Rock Climbing Outdoors, Step by Step


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At a certain point, climbing indoors can cease to hold the same thrill that it used to. As you pull down on plastic holds, you may find yourself yearning to feel the fresh, cool breeze on your face—and to get outside, away from gym crowds, having adventures in the natural world.

One of the easiest ways to start climbing outdoors is to set up top-rope anchors at a climbing area near you. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started on this fun and valuable outdoor climbing skill set.

Learn more: Gym to Crag

Step 1: Gear Up.

Rock climbing outdoors presents additional challenges—and risks—compared to climbing indoors. From climbing at the gym you should already have a harness, belay device, locking carabiner, shoes, chalk bag and chalk.

To climb outside, you should invest in a quality climbing helmet to protect your noggin from rock fall or people dropping stuff on you. You should also get four locking carabiners and 20 feet of 7mm diameter cordelette for anchor material. If you don’t have a climbing buddy with a rope, you’ll need to invest in one. Climbing ropes are 60m or 70m long and generally around 9.8mm in diameter.

Step 2: Take a course to learn how set up climbing anchors.

If you’ve been climbing indoors—either leading or on top rope—it’s smart to start outdoor climbing by going with a guide to learn best practices. You may know how to top-rope belay from climbing indoors, but you should take a course from an experienced instructor (someone from an established guide service who is certified through the American Mountain Guides Association) to learn how to set up your own top-rope anchors. If you go with friends who lead climb or who plan to lead-climb down the line, you should also get instruction on lead belaying.

Find an REI Outdoor School climbing activity near you.

Step 3: Get out there—cautiously.

Once you have the gear and know how to set up anchors, you can start climbing outside with your friends. Start out at a local crag with easy-to-manage anchors, ones with two bolts (and usually chains) rather than anchors that need to be set up with trad gear, a more advanced skill. You should also be able to walk easily between the top of the crag and the base for setting up and taking down the anchor. And you’re all set for starting to climb outside on top rope!

Next up, we’ll talk about following a lead climber and learning how to lead outdoors.

Getting Started Rock Climbing

This does not constitute formal instruction in climbing. Climbing is a dangerous activity, and you undertake it at your own risk.

Featured photo by Angela Crampton – REI Employee.

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