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Rock Climbing Basics for Beginners: Bouldering, Top Roping, Gear Packages

 

There are very few extreme sports you can get involved in that hearken back to the very essence of our evolution. While we’ve lost many of the traits that make our cousins (other primates) such amazing climbers, we still have the basic equipment, right? When you are scuba diving, you are in a completely alien environment in which we are simply not at home. When you exit the aircraft on your first skydive, your brain will be screaming that you absolutely do not belong in the air (falling towards the ground at 120 mph). Climbing, though? Well, what could be more natural? If you haven’t tried true rock climbing yet, I think you’ll be surprised at how naturally some things come; when faced with a route, you somehow tend to just ‘figure it out’. Maybe millions of years of evolution help you along a bit, but it’s a true feeling of accomplishment when you scale a rock wall you were certain would defeat you.

 

Click to watch our short video on getting into the sport of climbing!

Bottom Line Up Front on CLIMBING:

  • Two widely known types of climbing: bouldering and top roping.
  • Bouldering: climb less than 20 feet with pads below you
  • Top Roping: climb as high as you want/can with a harness and ropes for safety
  • Zero entry barrier - all fitness levels: anyone can climb! Routes have scales of difficulty
  • In bouldering, routes are graded starting at VB (beginner), V0-V16 (beginners can tackle VB/0 - V3)
  • Top Roping graded from 5.1 - 5.15 - beginners should be able to climb up to 5.8
  • Basic gear needed: harness, shoes, maybe chalk! Recommendations are below, but startup cost is low!
  • Climbing culture is pretty laid back, very friendly, and everyone is willing to help.

Best and Most Affordable Climbing Gear

So you’ve decided you want to try climbing? That’s awesome! And I have great news, you can go to your local climbing gym (I wouldn’t recommend going straight to an actual rock wall first thing) and be climbing in 30 - 60 minutes. Most gyms will require you to take some soft of orientation/safety class, sign some waivers, and off you go. The first few times, you can rent the gear you’ll need and take the belay class that teaches you how to anchor/support a climber that is on the wall by having the opposite end of the rope tied to you. These classes involve learning a couple quick knots and demonstrating basic reactions to someone falling and a couple other scenarios. Don’t stress, the class is designed to teach you, not test you. It’s in everyone’s interest that you are a safe climber, so the instructors want you to learn and pass.

Curious about the gear? Well, like any sport, climbing *can* get expensive, but the basic gear requirements are very little. You’ll be familiar with this gear already from renting it, or, if you’ve decided to just “go for it” then add it to your shopping cart and go! We’ve done the research ahead of time to find what we consider the best gear for an affordable price, in a package deal (other than shoes). With shoes, a harness, a chalk bag, an ATC/carabiner, you’re ready to climb in most situations.

 This climbing package is probably the best value for your money, considering you get everything you need except shoes in one purchase.

This climbing package is probably the best value for your money, considering you get everything you need except shoes in one purchase.

 The Evolv brand is reliable but also affordable. I climb in these shoes - you'll appreciate the quick on/off velcro as a beginner. It's basically a great first climbing shoe.

The Evolv brand is reliable but also affordable. I climb in these shoes - you'll appreciate the quick on/off velcro as a beginner. It's basically a great first climbing shoe.

All About Bouldering

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I find bouldering to be incredibly enjoyable because it is low stress. I’m never in any real danger of a fall that will seriously harm me. This is because, in bouldering, you’re never really above 20 feet and have super soft pads below you. It’s a great type of climbing to just hone your skills and re-attempt some moves that you’ve been having difficulty with. As stated above, bouldering and top roping are graded differently in difficulty. Bouldering uses a V scale, starting at VB (which are essentially ladders), moving to V0 (beginner), and going all the way up to V16. I consider myself a decently athletic and fit person, and I’m generally able to complete a V3 and maybe even a V4. This is just to give you an idea - don’t think you’ll walk into a gym and start climbing a V5 the first weekend - it takes some practice!

All About Top Roping

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Top roping gives a bit more of an adrenaline rush because, well, you’re typically at a height that would result in death if you were to fall. This is why we are tied in with a harness and are usually being belayed by someone on the opposite end of the rope. You want this person to be equally trained as yourself and trustworthy...they have your life in their hands, after all.

Many gyms have top roping in addition to bouldering, which is perfect to practice and understand the commands in climbing, taking up slack in the rope, falling, and rappeling back down.

Climbing an actual Rock wall

When you’re ready to put it all together, you’ll be climbing an actual rock wall. This is not the same as the gym: you are responsible for your own safety (and the safety of others) as you complete this climbing. There is much more to climbing in nature than just bringing your basic gear and going for it. For this reason, your first time needs to be with someone much more experienced, but I’m willing to bet many of the experienced climbers at your local gym would be willing to ‘show you the ropes.’ And ropes will be needed, as well as other gear that you probably don’t have yet. Unlike your local gym, the rock wall is just that - a wall made of rock. There aren’t going to be ropes dangling off of each route ready for you to use that have been inspected for safety and maintained perfectly.

You must set your own rope via a few different methods that you will eventually learn. The point we’re making is that climbing on a real rockwall is so much more awesome than the gym and should be experienced at the earliest opportunity!

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