Climbing is one of those life-changing experience hobbies where it can be used as a sport, as a recreational activity, as a team-building exercise or as the route to overcoming anxieties.
Of course, there are many different types of climbing with some indoors, some outdoors and some even in the Olympics. So, in this ultimate beginner’s guide to rock climbing we want to take you through every single one of them so you can get sending some routes, maybe even with a flash (not that type of flash, and we’ll cover what it means as you read on).
Have a look at all the questions that will be covered and answered in this article:
- What is Rock Climbing?
- Where Did the Sporting Hobbies of Sending a Route Climb Begin?
- What Are the Various Types of Rock Climbing for Beginners?
- Is There a Glossary of Climber’s Jargon?
- What Equipment is Needed to Begin Sending a Route?
Here at The Hobby Kraze, we love to share sports, hobbies and activities that are popular, healthy, loved and supporting. And, with the announcement in 2016 that rock climbing is joining the Olympics as an approved sport, we just had to showcase everything it has to offer.
With that, and the fact that we have a family of climbers right here at The Hobby Kraze, we simply have to share the community spirit through this ultimate beginner’s guide to rock climbing.
What is Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing – nowadays simply referred to as ‘climbing’ – is the act of using walls to manoeuvre up and around. A highly useful skill set and body of strength if you ever find yourself walking off the edge of a cliff and needing to top-out again.
The hobby can involve scaling natural cliffsides, boulders, rocks, ice waterfalls and indoor artificial walls.
To learn more about ice waterfalls and all the other stunning natural falls around the world, have a look at this article from the team here at the Hobby Kraze: “Wandering Through Earth’s 18 Different Types of Waterfalls”.
Back to the holds of climbing and the goal is to reach the summit (or the endpoint) of a given route. Whether it is the cliff-face or the boulder, there is a pre-set route for the climber to ascend.
In the case of the indoor climbing gym, this route can be identified by the different coloured holds or the tags on the wall. When it comes to outdoor climbing, you have to keep your eyes peeled for specific ‘grips’ that could look ‘positive’ or hunt for the chalky handprints of past climbers.
Rock climbing is a mentally and physically enduring activity that takes place on the ground just as much as it does on the rock. This is because you need to know how to read a route before you can begin sending a route.
Of course, what we’re saying might sound like jargon now, but we’ll delve into the glossary of rock climbing for beginners shortly.
Where Did the Sporting Hobbies of Sending a Route Climb Begin?
The history of rock climbing is a fun adventure to spiral down. This is because it is much debated when rock climbing became a pastime rather than an escape from predators, a way to reach new food or a means to finding a new home.
There are so many sources like this ultimate beginner’s guide to rock climbing that mention Chinese a watercolour painting from 400 B.C. that depicts men scaling a wall. However, there is never any mention or proof of this beyond that small sentence.
Despite this, the history of rock climbers is rich with centuries of notable people and groups mountaineering with equipment. For example, in 1492, a servant of King Charles VIII supposedly used ladders and rope to climb Mont Aiguille. The act later led to the King’s men using these skills to siege castles resting at cliff tops.
Moving into modern day (or, more modern than centuries ago), and we get to an individual most climbers refer to as “The Father of Rock Climbing”. In 1886, there were many ascends throughout the world by many mountaineering enthusiasts, but it was a British man named Mr Walter Perry Haskett Smith who simply took the title.
Smith free solo’d the first ascent of a Lake District mountain rock called the “Naples Needle”. This 70-foot-tall ascent is the pinnacle for when rock climbing was referred to as a sport rather than anything other then necessary or somewhat fun.
Since then, popularity has only grown and, before we move on, there is one more notable happening in the history book of rock climbing for beginners: the introduction of the indoor climbing gym.
In fact, the first ever indoor climbing gym was created right here in the UK: in Leeds University. A climber named Don Robinson used bricks and hooks in the University corridor to create a ‘teaching machine’ that helps climbers practice holds, endurance, balance, patience, strength and manoeuvres.
Which, essentially, is what the basics of indoor rock climbing still does today.
What Are the Various Types of Rock Climbing for Beginners?
Now we’ve heard the brief backstory, we can think about all the different prongs of climbing that have evolved over the years to match the climber and the destination.
