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  • Writer's pictureKhristina Rhead

Six Ways to Prepare for Your First Outdoor Climbing Send

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Climbing outside for the first time, no matter what style, can be daunting. There are so many unpredictable factors you must consider when climbing outdoors vs. climbing indoors. I remember when I first started bouldering outside an assortment of thoughts raced through my mind: “will this hold break off while I’m climbing? How am I supposed to direct my fall onto the crash pad?! Wow, I’m up high. I want to come down, but I’m scared!”

Girl swinging on rope
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

These are just a sprinkling of the thoughts I had, and still have, while bouldering outside. To ease at least a portion of the novice outdoor climber’s nerves, I’ve come up with a list of six important things to think about and consider before climbing outdoors for the first time.

Step 1: Determine What Type of Climbing You Want to Do.

Not every crag you go to will offer all types of climbing. For instance, some locations only offer bouldering, while others offer bouldering and rope climbing. Certain locations may require trad gear; others, quickdraws for sport climbing. Picking a style of climbing will help you figure out where to go and what equipment to bring.

Man bouldering
Photo courtesy of Grace Hsieh

Step 2: Find People to Go with That Know What They’re Doing.

Climbing is tons of fun and it’s a relatively safe sport IF you are knowledgeable, responsible, and confident in having the right equipment and knowing how to use it correctly. There’s a lot more to outdoor climbing than there is to indoor climbing. There’s more unpredictability–weather, rock quality and breaks, falling outside of the pad zone etc. There are also extra skill sets that are needed such as bolted and natural anchor building, cam placement (i.e., equipment used for trad climbing), spotting (i.e., making sure the boulderer lands on the crash pad), and route reading (no brightly colored plastic holds to tell you where to go).

As a beginning outdoor climber you’ll want to link up with climbers who have more experience than you. That way, you’ll be safe and will be prepared to climb outside. Also, this may save you some money because they’ll likely have the needed equipment, which means you won’t have to buy it! If you’re unsure of where to find experienced climber friends, I would suggest joining a climbing group in your area. The other option is to take a beginners outdoor climbing course or to hire a rock-climbing guide.

Slot canyon hike
Photo courtesy of Nahla Gedeon Achi

If you’re into finding friends to go with, I’d check out climbing groups on Facebook and/or Instagram. I’ve formed some amazing friendships through my involvement with groups I’ve found on both platforms. There are even groups you can join based on affinity. For example, you can find groups for women climbers, LGBTQ+ climbers, and people of color climbers. Here is a short list of climbing groups you can join: Lady Crush Crew, Climbing in Color, Bishop Area Climbers Coalition, Ladies Climbing Coalition, Sending In Color, Queer Climbing Collective, SoCal Climbing. Climbers are friendly and I’m sure you’ll find an outdoor climbing partner soon!

Step 3: Choose Where to Go.

As mentioned above, the style of climbing you choose will narrow down your options of where to go. A great resource that’ll show you the local climbing crags in your area is the free mobile app and website Mountain Project. Both the app and the website allow you to filter your search based on the type of climbing and climbing grade. There’s also a cool map feature on the app and website that shows you what spots are closest to you. Another great feature on the app is the ability to download maps for different states and climbing areas. This is a super helpful feature because it allows you access to the maps even when you’re out of service. I highly recommend downloading the app on your phone and checking it out!

Step 4. Figure Out What Equipment You’ll Need.

Once you’ve figured out the style of climbing, where you’re going, and who you’re going with, then you can know what gear to bring. As a newbie, it’ll be beneficial to ask your friends what equipment you’ll need. Do you need to buy a harness, or can you borrow one from them? Do they have a crash pad, or will you need to rent or buy one? Does the climb require cams?

climbing gear
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

If you do need to buy certain items before climbing, check out Requipper to get some awesome used gear! By buying through them, you’ll not only be saving money, but you’ll also be helping to stop unnecessary waste.

Step 5. Learn About Rock Types.

Acquiring knowledge about the types of rocks you’ll be climbing on is super important. This is because sometimes it’s not safe to climb on them! For instance, sandstone, which is the most prominent rock here in Los Angeles where I live, is not good to climb during rain and up to 48-72 hours afterwards. This is because sandstone absorbs water and, as it does, the cementing agents keeping it together lose strength. Although the rock may look dry on the outside, it still may be wet on the inside. That’s why it’s good to wait a couple of days to make sure it dries all the way through. Otherwise, when you pull on a hold the whole thing may break off; not good for you or for the crag!

To learn information about the different types of rocks, when it’s good to climb, and when it’s not good to climb, look for what you need in guidebooks, climbing forums and Facebook groups, and climbing websites. Also, if you’re a member of a climbing gym, ask the staff! They’re likely very knowledgeable about the local climbing areas, the types of stones that reside there, and when you should stay off them.

Boots and mountains
Photo courtesy of Laura Ippolito

Step 6. Pick the perfect outfit.

The last thing to think about before climbing outside is what you’re going to wear. For a whole discussion on that, check out the other article I wrote for Requipper. Basically, you’ll want to take into account the weather and the durability, stretchiness, weight, and layering technique of your clothes before choosing what to wear on your adventure.

Hopefully, by reading this article you’ll feel a little less wary about climbing outside. I can assure you, it’s tons of fun. Although the climbing gym is great, there’s just nothing like driving to beautiful places and getting to spend hours outside with your friends. I don’t know about you but climbing on real rock gives me such a wonderful connection to the earth. I highly recommend it! As always, get stoked, send hard, and check your knots!

About the Author

Khristina Rhead is a rock-climbing fanatic, writer, and environmental activist. She studied Cultural Anthropology in college, but discovered her true passions to be outdoor recreation, storytelling, and environmentalism in the last couple of years. Khristina cares deeply about diversifying the outdoors. With her travels, outdoor recreation, and social media she hopes to inspire other women of color to get outside as much as they can, and to try new things.

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