To put it plainly, rock climbing, well, rocks. Learn how to rock climb if you want an incredible adventure.

Excuse the bad pun, but the description remains accurate. Rock climbing is truly one of the most thrilling outdoor adventures there is. If you are an avid outdoorsman and are looking for a new adventure, you might want to learn how to rock climb. Traveling to different national parks is extremely enjoyable, especially if you like hiking and camping. There are always new places to explore and epic scenery to behold. If you have ventured deep into the wilderness, you likely came across some crags even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

As an avid rock climber, I can attest to those sheer adrenaline spiking moments that comprise the climbing experience. (Warning: Rock climbing is addictive and should only be attempted if you have the budget and schedule flexibility for it.) If you are interested in getting outside on your next trip, then there are a few things you should know first.

Here are some essential tips for your first outdoor rock climbing experience.

1. Get the gear you need.

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If you climb infrequently in a gym, then you know that it is easy to rent the gear you want for a day. However, to learn how to rock climb outdoors, it is a better idea to procure some of your own gear. This helps you get comfortable with your personal shoes and harness, which enables you to climb your best. Here are some important pieces of gear you might want before heading outside.

  • Rock Climbing Shoes
  • Harness
  • Chalk
  • Chalk Bag
  • Climbing Tape
  • Crash Pad (If Bouldering)
  • ATC Belay Device
  • Headlamp
  • Rope
  • Quickdraws
  • Local Climbing Route Guide

2. Learn the lingo.

Hang out with rock climbers for long enough and you might find yourself feeling like you are listening to a foreign language. All this talk about crags and flappers sounds super legit, but it would be cooler if you actually knew what they meant. There are so many terms to know, it is impossible to cover them all in a paragraph. But rest assured you will learn over time. In the meantime, here is a quick crash course on the basics of rock climbing lingo as you are learning how to rock climb.

Approach: The walk to the base of your climb.

Belayer: The person who manages the rope to ensure that the climber will not fall.

Bolts: The metal bolts drilled into the rock face to clip into during sport and trad climbing.

Cleaning the Route: The last person to climb a route. Responsible for "cleaning" all of the gear.

Lead: The first person to climb a route. They essentially set up the rope at the anchors at the top of the route.

Send: Completing your route.

Slack: The loosening of the rope tension as a person belays you. 

Take: Asking for the rope to be tightened while you are climbing (this is so you can rest in place).

Traverse: Climbing laterally along a route.

3. Get certified.

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Outdoor climbing offers endless options to choose from. The first thing you need to decide when learning how to rock climb is whether you want to do bouldering or top roping. Bouldering is rock climbing that does not use a harness or ropes. Rather, you scale shorter height boulder problems, which are between 15-25 feet high. Of course, it is risky business to climb anything without being roped in, so be sure to bring adequate crash pads and have a spotter. Top roping and sport climbing involves much longer routes (60-100 feet) and utilizes a rope and belay system.

Of course, every kind of climbing is quite technical, and correspondingly it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are doing. It really is a life or death situation when you find yourself 70 feet up a cliffside, suspended by a single nylon rope. You need to know how to tie knots properly, how to set routes, and of course how to belay somebody. These components are all part of how to rock climb. If you haven’t already, check out a local rock climbing gym for classes to learn these skills. Once you get certified, you are ready to head outdoors.

4. Always climb with someone more experienced than you.

It is true, once you get your first rock climbing harness and shoes, you are going to want to pretty much scale anything over five feet. But I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn “the ropes” from someone before you dive right in. Climbing is fun, but it also poses many inherent risks as well. Please do not watch a few YouTube videos and then deem yourself adequately prepared to attempt outdoor climbing. Most climbing accidents occur because of ill preparedness and inexperience. Even after you get certified in a gym, it is essential to climb with a more experienced individual, especially for your first few times outdoors.

Fortunately if you are interested in learning how to rock climb outdoors, there are plenty of ways to get in touch with a fellow climber. Look up rock climbing forums for your destination of choice. There are generally ways to connect with people via Facebook groups or on the popular rock climbing app Mountain Project (download it, it will change your life). Typically you are able to post within these forums stating your intended climbing destination as well as your personal skill level. This way of networking helps everyone to have a good idea of what to expect during a meet-up.

5. Decide on a crag.

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If your adventure takes you to an expansive outdoor area, then there are likely plenty of places to climb. If you do your research ahead of time, you are sure to find some incredible rock face to conquer. Look up local rock climbing spots in the area and print out coordinates and directions to make sure you get to the right place. If you end up climbing with locals, this is even better, as they likely know some hidden spots. Purchasing a climbing route guide for the area you intend to explore is ideal as you learn how to rock climb outdoors. These comprehensive booklets offer the latest insight regarding specific routes within the crag, as well as their grading.

Take to that rock climbing route with confidence as you keep these useful tips in mind.

As you might have gathered, the sport of rock climbing is really quite complex. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to summarize everything you need to know about how to rock climb. Fortunately, these useful tips should be just what you need to get started with this incredible activity. Go ahead and check out some gear now and begin dreaming about your first rock climbing trip. There is really nothing like the feeling of completing your very first route outdoors. It is truly the purest blend of exhaustion and exhilaration.

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Faith is a writer and social media manager residing in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is passionate about people and currently attends university in pursuit of a degree in Clinical Psychology and Counseling. A nomad by nature, Faith finds utmost joy in trekking around the globe and strongly advocates backpacking as the best way to explore anywhere. Being a bookworm and an avid coffee drinker, she is likely to be found sipping an Americano and mulling over a classic novel.