As you’re a beginner, we recommend the basics of indoor rock climbing; they typically feature bouldering, lead climbing and top roping. Notably, they all have large safety mats underneath so any fall results in a soft landing regardless of the wall type or the height. The same can’t really be said for outside climbing, so it’s best you’ve got a few more sends and flashes under your harness before trying your luck in the great wide open British climber’s paradise.
There are nine types of rock climbing with just three of them being brought into the Olympics: bouldering, speed climbing and lead climbing.
To start the ball rolling, we’ve got bouldering. Here at The Hobby Kraze, this is the type of rock climbing we have the most experience in simply because it doesn’t involve too many heights and is a fantastic beginner’s journey into the rock climbing hobby.
Unlike other types of climbing, bouldering doesn’t require ropes or harnesses and can be done as a solo sport or in groups. The idea begins on the map: there is a beta that needs to be understood and manoeuvred which can involve traversing the boulder upwards, sideways, diagonally, around and – sometimes – down.
In terms of the bouldering credentials, they are typically classified as climbs no higher than 4 meters and must be done using a bouldering crash pad underneath to catch you.
Deep Water Soloing (A.K.A. Psicobloc)
If you’ve ever watched a nutter scale a cliffside and purposefully jump into the water below with a stomach-churning drop, this is what they were doing. As this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to rock climbing, this is one of the types of rock climbing we suggest forgetting until a later date.
Note that ‘soloing’ is in the name. This means there are no ropes, harnesses, carabiners, hooks or specific holds; just you and the rock face (and the water below). There is a reason many people call it the psicobloc (si-ko-blok).
The main difference between this type of climbing and any other in this list is that the goal doesn’t involve topping-out (mantling the crest). Instead, there’s a controlled match and a jump into the water. When it comes to competitions, a swimming pool is used for safety and control.
Free soloing is best explained by the world’s strongest climber – Alex Hollold – in his National Geographic movie: Free Solo. In this, he climbs Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan cliff face using only his climbing shoes, core strength, clam demeanour and chalk. He traversed 3,200 feet of granite in free soloing fashion.
It’s such a news spectacle simply because it is the most dangerous form of climbing; there are no ropes, there are no grips, there are no bolts, no hooks and no swimming pool to dive into after sending the route or falling from a non-positive grip.
With that, we highly recommend against free soloing climbing until you have many years under your belt without slips and falls after climbing at a V15 or 7b level (we’ll go into depth about these levels later on).
Ice climbing is pretty much what is says on the tin; you climb ice waterfalls using ice picks and crampons to secure yourself in the ice.
There are two types of ice climbing; the first is Alpine ice and the second is water ice. The first forms through freezing precipitation in the Alpine atmosphere while the second forms when a waterfall begins to freeze from the inside-out.
Both of these types of climbing are done with some extensive equipment such as helmets, protective gloves, ice picks, crampons, harnesses, carabiners, ropes and so on. This is in case the ice breaks and you’ll fall or some ice from above accidentally falls in your direction. It means you’re covered.
Lead climbing is much like top-roping in that it requires two people. However, lead climbing requires some training while sending the route on both the side of the lead (climber) and the belayer (person on the ground).
In another sense, lead climbing is much like trad climbing; as the lead ascends the rock, the rope is fed through the route’s pre-set hooks and bolts. This way, each time the climber traverses the rock, they won’t have as far to fall as the rope will catch on the most recent hook.
Mountaineering is the most traditional – yet non-conforming – type of climbing there is and is often not truly associated with the climbing community. This is because mountaineering, despite being the oldest form of going up a mountain or steep cliff, is closer to hiking than climbing as arms and core strength aren’t as necessary. Nor is there a need for climbing equipment like climbing shoes, chalk, harnesses and so on.
Despite this, mountaineering does involve cliffs, boulders and rocks within its trail, and was the initial activity leading climbers to want to ascend taller, steeper and harder betas that require a new level of equipment.
To find out more about the hobby of hiking around the world and how its origins intermingle with climbing, have a read of our other article; “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Hiking”.
Speed climbing, as mentioned, will be in the Olympics. This is because it requires memory of sending a route, the basics of indoor rock climbing and bouldering manoeuvres of the holds as well as sheer strength to propel up the wall with speed.
Seed climbing is always done in duos with a side-by-side ascend. It involves an automatic belay that collects the rope as the climber ascends at top speeds. The route and the holds are always uniform and identical to make training respective as well as fair.
