to the anchor and feed the rope through the main abseil point, as shown.

Attaching to a climbing anchor

Step 2
Clip your belay device to your belay loop with a screwgate (don’t lock it yet).

Climbing belay device

Step 3
Pull up about a meter of both strands of rope.

It will be heavy, so step on it to create slack so it’s easier to clip in.

Climbing rope ready to abseil rappel

Step 4
Push the ropes through your belay device making sure it is orientated the correct way up.

Attach belay device to climbing harness

Step 5
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.

Attach belay device to climbing harness for abseil

Step 6
Lean into the anchor and pull any slack rope through your belay device.

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.

Attaching belay device to climbing harness

Step 7
For most abseils, it's wise to backup with a prusik knot. A correctly tied prusik will auto-lock if you let go of the ropes.

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 knot is away from the ropes.

How to make a prusik cord

Step 8
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.

Prusik Too Long?
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.

How to attach belay device to climbing harness

Abseiling - Check The System

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

How to abseil rappel infographic

Abseiling - The Descent

Step 1
With one hand holding both ropes in the lock-off position, unclip your slings from the anchor.

You can clip them out of the way on the back of your harness.

How to abseil from a sport climb

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.

How to rappel from a sport climb

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.

It takes a little practise, but you'll soon be able to figure out how fast to feed the rope while staying in control.

Descend from a sport climb

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. Keep going until you've reached the ground.

Abseil from a sport climb

Step 5
Remove your abseil device, unfasten any knots from the ends of the rope and pull down on one side.

Keep an eye on the other end of the 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 people who are nearby. Be aware that the falling rope may bring down loose rock with it.

Abseiling from a sport climb

Abseiling - Top Tips

- Look out for ledges, trees, chimneys or anything you might abseil into on your descent.

- If your rope is stuck, stop just above it and allow your prusik knot to tighten. Make sure to keep hold of the ropes with one hand while you untangle them.

- Be aware of where your rope is (above and below you). Make sure it isn't rubbing over loose rock or sharp edges.

- You can only abseil half of the total length of rope that you have, so keep this in mind before climbing up.

- Be aware of rocks which may get dislodged when you pull your ropes down.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing

'Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb e-book book

A multi-pitch route is one that is split into two or more pitches. This may be because it is longer than your rope, or it could be a wandering route that would involve a lot of rope drag if climbed as a single pitch.

Due to the length and complexity of multipitch routes, you should develop your problem solving and self-rescue skills before embarking on this kind of adventure. Learn more about problem solving.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: What To Bring

On long multi-pitches, it's wise to bring the following equipment in addition to everything you would normally take on a single pitch.

Extra Climbing Gear
You’ll need two anchor kits for a multi-pitch route. Make sure you bring:
- Two cordelettes/ long slings
- At least six spare screwgates
- Two belay devices

If the descent from your route involves abseiling, make sure to bring ATC style belay devices and prusik cords.

Route Description
On a single pitch, it's easy to remember where to climb. However, on a multi-pitch you may have forgotten the details by pitch six, particularly if two different routes branch off the same anchor.

Bringing the whole guidebook is a bit excessive. But a route description (or topo), neatly folded in your pocket, will help show you the way.

Multi pitch climbing

Any comfortable all-cotton clothes will suffice for single pitch cragging, especially venues with a short approach. For multi-pitch routes, or for any climbs with a long approach, wearing synthetic clothing is a better choice. Synthetics insulate much better than cotton in wet or cold environments.

If you expect cold temperatures, bring a pair of gloves so you can belay with warm hands and then take them off to climb. A thin hat that fits under your helmet is a very lightweight way of keeping you warm too. If the descent is long, it's nice to bring a comfy pair of shoes.

A warm/waterproof jacket, or even a thin wind-proof layer, can make multi-pitches more comfortable when it gets windy and the sun disappears, especially for the belayer.

Down jackets are a poor choice unless you’re climbing in dry climates below freezing. Most down jackets will repel a small amount of moisture, but the feathers will clump together in a storm and you’ll freeze. They also tend to rip very easily on rock.

