Climbing for beginners: How to start

So you have been thinking for a while about giving this climbing thing a go, and you’ve even talked your friend/colleague/significant other into trying it with you, but you just don’t know where to start and what to expect? Then this post is for you.

Going climbing for the first time can be quite daunting, especially if you decide to go on your own. Just like any other sport, being a beginner among experienced athletes takes a little bit of courage. But fear not – it isn’t hard to learn the basics, and if you go on a group induction you will not be the only beginner. Safety in numbers always helps!

Ropes or bouldering?

First of all, you need to decide if you want to try top rope climbing or bouldering.

Climbing with ropes involves wearing a harness, tying yourself into the rope and being belayed by a partner at the bottom as you climb up, to keep you safe if you fall off the wall and lower you down when you are finished with the climb. Usually, you would have to do a course to learn about all the safety requirements and set you up for climbing with ropes by yourself in the future.

You will learn how to put on a harness, tie yourself in, belay and climber and lower them off.

If you don’t have a partner for this, don’t worry, because the sessions are always in a group, so you will have partners to work with. But be prepared that this will test your ability to keep a cool head at height, so if you have a fear of heights you may find it a little harder.

Bouldering, on the other hand, is something you can do alone, and you don’t need to learn as much before giving it a go.

If you are a complete beginner, you will still need to do an induction. An instructor at the gym will show you around and explain the rules and best practices to keep safe. From then on you can climb by yourself indoors.

What do I need to bring?

You don’t need to purchase any equipment before you go for your first session, because you can borrow everything at the gym.

Dress in comfortable clothes that you would normally wear to the gym or to yoga, something stretchy that you can move around in freely.

First thing first, you will need a pair of climbing shoes, which the gym will provide for you at an extra cost (usually something like £2.50). They will explain to you how to choose a good fit: usually these shoes are much tighter than what you are used to. If you are borrowing shoes, it is probably best to wear socks, though once you buy your own pair you will most likely wear them on bare feet for better performance and fit.

You will also benefit from using chalk for your hands, to stop them from getting sweaty and slipping off holds, and this is also something you can rent at the gym. It comes in a chalk bag, which you can either wear around your waste, or place on the floor if you are bouldering.

If you are climbing ropes, you will also need to rent a harness and a belay device – something you use when you are belaying your climbing partner up and down climbs. All these usually come included in the price of an induction session, and the instructor will show you how to wear and use them. You will not be able to go climbing on ropes until you have been shown all the safety requirements, so there is really very little opportunity to mess this up!

That’s it – you can go climb!

Check out my post on London’s best climbing gyms here.

Finding climbing partners

Some people end up sticking with bouldering once they try out climbing, because it’s easier to fit it around your schedule. You do not have to rely on climbing partners, because you do not need a belayer.

For roped climbing, you will always need to be in a pair. However, there are auto-belays in many gyms which allow you to climb longer routes without a human belayer using a special mechanism that takes in rope slack when you climb up, and controls the descent when you reach the top or fall in the middle.

If you don’t have a partner, it is no reason to despair! There are many climbing clubs across the UK which welcome new climbers, and many gyms will help you find a climbing partner once you begin roped climbing. You will also meet people on the climbing course that you can pair up with later.

The bottom line is, go out there and give it a go!

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