As long as you’re ok with heights and you know how each of the holds will feel as you climb, we certainly suggest giving speed climbing a bash if it’s offered in your indoor gym; it can be super fun, especially when rock climbing for beginner’s and not necessarily at competition level.
Top roping is the safest form of rope climbing as the rope is permanently anchored at three points; the crest, the climber and the belayer.
With this, when a climber slips off the wall (and the belayer is doing their job at keeping good slack on the rope) the climber doesn’t have far to fall (if at all). Unlike with trad climbing or lead climbing, where the climber falls double the distance from their most recent anchor.
With top roping, it’s likely you’ll also come across auto-belays with the basics of indoor rock climbing; in these cases, there is a mechanised rope at the top of the wall which collects as you climb and then locks as you abseil back down. They help climbers practice without the need of the belayer on the ground.
Traditional (Trad) Climbing
Finally, we have the favourite type of rock climbing among many seasoned climbers. Whether it’s heading to the local cliffs or exploring far away like The Magic Forest in Switzerland, trad climbing is much like lead climbing but with a little extra spice.
Again, as this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to rock climbing, we highly suggest taking a step back from trad climbing (especially within the first year or so) until you get used to bouldering, top roping and lead climbing, first.
This is because, as a trad climber you climb up a crag and insert your own anchors, nuts and hexes into the cracks and constrictions in the rock. Sometimes, if you’re climbing sheet rock, you have to make your own holes by screwing the anchors into rocks you feel look most stable.
Is There a Glossary of Climber’s Jargon?
You bet there is. You don’t think we just pulled “send” and “flash” out of nowhere, did you?
When it comes to the climber’s glossary, there’s such a wide range of phrases and jargon used to distinguish grades, equipment, direction and more. So, we’ve included the most common and important to get you going with how to read a route and then sending a route in your beginner climbing adventures.
These describe the way a trad climber’s anchor will sit on the rock; a passive anchor simply slots into the space and can’t move when tightened and an active anchor will be spring-loaded to place pressure in the rock.
These are the ways climbers using rope on tall ascends will remain attached to the wall when climbing. The four main types of anchor used by trad climbers are: hexes, nuts, chocks and tri-cams.
This is someone on the ground securing the rope of the climber, so they don’t fall to injury. They keep the rope locked-off in the belaying device while allowing just enough excess rope for the climber to continue their ascend.
Advice given for how to send a route in the intended way by the route-setter. It can be communicated in any way from a small hint to the full ascend or even in the form of a riddle as the aim is to help the climber know how to read a route.
- British Tech Grade
This is a difficulty scale predominantly used within the competition ring and those that are held throughout the UK. They range as follows from easiest to hardest: 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6c, 7a.
This is a hand movement meaning the climber goes directly from one hold to another with the same hand. This is typically done in quick succession as the first hold was not positive and was only used as a mid-way hold to move on.
This is the act of climbing only with the hands and allowing the legs and feet to dangle throughout the climb. This is usually only done on overhang and cave wall or rack types to avoid accidental leg usage.
This is another name many climbers will give to a cliff face or wall and is often used for outdoor rock climbing for beginners. More specifically, a crag refers to a steep or jagged rock face giving a hard ascent.
Short for ‘dynamic’, this is an increasingly popular movement requiring the climber to jump from one set of holds to the next, experiencing full contact-loss mid-flight. These should only be done by experienced climbers.
- Figure 8
This is the name given to a specific type of knot that is used to secure a climber’s and a belayer’s rope onto the harness and the belay. The rope knot roughly resembles a figure eight.
A flag is another climber’s manoeuvre and is to help with static (the opposite of dyno) movements and balance. When a climber wants to lean to the left but may fall, they can raise their right leg against the wall for balance.
This is the act of sending a route for the first time without the need of help or having fallen off the wall with previous attempts. This is usually done either on grades lower than abilities or after vigorously learning how to read a route.
- Font Bouldering Grade
This is the French-originating grading system assessing difficulty of an outdoor boulder. They range as follows from easiest to hardest: 3, 3+, 4, 4+, 5, 5+, 6A, 6A+, 6B, 6B+, 6C, 6C+, 7A, 7A+, 7B, 7B+, 7C, 7C+, 8A, 8A+, 8B, 8B+, 8C and 8C+.