Headlamps are essential on long multi-pitches. Finishing a climb, or trying to descend in the dark can be incredibly difficult and dangerous.

The VDiff team once got stuck 200 meters up a multi-pitch in the dark with no food, water, jackets or headlamps. It was a long, cold night.. Read the full story here.

Food and Water
If your multi-pitch is likely to take more than a few hours, consider bringing food and water to snack on at the belays. Many routes have luxury belay ledges, so if you're not in a rush, why not have a vertical picnic?

Extra Rope
You’ll need to bring a second rope if your route involves an abseil descent where the anchors are more than half of your rope’s length apart (i.e: you can only abseil 35 meters with a 70 meter rope). You will also need a second rope if climbing as a team of three.

All this stuff can be put into a small backpack and carried by the second.

Depending on the route and your tolerance of suffering, you may not need any of it. For routes that are difficult to return to the base, you'll need to bring everything up the route with you. Plan before you go.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Belay Changeovers

Efficient belay changeovers will speed up your ascent, making you less likely to get benighted or stranded in a storm.

Sometimes the more experienced climber will lead every pitch. Other times, each climber will choose which pitches they prefer. A common tactic is to swing leads (lead alternate pitches). Be aware that easier pitches may be runout.

Swinging leads is the most efficient. The rope is already stacked with the new leader’s end on top and the gear from the previous pitch will be racked on their harness.

It’s much more efficient if both climbers can go hands-free during the changeover. How you do this depends on who will lead the next pitch. Two methods are described below.

Hands-Free Method 1 – Tie-Off Your Belay Device

The Overhand Tie-Off
If alternating leads, the easiest method is to tie-off your belay device. Tie a simple knot (such as an overhand) in the rope beneath your belay device. If the climber falls, the knot will jam into the belay device and stop them.

When the leader is ready to climb, simply unfasten the knot and they will be on belay immediately.

This works well if there is a small ledge to stand on. If not, you may prefer to attach to the central point with a sling.

Multi-pitch sport climbing

The Releasable Tie-Off
The above method of tying off a belay device works well for most belay changeovers.

However, if the rope becomes weighted when using this method (e.g: if the leader falls), it will be almost impossible to release the tie-off.

If there is any chance of this happening, you should instead use a releasable knot.

Multipitch sport climbing tie-off belay device

Hands-Free Method 2 – Attach to the Central Point

If the same person is leading every pitch, the second will have to attach to the central point. They can do this in the same way as the leader.

Use separate screwgates to attach the second's rope to the central point(s). When they are attached, they can be taken off belay.

Remember - The leader will need to be put on belay before they detach from the anchor.

Multipitch sport climbing

VDiff sport climbing book

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Leaving the Belay

It's a good idea for the leader to clip an anchor bolt as their first piece of gear. This eliminates the chance of a factor two fall.

It's also much easier for the belayer to hold a fall this way.

Learn more about fall factors.

Multipitch sport climbing belay

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Rope Management

Stacking or coiling the rope neatly so it doesn’t tangle is important on multipitches. If the belay ledge has a flat area, simply stack the rope onto it in a place where it won’t slide off.

If there isn’t a suitable area to put the rope, you can stack it in neat coils across the rope which goes between your harness and the anchor (lap coils).

Alternatively, stack it through a sling. Either way, the first coils should be the longest, with progressively smaller coils added on top. This ensures the rope feeds out well on the next pitch.

If it is windy or there are bushes or loose rock below you, make sure to keep the coils short enough so they don’t get stuck.

Multipitch sport climbing coiling rope

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Time Budget

Make a realistic estimate of how long the route might take. Figure out what time you need to have finished the route (to avoid thunderstorms or darkness etc..) and then work backwards from there.

Break the climb down into pitches and figure out how long each one will take. Remember to add time for approaching and descending the route and for belay changeovers. Be conservative with your estimations – it’s much easier to lose time than gain it.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Retreat Options

As part of your time budget, it’s smart to figure out places where you can switch to an easier route if you are running low on time, or places where you could easily descend without leaving most of your slings and carabiners behind.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Teams of Three

In most situations, a pair of climbers is faster than a team of three. But having someone to chat with at the belay makes climbing as a three more social.

