Few sports offer the kind of excitement you’d expect from rock climbing, whether on an indoor climbing wall or scaling a mountain. It also means that it can seem like an intimidating sport to try, with far greater risks than something like running or cycling. Getting involved can also be a trickier prospect, whether it’s figuring out where to do it or buying the kit you’ll need.
But if you can overcome those small obstacles, rock climbing offers a fun and safe way to make friends and stay fit. It also opens up a whole new way to enjoy the outdoors, adding a dose of adrenaline and rewarding you with fantastic views – if you get high enough.
The key for beginners venturing into the world of rock climbing is to learn the ropes – literally. The best way to do this is to find a qualified instructor who can teach you the basics of safety. Once you’ve mastered the basics, there’s a wealth of information available online, from tutorials to YouTube videos covering specific aspects of developing your skills.
In this guide, we’ll go over some of the most important information for beginners looking to get into rock climbing.
Introduction to rock climbing
Your local indoor climbing wall is a great place to start climbing and means you can learn the basics in a safe and fun environment. Bouldering – low-level climbing without ropes – is a good way to start honing the necessary skills, and all you need is a pair of climbing shoes and some chalk. Most walls have shoes for rent, so you don’t need to invest in a pair until you feel ready.
If you want to try indoor climbing with ropes, you will also need a harness, which can also be rented at most climbing centers. Your local site may also be able to provide you with an instructor to learn the basics, such as attaching to the rope and belaying your partner.
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) has a number of resources to help you get started, including find the nearest climbing wall (opens in a new tab).
Move from interior walls to exterior
Climbing indoors is a lot of fun and many people prefer to stick to those walls rather than heading for the great outdoors. For many, however, the prospect of climbing real rock is the end goal. To do this, you will need to make some adjustments. Besides needing a specialized kit, you’ll need to add a few more skills to your repertoire. One of the best ways to make the transition is to join a local mountaineering club where you can find support and advice from like-minded people. You can also book an instructor for a group initiation session.
Find an instructor
When looking for tips to improve your skills, you should make sure to hire a qualified rock climbing instructor or climbing development instructor. You will find them via the Mountain training association (opens in a new tab). If you want to do something a little more adventurous like a multi-pitch course, you’ll need a mountaineering and climbing instructor (opens in a new tab) or one British mountain guide (opens in a new tab). For indoor training, hire a qualified rock climbing instructor.
You can also consider attending events like the Arc’teryx Lakeland Academy (opens in a new tab). This annual weekend event aims to educate and share skills so climbers can safely enjoy the cliffs. It includes clinics for complete beginners and holds several women-only sessions. It’s friendly, inclusive and has a low-key, welcoming festival vibe. It’s also a great way to try out the kit for free before making expensive purchases.
where and when to go
The UK is full of great places to climb, from multi-pitch multi-pitch mountain routes to single-pitch roadside rocks and sea cliffs. You can also climb on all types of rocks and do sport and traditional climbing. For beginners, the best time to climb is in the spring and fall and you should always aim to go in dry weather.
Essential Climbing Kit
If you are new to rock climbing, check with your instructor what they offer. For your first few times, you can get away with climbing in your sneakers, but if you get into it, you’ll want to buy some rock shoes. You will also need a helmet, harness, belay device and at least some chalk. If you really get into it, rock climbing is a great hobby for gear junkies, with kit and upgrades galore.
Always be sure to wear something comfortable, loose, or stretchy enough to allow plenty of freedom of movement. Even in the summer a few extra layers are a good idea as there will be times of the day when you are not moving and the cliff can be windy or shaded.
Climbing tips for beginners
Certain techniques can make climbing easier for beginners, and ensuring you move efficiently can save energy and help you feel more confident. We spoke to Katy Whittaker, an elite level climber and Arc’teryx ambassador, for her top tips for beginners.
- Rock climbing may seem like upper body strength – which can seem like a daunting prospect – but it actually requires a lot of technique rather than pure strength.
- Focus on your feet first. Be sure to place them carefully on the best grips you can find and keep your weight on them.
- Always think about the position of your hips – try moving into different positions so you know which ones make the movements easier or more difficult. Try moving your hips from side to side and moving in and out of the wall.