If you’re heading out to the crag to try outdoor rock climbing for the first time, it’s natural to have lots of questions. After all, nobody wants to be that person—the one who unintentionally does something rude or unsafe. Climbing comes with inherent risks—but with the right knowledge and attitude, it can also be super fun. We’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts to help you become a safe, responsible visitor to the many outdoor climbing areas you’re sure to be exploring—and have the best time possible, too.
Do Your Homework, but Still Be Ready to Learn
Research the area
Read the local guidebookto find out about the nuances of the crag you’re visiting. For example, if you’re going to Red Rocks, it’s important to know what happens to sandstone when it rains (it gets fragile—and gear placements can fail), so you should give it sufficient time to dry.
Get beta from locals
If you engage with the people you meet at the crag, you’ll find that many locals are friendly and a great source of information. They can tell you what routes are good warm-ups, what routes might be sketchy and which ones are sandbagged. If, for example, you wanted to project an extremely popular warm-up route, you should know that doing so on a busy summer Saturday morning might not be the best idea.
Be open to suggestion
If someone tries to give you some advice, be open about what they’re telling you. Maybe it’s important local beta, maybe it’s a way to do something safer. Regardless, put your ego aside and open your mind.
Use Best Climbing Practices
Embrace the wait
If you roll up to a crowded crag, be sure to ask around to see what routes people are waiting for, rather than setting your rope bag down and starting to tie in on a climb that may have five people waiting in line. Put your rope bag in the queue and learn to embrace the wait—you might even make some new friends.
Don’t remove quickdraws from routes
At many sport crags, it’s an acceptable practice to leave quickdraws up on a route you are projecting. Generally speaking, newer climbers don’t always know about this and think the gear is free for the taking. A good rule of thumb is: If you aren’t sure, leave it up. This goes for lowering carabiners too—they aren’t prizes for making it to the top.
Don’t top rope directly off the fixed hardware
The fixed hardware you use to clip in at the top of a route isn’t cheap, and it doesn’t last forever. Bring your own top-rope anchor to clip to the anchor points, and then lower through the fixed hardware. It’s also bad form to leave a rope hanging on a route all day. It’s polite to climb your pitch and move along.
Be Considerate of Other People’s Experiences, Too
Keep your dog on a leash
Many climbers are dog owners, myself included, and like to bring their pooches to the crag. But it’s important to remember that not everyone loves your canine buddy like you do, so be sure to keep your dog leashed and out of the way, especially at a busy crag. Bonus points: Consider leaving the dog at home. Some dogs get stressed by a busy crag environment, and taking them for a walk when you get home later might be a better situation for everyone.
Play loud (or any) music
For many people, climbing outside is about enjoying nature, which typically doesn’t involve listening to your favorite song. Regardless of your musical taste, tunes at the crag can be distracting in an environment where clear communication is key.
When you’re at a crag, you are part of the community, too, so you might as well make it as friendly and fun as possible. The climbing world can be small, and you probably have more connections to your neighbors than you realize. It often goes something like this:
“You’re from Tahoe? Do you know so-so?”
“Yeah, they were my roommate!!”
Don’t shout unsolicited beta
Climbing is all about your own personal journey, so don’t assume someone who is struggling wants your help. If you really feel you just have to share your advice, it’s best to ask the person before giving them pointers.
No throwing wobblers
Nothing says self-absorbed like a giant temper tantrum. Sure, we all take this stuff seriously, but it’s just rock climbing. You’d be appalled to see a child screaming, swearing or throwing things, so why would it OK for adults at the crag? If you are on private land or in a public area where non-climbers are present, it’s even more of a faux pas.
Remember Your Climbing Leave No Trace Principles
Pack out your trash
It’s discouraging enough to find tape, food scraps, etc, laying around the crag, but if you don’t pack out human waste, well, you’re definitely being that person. If there’s no pit toilet nearby, make sure to bring your own wag bag and use it.
Keep your stuff orderly and close instead of exploding your pack
It seems simple, but we all have to share a small space. Keep things tight, and don’t trample vegetation to make more room. Look for rocks and well-worn surfaces to set your things on.
Don’t chat up people while they’re belaying
We all enjoy being friendly, but talking to people who literally have someone else’s life in their hands is not a good idea. It often only takes a moment of inattention for an accident to happen. When someone is belaying, let them belay—you can chat all you want when their climber is down.
Don’t belay sitting down
Crag chairs are fine, but lead belaying from a chair, or super far away from the wall, can be dangerous. Give your climber a good belay, even on the warm-ups.
Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No internet article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. Make sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you climb.