How to Start Climbing (Part 1)

Everyone knows climbing is totally badass. Climbers often describe the process the process of learning to climb as actually just remembering how much fun it is to climb things – we knew it as children.

The process of getting into climbing, however, can be quite daunting: complex gear, many different styles and dealing with heights and falls.

The truth is, today in most places climbing is extremely accessible and you can start with very little gear, knowledge and still be comfortable with your safety.

Really the best advice to start climbing is: just start.

First Things First: The Shoes

A pair of rock shoes are the only piece of gear you actually really need to climb. Just ask Alex Honnold.

Rock shoes are tight-fitting, thin shoe with a smooth rubber sole. Most climbing gyms insist you wear them. Most climbing gyms also usually offer shoe hire, meaning you don’t need to purchase a pair for yourself right away. However, the quality of gym shoes is usually pretty low and you will find climbing much easier if you buy your own.

Indoors Bouldering

A Bouldering Wall
A Bouldering Wall photo by Kumpei Shiraishi

Bouldering is a style of climbing done on low-height walls over a thick padded floor. As such, you do not need a rope or a harness. Bouldering climbs are usually shorter and stronger: they focus on an explosive use of power, as opposed to a long wall climb.

Bouldering can be an excellent way to get into climbing as you don’t need a partner, can spend more time on the wall during a climbing session, requires little gear and bouldering will force you to develop good technique from the start.

Google bouldering gyms in your area and just show up!

Getting on a Rope: Top-Roping

Toproping in a Gym.
Toproping in a Gym. Photo by Peter Stevens

Do you want to get higher? Top-roping is an easy way to learn larger climbs in a gym setting. For this you will need climbing shoes, a climbing harness and (most likely) a carabiner. Again, all these items can usually be hired from a climbing gym.

Top-roping requires a partner to belay you as you climb. Belaying is the process of taking up the slack so if the climber falls, they won’t fall far. The belayer is responsible for catching them. Most gyms introduce friction into the top-ropes, making belaying simple and quite safe. Gyms will usually run an induction session with you if it is your first time. You shouldn’t need to undertake any courses or have any knowledge, prior to going climbing for the first time.

If you don’t have another person to climb with check the gym notice boards, or ask about local facebook groups. Usually, there are many people looking for climbing partners. Also, more and more gyms are introducing auto-belay systems, where you can top-rope without a partner.

The holds and routes on bigger walls are “easier” than those you may find bouldering, but the endurance (mental and physical), and the act of climbing at height make bigger walls just as challenging: just in a different way.

Top-roping and bouldering will give you all the skills you need to have a solid foundation in climbing.


Why Climb?

We know climbing is rad. That’s pretty much reason enough for most of us. Sometimes it seems, however, that there is no real “point” to climbing. If you ever feel this way, at your lowest times, here we ask the question – Why Climb?

Well, listen to the following inspirational words from some famous dudes about why we climb:

Firstly, did you know, JFK’s famous speech about going to the moon, is actually about climbing? The Moon was just a metaphor for sending the gnar…

Yep. Think about it.

Next up, word from probably the most famous rock climber around right now, Alex Honnold…

Equally inspiring is fellow North Face dude, Cedar Wright’s take on the benefits of suffering…

And finally, a rad video from the guys at Cotswold…

Why do you Climb?