What You Need for Your First Free Climbing Trip

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Free Climbing for Rookies: How to Prepare for Your First Free Climbing Trip

Whether you’ve tackled a few problems at the climbing gym, or you’ve never climbed before in your life, free climbing outdoors will stretch your skills, and possibly become your favorite weekend getaway.

If you’re intimidated by free climbing, don’t be. Climbers are a welcoming bunch, and if you do a little homework before you set out, you’ll be primed to make the most of your first free climb.

1.) Know the Language

It might seem trivial, but you should definitely get familiar with climbing terms before you set out. They can be confusing, and clear communication is key when you and your climbing partner are watching out for one another’s safety on the rocks.

“Free climbing” refers to outdoor climbs that are completed only with equipment to protect the climber from a fall; no artificial holds or bolts. In free climbing, ropes are used for safety, but not to help you reach the top of a climb. It’s not the same as “free soloing,” which is a completely unassisted climb, performed without ropes at all. Free climbing is the opposite of aid climbing, which utilizes manmade features, like bolts, ropes, or foot slings, instead of just the rock surface, to help you get to the top.

Here are a few other climbing terms you should know:

Belay: The rope system that protects you in case of a fall.

Belayer: The person in charge of your belay. S/he manages the rope to make sure that if you fall, you don’t fall far.

Carabiner: A strong metal loop with a spring-loaded lock that’s used to secure your ropes and other gear for safety during a climb.

Rappel: Make your way down a course from the top, as opposed to “climbing” which is done up from the bottom.

Traditional, or “trad” climbing: Outdoor climbing where two climbers, a “lead” and a “follow,” place and remove climbing protection (such as bolts) as they make their way up. Differs from sport climbing in that sport climbing utilizes protection that’s already in place.

2.) Get the Gear

You don’t have to be a gearhead to climb, but there are some basic supplies you will need. Even beginner free climbing is dangerous if you don’t have a few high-quality safety measures in place.

At the bare minimum, you’ll need a rope, a harness, a climbing helmet, a chalk bag, and climbing shoes. If you’re heading out with a hired guide, they might provide the gear for you to use. Renting gear is sometimes an option, but be extra-careful with borrowed or rented gear to ensure that you know the gear’s full history. With stuff like ropes and harnesses, you want to be completely sure that they’re safe, and not worn out.

If you already know you love climbing, definitely get yourself a pair of climbing shoes. That way, you can shop around and get the perfect pair for your needs, plus take some time breaking them in at the gym.

3.) Be a Good Sport

Part of the fun of outdoor climbing is the sense of community, the friends you make along the way. If you follow a few simple rules of climbing etiquette, you’ll have a better time, and climbers everywhere will thank you.

Climbers venture out of the gym to enjoy the peace and splendor of the outdoors, so make sure you leave the rocks in better condition than you found them. Pack out your trash, clean up your chalk, and leave each problem just as it was before you got there. Stay on the trails when hiking to your climbing spots, and don’t throw your crash pad on top of delicate vegetation. Once you’re done with a problem, wipe away whatever chalk or tick marks you left behind, to keep the problem unspoiled for the next climber.

Many climbers love to hear only the soft sounds of nature while they’re concentrating on a problem, so use your indoor voice on the rocks. Don’t yell, and wear headphones if you want to listen to music.

A great way to familiarize yourself with climbing etiquette is to spend some time at your local climbing gym before heading outdoors to free climb. This is also the best way to make friends, and get invited on your next climbing trip.

Are you a first-time free climber? Got tips for climbing beginners that aren’t mentioned here? Share them in the comments!


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.