It also means you have an extra person to help carry the gear and lead some of the harder pitches. There are many ways to connect three climbers to the rope. Two popular methods are described here.

Caterpillar Style

Step 1
The leader climbs a pitch with one rope.

Multipitch sport climbing three people

Step 2
The second climber follows on that rope, but trails another rope (Both ropes are tied into the harness tie-in points).

The second climber unclips the quickdraws from the first rope and clips it to the second rope beneath them. This ensures the third climber is protected from a swinging fall if the pitch traverses.

If the pitch is straight up, the second climber could remove the gear.

climbing multipitch sport climbing

Step 3
When the second climber has reached the belay, the third climber starts up.

The third climber removes the gear as they follow on the second rope.

climbing multipitch with three people

Double Rope Style

Step 1
The leader climbs with both ropes. They clip alternate quickdraws to each rope.

The leader can be belayed by both climbers with a GriGri each, or by one climber with an ATC.

Three person multi pitch climbing

Step 2
The second and third climbers follow, keeping around 5 meters apart from each other, while the leader belays them both at the same time.

It is highly recommended to belay with an auto-blocking belay device directly from the anchor, such as an ATC in guide mode.

When communicating, finish the command with the rope colour, so the belayer knows which rope you mean (e.g: slack on red rope!).

Multi pitch climbing

Common Mistake
Clipping both ropes into a carabiner causes the ropes to rub against each other if a climber falls while leading or following.

This could damage your rope or even cut through the sheath.

two ropes in one carabiner

If you need to clip both ropes to a bolt (e.g: to protect both followers on a traverse), use two quickdraws of different lengths as shown.

These quickdraws are then removed by the third climber.

clipping two ropes to one bolt

Multi-Pitch Abseils

Attaching to the Anchor

Attach to the next anchor with two slings girth-hitched to your harness.

You can attach to the chains or the bolts to save space for your partner.

Multipitch sport climbing abseiling rappel

If there is only space for one climber to attach, the other climber can clip directly into their partner’s screwgates as shown. However, this means that the climber who descended last must descend first on the next abseil.

Multipitch sport climbing rappel abseil

Removing your Belay Device

Once securely attached to the next anchor, you can remove your belay device as follows:

Step 1
Unfasten the screwgate. Unclip the device’s cable and both ropes from it.

Step 2
Re-clip the cable. This ensures that you can’t drop it.

removing belay device

Step 3
Pull the ropes out of the device.

climbing harness and belay device

Threading Ropes

Thread the rope through the next anchor and tie a stopper knot in it before you pull it down.

Tie the stopper knot big enough so that it cannot fit through the main abseil point. This ensures that you cannot lose your ropes.

Alternatively, tie the rope to yourself so it cannot be dropped.

thread climbing rope through anchor

How To Be a Better Belayer

'How To Be a Better Belayer' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb e-book book

Just as people pick up ‘bad habits’ after they pass their driving test, climbers often get lazy with belaying once they have learnt the basics. Here are some tips to keep your climbing partners alive.

Watch and Listen

Keep an eye on the climber so you can brace yourself if they fall, or give slack at the exact same time as they are clipping a high piece. If you can’t see the climber, listen for commands from them and watch for movements in the rope.

Pay special attention when the leader is clipping the rope into a quickdraw. The extra bit of slack you have out makes the leader vulnerable to a longer fall if they slip just before making the clip.

You cannot give complete attention to the climber if you are talking to someone else. Likewise, avoid starting a conversation with someone who is belaying, and walk well around them so you don’t compromise their belay.

How to be a better belayer rock climbing

Don't Let Go of the Rope

Sounds obvious, but it's amazing how many experienced climbers let go of the brake rope for a brief moment while belaying. 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.

This is a common problem with assisted-braking belay devices, where people get comfortable using them and forget that they do not always auto-lock.

The bottom line: If the climber falls while the belayer’s hand is loose or off the rope, they probably won’t catch the fall.

Bad belaying

VDiff sport climbing book

Be Ready

You should stand in a "ready" position, so that if your climber falls or needs some help, you can react quickly to the situation.


