From wall to rock: 8 top tips for new outdoor climbers

Posted by Nicola Jasieniecka on 04/04/2019
Nicola Jasieniecka and friend at the Women's Trad Fest 2018. Photo: Bryn Williams

Transitioning from resin to rock is a really exciting opportunity to develop yourself and improve your climbing. However, it’s not always a smooth segue into crushing the same grade outdoors! To help, we’ve put together some top tips to help you get started.

Put a plan in place

Try to give yourself the best possible chance of having an enjoyable experience by making a plan for your first venture outdoors. It doesn’t have to be complicated; simple things like checking the weather, choosing a venue and making sure you’ve got the right kit can make or break your new rock climbing career.

Technique tweaks

Unless you are going to climb very hard from the outset, you will find that climbing outdoors relies much more on using good footwork, rather than pulling hard. Indoor climbs are generally designed for physical training in relatively short bursts. Climbing on rock takes more time, requiring a steady approach that is as efficient as possible. One result is that you will need to use your feet a lot more to push upwards, rather than pulling. High steps that are commonly used indoors are much less efficient technique for rock climbing. Use smaller steps on smaller footholds.

Science friction

Different types of rock form different shapes and provide varying amounts of friction. Your early trips outside should include lots of opportunities to work out what sort of footholds exist on different types of rock and how to use them. The slopers and screw-ons you might be used to still exist, they’re just camouflaged and learning to see them is all part of the fun of route reading outdoors. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the friction of most rock types is affected by the temperature of the air and of the rock, as well as the humidity; which is why rock climbers are always talking about ‘the conditions’.

Ego embargo

Unless your climbing technique is perfect and you’re innately good at identifying holds, it’s likely that you’ll find a route on rock harder than a route of the same grade indoors. That’s normal. In the same way that you might be able to top rope a harder grade than you can lead indoors, people often climb easier routes outdoors than they do indoors, at least to start with. The main thing is to remember that you’re learning to climb in a different environment so give yourself a break if it all seems a bit harder than you expected. If all else fails, blame the sub-optimal conditions!

Think about your safety and the safety of others

The judgement and decision making required to climb safely outdoors involves more variables than climbing indoors; anchors, ropework, bolts, bouldering mat placement, traditional protection, the conditions, the rock itself, your ability and the ability of the belayer are just some of them. Learning to manage these elements is a crucial and enjoyable part of becoming an independent rock climber and there’s no way to shortcut the process – use it as a good excuse to climb as much as possible, ask questions and reflect on each experience. Failure to do so may lead to unsafe practice, with consequences for yourself or those around you.

Location landmines

Access to crags and boulders isn’t guaranteed forever and the BMC works hard to maintain good relationships with landowners and conservation bodies in England and Wales. Mountaineering Scotland and Mountaineering Ireland do the same in Scotland and on the island of Ireland. In England and Wales you can use the RAD (Regional Access Database, available to download as an app or here) to view the latest updates including where to park, how to get to the crag and whether there are any access restrictions in place. It is important that all climbers act responsibly and make sensible decisions with regards to access.

Back to basics

As a competent indoor climber, you’ll understand the importance of warming up, gradually increasing the level of challenge and when roped climbing, checking your harness, your knot and the belayer. All of these principles apply to rock climbing outdoors as well so remember that they are the principles everything else is based on – they help you to avoid injury, climb for as long as possible and develop your understanding of managing safety.

Respect the rock and others

Rock climbing etiquette and ethics have developed over more than a century and are an important part of the culture of the activity. As a new rock climber it’s a good idea to be aware of how this influences people’s actions and what’s generally viewed as acceptable behaviour. Examples include wiping your feet before you start climbing to remove any dirt or grit that might increase erosion (this also has the added benefit of increasing the friction), not using too much chalk and brushing it off when you’ve finished to protect the beauty of the places you climb and sharing the crag with other users rather than hogging climbs or boulders.

Get started with Mountain Training

If you like the idea of taking your indoor climbing skills outdoors and would like some help getting started, Mountain Training has created four courses to support your development. Rock Skills Introduction, Intermediate, Learn to Lead Sport Climbs and Learn to Lead Trad Climbs are delivered by approved providers across the UK and Ireland and you can choose the most appropriate starting point based on your experience and motivation. Registration is free for under 18s and £20 for adults; the price of each course varies depending on the provider and what’s included.

MORE INFO: Is available on the Mountain Training website

What is Mountain Training? 

Mountain Training is the awarding body network for qualifications and skills training in walking, climbing and mountaineering for the UK and Ireland. They develop and administer nationally and internationally recognised courses to achieve their vision: a diverse and active outdoor society, supported by inspirational leaders, instructors and coaches.

WATCH: Mountain Training, Our Ethos


What does a Mountain Training coaching qualification give you?

If you were thinking about signing up to become a coach with Mountain Training, here's just a few of the key things you'll be able to get out of it:

  • One registration fee gives you access to both Foundation Coach and Development Coach levels.
  • Flexible start points for those with lots of previous coaching experience (through an accredited prior learning process).
  • A bouldering pathway for those who only want to coach bouldering.
  • Minimum age 16.
  • Focus on climber-centred coaching.

WATCH: Foundation Coach, a Mountain Training qualification on BMC TV


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