Akin to trying to open elevator doors, the arms are holding the climber by pulling outwards from the chest. This is often done with two opposite-facing crimps that are close to one-another.
This is the object or area where the hands and feet place on a route. There are around ten different types of hold and you’ll find your favourite: crimp, jug, volume, sloper, in-cut (mini-jug), pocket, pinch, chip, edge and arete.
This is the case of placing both hands on the same hold. Many routes are designed to avoid matching until the end hold. At this point, a controlled (static) match is required to demonstrate the route having been sent.
It’s a word to describe how good a hold is or how secure the climber feels on the hold. Examples of a positive hold include the jug, in-cut (mini-jug), crimp or pocket. Other holds are just classed as ‘non-positive’.
The manoeuvre of abseiling by leaning back, pushing off the wall and allowing rope to slowly loosen. The definition is a controlled descent off a cliff face or rock. This is done with rope-climbing while non-rope climbs simply top-out.
This is a specified trail on the rock, cliff, boulder or indoor climbing wall that takes the climber from the base to the top-out. If outside, it is identified by the trail of white handprints, if indoors it’ll be marked with pins.
- Route Reading
To analyse the route and movements needed to send, flash and top-out. This is especially necessary when looking to flash a route as you’ll want to remember exactly where to place your hands and feet without risking a fall.
To send is to complete or climb a given route. Without a top-hold match or a top-out, the route has not been sent. A send that is done first time becomes a flash and a send can be any route, it doesn’t need to be the intended beta.
This is the act of using the wall or the rock to slowly walk your feet upwards before using it to push up to another hold with your hand. This is often used for long-reaching routes on harder levels and by shorter climbers.
When a boulderer is on the rock or the wall, someone needs to be underneath to ensure the bouldering pad is in their fall line and help ease the fall on the way down to prevent injury.
A top-out is when a climber mounts/mantles the top of a boulder, rock or simply the basics of indoor rock climbing in order to finish the ascend. Most indoor climbing gyms will have specific walls allowing for the top-out.
Specifically speaking, a traverse is climbing along a wall horizontally. However, it can also mean to ascend a wall in any direction. There are four types of wall to traverse: slab, block, overhand and cave.
The way to assess challenge in a climb for an indoor bouldering gym. Used in the UK, they range as follows from easiest to hardest: VB, V0-, V0, V0+, V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, V6, V7, V8, V9, V10, V11, V12, V13, V14 and V15.
What Equipment is Needed to Begin Sending a Route?
It wouldn’t be a beginner’s guide to rock climbing if we didn’t give you a shopping list and guide you on your merry way to sending a route with rock climbing for beginners. However, it’s worth noting that this shopping list will vary depending on the types of climbing your wanting to do.
One tip from the team here at The Hobby Kraze is to hold-off on the shopping list for now and head to your closest indoor climbing gym. While there’s a chance they may only offer indoor bouldering, it gives you the opportunity to try out a new sport and hobby with friends and family without being too far from the ground.
When there, you’ll be able to rent the required gear for the sport and talk to the instructors who can tell you whether you might be better at other climbing tropes. When there you can practice balance, strength, footwork, hold identification, your climbing grade all while figuring the types of equipment you’ll want to buy.
For example, you may find that climbing shoes with a bigger toe box or a stronger down-turn helps you feel more controlled on the wall.
In the meantime, here’s the ultimate beginner’s guide to rock climbing’s definitive list for climbing success in every way to ascend:
- Climbing Shoes
- Crash Mat
- Climbing Rope
- Gym Clothing
- Trainer Socks
- Finger Tape
- Pro Balm
- Hand Sander
- Liquid Chalk
- Chalk Bag
- Hold Brush
- Belay Device
- Belay Gloves
- Climber’s Pants
- Ice Hack
- Wall Finder Book
And that sends this article all about rock climbing for beginners. If there’s one thing we can tell you before going, it’s that you will lose any nails you have, you’ll gain many-a-callus in your climbing adventures and you’ll become addicted to the sport oh-so quickly.
Luckily, it’s a very healthy sport to have for your mind and body when it comes to smarts, strength, willpower, balance and more.
If you’ve enjoyed this introduction to climbing and you’ve hiked out for a try at a flash, then we’d love to hear about your experiences! The team here are always working hard to bring you the hobbies and activities that make you smile.
Don’t forget to share and let us know what you’d like to learn about next here at The Hobby Kraze.