The Complete Guide on How to Rock Climb

Rock climbing is a thrilling and unique sport. Nothing else can offer the exhilaration that comes from knowing how far off the ground you are, clinging to the natural edges of a rock wall with nothing but your own strength. It’s a feeling that I just can’t seem to get over no matter how many times I do it, and I can’t escape the grip that this activity has on my life. Learning how to rock climb was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Nevertheless, there were a lot of things I had to figure out on my own when I first started, and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way. Because of that, I wanted to create this “database” to teach you many of the things I’ve learned over the years to help you when you’re first starting out.

Ratings and Types of Climbing

man bouldering in the sunrise

Starting with the basics, it’s good to have an idea of what you’re getting into before you try climbing for the first time. How do you know what difficulty is right for you? What’s the difference between sport climbing and top rope?

If ratings systems have confused you for a long time, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Everything from the Yosemite Decimal System to the V-Scale, we’ll go in depth on what each rating means and how you know what to climb for your skill level.

Climbing Terms and Jargon

Climbers can say a lot of things that sound strange to the untrained ear. Is a bight of rope the amount you can fit in your mouth? Those people who talk about campusing…are they climbing at the local university?

Trust me, I know how confusing “climber talk” can be when you’re new to the sport. If someone asks you for beta, or if you were able to redpoint a route, you’ll probably look like you have no idea what they’re talking about. Asking for definitions can be embarrassing, which is why I put together a dictionary of the most common climbing terms and jargon that I’ve heard over the years.

How Many Calories Does Climbing Burn?

Perhaps not vital information on “how to go climbing,” the question of calories burned is nevertheless a topic that many of you are probably curious about. After all, climbing is fun and a good way to relieve stress, but one of the main reasons why we move our bodies in the first place is to stay in shape.

Activity Comparison

To get a better grasp of how beneficial climbing is for your health, I’ve compared it with a few other common activities in terms of how many calories are burned every half hour.

calories burned infographic


Based off the data shown above, it’s pretty clear that climbing is one of the best forms of exercise out there. Not only does it burn a crazy amount of calories, but it also helps you build strength, work on balance, and overcome fears and mental challenges. It’s the ultimate, all encompassing sport.

It is worth noting that climbing only burns 350 calories in half an hour if you’re climbing for the full 30 minutes. Climbing for 10 minutes, taking a break, and then finishing off the half hour with another climb doesn’t cut it, if you’re looking to get that level of calorie burn. So for a more accurate result, it might be more beneficial to track the total number of minutes you were actively climbing. According to various studies, if you multiply that number by 8-10, you’ll have your total number of calories burned.

Other Factors

Rock climbing is a sport centered around pulling yourself up a vertical rock face. As such, it goes without saying that the heavier you are, the harder it will be for you to get to the top. Because it takes more energy for a heavier person to do a route than a lighter person, more calories will be burned for those of you who have a higher weight.

Also, men naturally burn more calories than women do, and the same is true for those who have higher muscle density. There are multiple factors that play into the science of burning calories, but at the end of the day, we can all agree that climbing is one of the best ways to do it.

What to Wear Rock Climbing

woman wearing workout clothes

What do you think of when someone mentions rock climbing? Harness, rope, chalk, great heights, long falls…one of these probably. But do you ever stop to think about what you should be wearing? There is a right and wrong answer to this question, so even though it might be easy to overlook, you really should put some thought into it.

Indoor climbing gyms tend to be more forgiving when it comes to your choice of wardrobe, but when you’re outside, you’ll want to be more picky. Wherever you end up climbing, make sure you avoid any fashion faux paus by following our clothing guide below.

How Dangerous is Rock Climbing?

climber stretched out on a chimney route

If you’ve been climbing for awhile, or are just starting to get serious about it, it’s important to understand the risk associated with the sport. Obviously no physical activity is inherently safe, but it’s fair to say that going for a run is a lot less risky that swinging a few dozen feet above the ground.

Rock climbing comes with a number of variables that can make your time outside go south pretty quickly. Falling rocks, compromised gear placement, and getting stranded are only a few reasons why people get hurt while pursuing this sport. It’s important to have an appreciation for danger, but at the end of the day, how bad can it really be? Learn more about the risk involved with this relatively safe extreme sport.

How to Train for Rock Climbing

As someone who’s spent a lot of time at the crag and the gym, I’ve seen my fair share of new climbers struggle to do more than a couple 5.7 routes. If you’ve never climbed before, or go infrequently, you won’t have the callouses built up to protect your hands from the rough edges of the rock or synthetic holds. You won’t have the grip strength to hang onto anything more than a few jugs, and balance won’t be your strongest point on the wall either.

It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

I know quite a few people who believe that climbing is the only way to get stronger and better at climbing. And while it’s certainly true that there’s nothing better for training, there are a good number of exercises you can do away from the wall to improve your game.

Flexibility

extremely flexible woman

Staying limber and having a good range of motion is incredibly important when it comes to climbing. You’ll be contorting your body is a variety of strange ways, and if you aren’t properly stretched out, you can cause some serious injuries. If you’re looking for some good stretches specifically for climbing, check out this guide.

Balance

I’m always amazed by how many people seem to neglect this one. Generally speaking, most climbers I’ve encountered put such a heavy emphasis on strength and endurance training that they fail to work on the component that brings everything together: balance.

