Rock Climbing Outside- 7 Things NOT To Do

A lot of people find the idea of rock climbing outside really scary because of all the bad stories you hear. “I knew someone who died doing that!” Sound familiar? With every sport there are inherent and unavoidable risks. But, like any sport, minimizing the risk keeps it very safe. The first day I climbed outside, I was definitely nervous. Here are 7 things I discovered NOT to do!


1. Skimp Out on Training

This one might sound obvious, but it’s essential. Alex and I were eager to get climbing outside, but we decided to take a class first. It was awesome! Don’t just go with a buddy who sort-of knows how to tie a bowline. Get trained by an instructor on how to set up proper anchors! Learn SERENE and what the acronym means for your safety. It’s also very likely your instructor will have great safety tips. Try to find an AMGA-certified instructor; you can find a list here.

2. Go In Blind

Here in Maryland, there are some great climbing options. The problem was, I didn’t know too much about how to find them! It took talking to some instructors at my climbing gym and also some internet sleuthing. Alex and I chose our first climb to be at Patapsco State Park, because of how close it was (this park also has great hikes).

It’s important to know some background info on where you’ll climb. Is climbing allowed at the location? Do you know how to find the routes? How popular are they? Can you access the top to tie anchors? What type of rock is it? Is it within your skill level?

Alex and I saw a great anchored climb beside the dam, but it was beyond a “danger” sign. Because we weren’t sure if we could climb it, we didn’t get to.

3. Forget to Check Your Knots

Our first outdoor climb

Personally, I was a little nervous the first time I didn’t have an instructor behind me watching me tie my knots. The easiest way to feel a little more confident is to bring a small book or papers that show how to tie the knot. I brought a Falcon guide. Their field guides are great because they’re small and easy to store. Alex and I also checked each other’s knots, and it helped us feel safer.

4. Ignore Other Climbers

Not saying you have to tell your life story, but being aware of who’s around you is useful. Giving routes to other climbers who were there first is commonsense. But it’s also important to be aware of others climbing unsafely. This list will help keep you from becoming an accident, but this doesn’t mean others around you won’t get hurt. It’s a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand in case someone needs help. Other climbers can also be a great resource on the area, and who knows? Maybe you’ll make some friends.

5. Expect It To Be Like The Gym

If you started climbing in a climbing gym like I did, you may be surprised by what it’s like to climb outside. The holds aren’t highlighted for you. Texture plays a major factor in what you’ll be able to grip. You may find yourself grabbing the occasional spider! Or a handful of mud, like I did when I couldn’t figure out the route. There are a lot more factors that dictate how your climb will go. It makes it more challenging, and therefore more interesting.

6. Set Up Too Hastily

In our eagerness to explore new routes, Alex and I set up the ropes over an area that was too tough for us. We wasted 20 minutes getting the anchor system just right, then went down to climb and discovered we couldn’t get started. It was a disappointing, to say the least. Be sure to check out the first few moves of a climb before you commit to it and set up your ropes!

7. Let Your Nerves Get To You

The first time I top-roped outside, I was terrified of falling. What if the knots didn’t hold? What if the rope stretched too much? So naturally, the first thing I did was fall. And it was fine!

Falling on the rope outside can be a little different, because the rock is rough and the rope stretches a lot. Letting yourself hang from the rope at least once will help alleviate this fear and allow you to climb with confidence. Climbing outside for the first time was challenging, but it quickly becomes rewarding and you may find yourself abandoning your climbing membership for the summer.


What did you think? Do you have any more tips on what not to do? Please feel free to comment below!


Further resources:

REI’s Learning to Climb Outdoors

ThoughtCatalog’s Things I Wish I Had Known About Outdoor Climbing