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8 Tips for Beginner Climbers

With the addition of rock climbing to the Olympic Games, the sport has exploded in popularity. Here are 8 tips for beginner climbers as you discover the possibilities of the sport.

1. Go to your local climbing gym

If you live in Cincinnati, you have tons of climbing gyms nearby. The area’s great gyms include Mosaic in Loveland, Rockquest in Sharonville, Climb Cincy in Northside, Climb Time of Blue Ash, and my personal favorite, Climb Time of Oakley. At the gym, you’ll sign a waiver, get a basic orientation, and embark on your first climbs. Start by renting shoes and a harness from the gym to see if you enjoy climbing enough to warrant a purchase. Here’s a bonus tip: it’s okay to be scared. I’ve been climbing for five years and still get scared on some routes; the trick is to keep climbing despite the fear and reap the rewards of doing so.

Mosaic Climbing in Loveland is an excellent resource for beginner climbers

Climbing in a gym allows you to learn in a safe environment

2. Purchase climbing shoes

The first gear purchase for new climbers should be climbing shoes. Climbing shoes have a specialized shape and rubber that allows you to stand on tiny footholds. Renting shoes works at first, but some shoes will perform better. I’d recommend La Sportiva’s Tarantula and Scarpa’s Origin for beginner climbers. Both are comfortable for long gym sessions but still have good rubber to help you stick to the wall.

3. Add to your gear collection

After you buy shoes, you should purchase a harness and chalk bag. While any climbing harness will get the job done, comfort is what separates a harness you may buy from the ones you rent at the gym. I recommend Petzl’s Corax, a comfortable, long-lasting harness at an affordable price. It has plenty of gear loops (the loops found on the side of the harness) which will be necessary if you transition to outdoor climbing.

Petzl's Corax harness, Scarpa's Origin shoes, and a Neon chalk bag are great for beginner climbers

4. Show your style

A chalk bag holds Magnesium Carbonate chalk that is used to dry your hands while climbing. Chalk bags are an opportunity to show your sweet sense of dirtbag style, so find a fun bag that fits your personality like these vibrant Neon chalk bags.

5. Work on your movement

Developing technique will help you improve quickly. Many new climbers rely on their upper body, but footwork is the most important part of climbing. You should be using your hands to balance and your legs to move up the wall. Be intentional with your footwork— look at each foothold before you place your feet. Another common mistake is over-gripping out of fear, which tires you out. Relax, breathe, and trust your feet to hold your weight. The best ways to learn technique are watching experienced climbers and simply climbing more.


6. Learn to belay

You have the basics down, so it’s time to learn to belay. Essentially, you pull the rope as the climber gets higher on the wall. There is a specific technique you need to follow to belay safely. Most gyms offer classes on how to belay. Another way to learn is through an experienced, detail-oriented climbing mentor. Make sure you are confident in your technique before taking a belay test at the gym or belaying others.

Belaying is an important skill in a climber’s progression. Image courtesy Chloe Huggins

7. Start a belaytionship

A “belaytionship” is the close pact a climber and belayer have with one another. This person holds onto your life, so make sure you trust them. Like any relationship, the foundations of a close belaytionship are mutual trust, communication, and respect. It also helps to have a partner that supports you, pushes you harder, and keeps you excited about the sport.

8. Progress your skills

You now know how to climb topropes (climbs where a rope is already anchored at the top, like in a gym). Now it’s time to learn lead climbing. Lead climbing is where you bring the rope up with you and clip into carabiners as you climb the route. All climbing can be dangerous, but lead climbing is where danger becomes more present. Lead belaying technique is just as important to learn as lead climbing, and lead belayers must be attentive to their climbers. You can learn more about the basics of lead climbing by reading blogs or watching others, but you’ll need to take a class or learn from an experienced climber to do it safely. Lead climbing opens up incredible opportunities to climb in spectacular places like Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

Now it’s time to take your newfound expertise from the gym to the cliffs and crags! The next blog in this series will have tips on sport climbing outside.

by: Sean Masterson