There are a few ways that you can work on this at home, but the one that’s always felt the most relatable to climbing for me is weight shifting. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and slowly rock from foot to foot. Every time you shift to one side, lift the opposite leg off the ground and hold that position as long as you can. Keep repeating this on both feet for a few minutes every day, and you’ll find your balance improving over time.

Strength

shirtless man doing pull ups

This one should be a no brainer – depending on what you’re climbing, you can end up using a significant amount of strength. However, while this sport might appear to be mostly dependent on upper body strength, don’t underestimate the importance of having a strong core and legs. On certain routes, I actually use my lower body far more vigorously than my arms and shoulders.

If you don’t already have a pull up bar, I strongly recommend getting one. Working on your upper body might not be everything, but it still is a very important aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you get tired of doing pull ups, or want to mix things up a little, try dead hanging from the bar as long as you can. You’ll feel it in your forearms when you’re done.

For my core, I usually stick with sit ups and leg lifts to get used to keeping my legs off the ground. This will come in handy if you’re climbing an overhang, and need the strength to keep your legs from peeling off the wall. For my legs, I like to do squats, especially pistol squats, which is a motion that I find myself doing often when I’m on the wall.

Endurance

If you’ve never heard of a hangboard, I suggest you check them out. The name says it all, in terms of how they function…you hang from a board for different intervals of time. There are multiple notches in the wood (or plastic), all with various depths measured in millimeters. I like to hang from the 25 mm holds for 30 second intervals, taking a minute break between reps until I can’t continue any longer. Out of any training I’ve ever done for rock climbing, this has by far been the most helpful for building both my strength and endurance.

In addition to that, find other ways to build your stamina on a day to day basis. In the summer, I like to ride my bike as often as I can, and in the winter, I go cross country skiing. Anything you can do to increase your endurance off of the wall will help you once you get back on the wall.

The Gear You’ll Need

man holding a rope with a rack of gear

What, you weren’t planning on scaling that wall in your street shoes without a rope and harness were you? It doesn’t matter how much you train, whether you’re familiar with climbing lingo, or how many calories you burn – all it takes is one, unprotected fall to change your life forever.

Everything listed in this article is important, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the proper gear. From harnesses to pants, we’ll make sure you’re decked out in the right equipment.

Rope

Your lifeline on the wall, a rock climbing rope will become one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal. However, not all ropes are created equal – from length, to diameter, to stretchiness, there are a few things to keep in mind as you pick out the one for you. For the complete breakdown on what you need to look for, as well as our own top picks, check out our rope review here!

Harness

The necessary counterpart to your rope, you might believe that there isn’t much difference between rock climbing harnesses. You stick your legs through the loops, cinch them up, and call it good, right?

Generally speaking, that’s all true. But when it comes to the details, you should be a little more careful than that. Some harnesses have more padding, some don’t have double backed buckles, and some are specifically designed for women. Don’t forget to do your research, so you can get a harness that fits well and is comfortable for you.

Climbing Shoes

climbing gear spread out on the ground

A piece of equipment that isn’t required for your safety, climbing shoes are still something owned by any climber worth their salt. When I first started getting into the sport, I avoided getting these because they seemed unnecessary (basically, I’m cheap), not to mention they were more uncomfortable than I was willing to deal with at the time.

There’s a lot to consider when buying your next pair of shoes, such as the aggressiveness and overall fit. For a more detailed explanation of what to look out for, take a look at our guide!

Pants

Climbing gear extends beyond the items that are designed to protect you – it includes what you wear as well. Your pants, especially, are a piece of clothing that can significantly impact your climbing ability, for better or for worse.

Pants that are too tight will restrict your movement, while pants that are too baggy might get caught in your gear. Flimsy material will tear when you rub your leg against the rock, while tough material can be uncomfortable and abrasive. Finding the right balance is important, which is why we took the time to do all the research for you. Check out our climbing pants review here!

Taking Care of Your Climbing Shoes

climbing shoes at the crag

Your climbing shoes are what you’ll probably be replacing the most, out of all your gear. Your rope catches all your falls, and your carabiners bear a lot of weight, but your shoes tend to take the most damage on a day to day basis.

As you probably know, nothing is cheap as far as climbing gear goes, and shoes are no exception. That’s why it’s important to take good care of what you have, so you don’t have to replace it too frequently. From being more careful with foot placement to getting your shoes resoled if the rubber is getting worn out, there are a number of ways to extend the life of your treads.

Learning How to Rappel

black and white man cleaning an anchor

You’ve just finished a spectacular climb, and now it’s time to clean the anchor and come back down. So what do you do? After taking your gear, you tell your belayer to lower you like normal, watching your rope slide roughly through the bolts at the top since your quickdraws are now on your harness.

Let me ask you something…how long do you think your rope will last after taking that kind of abuse? Do you really want to find out?

Not only is rappelling a fun way to lower yourself, but it’s a method that much easier on your gear too. However, as easy as it might look, mistakes are common when people don’t know what they’re doing or get complacent in the process. Check out our guide so you can be prepared when it comes time to rap down the wall.

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Spencer Yeomans

Spencer Yeomans

A lover of the outdoors, and especially the mountains, Spencer has always enjoyed pushing people to step outside their comfort zones. His mission is to help others get out of their homes to have fun and stay active in nature.

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New to rock climbing and don’t know where to start? It’s an intimidating sport, but contrary to what you might initially think, it’s not completely inaccessible for beginners. To help you on your way, I’ve put together a guide I wish I had when I first started climbing. Drop your email in the box below to get a free copy today!