Let the climber know about any dangers or mistakes they are making. Look out for back-clips, if their leg is around the rope or if they should extend a quickdraw.

Keep an Appropriate Amount of Slack

When lead belaying, the rope should always travel outwards and upwards from your belay device to the first piece of gear. Lazy belayers often give too much slack so they can wait longer before having to deal with the rope again.

This can be incredibly dangerous for the leader. Take and give slack as your climber moves to maintain the correct arc in your rope.

When top rope belaying, keep the rope fairly tight on the first few moves so the climber doesn’t hit the ground if they fall.

How to belay better

Close the System

If you are not certain how long a pitch is, or how long your rope is, you should tie into the bottom end of the rope. This ‘closes’ the system.

When the climber is tied to one end, and the belayer is tied to the other, it is impossible to lower the climber off their end.

Alternately, tie a knot in the free end of the rope.

Close the system climbing


At a busy crag, the climber and belayer should call each other by name. This confirms that any shouted commands are actually meant for them.

You won’t always be able to see or hear your partner very well. Shout the climbing commands loudly to be clear.

You and your partner should have a pre-arranged signalling system for situations where you can’t hear each other.

One common method is for the leader to give three sharp tugs on the rope to signal they are off belay. The belayer then gives three sharp tugs back to let them know they are about to be taken off belay.

The problem with this method is that it is possible to mistake a leader’s jerky movements or tugs for slack as the off-belay signal. If there’s rope drag it can be even more difficult to decipher these movements in the rope.

Keep the climber on belay until you’re certain they are safe. When you feel the same signal repeated many times, you’ll know what the leader is trying to say.

The bottom line: Never take someone off belay until you’re sure they are off.

Stay in Position

You should stand in a position fairly close to the wall where you can take a few steps forward or backward to give slack or take in while still locked off. Don't sit down, lie down, or face in the wrong direction.

If the climber is to the left of the first piece of gear, you should stand to the right to avoid being hit by rocks, dropped gear or their feet.

How to belay rock climbing

Soft Catches

On steep routes, a ‘soft catch’ is a common technique which makes the fall much more comfortable for the leader and stops them from slamming into the rock when the rope gets tight. The leader will fall further during a soft catch, so make sure to only use this technique on steep, overhanging routes where you are certain the leader cannot hit anything.

To soften a fall, belay with your knees bent. Straighten them during a catch, allowing the weight of the falling climber to pull you upwards slightly. You could even take a small hop just as the rope begins to pull tight.

However, there are many situations where a dynamic belay is unsafe; A lightweight belayer might be pulled upward into a roof or a piece of gear which could disengage a belay device, or the extra rope could cause the leader to hit a ledge or the ground. Watch your partner carefully and learn to recognize how much of a dynamic belay (if any) is appropriate.

Soft catch belaying rock climbing

Weight Differences

If the climber weighs more than the belayer, a fall usually lifts the belayer into the air, naturally softening the fall for the climber. However, if the climber weighs significantly more, a fall could cause the belayer to slam into the rock or be ‘sucked in’ to the first piece of gear. There is a real danger of losing control of the belay if this happens.

To combat this, the lightweight belayer can anchor to the ground. This technique, however, reduces the belayer’s ability to move around the base of the route and give a soft catch.

A good compromise is to attach to a ground anchor with enough slack to move around and give a soft catch if needed, but not so much slack that you would be sucked into the first piece of gear.

Belaying rock climbing

Belaying Runout Routes

On ‘runout’ routes where a fall onto a ledge or the ground is possible, the belayer can run backwards away from the route if the leader falls. Remember to keep both hands on the rope in the locked-off position as you do so. This takes rope out of the system far quicker than pulling slack through a belay device, which means the leader will fall less distance.

This technique is best used on sport routes, rather than trad, since it puts a lot more force on the top piece of gear and could 'pluck' out the bottom piece. It results in an uncomfortable, abrupt fall, but it is far better than hitting the ground.

Routes like these, however, are best avoided.

Belaying a runout rock climb

Before the First Piece of Gear

Before the leader reaches their first piece of gear, you'll need to 'spot' them, just the same as if they were bouldering.

Make sure to have enough slack in the rope so they can climb up to their first piece.

Spotting rock climbing

Belayer Check

Make it a habit to check yourself and your partner before each climb.

rock climbing safety checks

Attaching to the Anchor – Slings, Daisy Chains and Common Mistakes

'Slings, Daisy Chains and Common Mistakes' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb e-book book

Attaching to the Anchor: The Top Shelf

To free up space at the central point, you can clip in to the ‘top shelf’ of the cordelette. This is useful when:
- Belaying in guide mode
- Using a redirected belay
- There will be more than one other climber attaching to the central point

Step 1
Cinch the cordelette tight and attach a screwgate to the central point. This ensures the knot cannot roll.

Step 2
Clip each individual loop of the cordelette with another screwgate.

top shelf climbing anchor

Step 3
Attach yourself to the screwgate.

cordelette top shelf climbing anchor

Make sure you have clipped through each cordelette strand individually.

top shelf of a cordelette

It is dangerous to clip around the strands as shown.

clipping the top shelf climbing anchor

If one part of the anchor fails, you will become completely detached.

clipping the top shelf of a cordelette

VDiff sport climbing book

Attaching to the Anchor: Slings, PAS and Daisy Chains

Slings are designed to be used with a dynamic rope in the system to lessen the impact on them.

Much higher forces can be generated when they are used alone.

rock climbing sling

Personal Anchor Systems
A Personal Anchor System (PAS) is a series of very short sewn slings connected in a chain-link-style. They are designed as an idiot-proof anchor attachment. Once girth hitched to your harness, any part of the PAS can be clipped to an anchor to provide a full strength attachment.

personal anchor system climbing

Attaching to the Anchor
It's only safe to attach yourself to an anchor with a sling or a PAS if you won't be moving above it (such as when setting up an abseil).

If you fall when above an anchor (even if you are only a foot above), unusually large forces will be generated. This is because slings do not absorb much energy – think of it as similar to falling when attached to a length of steel cable. You can damage internal organs with just a 10kN force – falling onto a sling directly is likely to be much higher than this.

It could also break the sling, or the anchor. If there is any chance that you will move sideways or above the anchor, make sure to attach to it with the rope.

attaching to a climbing anchor with slings

Daisy Chains
Daisy chains look and function in a similar way to the PAS, but they are only full strength when clipped end-to-end.

daisy chain climbing

The stitching between loops on daisy chains is very low strength.

If you connect to an anchor by clipping a carabiner through two consecutive loops, the stitching could break, causing you to become completely detached from the anchor.

how not to use daisy chains climbing

Adjustable daisy chains are not full strength (usually rated to around 5kN) and should never be used as your primary anchor attachment.

adjustable daisy chain

Attaching to the Anchor: Common Mistakes

Tying Clovehitches on Snapgates
Part of the clovehitch could easily snap through the gate, making the knot useless. Never tie clovehitches on snapgate carabiners. Use a screwgate, or two opposite and opposed snapgates (see below) instead.

clove hitch rock climbing

Too Many Knots on one Carabiner
This is bad because:
- If the blue rope is weighted, it will be impossible to remove the green rope.
- If the green rope is a climber’s attachment point and you open the gate to remove the blue rope, the climber will only be attached by an open carabiner – this is very dangerous.

If you need to attach more than one knot to an anchor, use a separate screwgate for each.

clovehitches climbing

Non-Equalized Anchor Attachment
If one bolt fails, everything will swing onto the other bolt. This presents a real danger of losing control of the belay.

It is much safer to equalize the anchor as shown here.

bolted anchor climbing

Clipping Snapgates Together
A slight twist can cause the carabiner’s gate to open.

Instead, use a quickdraw, sling or screwgate carabiner depending on the situation.

clipping snapgate carabiners together

Attaching to the Anchor: No Screwgates?

If you need a screwgate but don’t have one, you can use two ‘opposite and opposed’ snapgates instead. This is useful in situations such as attaching to an anchor.

opposed carabiners

This is a common incorrect carabiner alignment. If one carabiner flips around, both gates could be pushed open at the same time.

opposite and opposed carabiners